Tuesday, April 30, 2013

An ode to overwhelm

May is the craziest month in California for cycling. Everything is at a fever pitch. There are multiple organized rides every weekend. With lots of daylight and temperatures in the 80s and no more rain until November. The cyclists are scurrying around like mad insects, riding as much as possible.

The season of light is hard. Taking melatonin almost every night, sleeping a lot. Waking up late, drugged and groggy. Meanwhile:

  • Tomorrow, two friends from Route 66 arrive in San Francisco. Friday morning they head down Highway 1 to San Diego. Will I join them? No, because...
  • Davis Bike Club, which launched me into randonneuring, is in dire need for volunteers for their 600K brevet. The control is 200 miles away, in Plumas County. It opens at 2am and I'm signed up for a double shift. 
  • Also tomorrow, an opportunity to help SBI by speaking to members of a foundation.

More than happy to help. There's just no structure, no overarching goal for my life right now. Progress is on hold. Busy spirals into panicked, out of control.

  • Two legal cases underway, ETA probably end of 2014.
  • Neck diagnosis and treatment on hold, thanks to Blue Shield.
  • Speech therapy limit reached. Unclear whether online sites like Lumosity are worth time and $$.
  • Need HBOT and hearing aids: $13K. Not covered by insurance. No $$ coming in.
  • Need to contact Dept. of Rehabilitation for vocational rehab. Hard to imagine working with all this going on....
  • In the incoming mail basket, 6 unopened envelopes from Valley Medical. Clearly they are under the impression I have an office staff.

Physically, try to stay in the game. Keep riding, do a 600K, keep going to the gym. Try not to hate the Waterford.

  • May 11th, the San Francisco 600K. Motel in San Francisco, motel in Fort Bragg. Ouch. Why am I doing this again?
  • Super Brevet Scandinavia. Can it be crashed (just show up at the start)? Take the spot of a rider who has a cold, or a family emergency? Can it be done self-supported?
  • May 18th, the Davis Double. The comedy of finding time to train with another person. As Jeff & Tanya are trying to sell their house.
  • June 2 possibly Eastern Sierra. As many rides as possible in June and July. If there is going to be a 1200K in August for brain health. And, frankly, diversion.
Officially, overwhelmed.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Deep leg workout #10a

A ride on the Waterford doesn't sound that appealing right now. Hasn't all week.

It helps to have a friend with a tandem. An empty seat in back! And a new goal, the Davis Double Century. Over the next few weeks we'll work out the kinks. This might well be #5 Davis-with-Jeff-on-tandem, not sure. There are still kinks though.

It's been two years. Need to relearn where he wants the pedal after we stop. Listen to whether he's pushing or spinning. Monitor the mirror for traffic, signal turns. Let go of fear and the instinct to control whenever we head downhill. Let him drive.

This is our first training ride, a spring jaunt through the Amador, Livermore, and San Ramon Valleys. They lie to the east of San Francisco, over one ridge of hills. It's hotter and drier than home. Spring comes early, quickly turning the corner into summer.

We hit the road just after 8am; today the forecasted high is 88 degrees. By the time we ride Davis, the hillsides will be totally golden brown.

Jeff points the bike east and south toward Livermore. It takes some doing to wrest free of sprawling, affluent, gated Blackhawk. Finally we're out on country roads, passing the occasional farmhouse and barn. It feels quiet but not abandoned. Now that people are asking for pasture-raised beef and local produce, small farms and ranches are actually viable. Tanya, Jeff's wife, gets strawberries from a place out here. The strawberries are nowhere in sight but the air is heating up and you can definitely smell them!

There's a sweet old water tower where we turn right onto Corneal Road. We're going too fast for a photo. Thankfully the Google Maps car has been here too...

Jeff designed the route and after growing up around here he seems to knows his way around. All I have to do is pedal and admire the scenery. At least, that's what it looks like...

Truthfully on a tandem there's a lot of pushing. The total weight of riders and bike is greater and the whole system seems to absorb whatever force you give it. At one point on Camino Tassajara we're moving at what feels like 12 mph up a long gentle grade; Jeff says our actual speed is more like 19. You are constantly feeling drag and pushing against it and this dynamic is soon felt deep in my quad muscles.

