Thursday, May 28, 2009

Strange encounter with a driver

So, I was riding home last night from the train station and was headed eastbound on Evelyn toward Sunnyvale from Mountain View. As I approached an intersection - I think it was Moorpark, the light was red. I was slowing and coming to a stop. A car pulls up on my left side and starts pacing me. The window was rolled down, and the lady inside says politely, "I'm going to need to turn right here." (of course we were about 50 feet from the intersection at this point, so one would have to yield to the other for her to get around the corner safely). I said, "normally, you should pull in behind me to turn right in this situation" as I was putting my foot down, and giving over the right of way. As I said that, the light turned green. She said "go ahead". I said "It's OK, you go ahead" (since my foot was already down and she was in front of me). Then, she said "thank you". Kind of weird.

Part of me was pleased that she was so polite and considerate. And, part of me was thinking that these interactions would be so much simpler if folks just understand the designated right of ways and abide by them - both cyclists and drivers.

So, just to review this situation and the proper response for everyone....When approaching an intersection on a road with bike lanes, the bike lane becomes a dotted line. This indicates that the bike lane is a right turn lane. While approaching the signal, straight ahead cyclists can indicate their intentions by moving out of the bike lane and into the middle of the lane (if it is safe to do so). Right turning cars should enter the bike lane (yielding to bikes in the lane) and turn right from there. If there is any doubt whether the car can overtake the cyclist in time for the turn, the car should slow and move behind the cyclist.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A tale of two Kerns

I'm not sure why, but I signed up for Kern 2009 after an absolutely miserable Kern 2008. I think it was because it is such a big gathering for the Velo Bellas, and I wanted to be part of that fun energy. And, Rick comforted me with the fact that the average temperature for that weekend in May, in Bakersfield, is 84 degrees. And, I wanted to exorcise the demon of that hill climb that I let dominate me last year. I do not easily give up, and was quite upset with myself after that. So, I told myself that if the temps turned up again, I could just go and hand out water bottles. Ha!

This year, I was much more prepared. Kern was actually my first real race this year, so in that sense, I was less prepared. But, all around, I was more prepared. I did not over-train this year. I built hard all month leading to Kern and then REALLY backed off the last week to let my form come up. Every time it got hot in the Bay Area, I made sure to ride in the hottest part of the day - sometimes with extra clothing with climbs. I wanted my body to become one with that feeling of being in a roasting pan.

My goals this year were:
-Make a huge improvement in the TT (specific goal was to take 1:45-2:45 off the time)
-Hang longer in the circuit race
-Finish the hill climb
-Suffer less than last year

I'm happy to report that all goals were accomplished.

We rolled into town on Thursday and hit the TT course for a preview and to open up the legs a bit. I took a couple looks at the hill and how I could minimize damage there. I was pleased that it was significantly cooler on Thursday than last year at the same time.

Bena Road TT

Friday we assembled at Bena Rd. around 11:30 a.m. We all registered and tried to stay out of the sun. The start times came out and they were placing us at 1 minute intervals instead of 30 second intervals. That created the first challenge of the day - to stay cool and hydrated and manage nutrition for a start that would be over an hour later than expected. It was about 90 degrees out - so a good 10-15 degrees cooler than the 2008 version. I just had to get over the start time change and focus on the event, being happy for the cooler weather and better preparation. When I went off, I did the whole thing on perceived exertion. I did not look at speed, heart rate or power - just went by feel. In the end, I finished with 32:28 - a full 3:17 faster than last year. Wooo hooo! I blew out my goal. I do think I could have gone a bit harder in a couple places. But, I kept myself from blowing and suffered significantly less than last year. So, two goals met for the first race.

