A Different Kind of Labor Day

Alternate Post Title: FRIKKIN’ FINALLY!!

Generally speaking, I don’t approve of failure through not trying. If I go out, give something my all, and then find out I can’t do it — fair enough. I need to train more/work harder/grow taller/read books/sleep less… whatever. Tried + fail = ok. Room to grow. Applies to all facets of life really. On the flip side, failing at something due to complete inaction? Problematic. I accept that I can’t be good at everything (or even, really, a lot of things), but I can’t accept that until I’ve at least tried it. Could I be a scuba diver? Maybe not… but until I take a course, strap on the gear, and hop in the water… how will I know?

This “guiding principle to life” is why the latest failure on Old La Honda really got in my head. I knew I could ride that hill. I’d dominated (or at least limped through) bigger and bad-assier hills than OLH. Multiple times. In sometimes ridiculous weather conditions. How is it possible that this one stupid road bump continued to elude me?! Often through no fault of my own! I steamed over it for about a week. Grumbled, bitched, kvetched… whatever you wanna go with. Until Julie (probably annoyed at said whining) says to me — “Do something about it. Let’s ride it.”

Like alone? Without SAG and team encouragement? Give up on my “doomed to fail at Old La Honda forever” posture and… just… ride it?! Well shit. Now there’s an idea! We could just pick a route. Map one out designed specifically to ensure OLH climbing success. Short warm up and then straight to the hill (no “extra” climbs to break down the legs early). Down 84 and then another short cooldown back to the start. This could work! I know how to make route sheets!!

And so I did. I hopped my tail over to MapMyRide, picked a known starting area and mapped out a ~30mile loop designed purely around climbing the “Bay Area Hill Standard.”  The following Monday was Labor Day, so Julie and I decided to make the most of a long holiday weekend and met up around 9am to get ‘er done. We rolled out pretty casually, and took our time warming up the legs through the back rounds of Menlo Park and into Woodside. The roads were surprisingly empty for a holiday weekend (maybe everyone else was at the beach? Or BBQ-ing?), and the weather was perfect — sunny with just a few puffy clouds; warm without being hot.

By the time we hit Portola Road, I was feeling pretty good. My chest was bothering me (yet), and you really couldn’t ask for a better day to be on the bike. By the time we hit the base of Old La Honda, I was raring to go. Julie and I stopped at the bottom, Gu’d up, and then agreed to meet at the top. I took a deep breath (or as close as I could come to it), clipped in and started spinning.

The climb was surprisingly easy… which I think makes sense compared to how much it had obviously been built up in my mind. Now, I’m not saying that it wasn’t work, because it was. There are bastardly punchy sections of that hill that exist solely to make you pop kidneys. There are unexpected switchbacks that make you wonder if there is, in fact, a top to this thing. There are, in some cases, couples riding side by side in matching rainbow jerseys just fast enough to stay ahead of you… but just slow enough to make you think you could get by if you tried. For the record, those suck. I spiked my heart rate at least three times trying to pass, or passing and then getting lapped by, a couple wearing rainbow argyle. I really hate climbing directly behind someone… but couldn’t quite seem to break the pace with these folks. Grrrr!

For extra bonus fun, sometimes there are fail route sheets. As it turns out, if someone were to accidentally include the west segment of Old La Honda in the route, it might make you think that the hill was 3 miles longer than it actually is. This in turn might make you aggressively start throwing down GU, spitting wrappers on passerbys… 1/8th of a mile before the summit. And by “might”, I mean “did.” I made the fail route sheet, thought I was 3-3.5 miles from the end and, feeling kinda tired, decided I should proactively take down some carbs. A couple passing me on the left (who, thankfully, didn’t actually get hit by my spit) chatted me up as they went by. On finding out this was my first time climbing OLH, they congratulated me on finishing the climb. I yell back (as they start to pull away) that they should hold their congrats until I actually finish… only to find them at the top, just around the next switchback. Who knew?!

I’d like to say my feeling of finally cresting Old La Honda was euphoric – I mean, I’d stressed about it enough that it should have been – but I was so dang surprised to actually have hit the summit that my first reaction was “Damnit! I could’ve had a better time if I’d know the top was that close!” About five minutes later, the joy-part set in and I stood around grinning at random people (and telling them all about my “first time”) while I waited for Julie to finish her climb. Thankfully, most cycling folks at least remember being noobs once upon a time — and they bore my enthusiasm graciously.

Julie hit the top maybe 10 minutes later. After a quick recovery and “wow, how awesome are we for doing this unsupported?” chat session, we rolled out again to enjoy our descent down 84 — which was surprisingly technical! Hwy 84 is supposed to be the “safe descent” compared to coming back down OLH… so apparently I’m never trying that idea!

The remaining cooldown miles flew by, but I honestly couldn’t tell you what they were without looking at the route sheet. I’d done what I set out to do, and that was what frikkin’ mattered. I remember that we had a great rest of the ride and that the weather stayed gorgeous. And even if that wasn’t 100% true at the time, it’s definitely how I’ll remember it. I mean, my lung issues held themselves in check for a day, I finally conquered the Beast — and did the entire thing in the saddle; no stopping. Pretty damn good for a Monday.

Holiday OLH Ride


The Quest for Breath

You could almost make an entirely separate blog to chronicle the issues and idiocies that I endured trying to find out why I couldn’t breathe normally last summer. The lung fail was intermittent, never seemed to happen when I actually was at the doctors’, and, apparently, was considered to just be “weird.” My first visits weren’t very useful, and with work and training taking up so much time… I kinda got lazy about following up with the docs. After the OLH failure though, I got serious about finding out what the hell was going on with my chest, called the Kaiser urgent care line and gave the dude on the phone the rundown:

Randomly occurring chest tightness that kept me from being able to get “over the top” when trying to pull in a deep breath. Food, allergens, stress, work and exercise do not seem to have a direct correlation. Occurs at any time of the day without warning.