Some of the roads are familiar; others I've never been on before. Like Altamont Pass Road, which is also the Lincoln Highway. The wind is all over the place; profiting from this are the windmills. Not to mention the rider in back! Tandems have the power of two and the wind resistance of one.  On flats and gentle inclines the physics work in our favor...

We pass Lawrence Livermore Lab, where Jeff's dad worked for many years. He points out a road that used to go through but was closed off after 9/11. Now double fences line the whole perimeter. In a sort of bizarre counterpoint, the road is full of friendly cyclists. Passing a rest stop we figure out they are riding the Primavera Century.

From here we quilt together roads from a long tradition of century rides: Hekaton Classic, Mt. Hamilton Challenge, Grizzly Peak. Along with the Davis Double, they all started in 1970-72. This is like the epicenter of road cycling. Feels like a lifetime since I rode them!

The final climbs up Redwood, Pinehurst, and Moraga Roads go...slowly. Plenty of scenery to take the mind off the hardest thing you can do with a bike: climb on a tandem. For clearing the mind nothing works better.

At the end of the day we've collected 93 gorgeous miles, 16.7 mph average. 4600 feet of elevation gain. We're both out of water. My stomach is fine but there's absolutely no more pop in my legs.

At the post-ride barbecue at Jeff & Tanya's a sense of deepest physical calm washes over me. I'm falling into it, like a general anesthetic. Blue and deep as the sky.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Healthy living is happy living

When the train brought me home from the 400K, Danny was making waffles with strawberries... I guess not everyone can be that good.

The next day this came in the mail:

When an insurance company sends a thick envelope is it ever a good sign?

Blue Shield was supposed to ask for details of more conservative treatment, like physical therapy. The original treatment and referrals didn't happen through Valley Medical. So the insurance company needs to know where they were done and by whom. Fair enough.

They chose to skip that step. Literally, they chose not to reach out for the information. I was waiting for their phone call which never came. The envelope is thick with a copy of the entire subscriber agreement, which describes how I am not eligible for an MRI because they have no evidence of conservative treatment...because they chose not to ask for it.

The nurse who wrote the letter said I had recovered well from the accident. Are you wondering how she could know that without the medical records that show conservative treatment for my neck? So am I!

Meanwhile I'm sleeping full time on a travel pillow. It's inconvenient but definitely helps with the pain.

And doing things that are good for my brain but perhaps not so good for my neck, like a 400K.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

In the new moon's arms

Heading up the first hill on Petaluma Point Reyes Road, Tim and I are moving at exactly the same pace. It's unbelievable luck. For different reasons we're both in our small chainrings. Tim's quad muscles and knees are sore, so he can't push. My stomach is shut down, so when my legs push it feels like I'm going to throw up.

Tim can chat but is worried about annoying me. Kind of amazing he's able to think about someone else. It's OK, I say. Silence means I feel too bad to talk, that's all.

He even waits for me to catch up after the downhills! My wobbly wheel and caution make descents go a little slower. I could not ask for better company.

And that's how it goes. Three little climbs and one bigger one. Two climbs on Nicasio. In front of us only White's Hill, Camino Alto, Alexander Ave. We're going uphill slowly enough that even wearing all these clothes, there's no sweating. That means going downhill, no additional chill factor. This is the third time Tim's mentioned the fleece sweatshirt and sleeping bags in his truck. It is chilly out here. And quite dark.

At one point he says "look at the stars". Above us is an incredible tapestry, a midnight blue background scattered with small white points. This is definitely one of the reasons I do these rides. Noticing the moon, my heart catches a little. The new moon is a thin white crescent and around that you can see the outline of rest of the moon, dark and backlit. It's a phase Native Americans call The Old Moon in the New Moon's Arms.

Last night, looking into the abyss took me to a truly empty place. A place of alienation and fear, where life is random and does not make sense. It's frightening to go there. You need more than that to believe in yourself enough to ride a 400k. A little self-soothing, please.

That image of the moon came to mind. The near-round of darkness, held by sliver of light. The darkness not so much about fear as possibility. The negative space, the positive space; one whole thing.

