Shelter In Place

The DSSF Board of Directors recommends that all club members follow the directions of the Governor’s office to “shelter in place” until April 7th. We are therefore cancelling club rides and events until that time.

There won’t be any club rides for at least the next three weeks and probably longer. In the overall scheme of things it’s not a big deal. Life, death, and serious illness and disability are.

Strange coincidence? Today the SF AIDS Foundation announced that AIDS LifeCycle for this year has been cancelled because of the coronavirus. In 1982 the club formed and it was about that time AIDS first appeared in the community. I had the sad and unreal experience—as did many members at the time—of seeing friends, loved ones, and acquaintences very rapidly get sick and die. First it was only one or two but later on it became a dismal commonplace. In the club before they died they often disappeared from riding regularly. We’d find out they were sick, or rather, rumors went out that they were ‘sick’. We’d just stop seeing them on club rides and then the word got out they had died. That was an ugly experience that scarred me and I’m sure others, a real coming of age. If you haven’t had an experience like that, then the prospect of a multitude of deaths due to COVID-19 is likely just an abstraction. We’re not there yet. But we probably will be even with the measures taken so far.

So yeah, the shelter-in-place is a PITA. But the shattering grief at losing a friend to a stupid disease is even more of a PITA.

Keep washing your hands often and maintain your distance for a while so you don’t get infected. Infected but asymptomatic people are apparently the primary vector for spreading this disease. (“What’s the fuss about? I feel fine!”) You’re perhaps not just saving your own life but the lives of others some of whom you know and cherish and some whom you may never meet.

2020 Centuries Update: M-M-M-My Corona! [updated 3/29]

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men go often askew, as the renowned Scottish poet said. With COVID-19 today’s BFF all those cycling events this spring are thrown into doubt. You’ve probably heard the astonishing news today that the Giro D’Italia has been postponed because of the pandemic. Is nothing sacred anymore? If the Giro can be tossed aside you can bet your sweet patootie that little ol’ cycling festivals are not guaranteed either. A couple of the high profile events, the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey and the Eroica California down in Cambria, which were supposed to take place in April, have been cancelled and postponed to fall respectively.

What of local centuries? Perhaps you’re wondering whether to register or you’ve registered and paid the fee already. Events before May are a mix of cancelations and postponements. Events afterwards are generally still scheduled to take place. But that may change depending on what happens with the epidemic. I suspect that people are going to hold off on registering for events and that’s going to force each organizer’s hand to cancel/postpone if not directly because of COVID-19 then because they’ll have so few people sign up that the event will be underfunded. All events prior to May have been cancelled or postponed; early May events are in question. All early May events have been cancelled and even some in early June. Here’s the rundown of upcoming century rides.

March 14 Solvang Century. That’s tomorrow! This is a very big event—never less than several thousand riders. The Santa Barbara County Health Dept cancelled it ‘over the organizer’s objections’. Are you serious? You wanted to run a gigantic event during a pandemic? Even the Giro organizers were wise enough to call off an international race.
March 28. Cinderella Classic. Valley Spokesmen, after some consideration, decided to cancel this year’s event. There isn’t a convenient date to reschedule this year, so you’ll have to wait until 2021. No word on the fate of registration fees but likely those who’ve paid will get their registration moved to next year.
April 4-5. Eroica. Cancelled by organizers possibly to be rescheduled later this year.
April 18. Sea Otter Classic. Postponed to October 1-4.
April 18. Bike Around the Buttes. Postponed indefinitely. No word on refunds.
April 19. Primavera Century. Cancelled. Reg fee can either be used for 2021 or a refund minus $5 processing charge can be requested.
April 25. Tierra Bella. Cancelled. Your registration will be used for 2021 or you can request a refund before 4/23 for a $3 fee.
April 25. Mt. Hamilton Challenge. The organizers never confirmed that the 2020 edition would take place and I would doubt it can happen how.
April 25. SLO Wildflower. Cancelled and registrants will be notified of their “options”.
April 26. Chico Wildflower. Wisely postponed until later this year.
May 2. Wine Country Century. Cancelled. Partial refunds for entry fees will be offered (minus unrecoverable expenses) or you can donate your fee to the club. If you ordered kit, it will be sent to you except for t-shirts since that order was cancelled in time and you’ll get a refund for it.
May 2. Siskiyou Scenic Bicycle Tour. Now postponed to Oct. 3.
May 3. Grizzly Peak Century. Cancelled. Refunds will be made for the entry fee.
May 16. Davis Double. 2020 event cancelled. Refunds will be provided.
May 16. Tour delle Vigne. Cancelled. Contact organizer for refund or to donate your fee.
May 17. Strawberry Fields Forever. Postponed to Sunday Oct. 11.
May 30. Devil’s Slide Ride. Still on, astonishly.
June 7. Sequoia Century. Cancelled.
June 13. Gold Country Challenge. Postponed to September.
June 20. Mile High 100. Still on.
June 20. RBC Silicon Valley Gran Fondo. Still on.

