Ride Recap: Danville for Lunch, Oct. 17

A tearoom by any other name

These must be desperate times: seven Spokers from San Francisco broke down and came over to Contra Costa to do a bike ride! I guess the allure of Marin and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge had worn off, and wouldn’t it be a laugh to slum over in the ‘burbs? I was surprised not just by the number but also because there was the threat of rain, and god forbid riding in the rain!

This was a simple ride, one of my ‘go-to’ rides when I just don’t want to think and prefer to log some easy miles: ride out to Moraga and then down the Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail, which is a rails-to-trails conversion, and then down the Iron Horse Trail, another rails-to-trails, to Danville. Will, Scott, Mark, new members Bud and Alan, as well as President David and Treasurer Roger joined me this time. Although it threatened to rain no one bailed and four even came by BART despite the cruel half-hour wait between trains these days. A few of the guys came in shorts and a jersey—that would have been perfect a week ago—but fall had fallen and without warmers or a jacket it was a brisk start to their day.

It was the usual Tony ride: Tony starts too fast, the group is chatty, Will bombs the downhill, oohs and aahs down the beautiful MUPs. This time no one got lost maybe because the route was simple and maybe because it was old hat for some. We pulled into Danville at the “Caboose” for an unnatural break. A train caboose being repurposed for restrooms struck some as a real novelty whereas for me, old and jaded, it was just part of the scenery I’ve come to ignore, which these days is just about all the scenery since I’m mostly lost in thought when I ride with just a touch of awareness for the mayhem and madness on the streets.

Bladders delightfully appeased we rolled a couple of blocks down to the new Sultan’s Kebab in town and took a gander: awright! no one was using the outside tables! Sultan’s Kebab started in Pleasanton and recently opened outposts in Walnut Creek and Danville. It’s not going to earn any Michelin stars but it’s good Middle Eastern food. And they have vegan and vegetarian choices should you eschew slaughtered animals. We took over two tables and gabbed and gnawed to our hearts’ content. Most got some form of kebab wrap and the verdict was “Yummy!” Being one who enjoys the same old rut I got the usual veg plate, which is an obscene amount of food just perfect for a scarf-and-barf.
Will got a Turkish coffee that had a resplendent aroma; if I hadn’t been stuffed to the gills I would have marched back in and ordered one (or two!) for myself.

Stomachs overly full means only one thing: pedal to the metal up Danville Boulevard! I had a slow roll in mind…until we got passed by three wannabes at Stone Valley Road. So naturallly I had to gun it to catch their wheels. Next thing I know we’re going 23+ mph down the road dodging tree branches and piles of acorns. That was fun even if the rest of the group was a bit peeved. The rest of the way back was done at a modest pace. Alan and Will kept asking me, “Isn’t there a hill on the way back? Is this it?” Honestly the hills from Danville to Orinda are hardly worth mentioning. Except for the short 9% grade up to St. Stephens. Did I mention that I hadn’t been riding much and that I hadn’t done a ride over 30 miles in over two months? So right around the 34-mile point I totally caved and crawled up that hill. I thought I was safe until we turned into the BART parking lot at the end. That incline was just enough to set off leg cramps and I literally came to a stop. Fortunately I only had to hobble a hundred yards to the end. Fun ride, good company, delish food, wasted. Mission accomplished.

Barfing will commence shortly…

Ride Recap: No Pool Party Ride

Ironically not having the pool party this year turned out to be a good decision. Last year the Pandemic drove a dagger into the annual pool party. But even if Covid had never appeared, the intense smoke from the bewildering number of August wildfires would have cut the legs out from under the beloved event. Forgot about last August fires? Well, there was the CZU (Santa Cruz & San Mateo), SCU (East & South Bay), LNU (Sonoma & Yolo), August Complex (Mendocino), and the Glass Fire (Napa) to name just a few! How soon we forget. This year Roger and I were measuring the risk of having the pool party with the Delta variant spreading madly and had tentatively, halfheartedly decided to hold it the weekend of August 21-22. Then a surgery date opened up just after that weekend killing the idea for good. Rather than hurriedly putting together the event amidst prepping for surgery and recuperation, we decided it was best put it on hiatus for another year. There’s just something about life sending you a clear message.

Instead of the pool party we decided to hold just the ride since that is much easier to pull off when harried and busy. Instead of having the usual hot, hot August day that would have made the pool an alluring oasis, we got a cool day accompanied by a persistant haze from this year’s fires whose smoke we had heretofore avoided. The PM2.5 reading, which suddenly skyrocketed days before, was supposed to drop down by morning. Instead in the morning we were greeted with a reading of about 140, which is almost “Unhealthy”, but was now projected to drop as the day went on. Well, no good deed goes unpunished as they say.

