Saturday, March 28, 2015

Corazón a Través del Alta de California

If you go to the X-Features in Strava, you'll find the beta version of Time-Warp - I'm not sure it's up anymore.  Time-Warp allows you to view KOMs in specific timeframes - sort of the opposite of the "2015 KOMs" they introduced this year - like, who had the KOM up Old La Honda in 2010?  A hidden feature in Time-Warp is the ability to follow historic figures, so I started following Junipero Serra.  There's a modified Fly-By feature, too, which lets you ignore the year and just compare the same day and time; it's a little buggy because there was no such thing as Daylight Savings Time when Junipero was riding, but it was interesting to look at his rides compared to the current day Heart Across America.

Serra was a Franciscan friar from Spain in the late 1700s and a heck of a bike rider, according to Strava Time-Warp.  Apparently, he did his winter training in Baja, but lived in Carmel - near Monterey, CA.  Strava did not have clubs at the time, nor did Google have groups.  So Serra founded Missions: Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá in 1769 then on further north until he bumped into some Russian clubs.  Serra couldn't take any KOMs from the Russians, who dominated the gloomy north coast and OWNED Russian Hill in San Francisco. Or should I say "Rey de la montaña"?  Hmm, maybe "Король горы" further north.

As you know, Serra used the Missions to convert the local cyclists to Christianity.  And they needed it - they all seemed to be obsessed with - nay, WORSHIPPED - Mount Diablo.  Judging from my own experience dodging cyclists on that hill, I'd say the devil has won.  Serra recruited local cyclists.  I'm guessing they didn't have "no-drop" rides because the literature is full of stories of "punishing" rides and a lot of the locals actually died.  Worse than Eddy Merckx - the cannibal.  I haven't found any evidence that Serra actually ate other club riders, FYI.

From Serra's Instagram account
Serra rode an old Orbea with Compagnolo components.  Likely the Roman components were the spoils from some previous border transgression. Today, we'd probably call it a cross bike.  He had several bikes, of course - doesn't everybody?  He also had a time trial bike from the defunct Euskady tribe in the Basque region.  It had make-shift aero bars and he had a BMX-style aero helmet from Specialized.  Rumor has it that Greg LeMond stole the idea from his 4th grade history class.

Most of the activities on Serra's Strava page were point-to-point rides.  He wasn't one for out-and-backs or loops.  His Missions were spaced roughly 30 miles apart because he didn't have bottle cages on his bike and Camelbaks hadn't been invented yet.  He'd get a bit dehydrated, but life was tough back then.  30 miles would take all day on a horse or three days on foot, according to local legend.  With the Orbea and 35mm tires, his PR between Missions was just under three hours - it was all hard-pack gravel back then and a few streams to cross.  He replaced a lot of tubes; sidewall cuts, pinch flats, and some flats that looked like pinch flats but were actually rattlesnake bites.  His carbon-soled sandals were okay (charcoal), but the leather straps didn't fare well in the water.  The wool kit (habit or robe) was a special multi-layer fabric that wicked sweat from his body and had the three-color stripes of the Spanish national champion on the collar.  Such a Fred.

The Heart Across America ride started last Sunday in Palo Alto, a few blocks from current-day El Camino Real.  In this part of the state, current-day El Camino is very close to Serra's El Camino Real (aka, the Mission Trail, King's Highway or the Royal Road).  Serra would ride from Mission to Mission; Maloney and crew headed west that afternoon, hotel to hotel.  They rode down the coast and ended up in Davenport, just north of Santa Cruz.  Serra would have headed east from Mission Santa Clara de Asis (Santa Clara) to Mission San Jose (Fremont), then southwest to Mission Santa Cruz.  On Day 2, Serra went inland to Mission San Juan Bautista and then meeting Maloney, who hugged the coastline, finishing in Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo (Carmel).
"We're on a mission from God" - Elwood Blues

At that point, the two paths separated with Serra heading inland for smoother roads while Maloney hugged the cliffs and beaches of the coast, benefiting from the nice pavement on Highway 1 - and accelerating several days ahead of Serra.  Their paths met again in San Luis Obispo (Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa).  They skipped Mission La Purísima Concepción and met again at Mission Santa Inés (Solvang), and Mission Santa Barbara (guess where) and Mission San Buenaventura (Ventura) - two days more advantage to Maloney.

The Los Angeles area Missions are slightly inland from the Heart Across America route.  The two are fairly close at Dana Point (Mission San Juan Capistrano) and then aligned again in Oceanside (Mission San Luis Rey de Francia).  From there, it's Serra on his TT bike against Maloney down into San Diego (Mission San Diego de Alcalá).  With rest days and media engagements, Maloney and the Heart Across America team take 12 days.  A shiny new van full of spare parts, food and their clothes followed along, taking no extra time.  Serra never appeared to go back-to-back all the way from Santa Clara to San Diego, according to his Strava activities.  It seems feasible that he could have done it in nine days, assuming he could recover properly.  If you stop at each Mission, Serra's Mission Trail takes 22 days which would be necessary with his many business engagements.  But that's not a completely fair comparison because Serra's SAG wagon was literally a wagon - a horse-drawn wagon accompanied by others on foot.  If Serra had Maloney's SAG wagon (and pavement), he could have made it a close race.  We'd need Bill and Ted's phone booth to really know for sure.

