Monday, April 22, 2013

I learned I was not FAST... and LOVED IT

A big reason why I write this blog is because I believe there is a connection between writing and all the crazy things I do which I will group under the term "athletics". Maybe it's not an obvious one: as an athlete, you move and as a writer, you do the best work when your ass is in the chair. But the mentality:  the sticking with it even when it sucks, the loneliness of being "in your own head", the temptation to "not try so hard" those things-- the writing and the athletics share.   

So I guess that's where I start today, on the near 103-mile ride that would sneak up on Saturday after a challenging week at work and, as rides like this do, bite me where it hurts in all the wrong moments. And on Sunday, I'd head to Lodi for a stroke clinic and learn how wrong I've been all this time on how I do freestyle and back (with an emphasis on my creative interpretation of back.)

But how I needed to learn I am not fast or as strong as I thought. And how happy I am I went and knew: I could survive and learn and still-- even as old as I am-- become better. 

The group on Danville Blvd headed out to Sunol and the Reservoir.  Notice I'm not wearing arm-warmers!! For the first time in months I DIDN'T HAVE TO!!
The 9:00 AM start today was glorious. I didn't even need my arm-warmers and they immediately became an ornament on my handlebars, like a flag.  We had a large group, starting out and we rode, peloton-style, along the flat of Danville Boulevard and I took my turn pulling early, eager for the miles, I guess, but also to forget the other life I lead when my ass is in a chair and not a bike saddle. 

I wasn't sure I wanted to do the bonus miles, even from the start: I kept worrying about the swim clinic on Sunday and I didn't want to blow my legs out for that; but HOT DAMN it was nice out and there was no wind (for the first time in AGES) and I thought: will there ever-ever be another day like this? So I signed myself on for the bonus miles at about mile 10, regardless of how I did. Strong. Shitty. Not matter: I was going long because the sun was out and the poppies are blooming orange and because I CAN. 

So: the ride out past Dublin to Sunol is mostly unremarkable. I kept up in the pace line, but when it broke, I fell behind at first, before I was able to get my legs going and catch up and pass riders, one by one. One person rode to the far left which made passing treacherous (I don't want to have a face-on collision with a car) and when I'd shout out to him, he wouldn't move over. Grrr....) But that was probably a good thing since he would be turning back early due to a bad spoke and bald tires around mile 60 or so. 


Cisco Dave and Chris in front of the Steam Train.

The first stop at Sunol: there was an ACTUAL STEAM TRAIN THERE and I got all nostalgic: my grandfather had a particular fascination with the trains and spent is spare hours building meticulous models by hand of the old steam engines in scale-- so meticulous that the miniature boilers fed by coal would would actually run.  He made every rivet, and every bolt by hand; and I still remember those mini-trains. They remind me of home, oddly. 

It was interesting to learn a lot of the other riders had family members who had- in some way-- worked or had some connection with trains. This almost over-sahdowed the browning SaniHut that hadn't been cleaned since 1/31/13. ALMOST because a bathroom with no attention shouts with its own distinctive-- and hardly ignorable--voice.  

From there, we could climb into Calaveras Reservoir: a mostly up, but sometimes down and curvy, affair. Franco-- a newer member of our group-- shot out in front after I'd alternated the lead of the pace line with Chris-- and I just assumed I was slow and he was annoyed. Jay, however, came up to my rear wheel and assured me we'd catch him in the hills. 

Too soon, it's ALL A-WARD! With Ward (right) and me as we continue the ride to the reservoir.


I can't say we worked together on this one... it was more like a race to the top! The road would turn, climb, descend, turn a bit over 90-degrees and climb again before repeating that pattern. It took a while for me to get the pattern of the changing undulations and soon Ward, Jay and I were trading leads, pushing hard, not wanting to be left behind. Cisco Dave, Jose and Franco were so far in front of us that I could no longer see them; but I-- being a cautious downhiller-- wasn't really looking out in front too far. I was more worried about the terrain immediately in front of my wheel.

Early in the climb, Jay surged ahead of me and took this shot with what-- at the time-- seemed mere inches from my face. I thought it would be awful. But in fact, it's my favorite cycling pic yet. I look so happy; you'd have no idea how awful I felt climbing that hill!

I would be lying if I said it wasn't a hard battle. Both Ward and Jay are incredible cyclists and the fact that I kept up at all amazes me, looking back. Retrospect also grants me the insight that I attacked at all the wrong moments-- just before a downhill when Ward's ability to fly down the hill, corner the turns, etc were an immediate disadvantage to me and Jay's steady climbing a virtue when I had no idea how far an ascent would go. I tried to bring it home, pulling up and pushing down on the pedals, my heartrate at 181, cornering sharper than I normally do, but I was no match for Ward who is simply--tactically-- a better cyclist than I am. Ward, after the ten mile of turns and climbs, the head of our pack followed by Jay and I. 

