Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wednesday Montebello IV

A cold front passed through the Bay Area early this morning. The streets were still wet and showers were forecast to last through the afternoon.

Still.

C. was coming to clean the house and I am so tired of being a sick troll. So just before noon I ventured forth on the Waterford, sniffing the air. In case of inclement weather, it's usually best to stay low and Montebello is not low.

At the light at El Camino, things were looking pretty thick and grim up there on the ridge. Cuesta was the first opportunity to bail out and do a flatter route. I kept going. Covington was next, kept going. Finally at Grant and Foothill the hill didn't look completely socked in. Worth a try...

Turning onto Montebello Road, I clanked down into the little ring. No heroics today.

The climb was blissfully quiet. Just turning over the pedals. Views to the east of the whole valley. Clouds close but not too threatening. Two stops: one to put on a jacket and one to put on gloves. At the top, of course, it's blowing and cold.

Judging from the fingers-and-toes-o-meter, just about freezing.

At the gate the sky looks dark but also like it will hold. I go around and up. The surface is good and tacky. There are some parts where the tacky is actually a little too wet, a sandy mud that slows down the wheel. But there's enough of the other stuff to be able to make it to the top. The wind is blowing ripples across the puddles and a few drops come down, too. The top!

No stop at the top. I have the feeling, descending on dirt, of being completely expendable. Nature in all her power is just going to smite me down here on this ridgetop. Must get down (in one piece).

Two stops on the way down. One to admire westward view of hills, near and far, out toward the ocean. And one in a clearing to watch red-tailed hawks, two pairs, in the middle of an airborne courtship ritual. The first pair is quite large, the second pair a more moderate size. Maybe younger? There are several screeching cries, unmistakeable.

On Page Mill, it's not possible to descend fast enough for my frozen digits! But fast it goes.

And just like that, the descent is done. Spent. For a while I forget to be sick and somehow dodge the flat route!

And, according to the hawks, it is spring.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

4 days off the bike

In a word, sick.

Sometimes, that osteopathic manipulation is just the thing. Pain all gone (temporarily)!

Sometimes, it takes me down, way down. I'll crave juice with echinacea on the way home. Or, I'll feel sore and low energy for a couple of days. Or, I'll get sick.

I should know by now that when he mentions Epsom salts at the end of a session, it's time to pull out all the stops in self-care. This time there was a little lag, and look at me now. I'm a troll.

On the bright side, the acute thing with my back is almost better. I think it was what they call a chain reaction muscle spasm, involving the Quadratus Lumborum muscle. And of course its friend, that nerve that runs all the way to the tailbone. Now it's just the whiplash, the gift that keeps on giving...

But Death Valley was somehow good all around, with lots of climbing but hardly any of it steep, sleeping on just a Thermarest mattress, strategic applications of ibuprofen and ice. It's a small pleasure, telling this to Dr. Friedman and watching his forehead wrinkle.

Today was a small ride through the local hills to the top of Altamont. Let's call it a forced march (so says the troll). I'd like to be better by the weekend so I can ride the Davis 200k.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The road ahead


This truck was parked next to our campsite in Death Valley. If you look closely on the middle left of the tailgate, you'll see a Route 66 sticker, Chicago to LA. (Click to enlarge photo.)

The truck belongs to Gary Kern, fellow Supper Tourist. The last night of the trip Gary and I got a chance to talk about Route 66.

Last year Gary and a friend attempted to ride all of Route 66 without support. The friend went home after 3 days. Gary persisted for 3 weeks, but he said there are no route sheets to speak of, to help with navigation. Often by default he ended up riding all day on the interstate. Also, it was May and hot as heck. He took long breaks in the middle of the day to survive.

Not really what I wanted to hear!

Somewhere in Oklahoma he saw a bicycle go by, then another. It was Lon and Susan's group riding the Eastern Half of Route 66. Gary was so glad to see other cyclists that he rode and hung out with them for a couple of days. Lon was great about it - sometimes tours are not so accepting toward independent tourists. Lon is very knowledgeable about the non-interstate routes, which live in his head at the moment.

Whew!

Overall Gary was very encouraging and said I'd be in good hands.

Still, reflecting on this conversation as well as the rides of the past week... I might have underestimated the difficulty of riding 60 miles a day, 17 days in a row. Time to mentally prepare for the road ahead.

Also, it's pretty ambitious (or maybe crazy) to ride 400 miles down to Santa Monica before starting the trip. Danny suggests leaving a couple of days to recover before starting Route 66. Might have to do that!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Playing hooky

Yesterday I didn't ride. Today neither.

