"Beauty confronts us with the requirement that we place ourselves among...the redeemers, the leaders in the protection of life. Once you have seen the bush on fire, you are not going to get out of the assignment unless you close your eyes to the beauty.... [You] either have to close your eyes or go back to Egypt and set the people free." - Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, "Rising to the Challenge of Our Times"

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Previously, on (the) Lost (Coast)...

Where was I? Oh yeah. Suddenly, it appeared. Here it is again in case you forgot.

"It" being the Wall, of course. I need to come up with a Homeric-ish trope for it -- 'the fearful quad-destroying path' or something to that effect. Open to suggestions.

When I saw it I understood that my concerns had not been unfounded, though I was so tired of riding up the beach in the headwind that I was glad for something different (theoretically) and also to have reached what felt like the dramatic peak of the whole ride. As I approached I thought it would be good to call on the goddess of the Wall that I would be allowed to humbly pass over it. It seemed like such a route must surely have its own local minor deity. There was a little rest station set up at the foot of the hill and I watched people straggle up, start tacking back and forth, back and forth, and (frequently) stop and start hiking. How far would I be able to get? The steep part seemed to have sub-sections, a little warm up at the beginning before it launched straight up into space and then 'relaxed' into a almost-straight-up section before turning the corner and becoming just a regular steady climb of a mere 8 - 10% grade instead of 18 - 20%.

I slurped down some "CHOCOLATE OUTRAGE" flavored Gu, containing caffeine for that extra bit of outrageousness, mustered my valor, and set out. I knew right away that I had a limited number of pedal strokes I'd be able to manage before reaching what the weight training community calls 'muscle failure.' I didn't think to count though. I stood up in the saddle and began tacking back and forth across the road, slowly, like most everybody else, wondering if the shallower plane I achieved thereby was worth the extra distance. Every time I changed directions I felt a little surge of panic and increasing doubt about whether I could keep going.

If you click on the photo above it will open up in a much larger version where you can easily make out the four little people winding their way up (plus a fifth person starting out near the bottom). Note that the person nearest the top is walking. Approximately where you see the third person down from the top is as far as I got before I jumped off my bike with very wobbly legs and shaky arms, and hiked from there to the first level place after I turned the corner. The steeper a hill, the more upper body strength required to give you enough resistance to keep pedaling. At least that's the theory I just made up and it sounds like it ought to be true, considering how fast my arms got tired.

Here I am after hitting the Wall.

While I was hiking, some grizzled ol' hardcore cyclist feller rode by and made a comment all of which I couldn't quite hear, to the effect of "[blah blah blah]...females doing this, you should feel very proud of your achievement." I thought despite the gender reference it was meant to be sincerely complimentary and encouraging. When I got back on my bike after my refreshing hike I passed him and didn't see him again for the rest of the ride. I hope he felt proud of his achievement too.

After the Wall and the after-wall there was a lovely plunge downhill (the Unknown Coast can't seem to get downhill without plunging) into a beautiful little valley, before starting to climb again into the second to last phase of the ride known as "the Endless Hill." As opposed to the all the other hills which I guess are not considered "endless." One thing I frequently tell myself about hills, though, is that they always end somewhere. Early in this climb I felt totally out of steam and had to hike for maybe half a mile. I think this is where I really hit the physical / mental 'wall.' I thought about that "100-Mile Finisher" patch and it seemed like very inadequate motivation. I could just come back and try again next year. I was more than nine hours into the ride, including lunch and rest stops, and it seemed like that was way too long, Auntie M had probably stopped wondering what had happened to me by then (in reality it was the opposite, I just have to work in those Wizard of Oz references whenever possible).

Once you start walking, it's hard to know when you're ready to start riding again, but I finally reached a place where the road flattened out a little bit and I thought, okay, let's give it another go. Amazingly I felt so much better. I got into a steady pace and (as far as I can remember) didn't really have any trouble with the rest of that climb, most of which was still ahead of me at that point. I heard somebody tell another cyclist about the 'false summit,' warning him not to let it break his heart, so I was steeled against heartbreak when I got there and then had to start climbing again.

Mile 92
It was late enough in the afternoon by the time I reached the final rest station, mile 92, that the Humboldt Fog was coming back. A very friendly young man with an assortment of musical instruments sat in the back of his van, and pointed out that along with the sliced oranges (yes!) he also had sandwiches (no!) but didn't think anybody wanted them at that point - not anything wrong with the sandwiches, but my tummy was feeling a bit outraged by then. He also bore glad tidings that we were basically done climbing once we rounded the next bend.

He was right. The Endless Hill ended and the final phase, another plunge down Wildcat Road into Ferndale, began. I let out a "I'm getting my 100-mile Finisher Patch" whoop and took the plunge.
There's no place like home.

