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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

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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

Power ups

For my first night back at hill repeats in awhile (7/21), the friendly folks at IPF (aka evil Al) decided to up the ante. Instead of just working on my “most favoritest thing ever,”  we’d combine two ol’ favorites and add zooming fast descents into steep inclines which, of course, require getting out of the saddle. Sounds like the most fun ever had on two wheels, right?! Yeah… I thought so too. To be fair, the coaches did give everyone an easier option. The C-pluses through Es had four 3-hill loops of short and steep climbs, while the As and Bs were sent up and back Concepcion – middle ring only style. As a self proclaimed solid C-minus who’d taken two weeks off repeats (due to work, of course), I was sorely tempted to roll with the A-B team. A good amount of harassment from teammates and coaches alike, I decided to give the hard mode a try… at least once.

With a glare at the ever-pressuring universe, I rolled out onto Concepcion for the first round. Truth be told, my performance was something of a mixed bag. My speed up the first climb was pretty average and I built up some decent momentum on the descent, but I didn’t downshift nearly enough heading into Westwind. Whatever grade that bastage of a hill possesses, it cannot be accomplished by me in my lowest mid-ring gear… even while standing. As my speed slowed to nearly negative, I began frantically dropping gears – until I dropped them right off the cassette and embedded the chain in my frame. Sweet. I managed to unclip before faceplanting, but was forced to abandon the rest of the climb and just head into the descent. I did manage the entirety of the Viscaino climb (despite additional downshift fail), but my persistant breathing issue led to some incredibly exciting panting along the way.

I couldn’t really call hard mode quits with only a high level of utter fail behind me, so I decided to press on. Round two was pretty much a direct repeat of round one, with bonus skateboarders to ruin my descent into evil Westwind. I managed to get into my little ring, but the loss of momentum into the climb wasn’t enough to hit the summit. Grrrrrr. After some labored panting recovery time (and possibly a packet of luna moons), I rolled out again for round three. This loop went a bit better. I sacrificed some power into the descent and dropped into the granny gears before I ever hit Westwind. I had to stand up earlier, but was able to keep turning the cranks all the way to the summit. Finally

I celebrated by… finishing the third loop climb up Viscaino (successfully, thank you very much), and heading back out for a fourth. No sense wussing out now, right? I continued my good climb karma and hit the summit of all three hills without incident (assuming you don’t count huffing and puffing constantly). As I gasped my way back to a normal heart rate, we waited for everyone to regroup in the parking lot for a demonstration on cornering. Jamii and Al gave an excellent talk on how to turn — without falling (always important).

Who even knew you could demo from a standstill?

Everyone took a few turns (pun intended) at low speeds before heading back to the park. With four rounds of difficult climb time under my belt, I was definitely ready for some Chipotle-reward dinner!

Hills and skills 4

Ride that train

At a certain point, all the recovery rides start to fell kind of… similar. We meet at the same place every week (barring unforeseen cop towing threat incidents), at the same time, and follow the same route. That’s not to say that it isn’t a nice ride – it’s actually quite pretty and serves the “spin out” purpose well – it just doesn’t always provide a lot of fodder for blogging. And that’s saying a lot from someone who regularly spits out 900+ words for a 30 mile ride. If I’m not particularly injured or tired… if no one gets a flat or falls… or if no cars or wannabe race team try to kill me with their unexpected noise level or proximity… well, I’m pretty much at a loss.

The recovery loop after Coach George’s ride pretty much fits into that category. I still couldn’t really breathe, but that hardly falls under the “cool stories to report” header. The weather wasn’t particularly hot, and our group was relatively small. Approximately nothing of interest happened all the way up through Arastradero preserve and up the little climb before Alpine (unless you count a super-fail dropped chain in the middle of a major road while trying to make a left-hand turn).

And then we hit Alpine. Per usual, the strongest of our group (Coach Ron today) lead out the train down one of the fastest pieces of pavement I’ve ever ridden (at least in that direction). Coach Don tucked in behind him and I decided (despite my oxygen deficient condition) to grab his wheel. The rest fell in after me, and with a short ramp up period, we were off! Now I can remember a time when I was afraid to hop on Ron’s train. He’s fast as hell and I never wanted to be the person to kill the pace — plus my pacelining skills were shaky at best. Lately I’ve been able to hop on Don’s wheel early and keep up pretty well, so this week I decided to go for it.