Walker Basin Circuit

After a lousy night of sleep (all night mini-golf next to hotel), we headed out to the lovely Walker Basin. It was cooler in the mountains, but actually a bit warmer than last year overall. That was not a good sign. I was nervous about my first pack race in a while. The W4 group did 4 laps this year instead of 5. I figured that was most of the mileage my legs needed for the hill climb. Yay! I let myself be pushed into a bad position because of my nerves. But, I did OK. There was a crash that took a couple riders down in the first sprint up the hill. I was actually feeling good getting up the hill, but got gapped avoiding the crash. I was able to chase back on and hang for a while, but I was eventually doomed by the effort of chasing back after the crash and was dropped. The W4 field was BLAZING. We did the first 3 laps in about 1 hour. Crazy. That's faster than crit speed. We passed the W3, W35+ and W45+ fields. Next year I will be joining the safety and refined tactics of the W35+ group.

Havilah Hill Climb

It was HOTTTT again at the hill climb, though perhaps 5 degrees cooler than last year. I focused heavily on hydration and cooling for this race. I also learned some lessons last year that would be valuable. I ended up wearing an ice-filled Camel Back bladder under my jersey as I had done at the TT. This gave me extra water and cooling of the core. When the whistle went, I just settled into my Zone 3 pace and let the pack go. I knew I had to stay in Zone 3, because it was going to take me more than 1 hour and I couldn't be in Zone 4/5 much, if at all.

Right off the bat, there was another rider behind me. I tried to stay with Kat from Velo Girls, but she wanted to go a bit faster on the approach. I passed another rider in the first 3 miles. Stragglers from other fields came past me. I just focused on my own effort. A couple miles into the climb, one of the W4s came back down the hill. So, I had 2 behind me and one pulled out. Not bad so far. I finally caught up with Kat and we rode together for a bit. She had let herself blow a bit and was dealing with nausea. I ended up going past her when she blew again after the slight slack section. I played cat and mouse with Marsha, a team mate in the 55+. She was alternately walking and riding much faster than me. I just kept plugging along at my snail's pace. She eventually finished a couple minutes ahead of me. I felt GREAT until the last 1K. I think I started feeling the altitude a bit at that point and was breathing shallow breaths. But, I made it! And, I wasn't last! Perhaps next year I will try staying with the pack at least until the turn.

Woody Road Race

This was the point in the race where I suffered as much or more than last year. I started the day in last place, as I hadn't made enough time on Kat in the hill climb to make up for the circuit (barely) and the rider behind me pulled out at the start of the race. It was just as hot as last year, plus there was some humidity. It was miserable. And, the structure of the start was different than last year. We started with the steep, 2km climb that was at the end last year. I stayed with the pack over the first couple bumps. Then, I realized I would not be able to push that kind of effort and still finish the 50 miles. I backed off an buddied up with Kat to ride out the race. We could see Lala and Lisa H. ahead of us and thought we might be able to catch at some point. As we finished the first lap, Kat was feeling nauseous again and decided to call it a day. I felt good, so kept going. The 2nd time up the steep section really took it out of me, though. I told myself to just get to the feed zone where Rick and Michael were, and I could pull out if I needed to. But, they patched me up and encouraged me, so I continued to the finish. I think that was the slowest 50 mile ride of my life. I was literally limping to the end and then had a little meltdown riding back to the car. Fortunately, Ryan came by and gave me enough encouragement to get to the parking area. Thanks, Ryan!

So, despite a miserable last day, I had a great Kern. What a contrast with last year! I am making baby steps in the right direction. If I improve my TT as much this year as last, I will be in the top 5 next year. :) I met my goals and even ended up with the lantern rouge for my efforts. Thanks to all the Bella team mates and to Rick, Tyler, Michael and Erika for being our support crew. And, thanks to all the other racers, Velo Bob, and officials who did the give and take of encouragement the whole weekend. That is something that makes Kern a truly unique experience.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Article Part 3

We rendezvoused at 8:00 am the next day for breakfast, with a goal of rolling out about 10:00 am. The hotel had a decent breakfast spread, and we were able to stock up on enough calories to see us through lunch. My husband and I headed over to the local grocery deli to procure four sandwiches for lunch – knowing that it would be too many hours before we could reach a lunch spot.