I want another patch next year. Both my Aunt Merilyn and my Aunt Sylvia's driveways up there in Humboldt County are very like a Wall in miniature; I figure I could train by riding back and forth between their houses. Oh - and don't forget to go back and click on the photos. The bigger size really starts to capture a bit of how stunning the scenery was. Makes other places seem, well, kind of like Kansas.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ready to Roll

In all my carrying on about Tour of the Unknown Coast, I haven't mentioned that the NorCal AIDS Challenge starts Thursday. I will probably have to wake up around 4:00 am...or so...I think...maybe just a little after that...to get my wagon together and drive up to the starting point by Folsom Lake. Then my route-marking co-pilot (who I've not met in person yet) and I will take off and start putting our brightly colored signs pointing out each and every place where two roads may diverge in a yellow wood (or an almond orchard, or a rice field) and it would make some considerable difference, if not all, should a rider take the road less traveled, in this case.

Heather posted a link to this news video from last night about NCAC on her blog, but I wanted to see if I could get the video to work here. Such nice looking people on this ride. Good thing they did the interviews before rather than after, I don't know that my heat rash and bruises last year would have had quite the same visual appeal.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Tour of the Unknown Coast, part 2 (the middle part)

At the brief stop in Honeydew, one of the other riders mentioned that lunch was only nine miles up the road, at A.W. Way County Memorial Park, and there was one more hill between us and it. I'm not sure which one was the one she meant. In studyin' up on the ride, I was so preoccupied with the big hills that I forgot to notice how not flat most of the rest of the ride was. The stretch through Avenue of the Giants to the foot of Panther Gap was mostly flat. The stretch right along the beach leading up to the infamous Wall was flat in a cruel joke sort of way...so windy I had to shift into my biggest gear to keep crawling along at 7 miles an hour. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. Lunch featured more tasty sandwiches and even more choices than at the rest stop, plus homemade vegetable soup, and the usual cookies and chips and Gu and powdered sports drink mix. The mechanic fixed my front derailleur. I probably stayed at the lunch stop longer than I would have if not left to my own 'fuffeling,' as it has been called (though I haven't decided how to spell it).

Refueled, I got on the road again uphill and down, roughly following the Mattole River. Seemed paradoxical that the river could flow downhill all the way to the sea but we had to keep riding up.

Reached the town of Petrolia and felt reassured by this sign that I'd been somewhere and I was going somewhere. Only 30 miles to go.

Apparently in Petrolia they have their own language, called Hamburgese, as demonstrated by the sign below.

I'm not sure if the position of the sconce on the wall is meant to serve as an apostrophe, which of course would dramatically change the meaning. Hamburgese has a limited syntax, but with many possible meanings dependent on context. If I hadn't stayed so long at the lunch stop, perhaps I could have studied this further. Aunt Merilyn, who is very knowledgeable about local history and lore, told me later that the Petrolia Store (which either serves plural hamburgers, or is owned by a burger) is also the unofficial seismograph for earthquake activity to which this area is prone. When there's an earthquake, word goes out, "How much damage at the Petrolia store?" whereby the locals can estimate the magnitude of the quake well ahead of the USGS.

More unnamed roller coaster hills. Roller coaster in relation to the big ones, but some about the size of Steiger / Cantelow / Monticello Dam in Winters where we've done a lot of riding. I began to worry that I wasn't going to feel very rested up and ready by the time I got to the Wall. I thought about the Wall all the time. As one might infer from previous blog posts, I thought about it all the time before the ride too. I still wasn't ready for it.

At around 75 miles, we crested whatever poor nameless hill and got our first view of the ocean. I shall name it Hill Where You First See the Ocean. I'm sure there's a language that could say that very succinctly. In Hamburgese, for example, it's probably just a picture of two hamburgers, one being the hill and the other, the ocean.

As I hinted earlier, my dream of a flat restful ride 6 miles along the beach was blown away. A small group of riders were far enough ahead that I couldn't catch up to benefit from their windbreak. Definitely an advantage to riding with some friends even if you're not trying to go all that fast. Taking turns drafting and pulling means less work for everybody.

Then at 79 - 80 miles it appeared.

I just now realized what lovely wildflowers are lining the road.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

California's toughest century? (part 1)

In honor of Mothers' Day, to test the genes for perseverance I like to think I inherited, and in pilgrimage to the area where she grew up, I finished the 100 mile Tour of the Unknown Coast on Saturday. I rode my bike at least 98.5 - 99 of those miles, and hiked a little bit on the hill they call the Wall. More about that later. Here we are heading out of the town of Ferndale, the dairy heartland of Humboldt County (the cows there really do look pretty happy).

Doesn't take long in these parts to get out of town. Here we're taking the back road to Rio Dell. I got to an intersection that can be clearly viewed from my Aunt Merilyn's front porch up on the hill and I waved vigorously but found out later she had gone back to bed. She said she thought about the likelihood that I would wave when I passed, though. Good enough.