If I didn't feel like I was going to die from nausea at any moment, I'd be ecstatically happy.

After following Tim's wheel across the Golden Gate Bridge, we finished at 2:51 Sunday morning. The yogurt stayed in its bottle and without his and Danny's help it's not clear I would have finished. Thanks Tim, and best of luck on LEL!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

In the corner

A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Petaluma Safeway might as well be one of the original land grants given to settlers of California. It's huge. You could walk for days and not find a thing.

Besides a restroom there's only one thing I have to find: yogurt. Preferably the liquid kind. It can go in a water bottle and fuel the final stretch. Every time I think about those hilly 40 miles, they seem impossible. That's not typical and I'm not sure how to make it better.

It got dark twenty miles ago in Santa Rosa. Right around then my stomach rejected all efforts to revive it. Without fuel my legs don't want to go. Apparently that's enough of the constant hill climbing and wind. Now we have constant nausea.

As if that weren't enough, as soon as I stop walking the aisles and sit down my body starts to shiver. Not sure why. Can't control it. Sitting on a stool at the Starbucks kiosk, swigging yogurt from a bottle. White as a sheet, disheveled, exhausted.

On an unsupported ride, there's no one to take a look at me and offer help. Hell there's not even a hot beverage to be had in this place! Shaking and nauseous, it's really hard to be rational about how to proceed. But I'm so impaired that the strategy from here on has to be exactly right. In the next 40 miles there's no shelter or help en route. It's totally dark and rural until Fairfax at which point, only bars will be open.

There's a Motel 6 a mile and a half up the road. Had that thought on the way into town. Check in there, sleep 3-4 hours, finish at the very last minute.

After weighing options I do something novel: call a friend for advice. Don't want to end up heaving by the side of the road in the dark, hypothermic. I explain the situation. Danny says "put on all your clothes and don't ride hard, just keep moving". The working theory is I'm cold and riding will warm me up. My stomach has shut down but as long as the exertion level is low, it should be possible to keep moving.

All the randonneurs getting ready to launch are in a cluster by the entrance door. It's like paratroopers by the hatch of an airplane. There I see Tim Houck from this morning. I thought Tim was up ahead! Magically out of his mouth come the words I'm thinking. I'm so messed up. I'm freezing, This is not gonna be pretty. Ah well, it's a 2am or 3am finish for me. Just need to put it in the little ring.

Then he looks at me and says "oh my god you're wearing hardly anything!" I run out to the bike for my arm warmers, put them on under my jacket. We roll out together through the parking lot. No matter what my legs are going to spin. Somehow I'm going to drink a water bottle full of raspberry yogurt. It just has to work.

I'm ashamed of how hard this is, the number and severity of issues. How I can't fix my stomach. How impaired I feel at the moment. It just seems insurmountable. Of all things, right now I wish this weren't such an anonymous experience. If there were just one human being invested in my success. A few hours ago I thought of Ann Lincoln; so caring and supportive.

Suddenly, I remember Warren from this morning. As we leave the parking lot and turn onto Washington Avenue his words echo in my head. Someone bloody well does care! I'm wearing all my clothes! Spinning, not pushing! Here we go...

Lumps and bumps

The turn onto Mountain House is a major milestone. Followed by a 2-mile downhill. Only 7 miles and 4 small-ish climbs left before Hopland! I'm planning the stop there, thinking about a bean and cheese burrito.

On the first uptick after the descent I start pushing on the pedals. A weird, loud pop comes from the vicinity of the rear hub, followed by a scraping sound. 

Never heard that before. It's not good. 

I get off the bike and the rider behind me comes up to help. The rear wheel is wedged against the left brake pad. The scraping sound happens when the rear wheel spins (even when the drivetrain is not involved). We can't find it but I am convinced it's a busted spoke.

Never had that before.

Because that rider stopped, the problem gets the rational treatment it deserves. Not just me kicking the bike with emotional force. Tossing it into a pasture. He opens the rear brake. The wheel turns, with a huge wobble and a scraping noise. What he says next is more helpful than stopping or opening the brake. "Well, you've got a lot of spokes."