Today's reason was an appointment with Dr. Friedman. It doesn't go very well if I ride there and back. My body gets confused - do I want it to heal and regenerate, or do I want it to transport me somewhere? And Dr. Friedman tends to frown when I show up in bike clothes. He thinks biking is causing the problem with my back.

Yesterday's reason was I was just severely missing the whole Death Valley experience, especially the people. Mike and Scott from Colorado, Chuck from Morgan Hill, Walt and Barry and Roger from Davis, Doug and Chris from Oregon. Bill the organizer and Mimi our cook. The transition back to suburbia and solitude was not totally smooth. But it was an opportunity to think about a lot of things.

During the accident the front part of my head hit the seat in front of me, the headrest. The spot on the bridge of my nose is still sore and might be stuck that way. But that's just a physical spot. I have to press on it to make it hurt.


After the impact, the front of my brain probably hit against the inside of my skull. Then the back of my brain probably hit against the back of my skull, and so on. Like water sloshing in a bathtub. I'm not really into morbid discussions for their own sake. It does seem to matter, though, where your brain is injured. I was looking at this brain map yesterday and revisiting symptoms.

One thing that's stored in the frontal lobes is the sense of self. In all of the noise and chaos  following the accident, there have been times when I could grab onto a familiar pattern and keep repeating it until it was learned again, mine again. That was reassuring. There are also times like this week where reality seems a little too, well, flexible.

Lots of things are the same, for better or worse. Impatience and stubbornness. Tendency to judge people harshly. Love for animals and nature. Generosity, to a fault. I can still solve problems. Learn a language. Soak up art.

The differences are subtle. Like, I can't always remember what my values are or why they are there. Can't tell a cohesive narrative from childhood to here and now. It's like those things happened to a different person. And as a result, I can't see clearly what the next step might be.

On the one hand, it's given me lots of perspective on the people in my life, on my past, that was missing before. I no longer have visceral reactions when I think about painful experiences. Those memories are more like stories, or scenes from screenplays. I've read them but they were written by someone else. That sense of distance has been really helpful.

On the other hand, it's scary not being grounded in the past. Like being a teenager again.

It's a second chance to chart my course. Last week we looked up at the Milky Way almost every night. Looked through binoculars so you could see countless points of light way out there. I still love gazing at the stars. Camping and hiking and being outside. The desert. Socializing with people.

Having found all that again, it was hard to release it. Hopefully it won't fade away -

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Another good hair day in Woodside

Needed a haircut and today was the day. No camera - the battery is still recharging.

But the Seven and I head out toward Woodside. The traffic seems heavy and super-charged, even though these are kind of rural roads. I'm missing Death Valley already.

Up Old La Honda. It gets a lot quieter, but still. North on Skyline to Kings Mountain. Screaming downhill to Woodside. It's like a summer day - jacket not strictly necessary.

Carly cuts my hair. As usual I head over to the cafe for a euro-style lunch. Normally, this makes me happy and reminds me of vacation. Today it is just lunch and not one thing more. At one point, it's like 'where IS everyone?' Who cares whether lunch is salad with wild salmon and hard-cooked egg instead of PB&J. It's too quiet!

At camp we ate every meal together, laughing and talking. With around 20 tents set up on 3 campsites, it  felt like living in a dorm. And suddenly it's all gone, everyone is back in their life. As it should be, and yet...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dust and wind and tents, oh my!

Back in camp, there was socializing before we took off for the showers. The strong winds had tossed my tent on its head, so I righted it and anchored the corners with large rocks (inside the tent).

After a few minutes of standing around Doug from Eugene shaded his eyes and looked west. "What IS that thing?" he said. It was a classic horror movie intro. Mundane camp scene, unsuspecting victims, middle of the afternoon. A huge, nebulous cloud of unknown origins was advancing across the valley, toward the campground.


I snagged Chuck Schroyer, who had a ton of experience with Death Valley. "Hey Chuck, is that dust or rain headed our way?" "Dust!" he said. "Better get in the tent".

And so we did. But not before Scott reminded us it was time to put away anything we cared about, like the bikes. The Waterford opted to go in the bathroom, which was a fixed concrete structure. I wished I could have done the same.

News Story: Haboob strikes Death Valley National Park

Instead I got in the tent (grimy jersey and shorts and all) and zipped everything up tight. As it turns out, being in your tent is the best way to save it from collapse or flight. At 1:40 pm the dust storm, or haboob, hit camp. Aside from the day of the accident, I had experienced nothing like it! It certainly felt like our survival was at stake. Here's some video of what it looked like from inside my tent, and from a car parked next to camp.


Thanks to Doug Ben for the footage from the car!