Man did we fly! I made myself as small as possible, hit the drops and put the hammer down. There were a couple points that I had to really punch it up to keep in the slipstream… but I hung on that train all the way to the end! I’m sure there are a couple of you that will look at the stats and just sniff (darn gearheads!), but I was darn proud of hitting a 30+ mph pace on that road. I’ve definitely never gotten near 35mph without putting in a heckofalotta climbing beforehand (and definitely not while riding 6-8″ off someone’s rear wheel). Woohoo!

The rest of the loop pretty much sticks to standard playbook. I chatted in between gasping for breath and just generally enjoyed the company. Everyone made it back to the parking lot without incident and circled up at our normal spot for breakfast. In good news, with that extra little bit of quick ride work done, I definitely felt like I’d earned those pancakes!

719 Recovery Loop

The need to breathe

Coach George’s 7/18 buddy ride was excellent for quite a lot of reasons. First off, a ride that starts with a well formatted route sheet on arrival just makes me happy.

Side bar: I’m not entirely sure how so many bike riders fail to realize the space limitations of handlebars. There’s totally no room in a tiny map clip for three-quarters of a normal page width! I typically end up folding the vast majority of my sheets at weird locations (cutting off the helpful “tip” text) to make everything fit without encumbering my bar access — so I really appreciate when people get the format right. For the record, I’m also totally OCD about random crap like formatting issues… so I acknowledge/accept that the rest of the universe probably had to tune out during that little praise/rant section!

Aaaaaaand we’re back. After picking up my lovely route sheet and signing in, I had a few minutes to socialize with the crew while waiting for our pre-ride pep talk/info meeting. I was excited to see that Hilton (from my first season) made it, along with one of our honorees (and former ride support / coaches), Ed. I managed to corral them for a quick reunion photo before we rolled out.

Team Tikitiki reunites (partially)

The other big reason to love this ride was really familiarity. While the total loop was over 50 miles long, it mostly included locations that we’ve ridden before – which is definitely a bonus when you’re riding without SAG support! Hilton, Julie and I set out from our Starbucks basecamp and, after a few less familiar roads, found ourselves climbing up behind Foothill college — our new hill repeats stomping ground. We tackled a couple mini-climbs and then hit our first descent just in time to see Jonathan, on the side of the road, packing up his bike to be sagged out. Apparently, he’d hit a sharp banked right turn going a bit too fast (I think) and ended up going right off the road. Thankfully he was fine other than some more road rash action, but he’s definitely having a rough season for crashes! In some ways though, there was good in his misfortune. By an odd quirk of timing, my group was coming up on that curve just as they were recovering… so we all got a natural slowdown (and therefore safe descent) as we called to offer help. Eep!

We quickly progressed from the hill repeats area over to another favored haunt: the Arastradero preserve from our recovery ride. Hilton, Julie and I took our first rest stop there, and had a grand old time discussing the Tour coverage while we food/water-ed up (sometimes it’s nice to have that “go at your own pace” leisure!). Somewhere along the way we picked up Mike as well, and the four of us made easy work of that “not a climb” climb. With a quick left turn, we found ourselves rolling through another Bay Area favorite: the Portola Loop.

Now, it’s right about at this point in the ride (just after the devil false flat of Alpine) that I start to struggle a bit. For one, the day was really starting to heat up. By the time we actually hit Portola, I was glad for shade and starting to reapply sunscreen. But that wasn’t the real issue. You see… I hadn’t really thought that it might be important to mention… but I kinda couldn’t breathe (and still can’t for that matter). Not in an asthmatic sort of way, and definitely not in an allergies kinda mode. Truth be told, I wasn’t (and still am not) sure what was going on. I woke up one morning with a weird but minor condition that can really only be described as an intermittent chest tightness that only shows up when I take big, deep breaths. It doesn’t hurt all the time, and it doesn’t seem to be induced by stress, exercise, or known allergens (as I actually don’t have any). The issue had been going on for a little over a week at this point, and cycling had never really set it off. Before today.

Some combo of the heat and the lack of normal breathing rhythm caught up to me around mile 15 or so. My body wanted to take a few big deep breaths… but my chest would tighten up every time I tried. I didn’t hyperventilate or anything, I just took about a bazillion extra shallow breaths and felt more tired than I expected to at that point in the ride. So goes life. I was pretty confident that continuing the ride wouldn’t kill me (or even likely cause me any permanent damage), so I sucked it up (sadly, not literally) and rolled on. I felt slow and …gaspy… but I could definitely still pedal!