In his day, Serra had a ton of KOMs.  Most were flat segments - the locals could take him on the climbs.  He continued to set PRs into his forties, but had crippling leg problems.  I suspect he didn't have his seat adjusted properly (purely conjecture).  Certainly, his cadence was dramatically lower than Maloney's which would have helped his knees.

What I found most interesting was the low number of kudos.  I think the local cyclists had higher standards for kudos.  Spanish cyclists back in Spain would likely have missed many of Serra's activities because of the time zone - they didn't want to scroll down the parchment far enough to see his rides.  Again, purely conjecture.

If anyone reading this has Time-Warp and follows Serra, leave a comment if you noticed something else.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Heart Across America Day 3

  1. I told all my friends I'd be riding over 100 miles today and something close to 5,700 feet of climbing.  See the "route selection" section for my excuse-laiden, rationalization of why the actual ride was far less than advertised.
  2. If you zoom in to the Strava route, you'll see some meandering. That's me muttering to myself about how I got lost again (multiple times).  Including the very first turn.  With navigational aides, I'm not such a good navigator for some reason. Without, I'm just average.
  3. You may wonder if I was tempted to add some distance to make the 100 mile threshold.  Yes, it occurred to me but I was having navigational difficulties, I was in a densely urban area, I wanted to see my family, I wanted to avoid rush-hour traffic and, frankly, I was rather tired.
  4. I set the alarm the night before, 6am.  I confirmed that it was actually 6 "am" with that little light on the clock and that the volume was up.  What I didn't do was check that the current time was correct (am versus pm).  It was not correct.  It all worked out, but I felt like confessing that, too.
[End of Confession, or at least what I'm willing to confess] 

Parting Ways

Up at 6am, dressed, packed and ready to roll by 6:45am.  One of those things that I wouldn't do at home, but seemed rather adventurous on the road was to sleep with my bike in the room.  For safety reason, I assure you.  The group had planned to meet at 7am, we all gathered for bagels, fruit and espresso.  Sean needs his espresso.  He brought his own machine and a small pallet of single-serve espresso packets for the machine.  It was 54 degrees but felt colder.

Dave reminded the group about safety, about drafting to save energy and Sean cut to the chase and said "keep the pace slow today."  We had a couple people take the discretionary route and skip today, mending their aches in order to ride again later.  I said my good-byes and wished everyone luck for the hard ride they had in front of them.  Even though I'd be riding farther, the had more climbing in store.

I found Sean and thanked him for the opportunity to ride with this impressive group.  I said I'd see him in Mississippi.  And I said I'd go back and do more fund raising.  He blew me a kiss.  Sometimes, that might be weird, but from Sean I could feel the gratitude, the sincerity, the love.

I sat at the intersection waiting to turn left while everyone rolled by me making the right turn down Highway 1.  Now, I was on my own.  Just me and my Garmin to guide me.  And my Garmin said I was off course.  Apparently, instead of climbing Highway 1 during rush hour, they wanted me to go through sleepy Carmel streets.  Turning left or making a U-turn are next to impossible

Heading North

I traced the route from yesterday, backwards, into Monterey.  Near the first touristy wharf on the bay, I picked up the bike path.

I'd been here many times before, including a family outing on the bay in kayaks.  I could see people on the beach, learning the strokes while standing next to their kayak, wearing full wet-suits.  If you've never been to Monterey Bay, the water is exceptionally cold.  This is Northern California.  The water gets very deep, very quickly.  Aside from cold water, it also brings sea lions, migrating whales, Orcas (killer whales) and huge chunks of seaweed.

The path is full of runners, dog walkers, bikers pedaling at walking speed, homeless people and, now, me.  The urban scene fades and the path takes me up over the dune as it wraps around the northbound section of the bay.  No marine layer today (sorry, no fog).  My camera cannot do justice to the colors, the brightness, the expansiveness of this place.  Trust me, it is incredible.

The path is reasonably flat and I'm "haulin' the mail" whenever I'm not in a cross-wind.  Nothing against my friends from the Heart Across America ride, but it really feels good to grab a big gear and put some power down - 25mph or so.  Not the smartest thing to do when you've got 80 miles and 5,000 feet left to go.  So what.

I stop for coffee in Marina.  And a muffin.  As is usually the case on this trip, I try to get the barista to talk with me about the ride.  I'm not usually one to talk anymore than is absolutely necessary.  Invisibility is usually the goal, once I've been served.  But I'll admit, this ride is a big deal and my ego wants the boost.  And if the conversation goes well, I'll hand them one of my fundraiser cards.  Not today, but I did get a mildly impressed raise of an eyebrow.

Back on the path, back on the gas.  This photo on the left gives you an idea of what I see when I'm not looking at the ocean.  That little spec on the path at the horizon is a cyclist who passed me.  Time to hunt him down.