The four of us headed out from Lompoc together. My mom and dad were still feeling good. My dad was having some knee pain, so I suggested he check his cleat position to make sure his knee and foot were properly aligned. We took off at a mellow pace at the bottom of the grade headed to Gaviota pass on Highway 1. The morning was beautiful and calm. We previously had not traveled this section of road since we routed through Solvang on our last tour down the coast. About 5 miles up the road, we came across another cyclist heading out from his van with his wife and daughter running SAG. We chatted for about 10 minutes and then continued on. By the halfway point, we hadn’t seen my parents in a while, so we pulled off on the side of the road in a sunny patch with a guardrail and enjoyed a snack while waiting. About 20 minutes later, we were regrouped and headed up the pass again. We passed some pretty farmhouses and vineyards. There were cottonwoods filling the canyon – still golden in color, even though it was late December. And, the recent rains had painted the hills a rich green color – a rarity in the inland part of Santa Barbara County.

We had another regroup at 10 miles. My dad’s knee was feeling much better since adjusting his cleat. I was happy to hear that news. Just after we started up again, my husband ran over a huge tack that went through the tire and sidewall. Knowing we had a long, high-speed descent coming up, we were not happy about the sidewall puncture. But, we sent my parents on ahead and proceeded to fix the tire. We booted it with a couple layers of booting material (Tyvex left over from shipping envelopes or race numbers). It took about 30 minutes to do it right, but gave my parents a good head start on the last five miles to the pass.

We caught them with one mile to go. I could tell they were starting to bonk as we arrived at the top of the pass (our designated lunch stop) and waited nearly 15 minutes for them to arrive. It had been three hours since leaving Lompoc, and we’d only covered 15 miles. I knew we would need to push, as it was 1:00 pm, and we still had 30-35 miles to reach Santa Barbara before dark. We had a quick lunch and headed down the pass. We were leery of the junction of Highway 101 and Highway 1. But, we barreled ahead. It turned out my fears were unfounded, as there was little traffic. The descent was lovely, and we had a little headwind, so we could slow ourselves down nicely by sticking out our elbows.

It was a beautiful, clear day as we hit the long coastal run on Highway 101. I’d never ridden that particular section and was worried about noise and traffic. But, there were reasonable gaps in the traffic where we could talk. And, the shoulder was plenty wide to avoid the cars. Shortly after starting south, I got a flat tire on the rear, which again gave my parents a chance to catch up a little bit. After fixing the tire, we continued on with a clear view of the Channel Islands in the distance – what a beautiful day! It was one of those clear views you can only get after the rains wash away the California smog. Our tour could not have been timed better.

My husband and I were making excellent time with the help of coastal tailwinds. So, again, we were quite a bit faster. We stopped at Refugio State Beach for a snack break and a chance for them to catch us again. We regrouped and had approximately two hours to complete the last 20 miles to Santa Barbara. We decided we would not regroup again until the end. We put our heads down and headed quickly to the Goleta exit where bikes had to leave the freeway. We did not know the exact location of the restaurant where we were meeting. But, fortunately, we had a GPS unit that was able to guide us there. At about 4:30 pm, we arrived at the Elephant Bar next to the Santa Barbara airport.

I ran in to change clothes. When I emerged, my aunt and uncle (my dad’s brother and wife) pulled up with my dad’s truck and their car. I started loading stuff in the truck while my husband went in to change. We were just finishing up as my parents arrived – at 5:00 pm straight up. That could not have been planned closer to the minute. My aunt, mom, husband and I went in to put our name in for a table while my dad and uncle loaded the rest of the equipment in the truck and locked everything down.

We enjoyed a hearty meal in celebration of our accomplishment and toasted my parent’s success with big glasses of ice water (and diet cola, of course). During the short, one and a half hour ride home, we marveled over all that we miss while speeding down the road in a car, and how much we enjoyed passing slowly through familiar territory on quiet back roads.