Coronavirus and DSSF: ‘Playing Safe’ Has A New Meaning

Today the World Health Organization announced that COVID-19 is now a global pandemic. Community transmission in the Bay Area of the coronavirus is now a fact; there have been cases in San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Santa Clara counties that are not due to travel or contact with someone who is known to have been exposed to the coronavirus. As you know public events are being cancelled or postponed and commercial sports events such as Warriors games will take place without a live audience.

In Italy where the disease is uncontained the national government has locked down the entire country and restricted movement until April 3 in order to halt the spread of COVID-19. Traveling outside of your immediate community now requires special permission, all public gatherings such as at cultural sites, sporting events, and festivals are forbidden, restaurants and bars are open only for limited hours and patrons must stay at least one meter apart.

Cascade Cycling Club up in the Seattle area, the country’s largest cycling club, has issued guidelines for its group rides in order to keep participants safe, mainly asking ride leaders to brief riders—asking them to limit physical contact such as shaking hands and hugs, give each other space, and not coming on rides if you are feeling ill. In addition Cascade is asking ride leaders not to post rides that involve stopping at “heavily used spaces (such as coffee shops) or that have a post ride event.”

Closer to home we’ve had cycling events cancelled such as the Sea Otter Classic and the Cinderella Century although they are mass events rather than small group rides.

We are fortunate that our favorite recreational sport takes place outdoors and doesn’t involve close physical contact, so Different Spokes rides during the epidemic should mostly be safe as long as we exercise some precautions. Ride leaders should brief their groups on the following:

• Please refrain from attending rides/events if you’re feeling sick. If you’re the ride leader, please find a replacement ride host or just cancel/postpone your ride.

• Ask participants to refrain from physical greetings—shaking (gloved or ungloved—both can transmit the virus) hands, hugs, etc.

• Use hand sanitizer and/or wash hands before eating and before and after contact with others.

• If your ride has stops at coffee shops, restaurants, or other indoor venues, remind riders about possible exposure to coronavirus.

• If you’re a ride leader, plan stops that don’t involve entering crowded public venues. Please consider suggesting to participants that they bring their ride snacks/lunch rather than going to a restaurant/market/coffee shop.

• The risk of transmission of the coronavirus is highest when within one meter (three feet) of an infected person. An infected person may be not be ill or even aware that they are harboring the virus.

The First Rain Cancellation of 2020

No Morgan Territory–had to settle for this!

What a difference a year (or three) makes. In 2017 it rained incessantly; in 2018 it was mostly dry–until March when it rained cat and dogs; in 2019 it was a dry January and then a wet February and March (again). This year we’ve gone well over a month without a drop of rain and we thought winter was over with the Equinox just on the horizon. Spokers were listing rides like it was summer. Alas, Stephanie and Will had the misfortune of posting Morgan Territory/Palomares for today when a storm front finally rolled in and dropped some water on thirsty Northern California. We were planning to attend, alas. Believe it or not, today was the club’s first rain cancellation of the year–in March!

In the East Bay the rain suddenly stopped around 2 pm so we headed out for some much needed head clearing on the Nimitz Trail, which is our version of the Marin Headlands. The rain was gone, the air was crystalline clear, and the East Bay still looks stunningly green. A short but sweet ride when you just have to get your legs spinning in circles. If you can’t ride with the club, we hope you’re still riding anyway. See you next week on the Jersey Ride!

The Future of Saddle Challenge

Astute Spokers will notice that this March there is no Saddle Challenge. We’ve had the Saddle Challenge every year since 2002 and beginning in 2003 it became a fundraising event for Project Inform. Last year Saddle Challenge commenced and mid-March the beneficiary, Project Inform, closed its doors and ceased operation leaving Saddle Challenge without a substantial purpose. The monies gathered eventually were gifted to the club and were used to purchase a one-year club membership in RideWithGPS.