Inside the tent may have been the best place, but it was not exactly reassuring. Looking up, at least 3 clips were not attached to the tent poles! The clips are really only effective when attached. The fly wasn't staked, nor was the tent. The ground around my tent was so rocky and hard I couldn't drive the stakes into the ground. They just bent. So the fly was flapping wildly. I wondered how many tent clips had to be attached for this particular tent to stay up. It was also easy to imagine the fly just lifting like a kite and being taken by the storm.

To secure the tent I reached one foot down into the right corner, then grabbed the tent wall and the fly together with my right hand. I kept this position for maybe half the storm, 30 minutes, grabbing tight. It made me feel better, to have a hold on the fly. Over and over, wind gusts pounded the tent and the poles flexed in response. I was scared.

Finally I heard Scott outside taking care of the tent next door, Harlan's, which had collapsed. When there were no more gusts I unzipped and poked my head out. All seemed calm. Several tents were completely down and several had their poles damaged. At least a couple were ripped. Mimi, our cook, watched from her car as her tent went down. Tents with lots of mesh for ventilation now were full of dust and sand. Phil and Gary, who were on their bicycles on the road when the storm hit, got picked up by (of all things) a compassionate FedEx driver.

No injuries or serious damage. What a relief to have a quiet camp again. Hey, a little adventure! It turns out that dust storms like this one are not that common. Someone talked to a ranger who said this was only the sixth or seventh he had seen in something like 13 years. Comparing notes, it turns out that many of us spent the storm bracing our tents with feet and hands. And taking videos to post on the Internet!

Later, some people would say it was fun... I wouldn't go that far, but no real harm done. Overall:

  • This laptop survived the tent upheaval during our ride to Badwater.
  • My 20-year-old 4-season tent made it unscathed through the dust storm.
  • We got showers. 
  • And supper!

Someone suggested that next year tent companies should sponsor us to test their tents at Supper Tour...

The invisible hand

To have always
Had the wind for a friend is no recommendation. 

John Ashbery "Some Old Tires"


Death Valley is a visual feast. Looking at our photos, they tell a story that is somehow bigger than the trip. On the little SD card from my own camera, or the playback screen of someone else's camera or iPad, or even the postcards in the Furnace Creek General Store, it doesn't seem to matter. Recorded there are the gorgeous light, the many textures of rock, the expanse of sky with a few of its infinite variations. 

Everything is there, although the scale of the landscape appears smaller than it really is. The place is epic and I like that. Here I feel appropriately small, temporary, quiet. It's the truth. It's good to be in touch with that.

The other thing completely missing from the visual images is...wind. Wind is the significant force in DV, the invisible hand controlling everything. Every morning wind was the topic of discussion around camp. How much wind today, and from which direction? What time is the wind supposed to come up? Wind can change a ride beyond recognition.

Almost every night it woke me up by shaking the sides of the tent around 1am. I drank a water bottle and went back to sleep. But during the day, there was no shelter or escape.

The first day of serious wind was Day 2, the Badwater day. I was riding with Allan Armstrong, and no sooner did we tell each other 'no wind'! than the wind kicked up. 6 miles into a 25 mile leg. The photos show only a peaceful valley, so I made a video. (Make sure your sound is on...)



Here I am probably crawling along at less than 10 mph. The road is flat or slightly downhill! It was tough keeping the bike on the road and this was the hardest 15 or so miles I've done in a long time. I sang a song from O Brother Where art Thou? to keep moving. The wind was so loud I couldn't hear myself!  

When we got to Badwater, we walked out on the salt flats and savored the lowest spot in the lower 48. After downing a PB&J sandwich I tasted the salt from the ancient sea floor. Strong!
Then poor Allan had to tell me his bike had blown into my bike and knocked both over!

Artist Drive might have been the greatest bike road of the trip. It was a climb but also a small road like most of us are used to riding on. We fought crosswinds for a while, then were rewarded with a tailwind when we turned back onto the main road.


With a 30 mph wind at our backs, that sure was a quick trip back to the campground! As it turns out, there would be little time to relax...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Riding for our supper

Sunday morning (Day 1) the weather was fine and warm. We Supper Tourists started as a group, rolling together down the hill from the campground toward Furnace Creek. After that, the route would be all uphill to Dante's Peak.

I hadn't paid much attention to the route description. This was an out-and-back with 2 turns. But after a few miles some comment about an 'increasing grade' began to tickle my memory. It was getting steeper. And steeper. The last push up to the peak at 5654 feet was 15%! The grade was particularly unkind to those of us just beginning to train for the season.

We sat at the lookout point, enjoying the views and eating the sandwiches from our jersey pockets.



After a descent back to the campground, it was time to hit the showers at Furnace Creek and chill out for an hour or two. Relax, apply ice to the lower back and take ibuprofen. This pattern would repeat each day, with different terrain and mileage.

