Monday, July 30, 2012

Wingman Extraordinaire

Johnny and I met up at our usual spot for the commute this morning.  He requested a 7am start time instead of our normal 6am because he had a date and an event last night.  Double duty in the PM called for an extra hour of sleep this morning.  Makes sense to me.  My extra hour of sleep caused me to be extra peppy on the ride.  But the peppiness did not manifest itself in a faster ride, necessarily.  It did, however, give me the strength to debate harder with Johnny regarding his usual liberal drivel.  You see, Johnny and I both claim to be pretty smart guys.  But we differ greatly on the political spectrum.  He trends towards left of left with the practicality of an economist (which means he spouts lots of tailor –made statistics in an attempt to justify his positions).  And I am firmly right of center, focusing primarily on fiscal practicality.  We tend to debate maybe once a week, only on our rides, and Johnny uses me as his test case to see if his cocktail party political logic will stand up to the masses.  I usually abuse him and poke holes in his logic, which better prepares him to defend his position when he has this same discussion with his friends who are much smarter than I am.  Anyhoo … without getting into the nitty gritty, this morning’s debate was around the educational system and how to solve the problems in California.  And, as usual, Johnny’s go-to solution is to throw money at the problem (“Its all about the kids”) … blah, blah, blah.

But this post is not about political leanings, its about our ride this morning and what an incredible wingman I am (I wish I were an incredible cyclist).  So as Johnny and I hit the MV Bike Trail, having been arguing for ten minutes or so, we passed this cute little thing dressed in a full team kit.  We both looked at each other and nodded in approval and kept riding.  My elevated heart rate - due to the debate - resulted in my pushing the pedals a bit harder, too.  And as we proceeded down the trail, we noticed that Chickey-poo had grabbed onto our wheels and was drafting us (this FatGuy does provide one of the best drafts in all of Marin County).  At the Mike’s Bikes light, we slowed and said our ‘good mornings’.  She acknowledged our efforts in dragging her around and we continued on together.  At another light, I chatted her up about her having to listen to our political debating.  She just giggled but the connection was made.  I further set the table for Johnny as I joked about what a raving Socialist he was … knowing that there was incredible odds that a woman, in Marin, on a bike, riding to work (she had a backpack on) would most likely be a bleeding-heart left-leaner, too.  So she and Johnny had a common ground.  As we (three) hit the Alexander Hill, I feigned being out of breath and let the two of them drop me (of course, it had nothing to do with the fact that Johnny and Chickey-poo don’t combine to weigh more than me).

Johnny let her go ahead and waited for me (only sixty seconds) at the top of the hill.  I assured him that we would catch back up to her in no time.  Johnny informed me that during their brief time together riding up Alexander, he had learned that a) she was an architect, b) she recently moved to Mill Valley from the City to help her focus on her cycling and c) she recently competed in the San Rafael Twilight Criterium.  Not bad info for a six/seven minute conversation.
While Johnny and Chickey-poo raced up the hill, I stopped to take a picture.  It seems that the Sausalito winds were a little too much for this old tree.  The gutters, windows and roof of this house seem like they have seen better days.  But they fared much better than the BMW underneath.

Being, again, the giver that I am, I picked up the pace and dragged Johnny up to her, meeting her just north of the North Tower on the Bridge.  Now the Pimp move would have been to let her drag us across the Bridge and then comment about what a stud she was after we had crossed.  But, no, Johnny is a bit off of his game.  He stupidly passed her and rode ahead.  Chickey-poo didn’t take the bait and she stayed well behind Johnny.  I went for the gentlemanly strategy and stayed behind - in part not to insult her and in part to just enjoy the view.  Chickey-poo turned left off the Bridge in a less than optimal route and I caught up with Johnny and we got ahead of her again.  This time, however, I helped Johnny see the error in his ways and we pushed ahead to be sure to be leading the pack once again.

The ride across Chrissy Field made for fertile grounds for Johnny and Chickey-poo to germinate their relationship.  I dropped some Marin cycling knowledge and asked her if she rode for Team Exergy/2012.  She was flattered and responded, “Yeah … this is my last ride before I head off to London for the Olympics.  Joking.”  Boom … She’s got a sense of humor, too.  Johnny did his part the rest of the ride to charm her.  I kept my mouth shut and just enjoyed the young love in the air.  Johnny even strayed from our normal route and followed Chickey-poo on her normal course, getting stopped at a stop light as I continued on my way.  In hindsight, that was a good move, Johnny, picking the longest light to just stand there and stare into each other’s eyes as you waited for the light to turn.  

