All Things Must Pass

Now the darkness only stays the night-time
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
It’s not always going to be this grey

George Harrison

Yesterday in lieu of a ride we went to a celebration of life for Bob Powers. Who was Bob Powers? Probably no one else in Different Spokes has a clue. Bob and his wife Bonnie were the founders of Valley Spokesmen Cycling Club back in 1971. For the arithmetic impaired that was 52 years ago. This was in an era when being a cyclist was a sure indicator you were a dork, maybe a communist, and possibly immature or daft. So for this “power” couple to form a cycling club in the hinterlands of Dublin CA, which was at that time barely a dot on the map, was bold as can be (or possibly a scream for help).

We’re by no means involved members of Valley Spokesmen. When the club puts on the annual Tour of the Sacramento River Delta, we often joined that two-day ride, which by way was another Bonnie and Bob invention. The Cinderella Classic was another of their many creations, a century ride just for women and girls in order to encourage more female participation in our sport. We saw Bob annually every year at the Cinderella where we usually volunteered to help out with morning registration. Both the Powers were always there with Bob being the go-to guy for any emergencies or out-of-the-ordinary problems and Bonnie supervising registration. But Bob was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and passed away at age 86 just two weeks before this year’s Cinderella.

Bob and Bonnie were/are the strong roots of Valley Spokesmen even into their eighties. They have continued to pour immense energy into the club including the Cinderella Classic, which they invented. Every year they were key organizers and put in hours beyond compare. I learned at his memorial that in addition of forming the club and creating and organizing its signature events, the Cinderella and the Mount Diablo Challenge, they also were responsible for the Hekaton Century, which I used to do annually as well. Oldsters will recognize this as a great century that toured Contra Costa County but is no longer put on probably because Contra Costa is now so developed and many of the roads are busy thoroughfares now. What else? They also organized many of the club tours such as the ride to Paso Robles for the Great Western Bike Rally, two-week tours in various locations in the US and Canada including most recently in Kentucky.

Although Valley Spokesmen is eleven years older than Different Spokes and is a much bigger club than we, there are similarities between us. The early Spokers were also avid bike tourers and both clubs developed at a time when cycling was just starting to lose its weirdo halo. That Valley Spokesmen were lucky enough to have two such “Power”-houses to pour energy into it was a blessing.

Our club too has had members who took up the reins to create and re-create the club we have but no one has the longevity of the Powers. Although Derek and I are the only long term, extant members from the early ‘80s left, our interest and involvement in Different Spokes has waxed and waned over forty years. (Dr. Bob and Karry, also oldsters from the early ‘80s, recently rejoined after many years absence.) But like the Powers many of the oldsters, though gone now, had the same dream of a cycling club for their community.

The Valley Spokesmen is still a large and vibrant club. It has a racing team, still puts on several important cycling events every year, donates scads of money gathered from the Cinderella to local women’s organizations, and has an enthusiastic leadership team. But like Different Spokes it too is struggling with “succession”: ride leaders and and new rides continue to be difficult to cultivate. Does that sound familiar? And recently the leadership asked its members for volunteers to step up and help create a renewed club vision. Clearly they are thinking that continuing to do the same-old, same-old perhaps needs to be challenged.

Different Spokes is in a similar place. The current leadership needs to be refreshed badly for the club to remain vibrant and fresh. Roger, David, and I have been doing this for six-plus years now and whatever vision we had is likely turning stale; Jeff, Mark, Stephen, and Laura are more recent board members and I hope they stay on. Unfortunately Different Spokes has not had members as long lasting and visionary as the Powers have been for the Valley Spokesmen. Even so our small club is still capable of great things if we all put a little energy into the club.

The Price for All This Green

Temporarily liberated from the incessant rainfall we went out for a bike ride. The Three Bears is nearby but we hadn’t been out that way recently and not just because it’s been raining biblically. It’s a good, short loop out in open space, rare in the urban Bay Area and loved so much that it’s a standard ride for Different Spokes as well as for Grizzly Peak Cyclists. But after you’ve done it a few hundred times—kinda like the Tib loop—its beautiful sheen becomes dulled through familiarity. But we knew the enormous rains surely had made the green hills verdant and lush and so we looked forward to getting out there.

We were not mistaken. Despite being late to the party–usually by now the pasturelands have been nibbled down to the stubs and the lack of rains starting to turn the hillsides tan—it was positively viridian. Even though the cows had made short order of the lush grass, it was still brightly green in an Irish sort of way such was the power of munificent rains.

But that intense green came at a cost. Having the earth so saturated meant that things were going to slip and slide. As we rolled south on San Pablo Dam Road by the turn to Wildcat Canyon we saw the K-barriers and signs that it was closed due to a landslide taking out the road. Date to reopening: unknown. Heading north a little further along San Pablo Dam Road we were surprised to see a 40 MPH speed limit sign. 40 MPH? It’s used to be 50. Then came a 25 MPH sign and a double line of hazard bollards. Then we saw why: the entire width of SPDR had buckled into an ugly and dangerous whoop-de-whoop as if the earth under the road had dissolved and the roadway was a taffy coating sinking into the gap.

On Castro Ranch Road we encountered more of the same. The road had buckled creating de facto speed bumps; on the descent to Alhambra Valley Road the roadway edge was destabilized leaving a set of wavy undulations. We moved to the left into the roadway.

Turning onto Alhambra Valley Road the road quality improved partly because a huge section had been rebuilt after the winter of 2016-17, the last time we had a torrential rains and it was closed for months. But the unmistakable signs were there: in several places the shoulder had collapsed into Pinole Creek right up or just into the road. The good news is that all this rain seems to have kept people from dumping their old furniture and construction debris on the roadside so that the beautiful pasturelands actually still looked pastoral rather than like Tobacco Road.