I catch up to Joe (John?) who confessed that he'd been trying to catch me for miles and only did because I stopped to take that picture.  We ride and chat for several miles.  We take turns leading into the wind, but he can't hold my wheel.  I'm trying.  We merge onto Highway 1 by Elhorn Slough.  After a little rise in the road I realize he's further behind, so I soft-pedal.  Then I get the bright idea to pull out a fundraiser card since I know he's going to turn soon.  He's not on Strava (I know, really?), so we'll never connect electronically again.  But he turns.  And I turn inland towards Watsonville.

I've never spent any time in Watsonville, and I didn't see anything today that makes me want to come back.  It could be the route.  Ironically, I get imprisoned behind a bus on Freedom Blvd.  Old ladies pushing granny carts are passing me (okay, not really).  A full-suspension mountain bike would struggle through these potholes (okay, again, not really).  Eventually, I get out of town and turn towards Corralitos and within minutes I'm in the countryside.  I see the school.  I see a sign for Dee Dee's Taqueria and Big J's Pizza.  It's 11:30am and since there's 3,000 feet of hill to climb on the other side of town, I figure it's lunchtime.  I roll past.  I see a little gazebo across the street from the Carrolitos Market and Sausage Company.  I go back to Big J's.

I chat with the young lady behind the counter while my slice of cheese and mushroom pizza is warming.  Her mom is visiting from Montreal.  She hadn't heard about the Heart Across America ride, but she has people in her life who've had heart trouble.  I give her my card and tell her to look for the documentary.  I sit outside with my pizza, RC Cola and a frozen Crunch bar.  Oh yeah, that's going to be a big help climbing that hill (not).  I text my wife, then roll.

Route Selection

Why is it that I'm heading up this hill from this cute little town?  There are dozens of ways home.  I had narrowed it down to two.  I rejected going over Hecker Pass towards Morgan Hill and then North.  That had the advantage of the least amount of climbing.  The risks were narrow shoulders and impatient drivers up the pass, and then potential headwind all the way to San Jose.  I don't mind climbing, and I don't like crazy drivers.  I also rejected the idea of going all the way up the coast to Tunitas Creek.  That would have been well over 100 miles, with one of the toughest climbs saved for late in the ride.  100 miles is hard, regardless, and I didn't necessarily want to retrace the majority of the previous two days.

One reasonable option was retracing to Santa Cruz and then taking Glen Canyon up to Scotts Valley and then to Highway 9.  It's a tough climb, too - over 7,500 feet - and climbing late in the ride.  But Highway 9 means not taking Old Santa Cruz Highway down to Los Gatos, which includes a quarter mile on Highway 17 and a bit of gravel.  Highway 17 is not an interstate, but close to it.  Most of it forbids bicycles, but "technically" I'd only be on an on/off ramp.  So Glen Canyon had its appeal.
Profile for the Glen Canyon route
I settled on Eureka Canyon to Summit Road and the aforementioned sketchiness of highways and gravel traps.  Why?  I'll say that the climbing is moderate and comes earlier in the ride.  Frankly, I kept asking people and the last guy I talked to preferred this one.  (He lives up there, so I trust him.  Now that it's done, I still trust him.)  Eureka Canyon also has the least amount of traffic.
Profile for Eureka Canyon

The Bell Curve of Civilization

It's an interesting experience to bike in the rugged mountains of Northern California.  They are steep and the valleys are flat.  So it takes only a few minutes to go from one of the densest urban centers in California to desolation.  It reminds me of touring the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.  When you walk along the memorial, you start by standing above it and your peripheral vision captures the whole of The Mall with all the memorials and city skyline.  But as you walk, you go down so that the wall grows above you until your only sense is that of the way.  You read the names of those who died, you think of how young they were, their families.  Then slowly you rise along the sidewalk as the wall gets shorter and releases you back to reality.  It's so well done.

Riding from Watsonville, to Carrolitos, to the single-lane road that twists up "the hill" - as everyone calls this mountain range - is a similar experience.  Riding with a group, you sometimes miss the transition and get hit suddenly with the realization that you're not in town anymore.  Riding alone, you see it coming.  You feel the temperature drop, you see different foliage, you hear the burbling stream.  As small as you felt next to the ocean (and behind a bus), you feel small again at the base of the redwoods.

Part of being a Strava Maniac, is that awareness that the first time to ride any particular road, you won't get the digital equivalent of a medal.  You don't get any digital credit at all.  But the second time, if you ride faster, then you get a "personal record" badge for all your data-obsessed friends to kudo.  So we've all learned not to go too fast the first time we ride a new segment.  It takes the pressure off.  And you just enjoy the ride.

I really enjoyed this ride.

Just like walking the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall, gradually I noticed more ambient light, rising temperatures, and sensed the dramatic drop-offs just over the shoulder of the road.  When you are near the top, the road and the vistas open up.  I can't be sure, but I think I could see Monterey Bay behind me.  I think that fuzzy white area in that gap was the beach at Sand City.  Again, my camera is not good enough to capture what will forever be etched in my mind.

