Friday, May 31, 2013

Metamorphosis

Crossing over Echo Summit, heading south toward Luther. The hot valley lies behind us, the Great Valley, once an inland sea... We've plunged into the heart of the mountains, the Sierra Nevada. Brought here by the newer alignment of the Lincoln Highway on its way to Carson City.

It was a relief, leaving the old brick train station, Picasso'd with construction. The hot sidewalk an outdoor stage for smokers and their absurd poses. The haze of Sacramento on the verge of summer.

Our escape feels deliberate, not desperate. Planned. We move with the flow of traffic. Unlike the smokers reaching for a small and specific thing, close at hand. We're heading away from the small and specific. This takes time.

On Luther the air feels different and so does the light. It's modulated, reflected by the tall hills. They surround us. The road follows their contours and not some overconfident, aggressive human plan. Some drivers handle it better than others. The road is lined with wildflowers, names unknown. Cyclists, too; no one we recognize. It's surreal to be here in a car with the bikes on the roof.

South again, now toward Markleeville. The bright glare of sun directly overhead. The sky a bleached light blue, receding, stretched thin like a balloon.

There is always dread in my stomach before a double century. Hoping tomorrow goes well. Two hundred miles is a big project. Something is bound to go wrong.

Monitor, first pass of the Death Ride. Imagine this road, thick with cyclists. Each separately crawling up the hill then careening down the other side. The climb is steady, with long slopes through rocky canyons. Not a curvy spiral nor a straight shot but segments, some gradual and others steep. Each one looks reasonable enough. It's the accumulation that's hard.

Life can feel unbearably long, climbing a long pass. Can't see the top. Pushing without end. At one point I did study exactly how many miles, the front and back sides of Monitor. Ebbetts, front and back. A way of bounding the struggle. So whatever this feels like, it's not forever.

It can feel short too, compressed by gravity. All your previous selves, what you were sure of. All that stuff that happens, no one sees it coming. Time folding and buckling on top of itself, in layers like the rock. It deforms, transforms us.

The top is crowned by an open meadow shaped like a bowl. A stand of aspens lines the road, dressed in green for spring. They drink up sunshine in the meadow, waving those precious leaves in our wake.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I did not smoke crack cocaine

After recent big rides, a quiet day was called for. A nothing day with nothing going on except  Spinning class and a whole lot of web surfing related to something I'll post about soon. It felt great.

Got home around 7. Danny says "there's a message on the machine from your hair person. She had a cancellation and wants to know if you can show up at 1:30 instead of 3:30."

Ah.

Rachel asked in a comment on this blog, why are hair people hard to come by? Because as ordinary professionals in high-priced Silicon Valley they're under pressure. They're always on the verge of not making rent. Either at work or at home or both. Given a time slot they want you to get a cut & color, not just a cut. They need the money. They can't afford to be nice.

The last one left town in a hurry just before the 1st of the month.

The one before that charged $90 just for a cut. Too rich for my blood. Also once I was 7 minutes late and for a long second I thought he was going to throw me out onto the sidewalk. Too stressful. Didn't want him to pick up the scissors.

The one before that forgot to remind me about my appointment. So I missed it. Of course she blamed me and gave a look like 'don't make me talk to you about this again'. Oh yeah, I need a mom. I was pretty freaking sure I would miss another appointment, some time in the future.

Makes you wonder who's working for whom in this picture. That's the place you always get to with hair people. There's no shortage of clients around. You need them worse than they need you.

The one who got stood up yesterday lives in Santa Cruz, 60 miles away. That's how she affords cutting my hair. She is really nice and does a good job but doesn't give reminders. That is kind of a problem. My schedule is regular and then it's chaotic and I haven't figured out an easy way to keep track.
This method doesn't work
Now you're thinking, it's a missed hair appointment. Hey I don't have to keep denying I smoked crack cocaine in the international media. It's not quite as bad as, say, working at Disneyland and bringing a dry ice bomb to work. I didn't set up an Internet money-laundering hub.

But it's bad enough. The old me didn't miss anything. Not a thing. And that is what the world expects, what works.

I wonder if she's ever gonna get back to the new me.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The message

Riding, writing, riding writing. In May it would be completely logical to think Route 66, a journey is about these things.

Over the weekend I went to a computer store and tried out a Bluetooth keyboard. Need to post from out there on the road. The guy at the counter watched me access this site.

Computer Guy: Whaddhya blog about?

Me: Um, exercise and recovery from traumatic brain injury. I was in a car accident almost 5 years ago. Turns out that exercise is good for rebuilding your brain.

Guy: What does it help with?

Me: A lot of people feel foggy after a brain injury. It helps with that. It helps with attention and emotions. It tells your brain to make new neurons too.

Guy: I didn't know that!