My parents are currently in the midst of a nine-month training plan to ready themselves for their first long tour. We will cover approximately 300 miles in 8-9 days, and will love every minute of it. I rediscovered my love of cycle touring and shared the love with my parents. That was my Christmas gift to all of us.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Article Part 2

Just south of Guadalupe are rolling farmlands. We got a strong odor of broccoli harvest and enjoyed the views of the lush, green hills dotted with ancient outbuildings. This is the flattest part of the route, and we were zipping along with almost no vehicular accompaniment. There was a nice highway patrol man who pulled over three vehicles in 10 short miles of riding, and I only think we saw about five total vehicles. I guess everyone who passes through the area must take the speed limit as more of a suggestion.

We were approaching the outskirts of Old Orcutt (our designated lunch stop) when we received a call from my parents. They had just arrived at Jack’s – the restaurant where we were going to refuel. We told them we were about 10 minutes out.

When we arrived at Jack’s, they had already commandeered a table outside. It was just warm enough to enjoy the patio and sun. We made our drink orders while perusing the menu. My husband and I decided breakfast for lunch was the order of the day and had some of the most decadent homemade cinnamon bread French toast I’d ever seen. It was caramelized to perfection and struck me as somewhere between French toast and a cinnamon roll. Mom and Dad shared a burger that looked to be an entire side of beef with a diet cola, of course. We’re still teaching them the fine art of fueling for a long tour. I did inform them that there would not be a steak dinner that evening, as they needed to replenish their glycogen stores. After a hearty and delicious lunch, we were ready to start the climbing. The Orcutt grade was first up.

As you leave Old Orcutt, the climbing starts almost immediately. The good news is that Highway 1 widens out to have a 10’ shoulder at that point. So, the high-speed traffic is much less nerve wracking. The Orcutt grade is very gentle and typically has a tail wind, as it did on this particular day. So, we zipped right to the top with little effort. My parents took a bit longer as they do not have such a benefit from tail winds on their low-slung trikes (the flip side being that they do not suffer as much from head winds).

Instead of following the typical coastal route of turning off on Highway 135 to the Harris grade, we continued on Highway 1 toward Vandenberg Air Force Base. My parents had a fear of Harris Grade and thought the other route was easier. We’d never used that stretch of road before, so it was an opportunity to try something new. We had another grade on Highway 1 before a long descent into a tree-lined valley. It was quite beautiful, actually, and I was glad to have a chance to see this new stretch. After zipping through the valley, I could see a long and steeper climb of about a mile reaching in front of us. It was only about 5-7%, however. Near the bottom of the hill, we came across a gentleman pushing a 20 year old hard tail mountain bike, fully loaded, with a trailer behind piled about eight feet high with pots and pans and dog food and a dog. His shirt said “We’re from Everywhere”. He asked if we’d throw him a rope and give him a pull, which was funny, since we were only going about eight miles per hour at the time. But, I suppose to him, it seemed we were blazing with speed.

We had a brief break at the top of the grade where my dad cracked open a cold, refreshing diet cola and prepared for the final run into Lompoc. We turned off to roll past the federal prison – a stretch a cycling friend of my parents had recommended. I was happy it was a weekend day. That would be a pretty heavy stretch with freight during the mid-week.

In Lompoc, we secured accommodation at the Holiday Inn Express. Everyone had a shower and then we headed out for a hearty dinner at Burrito Loco. On our previous trip down the coastal route, we ate lunch there. It was one of those times that I was so hungry that it seemed like the best food I’d ever eaten. It was still good this time – especially the salsa. I love the feeling of a hearty meal at the end of a long day of cycling – eating when truly hungry and feeling truly satisfied. It is a joy.