I was expecting cancellations due to the air pollution but everybody showed up including Will, Scott, Stephen, and Roger from SF and Vanessa from Oakland. Only Will showed up in short sleeves while the rest of us were clad in jackets and even knickers—not the usual clothing for this time of year. But all the San Franciscans bemoaned the lack of heat and sunshine expecting a reprieve from the gruesomely gray Mark Twain summer on their side of the Bay. The route was one of the older pool party routes—out to Pinehurst but then heading to Redwood rather than taking on the 14% top of Pinehurst. After climbing up Redwood, which has a more sensible gradient, we turned onto Skyline and climbed up to where it intersected the top of Pinehurst. From there is was pretty much the standard pool party route except for dropping all the way down to San Pablo Dam Road instead of taking the ‘secret’ way down Old El Toyonal due to construction.

Stephen asked me if there had been any recent bikejackings on Skyline. In April there had been several along Skyline and Wildcat where armed robbers would hem in one or two cyclists with a car and take their bike, phone, and valuables. I told him that nothing more has appeared in the local rags about subsequent armed robberies and perhaps the increased police presence had made it too hot to continue stealing bikes. In any case it had put a damper on our forays into the Berkeley hills except when in a group.

This ride could have been called the Tour of the Berkeley Hills Tearooms because it seemed that we stopped at almost all of the restrooms along the way. Was it aging bladders? diuretics? running out of Depends? Looking for lost “friends”? I have no idea. No sooner had the Orinda BART facilities been inspected and deemed pee-worthy when shortly down the road we stopped at the Valle Vista restroom. Then the Sibley restroom. Then the Brazilian Room. Fortunately no one was in a rush so a rather casual attitude towards stops ruled the day.

Vanessa showed up on her Surly, the only non-road “racing” bike, just as she did in Monterey. It’s a great touring bike but a real boat anchor compared to the bikes the rest of us were sporting–carbon fiber gems, titanium jewels. Yet she pedaled that thing with aplomb, able to keep up, proving that having a $14,000 bike may be cool but ultimately is superfluous.

As we climbed up Skyline the fog got crazy thick. At first I thought it was smoke from the fires. But it “clearly” was pea-soup thick fog from the coast, causing eucalyptus trees to shed copious condensation down on the road. Road spray in August! I was sure glad I had on my longsleeve jersey and vest as well as glove liners. You also couldn’t see more than 75 feet beyond your face—you could hear the cars coming but couldn’t see them until they were right upon you. This made the descent down Grizzly a tad interesting. You couldn’t see shit, there were numerous wet spots, two decreasing radius turns, and with traffic—fun times! I was glad to have day lights on the bike.

Turning onto Wildcat we were finally going to be heading back to Contra Costa, which we hoped meant some actual warmth and sunshine, and right around the Brazilian Room the sun came out brilliantly and the haze vanished. We had a fast descent to Orinda. Will and Vanessa headed off to BART while the rest of us went to Geppetto’s for an outdoor lunch and convivial conversation. And by now the PM2.5 had dropped to 40 just as the forecast had predicted. So no pool but a party on two wheels nonetheless if a bit chilly.

Ride Recap: August Jersey Ride

Despite the threat of smoke from the Dixie Fire yesterday’s Jersey Ride got off without a hitch. Eight Spokers enjoyed a beautiful sunny day in Marin. The ride was uneventful except for Laura getting a flat on Camino Alto. But she caught up with the group on Paradise–or rather, the group caught up with her after she took a shortcut! Nancy returned from her three-month stint with FEMA seeing to the needs of Central American children who had been stopped by the border police. Welcome back, Nancy! Interestingly both Maurizio and Chris decided to forego the moshpit on the Golden Gate Bridge and returned to SF by ferry instead. Is this the beginning of a Jersey Ride thing? We shall see. Now if only the Blue & Gold served cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on the way back, that would be a fitting end of a Jersey Ride!

By the way the Blue & Gold Fleet has filed a request with the state PUC to stop ferry service between SF and Tiburon. If it is accepted as is, there would be no direct ferry service between the two. (The Angel Island Ferry Service would continue between Tiburon and Angel Island.) Barring a new ferry service taking over the route, this would be the end of the line literally and figuratively. Service would continue between Sausalito and SF requiring a short ride from Tiburon to Sausalito and still allowing you to bypass the GGB crossing. However this route is much busier and highly impacted by the rental bikes returning to SF after crossing the bridge. The other option is to cycle to the Larkspur ferry terminal in order to return to SF.