I could have stopped every twenty feet as some new jaw-dropping view appeared.  It's like watching a fire or watching the waves on the beach, it's mesmerizing.  But unlike fire or water, this view is not fleeting.  You can stop and take it all in.  You can even perch your only mode of transportation on a 1,000-foot cliff for a photo.  Again, not the smartest thing to do.  ...nothing to confess, here.

At this point, I'm 55 miles into a century and it's almost 2pm.  I gotta get home.  Time to hammer.  One nice thing about climbing, is descending.  Scroll back up to the profile and you'll notice that it's nearly flat on top for awhile.  That's Summit Road.  Since it's not a 10% uphill grade, I'm happy to hammer.  And I do.  And my reward is Old Santa Cruz Highway down the hill.  The road is smooth and the turns have fairly predictable radii and it's a bomber run.  I find myself thinking, what would George Mount do on this descent.  Well, he'd either be at the bottom already or he'd be laughing at me.  Check that, he'd be smiling because he's "smilin' George".

A flash if brightness on my right.  Blue.  Lexington Reservoir.  Probably pretty, but no time for photos.  Whoa, where'd this hill come from.  Argh, big ring ...little ring, climbing cog.  Uh oh, merging onto Highway 17 at Bear Creek Road.  Here we go.  Speed.  Don't look.  Focus on the off-ramp.  Whew.  Oh crud, left turn down the back-side of the dam.  That means gravel.  Descending with the brakes on, I can't tell if I'm rolling or skidding - I'm just hoping I don't get a flat.  Dusty.  When does this end.  Finally, there's a steep 10-yard climb to pavement.  Like Captain Kirk, I'm suddenly transported from a dusty gravel trail to one of the poshest neighborhoods in the South Bay - Los Gatos.  Okay, so this Bell Curve is a bit abrupt at the end.

Back Home Again

The memories rush back.  I used to live nearby.  My wife and I had our second date at the California Cafe on University Avenue.  Around the corner is a diner where we've eaten so many times.  Nice town.  I grind away down to Saratoga and stop at Starbucks for water and a chocolate brownie.  I have a nice chat with Robin, a cyclist who happened to be sitting there.  We swap bike stories, talk about rides we've done or might like to do, geek out about bike technology.  I give him my card so he can send me a link to his iMovie.  As you do.

Blindly following wherever my Garmin points me, I share some shoulder on Holmstead with another cyclist - nice bike with Di2, disk breaks and a Moonsaddle.  He's no strangler to 200km rides.  We part ways near Gunn High School in Palo Alto and I find my way to Sean's house.  I knock on the door to say thanks ("no, we should be thanking you!").  As I leave, Jaril runs out to talk some more - he's one of the highly dedicated, small staff behind the Heart Across America ride.  Eventually he says, "You're going to New York, right?  You HAVE to go to New York for the finish!"

While I ponder the logistics of a trip to New York (which isn't going to happen for me), I am confronted with Bay Area traffic.  For an hour and a half I think mostly about the fact that if I had ridden all the way home on my bike, I'd probably get there at the same time.  But the drive helps me transition back to reality.  It's been a wonderful vacation.

Five weeks until the next one!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Heart Across America Day 2

Dawn brightens the tiny hotel room in Davenport through the bathroom window. I can smell the ocean. There's something calming about the sea especially on the west coast where the sun rises behind you. As I walk next door for breakfast, my pace slows to take it all in. There's no one out but me. The ocean expands across the horizon in relative stillness, just the rhythmic sound of the waves relentlessly caressing the shore. Time for coffee and eggs.

Inside, I see friends getting ready to order; they pull up a chair for me. Organic local coffee or Honduran? Organic. Then back to the room, pack the bag, check the tires and stuff some food in my pockets. Looks like great weather today, cool and clear. Fists in the center, a cheer on the count of three and off we go.

Today is different. Today is rolling family. I know everyone, some better than others but it's a tight-knit, no-drop ride. Aside from an early bio-break and a search for more coffee (Starbucks appeared before we saw "The Ugly Mug"), the first part of the ride is business - let's get away from the urban parts.

Santa Cruz is eclectic, laid back but not always cyclist-friendly. An old man yells at us as we roll past his house, "you're supposed to stop at stop signs!" Sean reminds us that there's a cyclist injured every week here. The rise and fall and turns of the road increase as we get further south. Then we're in the shelter of trees with the constant smell of the salty air. And just as quickly it changes to rollers then flat, exposed farmland.

Now we're heading into the south-westerly breeze. There's not enough shoulder for a proper echelon, so everyone suffers; everyone tires. Except Randy. Out of the saddle, pulling away, thinking we're all in his wake. He waits. We catch up. By now we all know who's capable of what, who's a bit wobbly, apt to touch the brakes, or chomping at the bit. As if, ...with 4,900 miles to go!