We called it an early night and enjoyed a long sleep in the pillow-filled, over-stuffed bed.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Article Part 1

Below is the first part of my article that I wish to submit to Adventure Cyclist. It is a first draft. I'd love input from any aspiring editors!

Teaching my Parents to Tour

A holiday mini-tour of the California central coast

My husband and I are avid bicycle tourists. We fell in love with touring in 2002 on a guided tour in Tuscany. We had already been riding recreationally on the weekends and doing some bicycle commuting, but that was our first foray into bicycle travel. As we went from hill town to hill town, we looked at the prices on the back of hotel room doors and the great Michelin maps of Europe and decided we could plan a similar trip for much less money if we were willing to carry our own load. So, in 2003 we bought touring bikes and panniers.

We decided to try self-supported credit card touring close to home as our first adventure. We roughly traveled the Pacific Coast route from our home in the Bay Area, California to my aunt and uncle’s home in Santa Barbara over one week, returning by train. We packed WAY too much stuff (4 panniers and a handle bar bag each), but that was part of the learning process. When we arrived at my parents’ home in Arroyo Grande for a rest day, we mailed about 16 pounds of stuff back home. It was a good thing, since we headed around Lake Cachuma and up over the old Stagecoach Road and Camino Cielo to eventually reach Santa Barbara. It was good being a little lighter for that part of the journey.

We subsequently did a tour in the Dolomites, Alps and Lake Country of Italy in 2004 followed by a tour from Bordeaux, France to Barcelona, Spain in 2005 and a tour in the Eastern Sierras in 2006. Each time we learn more things, have a grand adventure, and return refreshed and ready for the rhythms of everyday life to recommence. However, bicycle racing, job changes and injury have kept us away from touring for the last two years, and we are hungry for another adventure.

Recently, my parents became semi-retired and purchased two recumbent trikes with the idea of finding a recreational activity that was appealing to both of them. They expressed some curiosity and interest in our travel by bike and stated that they wanted us to plan a tour with them for my mother’s 60th birthday in late 2009. We are currently planning to take them on the Adventure Cycling “Washington Parks” small loop next fall.

Knowing there is a significant knowledge and fitness gap between recreational riding and touring, we decided to plan a little trial run before dragging them many miles from home to ride for 7-10 days. We had about a week off over the holidays this year, so we decided to plan a two day mini tour from their home – just to introduce them to the idea and feeling of touring.

As the time approached, I also felt that familiar mix of anxiety and excitement about heading out on another tour. There is always that small bit of apprehension – knowing how vulnerable we are on the road. However, I always tell myself that it must be overcome, that I will miss out on something truly special if I give in to the fear. And, this time, I really needed to fall in love with my bike again. Two long racing seasons had left cycling feeling a lot more like work and a lot less like adventure. While racing is fun and challenging, it is the adventure of travel that I love more than just about anything else about riding a bike. I love the tentative exploring of a new road and discovery of all the secret beauty along the way that you only see if you pass through slowly enough to notice. That is the great thing about traveling by bike – you can cover enough distance to reach a “destination” each day, yet you are moving slowly enough to enjoy the “journey” along the way.

We decided to make their first tour as easy and enjoyable as possible. For them, that meant keeping the terrain to a minimum, wide shoulders as much as possible, daily distance of less than 50 miles, a nice hotel room and hot meal in between the days, and a hassle free way to get home. We also decided that since we had a whole week available, we’d time the ride to good weather. We would not head out if rain were in the forecast. Being in central California afforded us that luxury. I know a lot of people who are able to just decide to tour, load up a bike, and head out on a fully loaded tour with no experience, minimal fitness and minimal planning. However, I believe a lot more people would discover and enjoy this form of travel if it is made more accessible at first and if they have mentors to show them the basics. That was the type of experience we wanted to provide for my parents. We decided to revisit a bit of our trip from 2003 and head down the Pacific coast route to Santa Barbara. However, with my parents’ needs in mind, we made some deviations from the route we’d previously taken.

