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!

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