Bear Creek Road was in much better shape than either Castro Ranch, Alhambra Valley, or even San Pablo Dam Road, seemingly unaffected by our winter other than having slightly more debris in the shoulder. Water was of course streaming over the road in multiple locations. But that was about it all the way up Mama Bear and Papa Bear and back to San Pablo Dam Road. Fortunately no other slides or slips had occurred and if the soils can just dry out some more we may avoid further damage and destruction this spring.

Despite having received more rain this year than the winter of 2016-17, road destruction in the Bay Area seems less gargantuan. If you recall five years ago Pinole Creek completely washed away the bridge connecting Castro Ranch Road to Alhambra Valley Road, Moraga Creek slid and took out the bridge from Moraga to Pinehurst, Morgan Territory had a humungous landslide due to waterlogged soils, and Redwood Road slipped away. All of the repairs took a very long time to be finished; in the case of the Canyon bridge it took three years! And that is just a short list of the roads closed that winter. This year we’ve had a slate of well-loved roads closed by rain damage—La Honda Road, west Old La Honda, Mines Road, Stage Road over on coastside, China Grade, Palomares, Patterson Pass Road, and many others. But some of them are already reopened at least partially and I doubt any of them will take more than a year to be rebuilt. We can all wish for wet winters and green springs but sometimes it’s too much of a good thing. That said I love looking at a verdescent Mt. Diablo!


No pain, no gain.

So far this has been a year unlike any other. Similar to the winter of 2016-17 when we also had a series of atmospheric rivers plow through northern California, this year our drought prayers were answered with double-fold irony: we’ve had so much rain that only the hardy go out to ride and when they do they’re confronted with washed out roads, downed trees blocking roads, and lots of mud and pools of water whose depth is uncertain. San Francisco to date has had over 29 inches of rain when the average year nets just 19 by now; SF averages less than 23 inches for an entire year. In Contra Costa we’ve received well over 47 inches to date when usually we get about 35. If we receive more than 50 inches by June 30, I would not be surprised given how prolific this rainy season has been. By the way, although Seattle and Portland have reputations for being rainy cities, but did you know that the annual average rainfall for Seattle is 37.5 inches? Portland is just 36 inches. And this year both have gotten just 40 inches to date. This has been a wet year!

That few of us are venturing out for rides is not news especially since our rains have been mostly constant and steady. In previous winters the rain wasn’t a serious deterrent for me and even this January despite my intentions to use Fulgaz and ride in the comfort of my living room, I just had to get outside and I rode 23 days rain or shine. I was expecting that I would continue.

But then life intervened and I couldn’t ride because of other responsibilities. Usually when I’m under stress going out for a ride has been a welcome relief and reinvigorating for handling life’s other travails. But not this time. And with the rains whatever incentive I had to get out just vanished in a puff. So almost a month went by and I did hardly a lick of a ride and whatever strength and stamina I had eked out became a faint dream. At my age it’s important to keep moving because every recession in fitness is just another ratchet downward no matter how hard I try to resist and come back.

Last week Roger and I finally went out for a (re-)inaugural bike ride, just a “stroll” down and up the local MUP. It was 25 miles and we rode it at a leisurely pace. No problem. That night Paul pinged me and asked if we’d like to go for a ride the next day. He too had been unable to ride, and since Saturday was to be a dry day with the rains returning on Sunday it was going to be the only day to get out. Both Roger and I felt alright (= not sore or tired) so we delightfully agreed to meet him. My left brain was telling me it was probably a mistake; my right brain was telling me how nice it would be to go for a Different Spokes-ish ride. Paul is a relatively new member who also lives in the East Bay, so it would be a good chance for us to get to know him a bit better. He’s also in our cohort, ie. as old as the friggin’ hills.

Paul was going to take BART to Orinda but he surprised us by riding over Wildcat instead. I thought, “Hmm, that would be more than I would be able to do if I were just starting to ride again”. We took him on a ride that we do often, which is out to the back part of Walnut Creek on lightly travelled suburban roads to some “hidden” hills in Danville and Alamo and then back to Orinda. It’s about 35 miles and although it has hills, they are short and not too steep. It’s a ride that we normally would consider a ‘light’ ride but with enough hilliness that you can make it as hard or as easy as you want. If we did it at an easy pace, it should be no problem.

Paul had never ridden out that way even with Grizzly Peak Cyclists, his other club. He was a bit lost in the morass of suburbia even though it is far more varied than the cookie cutter homes in Daly City, for example. Admittedly we were taking a lot of “roads less travelled” with lots of turns and cuts through cul-de-sacs that make the route confusing the first time. We had a nice time and I was surprised at how calm my legs felt despite having ridden the day before and after a month of inactivity.

On the way back my legs very quickly became tired and I slowed down. A lot. My leg muscles felt completely exhausted, as if I had ridden a century yet it less than 30 miles—at an easy pace no less! Riding two days in a row—never a problem in the past—this time was turning out to be massive overload. Just a couple of miles from home both my legs locked up, spasming uncontrollably. I pulled to curb but I couldn’t even dismount. I had waved Roger and Paul to go ahead to the coffee shop just before I cramped up. All I could do was stand there and not move. After five minutes my muscles had not calmed down. No matter which way I attempted to move, muscles would lock up like a vise. Eventually I stumbled onto the grass and sat down trying to find a position to stop the cramping. After minutes of agony I called Roger and asked him to come get me.