The weather on Christmas Day was miserable with a lot of rain and wind. We just enjoyed Christmas dinner with friends and waited for the weather to pass. The next day, my parents were exhausted from the festivities of the prior day and it was still quite cold and windy. But, warmer temperatures and lighter winds were predicted for the following two days – the 27th and 28th of December – a Saturday and Sunday. We also figured truck traffic on the major highways would be lighter on the weekend days, so we decided to head out then. On the 26th, my Dad drove his Toyota Tacoma truck with crew cab down to Santa Barbara, which would serve as our transportation home. Fortunately, his sister had been down there visiting my aunt and uncle, so he was able to ride home with her. While he was doing that, my husband and I headed out on a tune-up ride to make sure all was well with our touring bikes that he’d just adjusted and lubed. We had a nice jaunt through the Edna valley and some lunch and headed home to pack.

We assisted my parents in packing – helping them decide which clothes were needed and also which supplies. We ensured they both had 2 spare tubes as well as 1 spare tire for the trip, as their tire size is a bit more eccentric. We also assisted them in minimizing their clothing selection for the weekend. In the end, my mom’s clothing selection was a bit too minimized as she only had one pair of pants, which became greasy the first day.

The following was our packing list:
1. Wallet (ID cards, medical cards, credit cards and some cash)
2. keys
3. cell phones and charger
4. GPS
5. Digital camera
6. 4 spare tubes and tire irons and patch kit
7. Multi tool with chain tool, hex wrenches and mini-pedal wrench
8. 2 pair cycling shorts (each)
9. 1 cycling jersey (each)
10. 1 wool base layer (each)
11. leg warmers (each)
12. 2 pair wool socks (each)
13. chemical toe warmers (It had been below freezing every night and morning for a couple weeks.)
14. cycling shoes
15. long-fingered cycling gloves
16. stocking cap
17. rain jacket
18. PJs and underwear
19. Lightweight street shoes
20. Jeans
21. T-shirt
22. Wool sweater (could be used with street clothes and as an extra layer on the bike)
23. Ziploc bag with approximately 2000 calories of portable snacks

All of the above items fit in 2 small panniers each – not even full. With all the winter clothing, we had about the same volume that we would have for a two-week tour in the summer, but fewer clothing items. In the summer, we would have two complete cycling kits, and two to three changes of street clothes. The summer clothes can be lightweight wools and technical fabrics that pack in a very small space.

Saturday morning, we arose around 7:00 am and eased ourselves into the tour. We switched from PJs to cycling clothes, put the PJs in the panniers, the panniers on the bikes and filled water bottles. All this was interspersed with breakfast and coffee. It was a beautiful, sunny morning. And, by 9:00 am, the temperatures had eased over 40 degrees. We were ready to roll!

As we headed out in the garage, we noticed something strange about my parents’ packing. A trunk bag had been situated on my mom’s trike, loaded with 6 diet colas for my Dad. In the end, he and my mom had a negotiation and she carried some of the cans, and he carried the others. Apparently, the trunk bag was selected for ease of access. We gave them a little head start via a friend’s pickup truck to Guadalupe, and we rolled out straight from their house.

We were using the Adventure Cycling Pacific coast route with a few modifications. Heading out of Arroyo Grande, we took the Los Berros Road option instead of heading directly up Highway 1 on to what is know as “the Mesa”. We’d taken Highway 1 on our previous tour. Los Berros Road was a nice, quiet option and also removed a bit of climbing, which was nice as we got warmed up. We rolled along the Mesa and eventually into the big descent to Guadalupe. We were joined by a large group of club cyclists as we descended and headed through the fields to the small town of Guadalupe.

In Guadalupe, we took a short break, removed jackets, and continued pedaling south. We passed the storefronts that were covered with colorful tile murals in October 2003. Today, they are more Spartan, thanks to the Paso Robles earthquake of December 22, 2003.

To be continued....