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Distance Training #1: Woodside (1/15/2011)


Date: Saturday, January 15
Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Three blocks west of the Mountain View Caltrain and VTA station, in the overflow parking lot at the corner of Evelyn Avenue and Franklin Street. (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Heavy rain cancels
Category: 2 - moderate pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 2 - rolling hills
Miles: 42

Description:
The Distance Training rides are for intermediate and advanced riders who want to increase their physical and mental endurance on long-distance rides. This set of 10 rides gradually increases to a mid-May finale of a double metric century: 200 kilometers (125 miles) in a single day. These rides should be just one part of your overall AIDS/LifeCycle training program -- such as in conjunction with the weekly Cat-2 rides -- and are not sufficient by themselves to prepare for the event.

We start this year's rides with an easy confidence-builder that heads up Foothill Expressway past Stanford to Portola Valley. We'll head into Woodside and then play around in the rolling hills there for a bit before heading back. Total climbing for this ride is about 1,700 feet.

Riders from all over Northern California are invited! Southbound Caltrain from San Francisco arrives at 9:29 a.m.

Read about what's planned for the rest of this season's Distance Training rides.

Leaders: Chris Thomas, Amir Barzin, Bruce Der-McLeod, Randy Files, Thomas Fortin, Niki Hutson, Bob Katz, Kevin Hunter, Linda Kemmer, Kathy Sherman

RSVPs are requested but not required.

Ride report: Lake Mead and Hoover Dam (11/22/2010)

With the opening of the new Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge over the Colorado River at Hoover Dam, the prospect of bicycling from metro Las Vegas to Arizona has become a whole lot easier. So I set out on a ride from Henderson through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area to the new bridge, which at about 900 feet above the river is the second-highest bridge in the country ... and the "highest and longest arched concrete bridge in the Western Hemisphere," according to this report from The Arizona Republic.

One of the recreation gems of Las Vegas is the River Mountains Trail, a 35-mile loop on the Nevada side of the Colorado River. All but 3 miles of it are now complete, and this provides a way for cyclists to get from Boulder City to Henderson without having to ride on the extremely busy 93/95/515 freeway -- something that was a white-knuckle experience for me last time I rode to Boulder City a few years ago.

But I instead began the day on highways, as a freshly-resurfaced Lake Mead Blvd. took me the 8 easy miles to the Lake Mead NRA entrance. The entrance fee is $3, but my receipt from a roadtrip the previous day was still valid. At midmorning, the road was almost empty, and the recent chilly winds had left striking vistas in every direction. The road itself was generally downhill toward the river but with short, moderately steep climbs every couple of miles to get up and over ridges. A smooth, paved shoulder of adequate width wasn't an official bike lane, but it served the role nicely.

About 6 miles into the recreation area, I noticed that a paved trail had appeared next to the road. Then I realized what I had done: The River Mountains Trail was actually a completely separate route through the recreation area, not the road itself! (And if you enter via the trail, there's no entrance fee.) In fact, that part of the trail had been so far from the road that I hadn't even noticed it. So I switched from the road to the trail at that point.

Car traffic was beginning to pick up by this point, so that decision was probably a good one to make. But the first thing I noticed was that the trail wasn't engineered for cars: The grades were steeper, the curves were tighter. And storms earlier in the month had left sand, rocks, and dirt strewn over parts of the trail, especially in the washes. The route also wasn't nearly as direct as the road, dropping down to bypass a quarry and then climbing back up to highway level to cross some more washes.

The exit from the recreation area was about 22 miles into the ride. I had seen trail maps that suggested an old railroad trail had been converted into bicycle use to provide easy access to the Hoover Dam area. But when I got to something that appeared to be the junction with that trail, all I saw was a graveled path labeled "Railroad Trail." Unless I missed something, the trail is suitable only for mountain bikes.

This meant that I had to get back onto U.S. 93 for the final few miles to the dam. (Making the left turn onto 93 required a wait of several minutes.) The highway is just two lanes wide here, and traffic was slow enough that I wasn't terribly nervous riding on the narrow shoulder, but it's definitely not something for beginners.

After a couple of miles, the new bypass began, and the highway changed into a freeway. The shoulder became wide and smooth, and it was a gentle downhill all the way to the highlight of the day: the new bridge.

Well ... a highlight in the sense that I can now say I've bicycled across the Hoover Dam bridge. Not so much of a highlight because, by design, you really can't see anything from the traffic lanes of the bridge. (Otherwise, drivers would be slowing down and stopping! Indeed, multiple signs warn drivers that stopping on the bridge is prohibited.) I did sneak one picture just before the beginning of the bridge, but to get any real views of the dam itself, you have to go to the parking area (and past the Homeland Security inspection checkpoint, which remains in operation and where they can search your vehicle if they so choose) and walk to the bridge pathway. I did this the next morning, and even at 9 a.m., the tourists were packed more tightly than the Golden Gate Bridge on the best day of the year.