The touring wheels on the Waterford, the ones from Peter White Cycles, each have 32 double-butted Wheelsmith spokes. They're over-engineered, especially for a lighter rider.

He means that regardless of how it looks this isn't a mortal injury. The bike is rideable. That's good because the one thing missing from my tool kit is a spare spoke. Not a steel spoke, not a Kevlar spoke. Nada on the spoke front. Never having broken a spoke, as you might imagine spare spokes and spoke wrenches are not on the list of things worth their weight to carry on a 400k. Or a ride of any length.

The wheel wobbles mightily and is compromised. But by riding gently and religiously avoiding potholes it carries me to Hopland. On the way I'm thinking I don't know how to get home from Hopland.

Instead of doing a little dance at the turnaround and seeking food and drink, I ask Keith (sitting there minding his own tasks) what he knows about wheel truing. We met a couple of hours ago in Cloverdale. 

Thanks to the Bike Exchange program I do actually know what needs to happen. Never done it in the field though. Where the wheel stays on the bike. Where you either tape the rogue spoke down or pull it out. Where you figure out how the little plastic tire lever on your multi tool does actually function as a spoke wrench. One you'd want to use only in emergencies.

Incredibly nice Keith helps out. I tape the spoke to its neighbor with duct tape. Identify the spokes on either side that need lefty-loosey, righty-tighty. He uses the lame little tool to do that. He doesn't even say anything bad about me taking this photo. 

The wheel still wobbles, but less now. When I finally set off in a southerly direction down 101, another cyclist comes up from behind and says "when you get home you might want to take a look at your rear wheel. It's wobbling pretty badly for some reason." Then he zooms off into the distance, adding insult to injury!

So I go a little slower on the way back. Through some of the most gorgeous landscapes anywhere on the planet. Highway 128, the Alexander Valley. Chalk Hill. With a tailwind: 18, 21, 24 miles per hour. And a rear wheel that sort of sashays.

The sun is going down. Rob said at the start that most of us should expect to be in the dark on Chalk Hill Road. A personal goal was to do slightly better than that. 

Twilight on Chalk Hill.
Beat it by 15 minutes. That's the way it should be: dusk in gorgeous wine country, darkness in Santa Rosa.

Hard Times

Lambert Bridge crosses Dry Creek.
Westside Road skirts the southwestern boundary of the Russian River Valley wine region. Ramshackle buildings, boutique wineries, Pinot Noir vineyards starting to wake up from winter. On a sunny spring afternoon, what could be more appealing than riding a bicycle here?

After all, heading in the other direction are clusters of cyclists out for a day ride, along with tourists on rented hybrids. They're all happy smiles and nods as they head south.

I had hoped for a little shelter from the wind here, with the side of a hill on my left. No chance. Whatever is going on with the wind is larger than Wild Hog Hill, than Big Ridge, than even the Coast Range. It's sweeping north to south right on down the valleys. Flat and wide, the Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys are its enablers. The grapevines are no practical barrier.

As for this old mule, there's grit in her teeth and a big knot in her stomach, refusing food. Legs still strong, though. Working on getting to Hopland.

The hours of struggle on the road lead my mind to a world of  struggle in my head. The song that's playing there is Hard Times by Gillian Welch. One of what she calls her 'haunted banjo' songs. Last night the iPod played it for me as I fell asleep.

To ride a hard event, I have to get in touch with my orphan soul, lonely and rejected. Right now it doesn't take much effort to get into that frame of mind. Nothing to live for, nothing to offer. Empty, attached to no place and no one. As mental preparation I have to look into the abyss.

Sometimes during the ride I go back there. Like on this stretch...

A fair number of cyclists today are riding their first 400k. It bodes well for the future of this quirky, fringe sport. On the other hand the people who helped me survive those first 8 400k's are now somewhere else. Doing something else. I feel kind of alone in a crowd.

Could be my imagination but it feels like there's a bit of a competitive dynamic at work today, too. Riders size up who arrived at the control before them, who is still behind them, who they pass. My favorite people to ride with support each other. Donn King, for example. Dry Creek Road makes me think of riding with Donn. We were always in it together, for the long haul.