This description quickly spawned a battery of increasingly ridiculous (and ultimately useless) tests with freakishly normal results.

  • Assigned on a whim inhalers: Worthless. Given as a result of basically no testing, and, other than fueling one fairly awesome climb, had no impact on anything (other than a weird feeling on my teeth).
  • Chest xray: clear. No pneumonia or other terribleness.
  • Skin-stab allergy test: I am allergic to nothing.
  • Sub-cutaneous (stick shit UNDER your skin) allergy test: I am still allergic to nothing. Except histamine. But everyone’s allergic to that.
  • Pulmonary function test: I have “a really gorgeous set of lungs.” Yep. Someone actually said that to me, and it was exactly as creepy as it sounds. Lung tech may or may not have asked me to do extra breaths just so he could see results in the 90th-plus percentile again. Must be sad to only ever test old people.
  • Weird stretching exercises to expand my chest muscles: good for me (as I’m terribly inflexy), but offered no measurable result for breathing.

In the end, the doctors never figured anything out, and my issues eventually (weeks later) subsided. Personally, I think I strained my chest wall in a core class and noticed tightness issues whenever I really thought about taking in a deep breath.  My mom swears I was having panic attacks (a theory on which I still call bullshit! Other than the one day with ashes, I never even came close to hyperventilating!). I can say, for sure, that the breathing problems made most of last summer season’s rides challenging. Some were better than others, but none were great — which was a really tough pill to swallow in my first season as team support. I muddled through the best I could though, “taking one for the team” to hang back with anyone having a bad day — and did successfully complete most rides.

Speaking of, is anyone else ready to get back to the ride posts? Me too. On it!

Pulmonary Dysfunction

Do you ever wonder if you just weren’t meant to do something? Like you try and take a trip somewhere and always miss ticket sales or your dog gets sick or your car breaks down on the way to the airport… and you just wonder if maybe the universe is trying to tell you not to go? I’m pretty sure that’s me and climbing Old La Honda. Every time the OLH Odyssey ride rolls around I get excited. I’m finally going to be one of those cycling nerds who compares times up “the hill” (or who has the option to compare but decides not to for reasons of not bragging/being mocked) instead of just wondering what all the fuss is about. And then something happens. I break a bone and am not in good enough shape when it’s OLH ride time. The weather turns terrible and it’s not safe to climb. For whatever reason, I never manage to go up this stupid, supposedly mythical hill. Granted, I’ve actually only tried twice… but that’s not the point!

Last August’s Old la Honda ride was, sadly, no exception. I show up, ready and raring to “tame the beast” and get myself geared to head out in short order.  Snag a quick briefing on the ride, meet up with my team, and roll onto Foothill. I remember noticing that the world smelled faintly like barbecue… or campfires… but didn’t think much of it. We were going to tackle Old la Honda!! Finally! What did cookouts have to do with me?

In case you aren’t good at anticipating my heavy-handed foreshadowing, I’ll tell you now – the answer is: a lot. Less than two miles into the ride, I started having trouble. I was shouting “GAAAAP!!” and gasping like a fish out of water pretty much immediately. On Foothill! Possibly the flattest and fastest piece of pavement in a 20 mile radius! My coach dropped back to check on me.

“What’s going on there Jamie?”

“I dunno… can’t seem to breathe. I guess my lung issues are flaring up again.”

“Well, you did hear that Santa Cruz is on fire, right?”


“…yeeeaah. So there’s a giant wildire going on not that far from here. It won’t impact our route or anything, but there’s a lot of ash in the air. It might cause folks to need to work harder to breathe… didn’t you hear us cover this at pre-ride meeting?

Thinks to self: Of COURSE I heard it… I just didn’t anticipate it having an impact on ME! It’s OLD LA HONDA DAY!

*grumbles some reply that was likely both offensive and vaguely incoherent*

“So… uhhhh… maybe you should drop back to the Bs for today. We’ve got plenty of support, why don’t you take it easy?”

Had I been able to get a word out of my mouth, I probably would have declined. Or at least wanted to pretty badly. I’m your *ride support* for pete’s sake… not the noob who falls of the paceline!! But I was getting dropped on the easiest part of any ride ever and, after two minutes of standing still, could not breathe. My legs felt like jello at mile two. So I acceded. My group rolled off, and I continued my grind up Foothill — too stubborn to call it a day this early, breathing or not.

I was pretty quickly caught, and subsequently passed, by the Bs… and then the As. I slogged out the first ~15 miles to rest stop 1, on truly some of the easiest road in existence… in my little chain ring at about 10 mph. Apparently lungs are fairly essential tools in powering your body to ride (who knew?!), and my legs pretty much told my brain to shove it at the wussy levels of oxygen I was providing. At the first rest stop, I flagged down Charles (who was, once again, providing rock-star SAG) and pulled out the useless-to-date inhaler.

Side note: We missed a post on this. My vaguely fail doctor decided that I *obviously* had what I can only term “Random Onset with only Some Symptoms Adult Asthma” and prescribed two inhalers to help with my lung issues — one for every day and one for “attacks” — despite the fact that I never had an attack or …really… more than one  indicator off the laundry list signs of asthma. The daily one didn’t do crap other than to make my mouth taste bad twice a day, but I carried the emergency jobber around on the off chance that the doc’s predictions would prove correct (in which case having it would save my life… right?).