Less time for photos today. We stop, of course, but we just talk - at least I do. Surprisingly, because every vista is a postcard - from coastal bluffs to Elkhorn Slough to the Dole Fruit packing plant (maybe not that). I didn't notice passing the entrance to Cal State Monterey Bay (formerly Fort Ord). The body of water for which it's named was more compelling.

A bit more urban riding through Monterey, then up and over the hill. Okay, a little more up than necessary because of my mis-navigation. Half the crew detoured downtown to ride 17 Mile Drive, avoiding the hill but adding an hour. And certainly adding an experience of a lifetime. But I'm thinking of tomorrow.

Actually, I spent the last half of the ride regretting that I'll leave my friends and ride back home tomorrow. I'd spent so long looking forward to this, and it's been more than I hoped. A blessing and a curse, my whole life I've been looking ahead, planning ahead, deferring, saving. I never live for the moment. With cycling, I find myself living in the moment more often than other times. And that's one of the many reasons I love it.

Day 2 profile - mostly flat, except for the hill between Monterey and Carmel

Monday, March 23, 2015

Heart Across America Day 1

6:58am, still asleep but random thoughts trickle through my mind in a dream: my wife's up so I can pull some more covers my way, it's cold, why did I have that third glass of wine last night, bike ride today ...BIKE RIDE TODAY!  Little adrenaline shot.  Okay, time to get up.

I'm skipping the ceremonial prologue from Intel headquarters to Palo Alto City Hall, so I've slept in unlike many other riders.  Nice.  I like to sleep.  Possibly more than your average person.  I scroll through a dozen emails from well-wishers while eating my Cheerios.  I've got one email from a friend asking about arterial ultrasounds.  How timely.  My wife leaves for the Oakland Half-Marathon.  She does half-marathons as often as I do half-centuries; okay, maybe not.  My Eddington number is 55 (and will be 56 tomorrow).
I had packed most everything already, but I pull it out and repack it.  I check my packing list and find things I had forgotten.  Now the pack weights 9.8 pounds.

My wife texts me from BART: rain in Castro Valley.  The forecast says a chance of rain, but the radar is clear.  Doesn't matter.  It's not raining on our parade, today.  The first time I met Sean Maloney, we did a ride up Old La Honda road and were heading to the coast when it started to rain - pouring rain.  I was shivering so badly down Hwy 84 that my front wheel was wobbling out of control.  I had to quit.  Sean didn't want to quit.  He said it's going to rain during the Heart Across America ride and he'll have to ride anyway.  He's tough.

Derek Campbell and I drove to Palo Alto and ride over to City Hall to meet up with the ride. The street was closed off and full of sponsors' booths. Sean was giving a speech whipping the crowd up We had a few photo ops and a "Let's Ride" cheer. Then they rolled out for a 3-mile, police-escorted ride to H-P headquarters ...I think. I stayed back to help Donna with a flat tire.

Donna's brother-in-law died in 2013 of a heart attack. Victoria Dupuy, his wife, runs "No More Broken Hearts" a partner on this ride. Donna was on a borrowed bike and hoping that the tube someone gave her would hold air. It wouldn't. She was okay, but it broke my heart that she couldn't ride.

I had volunteered to be "the sweeper" on the ride - stay behind the slowest riders and help anyone who needed it. That made this a much different experience than I had anticipated. Instead of a big group ride in the comfort of people I know well and have logged hundreds ( thousands) of miles with, I met strangers and somehow, again, became an ambassador for the Heart Across America group.

After Donna, I rode alone to H-P in time to see the first people leaving. I waited for the last stragglers, most of whom were turning back for home. I came across a couple on a tandem, fixing a flat so I stopped and chatted. They had seen our peloton roll by but couldn't read anything but "Heart" on their jerseys due to the speed. How appropriate. I spent twenty minutes with them talking to the wife while the husband changed the tube. They were from Ohio and I'm from Michigan ...small world.

When I turned on to Sand Hill Road, it started to sprinkle and I saw the first Hearts Across America rider coming down from Skyline. I was way behind but happily in no hurry.

Then I rolled up toward Old La Honda and saw a man and his son resting. They were fine and had the navigation on their iPhone. The son, maybe 12 years old, was riding a fixie. "Are you riding up the hill on that?", I asked. "I made it this far", he said. All right then, I guess he'll make it with that attitude! So I went on to Old La Honda by myself.

I stopped at the bridge to ponder all those who ride up this skinny, twisty road. For a moment, I thought, hey, I'm free to attack this hill ...but not today. I was trying to remember what Eric Heiden's address was - George Mount had told me (how's that for gratuitous name-dropping?). Steady tempo, easy, beautiful ride.  I passed a few people and tried to guess if they were on the ride with us. I found a pack of HAA jerseys, a couple guys and a guy about 10 years old maybe.

I rode with them to the top. Some guy from the Netherlands. The dad of the son taking him up Old La Honda for the first time - I was privileged to be a part of it. I picked up the pace so I could take a photo when the reached the mail boxes at the top. Cool.