After the end of Project Inform the club board engaged in a discussion about whether SC should or could continue and if so, what form would the event take. The club has for much of its history engaged in fundraising for the LGBT community. The club ran the first AIDS Bike-A-Thon for ten years (1985-1994), and during the existence of the California AIDS Ride (CAR) and the beginning of the AIDS LifeCycle many Different Spokes members participated and led training rides. Then we began Saddle Challenge and then from 2012-2016 member Chris Thomas ran Double Bay Double—although generously the club got credit—for the SF AIDS Foundation. So SC has been the last remnant charity fundraising event the club sponsored. Although Different Spokes formed as ‘merely’ a LGBT recreational cycling club, from the beginning there was a sense that the club should give back to its community.

Is there a future for Saddle Challenge? Originally it was just a friendly in-club competition to encourage members to start riding after the winter. Is that something the club still needs? Probably not. As a charity fundraiser SC takes place at a suboptimal time of year because during March it can still raining a lot such as in 2018 when it rained virtually every weekend. If SC remains primarily a fundraiser, then it would do better to take place later in the year when members are riding more.

Who should the beneficiary be? The board has talked about a LGBT beneficiary as being a natural affiliation although it did not rule out the possibility of a non-LGBT organization. We’ve had some discussion about raising funds for non-profits focusing on LGBT youth. Outcycling in NYC sponsors a LGBT youth section called Fearless Flyers that provides cycling as a healthy alternative activity for queer youth. This not so coincidentally also encourages membership of young people at a time when most clubs are aging up.

The board would like to engage in a discussion with members about whether or not Saddle Challenge should continue, particularly as a fundraising event that the whole club can get behind. What are your thoughts? Do you think the club should put on a fundraising event? What form should it be and who or what should be the beneficiary?

Ride Recap: Pedaling Paths in the Valley

Now that’s more like it! Alas, no other Spokers joined Roger H and me to schlep 80 miles into the Valley to do this community fundraiser last Saturday. The ride was fantastic: perfect weather (73 degrees!) with sunny skies, a well-supported yet inexpensive ride, and a near-Goldilocks size ride of about 300 participants altogether (but only about 130 on the metric century).

Our ominously dry winter continued but in exchange we’ve been given excellent riding weather. Unlike the last two Valley centuries, the Velo Love Ride and the Almond Blossom, which started in the low 40s, this one opened at 51 degrees, a sign that the day was going to turn out just right. By midday we were basking in glorious sunshine, almost no wind, and short-sleeves and shorts weather. It’s downright amazing that the Community Center for the Blind and Visually Handicapped could put on a century like this for a mere $45. It has all the trappings of a big event: stocked rest stops, sag support, ham radio, mid-ride lunch, post-ride meal, and course photographers! How are these guys making any money? It’s probably due to the immense community support the non-profit organization has: a great volunteer corps, enthusiasm, and lots of donations.

Unlike the Velo Love Ride and the Almond Blossom the Pedaling Paths has rolling terrain with short hills because it goes over to the eastern edge of the Valley. The first part is mostly flat with just a few gentle rolls, but at the midway things get decidedly more interesting with a long series of rollers some pretty short and some just long enough that you can’t sprint up them. The metric is a large counterclockwise loop and like the Almond Blossom it doesn’t go ‘anywhere’, ie. you don’t pass through any towns or suburbs—you’re in rural land the entire time. And that’s a good thing because the ag zone around Linden, the start town, is diverse and pretty. The northern end is mainly large walnut groves and vineyards; as you head south you’re greeted with miles and miles of almond blossoms, which are hitting their peak. There is rangeland and you pass by grazing cattle and sheep and a couple of stockyards. With the gently rolling terrain you have vistas of the area around you unlike the Almond Blossom, which is so flat that you’re submerged in trees for a great portion and unable to see much around you other than the occasional farm building or tower. At this time of year the green is high (despite the lack of rain) and the hills are verdant and colorful.