Me: Yeah no one seems to know... it's not a pill or a surgery so you don't hear about it. Doctors worry you'll have a stroke or fall and get another brain injury. Once those aren't an issue, exercise is the way to go. Strength training and endurance exercise. There's other things you can do for yourself too. But exercise is the main thing.

Looking up at his face, he's still engaged.... doesn't seem to care about the radioactive tagline: How my traumatic brain injury became a gift. So many people have walked away but he's really taking in the message.

I leave with the keyboard, a list of his 3 favorite YouTube channels, and new trust in humanity.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Caveat emptor

Last week I filed a complaint with the state to get an MRI of my spine.

California is the first state in the US to roll out a health exchange of private insurers. It's the first step in implementing the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare).

Blue Shield is one of the 3 largest insurers operating here. They're participating in the health exchange.

So lots of Californians can give them money. And then... and then...

Well good luck with that!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Gadgetry


Tell how this gadget can help a cyclist with a brain injury, and a ride will be dedicated to you!
;-)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Driven to excess

Heading toward the notch
This is the first Davis Double Century in recent memory where the forecast says it's not going to be a million degrees. That means arm warmers and knee warmers and a vest. If heat makes us slow, cool makes us...
This is what it looks like when singles try to hold onto the wheel of a tandem going 25 mph. Exhilaration, and misery.

Of course, we'll have our share of those things too. We'll climb gamely through the notch, up Monticello Dam, Cardiac, Tandem Hill, to Pope Valley. Arrive at the Farm Center at 9:45am. That's fast.

Honey Hill and Butts Canyon. Then, Big Canyon. Yay! Welcome back, Big Canyon! On the unpaved part we chat with Rene, who lives a couple of miles from me in Silicon Valley.

This is for all those who think the Davis Double is a flat ride. And those who know better but might have forgotten ;) We are powering up the hills, passing many singles along the way. It feels good in the moment but a tandem is not supposed to pass a single bike uphill. It goes against nature.

The sun comes up at 5:45 and sets at 8:15. Many hours of daylight now. It's possible to get to a place where you're recovering or training during the week and doing bike events every weekend. Everyone you know is a cyclist. Every time you get off the bike you expect snacks and fruit on a table. Your perspective gets a little out of whack.

Resurrection is a long one. At which point, you just want to bring it home. The temptation is to hammer through Cache Creek and the Capay Valley (so beautiful). Let's say you do that. Your only warning sign is that guy from lunch in the Terrible Two jersey who says "there's the 30-mile-an-hour tandem!"

Well, to be perfectly honest your legs know the story. They're brave but not infinite...

And you might run out of steam around mile 170. Totter in, thwarted by a steady headwind. Blech.

Still, average speed 16.4 mph. Plenty of daylight left on the table. Ain't no brevet!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Eight Stars

Tired, sore, cranky.

The real lesson of Herculean effort is that mind, body, and emotions are all connected. For real.

Run low on sugar and the body slows down, thinks this hill is way too hard, feels utterly helpless and bewildered. Have a Coke, get invincible again. Run low on electrolytes and the muscles weaken, thoughts turn negative, emotions lash out. Have a big can of V-8, get back on the bike.

After a 600K it is normal for me to run low on everything and feel cranky for a couple of days. That's what the car is for. Head for Eight Stars. Soothing music. Hot tub, cold plunge, sauna. Repeat.

Followed by an hour of deep tissue massage. I warn the guy about the whiplash injury. No need to worry about aggravating it. After all, I've done an excellent job of that by riding four hundred miles. But a spasm in my lower back won't give up the fight.

And the massage guy says "that's really common with the whiplash injury".

He can state the obvious: there's a connection. The insurance companies have no power here. They don't cover treatments like Eight Stars and a massage therapist. The truth is safe.

It's a different story with Dr. F. It's something he will not admit, even though as an osteopath his motto is "everything is connected". The fear of being dragged into a courtroom and possibly losing his license is too great. Instead I hear how the spasm is totally separate from my cervical sprain. Must be caused by cycling! And the structural issue in my neck has been there all along, since I was born.

This all just happens to be expressing itself after a car accident.

He is a good osteopath; expensive, but good. The treatments help. But apart from money I can't go there right now. I arrive in pain; he makes it go away as long as I listen to a bunch of stuff that is not the truth.

Which would you choose, pain or truth?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Chasing optimism

There is always a low point on a long bike ride. On this ride it comes in the Alexander Valley, with the sun blazing overhead, marginal pavement, and the wind in my face.

Yes, on the 400K we had a headwind going the other way here. Life is not fair.

Can't remember why I'm doing this.

The heat and vibration from the road are causing my feet to swell inside my shoes. Bringing nerve pain into the mix. It gets so bad I have to clip out a couple times. Electrolytes. Start taking the salt pills.

Westside Road is misery, barely rideable. Untouched by road crews in more than a decade. I'm just making for the trees and the coastal cool as fast as possible. That's all I can think about. That, and whether it's really possible to recognize specific holes and cracks in the road surface... Maybe we should start naming them.