In Cloverdale I stop at the 7 Eleven. Mix a lemon Perrier with a lemon soda half and half. Get a roll of extra strength Tums. Get back on the road.

That damned wind is even blowing over Highway 128. Nine miles. The climb feels even slower than  when I did it with saddlebags.

We're sure close to Hopland. But it feels like I'll never get there.

Urgent business

The driver of the blue and yellow utility truck guns the engine up this narrow, twisty, forested road. There's no visibility; he's counting on best case scenario. While descending, I give the hand signal for 'slow down'. He ignores it, continuing up the hill.

A few moments later a car appears, a red Honda sedan. Give the 'slow down' signal, pressing downward with my left hand. Ignored again. Some local in a hurry. Must be a lot of urgent business in the hills above Occidental...

Then I see the ambulance. Lights on, threading up the hill at a cautious pace. It's a Sprinter van, totally appropriate for a road that is barely two lanes wide.

Hope those two idiots were able to stop in time.

There is - or was - one tandem on this ride, a couple who were strong hill climbers. In a howling whirlwind we had just followed them up Highway 1 to Bodega. The wind was so chaotic it was not really possible to draft; I rode behind them just to keep a pace. The others drafted off me. That was a tough section.

There's a collegial stop at Bodega Country Store to get cards stamped and refuel.

The tandem leaves a few minutes ahead of me. Somehow they climbed freakin' steep Joy Road on that machine. Clearly descending Bittner, something went wrong. Now they're lying in the middle of the road flanked by local helpers. Two doctors and two volunteer firefighters, as it turns out. Several local cyclists are helping alert traffic.

The captain tells the helpers what happened. The tandem hit a couple of potholes - Sonoma County does not appear to be maintaining its roads - and a few seconds later the front tire blew off the rim while going downhill.

They're being taken care of. When I left they were both conscious and talking. I can't help in any meaningful way but it sure is tough to leave the scene.

It's even tougher to get the scene out of my head. During the easy cruise to Guerneville, I'm thinking that could have been me. Still could be on the Davis Double; Jeff's tandem had a front blowout a few weeks ago. Maybe should call it off. What am I doing out here anyway? The thought of dealing with another injury of any kind...

It's noon, mile 80 and change. Food doesn't really sound good but everything else feels normal and fine. A Red Bull and half a salami sandwich, that seems like enough. The last leg was sheltered but the wind is definitely there, pushing me along the Russian River.

That feeling is becoming more and more urgent, the need to get to Hopland, get to the turn around. Get the wind at our back.

A feel-good moment

Warren offers to pull, if the pace he's riding is OK. An unbelievably kind donation of effort. He attached to my rear wheel a couple of minutes ago, a local cyclist out for a ride. Then pulled up alongside so we could chat about his work in intellectual property law. He used to be an engineer and is curious about what's going on in Silicon Valley.

The morning sun and clouds are doing a dance with each other, but overall the air is flinty and cold. Spring comes a couple of weeks later here than at home. And there's the wind, definitely a factor even though the morning is young.

Once Warren moves to the front things get a lot easier. The pavement clicking by belongs to Chileno Valley Road, his favorite weekend loop. I've heard the same sentiment from plenty of cyclists in Sonoma and Marin. Chileno Valley is their idea of a great road to ride. Maybe it's the rolling terrain, nothing too steep. Green fields filled with contented dairy cows. Classic ranch houses and barns, the opposite of agribusiness. Total rural authenticity hidden in plain sight near Petaluma.

Tim Houck cresting Wilson Hill Road just before Chileno Valley.
In a minute we pick up Tim Houck, who is more than happy for company against the wind. Warren is interested in what we're doing here. It's a bit difficult to explain. We're riding from San Francisco to Hopland and back. Right.

After crossing the Golden Gate Bridge at 6am an hour later we were in Fairfax. Not bad! I've been feeling euphoric, actually riding well, not lagging much behind the pack. And there are some familiar faces, like Tim. It's mile 50 and the blustery, northwest wind is our first taste of hardship today.