Here's the rundown of each day's route:


Day Destination Mileage Climbing
Sunday Dante's Peak 51 miles 5600 feet
Monday Badwater with Artist's Drive 51 miles 2300 feet
Tuesday Scotty's Castle 72 miles 4400 feet
Wednesday Stovepipe Wells 51 miles 1000? feet
Thursday Golden Canyon Hike 4 miles? n/a
Friday Ashford Mill to Shoshone 58 miles 5925 feet

These routes were suggestions - there was always the option to hike or do something custom, if we felt like it.

Overall we found the roads in great shape and traffic much lighter than at home. With no competition for space, drivers gave us cyclists plenty of room. High temperatures were in the 70's most days. Scenery varied greatly from ride to ride, and sometimes a 10 minute interval on the same road would reveal different geology, different light, different views.

The epic landscape was the backdrop for our training, with high mountains ringing the valley: to the west, the Panamint Range and to the east, the Grapevine, Funeral, and Black Mountains. As you can see from the routes above, we climbed plenty of hills.

Conditions would have been textbook and boring, except...

Welcome to Death Valley

Just stuffed a load of bike clothes into the washer and hit Power Wash. Now there's time to look back on the past week in Death Valley. A recap of logistics:

  1. Friday, stuffed camping and bike gear into panniers and rode 50 miles south. Left in garage of another rider, whom I had never met. Rode 2 buses home.
  2. Flew to Las Vegas Sat am. Took taxi to strip, then bus 21 miles north to a casino in North Las Vegas. Mike and Scott arrive at 2:30pm.
  3. Scott drove 2.5 hours east to DV. Arrived at campground and set up tent just at dusk. Reunited with bike and gear.
All this to avoid I-5 and the scene of the accident. Just couldn't do it. If I'm hurt again I don't know how to dig myself out.

Thankfully, Mike and Scott are driving 13 hours from the Denver area to Death Valley and agreed to pick me up. They are great company, very funny and warm. I am lucky.

Coming into the park at dusk, again there is that lucky feeling. The mountains and rock outcroppings around our campground are colored pink. The dry air is warm and cool at the same time. It's good to breathe. Sometimes you have to go away to feel at home.

Most other tents are already up; we find 3 sites, set up, and head to dinner. There are introductions, and the week of adventures in front of us. Besides us there are riders from Marin, Berkeley Davis, Oregon. Life is good.

I'm also looking forward to a week of no cooking! And dry backpacking food this is not. Here are the menus:

DINNER ONE- Feb. 11th.

THREE CHEESE BALLS- blue cheese, feta, parmesan, walnuts. With crackers and grapes.
MAGRUDER BEEF STEW-  local beef, with carrots, potatoes, onions, stewed tomatoes, garlic, thyme, red wine, salt, pepper, bay leaf, parsley.
GARDEN GREEN SALAD- salad mix, cucumbers, purple and green cabbage, grated carrots.
BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE- olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, tarragon, dill.
FREY RANCH BREAD- made with local Frey Ranch wheat.
ROSEMARY GARLIC BUTTER- butter, rosemary, olive  oil, garlic, salt. 
APPLE COBBLER- with Frey apples, and an oat streusel topping. Gluten free.
VANILLA CREAM- whipped cream, vanilla, sugar.
 
DINNER TWO- Feb. 12th.
 
TAMALES-  Choice of chicken, pork, veggie. Served with sour cream, cilantro, shredded cheese.
GUACAMOLE- avocados, tomato, onion, garlic, lime juice, salt, cilantro.
SALSA MEXICANA- tomato, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, lemon juice, garlic, salt.
WHITE BEAN SOUP WITH KALE & CARROTS- white beans, stock, garlic, cumin, kale, carrots, onions, celery,  red pepper, salt, pepper.
GARDEN GREEN SALAD AND BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE
FLOSSIE’S CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH CRÈME FRAICHE- sour cream, whipped cream, sugar.
 
DINNER THREE- Feb. 13th.
 
BURRITO BAR- with tortilla chips, and fresh salsa. With grated cheese and sour cream.
SALSA- tomato, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, lemon juice, salt.
MEXICANA HAMBURGUESA- Local grass fed hamburger, cilantro, Chile powder, onions, garlic, cayenne, salt.
PINTO BEANS- salt, pepper, olive oil, garlic, herbs.
MEXICAN RICE- rice, onion, tomato, garlic, olive oil, parsley, salt.
COLE SLAW WITH BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE
APPLE PIES WITH MAPLE CREAM-  with cinnamon, cardamom, lemon peel. Topped with:
MAPLE CREAM- whipped cream, vanilla, maple syrup.
 