Most of the people at the top were heading back down from there. But the guy from the Netherlands, Martin, seemed to want to continue without his friends. So we rode together. First through some twisty downhill section that connects to Hwy 84. It was slow enough to talk. Martin was on his fourth bike ride! He was inspired to ride by Sean's determination. See, Martin is Sean's neurologist. Small world. Then we (I) almost got taken out by a Fiat 500 screaming up the hill and cutting the apex when I was riding in the middle. I yelled "sorry" as if I was Canadian instead of the stream of expletives boiling underneath. Without missing a beat, Martin said "so you were saying how you met Sean..."

Once on the flatter roads I entered commuter mode, about 20 mph, pointing out road hazards, forgetting Martin was a relative rookie. Every time I looked he was right up behind me. Impressive!

Martin and I rolled into San Gregorio to find a dozen Heart Across America riders finishing a break. Perfect. From there on Martin is shepherded by the pack and I drift to the back again. I take a few photos to let some slower riders catch up. 

Steve, from Northern England
I spent time off and on again with Steve. He's from Northern England and looks to be in his seventies. Great guy. Friends of his will pick up the ride in Chicago. Of course he's been touched br heart disease - not himself but friends and relatives; some who died too soon. He's riding a classic old steel bike, 30 years old he said. We pulled into Davenport together.

After a beer or two with my commute buddies, people start to scatter. Some go home. Some go to Santa Cruz to other hotels. Those who stay adjourn to dinner. It's like warriors after battle, Thanksgiving with your crazy cousins, and old home week all rolled into one. 

For me, it was a day with a lot of solo riding mixed with strangers who now feel like friends. It was unbelievably beautiful, and diverse, and inspiring. It was a day to talk about the cause, since that's what we had in common.

The author, Dave and Rich - fraternity brothers

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Packing List

 I'm a big fan of lists.  I should really use them more often.

Normally, on a weekday commute or a weekend bike ride, I don't make a list.  Most things either stay in my seat bag (two tubes, key tools) or get packed in my back-pack the night before (clothes for work, energy gels, lighter weight bike clothes for the commute home) or I pack just before the ride (two water bottles, rain gear if it's threatening, money, phone inside a zip-lock).  It's almost automatic.

But Sunday, I need to pack for Monday and Tuesday as well.  I'm a Randonneur, so I'm self-supported.  And I'll need the biking equivalent of an overnight bag.  I prefer electronic checklists with little boxes and each item disappearing as I check it off.  But this is a blog, so you'll need to endure my rambling text explaining each item as if you really wanted to know.

Imagine me standing and pointing with both hands at my feet, then sequentially up my body until I have both index fingers pointing at my brain.

What to wear:

  1. Bike Shoes (only one pair; I've checked the weather and I shouldn't get soaked with rain)
  2. Street Shoes (boat shoes; the flattest shoes I own so they'll pack more easily, but also marginally acceptable in restaurants - better than flip-flops.)
  3. Bike Shoe Covers (the weather should be nice, but it might be damp along the coast in the morning so the shoe covers are worth carrying to keep my feet warm)
  4. Bike Socks (two pair, because they are light and anything could happen ...but not so small that it's worth carrying three pair)
  5. Street Socks (nope, cancel that... this is California and going without socks is more than acceptable)
  6. Leg Warmers (check the weather one more time on Saturday; probably go with knee warmers instead)
  7. Biking Shorts (bibs actually; Giardana, my favorite - I'll spare you the reasons.  I'm going to risk it and only bring one pair.  I can wash them in the sink and dry them out overnight if needed.  They are bulky to carry.)
  8. Underwear (boxers or briefs? I'm not telling.)
  9. Street Pants (I've got some super-thin hiking pants with zippered legs than convert them to shorts if it's really warm - which it won't be since this is northern California along the coast.)
  10. Base Layer (my internal thermostat runs cold, I prefer having an extra layer compared to most of my cycling buddies)
  11. Heart Rate Monitor Strap (not that I frequently monitor my heart rate, but I border on obsessive in terms of collecting data.)
  12. Crashtag (instead of a RoadID, I use something that looks like a dog-tag with my emergency phone numbers and medical insurance data - just in case.  It is a pendant made of titanium and has a slot that makes it a bottle opener - just in case.  It's from
  13. Bike Jersey (Heart Across America, buy one!)
  14. Bike Vest (Heart Across America; again, my thermostat runs cold)
  15. Rain Coat (Showers Pass; I'll pack it.  I don't think I'll need it.  But if we wake up in Davenport or Carmel and need to ride in dense coastal fog or rain, I'll need it.  It's way too risky to ride without one.)
  16. Street Shirt (I think I'll bring a long-sleeve and a T-shirt or polo in some technical fabric - not cotton - and not bring a sweatshirt.  They pack easier and don't get wrinkled.  A sweatshirt, while comfy, is way too bulky.)
  17. Cycling Glasses (Rudy Project, prescription lenses, photo-chromatic)
  18. street glasses (because wearing cycling glasses in a restaurant would look uncool, pack in a case)
  19. Cycling Beanie (headsweats, for that reason ...and to prevent sunburn; just the thin one for summertime, not the thick one that covers my ears when it's 30 degrees out)
  20. Helmet (obviously)
  21. Biking Gloves (long-finger pair and short-finger pair)

So now I am no longer pointing at my head, I'm staring at my hands.  I'll wear half this stuff and pack the other half.  