On a long ride I would have brought a small bottle of pickle juice in case of cramps. (You didn’t know pickle juice can help with cramps?). But this was a short ride so I hadn’t. I also had consumed all my water. Roger and Paul arrived and tried to help me. But the cramps were unrelenting and exquisitely painful. Roger went home to get the van because there was no way I could cycle up the hill to the house. Paul, who suffers from dehydation on rides, had some electrolyte pills. I gobbled three of them and more water. After about 15 minutes of struggling I was eventually able to stand and walk very slowly to a cul-de-sac where Roger could pick me up. Paul was very helpful in escorting me in case I fell victim to cramping again. But I didn’t. Roger arrived, we said our farewells—next time we’ll get coffee after a ride, Paul!—and headed home.

I never expected that starting cycling again would bring about such suffering. Each time I have to take an extended break from cycling or exercise, I feel like Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill only to see it roll back down. In this case it was like Sisyphus pushing a rock uphill and then getting leg cramps!

Ride Recap: Resolution Ride

A bit delayed but the Resolution Ride, the club’s annual start-the-year-off-right jaunt to the top of Mt. Diablo, finally happened today. Although it wasn’t raining on New Year’s Day and we could have had a fabulous ride, the state park was closed because of mudslides, road collapses, and sundry debris imperiling the roadways. So the ride was postponed a month since this was the first weekend that Stephen, the ride leader, would be available. It’s just as well because the rains went on for three more weeks.

Of course the rains would have to return for our second stab at this ride as well! The forecast was looking ominous all week but it looked like the rain wouldn’t hit until Saturday night. With some trepidation the four of us—Stephen, Paul, Roger H, and I—left Pleasant Hill BART up North Gate Road. One benefit of this postponed ride would be that New Year’s is always a moshpit on Diablo with hordes of cyclists, hikers, and car drivers trying to make their way up to Rock Springs, Juniper, and the summit. Today it was quiet—hardly any traffic—making for a really pleasant and undisturbed ascent. Diablo is greening up nicely, the cows were out, and the overcast skies made it a placid scene torn right out of the Swiss playbook (well, minus the Alps!)

On the way up we noticed the damage from the earlier storms: a couple of sections of road that had been cleared of mud, one new major road slip reducing the road to one lane, and a couple more sections of road that have nasty cracking through the pavement and some settling.

The plan was to make a decision at the junction whether to continue up or not because showers were increasingly likely to hit after 1 PM. We were at the junction by 11 AM and it was looking no different than when we had left, ie. midlevel overcast skies with nary a hint of rain. But Roger never wanted to go higher and I had had my fill by the junction—I could have gone to the top but it would have pushed the lever from “I’m having a really chill time riding” into “fuck, I’m busting a gut now”, and anyway I like riding with my husband. And as I mentioned to Paul and Stephen I’m becoming more a porch dog with every day.

So Roger and I cruised down South Gate to Danville but we skipped the ritual lunch stop and went directly back to BART whereas Stephen and Paul were determined—more like consigned—to getting to the top. There is something to be said about commitment, a milestone, and enduring.

Roger and I had an uneventful ride back except for encountering the hundreds and hundreds of South Asians streaming north on the Iron Horse Trail. It turns out tomorrow is Thaipusam, a major Hindu festival day, and this was the ritual pilgrimage done the day before. It was like Woodstock for Hindus. Just as we pulled into Pleasant Hill BART it started to rain. We sure were glad to be off the bike now, lucky us! The rain waxed and waned until we got home at which point the sky actually opened up and dumped just as we got into the garage. Lucky us again!

As for Paul and Stephen? I presume they made it to the top. But Stephen texted me later that they got soaked and were chilled to the bone by the descent. Paul’s report:
“As Stephen mentioned in his text, we had the kind of descent no one wishes for… particularly Mt. Diablo in the cold rain… When we got to the top, it was misting/raining, but we figured it might still be dry below the Junction.  No way – rain all the way down, a scary descent (my non-disc brakes aren’t wonderful), and then a bit more rain as we made our way to a dry and warm Starbucks near the PH Bart station – thank goodness for those great Starbucks employees, who plied us with coffee and hot liquids, to warm our core (which in my case was cold to the bone, along with our soaked clothes and bikes).  But a good ride nonetheless, and a chance to talk to Stephen, who is a great riding companion …  Glad you guys didn’t get wet. Look forward to the next adventure, perhaps not as daring, though.  Thanks!”

Now that’s a proper Resolution Ride!

2023 Centuries: August-November [updated 5/22/23]


5 Saturday. Marin Century. No information on the 2022 Marin Century yet. 100- and 62-mile courses. $125-$105. Registration opens mid-February is open.

6 Sunday. Civilized Century. $40. 100-, 75-, 60- and 35-mile routes. Registration opens June 1. Limited to 200 riders. Here’s the ‘new kid on the block’. The 100-mile route starts in Redwood City goes up to SFO and returns before crossing the Dumbarton and returning around the South Bay.

19 Saturday. Cool Breeze Century. 125-, 107-, 95-, 60- and 34-mile routes. $95. A pleasant, not-too-difficult century down in Ventura county with great weather. Registration opens April 1 (no fooling’!) is now open. Limit of 2,000.


2 Saturday. Tour de Fuzz. 100-, 63-, and 35-mile routes. $129-$109. Travels routes similar to the Wine Country centuries. Limit of 1,250. Registration is open.

9-16 Sunday to Sunday. Cycle Oregon. 350 to 454 miles. $1,385. The best week tour on the West Coast. Limited to 1,350 and it always sells out quickly. This year’s route is big clockwise loop west of Salem. Registration is open.

9-10 Saturday to Sunday. Bike MS: Waves to Wine. $20 start fee. Ride from San Francisco to Rohnert Park. Minimum $350 fundraising. Currently limited information at website.

15- 17 Friday to Sunday. Eroica California. 108-, 81-, 73-, and 36-mile routes. $150. Limit of 1,500. Only ‘classic’ bikes—usually 1987 or earlier—are allowed. See site for detailed rules. Mixed terrain routes. Registration is open.