Johnny got her name and, with the information we collected earlier, he has ample information to cyber-stalk her and fill in all the details.  I would be shocked if he didn’t already know her first and last name, current address, where she works (including work phone number) and other pertinent information.  Well done, buddy.  You are welcome for all the hard work I put in for you this morning.  I may be an old married fart, but I still have some game.  And I am happy to use my skills for your benefit.  Many happy rides, Johnny.  I want to be in the wedding party ... as long as the wedding is in a tropical locale.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

San Anselmo to Aptos

My wife decided to take a vacation with a couple of girlfriends and the kids down to Seascape Resort in Aptos.  I thought it would be a great idea to ride my bike down to Aptos to join them for the weekend.  Accompanied by the husband of one of the other moms, Mark (see 7/17 post for more info), we went for it.  We did very little pre-planning, agreeing only on the time and location of our departure.  Otherwise, the route and even the location of the resort were left to chance.   How hard could it be … head south to Aptos and then consult with Siri to get the final location of the resort.  Right?!?
My view of Mark from behind, for most of the day.  Ocean Beach.
We both stuffed down a solid breakfast, packed a ton of Cliff Shots, Gu, gels and other energy/nutrition products and hit the road.  We both had extra tubes and CO2, a little cash, our credit cards and our cell phones in case of emergency.  Mark talked me out of a backpack, so I dressed in short sleeves and a vest with the hopes of making it the entire way without a wardrobe change.  And having grown up in Woodside, Mark knew many of the roads and we both had a few ideas for options on the routes.
Careful of these sand swells on the highway.  They are way deeper than they look and can take you out in a second.
Crystal Springs Reservior
The first 15 miles basically followed my commute to work.  Mark commented as we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge that he rarely rides on the Bridge any more, and what a treat is was to do so.  I agreed with him and still feel lucky to be able to do this almost every way to work.  After the Golden Gate Bridge we headed on Lincoln up towards the Legion of Honor.  Mark noted that I was feeling peppy up that climb and suggested that I should slow down a bit as we had a long day ahead of us.  That said, Mark, being 50% faster than me up any incline saw my being a half-wheel ahead of him as a sign of me feeling good.  So he pushed the pace a little (note the Strava PRs going up this incline).

Nope, not my Cervelo

Mark and I agreed that we would we would not shy away from elevation and we should aim for the least trafficked route rather than the most direct.  Safety first, right?  Knowing that we would spend plenty of time on the Coast, we opted to skip the sketchy Devil’s Slide through Pacifica and Half Moon Bay and go for Skyline Drive.  Skyline is basically a freeway with a bike lane.  On Skyline, there were several spots where we had to cross an on-ramp or off-ramp to remain heading south. In the fog of Daly City, these were less than optimal paths.  But we made it unscathed.

Detour to Woodside
We wanted to cross over to the Coast in through Sharp Park, but a road closure forced us to continue inland on Skyline to the Crystal Springs Reservoir.  This route is an amazing trail which caters to walking, running, slow cycling.  There were a ton of people out and it is clear that the trail is well used.  Mark and I commented about the impossibility of building a trail like this (basically a six mile concrete pathway through a forest) in today’s planning environment.  Despite the trail being enjoyed by tons of people, the trend nowadays is to protect nature by closing it off from people.  The more sane planning would be to appreciate nature by allowing people to responsibly interact with it.  I’ll get off of my soapbox, now.

Bridge across 280
At the end of the trail, we rode Polhemus Rd. which parallels 280 for a few miles, then crossed over 280 on a walking bridge.  It was a cool sensation to be over the freeway with all the cars passing underneath.  This turned into Canada Road which we took all the way to Woodside.  In Woodside, we turned on Mountain Home Road and I was immediately impressed by the size of the homes and lots, and the obvious wealth in the area.  Silicon Valley money is the real deal.  Allegedly we passed Larry Ellison’s house somewhere on that street.  I was hoping to stop for an open house, but there were none on a Friday.  Mountain Home turned into Old La Honda Road.  Mark warned me about this climb, and wanted to get his heartbeat up, so he went on this climb alone.   There is nothing like a 3.7-mile, 1,311 foot climb at mile 55 to make my day.  I took it slow, really slow (2,269/2,870 on the Strava segment) and enjoyed the pedaling.  About ¾ of the way up, I noticed a guy behind me.  At that point my ego wouldn’t let me back off.  So I picked it up just to keep him behind me.  Mark rode down and paced me to the top.  What a guy.  As an aside, some of the street names off of Old La Honda were hilarious.  Keep in mind, this is a long climb, even in a car.  Some of the last streets at the top were ‘Home’, as in “I am finally home” and ‘Upenuf’, as in “Up enough”.  Get it?  Pretty clever.  Mark promised me that we were basically done with the climbing as we reached the top.  58 miles and over 5,500 feet of climbing.  Nice start to the day.