Stuff for the bike:

  1. Lights (taillight, headlight and helmet light - I use the taillight all the time and I use the helmet light around dawn and dusk.  The headlight that mounts to the bar is used if it's dark or if anything happens to my helmet light.  You can never be too visibly on public roads!)
  2. Water Bottles (two)
  3. Spare Tubes (two, in plastic lunch bags, in another bag so they don't get damaged)
  4. Tire Changing Tool
  5. Chain Changing Tool
  6. Spare Chain Master Link (in case the chain breaks; it almost never happens but it can happen)
  7. CO2 Cartridge and Valve (I also have a pump mounted on the bike)
  8. Spare Tire (I might not bring a spare tire on this trip, since I'll be close to civilization and close enough that I could call home for a ride but I will probably bring one on my five-day trip in May.)

Fuel for the Rider:

  1. Gels (I eat more frequently than most people, so I want food in my pocket.  Untapped Maple - basically syrup, Salted Caramel Gu, Mocha Clif Shots - with caffeine, and Clif Bars.  Two each of the gels and maybe four bars - none for Sunday but two each for Monday and Tuesday.)
  2. Drink Mix (I use Skratch Labs for hydration.  I prefer it over water because of the calories and the electrolytes.  I'll mix up two bottles before I go, and bring individual packets so I can mix up two each on Monday and Tuesday.  I'll also get water on the road whenever they're empty.  I generally consume one bottle every hour-and-a-half.)

First-world necessities:

  1. Garmin GPS (Edge 500, I've already loaded the TCX files so that I have the route available on my handlebars - assuming it can find a GPS satellite.  It shows me my heart rate, which I previously said I don't actually monitor.  Various other data is accessible like speed, elevation, incline, cadence, distance and a host of other information I don't need.  I'll leave the display on the map for navigation and listen to my body for the rest.  Obsessive?)
  2. Phone (since I won't have a laptop to upload my Garmin data, I'll actually run the Strava app on my phone to capture the ride data and upload to Strava.  I'll use the phone to upload photos to Instagram, which is linked to Strava.  I've got the email confirmations from the hotels on my phone.  And I can edit and post to this blog on my phone.  It's so much lighter than a laptop or tablet.  Oh, and I can use it as a phone.)
  3. External USB Batteries (two, so I can recharge my phone during the ride)
  4. USB Cables (mini for the Garmin, micro for the phone and lights, so I can recharge them as well as the external batteries)
  5. AC/USB Adapter (to charge the lights and the above gadgets from the wall outlet in the hotel)
  6. No Map (risky, I know.  But I'm comfortable enough with the routes that I can make it home if all the electronics fail.)
  7. No Jawbone UP to count steps and track my sleep (the fact that I mention this will tell you something)

Off-the-bike stuff:

  1. Wallet (cash, credit card, driver's license ...maybe my AAA card?)
  2. Toothbrush and Toothpaste (hotels don't have this stuff, usually, but they do have shampoo and soap and towels.  My hair is short enough that I won't need to comb it.  I won't shave Monday or Tuesday.)
  3. Sunscreen (smallest tube I can find, SPF 70)
  4. Aspirin (tiny sample bottle)
  5. Heart Across America Business Cards (I'll put them in the zip-lock with my phone. It's likely we'll meet people who ask what we're doing, give them a card and they might donate - right?)

How to pack it all on the bike?

I've got a Pika seat bag from Revelate Designs.  It doesn't have compartments and it rolls up to collapse any unused space.  It's perfect for someone predisposed to excel at spatial relations.  One trick with this sort of bag is to put certain categories of thing in their own bag (big zip-lock will work) inside the main bag.  I've got a bag for clothes, a bag for toiletries, a bag for bike tools/tubes.  It's also important to think about what you'll need to get at quickly. The biggest hurry I'll ever be in, is when the weather changes quickly (rain coat goes in last).  Next, is probably changing a flat tire (tool bag in second-to-last).  I'll have the most time changing into street clothes and brushing my teeth (clothes go in first).

You've probably seen cyclists with panniers and 400lbs or gear strapped to their bike.  The bikes are steel and have fenders.  The cyclists wear wool, ride methodically but don't look happy.  That's not me.  I may not look happy - I've had people ask me "what's wrong" because of the look on my face - but I'm happy.

The pack weighs in at just over seven pounds.

Let's ride!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Before the Heart Across America Ride

We are in the final countdown to the start of Sean Maloney's "Heart Across America" ride.

I thought it was appropriate to look at the relevant history of such rides, and specifically at Day 1.