Warren leaves us at the top of a little rise. He's out with a buddy and they need to regroup. Sure you don't want to come out to Hopland with us? The snacks at the Valero station up there are to die for. No, he's got more to do today than just ride a bike.

He leaves us with these words: if it helps at all, just know that someone in Petaluma is thinking about you all and wishing you well on your ride.

At the moment it seems incredibly supportive and sincere. There's no clue it will turn out to be the key to everything.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Ask again later

Why am I riding a 400k tomorrow?

Today I don't have the real answer. In a month or two it will become clear.

Training is about laying groundwork. Sometimes there's a clear goal but other times the future is murky. Right now it's murky. Riding a 400k keeps the options open for later.

Like the Super Brevet Scandinavia, which I've always wanted to do. Unfortunately this year the ride is hopelessly oversubscribed. Yeah I'm on the waiting list...along with 60 other riders. It's tempting to shoot the moon and show up in Frederikshavn, Denmark on August 16. Surely there will be at least one no-show!

Less far-fetched is the Davis Double Century, coming up in four weeks. Jeff wants to do it on the tandem - yay! Even better, old Cobb Mountain is not on the route this year. Riding a 400k pretty much guarantees fitness for a double.

The date kind of crept up. Somehow I am signed up and it's too late for a refund on lodging. And the weather is going to be drop-dead gorgeous. So here we go... San Francisco to Hopland and back. When I was growing up Hopland was almost a ghost town. Now it calls itself "heart of the upper Russian River wine country"!

I always have jitters before a 400k. In my opinion it's the toughest length of all the brevets.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wednesday Montebello V

About halfway up Montebello Kim turns to me and asks "so, you climb this hill fairly often?" This is her saying that what we have here is a tough climb.

The past year has called for something otherworldly and close by. An escape. Hadn't exactly noticed it was hard. But it does go to a high point, 2800 feet, on the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

A few days after the mighty Mt. Hamilton Loop, Kim's legs are up to the task. She and her intrepid Wednesday group are joining me for something different. An adventure to the summit, including dirt. This week no climb for them up Old La Honda on the way to the coast. Everyone's legs are complaining that this isn't Old La Honda. So noted.

80 degrees and clear, it's a day for views. Maybe this is why every single one of us is game for going over the top, even Martin whose plan was to turn around at the gate.

Jim rounds a bend near the summit and says "hey that looks like Black Mountain!" That's exactly what it is...

Bonnie and Jim check out unobstructed views of the Pacific
We can see fifty miles in every direction. To the west, the Pacific Ocean and just below us the weird ridge of the San Andreas Fault. To the north, Mount Tamalpais. That hazy white cluster is San Francisco. The blue splotch of the bay in the middle, ringed by a sprawl of buildings. Mount Diablo to the east. Mount Umunhum a few miles south.

Just like looking at a map of this part of the world. And by the way, You Are Here.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A swallow in springtime

I like riding my bicycle outside in nature. I do it a fair amount; it becomes like meditation.

The other person just asked am I a person of faith? We are leaving the sauna. The door is open, revealing the golden hills of Little Panoche Valley in the morning sun.

Not traditional faith, I say. No dogma. He hands me a DVD that looks homemade. When he was so stricken he could not move at all an angel came to him. He's sharing the story with people who might be in pain.

When I first opened the door and saw him lying on a bench, my first thought was he might know something about the subject. His torso was rigid, only his arms were moving. His neck bent forward, keeping his head from relaxing against the wood. Even lying on his back he had that conscious, tense look of someone no longer comfortable in his own body.

Then he began to talk and his words were measured, carefully chosen, intelligent. They put me at ease. He had been a biostatistician at Loma Linda University. It was a severe type of arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis. The disease was getting past the point of pain.

I mention my neck which despite two soaks and a sauna is still cranky. I leave out the part about brain injury because technically, my brain does not hurt. There is just stuff it quietly does not do.

We shake hands. Time to head back to the house, finish packing up.

Across the open grasslands birds are frolicking and singing for their lives. A small grey swallow rides the air above the bath house and beyond. Her path is a series of arcs, waves she creates by quickly shoving down wings and then holding them against her body. After a wingbeat she climbs upward an amount that is exactly proportional to the force applied. At the high point she gives a short burst of song, then descends and rises again.