Ride Recap: A Quick One

Maurizio asked me why I had titled this ride “A Quick One”. Was it because we were going to be riding quickly? Because it was going to be over quick, ie. a short ride?, although that would be a stretch since it is 42 miles long. Was it because I liked ‘quickies”? Actually it was because I usually post a ride with plenty of advance notice—at least two weeks and more like a month—but this time I posted it less than a week before it was scheduled to take place. Part of it was impatience: no one else had posted a ride and I wanted to do a ride this weekend. Nature abhors a vacuum and all that. In the end it indeed turned out to be a fairly quick ride—we averaged over 14 mph for the route, which was peppered with a number of short but steepish sections.

I thought it was going to be another Roger-and-Tony Different Spokes ride, ie. just the two of us, because the listing went up so late. But I should know you Spokers better—you all wait to see if something better hits the social calendar and if not, then you relent and sign up for a club ride! I know, it’s important to keep your dance card filled, all you belles and beaux of the ball. Suddenly there were seven people signed up. Besides Maurizio Will, Carl, Roger Sayre, and Elia also showed up. Sorry you guys, but I was really looking forward to seeing Elia—not that you’re all, um, “unattractive”—because you’re not, but because Elia goes way back to the ‘80s with the club. So she’s also an Old Fart like I am—she had just let her membership lapse for a much, much longer period of time! Elia was a fast Spoker then and a red hot racer, ie. she’s got real cred not the poseur cred you see at every stoplight in Marin. Back then she was always training, so we’d run into her while she was training and the rest of us were, um, just doing a club ride.

This ride is just a mash up of two ever-popular Midpeninsula rides, the Portola loop and Cañada Road, with a foray into the hills of Los Altos for some added spice. We were mainly doing the “standard” routes but I had a few diversions to make it more interesting and to prevent narcolepsy. Unfortunately for me more than half the group didn’t have a Garmin for navigation. In fact, they didn’t even have cyclometers. Wow, and I thought I was old school. Even in the very early days of the club all the Kool Kids had the hottest stuff, which was—yeah, yeah, the new Look pedals but I’m talking about the Cateye Solar Cyclometer! It was a basic cyclometer as tall as a Costco muffin with a solar panel to recharge its battery. So we always knew how slow we were riding and how many tenths of mile it was to the top of Pig Farm or Mt. Tam. But hey, no cyclometers, no problem: it just means people get lost or people obediantly follow the ride leader. Well, we had a little of both.

After a pit stop at the Pulgas Water Temple to flush away our troubles we rolled south on Cañada and half the group took off. Sure enough, missed that first turn at Olive. Much yelling and gesticulating ensued. That got me anxious and thinking I should lead from the front to make sure nobody had an unexpected adventure. That mostly worked but I had hoped to enjoy the back seat on this ride rather than piling into the wind and all that.

I was chatting with Elia and telling her that she could follow Roger Sayre since he had a Garmin and wouldn’t get lost. So off they went and promptly missed a right turn in Los Altos. More screaming and gesticulating. At that point I think the group got timid and there wasn’t a whole lot of jetting off into the distance anymore.

The perky little hills we did in Los Altos actually didn’t seem that steep this time. I distinctly remember Roger and I gasping (well, actually it was just me gasping) when we rode here last July after San Mateo County opened up. Maybe I’m in better shape this year? Back on the flats we took a break at Peet’s in Los Altos. Somebody made a comment—I think it was Will—at how uncrowded it was compared to SF. “You don’t have to ask the cashier for the key to get into the bathroom!” Yes, life in the suburbs is different. I also don’t recall seeing any tent cities or homeless encampments anywhere. Yep, Los Altos is a regular “Elysium”.

By the time we got to Sand Hill Road on the return the group was in a much chattier mode and everybody took their time getting up that last slog. Then it was just a parade up Cañada to the cars.

Final note: if you want to see what racing does to you, watch Elia. She rides a perfectly straight line, her pedaling is smooth—like buttah!—and her cadence is metronomically precise. I was also in awe that she still packs a corn cob cluster. But hey, that’s what all the Kool Kids do.