My left cleat is squeaking with each pedal stroke. What the hell. Don't have a fix for that.

In Guerneville the patches of shade do offer some relief. In Safeway I run into another randonneur! Then a few more show up outside. After riding solo for 8 hours and 115 miles, it's good to be in a pack. Some of us have had more sleep, some less. Eighty miles to go. There's still time.

More challenges lie ahead: Bohemian Highway, traffic and endless rollers on the coast, fatigue setting in. Passing by Wild Flour Bakery in Freestone without a sticky bun.

In retaliation I take photos only of things that actually ARE how I want them to be.
The one flat section of road on Highway 1 between Valley Ford and Marshall

Location, location, location 
Heartbreakingly, inconceivably real


The bus stops here




This is an important moment. 

On a brevet there are quite a few moments. No shortage of moments here. 

This one is important because in all of human history it might be the first time someone has hurried through the bucolic Anderson Valley thinking "How long until Cloverdale?"

Anderson Valley, land of ancient oak chaparral, world class pinot noir vineyards, Boonville (which comes with its own language), and quirky individuals. 

Cloverdale, where the main drag still feels like Highway 101. With its mini-marts and McDonald's and redneck vibe. It wants to be part of the wine country but no one goes to Cloverdale for wine. It's Home of the Citrus Fair but I don't know anyone who has been to the Citrus Fair. Ever.

When I was a kid we used to drive through on the way to the Big City. Everyone had to drive through. Cloverdale was a town of drive-ins: Pick's (still open), Foster's Freeze, Hi-Fi, A&W. I was fascinated by the Hi-Fi because they would take orders over the CB radio and have the food waiting when you got there. We didn't have a CB radio in the car, but still! In the heyday of logging the town was swarming with truckers.


The fairgrounds lie at the south end of town, just before the Owl Cafe. The cafe is what I've been dreaming about, longing for along Highway 128 through the gorgeous valley and back over the hill. On a 600K, breakfast trumps everything.

The Owl Cafe was one of the places where the Greyhound bus along 101 picked up people and stopped for food. It seems to be the only place in town serving breakfast. After 33 miles on a bagel with cream cheese and banana, only a meteorite in this exact place and time would prevent me from eating here.

Already hot in the sun. The clock on the wall says 3 minutes to 9am. Somehow I've made good time! Or 6 weeks ago the Cloverdalians neglected to spring their clocks forward. Or that's when the meteorite hit...

Breakfast is fresh and hot. It takes 10 minutes to arrive and 5 minutes to clean the plate. Time to get moving. Another 10 minutes and I'll have to order another breakfast. The pancakes look good...

So I fill up the Camelbak, fork over a yuppie food coupon, and roll happily out of town.

Next, Guerneville Safeway for lunch!

In the egg of night

The secret, if one may paraphrase a savage vocabulary, lies in the egg of night.
-Loren Eiseley
For some reason I look up, and there are stars. It makes me unspeakably happy. This is somewhere south of Little River. At Indian Creek a drop bag waits with a warm shirt and clean riding clothes. I'd like to be there at dawn.

It is not cold, another stroke of luck. There might even be a light tail wind.

On Highway 1, 7 cars in 20 miles. I keep count, wait for them to pass, consider them intruders. Alone with my Edelux lamp, bright blinkie, and a sky full of company.

The whole human world is finally asleep. No talking on a smart phone. No ordering of grande half-caf soy lattes. No desperate, cynical baristas. No ego driving in a BMW or Porsche or Tesla Model S. No desperadoes ferrying kids in minivans. No RVs that don't fit on the road. No multitasking on smart phones in BMWs and minivans and RVs with a Starbucks cup in the cup holder.

No tailgating or passing. No smug stories, protests, rationalizations, pretense. No outright lies, or self-serving alignment of facts, or suggestions of what might be the case. No companies or would-be professionals or their wretched hangers-on. No agendas.

Two things: the white line in my headlight beam and the sky above. Dark and quiet. It turns out after radical subtraction the world is an excellent place.

The space that is left fills in with gratitude. Darkness, smooth pavement, the quiet redwoods lining the road. The banana and bar in my pocket when breakfast wears off. An occasional glimpse of winter constellations: Sagittarius reclining and watchful, fearless Scorpio. No flat tire or mechanical issue. Lights that work flawlessly.

The color of the sky has shifted to a very dark grey. I pass the sign for Dimmick Campground. The store at Navarro, deserted. The grey is lighter now. The slight incline of Highway 128 becomes rolling and the pavement turns rough; more effort required. The rollers mean we are getting close.

Philo, not a soul in view. It's dawn. The driveway leading to the campsite, where riders are just waking up. One huddles in a chair around a fire ring. Oh, the fire is warm...

Yogy, who has been up all night, takes my name and asks what I need. They'll make breakfast, if I want. Just some coffee and my drop bag, thank you.