DINNER FOUR- Feb. 14th. VALENTINES DAY!!!! 
 
APPS. Fine cheeses, crackers, fruit, olives, tamari almonds.
CHICKEN CACCIATORE- chicken, marinara, black olives, various peppers, onions, Italian seasoning, garlic, rosemary, bay, salt, pepper.
ITALIAN POLENTA- with leeks, green beans, fresh tomato and Parmesan garnish. 
Polenta, onion, fennel seed, tarragon, salt, pepper, olive oil.
SALAD WITH BALSAMIC VINEAIGRETTE AND BLUE CHEESE.
FREY BREADS WITH ROSEMARY GARLIC BUTTER
DEVILS FOOD CAKE WITH CHOCOLATE GANACH
CHOCOLATE VALENTINE HEARTS! WITH DESSERT WINE!! WE LOVE YOU!
 
DINNER FIVE- Feb. 15th.
 
CURRIED FISH STEW
White fish, sweet potatoes, turnips, potatoes, celery, seaweed, golden beets, rutabaga, kale, leeks, curry powder, ginger, garlic, coconut milk, coconut oil, salt, pepper. With toasted coconut and pumpkin seed garnish.
COCONUT ORANGE QUINOA-  quinoa, coconut oil, orange zest, salt, pepper, parsley, scallion, spinach.
CARROT BEET SALAD WITH LEMON DILL DRESSING AND TOASTED ALMONDS.
BREAD AND ROSEMARY GARLIC BUTTER
CHOCOLATE BARS AND FRUIT
 
DINNER SIX- Feb. 16th.
 
SPAGHETTI AND MEAT BALLS- meatballs- local hamburger, onions, garlic, Italian seasoning, olive oil. 
Marinara, onions, mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, garlic, olive oil, parsley. Asiago or Rumano.
FETTUCCINE PASTA- olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, parsley.
FREY RANCH PESTO
GARDEN SALAD WITH BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE
CITRUS POPPY SEED CAKE WITH VANILLA CREAM CHEESE ICING.

DINNER SEVEN- Feb. 17th.
 
GERMAN SAUSAGES- sausage, fennel, peppers, onion, cabbage, apples.
Sauerkraut, cayenne.
SPINACH FETA POTATOES- with garlic, potatoes, spinach, feta, milk, butter, salt, pepper.
GERMAN CABBAGE SALAD- with dill dressing and grated carrots, and celery.
COOKIES AND ICE CREAM!!!!! 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Checking back in

I rode yesterday but didn't write about it. It was your basic Woodside Loop + Altamont for a hill. Gorgeous riding weather. Pinch me.

This week, though, mostly I've been arranging a trip to Death Valley. Hence the silence on Route 66, a journey.

Every year at this time, a group of local cyclists go to Death Valley. They camp in one spot and then do day rides for a week. Food is provided, and food is a big part of the trip. Its name, in fact, is the Death Valley Supper Tour. It's like Europe here in California!

This will be my first time. It's important to stretch and try new things.

However, there have been BEAUCOUP logistics. Most of it is my fault. I am simply unwilling at the moment to get in a private car and drive down I-5.

TBI makes this difficult in at least 3 ways.

  • It's hard to recoup from post-traumatic stress when my brain is still not back to "normal". It's like it's in some kind of hopscotch overload between TBI and PTSD. The outcome is my brain doesn't know how to constructively address either one.
  • I totally forgot that the trip was this week. Thought I had a couple more weeks to try to make things work. So, rushed.
  • Taking caffeine is a major issue when it comes to dealing with post-traumatic stress. My anxiety starts to interfere with normal activities, like calmly sitting in the passenger seat when another person is driving the car. Or, driving myself! Without caffeine I'm OK, but can't execute.
Then, there are the trip logistics. How to get from the Las Vegas airport to Death Valley? Ride found, incredibly, but where do I meet my ride? Political statement: why is it so weird to want to get from Las Vegas to Death Valley without renting a car?

Lists and stuff not on the lists. Where is the stuff sack for the  sleeping bag? Where is my hat? How do I get my stuff to the local guy who is driving down, so I can fly? What needs to go with that guy and what needs to come with me on the plane?

Thus this week, I have visited the depths of self-loathing. Hopefully, it will all be worthwhile. 6 days of structured, casual riding. Cool social atmostphere. Good food without cooking!

Death Valley in February. Unbelievably beautiful scenery. If I can just get there...

High clouds

Somewhere on the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains, in a beautiful spot I stop and call Danny. Don't know why. Normally I don't use the cell phone. Normally, on rides there's no reception. On multi-day trips, I call him at the end of the day  to check in. It's great having someone who cares on the other end.