I figured that if I was ever having “an attack,” this must be what it felt like. I wasn’t quite wheezing, but I was light headed and couldn’t get enough air in to power my legs… or much of anything else. So I tried it. Two puffs of the emergency inhaler, a wave off of the “maybe you should just SAG this one” and I was off to climb Stevens Canyon Road. (Have you gotten the impression yet that I’m a teeeeeeensy bit stubborn?)

MAN! Does that lung stuff make a difference!! I can only assume “rescue inhaler” is another term for some combination of crack and steroids. By the time I left the parking lot of rest stop 1, I had gone from feeling just about as bad as I’d ever felt on a bike to… superwoman. Or my version thereof. I powered up that climb and even managed to catch back up to the groups that had dropped me (well, the A/B folks… my team still lapped me). I hit the end of the road and flipped around, ready for a typically awesome descent. When it’s not wet, that road is super fun to ride down!

Turns out, crack and steroid highs are short lived. About halfway down the hill, I started feeling kinda lame again. Bottom of the hill I seriously considered sagging out of the ride — before deciding that I could still bang this thing out. Back out on Foothill (this was an out and back piece of the route), I was worse than before. I was literally in my smallest ring, panting, alone, and pushing a whopping 7mph. And then, to make things just a bit worse, I spaced out and completely missed my turn… adding 6 miles to my route. Full of win!

I did eventually get back on route and made it all the way to Altamont. The very foot of Altamont, to be precise.(For those who don’t remember the reference, Altamont is a beastly little gut-popper that exists to make cyclists cry. It’s just long enough and just steep enough to suck lots.) I Gu’d up. Poured water on my head to cool down. Clipped in. Spun twice. Realized there really wasn’t another gear lying around, waiting to take me up the hill. Turned around and flung my bike in the truck. Yep… at this point, Charles had been assigned to be my personal SAG. I was THAT far behind. I had made it a full 36 miles, but I truly had nothing left in the tank. I couldn’t climb Old La Honda if I couldn’t breathe. Hell, I couldn’t ride the flats! I found the limit to my stubbornness, accepted that OLH wasn’t going to happen for me… again… and threw in towel.

To add insult to injury, I had to ride along as SAG for the rest of the team for the remainder of the day. Just because I failed didn’t mean Charles was off duty! On the one hand, I was happy to cheer folks on — especially those climbing “the beast” for the first time — but I’d be lying to say it wasn’t hard to watch, knowing I couldn’t pull it off myself. Again.

Believe it or not, I did live through it. The rest of the team rockstar-d up the climbs and, for the most part, had a nice, uneventful day. (Apparently ash doesn’t affect all equally!) As for me, the best I could do was resolve to get my lung issues nailed down sooner than ASAP – with Moab on the horizon, climb skipping just wouldn’t work!

TNT Ride #8 Old La Honda Odyssey

When you can’t do it right, go for quick

Has it really been almost seven months since I posted here?! Well… I don’t have to ask. I can look at the dates. The answer is yes, and that’s frikkin’ SAD! I’d give you a litany of reasons/excuses as to why, but I’ve done those posts before and they’re not nearly as fun as the ride detail posts. (Plus, I’d give away the ability to bomb-drop and buildup if I tell you now!) So, instead, I’m just gonna get to it. Short stories, bullet points, multi-ride posts… whatever it takes — we’re gonna get this puppy up to date this week. Probably. It’s a tall order (and I’m nothing if not long winded), but I promise to try. Starting… NOW!

Two’s company

I just didn’t have the energy to get up for the recovery ride after Tour de Montañas, so I voted to sleep in a bit and then hit the trail near my house for a quick loop. Sometime around 10am I actually managed to roll out of bed to try and get the deed done. Per usual routine, I invited the other half to ride as I suited up… and nearly fell over from shock when he agreed to accompany me! We checked his not-ridden-in-a-year tubes, replaced one, and then headed out to the Foster City trail.

There’s actually not a ton to say about the ride. I rolled without Garmin, so I don’t have any data and the +/-1 ft elevation gain doesn’t give a ton of challenge to walkthrough. The most interesting part of the whole event was really riding it with someone else, especially as that someone else was Charles – who I’ve been trying to get back into cycling on and off for two years! Riding is just more fun with other people (well, with cool other people anyway), and that’s doubly true on routes that suck. There’s nothing like chatting/singing/making fun of people to keep your mind off of terrible roads!

Anyway, we rode a 10 mile loop out to Seal Point dog park, back down passed our house, over to Chipotle for lunch and then home again. The trip was enjoyable despite the still-present evil headwinds, although I think we both learned a good “only after rides” lesson for the best burrito intake process. We did make it home (with food still in its proper location), and I think Charles enjoyed the run much more than the fail Los Gatos trail miles we used to ride in San Jose. In fact he ended up doing a couple solo rides on his own over the next week! Perhaps I’ll have a new ride partner sometime soon after all (…at least for the short rides!  …for now!).

Super (stalker) SAG

Still playing catchup on posts, but as it’s after 10pm on a ride night… I’m probably only going to get a short one in.

From a “how the ride went” perspective, the Tour de Montañas was pretty uneventful. Sure, it was hot — but we’ve done much hotter rides. It was long — but we’ve done longer. There was climbing but… well, you get the idea. On the whole, my team performed really well on their longest route up to that point. There were definitely things that could be improved upon (leaving a paceline out of a stoplight? not a race!), but most things that were “wrong” were really more like fine tuning of techniques than actual problems.