16 Saturday. Tour of the Unknown Coast. 100- and 62-mile routes. $100. Tour the redwoods in Humboldt County. Registration opens May 1. is open.

23 Saturday. Napa Valley Ride to Defeat ALS. 100-, 62-, 47-, 28-, and 9-mile routes. $60. Minimum $150 fundraising. Registration fee and then minimum fundraising amount. 100-, 62-, 47-, 28- and 9-mile routes. Registration is open. Routes are pending approval.

30 Saturday. Lighthouse Century. $90. 100-, 75- and 50-mile routes. Limit of 1,000. San Luis Obispo Bicycle Club’s other century. From Morro Bay a detour inland before heading back to the coast and halfway up Highway 1 and back. Registration opens June 4.


7 Saturday. Best of the Bay. 200 miles. Date set but no information yet.

14 Saturday. Best Buddies Challenge. $100 start fee and $5,000 minimum fundraising. 72 mile route. No longer run along Highway 1 and now the route is a loop in west Marin. Registration is open.

21 Saturday. Foxy Fall Century. 100-, 100k, and 50k-routes. No information yet. Limit of 1,500. Registration opens in July.

21 Saturday. Tour de Lincoln. 100k-, 50k-, and 25k-routes. $75-$55. If Foxy Fall is too crowded for you, here’s a community ride just up the road in Lincoln. Registration is open.

21 Saturday. Ride Santa Barbara. 100-, 62-, and 34-mile routes. $149-$69. It’s a longish drive south but Santa Barbara is a great place to do century with beach front views and fantastic climbs in the Santa Ynez Mountains including Gibraltar. Registration is open.

?. Tour of the Sacramento River Delta (TOSRD). No information yet. Annual ride from Brannan Island to Sacramento via the Delta on Saturday and return on Sunday. Stay at La Quinta near old town. Includes lunch on Saturday and a post-ride bbq on Sunday.


18 Saturday. Death Valley Century. $165. Limited to 300 riders. Route is a uncertain since in 2022 roads were damaged by rains and their repair in time for the event in unclear. Ride starts in Furnace Creek. Registration is open.

2022: Parting Glances, part 2

There were some club rides in 2022 that I found especially enjoyable and I hope we shall do them again this year. And there were a few rides I didn’t get to do last year and that I desperately want to do this year, Allah willing, and I’ll address those in a separate post.

Tony’s 2022 favs, in no particular order.

Stage Road and Coastside. These roads are wellworn and no surprise—they’re beautiful, scenic, and mostly quiet. Who doesn’t love riding down the San Mateo coast along Highway One? If there is no fog or rain, the views of the Pacific are borderline astonishing accompanied by the redolent salt air. And despite being so close to SillyCon Valley, the tiny town of Pescadero and Stage Road are usually untrafficked and quiet allowing you to ride in pastoral serenity undisturbed by the mishegoss just over the hills. And I and many Spokers have ridden it many times. But what made this ride a breakthrough for me last year was that we did it without starting in either Half Moon Bay or Palo Alto, which would have made it a 60-mile day. Instead the Davids’ innovation was to start it in Pescadero making it only a 31-mile loop and without a big climb over the Coast range. I finally understood the meaning of “eat dessert first” and how impatience can be a virtue.

New Speedway Boogie (Patterson and Altamont Passes). The club doesn’t go up Altamont very often. It is infamous more for the daily logjammed commute on Highway 580 than for its beauty. But beautiful it is when you go there at the right time. Hit it in winter or early spring when the as-yet undeveloped hills are intensely green and you’ll experience what it used to be like decades ago when all of the land east of Livermore was pristine: no cars, lonely country roads, and grassland hills with oak trees. In 2022 we went up Patterson and took the California Aqueduct bikeway north to Altamont Pass for the return. Right at the turnaround point there is Valero minimart with—among many other things—coffee, fried chicken, a taqueria, a Subway, and a Wienerschnitzel! And the views at the top of both passes can’t be beat!

Velo Love Ride. I’m an unadulterated proponent of this ride, which until 2022 Roger and I were the only Spokers who had done it. It’s a beautiful winter ride around the Sutter Buttes not too far from the Oroville Dam, a slightly long drive from the Bay Area. Chico Velo offered this supported century at the oddest time of the year, early February when it is likely to be rained out and at the very least would proffer up challenging weather. It’s been on hiatus for a few years but not for us: we go up there every year as long as it isn’t raining. It’s dead-flat for 60 miles with only one small hill. The loop takes in the rice fields, ag land, and many fruit and nut orchards, which often are starting to bloom around Valentine’s Day, the traditional weekend to do this ride. It can be cold and since it’s during the rainy season it can be wet. But the real challenge of the ride can be wind since you’re completely exposed for much of the ride. But other than the start town of Gridley and midway hitting Sutter the ride is completely rural and devoid of traffic. In 2022 David Goldsmith decided to join us and we got to gape at all the flowering orchards this time. Maybe you’ll join us in 2023?

Old La Honda and Tunitas Creek. Also no surprise here since these roads are so well-trodden as to be posterchildren for Northern California riding. But I hadn’t done them in quite a while (because there was a time when I did these roads ALL the time and burned out on them). But this time was special because the Loma Mar Store finally reopened after about a yearslong remodel and it’s now an even better place for a midride stop. Their new restaurant is a welcome change from Arcangeli Store in Pescadero. Loma Mar’s food and coffee are excellent and the new owners are a peach. We also took our time on this ride and turned it into a day-long jaunt! Taking a long—even if unnecessary—break at the Bike Hut just to chat and look at the birds made it a special day. That’s something we don’t often do: stop to take a break just because we could!

