Ride Recap: On a Winters Day

Smile! You’re getting a headwind for the next 23 miles.

Six of us did a popular loop ride encompassing Pleasants Valley Road, Putah Creek, and Cantelow in Solano and Yolo counties yesterday. Naturally it had to coincide with the first red flag warning of the year. This area was scorched by the LNU complex fire last summer and now we got a chance to tour the damage on a day with an eerie fire hazard reminder. The red flag ‘gift’ of the day was the potent offshore wind from the north, which nicely coincided with our direct north route to Winters! No good deed shall go unpunished.

A morning start to avoid the wind ended up being futile but it did provide a comfy mid-70s temp at the beginning; Roger Sayre had the right idea with a sleeveless jersey. Being puny, overweight, and out of shape meant that I was quickly into another character-building experience. The rest of the group disappeared into the northern horizon. My husband took pity on me and let me draft his wheel. Oh, and this was a 49-mile ride, a length I hadn’t seen since January 2020. The side winds were extra fun too and meant that getting a draft was, well, not getting a draft.

Pleasants Valley Road is now Unpleasants Valley Road. I knew the LNU fire went through this area but I did not understand how much of it was torched. The entire length of the road bore witness to the immolation. Flames must have hopscotched around because untouched farms, vineyards, and orchards were adjacent to burned out groves of trees and in one case, an entire orchard of incinerated trees. The tops of the hillsides were crowned in barren, burned trees. I’ve been doing this ride for 36 years and it has always been a pastoral wonderland. Until now. I doubt it will recover in my lifetime.

We regrouped at Putah Creek, which was bone dry, and turning out of the headwind felt like we were now flying on the road instead of crawling. For a lazy Sunday, Winters looked to be busy. Winters is/was a small ag town but it’s getting gentrified slowly and that means it’s no longer sleepy. When will the Apple Store show up? Of course we stopped at Steady Eddy’s—the cycling epicenter of Winters—for a sandwich break under their canopy. It was nice to see them survive the Pandemic and although less crowded than in prepandemic times it had a steady stream of customers including other cyclists. Clients were all dutifully and respectfully masked.

After lunch was our first leg southward—oh, and the wind was picking up as the day lengthened—so we were propelled with glee down Winters Road. We were doing 20 mph and hardly pedaling! That fun had to end when we turned west to roll through the approach hills to climb Cantelow. Off disappeared half the group, leaving Roger S and I to clamber as best we could with Roger H shepherding us. Unfortunately before Cantelow my ancient front shifter jammed and I couldn’t get out of the big ring. That was extra fun too! Two hills later I stopped and somehow got the chain onto the middle ring and was able to make it up Cantelow with its 14% bonus fun.

We caught up at the top then roared down the other side back to Pleasants Valley. With the wind at our back we had a really nice tailwind all the way back to the cars. Boy, that made up for the morning!

Sidenotes: Stephen had a retirement gift in hand—a gorgeous orange and blue Seven. Stephen, just don’t ride it up Skyline right now… Roger Sayre, who has ridden the same bike for decades, mentioned he was getting a new addition to his family as well, a baby Orbea. We wait eagerly for its birth. Will, who ‘burned’ up the road, is taking a break for a while due to upcoming surgery. We all wished him well. He’ll be back to punish us some more post haste!

Like ‘Post Gay’, Are We Post COVID?

Loving it to death!

Today Roger and I went to the Napa Valley to take in one of our favorite local valleys, Franz. This is something we have done very rarely since the onset of the Pandemic: driving someplace else in order to ride. If we’ve even gone out at all—let alone to ride our bikes—we’ve stuck closely to home. I realize that this is the opposite of what you read about online; there writers recount their epic two-wheeled adventures that take them far afield from home as if to say, “The Pandemic? We don’t need to stinkin’ Pandemic!” But for most of us the idea of taking off in the middle of the worst scourge of our lives to parts unknown sounds like a story with an inevitable bad ending. Plus local county health orders as well as California State guidance has been to stay at home. Have we been too literal? Perhaps.