But back to the beginning. The start is about ten miles east of Stockton in the small town of Linden. Stockton is the ‘big city’ but it doesn’t take long before you’re nowhere near urbanity and it’s all farms. The start was busy for such a small event and registration was old-school: get in line to check in, turn in your waiver, and get your wrist band. Fortunately the line for the two portapotties was short. But that wouldn’t be true the rest of the day! This century is big enough that you see other cyclists almost the entire day but the road doesn’t look carpeted with spandex as it does in the Marin. The deal with these Valley centuries is to go fast on the flat and find a good paceline so you can go even faster. Oh, and latch onto a tandem if you can. But Roger and I weren’t in the mood to go fast (as if we could anyway). At least I thought that was the case until a tandem passed us with a clutch of remoras and Roger started to go faster. We didn’t try to glom onto the tandem but we were going a bit more quickly than I had expected (and wanted). Unlike the Almond Blossom the roads near Linden—still ag roads—are in much better shape, so it’s pleasant to whiz by the orchards rather than go bumpety-bump and dodging potholes and cracks. After swinging through a bunch of orthogonal turns and a lot of different orchards you head south for a long stretch and you get to see cyclists in front and behind you as you roll up and down the short swales. We got passed a few times but we were passing a lot more.

In a trice we were at the first rest stop at a fire station on Highway 4. In the engine bay. I was wondering what they’d do if they got a call with all those cyclists munching in their way. The rest stop food was better than perfunctory: pbj sandwiches, oranges, cookies, coffee!, energy bars. The line for the portapotties was long so we took off. This section south of Highway 4 is also beautiful and without many cars. We stopped for a natural break and promptly got passed by about 30 cyclists. The road eventually turns north into the hills and suddenly those cyclists who passed us were being flung out the back one by one. Roger has a poker face but I can tell that he doesn’t like to get passed and he enjoys catching cyclists. He didn’t go any faster (if it wasn’t clear by now: I was hanging on to his wheel for most of the day) but he just didn’t slow down on the hills. Which meant I was seeing alarminglly high heart rates. There were a couple of cyclists who were trying to catch us but every time we went uphill their imminence dwindled; conversely they slowly would close on us on the flat and downhill sections since we weren’t pushing it there.

Lunch couldn’t have come fast enough. I was just about wasted and very hungry. Lunch is always held at the Milton cemetery. Milton is the name on the map but other than a few farm houses I’m not sure there is a real town there anymore. Lunch was better: bags of potato chips (salt!), and ham & cheese sandwiches along with the other stuff. And chilled Gatorade. We didn’t stay long—just enough to throw down some grub. And the line for the two portapotties was long. Again.

We took off and it was clear I was wasted. I usually feel much better after lunch but today I was lagging. And after lunch the hills got a little steeper (or maybe it just felt that way.) By now everyone was spread out so we weren’t seeing too many other riders. Roger slowed down for my sake and we basically did the section to the third rest stop at a reasonable pace.

At the third rest stop we had some trail mix and I suddenly felt better. Ah, salt and sugar! So the last nine miles were done faster. Boom, we were back at the start. The dining room was pretty full; was it that we started late or was it just folks doing the shorter ride? The kids from the local community college were dishing up the food: salad, bread, pasta in a pesto cream sauce, and grilled chicken. Not bad at all. On the tables were bowls of Lindor chocolates that had been donated. Less than two hours later we were safely back home. Total time from leaving the house to returning was nine hours with about five of that actual riding time.

Who did this ride? It was a much bigger crowd than the Almond Blossom. I saw jerseys from the Stockton Bicycle Club, Sacramento Bike Hikers, Davis, PenVelo, Fremont Freewheelers, and some other clubs I didn’t recognize. It was the ‘usual’ crowd, ie. recreational cyclists in spandex, with a few racers slumming. What was quite noticeable was the large number of women on this ride. The age was also quite varied, ie. except for Millennials every other age cohort seemed to be represented.

The food culture was interesting. There was absolutely no effort made to cater to anyone with ‘special’ diets. If you wanted gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, vegan, peanut-free, no HFCS, organic whatever, whole grain this-and-that–well, you were shit out of luck. You better like to eat cheese, meat, peanut butter, sugar, and cream. I actually found it to be refreshing: a call back to a more innocent era. Especially for a small fundraiser like Pedaling Paths, you just can’t expect it to cover all the bases. Living in the Bay Area we’ve come to expect that diet diversity is a given. Not in the Valley!

We will, no doubt, come back to ride it again. But I do hope they have more portapotties the next time.

Ride Recap: Pt. Molate, or Sitting On A Dock At The Bay

Was it worth the wait?

This past Sunday Leonard Gabriele, Roger H, and I hosted a ride out to Pt. Molate, which is a spit of land just north of the west landing of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Although Pt. Molate has long been there, it hasn’t been easy for cyclists to get to it. Until the multi-use path was built for the RSR Bridge you had to risk getting on the shoulder of I-580 West for a short distance and exit at Pt. Molate. And that shoulder wasn’t very broad either, barely a car width. But the need to construct an approach to the new multi-use path led to some interesting negotiations with Chevron and got them to cede a right-of-way on their land, which directly abuts the north side of the freeway and on which the bridge path would have to traverse. So now it is possible to get to Pt. Molate safely without having to get on a dangerous freeway.