A Different Tiburon Loop

This past Sunday seven of us tried out an experimental ride to Tiburon that started in the East Bay rather than San Francisco. Starting in Point Richmond at cozy Little Louie’s Cafe the route I was testing was to take us across to Marin via the Richmond-San Rafael (RSR) bridge. Such a route was not possible just a few years ago because it hadn’t previously been open to cyclists at all. With the debilitating increase in cyclists on the Golden Gate Bridge I was interested in exploring a different way to get to and enjoy the Tiburon loop especially since I live in the East Bay. Going to San Francisco to then ride across the GGB is literally ‘a bridge too far’ for me. Having an East Bay Tib loop might encourage our East Bay members to do the Jersey Ride if we can coordinate the meeting of the two groups at least to have lunch together at Woodlands Market in Tiburon and preferably to ride Paradise Drive together.

David Gaus came along much to my surprise and delight. David and I haven’t ridden together in a long time, probably not since the 2019 Pride Ride if not before. Joan came too on her mountain bike, which was going to be fine on this ride. David Pritikin, who is a ‘fellow traveler’, signed up—I hadn’t seen him since the 2019 Pride Ride; and two of his friends, Eric and Steve, decided to join the fun.

If you haven’t yet ridden across the RSR, you ought to do it at least once. This bridge at 5.5 miles in length is a lot longer than the Golden Gate, (1.7 miles) the Dumbarton (1.6 miles), the Carquinez (0.66 miles), and the Antioch (1.8 miles). The only longer bridge is the San Mateo at 7 miles but we can’t bike on it (yet/ever?). Unlike the others the RSR has two humps, which relieves the boredom I guess. Speaking of boredom, one thing that will drone on you is the relentless sound of a zillion automobile tires right next to you because the bike lane is just a repurposed car lane with a super-long K barrier between you and death. You get five and a half lovely miles to get used to that sound. On the other hand the view from the bridge is certainly different and can be enchanting. The first time I rode it I was struck by the placidity of Richardson Bay on the north side of the bridge. The last stretch of the bridge you’re almost at water level and the wetlands are gorgeous. Once you’re on the Marin side you take the 580 flyover on the shoulder that has been converted into a protected bikepath. The tricky part is finding a route around the Larkspur Ferry Terminal and the 101 freeway, which crosses Corte Madera Creek right there. The easiest way, which we were using, is to get on one of the walkways on the exit/entrance ramps. The east walk is barely wide enough for one person; if you encounter a cyclist or a wheelchair coming the opposite way, you’ll end up having to back out. The west walk is a bit better but it’s still rather narrow. We took the west sidewalk and then tried out a spiral pedestrian/cyclist overpass to get us back to the eastern side of the freeway on the frontage road. It was fine if a bit steep but Lord help you if another user is descending while you’re climbing! From there it was easy to get to Paradise Drive.

On Paradise Joan, Eric and I took off and barreled along at 20-22 mph, swooping through each inlet and racing up the inclines. We got to Tiburon in a trice and I was thoroughly worn out. We took a long lunch at Woodlands out on the deck and then headed back through Corte Madera skipping Camino Alto in favor of the lower bike path by 101. We then caught the Larkspur Path, which eventually got us back to the east walk of 101 over Corte Madera Creek.

When you return to the RSR on Sir Francis Drake Blvd you roll past San Quentin up a small hill where it becomes the entrance ramp to 580. The bike path coming from the RSR is on the opposite side and it looks like you should cross the road to take it. That’s a dangerous move: traffic is at high speed in both directions and you would have to judge the exact right moment to cross over to avoid being smashed. The actual route is to continue on the “bike path”, which is just the shoulder, and looks just like a shoulder. But there are a couple of small signs that tell you this is the way despite the debris and narrowness. You flow downhill onto 580 and immediately get off at the very last exit in Marin and then go under the freeway to catch the bridge. Unfortunately three of us were ahead and just presumed the others would take the “logical” route. But they didn’t see where we had gone and they predictably thought that getting on the freeway was wrong. So they crossed over. Roger was last and couldn’t warn them not to cross over. We all met up at the western landing of the RSR.

Crossing eastward you start at water level and you have to get over the two humps before landfall in Richmond. We had been fighting a west headwind all day and this was the only time it worked to our “advantage”. Since it was actually coming through the Golden Gate and hitting us sideways, it was more of a sidewind. But at least it wasn’t a head on! The RSR doesn’t get the dense, packed usage that the Golden Gate gets. There aren’t scads of rental bikes nor tourists taking selfies as they cross. It’s a functional bridge to get across the water and it’s lack of icon quality is exactly what makes it a perfect route for a Jersey Ride with little traffic and no danger except the errant trash tossed or blown onto the bike path.