What I’ll say about the ride itself, which happened on a luxuriantly warm and sunny day in the beautiful Napa Valley and hills, is that it’s still there in all its glory for you to enjoy as best you can. Napa Valley is pleasantly flat, which is to say that it’s not really flat at all but actually gently rolling, and the hills on either side provide plenty of routes to escape most of the wine traffic that trolls Silverado Trail and Highway 29/128 and to explore the nether regions. North of Calistoga the traffic diminishes and as soon as you turn off to head to Franz Valley it disappears completely. The trade off is the road quality drops at least two notches since it’s typical Sonoma county asphalt, ie. badly cracked, uneven, and full of pothole patches that have been filled three times over. Just make sure you have some cushy tires! Riding in Franz Valley is like stepping back in time: quiet, uncrowded, still.

Our ride was eye-opening—not for the bucolic scenery but for the near-recovery Napa has made after a couple of years of apocalyptic wildfires and the Pandemic. The entire valley was bustling again and tourists and day trippers were pouring into Calistoga and St. Helena. I’m sure the wineries and restaurants are delighted. But it was a shocking sight for someone who has been hibernating for over a year. Even cycle touring is back: we ran into a Trek Travel tour group—about 20 (!) cyclists—who were cycling Franz Valley in the opposite direction. Traffic was near bumper-to-bumper in the morning when we drove up and worse when we left, which was at 1 pm, hardly the time when the hordes are returning home. In fact we got out of Dodge early precisely because we couldn’t deal with the endless stream of cars and crowds in St. Helena and we still had to endure a fitful return. Instead of heading to Gott’s for some delicious grub we quickly dashed into the Azteca Market, where we had parked, and got burritos (which, by the way, were delicious!) and ate them in the car before heading home apace.

As we passed the local wineries and restaurants, parking lots and outdoor dining areas were packed. There was a long line out the Oakville Grocery. The scene at both Mustards and Brix looked like one gigantic party.

Well, the Pandemic has to end sometime and maybe that time is now. People are still wearing masks and socially distancing. But the Stay-At-Home has gone by the wayside and people are partying like it’s 2019.

My advice to those of you thinking of riding in Napa: go there on a weekday when it’s quieter and probably a bit safer.

Mind Over Matter

I’m the Den Daddy and I’m going to kick your ass!

Yesterday we were returning from our “Tour of East Bay gated communities”—that’s from the outside of the security perimeters, not the inside!—when with whom do we unexpectedly cross paths but the Den Daddy. Despite being almost 89 years old Derek is a prolific cyclist and ever peripatetic world traveler (at least until the Pandemic started). For those of you who are too new to Different Spokes to know about whom I speak, I refer you to this blog post.

Running across a friend while riding is nothing to speak of (unless maybe that friend is Madonna/Obama/yo mama). But in this case it truly was remarkable. Undeterred by the threat of the coronavirus Derek had been riding up a storm last spring and summer when some of us, ahem, were instead hiding out. His local cycling adventures came to an abrupt halt when he crashed his bike in the Point Richmond tunnel and broke his hip or pelvis, I forget which. At 87 that can be a devastating injury leading to general incapacitance, disability, and an inevitable decline. Those who know Derek felt that this bump in the road would not keep him off the bike for too long. After all this is a guy who has survived a few bouts with the Big C and once had a horrific mountain bike crash requiring a helicopter evacuation. However after surgery and recuperation physical therapy has proved to be a tough row to hoe. You just don’t bounce back that quickly from injury and forced indolence when your years pile up (as I can personally attest). Getting on the bike with a stiff hip is a big challenge and building up muscle and aerobic strength when you’ve been off the bike and inactive for several months is only for the strong-willed and those with lots of testosterone. For the first time Derek thought about giving up cycling and retreating completely to his other love, very fast cars.

Confronting the decision to stop cycling can hardly be rational even when your body is giving you a grueling time. In Derek’s case it wouldn’t have been a bad call to move on to other less hazardous endeavors given his many interests. Although there is something to be said about dying with your boots on, cf. Joe Shami, I don’t consider it a more noble way to go than say, keeling over on BART from a fatal heart attack.