SLO Wildflower. This is a century that I have known about for ages. But like many of you I never did it because the drive to the Paso Robles area is long enough to be a deterrent. The San Luis Obispo Bicycling Club also usually mounts this event the same weekend as the Chico Wildflower and/or the Primavera. The latter is a mere hop, skip, and a jump away in Fremont making it the lazy person’s default century and the former was for many years the club spring century must-do with hordes of Spokers driving up to Chico to make it a default getaway weekend. So when David Goldsmith and Roger Sayre suggested this ride I gave it a pass until my husband’s eyes twinkled at the prospect of riding someplace different for a change. When Adrienne, a former member who now lives near Paso, enthusiastically offered to host a barbecue at her place, the deal was signed, sealed, and delivered! It all turned out to be a fabulous weekend with almost 30 Spokers making the trip. The weather cooperated with a beautifully sunny, if chilly, morning. Although I had ridden in this area about 30 years ago, it was a welcome rediscovery as the Wildflower route is amazingly beautiful, quiet, and even had decent pavement! Oak woodland in California in its unspoiled state is charming and inviting during spring. Those who did the full hundred-mile route had to endure some the worst county roads in California for about 15 miles. But those of us who did the 80- or 50-mile route escaped that and had a totally perfect day. That won’t be a problem in 2023 since SLOBC has axed the one hundred mile route due to the disappearance of the wildflowers along the long route due to climage change. Just maybe we’ll go back in 2023?

Alpine Dam. This is another club fav, which in a previous incarnation was called the Evil Stepsisters ride when it was offered annually on the same day as the Cinderella Century, which is for women/girls only. You can climb Tam and descend to Alpine Dam or come from Fairfax to the Dam and then climb up the Seven Sisters to Tam and down. This ride was planned to be done clockwise, which I like less because then one has to descend the Seven Sisters. That descent is almost a straight line down to the Dam so either you go very fast or you ride the brakes. I prefer to climb up through Fairfax, which is less trafficked than Pan Toll, and go up the Seven Sisters. Fortuitously Jeff and Mark decided at the last minute to invert the loop, so we ended up riding it counterclockwise! This is another ride that I had done to death when I lived in SF. But after a twenty-year hiatus revisiting this old ride reminded me of why I used to ride it so often: it’s beautiful and challenging.

Cavedale. This was a discovery for me. I had never done Cavedale before and probably for a good reason: until now it was a wretched, pothole-ridden example of why riding in Sonoma county is a blessing and a curse: the scenery can be so enticing yet the road quality is akin to what one would find in an undeveloped country. It also intersects with Trinity, which often is heavily trafficked. But we fortuitiously chose a day to climb this steep road when it was being repaved to a glassy sheen thanks to none other than PG&E. For most of the climb it was beautiful, fresh asphalt as smooth as can be; the last third hadn’t been reconstructed yet and we got to taste what it had been like for the past 30 years or so. The views of the Sonoma Valley are robust and breathtaking making stops a must even if you don’t have to catch your breath.

But what made all of these rides so pleasurable? It wasn’t just the road quality, the weather, or the scenery—it was the company. Riding with fellow Spokers who enjoy riding in Northern California as much as I do, having idle yet memorable conversations with Spokerati, sharing a midride meal, and building memories of fun days on two wheels. That’s what made these rides my faves for 2022!

Different Spokes Blues

Now Father Time is catching up with me
Gone is my youth
I look in the mirror everyday
And let it tell me the truth
I’m singing the blues
Mm, I just have to sing the blues
I’ve been around a long time
Yes, yes, I’ve really paid some dues
—BB King

What has forty years of the club wrought? There have been a lot of friendships and some serious relationships (and break-ups too). There’s been a lot of water that’s flowed under this bridge! The club is different than it was yet in critical ways it is much the same. We find each other through the love of cycling—or in a few instances the fear of cycling!—and unlike almost all other cycling clubs it’s the other love that keeps us together. The club endures because the purpose for which it was formed—to provide a haven for queer cyclists—is still relevant. Today it may seem that cycling is normcore to the max. But it isn’t really and it definitely wasn’t the case forty years ago. Back then being into cycling put you in an unlovable oddball category, the bike nerd. I submit for evidence the character Dave Stoller in the best bicycling movie ever, Breaking Away. He’s one of us and…he’s portrayed as a misfit nerd. That cycling somehow in recent years caught the misnomer of ‘the new golf’ is laughable because nobody makes jokes about killing golfers but many still do today about killing cyclists. As if you didn’t know: we are hated. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Being bullied for being queer or run down because you ride a bike, radio shock jocks like us both for fodder. So birds of a feather flock together and boy, do we flock!

I’m still not sure how it is that the club is still running. But I’m happy it is. In other communities there are no LGBTQ cycling clubs and it’s not because the community is too small to support such a niche organization. It’s likely because it is harder today to start a cycling club—any club —because frankly, no one wants to do the work. Instead what we find are Meetup groups. Some clubs have Meetup counterparts as we did for a short while and those seem to persist longer because the club is already in place. But new LGBTQ cycling Meetup groups seem to fizzle out after a while as it’s usually one or two people who are doing all the work. Why isn’t there a Different Spokes San Jose or South Bay? It’s not that we don’t have members there; we do have a few. But what are all the other LGBTQ cyclists doing? The South Bay is a huge environ with millions of residents and it supports two large recreational cycling clubs, Western Wheelers and ACTC and a bunch of amateur racing clubs. There really should be a Different Spokes South Bay. It isn’t rocket science to form a cycling club and the idea has no patent.