My new best friend, Old La Honda
There is my view of Mark, again.  Dropping me.
What goes up must come down.  Three miles of downhill led to 10+ miles of hammering along the steady decent to the Coast along Highway 84.  Mark was pushing the pace pretty hard and we maintained north of 25 miles per hour for most of the way.  Drafting behind Mark most of the way, I was oblivious to the headwind that was battering the front.  Having ridden Mark pretty steadily for 7 miles, I decided to jump ahead and do some pulling.  I immediately was a) blasted by the wind and b)of course, picked a spot which undulated into an uphill section.  I pushed as hard as I could for a mile or two.  Mark could tell that I was struggling to keep up the 25+ MPH pace and he came to my side.  He then said something that he should have said, oh, 50 miles ago.  He stated, “I don’t mind if we are going 10 MPH or 25 MPH, its just nice to get out of the wind for a little while.”  Here I am killing myself to keep up the pace, not wanting to insult Mark with my inferiority, and all he wanted was a little rest.  Didn’t he know that I provide one of the greatest drafts in all of California?  If a rest is what you want, a rest is what you shall receive.  We continued forward and, at mile 75ish, we hit the Coast.

The California Coastline
 You will recall that neither Mark nor I knew exactly how far this ride was going to be.  I had assumed that we would be somewhere between 90 and 110 miles.  But I also realized that our detour into Woodside, rather than taking Highway 1 the entire way, probably added some mileage to the route.  Hitting San Gregorio at mile 75 was an ominous sign.  Add to that the fact that I had drunk all of my water on the Old La Honda climb and the Highway 84 sprint, the rolling hills of the Coastline were going to be interesting.  Luckily, we encountered a gale force tailwind almost immediately as we headed south on Highway 1.  This, again, made for a great pace as we headed onward.  But almost immediately, by about mile 80, my hamstrings and calves started to cramp.  I struggled for the next ten miles to keep up with Mark.  And by mile 90, Ano Nuevo State Reserve, I got dropped.  I kept Mark in my sights (a half mile to mile down the road), but I was struggling mightily with my leg cramps.  I was begging to find a convenience store on the Highway, of which there were none.  I basically soft pedaled up the rolling hills, losing ground on Mark, and then pushed on the down hills to catch up.  I really didn’t think I could keep going due to the cramps.  I didn’t want to complain to Mark, who was clearly taking it easy on me, but I truly had never experienced cramps like this ever before.  And furthermore, stopping was not an option.  There was no one to pick us up and, frankly, I had no idea where we were.
Davenport strawberry stand.  My savior.  First water in 30+ miles.  I was impressed by the do-it-yourself cash register.
Finally, at mile 101, we hit a strawberry stand in the town of Davenport that had water.  I was praying for some salt to help with the cramps.  But there was none.  I guzzled three bottles of water which did me a lot of good.  We refilled our bottles, ate the rest of my egg burrito and headed off again.  But five miles later, the cramps came back.  Mark dropped me, again, and I was the loneliest guy on the planet.  If it were not for the tail wind, I don’t think I could have kept my bike upright.  Although I was going 18-20 miles per hour, the tailwind probably provided 85% of that speed.

At mile 110, we hit civilization in Santa Cruz.  I was saved by the stop lights and traffic in both directions.  We passed a convenience store and Mark insisted that I stop and buy a bag of potato chips to help with the cramps.   Being frustrated, I whined, “Let’s just keep going.  Let’s just get there”.  That comment set Mark over the edge.  He responded, “For god’s sake, eat something.  You are going so fu&*ing slow.  No need to be a hero”.  And I got the point.  We went into the Quickie Mart and I bought the saltiest thing I could find … a bag of Cheetos.  My mouth rejected the taste, but the salt kept me from the edge.  It was city streets and stop lights from this point on.  We were a little lost and Siri did not do a very good job getting us to our destination.  But some locals  helped us find our way to the resort.