So I don't know why I'm calling him now. Maybe it's because I have one bar of cell reception here, in this spot. It goes to voicemail.

Hi I just wanted to let you know I'm up here on Skyline and it's 2 o'clock and I'm thinking of taking Gist or one of those roads that head back to Los Gatos. It's too late and it's cold up here so no Boulder Creek for me. Hope you're on a ride.

There's no benefit, practically speaking, to checking in like this. I know it makes Danny feel better, and sometimes it helps me, too. To know in this remote place that someone can pinpoint where you were at a particular time, that can be comforting.

Also, what I'm telling him is I'm bailing out of the plan to go to Boulder Creek. It's a confession. Honestly, when you start riding at 11:30am in early February you have no business going to Boulder Creek. And what I can see up here on the ridge is a front coming in. The telltale signs? Those high clouds and a certain temperature differential. It's not warm.

Boulder Creek is half way, so I'm not even half way and it's 2 o'clock and it gets dark at 5:30. I'm on the ridge and it's time to turn back.

I used to feel the measure of a ride was doing what you set out to do. Do the plan. That's success. I've done that a lot of times. You could say I was hooked on finishing. Of all the official events I've done, only two I did not finish. One was the Central Coast Double. A stomach meltdown due to heat. The other was Day 3 of the Christmas Trip, with flash flood warnings in Anza Borrego and the rain coming down so hard the roads flowed with water.

Today called for something different. Left the house at a late hour and out of sorts. Climbed Redwood Gulch, Highway 9, Castle Rock. At which point I felt the shift. Things went from completely out of whack to OK, in sync, maybe even spiritual. This is a special place. Riding along the spine of the Santa Cruz Mountains, if you feel nothing, well....

Here's a photo of the exact spot.


After this comes the roller-coaster part. The very southern few miles of the ridge road while it's still called Skyline. One lane at times, but a perfect, organic road that follows the contours of the earth. Up and down. Trees, rocks and views to the west, to Big Basin.

There's that certain chill and the high clouds.


The way back was Mountain Charlie, Old Santa Cruz, Aldercroft Heights, Alma Bridge, and the spillway trail down to Highway 9. No big deal, but the valley is hot and chaotic compared with, well, the spot of the photo and the one of the call to Danny. 56 miles, 4300 feet of climbing.

I did try capturing the beauty of State Highway 35, south of Highway 9. It came out like this.


Maybe it would be better to write a song or a poem.

Instead, in the spirit of Route 66 here are some signs along the way. Humans made these, in a beautiful, spiritual setting.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ruffy Tuffy!

Yesterday the box from Bike Tires Direct showed up on the front porch! Inside, a few items to increase the odds of a good trip on Route 66:


One of the minuses to cycling is that it's an equipment-intensive sport. Start-up costs are not minimal. Then, there are ongoing costs, like tubes and tires (pictured). Yes, it's still a lot cheaper than driving a car. :)

One of the pluses to cycling is that when you make those ongoing purchases, it's like Christmas over and over!

The Ruffy Tuffy is a special kind of tire that's, well, tougher than your usual tire. It resists glass, wires, etc. that make your tires go flat. And it's wide and durable, which makes it good for riding on surfaces that are not exactly pavement. We should encounter plenty of those on Route 66.

PAC Tour Route 66 tries to follow the most original (oldest) roads on Route 66. Here's what Lon and Susan have to say about road surface and tires:

Our bicycles allow us to explore sections of the oldest parts of the forgotten pavement. Some of these routes have not seen auto travel since the interstate abandoned them 40 years ago. This bicycle tour offers one of the most detailed and up close views of Route 66 ever organized. Bikes with at least 32 mm wide tires are required for many gravel road explorer routes.

This also explains why Route 66 is good to do on a bicycle. You see quite a bit more and can explore more marginal territory. Kind of ironic, since it was built as a highway for car travel in the height of the  automobile era.

Later, they add:

Your bicycle should be lightweight (under 25 pounds) and be sturdy enough for rough roads. 90% of Route 66 pavement is in good paved condition. The remaining 10% (150 miles) is gravel, rough pavement or broken concrete. There is some good and bad pavement each day. Tires of 32mm are required. If your bicycle does not fit at least 32 mm tires, you need a different bike. We have learned from past tours that riders with narrow tires want to avoid the rough sections and continually complain about the rough roads.

OK, we get it that tires are important on this trip!

Ruffy Tuffy's have a Kevlar belt built into the tire itself that shields them from punctures. This is the same material that deflects bullets in bullet-proof vests. Nothing works 100%, but flat tires are a numbers game. You're just looking to reduce your chances. When you ride newer tires that are durable and properly inflated, most of the invisible flat-causing stuff you roll through is deflected before it can puncture anything.