The dirty little secret is that it’s hard to keep a club running these days let alone start a new one. If you look at the websites of other small local clubs what you see may surprise you. Typically there is a very limited number of rides, maybe two to four per month (if that). More typically they have a list of regular weekly rides but no listed ride leaders. Whether these rides actually take place is unknown and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them don’t. In other words they’re more likely aspirational ride listings. Even among some larger clubs, who do populate their ride calendars with a plethora of listings, you see the same rides offered every week with just a few—or even no—new rides. That’s because offering a new ride presumes you have a member willing to create and lead it and that takes motivation and work.

For clubs that list ride leaders a close inspection will show that it’s almost always the same people over and over. That is not a surprise because only about 10-15% of members do more than passively belong, ie. lead rides, take on officer roles, or do the scut work that keeps a club running and vibrant. For a club like Grizzly Peak Cyclists whose current membership is about 800 that should mean 80-120 active members yet when you look at their leadership page and the listed ride leaders in a typical month it’s more like 40-50, which seems like plenty for any club. But in our case since we have less than 120 members—really no more than we had than at the end of 1983 after just one year of existence—we can expect about 12-18. And that’s about the number we have for the entire ride leader cohort and board. In other words we can’t do any more than we are doing without beating the odds to raise more volunteers. It’s downright amazing we have such a robust ride calendar despite a small set of volunteers. But upon closer inspection you’ll see that that most of our rides are led by about five people. When one of these members gets injured or gets overloaded with work or personal issues and can’t lead rides, the ride calendar noticeably contracts—there isn’t a lot of ‘slop’ room.

Different Spokes over forty years has had its up and downs. At the end of 2001 we almost folded. We didn’t because a small group led by Chris Larussell, who became president in 2002, made it her personal effort to revive the club and pull it back from the brink. Did you know that one of the results of that is the creation of our monthly Jersey Ride, which happens to be the most popular ride on our calendar month after month? Then around 2018 our membership was down to a little above 60—not enough to keep the lights on—and we had to claw our way back to where we are today at 121, which still isn’t enough to keep the lights on! Our annual membership fees in toto are not enough to pay our bills. Again it was the determination of the board to reinvigorate the club by streamlining website management, leading more rides, broadening the types of rides we offer, and putting on different kinds of social events.

So here we are still alive and kicking. But just. That’s due to a sizeable injection of effort, creativity, and devotion from your board and ride leaders. The current board isn’t going to last forever; ride leaders come and go. If we want to make sure that Different Spokes survives another year, let alone forty, we are going to need people like you who love Different Spokes to make the club your personal effort, to volunteer and put energy into the club. Everybody’s lives are busy. But if you don’t make space to give to Different Spokes, there may not be a Different Spokes at some point. You can walk away from the club—after all you can always ride by yourself or join one of the other local non-LGBTQ clubs when you want some company—but heaven forbid that Different Spokes ever folds as did Different Spokes Seattle only a few years ago! It would take a lot more effort to revive it at a future point, more effort than keeping it chugging along. But who would do the work to revive it? We could end up as a Meetup group after all. Birds of a feather may flock together—but where will they flock?

It Was 44 Years Ago Today

SFO Museum Exhibition; “Moscone, Milk Shot to Death” November 27, 1978 San Francisco ExaminerHarvey Milk Archives-Scott Smith Collection,James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center, SFPL R2020.0602.019

Sunday November 27 is the 44th anniversary of the assassinations of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone by ex-Supervisor Dan White. It was nearly a lifetime ago and for most of you it’s easily forgettable historical trivia. But for those of us who lived through it, it left an emotional scar so deep that we bear the mark of it for the rest of our lives.

This year Roger and I are not leading the ride to visit Harvey’s memorium in the San Francisco Columbarium nor the gravesite of his predecessor Jose Sarria and of Moscone in Colma. But that does not mean we are ignoring it. Perhaps we will next year if we are still alive and hale.

In the meantime I refer you to last year’s ChainLetter blog post about the ride, which was no more than a recapitulation of the first time that we led it in 2018 on the 40th anniversary of the assassination.

Ride Recap: Cavedale

View of Sonoma Valley

In the compendium of Different Spokes rides there are the usual suspects and the unusual suspects but rarely do we encounter a Bay Area road that we have never visited. However Cavedale is such: as far as I know it has never been offered as a club ride despite sitting glaringly in the middle of the Mayacamas range connecting the Sonoma Valley and the Napa Valley.

Ten years ago for the 30th anniversary Roger and I resurrected the undead and led an ancient Michael John ride from Santa Rosa to Calistoga and back. That got us interested in the various ways one can map a loop between the two valleys. Michael John’s route took in Mark West and Petrified Forest Roads. We checked out Saint Helena Road and tried to make Kortum Canyon Road work only to find that the latter’s midsection is privately owned. Or at least has a big-ass locked gate in the middle of the road, which was never disclosed in AAA maps, Mapquest, nor Google Maps. So we stuck with Michael John’s original route. These roads are in the northern part of said valleys. Towards the south you’re left with Trinity, which has plentiful car traffic since it’s the only way to cross over. Except for Cavedale. Cavedale starts on the Sonoma side, summits the Mayacamas, and drops to intersect Trinity. Because you’re descending Trinity at that point it’s not so bad riding with car traffic downhill at speed.

Not having ridden Cavedale before I looked at Google Streetview, which shows that it’s a little-used, narrow road with several steep hairpins climbing quickly about 2,000 feet. The views of the Sonoma Valley are fantastic but in exchange is execrable Sonoma county pavement that looks that it hasn’t seen a paver in over thirty years. The road patches have patches that have patches! But at least it was paved all the way. Once you’re on Trinity the pavement is good.