The real story of this week’s ride was having Charles as driving SAG for my team, complete with doggie sidekick! This was the first day in over a year that Charles has been able to sign up for SAG, and his first time as road support (rather than rest stop volunteer). I was a little worried that he’d be bored (hey… 65 miles worth of riding takes a frikkin’ long time!), but I’m pretty sure that he actually enjoyed it… once he recovered from the absolute horror of being out of bed before 7am, that is. The Dream Catchers rolled out of Foothill College a little after eight, with our trusty SAG support following by about 10 minutes. We quickly covered the first 10 miles (Foothill and over Mt. Eden? No problem!), and had a regroup before covering the next reverse downhill – Pierce. Side note: Big congrats to Chi Lam who made it down the backside of Eden on bike! Re-riding an accident scene is always tough, but he rocked it!

Pierce was a new and nasty hill for me… but, thanks to my ever-knowledgable teammates, one for which I was (at least mentally) prepared. After a little gut-punching action, we enjoyed a nice series of downhills to Rest Stop #1 at McClellan park – passing the time by hunting for my black truck SAG stalker. Charles wanted to execute his duties with “optimal response time” to any potential incident, so we saw him every mile or two as he pulled off to make sure we were ok (Sasyha helped… or… stood outside the truck looking official at random intervals… ). After a quick refuel break, we hit a good stretch of paceline practice roads back in the Alameda de Las Pulgas – Menlo Park area.

Of course, there’s only one way that we ever seem to come off of Alameda de Las Pulgas… and it’s one that made me glad for the group-ride energy conservation: Edgewood Road. We did part of this climb for Matt’s buddy route (right before turning off to hit “the wall”), and I’ve driven it about a billion times – but man did I underestimate what a pain it would be to ride! In all actuality, the hill itself isn’t too tough — just a little over 2 miles long at a reasonable grade. The problem lies in hitting that climb in 90 degree heat with 40 miles already under your belt. The road actually cuts through two larger hills on either side, which means that you get absolutely zero breeze going up. The sun pretty well baked me dry, but (thanks to an emergency Chocolate Outrage Gu!) I made the top without stopping.

I was in pretty dire need of rest come Rest Stop #2 at the summit. Thankfully, Charles was there to fill my “hug something warm and fuzzy” distraction needs, while Sashya filled my bottles and fed me fruit. Wait… hrmmm…. reverse that. I hugged the puppy, recouped (puppies really are the best medicine!) and headed for a nice downhill to the ol’ ride sheet standby – Cañada. Yes, again. Stop asking. We put our “you’re only as fast as your slowest person” gap calling paceline skills to work on this stretch – those headwinds really are a bitch, and people are tired by mile 45. We accidentally temporarily lost our super SAG  by pulling off for a potty break at the non-car-accessible water temple. Oopsie! We did manage to find him again in a couple miles (he rode all the way to the end and back looking for us), but we would have totally blown his self-imposed response time goals had anything actually gone wrong. Lucky for all involved, the worst thing anyone could complain of on that stretch of road was some tired legs.

The next miles were familiar and uneventful. We headed down Portola to Alpine and then climbed up the backside of Arastradero. With only 5 miles to go, everyone started to perk up a bit… only to get smacked in the face a bit with another climb over Purissima. The whole team made it up, but the “GAAAAAAP!” calls increased drastically — a sure sign that people were wearing down. And then… Elena. We’ve done this hill a bunch of times for repeats, but not typically this side, and never the whole way darn stretch! Grrrrrr. Our team split up pretty drastically on this climb (much to super-SAG’s chagrin — too much space to cover effectively!) as we spun out the last two miles. Yep… a two mile climb at the end of a 65 mile ride. At least Coach George didn’t try and call it “just a bump,” as I think someone (me) might have had to punch him. Or at least had to think about punching real hard while, in reality, being too tired to execute pretty much any nonessential movement.

I was dragging tail over the last stretch, but seeing Charles and Sashya every little while helped me a lot. Maybe it’s true that smiling while climbing relaxes you (seriously… Google it! That’s a documented cycling theory right there!), because I was actually able to make the summit without stopping. After a pretty nasty descent over some “road work in progress” pavement, the entire team regrouped back at Foothill College. I forced everyone to stand still long enough to snag a group picture:

before Charles and I headed out to lunch to review his premier SAG performance. Hey – if he’s going to make this a regular thing… we need talk strategy! The team is up for a 75 miler next weekend (well… the weekend after this ride… which was back on the 8th), so stay tuned for more super cycling stories soon.

Tour de Montanas

Super slacker

If you’re familiar at all with the rotation of posts in this blog, you’re probably wondering where all the hill repeats posts are… right? Well, there’s a quick answer: there aren’t any. Due to an amazingly lame combination of late work meetings, lung problems, wildfires and doctors appointments, I’ve only managed to do one hill repeats night in the past month! Try not to faint away in horror, please. Believe it or not, this is something that I’m extremely bummed about. Moab (crazy ride I’ve been training for … remember?) has over 9,000 feet of climbing – most of it frontloaded into that little gem called the Big Nasty. I’m positive that the end of this season is definitely not the time to be slacking on my hills training, but apparently my boss, my body and quite possibly the universe doesn’t agree.

Besides the need for more preparation, I actually (as we’ve noted before) really enjoy doing the climbing nights. The one time recently that I made it to hills and skills (8/4 – stats below), I had a killer time on the “hard loop.” I definitely didn’t rock as many repeats as the strongest riders, but I conquered the Concepcion->La Paloma->Evil Side of Westwind loop a full four times before degenerating into Al death threats. Surprisingly, given the number of skips I’ve had, I even still had energy for the “empty the tank” sprint on the way back. I’m sure the fast people in front of me were just worn down from their extra climbing loops, but I swear I almost caught one! More importantly, that endorphin high (oh-so useful after a stressy week at the office) lasted through the ride, through Chipotle and back to the house — where I promptly passed out by 9:45. Man, could I use some of that this week!