I am the luckiest person in the world.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

What happens in Fort Bragg

In cold, blowing fog we cross a bridge high above the Noyo River and in short order reach the driveway of Safeway Fort Bragg. This is the turnaround point. Eight o'clock, dusk, not bad at all!

This point in a ride is always a morale boost, greater than the sum of its parts. And while Fort Bragg is a big town, the major town on the Mendocino coast, its parts are fairly humble. A former military outpost two hundred years ago. A former lumber outpost a hundred years ago. Today it feels a long way from the economic centers of the Bay Area. On this ride, roughly 182 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge. Except for Safeway, shops close early.

One problem has traveled with me all that way. It is time to consider the QL muscle in my lower back. Since Indian Creek it's been in some kind of marginal state. The whole 45 miles I could see Ken and Tim up ahead yet there was no closing the gap. No power, no bursts of speed. Something is definitely inflamed there.

Is the riding making things worse or staving off a meltdown? This is not something I've dealt with before. Safeway has an incredible array of goods but almost nothing here can help. Under the fluorescent lights, grimy randonneurs in reflective gear mingle with local characters. The cashiers pretend not to notice; they are trained professionals. To complete the surreal experience all we need are Elvis impersonators...

Soon my basket is heavy. No matter the outcome there will be food. The rest is a gamble: Advil, ice, rest, see what happens.

Get installed at the Surf Motel & Gardens. Heat chicken and pasta while in the shower. Eat in bed with ice on the QL. Take 3 Advil. Fall asleep at 9:45.

Wake up without an alarm. The clock says 1:40. No pain.

On a country road

Climbing Highway 128.

No stop in Cloverdale, except at a very sincere lemonade stand.

In the 45-degree spread of temperatures on this ride, we are near the high end. How do I know?

The Waterford's steel tubing is warm to the touch. Extensive field research has determined that this amount of chromium-molybdenum alloy becomes conductive when the ambient temperature at sea level reaches ~90F.

Oh the air feels hot too.

The hill is 9 miles long. Besides the odometer with each tenth-of-a-mile clicking by, what to contemplate?

The next patch of blissful shade.

Boonville, wherever you may be.

The promise of cooler air beyond the summit.



That other event this weekend, the Central Coast Double. So glad I am not there. If it's hot in Yorkville, it's a scorcher in Paso Robles. At least I'm riding toward the cool. At least there's Boonville and a water stop and Fort Bragg. The CCD has minimal support with no stores to augment it. The heat ramps up as the day wears on. Electrolyte issues can make one afternoon feel like a lifetime.

That's right, I'd rather be riding a 600K.

View Larger Map
Even so, rolling down to Boonville is like being blasted by a hair dryer. The marine layer hasn't reached this far inland. I'm beginning to doubt it's existence. Twenty-five miles later crispy riders roll into the bag/water stop at Indian Creek County Park. My Camelbak is flopping around like a fish, totally empty.

Chili, chips, Coke: the 3 C's
And lo, on this unsupported brevet we find a fully supported control! Under the shade of big redwood trees. Time to refuel.

It's possible to get so happy and distracted you completely forget to hit your drop bag...

Bakeries, motels, post offices

"So what's your strategy?" asks Ken. It's early in the ride. No one is miserable yet. We still have faith in the plan. Oh, and Advil. Lots and lots of Advil. So far it's working.

"Have two really fun rides" I say. Truth is I didn't give strategy the attention it deserves. The 600K is all about strategy.

How about eat a lot and drink a lot of coffee? Starting at the Bovine Bakery in Point Reyes Station, our first stop. The guy behind me in line asks "what IS a morning bun coffee cake anyway?" No one, including the clerk, can answer. Just buy it, dude. It's delicious.

In 2007 Jim Bradbury and I both got rooms in Fort Bragg. This time I did the same thing without thinking.

A few days ago I read something about a bag drop. So I packed a bag. (This counts as strategy, right?) On the way back, a no-brainer to change clothes. A 45-degree difference is likely between the high and low temps out on the course. Fort Bragg 45, Healdsburg 90. Along with clean clothes, I packed a warm shirt. To prevent shivering.

Ken is going for two rides too, but his motel is in Cloverdale, 80 miles further down the road. His plan is a 400K on Saturday, followed by a nap then a 200K on Sunday. Technically superior. He knows it too! He's got an earbud in one ear, rocking out to his iPod.

Everyone says Fort Bragg (298K) is too early to sleep. That is true. However Cloverdale is another hard 115K into the night, too late! Too early is better for me, a 300K on Saturday followed by a nap and a 300K on Sunday.

Some will ride straight through but on a 1200K you'll have to sleep at some point. Better practice now.

