Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cleaning up our own house

I've been holding off on writing about this, since I fear I will bring some hypocritical bad karma down on myself or something. But, I think it's got to be said.

As some of you know, I've recently changed jobs and am now working on the border of Atherton/Menlo Park. In previous years, I've been commuting a bit off the beaten path - riding from north Sunnyvale to Cupertino. I would run into other bicycle commuters here and there, but nothing like my current situation.

If I am doing a workout, I may take the longer route to work via the outskirts of Mountain View and Foothill Boulevard. However, at least 4 times a week, I am using the much more popular Bryant Street bicycle boulevard and either Middlefield through Mountain View or the new Mountain View bicycle boulevard. This has got to be one of the most traveled bicycle corridors in the state. During my commutes, I've experienced a fair bit of dangerous, bad behavior from motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. However, as the weather has improved and the days longer, I've noticed a huge uptick in close calls with other cyclists during my ride. I started to take mental statistics about the behavior of my own people - the cyclists. Well, let's just say - it ain't pretty. None of us are going to be nominated for sainthood or anything. In fact, if our good deeds around cycling are weighed against the bad, I fear we may be found lacking.

In the last 4 weeks, I have only observed *one* other cyclist (other than Rick and I) come to a complete stop (either trackstand or foot down) at a stop sign along the route. One of literally hundreds. Seriously. Just because it's a bike boulevard and we get preference does not mean we can disregard the law.

So, now we come to Friday night. Friday night on my ride home, I was nearly hit 4 times by cyclists who took my right of way and disobeyed the law at traffic control devices. Believe me, I don't think I'm perfect in this regard. I have made mistakes in judgment that have put myself and others in danger, too. The difference is that I'm really trying to be aware and work on my cycling citizenry. So, 4 out of about 10 cyclists I encountered endangered me. An additional 2 were also riding recklessly - one talking on a cell phone while riding on the sidewalk, and one riding on the wrong side of the road. Another one was observed riding in commute traffic with iPod buds in both ears. Seriously. So, ~70% of the cyclists I encountered were a danger to themselves, pedestrians and other cyclists. In the meantime, I encountered several hundred automobiles - 2 of which took my right of way, and only one of which endangered me in the process.

The car who endangered me dove into the bike lane to right-pass a left-turning car just as I was approaching on the right - one of the known dangers of passing other traffic on the right in a bike lane, and why I sometimes choose to merge into a long line of cars. However, in this circumstance I was approaching an intersection where I wanted to go straight through and cars approaching from the other direction have to yield their left turns and often don't. So, sometimes it's safer for me to approach that intersection in the bike lane where the sight lines are better - rather than behind large vehicles.

Close call #1:
I was riding East on Bryant street, just having come across the bike bridge from Menlo Park. A cyclist traveling perpendicular to me on Palo Alto Ave. ran the one-way stop control as she turned left on to Bryant nearly tagging me as I went straight through. She did not even slow down or observe. Cyclist appeared to be in her early 20s on a nice, hybrid bike, wearing a helmet, riding in jeans and a Stanford sweatshirt. She had reasonable bike handling skills.

Close call #2:
A whole 1-2 blocks later, I am continuing east on Bryant approaching either Hawthorne or Everett. Both streets have a two-way stop sign with Bryant having no stops and the right of way. A cyclist approaching on my left slowed at the stop sign and "observed", but obviously not observing enough to "see" and then proceeded to blow the stop sign. I had to tag my brakes pretty hard not to t-bone him. I was riding "in the lane" so as to create decent site lines. He just did not look carefully enough. He was a middle aged male cyclist in full cycling gear on a nice touring-style bike.

Close call #3:
I am at the light at Carlson waiting to turn left (northbound) on E Charleston. The light turns green. There is a pedestrian in the crosswalk to my left with a baby carriage coming the opposite direction. I ease into the intersection and wait for her to clear. As I start to make my turn, a cyclist coming northbound on E Charleston from my right side runs the red light. I have to turn extra sharp to avoid being broadsided by him as he comes around my right side. Middle-aged, male cyclist on a fully equipped touring bike. It appears he saw me, deemed I was not a threat and would avoid him, and came through anyway.

Close call #4:
I was on Central Ave. (Mountain View bike boulevard) waiting to cross straight through over Moffett. In the opposite direction are lined up a car and a cyclist. I was pretty sure the car was fixing to take the right of way from me. He was signaling a left turn, revving the engine and already had the wheels turned a bit. The cyclist was a mystery. Sure enough, when the light changed, the car peeled out. The cyclist behind him continued into the intersection without signaling. As I was about 2/3 of the way across headed straight through, the cyclist starts turning left into me. We both apply brakes and have a little standoff. It felt a bit like a slow match sprint. Finally, I stepped on it and gunned the rest of the way through the intersection. Cyclist was a late 20s - early 30s male on a well-equipped hybrid bike with one iPod earbud in while riding.