By durable, we mean that the pattern of tread and type of rubber makes the Ruffy Tuffy's difficult to wear down. This is a real concern on rough roads and dirt and gravel surfaces. Riding on dirt, gravel, and broken pavement tends to wear normal road tires right quick. I learned this the hard way after riding soft Michelin racing tires over the dirt summit on Montebello a few times. Those 10 miles on dirt probably shaved 250 miles off the life of a boutique rear tire!

The pre-ride down to Santa Monica is 400 miles. That plus 1200 rougher miles on Route 66 pretty much equals the lifespan of most rear tires. I've heard of people riding 4000+ miles on the Ruffy Tuffy's though. So this pair of 28mm beauties is like money in the bank...

28mm, you say? Hey, don't Lon and Susan require a tire that's at least 32mm wide? Here's the deal:

  • When I bought the Waterford we realized that a 32mm tire just wouldn't fit between the brake calipers. The frame is too small. Sue me for being short...
  • Jim Bradbury, a cycling buddy, rode Route 66 on Ruffy Tuffy's. They're all 28mm.
  • The Waterford came with 25mm tires, which have performed nicely on local dirt roads like Montebello and Mount Tam.
  • The difference between 28mm and 32mm is 4mm, or slightly more than 1/4". I'll take my chances.
I'm really glad Bike Tires Direct had these special tires in stock. Local bike shops have to carry more mainstream supplies and this is considered a niche tire.

There is a version of this tire without the Kevlar belt that's named the Roly Poly. I'm thinking of looking for a pair of those just because it's fun to say the name.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Wild blue yonder

Yesterday was a low day. Don't know why. It could have been a number of things:
  • Cumulative fatigue. I love riding my bike, but I'm tired.
  • My back still hurts. That issue cannot become chronic. It just can't.
  • My neck and shoulder were hurting more yesterday. Whiplash, the gift that keeps on giving!
  • I'm riding alone almost 100% of the time, which means it's up to me to come up with the route every day.
  • Some adult company would be nice once in a while.
Effort and time are needed to find people to ride with and to set up a new gym membership. The classes provide variety and make it so I don't feel the need to ride every day.
  • It has been really sunny and warm here in California. Yesterday was bright sun all day long. (Brutal, right?) Post-TBI I find summer and summer-like days very irritating. Too much light and it can't be turned off.
  • As a result I'm not sleeping well. Melatonin works but in the morning I'm groggy.
  • Yesterday I got the first email from my manager at work. She says they are working really hard but managing without me. My position was not backfilled. Ouch.
  • A brain injury is invisible and so is the progress toward healing. What do I have to show for 6 months off work?
Right after writing that last bullet, I realized I HAVE been feeling more clear lately.
  • It was my dad's birthday and I miss him. Would have liked to have been there. He's a hoot and seeing him usually cheers me up.
  • I miss paychecks. Money going out, no money coming in. No solution for this right now...
I'm reading a book on managing (because now I have time to read books people recommended when I was a manager). It uses the metaphor of mountain climbing to describe becoming productive and comfortable in a new role at work. I can climb Montebello 10 times in a row, but there's no work mountain for me to climb. Today that loss is front and center.

The same book talks about how some people are self-starters. These are the people who reset at zero every day. Every day they have to accomplish something more, and it doesn't matter what they did yesterday. They don't feel they can stop until something new is accomplished. I was laughing out loud, because this is me.

So this is 3 years into a brain injury, at a point of maximum uncertainty. Lost along the way are my job, social relationships, financial well-being, confidence. The climb up the mountain began 3 years ago, but the grade gets steeper and the weather more severe. Where is the top?

Our greatest strengths are also our weaknesses. I need to be patient now and trust that a larger-scale project is what we have here, more than just the accomplishments of one day.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Party of one

Monday, after the Pescadero ride, after 3 days in a row of riding, I gave myself a break. Danny left for work around 9, while I was still in bed. He was probably opening his car in the driveway when an ancient, pointy gray face emerged from behind the record cabinet. An ugly face! I raised my head, it disappeared.

Bella, Resident Kitty, has tons of good points but she's the World's Worst Housemate. She's excellent at catching things that interest her, but tends to abandon them when they don't perform. Now it's my problem. Or rather, our problem (mine and the rodent's). Bella is nowhere to be found.

I get up and make little rodent canapes. Ak-mak crackers broken into pieces, layered with peanut butter then small chunks of cheddar cheese. Yum! 2 small ones and 1 larger one.