When you descend on the path from the abutment to Point Richmond for some reason the builders put in a series of annoying lumps. If they were intended as speed bumps, they are unlike any I’ve ever seen being more of hobby-horse, washboard quality than true bumps that force you to slow down. But they can throw off your steering if you’re not attentive as happened to one cyclist just a few months after the bridge opened. He crashed and died.

At the bottom you have to cross the exit ramp from 580 and this is a time you should not blow through the light. Cars heading down have a real head of steam and have no time to react to an errant cyclist on the road. Be patient and push the walk button to cross. And even then keep a wide eye open to any cars that might miss the red light! Just a few blocks later we were back at Little Louie’s.

Although everybody had a good time on the ride, the routing was functional but not ideal. The intersection in San Rafael with 101 is a mess. The sidewalks are a sketchy way to get to Paradise and the only option is to head further west to Bon Air and catch the Larkspur Path. It would be safer but longer and you would have to repeat it coming back. The return by San Quentin is counterintuitive and requires some nerve to overcome the fear of using a freeway. We’ll try out a modified route next time. The total mileage was a little more than 36 miles, even shorter than the standard Jersey Ride at 47.

Pique-nique

The first real Different Spokes social event since the beginning of the Pandemic, the club picnic, happily took place yesterday. This year we went to Old Mill Park in Mill Valley, a first for us, after a couple of years in Golden Gate Park and China Camp before that. Old Mill Park is in the heart of Mill Valley just a couple of blocks from the “downtown” and we had a cozy site, Redwood Grove, nestled in a grove of redwood trees. (Duh!) We got our sunshine and no fog but not quite the warm temps that would have made it perfect. (“Whiner!”) For the 21 of us who attended, the grove was the perfect size providing a woodsy hideaway in the middle of snow white Marin. Twenty-one attended of which about a dozen biked the 14 miles from McLaren Lodge. That’s a 100% increase since our 2019 picnic!

And the winner is…

Amidst the panoply of delicious potluck dishes Benson Lu literally took the cake with his Japanese cheesecake slathered in raspberry and apricot jam. We know who puts effort into their cooking!

Of note: Will Bir is back on the bike after his brain surgery. That was one quick recovery! Roger Sayre showed up with his new, amazing blue Orbea superbike, upstaging Stephen’s orange Seven. Maurizio is back on the bike and is riding again—hope this one doesn’t get stolen! Old fart Janet Lourenzo, who lives just down the road from Old Mill Park (well, actually Corte Madera but that’s close enough) joined us and we finally got to chat. Also returning to the fold is Rico Nappa, whom I haven’t seen since the Ride Leader Appreciation Dinner back in, oh, 2018 or so. Good to see some Oldies But Goodies!

Swingin’ good time!

Thanks go to Ginny Watson, Jeff Pekrul, and David Goldsmith for leading the ride up. And we have to thank David Goldsmith and Greg Mahusay for doing the scut work in organizing the picnic and taking care of the hundreds of loose ends to make it a seamless event. Special thanks go to Chris Mulanax, David Varela, and David Gaus for being the mules—whipped without mercy—who sagged everybody’s goodies up to the park and set up the picnic area. Since parking turned out to be tight at the park, they had to park inconveniently away and schlep all the gear, coolers, and food into the park! I hope it was a labor of love and that you were “rewarded” afterwards for your hard work.

Ride Recap: Monterey Bay Trail

East of Eden?

Two years ago the club staged a getaway weekend to Monterey to explore the hilly back roads between Monterey and Carmel Valley. Roger and I were eagerly looking forward to the trip when unfortunately we both crashed (separately) while mountain biking, he injuring his knee and I ending up with my first—and hopefully last—broken collarbone. Ah, a cycling rite of passage. We attended Mahvelous Monterey but couldn’t ride. This year as part of our post-vaccination “let’s-do-the-rides-we-couldn’t-do-last year” tour we decided to lead a club trip to the Monterey Bay area to do the exact opposite of our 2019 trip: a 53-mile flat jaunt down the Monterey Bay Trail through the “Pier 39” of Monterey, Cannery Row, and thence onto the famed 17-Mile Drive of Pebble Beach. Instead of hills we were going to stroll along the shoreline on an easy route with spectacular views of the bay. It had been a good decade since we had last done this route and to our surprise there were some changes, one excellent and the other not so much.