The very first documented ride across America was in 1884. Thomas Stevens (born not too far from Sean's birthplace in England) rode from San Francisco to Boston, 3,700 miles, in 103 and a half days (20 of which were stopped for weather) - 22 April 1884 through 4 August 1884. Of course, that was still the era of the Pony Express and covered wagons - no bike lanes, no GPS, no pavement. In fact, some sections were completely impassible on wheels so he had to walk. He traveled on rough wagon trails, railroad ways, canal towpaths and irregular public roads. He rode a black-enameled Columbia 50-inch 'Standard' penny-farthing with nickel-plated wheels, built by the Pope Manufacturing Company of Chicago. No carbon.
Thomas Stevens

Sean's route will be longer, but the roads will be better.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is an annual "Race Across America" (RAAM). The current record is 7:15:56 (yes, seven days) by Austrian Christoph Strasser, who averaged over 16mph on the 3,020 mile route from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, MD.

Sean's route will be longer, but he'll get to sleep a bit more.

On Day 1 of the journey, following some local festivities, they will depart from Sean's current hometown of Palo Alto, CA and head over to the Pacific Ocean. The first climbing section is on Old La Honda Road. It's a popular ride for local cyclists. Perhaps that's an understatement. If you are aware of the cycling activity tracking software called Strava, well, Old La Honda Road is the #1 most popular segment in the entire world. And it has a gloried history of its own.
Old La Honda Road

It’s a public road, of course, not formally marked but the agreed start of the hill climb is the stone bridge; the end is the stop sign at the top of the intersection of Old La Honda and Skyline Blvd.

The course record, according to various posts on USENET newsgroups for decades before and Strava data for more recent years, is under 15 minutes. Legend has it that the old record was held either by Dr. Eric Heiden (the Olympic speed-skating champion who lived 2/3rds up Old La Honda), or a guy named Mike Murray. One source quoted Heiden’s time at 14:10. Ryan Sherlock is the current “king of the mountain” on Strava with a time of 14:41.

I may be going out on a limb here, but I think Sean's time will be slower.

I've added some un-edited comments from a blog post about the road (
From "Kamikaze"

We did this climb all the time back in 76-85 or so… it was the beginning of the long rides done twice a week with the Palo Alto Crew. I remember Eric Heiden going on the ride sometimes, but the stalwart climbers were Kieth Vierra and Sterling McBride… sometimes Dave Faust (Fausto) and Davey Mac would be going good, as well. The guys always said that Boyer and Ritchey probably were the fastest but that was all related “legend” wise …not actual times. Hard to believe anybody but LeMond could climb it better than Boyer …I remember us going up it in about 20 minutes every time …but we were younger and fitter then …lots of mist and bumps ...dogs sometimes.
From "Fritz Knochenhauer"

Regarding: OLH fastest times. I rode OLH regularly in the late 70s and early 80s. It was definitely the benchmark time trial climb for Category 1/2 USCF riders. It was the stuff of legend to hear times of sub-17 minutes during those days. I can vouch for only three riders in that category (myself included) and believe that Eric Heiden’s time was to his house NEAR the top and not all the way to the stop sign.
From "East Coaster"

Given that Basso climbed Ventoux at 96 vertical feet per minute that is consistent with what a top pro could do. 90 VFM = 14:20, 96 VFM is under 13:30.
I came across some speculation about Chris Horner’s victory on the Sierra Road climb during the Tour of California – and how that would equate to Old La Honda. (

The next question: what would he (Horner) do for Old La Honda Road? It requires a self-consistent calculation: we know what he can average for 16:47, we have a formula for predicting what he can average for shorter times (the critical power model), so if we know how long it takes to climb OLH we can estimate how much power he could deliver there. But we need to know the power to estimate the time, so it's simplest to use an iterative calculation. Old La Honda climbs 393 meters in 5.42 km. I'll assume a CdA of 0.32 (typical of what was measured by Tour magazine with a dummy) with an air density of 1.15 kg/m². I'll assume a 0.5% coefficient of rolling resistance as Old La Honda has mixed pavement quality. I'll still assume a 0.97 drivetrain efficiency. Playing around with the numbers I get 13.70 minutes = 13:41. 
That would be a record, but only by 17 seconds or so. Greg Drake told me he'd done "sub-14", and it's rumored Eric Wohlberg was even faster. So Horner had a great ride, no question, especially for a master's racer, but the result isn't as insane as it might appear just from the VAM.
And from the website:

Needless to say, competitive cyclists take this road seriously.  I have to admit, the engineer in me loves the analysis.  I also love the contrast of this epic battle against a hill compared to the serenity of the Pacific Ocean awaiting them at the end of the day in the sleepy little town of Davenport.

But let's not lose perspective. This is only Day 1 and it's not about speed. It's a ride across the country. But it's more than that. It's about awareness and leading a heart-healthy lifestyle.  It's all to get people talking about health, heart disease and stroke. You see, Sean is a stroke survivor. He's made an impressive comeback from not being able to talk or walk. He never gave up. And now he's setting out across the country to raise awareness for the American Heart Association and sharing his story. What can you do? Follow along. Consider riding with Sean. Consider getting an arterial ultrasound for your carotid arteries. I got the scan. You should, too. Consider donating. Do it for yourself or for a loved one you've lost. It doesn't matter how much or how little you do, just do something good.