(I didn't see any signs prohibiting bicycles on the pedestrian walkway, but it was so crowded that it wouldn't have been feasible.)

After bicycling across the bridge, however, what happens next? Because it's a freeway and there's a giant concrete divider down the middle, you can't just turn around and head back. Fortunately, the first exit in Arizona is only about a mile away, so I took the offramp and crossed under the freeway to head back in the opposite direction. Both ramps, however, had huge, scary cattle guards that I didn't feel safe riding -- or even walking -- across, so I very gingerly traipsed along the edge of each, one foot in front of the other.

Back in Nevada, the route is the same back to the recreation area. I could have rejoined the River Mountains Trail there, but the only access point was back down a steep hill, which would mean that I would have to climb it again. And the hill in front of me was plenty steep as it was: the climb into Boulder City, which gains almost 1,000 feet in just a couple of miles. This was still on busy U.S. 93, with two uphill lanes and a narrow but serviceable shoulder as lumbering, struggling semitrailers passed just a few feet to my left.

Finally, there was a trail access point about two-thirds of the way up the hill, so I switched over to the trail, which at this point was actually in a concrete flood control channel. After reaching the "top" in Boulder City, the trail continued to climb a couple hundred feet more, reaching a high point of 2,694 feet -- much higher than the highway route through the area.

But this is where the ride became lots of fun. From that top altitude, it was almost a steady, gradual downhill all the way back into Henderson. And with my memories of the 93/95/515 freeway from my earlier trip, I was quite happy to be off the highway and on a smooth, scenic trail that deposited me onto quiet residential streets in Henderson.

For the day, I racked up about 53 miles and 3,800 feet of climbing -- a hefty challenge, eased somewhat by the cool temperatures and relatively light winds. Now that I know the difference between the road and the trail, I might be more inclined to use more of the trail next time I do this ride.

Early-Bird Ride #3: Rainy-day alternate (12/19/2010)

WEATHER ALERT: If we ride Sunday, we will NOT use the original Dumbarton Bridge route that had been scheduled. Instead, we will use the route shown in the map at right, which returns to Mountain View at both mile 12 and mile 22 so that we can end the ride easily if the weather turns bad.

Date: Sunday, Dec. 19
Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Three blocks west of the Mountain View Caltrain and VTA station, in the overflow parking lot at the corner of Evelyn Avenue and Franklin Street. (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Heavy rain cancels
Category: 2 - medium pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 1 - mostly flat
Miles: 36

Description:
For this rainy-day alternate route, we're doing three short and easy rides that each return to downtown Mountain View. Our first loop takes us along the bayshore past the Googleplex and up to the Palo Alto airport before returning. Our second loop takes us into Sunnyvale and to our one rest stop of the day at the Starbucks at Fremont and Mary, perhaps better known as the starting point for the Sunday Cat-2 rides. Our third and final loop takes us up the Bryant Street bike boulevard into downtown Palo Alto and then back on some side streets that we don't normally use. Only about 570 feet of climbing the whole day, with no hills worse than an overpass.

Riders from all over Northern California are invited! Southbound Caltrain from San Francisco arrives at 9:29 a.m. Note that if you arrive via train or light rail, you'll need to walk three blocks northwest from the station, across Castro Street, to the corner of Evelyn and Franklin. The meeting place is not at the station itself.

Be sure to check the Training section of the ALC website for information on how to prepare for a training ride and what you must and should bring.

Leaders: Chris Thomas, Niki Hutson, Dan England, Terri Meier, Bob Vasquez, Lynne West

RSVPs are requested but not required.

Kudos to Los Altos Hills

I was pleasantly surprised today when the town of Los Altos Hills responded quickly to my report of broken glass on the pathway connecting Stonebrook Drive and Laura Court. (This is part of the so-called "quarry ride" that I do from time to time.)

Here's the timetable, which is in itself somewhat amazing:
10:19 p.m. Monday: I send email to a contact at the town's Public Works Department that I found on the town's website.
11:13 p.m. Monday: I get a response (yes, practically in the middle of the night!) that the problem will be investigated. An actual response, not an auto-reply.
10:21 p.m. Tuesday: I get a note saying that the pathway was cleaned today, and thanking me for my report.

The moral: When you encounter a hazard while riding, always report it to the appropriate authority. You might prevent some other cyclist or road user from a flat, an injury, or something worse. If you want to do it the old-fashioned way via a voice call, the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition has a list of phone numbers for most jurisdictions.

Photo: Laura Court at the quarry, from Google Street View. It's actually far more scenic than it looks here, and if you've never been up there, it's worth the climb.