You never know what will whet the appetite of Spokers when it comes to riding. Monterey is sufficiently far away that the drive alone is a barrier to attending. That our two Santa Cruz members, James and George, showed up was not so much of a surprise since the ride is practically in their backyard. But Vanessa came down from Oakland and Tim and Carl drove down from the City, proving that a good enough ride will draw out the adventurous.

The ride starts in an unexpected location, Castroville, yet that is where the northern end of the Monterey Bay Trail ends. You have to know where it is because it is unmarked and literally off the beaten track. The first six miles of the trail are through ag fields and at this time of year the strawberry harvest was going full steam; we saw crew after crew harvesting and boxing fresh strawberries. There were also plenty of artichokes—no surprise since we were passing Pezzini Farms, home of the giant artichoke, and we also saw some gigantic cabbage plants. Passing the Dole processing plant there were scads of semis waiting to pick up or deliver their container trucks—busy! After the farms the trail continues through Marina, the old Fort Ord, and Seaside, but now you no longer have to hit the streets—you can continue on a separated trail. And, since there were almost no pedestrians, gliding along the Trail was both peaceful and safe! At Ford Ord Dunes State Park there is a new alternate trail that cuts through the dunes. The original path continues directly south parallel to the Cabrillo Highway and while functional it’s less scenic. The ‘new’ path seems to be an old military road repurposed into a multiple use trail with two wide marked lanes for bicycles and one for pedestrians. Here you roll up and down the dunes along decent asphalt. Despite being a Saturday there were almost no other users making for our own little private Idaho.

In Monterey the trail becomes very busy with beach users, tourists, and a ton of rental bikes. Although not as impacted as, say, the east sidewalk of the Golden Gate Bridge, one still needs to be attentive and keep it slow in order to avoid collisions. A bell also helps. Normally I’d avoid riding on a beach trail. But like the Embarcadero and Fishermen’s Wharf in San Francisco it’s just one of those things you have to experience at least once. Also, because of the beaches it’s the one place you’ll find open restrooms, of which we availed ourselves. You continue through Pacific Grove along the shoreline greeted by marvelous views of the bay, plenty of tide pools, surfers, and shore birds. You get a ringside seat to a strange mishmosh of housing: multimillion dollar decrepit tear-down shacks next to the latest faux Italian nouveaux riches villas followed by minimalist modern trophy homes. The crowds thin out and disappear by the time you enter the 17 Mile Drive. Although cyclists are excused from the entrance fee that cars have to pay, it used to be that we had to sign a waiver at the entrance gate. That’s no longer required and we even got to bypass the gate altogether. There’s really not a lot of difference between Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach except for the housing: it gets a lot bigger and grander in Pebble Beach but you still have the same great views. Ah, the homes of the 0.1%!

Life’s a beach

The lunch stop was at the Pebble Beach Market, which makes pretty good sandwiches. There’s a pleasant au plein air dining area with the nicest, cleanest public restrooms I’ve seen outside of an airport first class lounge! Oh, and you can shop for expensive souvenirs and golf attire next door. The sandwiches were so large that most of us (but not I) either split them or ate just half. I was ravenous and inhaled the whole thing, a turkey chipotle sandwich. Although it was past midday the sun still hadn’t made an appearance but the high overcast had kept the temperature perfect for cycling.

The return diverged from the 17 Mile Drive and cut through the hills above the golf course. Here the homes resembled what you’d see in any upper middle class suburb like Carmel or Montecito but certainly not over-the-top extravagant (eg. no security gates). Instead of following the shoreline we cut through Asilomar and returned through the center of Pacific Grove in order to bypass some of the crowds along the trail. However the Monterey Presidio creates a gigantic pinch point blocking any easy way to continue to Seaside except the trail. The only other options are to take the busy highway or go clear around the west side of the Presidio. At the Aquarium James and George decided to risk the surface streets and highway while the rest of us braved the trail. The trail was even busier in the afternoon—even the e-bikes were slowing down!—and necessitated a couple of emergency pivots to avoid wayward dogs and children.

In Seaside we were able to get back on the Dunes section and it was clear sailing from then on. Except for the headwind, which was comparatively mild. Back at the cars we bade each other adieu none the worst for more than 52 miles.