The ride continued for a good 20 miles without incident. We finished off the lovely shady end of the Portola loop pretty easily and I had what I felt to be a monster climb up Sand Hill (~10mph in the middle ring! Woohoo!). From there the route sheet took us through another portion of our normal recovery loop, passed the Stanford preserve and down Foothill expressway. Our fantastic foursome (to steal a moderately lame phrase) pretty well flew through this area – despite being nearly killed by another enormous peloton of biker bees – and had a nice recovery at Shoup Park before tackling the next big section (awesome thing number 3 about this ride? Lots of places for water and potty breaks!).

Isn’t the Stanford preserve area pretty?

By mile 30, the heat plus lack of oxygen combo was really getting to me. I was rocking some lead-legs, and definitely feeling the effort to turn the cranks over – even on a relatively mild stretch of kickoff ride road. (Seriously, if it’s part of the loop we hit on the very first ride of the season… it can’t be that challenging — we’d scare everyone away!) I kept huffing and puffing (well… taking quick, shallow breaths) and tried to keep my frustration level low (surprisingly, anger doesn’t really increase one’s ability to breathe easily) down the whole stretch of Foothill. From there we headed out to our old hill repeats torture section: Stevens Canyon Road! Oh yes folks, you read that right. Our last 15-ish miles was basically an out-and-back loop up passed our reservoir “warm up” stretch, to our old Eden laps turnaround park, and down the hill repeats graduation road. Fun times!

I had to make with some hawt birdbath action at the turnaround park, literally splashing the fountain water over my head and down my jersey to bring my core temp down to something reasonable. We were over 3.5 moving hours in at this point (probably somewhere around 1-1:30), and the day had gone from warm to hot. Pro tip #38: Pour water under your wick-away base layer if you want any hope of that cool goodness actually touching your skin. Those netted bastages definitely do their “keep water off skin” job, whether you want them to or not! With a little time to cool down, catch our breaths (especially important for me!), and carb-up, we all decided to make the final push and do the “graduation road.”

The climb out was more of a struggle than it should have been, but (as I told Julie and wasn’t lying) the rest of the ride really was all downhill. I mean… there were a couple rollers, but nothing that a bit of pedaling action and natural downhill momentum couldn’t solve. We all made it back to the start point intact and together — only to find that everyone else had already finished, SAG’d or bailed early. Oh well. We managed to rally a small group for some Chipotle reward action, before I headed home for some recorded Tour coverage. Nothing like spending all day biking, then coming home and spending hours watching other people do the same, no? Overall, the ride was a great route – although I did discover a lack of oxygen intake makes even familiar, easy roads challenging. I promise… I’ll get to the doctor at some point. Probably.

George Buddy Ride

Headwinds blow

As mentioned, I couldn’t make the normal recovery ride after our Half Moon Bay trip. After pulling a muscle, deep tissue massaging it and then going bowling… I figured my calf (and I) had done quite enough for one weekend. Of course, somewhere around 9am I started to feel guilty for skipping. I was awake. The loop’s pretty easy. I should’ve gone. Lactic acid was probably eating my muscles to death. I didn’t let anyone know that I wasn’t coming. And on and on it went. The other half of my brain (personality?) came back with a very cogent “but you don’t wanna re-pull my calf and get stranded” counterattack. After a good 30 minute mental struggle, I managed to prevent internal civil war with a compromise: I’d do a short, easy solo loop near the house. I’d still get to spin out the legs, but would be easily retrievable (by an unknowing Charles) should I accidentally break myself again.

I quickly suited up and rolled out. As you probably remember, there’s not much rideable area in my neighborhood, so I set out for the only viable destination near my house: the trail. Intending to keep the cadence high and the gears light, I downshifted a good bit — only to have to drop another 3 gears as the ever-present headwind smacked me in the face. I dodged pedestrians, dogs, strollers, kids (and a few slow arse people on bikes), all while battling what could only possibly be gale force winds. I managed to keep my speed up to an amazing 12ish miles an hour (on a route that has been proven to be +/- 1ft of elevation) before giving into the rational/lazy/superannoyed part of my brain somewhere around mile 4. I whipped around, took the tailwind and (carefully) sprinted for home.

Moral of the story? The Foster City trail, while convenient, is just not that fun to ride. Headwinds blow (literally), and slow people dodging will never really be fun. I did get a decent leg spin out, if only from the tailwind pushing me home… but the stress level certainly seemed too high to be true recovery.

FC Rec Loop


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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