The first small one goes near the record cabinet. I make sure to waft the good canape smells in that direction before setting it down. Then, the other small one goes some distance away, in the direction of the front door. The big one goes on the threshold of the front door, which I've propped open permanently.

It's a warm morning and in general it's not acting like winter right now in California, so the plan is working well so far.

Then I make breakfast (for me), and wait.

Some time mid-morning, sounds of scrabbling come from the bathroom. A quick visual check - the rodent is climbing the blind covering the window, trying to get out. As I tell Danny later, I am completely stunned at times by the brilliance of humble beings. This rodent knows that the bathroom window is a way out, and is risking everything to be free. A case of superior instinct.

I shut the door, carefully. This buys me time.

Outside the house, I place one of the smaller cracker canapes directly under the window and the other at the ledge. Then I prop a rake, handle first, against the window. A long and wide piece of plywood left by the roofers rests on top of the rake. It's a perfect ramp from the window to the ground. Now, the rodent won't hurt herself when she makes her escape.

Then I break into the bathroom and carefully open the blind and screen to male a clear path to the outdoors.

Not too much later, the rodent escapes.

I take two things away from this episode:

  • The patience and problem-solving was provided by 3 consecutive days of bicycle riding.
  • What I'm doing with Route 66, a journey and TBI is not so different from luring a rat out of the house. It's all about motivation, and opportunity.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Wednesday Montebello III

Every other Wednesday C. comes to clean our house. For this small fact I have a universe of gratitude.

When I was working, it was no problem being out of the house and out of her way. The problem then was "straightening up", a euphemism for trying to tame and control all manner of flotsam and jetsam lying around. We ran around like chickens on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

Now it's a problem being out of the house. The whole cleaning process takes about 4 hours, start to finish. The answer was to make a Wednesday ride, a ride up the nearest hill which also happens to be a hard climb. Today's ride is technically number 3, since rides 1 and 2 pre-date Route 66, a journey.

Montebello Road climbs for about 7.5 miles to the highest point on the ridge around here, Black Mountain. The highest point is around 2800 feet. With the last mile or so unpaved, a popular option for the time-crunched cyclist is the out-and-back. Up Montebello to the gate, then turn around and descend back the way you came. Incredible views and a fast descent. This, by the way, was the route of Wednesday Montebello I (on the Seven).

For the more rural experience, adventurous cyclists continue on Montebello Road past the gate. The surface is maintained but pavement gets sketchier until it becomes completely dirt. For the effort of climbing off pavement, the reward is 360-degree ridgetop views. Other perks include completely different weather than down in the valley, and usually a wildlife encounter.









From the summit there are a couple of options for dirt descents. The regular one is Montebello Road, which actually connects with Page Mill near the top. Plenty thrilling, since the surface is loose. The one I had my eye on today is Bella Vista, which turns into a beautiful sinew of singletrack, following the contour of the hills to the very top of Page Mill, via Canyon Trail. Never done that solo before.

Wednesday Montebello II was the rural route, descending Montebello to Page Mill (on the Waterford).

Today I wanted a longer ride and if the National Weather Service was to be believed, it might just be the day for it.
.TODAY...MOSTLY CLOUDY IN THE MORNING THEN BECOMING PARTLY
CLOUDY. HIGHS IN THE LOWER 60S. SOUTHEAST WINDS AROUND 5 MPH...
BECOMING NORTHWEST IN THE AFTERNOON.
Would last night's weather front really clear out in time for an afternoon ride?

While prepping in the driveway, C. rolled up and we talked for about a half hour. It's amazing...she has cleaned our house for 15 years and we never see each other. It was really good to touch base.

On the other hand, it was a late start. And the initial chill as I roll down our street says it might be colder than the forecast, too. Hmmm.

The climb takes care of the cold problem. It's one of the fringe benefits of generating enough watts to turn the pedals!

Montebello is steepest near the bottom. Those first 1-3/4 miles have an average grade of 9%, with steeper (12%) pitches. Even the pitches are comfortable for my back today, thanks to the triple. With each ride, it's feeling better and better.


It sure is a beautiful day in the valley and I can't resist a few snapshots. Montebello is all about the views. And though the climbing is going well, up near Ridge Winery the photos reveal what kind of weather might be waiting:



I wiggle around the gate and start up the unpaved section. It's probably about 40 degrees up here, 20 degrees cooler than down below.


We are in the clouds and it's blowing hard. Time to be realistic, people. It's probably not a day to take a challenging dirt detour and extend the ride along the ridge. It's a day to head back down the hill.


That right there is the summit, with the radio towers slowing down the blowing mist!

Raising the Waterford's seat an extra half-inch really made a difference. The orange bike descends like a champ, into the warmth.