The ride was Leonard’s idea although Roger and I had already been out there once but had turned around at the scary hill. There is a restaurant at the very end of the road—the road out to Pt. Molate is a dead-end since all the surrounding land is Chevron’s—which none of us had been to: the Nobilis. I had difficulty imagining a thriving restaurant on Pt. Molate because, well, it’s pretty out of the way and not easy to get to, which means you have to have a real draw to get folks to wend their way to your front door. But we were game.

Will Bir, Donald Cremers, Roger Sayre, and Ann Dunn joined us for our little safari. We lucked out with gorgeous sunny weather and almost no wind. From North Berkeley BART we took the Ohlone Greenway before dropping down to the Bay Trail and taking it up to Pt. Richmond. Along the way we lost Leonard a couple of times when he took shortcuts. The good weather brought out the throngs on the Bay Trail but it was never so crowded that we felt impeded in a meaningful way. Once in Pt. Richmond we accessed the new marked bike lanes to get to the multi-use path, which we took to nearly the toll plaza before diving north onto Stenmark Drive, the road to Pt. Molate. The public land on Pt. Molate is limited since almost all of it is Chevron property, running from the water’s edge to just the eastern side of Stenmark Drive. Some of it was previously military and you can see the old naval housing, now all shuttered, and perhaps wonder how many home buyers would snatch them up if they were remodeled and put up for sale despite their modest appearance. Stenmark is by no means flat, with two inauspicious but short ramps. Along the way you pass Winehaven, which apparently was the largest winery in the US before Prohibition shut it down. The other draws are Point Molate Beach Park and the East Brother Lighthouse, where you can take a short ferry from the end of Stenmark Drive out to it and spend the night. If you’re interested in Point Molate’s history, you’ll find a very nice, succinct presentation here.

The pièce de resistance is the very last climb to the Nobilis. Instead of heading to the ferry landing for the East Brother lighthouse, you turn right and head straight up an oh-my-god-I-don’t-have-low-enough-gears chute. It’s just a fifth of a mile but visually it’s intimidating when you’re at the base. The other side drops back down to water level but someone figured out that maybe a few switchbacks would make sense. There are also some awful speed bumps to force everyone to slow down.

At the bottom is a small harbor with the Nobilis Restaurant, a small building with a large outdoor sitting area with tables and sunshades. The small harbor was full of small boats and—surprise, surprise—a few houseboats! What a marvelous location for a home. The parking lot is large and there were a lot of cars already there yet not more than a handful had passed us on Stenmark. This is a popular place!

What the trek to the Nobilis worth it? Long story short: on a relaxing, sunny weekend day you’re in a for a very long wait for your order. When we saw the cars, we should have sensed that we would be in for an Italian-style lunch, ie. long and relaxing. You order at the register and then go look for a table; we lucked out and got a great table under a sunshade. However we ended up waiting almost two hours for our meal. The voluminous outdoor seating well exceeds what the kitchen can pump out—we weren’t the only group that had an extraordinarily long wait for food. However this particular day no one seemed seriously irked over the incredible delay. For us it meant more gab at the table and since the ride wasn’t hard no one dying of hunger. The good news is that the food is pretty good. You would think the kitchen would just sloppily hurry out dishes to satisfy the crowd but instead the dishes were well prepared. I had a fried chicken sandwich with fries that I thought was quite tasty (you ask, “So, how could fried chicken anything not be tasty??”). Leonard had perfectly poached eggs. Roger H had a scramble dish that he thought was just alright, nothing special. Ann thought her clam chowder was good. (It looked good!).

After that long wait the food didn’t remain on the plates very long. By now the afternoon sun was getting lower in the sky so we headed off—up the short hill and back to civilization after a quiet, sunny respite by the Bay.

At the moment there is no way to continue eastward to connect to the rest of the Bay Trail system since Chevron owns all the land right down to the water. But I expect—perhaps not in my lifetime though—that this will change and when it does there will be a very nice route through Pt. Molate with a decent lunch stop on your way to the Carquinez Bridge. When you’re riding next to the Bay you get to appreciate this vast body of water that we merely deem an impediment for commuting rather than for the beauty and peace it provides.