It's actually an issue with this route. The long, beautiful stretch of Highway 128 in Mendocino County. 56 miles of rural scenery between Cloverdale and the coast. Then 20 miles to Fort Bragg. Another 20 miles back to 128. Another 56 miles to Cloverdale. At which point night falls and you get sleepy. Someone on the SF Randonneurs email list summarized it nicely:
GM: The most viable sleeping locations on this route don't exist in the stretch where most folks might ideally 
wish to sleep -- all we need is a Motel 6 smack-dab in the middle of Highway 128. ;) 

If only I had checked the list before the ride, I would have realized there are more options...
JH: I think the discerning rando will spend at least 45 minutes passed out on the floor of the Boonville post office.  Really the high point of any SFR 600.
MJ: JH indicates the proper attitude of the true randonneur, although, really, a post office is a bit wimpy when there are perfectly good grass verges available all along 128 ;-) 
JG: I find the post office in Yorkville to be much more comfortable, but some say the Cloverdale post office is the place to be at 5am for that power nap. I must say when the recent post office closing list came out I checked for closures on all the 600Ks in the area.
JH: I couldn't make it to Yorkville.
DB: I agree. No SFR 600k is complete without at least a 20 minute nap in the Boonville post office.
JOH: I guess I better practice sleeping on concrete floors in my kit...
DB: Not necessary! The Boonville PO had plenty of phone books to line the floor and provide a bit of insulation...
JH: Phone books are too lumpy....I recommend the Penny Saver.

Cyclists will ride completely out of their way to hit an excellent bakery. They will happily stop in a town with a decent motel. But 600K is long enough to run out of essential services. Every place with a zip code has a post office and apparently, a post office will do.

I need my motel bed and Morning Bun Coffee Cake. No picture, sorry. Completely eaten!

Trouble already

The Marina Motel looks charming enough from the outside, with its elegance-meets-Route 66-style motor court. Murals on the walls, little garages under each room. Beautiful! And my own kitchen for making breakfast before the ride.

Unfortunately $170 with tax gets you a non-courtyard room. Those rooms face the street, Lombard Street. AKA Highway 101 in San Francisco. And boy you can hear and feel the traffic.

Despite melatonin good sleep did not happen. Swung out of bed at 4:20am, suddenly aware something was wrong. That inflamed, squishy feeling on the right side of my lower back. Nerves twinging and the QL muscle threatening to go into full spasm. Big trouble. Can't believe it, the morning of the 600K! In an hour I need to be at the Golden Gate Bridge.

Lesson from last time: don't wait to see how this movie ends. Three days of excruciating pain and not being able to walk or move. Weeks of icing the muscle while it heals. Work fast, now. The pill bottle is right there, pop 3 Advil. The fridge has a mini ice tray; the cubes go into a plastic bag and the bag goes between my back and the pillow on the bed. Ah.

A little moment of gratitude for the motel crew, who believe in ice cubes. My thoughts start flashing back through the last few days, looking for reasons. The backpack, my drop bag for the 600K, small but heavy. The 6-mile ride from the train station with some road construction. Switching between bikes, from tandem to Waterford. Electrolyte and stomach issues of unknown origin. Lifting too much and standing too long at the control last weekend. Interval work in Spinning class on Tuesday. The weird yoga twist...

The car accident.

There are all sorts of reasons to ride a 600K. One is to stop your thoughts, which have become unproductive.

I make oatmeal and coffee and eat as much as possible. The phone is right there in case my destiny is to become a raging, spasming statue. Whom to call? What would they do?

As it turns out the simple fixes calm whatever is going on. Enough to somehow brush teeth. Get packed up without bending all the way over. Get the bike and Camelbak and backpack down stairs to the street. Wriggle the stuff onto my back. Ride gingerly through the Presidio in the dark.

I'm in the chute, the world (minus 3 raccoons and a mouse scuttling across the road) is asleep, it's time to just move forward. Time will tell whether this is folly, or fine.

Rob Hawks and the hardy few

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

In the beginning...

The guy next to me is asking about the route. Of this ride. Because you can be on a ride and be from someplace else and wonder what is next. You have all night to think about it.

The route is the Boonville 600K and we are on some road outside Healdsburg and it's about to get hard. For my money this is the hardest 600K anywhere. Daryn Dodge designed the route. It has broken people, caused them to reevaluate their goals, led them to DNF. Sent them back to flatter terrain.

Naturally, this is the part I leave out.

No moon tonight. If we could see the roads around us it would be beautiful country. The start was at 8pm yesterday, Friday, after a crazy week at work. I'm sleepy, sore, not feeling strong. It's just before dawn, a circadian low point.

It's exactly two years ago, May 7, 2011.

Before long I'm telling the creation story of RUSA, who was involved and why, how it came about. At the time of the first Boonville 600K in 1999, Davis Bike Club was the randonneuring club in California. The first running of this brevet had a 4pm start. A warm night in the Alexander Valley, a big moon over Yorkville. You could ride by moonlight.

Dan addresses the Davis Bike Club team in Paris in 1999. All the new RBAs and Daryn are here...