Here stopped at the first rest stop near Weott and Humboldt Redwoods State Park. "Avenue of the Giants" country. I like wearing my sushi jersey because I'm shy, and it entertains people and encourages them to talk to me. Though mostly only about sushi and jerseys.
I was pleased with the sandwich choices. Plentiful. I had a tasty little tofu sandwich at this rest stop (from the vegan box) in order to make sure that they saw people eating them. You don't have to be vegan to appreciate having a choice other than lunchmeat or PBJ. Though I like those too.

From the first rest stop we headed further south, where, on not too steep a hill, my chain fell off when I shifted in to my front 'granny gear' chain ring. In the past when this happens it usually results in falling over because I can't get my feet unclipped before I lose all momentum. (Spinning your feet around and around when the chain isn't attached doesn't help at all, but it's hard to stop yourself from doing it.) Happy to report that I did NOT fall over this time, nor the next time about 30 miles down the road, and the mechanic at the lunch stop adjusted it for me so no dropped chains. Good thing, if it had happened on some of those hills, I would definitely have met the asphalt.
Turning west onto Mattole Road (almost rhymes with pothole road) I was glad for the pothole-dodging practice I've had in my training rides. After rattling along for several miles we came to another little rest stop and I topped off my bottles and put on sunscreen, since the morning fog had burned off. I admired this gentleman's mustache and his hat.

Around Mile 40-something came the first big climb of the ride, Panther Gap, with wooded switchbacks climbing steadily for about 2,500 feet. I had agreed with myself ahead of time that it was okay to stop wherever / whenever I wanted to, whether to take pictures or rest. Early in the Panther Gap climb I stopped at a different sort of rest stop -- didn't stay, though.

During my 'attack' of Panther Gap I caught up with a couple women who appeared to be in their late 40s. One had Markleeville Death Ride "Five Pass Finisher" jersey. Jerseys are good conversation starters. I asked her how this ride compares to that one and she said "Oh, this is much easier." The Death Ride is in the Sierras, 129 miles and 15,000+ feet of climbing depending on how much of it you can finish. I'm not (yet) tempted by it. They asked me what my hardest ride had been and I said "This one." They asked how many times I'd done it and I said "Just this time." One of them kindly said, "You're a strong rider, you'll do fine." I made that my mantra for the rest of the ride. I am a strong rider, I'll do fine. I am a strong rider, I'll do fine.

Summit of Panther Gap!

Here I am with the sign marking the top. It's good to be king.

The view as I started the descent down the west side of Panther Gap was lovely. The west side of the hill is much more steep and twisty than was the ascent up the east side, making one both grateful and fearful to ride down it. Earlier a helicopter had flown over, and it turned out it was to pick up a cyclist who had wiped out on one of curves. Everyone knew where the spot was because of the great big red splotch on the road. Reportedly he suffered a broken arm and cuts to his forehead, hence the splotch, but it looked worse than it was. By the time I passed that spot all I saw was the splotch. It was not a good place to try to stop for a picture.

At the foot of the treacherous Panther Gap descent was the quaint and curious forgotten town(?) of Honeydew. They have a cute little store and some large pickup trucks there. Not sure what goes on in Honeydew but I think something does.

To be continued...

Monday, May 04, 2009

A couple more photos from the soggy ride

Heather and I smiling at the deceptively not-rainy start, and Vincent, my Bodhisattva (or patron saint, whichever tradition you fancy) of Bicycle Tires.

(Thanks, Mindy, for the pics.)

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Singing in the rain

(Photo courtesy HMR)

Gave the Wine Country Century a go in Santa Rosa today. It was probably the worst ride I've ever had, period, if the criteria are feeling good while riding and going the distance I set out to go. I was in denial about the weather from the start. I was dressed for moderate wind and cold but I didn't consider how I'd feel if / when I got completely soaked. The times that I ride to work in the rain (which are few), I make quite a point of putting on my rainpants and a jacket. To go a distance of just over a mile. Today, when rain seemed fairly likely, I wore my long sleeves and knee warmers and wind vest. Intending to go a distance of 100 miles. Something's wrong with this picture.

On the other hand, if it's feeling appreciative for good friends and kind people who volunteer to change your tire(s) when flat, even though you are capable of doing it yourself (assuming you're not shivering too much to grasp a tire lever), who try to hug you warm while somebody changes your tire, and who drive out in their truck to rescue you at mile 44 or so when you finally decide you've had enough--if these things are the criteria for a good ride, then this ride was the best ever.

Another note to self - the fancy CO2 tire inflating cartridge I've been riding around with for a year (without any flats) appears to be missing a part and didn't work. It's probably a good idea to test these things out before you need them.

I'll be all the more prepared next week. Rain or shine. I sound like I have a good attitude, and it has improved a bit over the last several hours, but I'm still working on it. They say if you keep smiling when you're in a bad mood eventually your head will catch up with your face. The same goes for singing in the rain. Neil Diamond and Brandi Carlile at the top of my lungs. It helps up to a point, anyway.