Then we did the silliest thing EVER: we rode DOWN A STEEP HILL, TURNED AROUND AT THE BOTTOM AND CLIMBED BACK UP AGAIN. I had no idea this was a part of the program; and after the lovely rest on my legs, was somewhat irked I had to climb up that damn thing again. "Whose f***ing idea was this?: I felt like saying, but didn't since I had to focus on the climb and trying to salvage my pride since I am not, my far, the fastest member of this cycling group. 

Climbing back up the ridiculousness that is THE WALL! I'm in the back since I didn't actually think we were climbing up that hill we just went down

Climbing up THE WALL and wondering why I was doing this, LOL! But it was a lovely place;  thank goodness it's warm again.


We re-grouped on some person's driveway in the shade of an oak tree. Chris, who should be careful of feeding me too much lest I start to depend on her generosity like a stray cat, gave me my favorite ride-treat: a PB n' J Bonk Bar. Along with the last of my water in the bottles, it was heavenly. I could have sat on that rock, savoring the bar, for another hour, probably. The team regrouped quickly, however, and after a few quips about Ward's leg-gash, and the result of Cisco Dave's hydration control on a road sign, we were off to go back and up (and down) to Sunol to continue our ride. 

Ward and I lounging in the shade of a driveway. Chris gave me a peanut-butter and jelly Bonk Bar (HEAVEN).

I rode with Cisco Dave most of the way down. I asked him about his upcoming event-- the Devil Mountain Double-- and if he felt ready for the 206 miles. After all, he'd be riding by here, too... but instead of having only ridden, say 50 miles, he will have done (perhaps) 100 more. I looked for Eagles, too, that apparently keep nests in the area. I don't believe I saw a single one, though there were a number of larger, darker birds that always circled high, as though searching for prey or carrion, below. 

The flats before Sunol again became a race. Franco, Chris I and I; then Cisco Dave shoots by with Ward and Jay behind him. I tried to close the gap sinking low in my drops to become as small as I could, but even at 27 mph, I couldn't (quite) do it. 


Back to Sunol again our ride group parted ways.

Our group headed up Palomares. Here is Cisco Dave (left) and Ward (right). 

Those on the 80-mile loop would head back to Walnut Creek, turning right. The rest of us would turn left and climb Palomares Canyon. I love this side of the climb: the other is shorter but significantly steeper so that you might contemplate killing yourself to end the pain once or twice on the way up especially if you have some miles on your legs already. This side, however, is longer and the climb more gradual. Also: you get to move at a slower pace and see the scenery which is both beautiful and slightly strange: the large ranches, the odd piece of furniture (thrown?) into the creek, the dappled light of trees, the winery in the middle of nowhere (with an open tasting room?) an estate sale, a peacock. I sometimes wonder if I'd even blink if an alien walked up to me on some of these lonely roads or if I'd simply nod and keep pedaling, assuming it was a part of the landscape. 

I really tried to keep pace with Cisco Dave but I'm not that strong or fit anymore. He pulled ahead of me and I did my best, on my own, to keep moving. I would get to the top after Dave, though and wait beneath the shade of an oak tree before we all descended back to Dublin and back home.

On the ride home, I would see the group leave me and be saved by a red light; I just don't have the sprinting legs for the flats. On hills, I'm fantastic. On level ground, I am a lazy cyclist: doing only what I want and not what I can. How I loved those red lights coming back down the boulevard. They meant I would not be left behind.

We ran into a woman on the way back-- in a full racing kit. She would end up riding with me, home. I learned her name was L* and she started racing two years ago because her husband, who had been racing for years, suggested she try it out. She told me she was-- after the first race-- hooked.

She was what my spirit feels like after a good ride or run or swim: bleeding optimism, happiness and a thirst for more. I admit my legs were having trouble keeping up with her pace, but I didn't mind, listening to her stories of racing: of victories and crashes, of long training hours, and of wanting to pursue the sport for the sheer joy of it and purposefully not engaging in the drama of a large all-woman team. I wish I was fitter; I'd have signed on right there; but I'm not. And I let her ride on when I reached my street.

But I don't think I'll forget that attitude: you ride because you love it. And I do: I love all the sports I do, otherwise I wouldn't wake up so early each morning to make them a part of my day. Or wake up the next day for a swim clinic, either. 

But it's all in the hope I can be better. And you know, if I keep it up, one day I might be.

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