Starting in San Anselmo at 6.21am, after 122.8 miles, 7,826 feet of elevation and 5,531 calories consumed, we arrived at Seascape Resort in Aptos.  It took 8 hours and 30 seconds of time in the saddle, with only 33 minutes of rest, but we made it.  I jumped straight into the pool and immediately cramped up again.  The cramps and soreness continued until Sunday night.  But I was back into the normal commute come Monday morning. 

Sunset over Aptos.  Crescent moon above the horizon.  The picture doesn't even come close to doing justice.
Oh, and Mark is such a stud, that he decided to get some climbing in on Sunday morning before the car ride home.  He hit the hills and got picked up by his wife after another 60 miles and 4,000 feet.  Animal.

The Marin Century in two weeks will be a piece of cake compared to this ride.  Plenty of food and water will make for a leisurely 100 miles around The County.  Looking forward to that, and introducing you all to the Near Naked Man.  Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Camino Alto

By now you have come to understand that Camino Alto - the 1.1 mile, 400 foot climb between Larkspur and Mill Valley - is both my nemesis and my best friend.   I battle Camino Alto every day, often twice a day on my regular commute route.  Heading into work, at mile five, it is the first effort that gets me warmed up.  And heading home, at mile 17, it is the beast that prevents me from seeing my kids more quickly.

So speaking of kids, I enjoy riding bikes with mine quite a bit.  We have done the Skoot bike thing, graduated to training wheels, and I am working on getting my son onto two wheels.  But my buddy Mark has taken riding bikes with his son (almost 5 years old) to a whole new level.  Mark rides a trail-a-bike with his son, Grant, all over Marin.  Their normal routes include round trips from their home in Ross to Sausalito (for coffee and hot chocolate).  Or even a one-way trip to Stinson Beach.  Mighty aggressive.  It goes without saying that Mark is incredibly strong on the bike and regularly blows my doors off when we ride together.  Mark does not do the Strava thing for his own rides, but he did set up a Strava account for Grant to track the rides that they do together on the trail-a-bike.

So Monday morning, after a leisurely commute to work, I get a text from Mark.  "BTW, Grant beat your time up Camino Alto yesterday".  I looked and he was right.  My previous northbound record on Camino Alto was 7 minutes and 9 seconds.  Grant (and Mark) did it in 7.03.  As I mentioned above, I don't usually go that hard on Camino Alto, as I only ride it following a 22 mile commute to work, a full work day and 17 miles home in typically horrific wind.  But Mark's text send me on a mission.  That entire day at work, I obsessed about how I was going to attack the hill.  On the ride home, I bumped into my buddy Scotty who is one of the top climbers in all of Marin County.  He holds tons of Strava KOMs and is regularly at the top pf all my friends' segments.  Scott giggled at my predicament of breaking my PR, but it also added a level of competition to our generally slow and boring ride home.

Scott set the strategy that we should hit the bottom of the hill hard, keep our momentum at a high cadence through the Scott Valley spike, then shift into the big ring and hammer to the summit.  Scott would leisurely stay 10-20 feet in front of me to give me a pace and a target (and I refused to draft off of him to gain an advantage.  Our strategy worked well up to the spike.  But my gears did not cooperate when I tried to shift to the big ring.  I spent about 15 seconds having shifted my big ring, but the gears did not move over.  I up-shifted my little ring, back and forth maybe ten times, to try and pull the chain in the big ring.  Finally, the gears went and I was in teh big ring.  But I had lost a lot of momentum and was also stuck in a very high gear.  As we approached the summit, I knew that we had cut significant time off of 7 minutes, but I was not certain how much.  But when I got home, I was more than pleased with my new PR of 6.03, carving more than a minute from my old time.

Pleased, that is, until Wednesday morning ... It seems that StravaMo, having seen that I set a new PR on Monday afternoon, set his sights on my time on his ride home on Tuesday.  And when I got online on Wednesday morning, StravaMo had beat my time on Camino Alto by one freaking second, 6.02.  So, of course, I was on another mission on Wednesday afternoon.  Using the same strategy as Monday afternoon, I gave the hill everything I had.  Luckily, I did not have the the big ring issues that I did on Monday.  And upon reaching the top, I truly had nothing left in the tank.  The data does not lie ... 5 minutes 58 seconds!!  Take that, Mo.  I'll be ready when you come at me again,

This big body is built for powerful sprints on the flats and maybe 20 second bursts up hills.  Going 100% for six minutes is simply too much work for the FatGuy.  Anyone want to challenge me in the flats?