The whole crew was there including Donn King, Bill Bryant and Lois Springsteen, Todd Teachout. In the next few years all these people started new brevet series closer to home. Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, San Francisco. Those series are still going strong, along with Davis. Randonneuring, once a fringe sport, began to take off. Dan Shadoan was on the ride too; he took over from Daryn. Davis is how and where it all began.

Hearing my own voice I think this is what people sound like when they're old. Maybe I've hung around too long. This type of cycling you can do into your 70s but I'm so weary. Feeling old. The brain injury has taken its toll. What am I doing out here?

I'm qualifying for my fourth PBP. This time not for adventure or ego or lack of better things to do, but to jump-start my brain. Bathe it in chemicals, grow new capacity, let it know it is still expected it to do stuff. Get off the couch.

Dan & Ann are waiting in Ukiah, along with Mary and her family. The extreme stomach issues that could be TBI-related, they're waiting too. They start on the way back from Boonville and dog me for the rest of the ride. I'll be speechless with nausea. I'll sleep for three hours in the back of Deb Ford's car in Calistoga. I'll survive.

Tomorrow, the Fort Bragg 600K with SF Randonneurs. All night to think about it.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Hammy before Davis


Sunday mornings Davis snoozes, right along with the college kids. Forgot about that. The last waffle is in a baggie in the fridge up in Tobin. Time for Plan B. Beef jerky and pretzels from the Amtrak station's vending machine. The train comes; it's warm inside.

Meanwhile Jeff is heading for the Fremont/Centerville station. We're going for a ride. Because I need it and we need it, and also because of Danny's rule.

People are curious about training for a double century. It's complicated. But if you can do a Mt. Hamilton loop 3 weeks before Davis and feel good at the end, you're ready. That's the rule. We are late - Davis is only 2 weeks away - but this is our window.

Jeff is pretty sure he's never climbed Crothers before. A few minutes ago he was warned. We can avoid it. Still the dirt part and the 14% part, hello!

The road up the mountain is gentler. Mules dragged a lens for the telescope up from San Jose. Three reaches of 6-7 miles, with a little downhill after each climb. 22 miles, it's a long haul. Jeff has been training hard closer to home, climbing Mt. Diablo. I can tell he's tired. Diablo is a sister peak of Hamilton, both high points of the Diablo Range.

Finally, the beautiful white dome at the top.

The Mt. Hamilton Ascent was my second organized ride, ever. Up the mountain and then back down. It was 1997. Had never climbed a real hill. Had never stood up on the pedals. Both happened that day.

After the late start we opt out of climbing to the observatory. Instead it's hose water and a quick pocket snack. Then, down the back side to the San Antonio Valley.

This is how you do a Hammy, the Mt. Hamilton Challenge loop minus all the flat urban stuff. 105 miles, 8000 feet of climbing. 7 turns.

Jeff takes it slow, dictated by the hairpin turns and ripples in the pavement. Summers are so hot back here the pavement warps and buckles. He apologizes for the bumps (which are inevitable). I could give a rodent's behind, delirious to be out for a ride.


At the bottom, Isabel Creek and two smaller climbs present themselves. Jeff is holding on for the good part, the flatter part, the part where it actually helps to be on a tandem...

I'm holding on for lunch. Two days of running on empty. Fortunately, 19 miles past the summit comes the Junction Cafe. Two San Antone Burgers please. With fries. And pickles!

We join the motorcycle party outside. Wild pig is supposed to be tasty. Next time I'll order the BBQ pulled pork sandwich.

Now for Mt. Mocho. Two climbs, stoked by the hamburger and fries. We are out in the middle of nowhere or in motorcycle lingo, BFE.


There are people living on Mines Road, not many but a few. They're a different species than the suburbanites of Pleasanton and Livermore. Out here it's a little like Route 66. You're allowed to be eccentric. Eccentric is the rule...
One of the homesteads has a gate that's painted bright lilac. One is festooned with a dozen yellow ribbons and a small American flag, waiting for a soldier to come home. One has a yard full of "antiques" for sale. Ruth's Treasure and Trash, an excellent source of old-style fans.

All at once the landscape opens up, the road tilts gently down, and we start gaining speed into Arroyo Mocho. Gusts of wind buffet my ears, forearms and shins. The rest of me is shielded and it's hard to tell whether the wind is strong or we're just moving fast. It's impossible to know. Every few seconds the wind seems to change direction. No matter, the bike is cutting through it like a freight train.

Later Jeff reports our speed was 30-35mph. At the moment he's too happy to talk. Which is fine because it's hard to hear.

Feels a little dicey, taking pictures. Like the camera is going to be ripped away...

We pound through the wine country of Livermore, spin up Calaveras, careen down the Wall. Eight  hours after setting out we are back at the truck, my hands in the air in a gesture of victory. Legs a little weak but not sore.