Point of the story? You’re not missing a bunch of posts — I’m missing rides. End of release cycle at work is always crazy, and leaving at 4:30 is tough. I’m still fighting with the docs over what could be wrong with my lungs, and can only cross my fingers, wait and hope that they’ll figure it out soon. I am definitely trying to make these last few repeats before our event day though (universe willing), so I’ll keep you posted. Ha, posted… terrible blog pun…

Hills and Skills 5

Tour de Hometown

Julie and I decided, rather last minute-like, to ride the Tour de Peninsula back on 8/2. Yeah, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted — between fail lung sickness, traveling and book editing I haven’t been online much at all… but more on that later. She had friends coming into town and had to miss Matt’s buddy ride (which I’m sure that she regretted HUGELY), so we decided to hit the TdP as a way for her to make up some miles that weekend.

The two of us rolled up to the starting area at Coyote Point ridiculously early Sunday morning. I was afraid that day-of registrations might get cut off and that we might not get our T-shirts if we came late. As it turned out, everyone who came could register and everyone who registered day-of got their shirts mailed to them — but by the time we’d figured that out it too late to reclaim any lost sleep. Hey – it was only my second non-TNT event ever… what do I know?

Given the state of my legs after the buddy ride the day before, we opted to register for the 31mi route instead of the 65 or 100 options (well, instead of the 65. Realistically, the 100 was never on the table… but it sounds more impressive if you put it in the list!). The lines moved super quickly, and we traded our $40 cash for an armband and route sheet with a full hour to spare. We braved the obnoxiously short and steep climb to and from the starting zone two extra times – had to shed some layers and drop off the empty Julie-fuel cells (aka Diet Mountain Dew bottle) at the car.

Extraneous objects stowed, we joined the rest of the cattle herd in between the plastic ropes that formed the start-line chute. Actual roll time was delayed a good 10 minutes, which meant extra time standing in the cold, grey fog of San Mateo mornings. We managed not to freeze to death in 50 degree weather (barely!), and, after a near-wipeout at the actual start line, were on our way.

I probably won’t be able to describe the route super accurately, despite the help of my Garmin data. Time and the most-fail route sheet that you’ve ever seen (Seriously? A full-color giant map with almost no road names? And no distances?) has dulled my memory, and the GPS data is hard to interpret as the route looped over itself in several spots. I know for sure that the route first followed the Coyote Point Trail south before heading across downtown San Mateo. This was one of my very favorite parts of the ride, as Charles and I hang out in this neighborhood often — but I’ve never ridden it. I felt a bit like a tour guide – “there’s my movie theater, and there’s the awesome Italian place.” Fun stuff! I was sorely tempted to stop at Pete’s somewhere around mile 5; only Julie’s hatred of all things coffee kept me on bike. Silly girl… coffee is tasty!

We quickly learned to appreciate the CHP providing “traffic calming” at intersections as well as all the super enthusiastic volunteers directing us at every turn. Most roads had no cars at all and we almost never got lost (we’ll get to that in a minute), no thanks to aforementioned Route Sheet of Faildom. Our first climb went up Crystal Springs Road (which you might remember from the previous day’s ride) and was a good way to finally warm up. Julie and I split up during the climb, but regrouped easily at Rest Stop #1 at the top of the hill.  This stop seemed way too early in the route, so we just topped off water bottles and kept on rolling.

From there we headed down Skyline and out onto everyone’s favorite closed road: Cañada. The sun started to peek out just as we hit the reservoir, and we enjoyed some warmer miles along familiar territory. I’m actually beginning to think that legislation was passed at some point requiring 98% of all rides in the area to include Cañada road! We opted skip Rest Stop #2 at the water temple as well, figuring that we’d just hit it on the way back (as the 31 mile route was an out-and-back on this road). Julie and I rolled along for another 2-ish miles before hitting Edgewood and running out of “31 mile route –>” signs. Apparently what the route sheet had failed to make clear was the fact that the second rest stop was our turnaround spot. Oopsie!

We quickly whipped around and headed back to check out the goodies. One very tasty plum and one somewhat-less-tasty See’s chocolate lollypop later, we were back on the road. The next bit of the route was pretty fun. We veered off to the right of the main road, just before 92, and took a little walking trail up over 280. There was a bitchy little popper climb to get up to the overpass, and a longer but milder-grade one to get up to Ralston Ave… but I enjoyed the scenery (and the novelty of riding over a major highway). After some lack-of-crosswalk stoplight cursing, we were treated to an awesome long descent down Ralston and Polhemus.

The furiously waving flags at our next turn just barely kept me on track for the turn onto Crystal Springs Road again (deja vu all over again or somesuch — 3 times in one weekend!). I made the turn at the last possible second, but was stuck climbing in my biggest gear for awhile. By the time Julie and I were about a quarter of the way up this hill-lette, I was starting to feel the pain of yesterday’s ride. 31 miles isn’t really that much longer than our typical 23 mile recovery loop, but this route definitely had a bit more climbing than I expected. We crested the top and hit rest stop #1 again – this time pausing for a bit of refuel action.

With (significantly more tasty) butterscotch See’s lollies in hand, we set out to ride the Sawyer Camp Trail. Seriously, sooo much route overlap – at least I knew what to expect! The day was gorgeous – sunny but not hot – and the trail was much more fun to ride when it was closed to pedestrians. We wound around the reservoir, celebrating the win that is butterscotch candy and taking in the scenery. The short climb at the end of the trail felt much harder than I know it is… but Julie and I made it up pretty quickly nonetheless.