Roger and I were joined by Stephanie and Darrell. Lucky for us Darrell is an old-hand at Cavedale and knew all the roads like the back of his hand. He was able to warn us of all the steep sections, where the cave was—it is called “Cavedale” for a reason—and how much more climbing was left. We started in the Sonoma town square early enough that the day tourists hadn’t arrived yet. It was a chilly 50F but we knew we were going to warm up shortly. A quick four-mile jaunt north along busy Highway 12 got us to Cavedale. We were in for a pleasant surprise: it had brand new pavement. This was no slurry seal but actual thick asphalt on a reconstructed road bed. That was good news for Darrell since he was riding his back-up bike that had mere 23mm tires. The rest of us had good sense to bring the fattest tires we had although now it looked like we didn’t need them.

Smooth as glass!

Cavedale is no slouch. You don’t get an easy introduction to the climb, you just start off at 8+% and regularly hit stretches in double digits. But the sun was out and view was great and there was almost no car traffic so we were able to use the entire roadway, especially nice in the sharp hairpins. We were stopping to rest, take pictures, take off jackets.

Taste of the soon-to-be old Cavedale

Alas, the repaving was not entirely finished. About two-thirds of the way up we were on a mixture of old pavement and short sections of ground up roadway, which made for a bumpy ride. However for newbies like us it was good to get a taste of the ”classic” Cavedale knowing that it will soon be history. We won’t miss it! The pavers were parked on the sides of the road so we knew that this was a work in progress. When it’s done Cavedale will be as smooth as glass.

Summit of Cavedale looms

This section of the Mayacamas was burned severely by the Nuns fire in 2017 and it shows: the upper portion of Cavedale is completely exposed having lost any tree cover it once had. Houses that miraculously had survived (or perhaps had been rebuilt subsequently) stood imperiously atop the range no longer concealed by any foliage whatsoever. Burnt trees still stood stick-like against the horizon.

At the top we had to descend carefully in order to avoid the most egregious pavement disorders until we hit Trinity. The fire station at the intersection had water but it was terrible, probably well water, with a sharp metallic tinge. There we began the descent down Trinity towards Napa. The road was in good condition although being unfamiliar with it I rode it carefully never knowing if I’d drop into a pothole since we were now deep in tree cover. Like Cavedale Trinity is steep with sections of about 11 or 12 percent. (It would make an challenging climb and then a fantastic descent down Cavedale once the paving is done.) Eventually Trinity becomes Dry Creek and passes the intersection with Mt. Veeder Road and it all becomes familiar.

After the long, always pleasant descent down Dry Creek we veered east into Napa to get lunch at Fumé. Although practically empty when we arrived, by the time we left it was full of diners enjoying a delicious brunch. For the record the huevos rancheros and the quiche were both excellent. Darrell had a ricotta pancake and Stephanie the butternut squash soup. I’d come back again!

With almost all the climbing now over it was mainly a flat and rolling run back to Sonoma. We headed back to Dry Creek and then by Redwood and Old Sonoma Road to the Carneros viticultural area south of Highway 12. This area south of the highway used to be grazing land. No more: it’s covered with young vineyards, and the few tracts of ranchland are hemmed in by them and probably soon to be converted. The grape leaves were all turning bright red, yellow, and orange making for colorful hillsides. A quick run back into Sonoma and we were done, all 47 miles.

Cave decorated for Halloween

Footnote: I found out that Cavedale was scheduled to be repaved “by the end of October”. Apparently it is behind schedule but they are about two-thirds of the way up to the summit. The revised schedule now shows that repaving is supposed to be completed by November 10. The paving is for the entire length of Cavedale including from the summit down to Trinity. In addition the upper section of Trinity is also being repaved. When it’s completed, it will be time to revisit this route!

The Long View


I joined Different Spokes shortly after I moved to San Francisco. I don’t recall exactly when but it was around 1983 or so. Except for a few years in the mid-90s I’ve been a member almost the entire time the club has been around. Everyone else who was a member when I joined is now gone except for Derek although Karry, who joined just slightly before me, has recently rejoined after a thirty-year hiatus. Derek has me beat since he was one of the very first people to join the club—we have pictures of him on the earliest club rides in 1983—and he’s been a member the entire 40 years! I’ve seen the club wax and wane over the years. The club grew very quickly when it opened for business. Why is that? As was the case with the gay softball league, gay rodeos, the gay bowling league, Frontrunners, gay swim teams, Gay and Lesbian Sierrans, our club formed at a time when LGBT socializing had been a hidden undercurrent in American life but broke into the open after Stonewall. No longer willing to be limited by bars and bathhouses we were reclaiming all aspects of our lives including sports and recreation—bending [pun intended] the fag stereotype as it were. (Lesbian stereotypes to the contrary included the “gym teacher”.) Different Spokes came into being at a time when LGBT life in the west was coming out of the shadows gangbusters thanks to—among other things—Stonewall. Even though it took a lot of hard work to get the club up and running especially back in the day before the Internet and mobile phones became commonplace, Bob Krumm was exactly right: the time was ripe for a LGBT club and if it hadn’t been us, it would have been some other club because all the signs were there. He and the other founders just happened at the right time and place and also we were fortunate to have had such energetic and determined founding “parents”. The fact that a series of LGBT cycling clubs popped into being shortly after we did—Women on Wheels, Diff’rent Spokes in NYC, Rainbow Cyclists in SD, River City Cyclists in Sacramento, the LA Spokesmen in LA, Different Spokes in Seattle, and Sydney Spokes in Australia—demonstrated that the time for out LGBTQ cycling had arrived.

Then the 1985 AIDS Bike-A-Thon blew the doors open for us. The club got a lot of positive publicity, a ton of goodwill, and consequently our membership skyrocketed to well over 300. BAT got our name in the papers and was great PR, and we had a lot of people join just to support what we were doing even though they may have had little or no interest in recreational cycling. After the end of the BAT in 1995 our rolls slowly began to dwindle until by 2018 we had little more than 60 paid members. Today we have about 120 members, which coincidentally is the number of members we attained by the end of 1983, one year after forming.