Ready for Davis.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The fun starts here

From Tobin Highway 70 climbs then descends Yankee Hill and skirts the western edge of Oroville. The town motto is The fun starts here! The Chamber of Commerce says it's a perfect place to visit or live. I mean, Think about it – if the salmon visit every year – maybe you should, too!

By now you can probably tell that Oroville is a gritty, functional, unattractive town. In summer it's also the hottest (and thanks to Lake Oroville, most humid) place in this hot, hot valley. The first night of my first Super Tour was in a tent on a field at the high school. That night the low temperature was around 80 degrees. Yellow sodium lights illuminated our campsite. The mosquitoes were ravenous. From 11pm-2am townies buzzed us in their cars, screaming out of the windows, stereos thumping. It was a testament to what a few motivated individuals can do. Then at 3am the sprinklers went on.

Today with the sun dipping down and the sky streaking red, it's windy. Crosswinds coming in gusts, buffeting the Volvo wagon. Without the drop bags as cargo it would be hard to keep this lane. Wonder what it's like out here on a bicycle. A dozen or more cyclists are riding this stretch, making their way back to Davis.

A red light on the instrument panel, Parking Brake. My right hand goes down to check; no brake on. The light disappears. A few minutes later it flashes then disappears again. The Volvo's sensor is reacting to the wind. My eye catches the odometer: 330xxx. Miles, not kilometers! I'm both impressed and fearful.

Where's the airbag? There, under a panel in the middle of the steering wheel. A first generation airbag is still an airbag. It's Dan's car; Dan is a reliable guy.

Heading west on 162 over to Highway 99. It's dark. Kathy Twitchell is riding shotgun, talking a blue streak to keep me awake. She tells about her son, how she met Jack, other 600Ks, what went wrong on this one. They're from Pomona, way down on Route 66 east of LA. Near the Wigwam TeePee Motel. So she has no idea how to get back to Davis. I have a rough idea but no map.

Right now I'm working on three things:

  • keeping attention on this task
  • looking at the white line, away from headlights
  • working up the courage to prospect for 5th gear

On two-lane highways the way to be safe is to go fast enough that other drivers don't feel the need to pass. The hard parts for me are dealing with variations in light and keeping focused.

I don't know where we are. Or the next turn. It would be so easy to freak out. OK now we're in 5th.

On Friday Dan asked can you drive a stick? The drop bag driver fell through. Sure, I've never owned anything else. Now, had he asked can you drive 125 miles at night on unfamiliar roads without a map after working a double shift and sleeping 4 hours in 2 days...

This is an excellent test. For exactly this reason I had to leave my job. It's not just the task, it's the timing and context. Everything that comes before. And really, who wants to work with someone who can't just step up?

Dan needs this. Dan needs this.

What goes around in Tobin


Waffle batter, check. Oatmeal, hot water, coffee, check.

On long rides food is incredibly important. Food is what fuels the experience. If you ask me it has to be the right kind of food, with protein, carbs, and sugar. It has to be appealing, too. You have to be able to eat it.

Dan and Ann are the reason I'm up here in the Feather River Canyon in a cabin that is half  ramshackle and half charm. Taking photos at midnight, because when riders arrive there will be no free time. Dan is the organizer of this ride, the Taylorsville 600K.

The cyclists started at 8pm on what was a freakin' hot day in Davis, CA. They are riding through the night to get here. This is Tobin Resort in the Feather River Canyon, about 200K out. Highway 70. It's OK if you don't know where this is; no one does. There's nothing here, which is why we're turning the cabin into a food truck.

The fasties arrive just as the first batch of waffle batter is hitting the hot iron and the coffee maker is clicking on. 4:06am. Real food for people who have been up all night.

It's tough to say when I first met Dan & Ann. Probably the brevet series in 1999. They rode a beautiful Erickson custom tandem. That year the Davis Bike Club sent ~93 riders to Paris-Brest-Paris, the most of any club in the world. The most female finishers too. We beat out Audax UK by one woman.

After the first riders head out it's time to wake up Dan. I knock on the door of Cabin 10 and hand him a cup of coffee for the road. He'll head up to Taylorsville to make omelets.

The toilet in Cabin 9 needs filling before use.
In those days Davis had the only brevets in Northern California. The support was (and still is) legendary. They basically took the support model of the Davis Double Century and ported it to long-distance randonneur events. We had rest stops with food, water, tools. We had SAG drivers with floor pumps. We had (a lot of) volunteers signing cards at all hours of the day and night.

That's how I launched as a randonneur in my second year of cycling, before learning to fix a flat. No kidding! The club really took care of us. Riders like Dan & Ann showed how it was done. I finished PBP in 83:05, severely sleep-deprived. But I finished. No flats.

Yes, the waffles are popular! I don't really understand why but it's the right kind of food. The oatmeal sells out too. OJ, Peet's coffee, hot chocolate. Yogurts. Bananas.