We zipped through Rest Stop #3 without stopping and enjoyed/clutched the handlebars in terror through the descents back down to civilization. (As it turns out, coming straight down from those hills up in Millbrae is much steeper than you’d imagine!) The rest of the ride really was mostly downhill and definitely uneventful. The very last mile of the route went through a bizarre gravel patch which made me feel as though I should’ve been on a mountain bike… or at least riding commuter tires… but we made it through and back up the hill to the start/finish zone without any flats (miraculously).

Hooray for pops!

After checking out the (rather paltry) selection of vendors in the finish zone, we hauled our selves back downhill to the car. I did get a pedometer that I have no idea how to use and a bunch of brochures for rides that I’m probably not doing — but that was about it. We decided to pass on the lame-ish looking food at the end, opting for BJs (yay giant potatoes!) as a lunch reward instead. All in all, my second event ride ever was a very fun time — a bit challenging for a “recovery ride”… but good times nonetheless.

Tour de Peninsula

These clips weren’t made for walkin’

Coaches lie. Sometimes the do it intentionally. They’ll tell you you’re halfway up a 5 mile climb .75 miles in to try and keep you thinking positively (or to laugh in their own heads as you suffer… I’ve never really figured out which.). They’ll claim that something is “not a hill” based on asinine criteria that they can’t explicitly define and that changes depending on which non-hill they’re trying to downplay. (“You can see the top from here.” “The grade is less than X%”.  “There are only 12 switchbacks; real hills have at least 13.”) When they’re really feeling evil, coaches will tell you the ride is “all downhill from here” knowing full well that there are at least two climbs or 45 “rollers” to go. I expect (or hope) that there’s a method to their madness… but you can pretty much assume most non-safety related things they tell you are falsehoods.

The trickier scenarios though, are those when coaches lie unintentionally. They say things that seem reasonable and that don’t fall into the standard “coach-speak” repertoire. Take last Saturday’s buddy ride, for example. Coach Matt gives us a rundown of the ride before we roll out from the Menlo Park Safeway lot. He talks us through the 50 mile loop, which, other than a couple small climbs sounds pretty easy. He’s never ridden the whole route, only driven it… but we’ve done a couple 57-milers at this point – 50 should be cake! Matt does mention one road with a 100 yard or so steep climb, with an off-handed “remember you have feet if you need them” remark… but with my last couple weeks at hill repeats focused solely on short, out of the saddle climbs, I don’t think much of it. What’s 100 yards?! Have I foreshadowed enough here yet?

Roughly eight of us headed out together after our pep-talk (we had a really small turnout for this ride for some reason). We made quick work of Alameda de las Pulgas before turning onto our “warm-up” hill at mile five, Edgewood. Despite some pretty cold muscles (why oh why did I forget my armwarmers?!), I buzzed up this bad boy without too much of an issue. The group turned right onto Crestview at mile 7, where I dropped into my baby ring and prepared to stand… only to see my entire crew walking up the hill. As in… not on bikes. What the hell?? That’s not a good sign. I took a deep breath and resolved to sit and spin for as long as I could before standing (which always makes my heart rate explode instantaneously). I pushed into my lowest gear and got to work.

Wow. 100 yards was definitely a lie. As far as I can tell from the map data, the first “mini summit” was about .75mi up… and running about perpendicular to sea level. About halfway up to the false top, I could no longer hear people talking next to me over the sound of my own breath. I switched my hands to the top bars and got my whole upper body working to keep moving. My speed dropped to somewhere around zero (although I did manage to keep going just enough to prevent the Garmin from shutting itself off). That grade was ridiculous! I passed 4 or 5 people walking, as I got it into my head that I could at least make the first intersection before I had to dismount… which is exactly what I did. At the first side street, I hopped off the bike and started hoofing it toward the top.

Now, walking in clips is dumb. Really dumb. You can’t balance properly on your toes (because there’s a giant frikkin’ piece of plastic there), so you end up waddling like a duck back on your heels. Only… when you’re walking uphill at absurdly steep angles… waddling doesn’t really work. You need to push from the calves, which requires full-toe contact. EESH! After about 100 feet of awkward-walk, I gave up, pulled into someone’s driveway (to have a flat spot to clip in), and went back to gut-punch climbing. I huffed and puffed, gasped and wheezed the rest of the way to the stop sign… in the saddle. Woofreakinhoo! Once everyone reaches the “top,” Matt lets us know that we should have rollers the rest of the way up, and pedaling through the downhills should get us up the next climbs with ease.

…right. I’m not sure if Matt ever actually drove this road, or just has a really bad memory… but there were no “downhill” sections. We were treated to some “significantly less steep” uphill sections, but the next .75 miles to the actual summit were 100% climbs. The Garmin will verify!! (And in case you’ve been keeping track? The whole of Crestview was ~1.5 miles… not so much 100 yards. Average grade estimate is 9%… although I guarantee it was much higher along the way. Always lies.) In good news, I was bound, determined, and able to reach the actual crest of Crestview in the saddle, without stopping. I’m pretty sure that a few people walked it faster than I climbed… but no matter. I pulled that shit out on a bike! We took a few minutes for recovery at the top, and tried to put in a call to Don to give him fair warning on how terrible this climb would be. (I hope, for the sake of his ladies, that Don got that message. Owie!)

Luckily the descent off of Crestview and eventually down Ralston was pretty long and served for good recovery time. I kicked up some good speeds coming downhill, and pounded some food and drink at the bottom (no cramps for me today, please!). We watched a deer and its very tiny baby meander across the street (thankfully safely), before turning off the main drag and onto Crystal Springs road. I should have been able to make quick work of this “not a climb”… but I’m pretty sure that I’d blown all of my reserves back on that mile seven monster. My lead-legs and I did rock the entire stretch of road in the saddle, and not even in my smallest gear — it just took awhile.