Just two weeks ago Derek told me he was doubtful he’d be riding again. Then a few days ago I received an email from him with a movie attached—there he was getting off and on his bike and pedaling around his cul-de-sac. Derek’s comment: “Did a couple of miles and it was tough going.” So now running into him cycling a few miles away from his gated community, Rossmoor, was a pleasant surprise. Clearly he’s had moments of doubt but he persevered with his PT program and got to the point where he could go for a real spin albeit a bit shorter than his previous rides. The clincher was when he quizzed us on our bike lights and wanted to know where to get them—I don’t think this is a man giving up cycling!

Up the Hill

Those of you who have known me for a while remember when I used to commute by bike down to the South Bay twice or three times a week with the group, sf2g. Those days ended when I returned to working in downtown San Francisco almost 7 years ago, but I’ve pretty much always been a morning workout guy. I did a 7:30 AM spin class for about 5 years, but the gym I was going to is closed now, and it’s not coming back. God save me from $$$oul Cycle, but I might check it out when it gets going again if I can’t find another good workout.

Anyways, I’ve been faced with the question many of us are facing now, which is how to get in shape after we’ve put on our “covid 15.” Well, for me, it’s been more like a “covid 7,” but that also feels like too much extra weight to be dragging around on a Tib loop. In addition to the weight, I’ve been stymied by a shoulder injury for months that just wouldn’t get better. But even though it got better around October, I just couldn’t get motivated to get back in shape.

At the last Jersey Ride, I was talking with Joan, and it turns out she likes to ride in the mornings, too. That’s how she commutes to her work on the western side of the city. So I asked if she might be willing to ride with me a day or two a week up the big hill in the middle of the city, and she said yes.

Joan is a lot faster than I am right now, and she’s been wonderfully patient with me huffing and puffing my way up Corbett.

We haven’t posted the ride as a club ride so far, but I wanted to see if anyone else might be interested in getting together with us at Philz on Castro 6:45ish and do a short and pleasant, but intense, morning workout. Great company, too!


Grrls Just Wanna Have Fun!

Boys, this year is finally your chance to ride the Cinderella Classic & Challenge. How’s that, you say? Isn’t the Cinderella the women/girl-only century ride in the East Bay? Yes, for the first 44 years of its existence the Cinderella has been female (gender) only. But this year the live Cinderella has been replaced with a virtual event and anyone can ride it. All you have to do is register, pay the fee, and then go do a ride—it doesn’t even have to be one of the official Cinderella routes—and you’ll be entered into a raffle to win some great prizes. How many miles you ride determines your fee, $25 to $45. Those funds go to replace the funds lost by not having a live Cinderella and are donated by the Valley Spokesmen (sic) to a host of non-profits and women’s organizations.

In previous years Different Spokes boys were so envious of the girls who could do the Cinderella that they created their own counter-event, the Evil Stepsisters. But this year you too can be the Belle of the Ball so there’s no need to seek out evil on Mt. Tam.

The virtual Cinderella can be ridden from Saturday May 15 through Sunday May 23. If you haven’t ridden one of the Cinderella routes, the most recent versions have started at Las Positas College north of Livermore rather than the traditional Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton. The Classic is a 65-mile jaunt that weaves counterclockwise on roads through Danville, San Ramon, Dublin, Pleasanton, Livermore before returning to the college. The longer Challenge adds on Patterson Pass Road to the Altamont Pass before returning. There is also a very pleasant, briefer 31-mile route through Livermore.

Maybe someone in the club would like to volunteer to lead the club on the virtual ride this year? (hint, hint.)

You can read the details and register at the Cinderella site.

Kicking Off

This past Wednesday we had our annual Kick Off Meeting with a little help from Zoom. Last year’s Kick Off took place at the end of February before the SHTF and we locked down, so doing our annual membership meeting on Zoom was, unfortunately, another first for us. Next year we should be back live, in person, at Sports Basement. If not, then we probably will have much more significant things to worry about.

Zoom is not conducive to fervid schmoozing and, alas, all snacks and drinks were bring-your-own. Ah, but the trade-off was that all the food money got ploughed into raffle prizes!