Same As It Ever Was

The last time the club rode up Morgan Territory was after the road had been repaired from a destructive landslide caused by the winter storms of 2016. That was in November 2017 making the hiatus three and a half years. Unlike last time, which had a small group, it was just Roger and I this time. Actually we had gone up Morgan by ourselves in March 2018, so it really had been only three years since we had set pedal on it and we were wondering what we might encounter. I think it was Stephanie who had remarked to us recently that Morgan had been repaved. That comment had me reeling. What? You mean the execrable condition of the roadway had actually been repaired? That road hasn’t seen a paver since before I started riding there, which was back in the mid-80s. And I asked myself, “My God! What have they done?” So we were desperately looking forward to a smooth-like-butter climb up to Morgan Territory Preserve over what had been for decades a textbook example of neglect so odious that it warrants hall of fame status.

Continuing our Spring Fling of revisiting fave roads we couldn’t/didn’t do during the Pandemic, we were determined to ride Morgan even if the weather turned unfriendly. But it didn’t and we had a sunny Goldilocks day—not too cold, not too hot, just right! We did the Ygnacio Valley Road approach to Clayton. Reopening was clearly underway as the high speed traffic early on Sunday was, um, enlightening. We made it safely to Clayton where an open-air church service equipped with amps the Grateful Dead would be proud of was taking place right in the center of the small town. We did a quick pit stop at the community park and were disappointed that though the restrooms were open, the water fountains were still turned off—all the more necessary to conserve what water we did bring and pray that the fountain at the Preserve was open.

The march out Marsh Creek always requires vigilance: there is usually a multitide of impatient pickup trucks and SUVs dishing out punishment passes with disturbing regularity. But this morning it wasn’t so bad despite the complete lack of a shoulder. Once we were on Morgan Territory itself it became very quiet and peaceful. But now we had a light headwind that was to increase and pester us almost the rest of the day. As we started to climb it became apparent that there was nothing different about Morgan: the alligator cracking was extensive, often deep, and giving us a hell of a beating. The saving grace is that no one can go quickly up Morgan allowing one plenty of time to scan for a smoother path through the maze of cracks and to avoid the more egregious road potholes.

Then the two racer dudes passed us. I wasn’t having the greatest of days, being worn out from trying to eject the last few pounds of Covid corpulence in the past week. So when Roger silently decided he’d try to keep up, I of course gritted my teeth and flogged the dead horse even harder. In case you didn’t know, Morgan is actually a pretty long climb, about nine miles. Cracks be damned, we bounced along at “speed” hovering at and often over the red line. We managed to keep them within a couple hundred feet until about a mile from the top when I just had to slow down or risk the Cramps That Shall Not Be Named. I staggered into the Preserve parking lot and saw that said race dudes were just making their way to the picnic table, so not a bad effort for an old fart!

Boy, the Preserve couldn’t have come soon enough. Not only did I need a break but the fountain was working and I could refill my bottle. Roger had wisely packed a couple of PB&J sandwiches, which disappeared in a flash. At the top nary a cloud was in sight and the sky was just crystalline blue—a classic day for a ride. We took a long, leisurely break. When we did leave, my legs were protesting. But the killer—literally—descent was just ahead.

This descent is amazing because it feels like a roller coaster. It’s somewhat narrow—substandard width for two lanes—and swoops around bends with no sight line at all and then plummets repeatedly giving you that no-gravity feeling. To make it even more thrilling there is no shoulder, no barrier, and the hillside just drops off at a precipitous angle, meaning if you don’t make the turn then you’re going to be launched into a free fall. It’s just absolutely preposterous this descent. You cannot not brake unless you truly have steel cojones. One saving grace is that in all the years I’ve done this ride I don’t think I’ve encountered more than a couple of cyclists coming up the south side because it’s so steep and completely exposed to the sun. That’s important because cars insist on passing on blind curves and you don’t want to be blazing through one of the left-hand curves at the same time a car is coming up and passing a cyclist. So of course that day we encountered not one but two cyclists separately climbing up from the south! But we lucked out with almost no car traffic. Fear is mental after all.

At the bottom we turned west and the headwind felt punishing. Or maybe my legs were just fried. In any case at one point we were struggling along at 9 mph on the flat. I could tell that Ms. Cramps was going to pay me a visit shortly if I didn’t do something. So we stopped and I downed a small bottle of pickle juice before we proceeded at our slow pace. After about twenty minutes my legs calmed down and we raced down to Danville and then back to the start at Pleasant Hill BART. Check that one off. Dudes, that ride was majorly awesome!

Next stop: Palomares.

Mines Eye

This past Sunday was our foray up Mines Road just south of Livermore. Of course this road has been there since forever but it didn’t become a regular club ride until Stephanie Clarke started championing it around 2010. I recall in the early days of the club doing Mines Road once, maybe twice. But it wasn’t a popular ride attracting repeat business probably because it can be infernally hot for much of the year. Somehow David Gaus got hooked on it too and then this ride was led annually. For a certain segment of the club Mines Road became a thing, a must-do ride.