Our crew headed next out Sawyer Camp Trail, a 6 mile multi-use trail that circles the Crystal Springs Reservoir. The loop reminded me a bit of riding back on the Los Gatos Creek trail. The surrounding scenery is gorgeous, and it was definitely an excellent place to continue recovering from climbs… but they constant people dodging inherent in “multi-use” public areas can be frustrating. If I hadn’t been so tired, I’m confident that I would have been more annoyed. Still… I could absolutely imagine taking people newer to bike riding around this trail, as it is very pretty and very manageable.

At the top of the Sawyer Camp Trail climb, our group decided to go “off sheet” and head out Skyline instead of coming back down and performing Dodge The People: Act Two. I’m pretty sure that we ended up with a few extra “rollers” (coach speak!) for our trouble, but we did get back down to Hwy 92 fairly quickstyle. Now, right about here is where our group broke apart.  I missed the light on 92 by about fifteen seconds, and then didn’t weigh enough to trip it for the next two cycles. By the time a non-human-motor vehicle showed up, the entire group had a 10 minute lead on me. I may be capable of a decent short sprint… but catching them at those distances just wasn’t gonna happen! Thankfully, Dan waited for me just passed the light, so he and I headed out together to finish the last twenty miles.

From this point on, the ride progressed into super familiar territory. We rolled down Canada Road (site of our pacelining clinic), and picked up Chi Lam’s buddy, Shawn, along the way. Apparently his energy was starting to flag and he’d dropped off the tail of the main group somewhere along the flats. The three of us meandered down parts of the Woodside-Portola Valley loop (Olive Hill wiggling to Woodside, to Portola to Apline style), consistently dropping pace along the way. You see, Shawn hadn’t ridden in awhile. A good long while apparently. (Don’t start your friends back to cycling on a 50 mile climb-heavy ride, people!) Somewhere in the vicinity of Portola Road, he came perilously close to a bonk without saying anything (sigh… boys). Dan and I noticed him falling off our backs, even with the pace around 10mph on flats and started to get worried. I declared the need for another rest stop, where we all but force fed him a Power bar and a Gu. With the number of times I’ve “hit the wall” or had someone in my ride group do so… I recognized the signs easily (and buddy rides don’t come with SAG!). For the record: if Chocolate Outrage Gu ever tastes like “the best thing you’ve ever tasted”… you are in dire need of carbs. 

Sugar consumed, we were ready to roll back out for the last 10 miles of the ride. I kept the pace low (near-bonk is not the time to be setting speed records), determined to make sure that we all finished together. We had a few minutes of worry on Willowbrook Drive, as there’s a tiny little gut-popper bump at the end — but managed to hit the “really downhill from here” stretch of Alpine after only one more small break.  The three of us rolled back into the Safeway parking lot intact, and acceded to a near-ravenous Shawn’s demands for a cheeseburger in short order. All told, it was a very pretty 50 milers – just a bit more challenging that coach-speak had led us to expect!

Coach Matts Buddy Ride

Temperate triumph

What a difference a few degrees makes (temperature speaking, that is)! Two years ago, the Calaveras ride killed, maimed or at the very least disheartened what must have been a full half of our team. The weather then was so hot and the climbs were so long that multiple people SAG’d out with heat exhaustion. If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll remember that I suffered a near collapse myself only to rebound… and then crash out about 5 miles from the finish.  With such lovely memories to recommend it, you can imagine my level of excitement showing up for this season’s East Bay sojourn.

The morning started off promisingly overcast. Oh yes, when living in fear of heat stroke, “promising” and “overcast” can be used together in a positive manner… even at the perceived expense of pretty pictures. The newly-dubbed Dream Catchers rolled out from the parking lot (complete with our new group-mate Dan) and, after a few adjustments to paceline technique, quickly passed through the neighborhoods of Milpitas. We joked, laughed, sang (you haven’t lived until you’ve heard my on-bike rendition of “Some Kind of Wonderful”) and, despite a few nasty construction zones, had a good warmup.

There is definitely some advantage in experience. By the time we hit the “secret restroom stop,” I knew, not only that our first climb was coming up, but also roughly how long and how terrible it would be. I downed a few gummy sharks (Yep. Sharks. Remind me that I owe a new food review post soon!), and started to get mentally fired up for the Palomares climb. A couple miles and a few encouraging words from Coach George later, we were spinning our way skyward.

Now, I should probably mention at this point, that I’d gone out and bought new shoes and clips the night before. My old ones were starting to show their age (and by that I mean, they were well passed the point that anyone thought they should still be worn) and, in a desperate bid for their retirement, had decided to start squeaking with every pedal revolution. Knowing that I didn’t need one more source of annoyance on long climb rides, I made a last-minute dash to Palo Alto Bikes Friday night to procure their replacements. (For the record: the guy at the store actually told me “I’d definitely gotten my money’s worth out of ’em” on seeing the old pair. Doh! I didn’t think they were that bad!)

Why is this worth mentioning? To reiterate Important Cycling Pro Tip #24:  try your gear out at least once before a long ride. I quickly discovered that, for whatever reason, my left clip was too far forward. By a lot.  Every time I pushed with my left leg, I unconsciously tried to scoot my foot up so that I could push with the ball of my foot. Of course, that didn’t actually succeed in doing anything other than making my left toes go numb and my left calf ache. My left calf is having a bad season! Egos are a funny thing though (as is a lack of readily available hex-tool), and I decided to spin up to the first rest stop rather than trying to stop and adjust. Hey! No one wants to hold up the team, right?! I made it to the top, solid in the middle of the pack, and proactively pushed the potassium and salts (No sense tempting the Calf-god Fates). There wasn’t really a good spot to try and adjust my shoe, so I headed into the descent planning to make an adjustment at our next stop point.