By the time the riders come back in the afternoon, back from Taylorsville, it's all about burritos. Nearly every rider orders one with refried beans, cheese, salsa, rotisserie chicken, guacamole. Chips and a Coke. Fruit smoothies. Potatoes with salt. Hard-boiled eggs. Grapes.

A lot of familiar faces pass through. From Death Valley Chuck Schroyer and Thomas Maslen. From other brevets Paul Vlasveld, Kitty Goursolle, Don Bennett, Todd Teachout. These are all Bay Area people; the crew from Davis has mostly moved on. Ann and I agree; it's like a recurring dream where the people rotate through but the setting remains the same. The riders are universally polite and grateful.

Working at the control you don't sleep much and that might be why it seems like a dream. In the afternoon one of the riders said 'long day for you?'. To which I can only say 'long day for you, too'. If this seems like a lot of work it's nothing compared to what it takes to organize a 600K. It's simpler to ride one.

Next week I'll do that, too.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Two amigos on Highway 1

Thursday we met Russ and Doug, two Route 66 buddies, at a pub in San Francisco. They're heading down the coast on Highway 1.

Wish I could go! All I could offer were directions on how to take the old dirt road through Devil's Slide instead of the new tunnel. Right now those are the two options. And the views are so much better from the old road. After the western half of Route 66, Old Pedro Mountain Road should be no problem. Even with panniers. Just go slow.

Afterwards we went for ice cream on Chestnut Street in my old neighborhood. It was a warm evening, unusual for San Francisco. This is a great city and the scenery is breathtaking along the coast. Russ and Doug are in for a treat. There's just one thing missing...

One cup is missing
Rudy (who loved ice cream) was the third amigo. During the evening his name came up several times. He was one of the least nostalgic people I've ever met. Kinda impatient too. After a while I could hear his voice in my head saying oh for God's sake, give it a rest! Time to get on with it!

The cat ate my bike shorts

Always running late for Spinning class. Pulled out the wicker drawer where the bike shorts live. Without looking I grabbed the pair on top. They're all black. It's just a sea of black nylon and lycra in there.

For some reason I actually looked down at the pair in my hand. And thought oh no...


What's disturbing is not that someone ate yet another article of clothing. Nor is it surprising that bike shorts were chosen. Bella likes chewing on stretchy things. It's frankly preferable if she destroys an old ratty pair of bike shorts than, say, a V-neck wool-cashmere sweater. Yeah, can't quite let that one go...

Two things are troubling about this particular incident.
    Predator, and prey
  1. I came that close to showing up at the gym with a big chewed hole in my butt.
  2. No idea how Bella got a hold of this particular item. Most everything in the house is Bella-proofed; no clothing lying around.
She's not telling...


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Reveal


Protecting the integrity of your character from social assassination will require you to challenge attitudes that blame and punish you for your illness.
"Challenging Blame", Axioms for Survivors by Lon G. Nungesser 

Central Expressway 8:30 this morning.  Cars going 60+ like they're entitled. Passing on the right. Must be years since a cop drove this stretch of road. They all know it, too. Heading to SBI. Time to tell a version of Elaine's TBI Story.

The stoplights enable practicing the speech. Safely, that is. All the 60+ cars are now going 0. Cue cards help a lot. They help me focus on things other than words.

Like the audience, ~15 members of a foundation. Some new, some on the board, professional women. Probably sympathetic. Still something is lurking, an uneasy feeling. It doesn't come naturally, standing up and revealing personal details. By implication, asking for something. It's not what private, self-reliant people do.

Even if it were, in this case the Reveal seems like the wrong brand strategy. Yes, people are impressed when they're handed a business card that says "How my traumatic brain injury became a gift". Just not in a good way!

The story itself could be going better at the moment. My part is going fine. Exercise, diet, no wine. The part where everyone else steps up, not so much! Insurance companies and doctors and employers seem desperate to drive me away. So why share bad news? What's the benefit? Pity only makes things worse. Nothing like feeling helpless, pinned, paralyzed with so much fighting left to do.

I imagine the Community Room, the chairs and podium, its white walls and sliding glass door. At Oakmead Parkway the light turns green.

Lawbreakers and abiders proceed together, side by side. It comes to me suddenly, the reaction of that woman from Toronto at Blog World, the one who was so into LinkedIn. She looked at the business card, read the tagline and said "oh my god, you actually have a story!"

Christine from SBI says our culture is at the point with brain injury where we were 50 years ago with heart disease. People are afraid, there is no treatment, no ongoing support or rehab. With heart disease at least you weren't accused of making it up...

TBI seems to polarize us. In today's world you're either like the woman from Toronto or like the friends, coworkers, family members who hide behind blame. Who figure you're weak, moving slower, now is the time to leave you behind. There's no in-between. This morning could go either way.

At Bowers I think you're not asking for pity. Or money. Just a mile in your shoes. A human connection, that's all. 

 It goes fine.