It's not about territory or food or predators. She is flying because she can.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Tuna salad and religion

When a menu has 4 kinds of sandwiches - and nothing else - you wonder if it's a good idea to move on. Find some other place for lunch. Where whoever's in the kitchen is aware The Universe of Good Culinary Things is much, much larger than 4 sandwiches.

And for a moment I do wonder. Right before ordering a tuna salad on rye with Swiss cheese and tomatoes...

It was during that beautiful 20-mile climb, rolling up to Panoche Pass elev. 2250. Persistent lethargy migrated to the stomach region and became a nagging empty feeling. Quick fuel check. In 6 hours and 100 miles I'd taken in a banana, a jumbo muffin, and half a slice of lemon tea cake. Oh, a (small) Gatorade at the Paicines Store. Hardly enough.

There were distractions! At Paicines, pure happiness to connect with the group. Conversation on the climb. Anticipation of hot springs and sweet relaxation and a dark sky full of stars. Approaching the pass I thought was that the last chance for food all day? After riding all morning did I accidentally skip lunch? What have I done?

As luck would have it not only is there exactly one place to eat on Panoche Road, but it's well-located and open. A Route 66 kind of place with dollar bills hanging from the ceiling. Larry Lopez will tell you he always dreamed of having a place like this. A local gathering spot.
Larry shows what the ceiling looked like, before it was repainted.
The sandwich is fresh, ample, tasty. With a root beer and salty chips, perfection. Two dogs are tussling on the floor. At the bar locals mingle with bikers and cyclists. Hanging is out encouraged. In fact it's required! A game of pool, 25 cents. Free roasted peanuts.
Jim attacks the peanuts.
Mic hangs out.
That's it, this is my new religion.

Rocket science

5:18am. Dark and cold in the house, dark outside. Bella just in from carousing all night.

Hard to say how these things start. At Harbin last fall Jim mentions that Mercey Hot Springs is actually his favorite. It's in a remote location, low on services (like food). Unlikely I'll get there on my own. Excellent cycling along the way.

There's a meeting to plan tours for the year. A tour to MHS is planned. Emails start arriving and Wednesday night after a happy trip to Half Moon Bay I can't let them go by anymore. I sign up.

How the decision was made to wake up at oh-dark-thirty and ride to the meeting spot I really can't say. That's a randonneur thing. Looking at the packing list, it seems pretty short. Kinda light. You start to think Hollister, only 68 miles... It's our nature; we are a migratory species.

The miles are not the issue. The issue is waking up before dawn and getting on the road.

Running late (naturally). Even the wind won't cooperate. It's a rare quartering headwind along the reservoirs, 40 miles south of home.

Head down even though spring has made the hills incredibly vividly green. Doing furious mileage calculations and trying not to look at the time. Or the blossoming cherry orchards.

With all the logistics and variables it's like trying to aim a rocket at the Mars Hill Coffee Shop in Hollister and hit it around 10:30 Saturday morning. While sleepy.

The crack of 11, well it has to be good enough. A phone call to Andrea; the group has just left. They're taking some improvised route out of town to avoid traffic. Jim is behind this, he's famous for it. No one but Jim knows where they are. His phone goes to voicemail.

Time to stand on the wrong corner for 45 minutes while they bypass me on the other side of a golf course. After a who's-on-first routine with cell phones and text messages we finally meet up at the store and tacqueria in Paicines!

At mile 80 the store is right at the crossroads with Panoche Road, where we head out to the hot springs. Thirty-six miles to go, probably the most scenic of the trip. It's a gradual climb to Panoche Pass (elev. 2250); Mic and I get a chance to chat and catch up. 

Something about knowing there's a soak in glorious nature waiting. The effort seems like a detail, the fine print, the means of reaching the reward. All around are wildflowers, dormant except for a couple of weeks every spring. In May the air temperature will be scorching but today it is perfect. 
Maybe we've hit the window. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

What it all means

Necessities can be simple pleasures, too
Park here in Half Moon Bay
Winter's over
You climbed the steep part of Tunitas

Sleep well tonight!