Personally Mines never left a deep impression on me, at least one that was positive. Even today Mines strikes me as a perverse route: the uphill feels like a downhill and the downhill feels like an uphill. Why is that? Mines starts climbing steeply but a long middle section is a very gentle uphill that feels almost flat and on which you can roll with speed. The two subsequent uphills before you get to the Junction Cafe aren’t long or super-steep but they remind you, “Oh, I’m on a climb!” Then comes a descent to the Junction Cafe. Conversely the so-called “descent” starting at the Junction is a rather grating uphill: you’ve just finished lunch—maybe one of those burgers—and having to immediately start ascending feels like drudgery. After a short descent you do this all over again to the second summit. Then you hit the ‘flat’ that seems to go on forever. But even that’s work because the pièce de résistance is the afternoon headwind. I’ve never ridden Mines without a headwind on the downhill, which is a natural buzzkill—why am I working so hard to go downhill? Well, that downhill is nearly flat and the wind is usually ferocious enough to bring you to a complete standstill unless you apply some force to the pedals. The everpresent headwind is probably due to a primarily north/northwest wind blowing up Mines Road combined with valley heating which drives air upvalley. Regardless of the cause it’s nearly unavoidable. Eventually you do get to a real downhill—two sections actually—enough to overcome the headwind and finally get relief and enjoyment. But by this time you’re nearly at the bottom so it feels a little too wham-bam-thank-you-Sam. Uh, after that you don’t want a second date, do you?

Not to spoil the punchline but that formula held to a T on our ride. Other not-so-good stuff also took place such as leg cramps from too much climbing and not enough conditioning, and the fact that I was suffering from food poisoning due to the previous night’s dinner. But all was not lost. This ride turned out to be a revelatory experience. First, the weather was incredibly good. This late in the year Mines is usually already heating up. Any time after April is a gamble. But it was sunny with almost no clouds, no heat, and the predicted winds hadn’t picked up speed yet. Great for climbing! Second, since it was only Stephanie and Roger H and I we got a good opportunity to catch up on nearly a year’s worth of news due to the Pandemic. Stephanie’s endlessly cheerful (well, who couldn’t be on that beautiful custom Seven she gets to ride!) and unperturbable. She paced us up to the Junction and pushed me to try to stay with her. But she wasn’t going so fast that I had to go deep—I just had to step it up a bit more. I thought I couldn’t keep up but somehow I did. Well, until the leg cramps hit.

Third, we began the ride without much hope of seeing wildflowers. But just a few miles from the Junction there they were, not in profusion but present and beautiful in color. Alas, a drought year’s crop. Their backdrop was surprising: an incinerated horizon. The higher we went on Mines, the deeper we entered last summer’s SCU Lightning Complex fire zone. You can’t see its scars at all from Livermore, the hints of the conflagration only appearing much higher up. They increase slowly—a glimpse of charred trees and brush, blackened wood—then it’s bigger and bigger sections on the east side climbing up the hillside. As you get close to the Junction the burn zone is suddenly on the left and the right, the fire having jumped the road, then the landscape becomes denuded of live trees, only blackened trunks against the horizon. Ironically when you reach the CalFire station on the upper reaches, everything but the fire station and its housing was destroyed—it makes sense they’d save their own buildings if only so they could keep fighting fires.

The past few weeks have unintentionally turned out to be a tour of the Bay Area wildfires. Napa and the Franz Valley were hit by the Tubbs fire in 2017 and then the Glass fire last year; we saw burned landscapes on the east side of Silverado Trail, with a couple that hopped the road. On the Winters ride we witnessed the burn throughout Pleasants Valley Road caused by the LNU Lightning Complex fire. In each case I wasn’t prepared for what I saw, being taken aback by the extent of the destruction.

It’s a trope that wildfires and their sequelae are now the new normal in Northern California. The 1989 Oakland Hills fire, which we thought could never be equaled short of a nuclear firestorm was surpassed by the Tubbs up in Napa in 2017, and then that one was surpassed by the Camp fire near Chico in 2018. These are all locales that we enjoy cycling. How could we not be affected by their loss?

For now Mines is still there and the wildflowers are sure to return (as long as we get rain). But for the near future—certainly for the remainder of my life—we will be cycling in a changed landscape with a somber reminder that all that beauty is ephemeral and evanescent.

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!