Palomares has a kickass downhill. There are a small number of switchbacks early, followed by some lovely, sweeping sections. I pushed my speed up a good bit (ever conscious of the deer that tried to kill me last time), and topped out just a smidge under 40mph. Wahoo! The rest of the team made it downhill without incident, and we proceeded into my (second? third? depends on if you count the hills) least favorite part of the ride: the 580 parallel false flats. I just don’t have anything good to say about a hot exposed road, running adjacent to a major freeway, that tries to trick your brain into thinking that it should be easy. So rude! We were rewarded with another nice descent into Pleasanton… but really the nicest thing I can say about this stretch of the ride is thank goodness the weather stayed cool through there this year!

By the time our group stopped at the Marriot for a quick restroom break, my left calf and toes were really starting to complain. I took a chance on inconveniencing the group, borrowed a multi-tool and pushed that darn cleat back. And whoa was it out of place! The entire base was shifted a full notch forward compared to the right side and the whole thing was sitting at about 45-degree angle! I’m not sure if the cleat was just not secured well initially (and then slipped when I first clipped out) or what… but it was definitely utterly wrong. I saddled back up just about the time the boys were ready to roll, cleat in much better shape (but calf definitely still feeling the abuse). 

The stretch of ride down through Pleasanton and into our next rest stop was fairly uneventful. I mentally celebrated my shoe-repair success and remained cautiously optimistic at the lack of rising temperatures in the area. I managed to climb the amazingly steep driveway into rest stop two (again, advance knowledge is your friend!) and was rewarded with a fantastic spread of goodies (including my personal favorite: fresh watermelon!).  After a quick break, George ushered us back onto bikes and out on the road. After a few short turns, we found ourselves winding through Sunol.

Now, Sunol is one of those love-hate sections of the ride. On the one hand, there is some absolutely gorgeous scenery to behold, and there are typically very few cars. Yay! On the other, the entire area consists of what should feel like manageable rollers… except for the persistent, high speed headwinds. We definitely put our pacelining skills to work through this stretch, trying to focus on keeping the pulls short as the heat plus wind combo was making people really notice their thirst (only drink at the back people!!). We did have one dropped bottle almost-incident (almost in that no one actually hit it), but otherwise hit the bottom of the second big climb, Calaveras, drama free.

I’m not gonna lie. I was dreading Calaveras. Think about it. My experience on this hill pretty much consists of struggling up the thing in 90+ degree heat, making the rest stop only to fall trying to leave, getting back up, nearly passing out, temporarily recovering, breaking my derailleur (through no fault of my own!) and then having to SAG out. Not exactly a friendly track record. I was absolutely determined to make it through this climb and set the record straight — bum calf be damned! So I GU’d up, dropped gears and sat back to spin.

It’s odd how you can build things up in your mind. You worry about flying gravel and stress about the heat, imagine a dozen ways to fall and vilify innocent landscape, only to discover… this hill isn’t so bad. In fact, when your eyes aren’t burning with the dripping chemicals of dissolving sunscreen… it’s actually kind of… pretty. Who knew? I chatted with Colin, kept my breathing fairly normal, and made the top without stopping. Well.. the almost top. The rest stop anyway, which you falsely believe is the top the first time you do this ride (haha! Didn’t fool me this time!). After a quick-ish SAG supported recovery, which may or may not have included me making out with a very cute puppy, we hit the road to burn out the last 10 miles.

Or so we thought. Apparently the area around Calaveras is absolutely covered in not-so-tiny, dried burrs which, upon encountering bike tires, throw a happy pokey party. Mike and I each dislodged four or so of these stabby bastards before we headed into the rest of our climb. Unfortunately for him, these burrs are nothing if not persistent in their desire to pierce all rubber through and through. Mike suffered no less than four flats on the 3-ish mile stretch that remained of the Calaveras climb. Seriously. To be fair to the puncture happy fauna, one of those was a pinch-flat. Thankfully our SAG car was never far behind (as we weren’t actually moving far), and each tube change was pretty quick… although definitely not fun for poor Mike!

Miraculously, my own tires never went flat ,despite initial hissing air noises to indicate that they would. One was, however, flat as a pancake come Monday morning. We finally finished the climb (ha! take that heat!), and hit the last descent of the day… down the backside of “the Wall.” I’ve gotta wonder… do all neighborhoods have something they call The Wall? I can think of at least three! Once everyone survived the “descending on your head” feeling of actually going down such a steep hill, the group was free to enjoy a swooping descent back to civilization. Well… most of us were. I’m pretty sure Mike’s enjoyment has faded in memory, as he found a fifth flat in his tire at the bottom of the road. Doh! 

Our newly-crowned Tube Swapping Expert made quick work of his last flat (for real this time), and we all easily finished the last tiny stretch of road. With yet another old demon conquered, 57 miles down and over 3000 calories burned, I headed to El Torito for some mexican refuel action… before heading home and hoping for a nap.

Calaveras ride

What do we have here?

An often sarcastic, occasionally humorous journal of my training adventures in preparation for the Livestrong century ride. I took up cycling back in '07 in hopes of meeting new people, and, with the help of Team in Training, making my small positive difference in the world -- and haven't stopped spinning since. Follow along as my Trek road bike and I try and hash out our differences, hopefully with me upright and in the saddle.

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