Anyway, I'm just hoping maybe some of us can do a little soul searching in this area and see if we can improve our cycling behavior - both for PR and for the safety of other cyclists and pedestrians we share the road with. All of us know we face many threats when on the road and need to continue to advocate for better behavior/education/prosecution of motorists that threaten us. But, do we really need to be a threat to each other? Can't we do better?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Next month I will be attending the Kern County Women's Stage Race, which always seems to be the hottest race of the year.

Some of my teammates have the "Kern Taper", which I think involves some combination of asceticism (lack of alcohol and sugar) along with a big fitness build and rest right before the race. This year, I am practicing "Kern Acclimation", which involves exerting while being uncomfortably hot, so that when I arrive at the fabled stage race, I will not suffer the same magnitude as last year.

Last year I noted that on average the southern California gals just plain old did better at the race than the northern California gals. Are they more fit? Doubtful. More disciplined? Doubtful. The only difference I can think of is that they spend more time training in the heat. And, I fondly remembered the days when I could go running in the hundred degree heat in Stockton and be slightly uncomfortable, but not panicky hot like I was at Kern last year.

So, instead of always riding first thing in the morning, I've purposefully put myself out in the hottest part of the day. Well, this week, the weather presented the perfect opportunity for Kern simulation. So, I took full advantage. When I tell normal people my regimen, they just think I am crazy. But, that's OK.

Sunday, the temps soared to over 90 degrees. So, I planned to ride leaving around 1-2:00 pm and then stay out until 4:00, putting me in the hottest part of the day. I also had a climbing workout on Sunday, so I was going to be pushing pretty hard. I threw on a wool base layer and knickers just to up the effect. I figure 90 degrees with warm clothes has to be close to 105 degrees with minimal clothes. I did a series of climbs. And, on the lower part of Page Mill managed to give myself that crazy, woozy, panicky, tunnel vision feeling I had throughout the hill climb at Kern last year. I told myself to relax. It was a mental game. I finished that climb and had 2 others of less steepness and felt fine on those. I just have to relax and keep going.

Yesterday, I continued my acclimation. The temps soared to the mid-90s yesterday. And, we have no air conditioning at work and old, no-insulation construction. So, I got to practice sitting all day in the heat sweating and then doing my workout at the end of the day - just like day 2 at Kern. Amazingly, I felt cooler once I was on the bike. The cooling effect of the wind was good - even though it was still in the mid-90s when I left work. I was pleased that my resting heart rate in the heat was slightly elevated, but not nearly as high as I experienced at Kern last year. And, when I got to doing my efforts during the ride, I had to push as hard as I do in the morning to achieve the desired heart rate - so no major effects of the heat. Granted, the sun was not high in the sky, but the temps were still very high. I was pleased with my body's ability to cope.

Now that I've prepared myself for the worst, it will likely be in the 60s and raining during the race. But, that is OK, too. :)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Fits and Starts

Spring is coming to the Bay Area in fits and starts. Yesterday it was approaching 80 degrees and sunny. Today, it is 55 degrees with sheets of rain falling. I'm longing for Spring to take hold and usher in more predictable days. However, I know that in the end these rainy days will bring nourishment to the earth and other things that we need.

I did, however, take full advantage of our days in the sun. The Girls (aka the prayer and spiritual formation group I've been with for 13-ish years now) and I headed to Bodega Bay last weekend for a retreat. We have not been away together for a couple years. We rented this house that was constructed entirely of windows, it seemed. My friend Ann and I struggled up the windy roads in the dark on Friday night to arrive, only to awaken to spectacular views on Saturday morning. Out the front of the house was a 270 degree view of the ocean and out the back were rolling green hills dotted with cattle. What a treat! There was even a peaceful garden laden with honey bees doing their Spring thing. It was a perfect opportunity to relax, grow, and reflect. I can tell we are getting older, because the wine consumption was at an all-time low and the going to bed time much earlier than in the past. Much has changed for us over the past 13 years, but our reasons for struggling through life together are constant. It's been a spiritually difficult couple of years for me, but I find myself emerging, like Spring, in fits and starts.

One area that's been incredibly blessed for us is the financial aspect of life. Well, now that we've patched other things up, we have a little setback there. It's not that we are not OK. We are. But, certain goals will have to move to the back burner for now. I know this is all part of the rains that will nourish us and cause new growth when Spring finally takes hold. We just have to weather the storm. In the meantime, Rick's fitness and our garden will both enjoy a little tending while he looks for what he wants to do next.

Here's to the last fits of Winter and the promise of the start of Spring.