Speaking of raffle prizes our winners were:

• Grand prize – a training session with Nick Nagy (our kickoff meeting’s speaker): Donald C
• Second prize – DSSF club jersey of your choice, from our Jakroo site:  Jeff M
• Third prize – $50 Emporio Rulli gift card (or other coffee shop of your choice):  Roger H
• DSSF club neck wrap, from our Jakroo site:  Roger S
• Primalwear mask (courtesy of David Gaus): Nancy L
• DSSF club cap, from our Jakroo site:  Greg M
• Trailbutter 3-pack: Stephen S

Congratulations to our lucky winners!

We could have gone really total pig, hog-wild on the prizes but we’re saving our ammo for, um, something later…

Oh yeah, the rest of the meeting: Prez David recapped the past year—basically, we were locked down, the board squirmed and writhed in impatience getting a reopening plan in order, we opened up carefully, and we now exercise patience hoping that the pandemic will ebb sufficiently that we can do the nasty on our Pride Ride, club picnic, pool party, fall social, and holiday party later this year. Despite the paucity of rides David thanked those ride leaders who managed to squeeze in some rides pre- and post-lockdown, the latter mainly being Jeff Pekrul, who’s Mr. Jersey Ride 2020-21; the rest of the board continue to emulate Punxsutawney Phil and wait for spring (or the vaccine, or Godot).

Our presentation this year was by the personable Nick Nagy, an excellent and experienced personal trainer and fellow ALCer, who led an online workout and provided a plethora of information and advice about stretching and conditioning. As someone who is currently rehabbing a knee due to starting up too impatiently, I can say that Nick’s sage words fit in precisely with what my physical therapist is telling me. Nick knows his stuff! Oh, and Nick, next time please wear even tighter workout shorts and I guarantee you that at least the boys will be even more attentive! Those attendees who want more attention from Nick can contact him through the club to arrange a training or for follow-up questions to his Kick Off presentation. Big thanks to Nick for sharing his time and wisdom with us!

Asphalt Perversion: Mines Road

Some rest for the wicked. Climb that hill!

Mines Road is a peculiarity in the canon of Different Spokes rides. For one thing it’s a real latecomer. In the early years of the club this ride was not offered at all. Ride forays into the Pleasanton/Livermore area were confined to flatter terrain, ie. the Shadow Cliffs Water Slide, and god forbid you wanted to scale anything higher than a freeway overpass! It was really David Gaus who championed this ride starting around 2010. The idea of a major schlep to Livermore to scale a godfersaken one-way-up-and-down road with serious vertical was bizarre. But then again David lived in Hollister at the time and riding in dried out, desolate landscape was nothing unusual. During the same era Will Bir had done the Canyon Classic Century (now defunct), which started in Patterson (home of Patterson apricots, mind you) and headed up Del Puerto and then descended Mines into Livermore, and he led that ride a few times. Somewhere along the line Stephanie Clarke got into Mines Road and she or David have managed to lead this ride practically every year since then.

Yay, more climbing!

This ride is also peculiar because it’s and out-and-back route rather than a loop: you get to withstand the startling uphill and then “enjoy” the spectacular downhill with all the neat views into Livermore that you were oblivious to while heading up. Unless you hit the hellacious headwind, which happen almost everyday in the afternoon, which is when you’re ending this ride. So you usually get two times the enjoyment: vertical and headwind in one ride! The other peculiarity of this ride is that it’s never led at any time of the year except spring in order to enjoy the wildflowers. Summer and early fall are absolutely out of the question due to the blistering heat (unless you go very early in the morning). Even late spring can be a challenging time to take on the climb, which is almost totally exposed for maximum sunnage.

Hmm, no wildflowers yet…

The ride starts anywhere on Mines Road after leaving Tesla Road and usually goes to the Junction Cafe at the intersection of 130 (Del Puerto Canyon Road). After a snack or lunch at the Junction we then turn around and head back to the valley. In a good, rainy year the wildflowers are actually better further up San Antonio Valley but most of the time the prospect of a burger and fries daunts any inkling to enjoy flowers, especially because it would involve even more climbing.

