Monday, January 30, 2012

Sweet Old Familiar

The road to Pescadero is the old, familiar route. For most cyclists on the Peninsula, it's the go-to route for a long weekend ride. It has that escape feeling: forests, ocean views, the town of Pescadero. You really feel like you've been somewhere far, far away. And, it has very few junk miles.

I do remember my first time on this route, probably in 1997. My first bike was a heavy old thing. Larry joked it was made of plumbing pipe! I was amazed at how many hills were involved. At that time my legs could handle just about one hill, consisting of one up and one down. Well, I felt betrayed. They could not climb hill after hill and everything seemed to be a hill. By the end of the ride I was completely knackered.

Today is not as different from that first experience as I would like. There were those 9 days off the bike due to a back injury. Then, I'm just moving slow for some unknown reason. Who knows why? Then, once again there is the 11:30am departure from my house.

Danny predicts I will make it home before dark. That prediction turns out to be false. Also, I feel like a slug all the way to the top of Old La Honda and Skyline. My back is kind of grumbling, after riding 3 days in a row. But it's worth it because:
  • Mentally and physically I need a long ride to blow the gunk out
  • I need to get out of the house
  • Pescadero has lunch options
  • My post-injury training plan needs to be kicked up a notch
All of these are in process! The weather is not quite as warm as yesterday, with a haze of high clouds keeping things cooler.

Old La Honda keeps going and going.

West Old La Honda does not disappoint, but leaves me one tube lighter.

Haskins Hill is a sweet climb through the redwoods, followed by a screaming descent. I'm on the Seven, which is rock-solid-no-worries-mate on descents. The route along Pescadero Creek strikes that quiet chord of natural beauty. We don't have this kind of silence in Silicon Valley.

And in Pescadero they are leaving the light on at the tacqueria, where the Chile Relleno Especiale brings it all home.

Now that the fuel tank is full, the late hour is a bit worrying. This is still January after all. No idea what time the sun sets.

But what can be done? I'm making up the route as I go along. West Alpine, though steep and long, would be a shortcut. Mental math: 3 miles on 84 from La Honda + 2.7 miles on West Old La Honda + 7 miles on Skyline to Page Mill. Versus 1 mile on Pescadero Creek Road + 9 miles (I think) on West Alpine, 7 of which are climbing.

The main advantage to West Alpine is that every pedal stroke will be directed toward home. It's the direct route. I know I'm gonna take it; it's just a matter of courage. There is no way the light is going to last, no matter the route.

This mental conversation is taking place along Stage Road before San Gregorio, and along 84 between San Gregorio and La Honda.

On 84 motoring east there is a plowed field to my right and the brown, irregular dirt spreads toward the low coastal hills. Under a soft January sky it is so beautiful it's hard to keep moving. But I do.

Further on there is a field with sheep grazing and if I keep looking, small baby sheep. They're tan and black, new and sleek. Impossibly small. "Oh, look at the sheep-lets!!" I can't help calling out aloud. I am not alone! The shepherd stretched out in the field pulls himself on his elbow and turns around to figure out what's going on. I keep going, a bit embarassed.

At the bottom of Alpine it is chilly, as expected. 1.8 miles of gentle uphill before it really starts to climb. At that point, a certain technique is serving me well. Sitting or standing, just hold the lower back completely still. Like it's against a wall or a board. Make the legs do all the work. This is a different way of riding, but it seems to work. My back is cranky, but no more cranky than this morning.

A bobcat lopes down a driveway and up the road, to the left. At the edge of the road it stops and looks back at me for an instant, then is gone.

For this stretch the goal is to make it to the upper half of Alpine as quickly as possible. The upper half is exposed and will therefore have more daylight later. As I reach the stop sign and start the second half of the climb, the light is soft. The sun might be ~20 minutes from going down, filtering strongly through the low clouds.

I'm rarely here this late. The light is a real treat. It takes my mind off the details of the hill and the climb goes pretty fast.

At a ranch several miles from the top I find this seasonal tribute:

I come to that certain point, an L-turn to the left that is the beginning of the end. After the summit the road coasts down for a mile or so, and this is one of the best views ever. To the right, Ben Lomond Mountain, the smoky and huge imposing ridge to the southwest, bathed in pink and light blue. Behind me there is a pure ivory color as the last light hits the coast. Two young deer cross the road, mounting a steep embankment.

I'm glad to be alone. Wouldn't know what to say to someone else.

Time is short now. At the intersection with Page Mill hurry up, get on jacket and hat and blinkie light. I should have known it would get dark all at once this time of year. But you make those decisions early in the ride, when you're thinking other thoughts. Now all I can do is let it all play out.

Page Mill has a little more climbing, then the descent comes. I go as fast as possible, knowing the Seven will absorb any bumps. In the shaded parts the road surface is not very visible. This is my home turf, though, so less scary. Down we go. There are the lights of San Jose. The whole valley is already dim, well into dusk.

Coming down steep, steep Moody with its unpredictable banked turns, I'm grateful for the small amount of daylight that is left. It is really helping. Then, in the canyon although Danny's little handlebar light is doing its best I truly miss my dynamo and Edelux lamp. They would not leave me virtually blind like this! And unseen too...a car pulls out right in front of me in the El Monte intersection. Yelling after the fact only accomplishes so much. Far better to have a light that makes the drivers flinch.

I reach home at the ripe hour of 6:17 pm. Time for a cup of tea and a bath and a burger. 72 miles, 6400 feet of climbing. For the weekend (counting Friday), 164 miles and ~12,000 feet of climbing.

So the back, while cranky, still functions OK. Overall I feel blissful and lazy. Mission accomplished.

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