Bike-A-Thon was important for giving the club a sense of mission and a community role instead of being “just” a cycling club. It created friendships forged through hard work and a lot of shared tears; those friendships continue today even with BAT long gone. Although BAT was a club success, it was also a huge burden. In those years the club at times felt like it was only Bike-A-Thon—the tail wagging the dog. Bike-A-Thon was a completely volunteer effort by the club and its allies, and after ten years the price was burn out even though it was rewarding to generate $2.3 million for AIDS beneficiaries. How many charity efforts give every cent gathered to its beneficiaries? Perhaps we wouldn’t need websites like Charity Navigator if that were the case generally. Bike-A-Thon and the spirit of volunteerism and giving were distinctly unique and that is likely the main reason it burned out: it wasn’t self-sustaining for the long run—who wants to work hundreds of hours unpaid in their spare time? It was part of that era: the imminent spectre of disease and death, the need to do something good NOW, and to vanquish the sense of helplessness we felt.

After BAT ended the club went back to its primary business: providing a fun haven for LGBT cyclists! Small social clubs constantly need an injection of energy, effort, and volunteers to stay alive and somehow that dwindled until in 2001 we faced a proposal to close the club as it is and become an interest group of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Sleeping dogs awoke and soundly defeated that proposal and out of that grew—very surprising to me—a resurgence of enthusiasm to rebuild the club. The new board created the Jersey Ride, which we still have today as well as the Saddle Challenge to raise money for Project Inform, which after many years we no longer hold. But during that time the ChainLetter, our club newsletter, dwindled nonetheless. The Internet was here and a print newsletter seemed vestigial when you could post rides online at any hour of the day. The ChainLetter went from a monthly publication to hiatus for a few years, to revival as a quarterly and running for four more years before the writing was on the wall: no one wanted to step up produce the ChainLetter. So it ended in 2012 apparently for good. On the plus side the rise of digital photography made it easier than ever to take pictures—lots of them—and put them up on the web. Our club photo albums were now online and they exploded. Here part of the club’s history is preserved. And those photos in our Photo Gallery—well over 40,000—are annotated.

During this time having our second women president, Chris Larussell, made a difference in the number of women in the club. The club has always had a minority of women. But while Chris was president our roster rose to 40% female, the most we ever had, a fantastic accomplishment. Of course after she stepped down and eventually stepped away from the club our female membership shrank again. I think that says something about birds of a feather flocking together, don’t you? It also holds a mirror up to the club around our lackluster diversity, I think, and the need for more female membership and leadership in the club. When will the club wake up that this is one of our significant failings?

After a nice bounce in membership the club then continued to shrink albeit more gradually. We had new leadership, a renewed ChainLetter, and lots of rides. There was speculation that we were now “post gay” and younger LGBTQ adults were happy to socialize in non-LGBTQ cycling clubs. At the same time newer LGBTQ cyclists were flocking to ALC instead of Different Spokes. ALC provides the same sense of purpose and mission that Bike-A-Thon did and although not exclusively LGBTQ it is heavily populated by us and has a serious queer vibe. Adding in the nearly year-round training rides around the Bay Area and what you have in everything except name is another queer cycling club. Instead of the tail wagging the dog, the tail IS the dog!

In the meantime member Chris Thomas decided that he would take club charity fundraising as a personal mission and started Double Bay Double, a two-day ride around the greater Bay Area to raise money for the SF AIDS Foundation. His concept was to host an event so diminutive that it would be swift(er) and easy(er) to organize and pull off, which is why it was limited to no more than 50 riders. Although he had help from the club with recruitment and training rides and got some assistance from SFAF, he really ran the show with a small coterie of enthusiastic volunteers. As with Bike-A-Thon the effort was primarily done by a small number of Spokers and it did not capture the imagination of most members of the club, and so it too came to an end after seven years, our most recent foray into “more than just a recreational cycling club” terrain. Perhaps if it had been an event with a higher profile, it would have helped energize the club. But keeping it small and simple was the goal rather than to put on and support a much bigger (and thus burdensome) event.

The club continued to shrink gradually until the 2019 board held an all-board weekend retreat to get to know each other, bond, and strategize a resurgence. I’m not in a position to give an unfettered and neutral account of where are today since I have been part of that board. But from the get-go that 2019 incoming board knew that we had our hands full with trying to lift the club out of the doldrums. The Saddle Challenge was getting less and less interest, so it was axed even though it was the last vestige of our charity fundraising; we (re)committed to hosting the Jersey Ride monthly because it’s consistently our most popular ride; we started a MeetUp group to test whether we could recruit through a different avenue; we got a new website in order to simplify website management and to integrate and improve communication with members; we consciously revived getaway weekends; and when the opportunity to expand our ride offerings into dirt territory and to shorter rides came up, we grabbed it.

What forty years of survival has taught me is that we should never take the club’s continuation for granted. The club only survives through the effort of its members. We can’t coast. No, really we can’t! When members cease to believe in the mission of the club, then it will fade away perhaps for good. Sure, it’s a place to have fun and meet new friends through one of your favorite activities, cycling. But what makes the club different and special is that it’s a haven where we can be ourselves and to make sure that future LGBTQ cyclists also can be themselves. We have to continually pass it on to the subsequent cohort of LGBTQ cyclists and keep it relevant. To do that we need members to give energy to the club by volunteering to keep it running, to make sure it is there for the next queer cyclist to stumble upon.

Although we’re no longer in the limelight, we have survived for a simple reason that the club provides a place for LGBTQ cyclists to relax safely, be themselves, and find friends. Who like to ride bikes, that is! Whether you’re a dirt biker, a pavement pounder, bike commuter, or Sunday cyclist, there is a place for you in Different Spokes.

…to 2022!