The Junction Cafe has been there for aeons in various incarnations and with various vibes, anywhere from serious biker drag (the motos love to do Mines and Del Puerto) to a western version of Deliverance. Currently the Junction is open on weekends only and at least prepandemic the line and wait for a meal could be onerous depending on how sunny the weather was to bring out the bikers. But the food is hearty and enjoying a leisurely nosh at the picnic tables is worth at least three out of four stars.

“Who’s up for climbing into San Antonio Valley for wildflowers?” [deafening silence]

With the pandemic still hovering over our heads this may be another year we skip Mines. It doesn’t help that we’ve had very little rain. But between now and early May is when they’ll be putting on their show. Anyone want to volunteer to lead it this year? Better hop to it!

A Leopard Changing Its Spots?

Is that a Clippercard in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

Well, thank god for the pandemic. While the coronavirus has decimated BART ridership, that smaller number of riders has an “unexpected” beneft: there are fewer riders to complain about the wretched cars.

Have you ridden on one of the new BART cars—you know, the ones that aren’t as filthy and don’t smell like a locker room, have three doors, and are as rare as hen’s teeth? Well, they are still going to be hard to find because BART is refusing to accept delivery of any more of them from the manufacturer Bombardier until software bugs and some production/design problems are fixed. This was reported in the East Bay Times a while ago. BART was supposed to have 600 new trains by the end of 2020 and a full fleet by the end of 2021. At the end of January BART had only 286 new cars and the full order now won’t be here until spring 2023. But don’t hold your breath.

The article relates that software bugs are causing the trains to more frequently shut down compared to the old cars. The necessary system reboot takes 5-10 minutes. Plus, apparently the wheels go out-of-round more frequently than those of the old cars leading to more trains being hauled to the maintenance yard.

You may also recall that originally the new trains were supposed to be rolled out in January 2018 but that was delayed by problems including a crash during a test run in 2016.

Why does this sound so familiar? Don’t forget that the newish BART stations—Warm Springs, Milpitas, and Berryessa—all ended up opening years behind schedule and being delayed not once, not twice, but many times to the point where BART finally stopped forecasting when the stations would open. BART has a nasty habit of overpromising a bright, glorious future of system improvements and then having to backtrack. Of course that’s after we’ve voted to give them more money and they’ve hoovered up most of the local transportation money.

Project delays are a fact of life. Witness the repair of the Calaveras Reservoir or the Crystal Springs Reservoir Dam Road—they blew their timelines by almost a decade. Unexpected issues almost always crop up that confound timelines. But continuing to provide unrealistic, problem-free timelines to the public is not only deceptive but ultimately a great way to alienate your ridership. How about underpromising and then surprising us with some early good news instead?

Since I haven’t set foot on a BART train since the pandemic began, these problems have had zero impact on me. But it grates on me that when I do return to BART this year instead of being pleasantly welcomed by an improved system, it’s likely to be the same old BART both literally and figuratively. Changing spots is hard to do. In BART’s case it may be impossible.

This November I hope we’re most of the way out of the pandemic in the Bay Area so that we are able to host our annual ride, Mt. Hamilton in the Fall, which historically has had a large turnout. If you live in the City, you’ve had to drive to the start at Penitencia Creek Park. Due to BART’s late opening on Sunday mornings it has been nearly impossible to take public transit to this ride because of the long ride from Warm Springs station. Until now. Taking BART to the end of the line, the Berryessa station, now makes it possible to get to the start with just 20 minutes of easy pedaling. Assuming your train doesn’t undergo a software fault and require a long reboot.

Ten Years Ago Today: Darth Veeder

Remember life pre-COVID?

Our President David Goldsmith was the originator of this ride as well as L’Alpe de Fromage. “Darth Veeder” takes riders up the ever-popular Veeder Road in Napa. David first led this ride in 2010 as part of a spring training series. This was the second year on tap at our ride calendar. Veeder runs approximatly north-south and can be ridden in either direction. David wisely chose to ride it from the south, which is less steep than doing from the north. It also gives riders the chance to amble peacefully next to Redwood Creek, lending a very pastoral feel to this relatively isolated road. Along Veeder you pass estates and vineyards and then at the top get a fantastic view of the Napa Valley and the nearby mountains. The descent is curvy but not crazy except for the pavement breaks that seem to come out of nowhere. Fortunately traffic is usually sparse. After Veeder is a fun, easy descent on Dry Creek Road. David also started this ride at Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, giving riders a chance to fill up on exquisite pastries both before and after!

David reported:
Today was beyond beautiful. To start with, we were surrounded by a ring of snow-capped mountains. In Napa Valley. Unreal. Mt. St. Helena was particularly impressive viewed from Highway 29 while driving up to Yountville. Once we got on our bikes and started climbing the mountain, there was water everywhere. I figured there would be, since it had rained all week. But the flow through the creeks, occasionally spilling over onto the roads we were riding, was massive. Redwood Creek was churning away and Dry Creek was not dry. When we got to the top, there were daffodils blooming among green mountainsides. Just before we left the summit, I turned around and espied Mt. Diablo, probably 50 miles south, huge and blanketed with snow. It looked like one of the Sierras, very impressive.

Redwood Creek at its best
At the top of Veeder Road
That white stuff is called “snow”

If you’re a club member, log into the club website and view all the ride pics in the 201102 Darth Veeder photo album!

“Sesame, Ouvre-toi!”

Hell no!

It’s not quite that easy to reopen, is it? A magical incantation may have worked in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves but it will take something beyond words to get the club to really open up and reveal its treasures. It’s proved that way at other Bay Area cycling clubs as well—being able to reopen for rides has not led to a spate of listings nor of participation. Most members are still eschewing group rides even though they check off just about all the safety boxes: health and safety protocols, outdoor and mostly uncrowded, and constantly moving air. Everybody’s assessement of risk is going to be different and although we’d like to think there is a rational calculus, so much is unknown about COVID spread that the penumbra of uncertainty seems large and hazy. I have read anecdotally that in Florida, which pandemic-wise is a world unto itself, large group rides (e.g. 50+ riders) take place almost every day of the week where riders ride in close quarters unmasked, i.e. conduct rides as if nothing were different today. Actually I still see a few “relatives” of those Florida training rides out here although they aren’t quite as big and more of the riders are carrying face coverings even if they aren’t wearing them. But for the most part Bay Area cyclists seem to be riding by themselves or only with small groups of family or friends.

We restarted our club rides in October and they’ve mostly been led or co-led by our Secretary Jeff Pekrul. They seem small—maybe four to eight participants—but those numbers were pretty typical prepandemic. Of course you can’t have club rides without ride leaders/hosts and since that population has always been small—about fifteen or so members—the limiting factor is going to be the number of hosts that are willing to lead now. Whether it’s because the pandemic has upended personal lives, fear of COVID transmission, or the fact that it’s currently the rainy season and cold, ride leaders aren’t leaping forward to grab the reins, so to speak.

Looking at who’s showing up on our pandemic rides it’s mostly the same people, ie. those who aren’t fearful of congregating with fellow Spokers. Everybody else seems to be hunkered down waiting for the plague to blow over. But with mass vaccination no longer on the horizons and well into view, more Spokers are certain to emerge like Punxsutawney Phil and not be scared by their shadows.

I’ve certainly been pondering this question although it’s mostly theoretical since I’m still recovering from an injury that’s keeping me off the bike: when I’m vaccinated, will I then start leading club rides just like before? Will I then join a club ride? I hate to admit it but there is one thing that is a real turn-off for doing a group ride right now: I can’t stop someplace, sit down, and have a nice lunch midride. Restaurants are currently open only for takeout and it’s cold outside. Eating takeout under those conditions is not a whole lot different than stopping at the Kwik-E-Mart for a snack. Yeah, it’ll get you home but it’s…disappointing.

I’m looking forward to the day when we can do a ride, sit down for a delightful meal filled with insouciant and witty conversation, and then after an inspiring postprandial coffee saddle up again for a slow roll back to the manse. Without a mask.

Oh yes!