Early-Bird Ride #2: Saratoga (12/12/2010)


Date: Sunday, Dec. 12
Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Three blocks west of the Mountain View Caltrain and VTA station, in the overflow parking lot at the corner of Evelyn Avenue and Franklin Street. (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Heavy rain cancels
Category: 2 - medium pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 3 - rolling hills with some steep climbs
Miles: 32

Description:
After leaving downtown Mountain View, we'll head through Cupertino and then ride through the rolling hills of scenic Stevens Canyon. Next comes our significant climb of the day: the 0.7-mile ascent of Mount Eden out of Stevens Canyon. It's steep but not ridiculously steep, and you can always walk part or all of it. (Come back later this season to see how much you've improved!) We'll take a break in Saratoga Village and then go part of the way toward Los Gatos before heading back on an easy, mostly downhill route.

Total climbing for the day is about 1,550 feet.

Riders from all over Northern California are invited! Southbound Caltrain from San Francisco arrives at 9:29 a.m. Note that if you arrive via train or light rail, you'll need to walk three blocks northwest from the station, across Castro Street, to the corner of Evelyn and Franklin. The meeting place is not at the station itself.

Be sure to check the Training section of the ALC website for information on how to prepare for a training ride and what you must and should bring.

Leaders: Chris Thomas, Thomas Fortin, Bruce Der-McLeod, Robert Vasquez, Ally Kemmer, Linda Kemmer, Kathy Sherman, Kevin Hunter, Paul Vargas, Genevieve Evenhouse, Niki Hutson

RSVPs are requested but not required.

Early-Bird Ride #1: Cupertino (12/5/2010)


Date: Sunday, Dec. 5
Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Three blocks west of the Mountain View Caltrain and VTA station, in the overflow parking lot at the corner of Evelyn Avenue and Franklin Street. (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Heavy rain cancels
Category: 2 - Medium pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 2 - rolling hills
Miles: 22

Description:
Whether you're a first-time ALCer or a veteran rider, join us as we kick off another season of training in Mountain View with the first of three "early-bird" rides on consecutive Sundays. Meet new faces and reconnect with friends from past adventures on this mostly easy ride that goes ever so gently into the beginning of the foothills. We'll help you on the road, and we can help answer your questions about the ride, your bicycle, and the upcoming training season.

From downtown Mountain View, we'll head into Sunnyvale to begin our very gradual climb to De Anza College in Cupertino. Then we'll tackle our one hill of the day, westbound McClellan as it crosses Stevens Creek. It's very short but a little attention-getting, and it's perfectly OK to walk it. (In ALC, we call that "cross-training.") Then we'll ride on Foothill Expressway, a very popular bicycling route, to our rest stop in Los Altos Hills. After that, we'll continue into Palo Alto and then head back down for a flat return into Mountain View. Total climbing for the day is only about 550 feet.

Riders from all over Northern California are invited! Southbound Caltrain from San Francisco arrives at 9:29 a.m. Note that if you arrive via train or light rail, you'll need to walk three blocks northwest from the station, across Castro Street, to the corner of Evelyn and Franklin.

IMPORTANT: The meeting place is not at the Caltrain station itself. Check the map link if you're not familiar with the area.

Be sure to check the Training section of the ALC website for information on how to prepare for a training ride and what you must and should bring.

Leaders: Chris Thomas, Thomas Fortin, Kevin Hunter, Ally Kemmer, Linda Kemmer, Dan England, Genevieve Evenhouse

RSVPs are requested but not required.

Distance Training 2011

The fourth season of Distance Training rides begins Saturday, January 15 in Mountain View. These are challenging rides for intermediate and advanced cyclists, with a focus on increasing distance to and beyond the longest days of AIDS/LifeCycle. For many riders, ALC is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical challenge, and the Distance Training rides are a great opportunity for you to get experience spending long hours in the saddle ... and dealing with all of the issues that come up for you on such long rides.

Here's a quick preview of what I'm planning for this season. As always, the routes and descriptions are subject to change, but this will give you a good idea of what to expect. Distances are approximate. All rides leave from the Caltrain overflow parking lot in downtown Mountain View.

Ride 1: 40 miles, January 15. We'll visit Woodside on routes that will be familiar to anyone who's done the Palo Alto rides this autumn. Nothing overly challenging, but this is a good introduction and gives you the chance to meet other riders.

Ride 2: 45 miles, January 29. To Los Gatos and a little bit beyond, with a significant climb up Kennedy Road and briefly into San Jose before returning on an easier route.

Ride 3: 50 miles, February 5. (Note that there's no week off before this ride! This is to keep our calendar in sync with the major ALC events of the upcoming spring.) This is one of the more devious rides -- 25 miles of nearly flat terrain followed by 25 miles of quite hilly roads. Your challenge is to resist the urge to ride all-out in the first half of the ride so that you'll have sufficient energy for the second half. Many riders are surprised at how easy it is to run afoul of this ... and this is a very necessary skill to get you through the ride in June.

Ride 4: 60 miles, February 19. We'll head up the Peninsula into the Crystal Springs area, but not quite to the dam because of the ongoing closure. We'll climb the Polhemus hill and then enjoy the thrilling descent down Ralston before taking Alameda de las Pulgas all the way back to Menlo Park.

Ride 5: 70 miles, March 5. We'll go out into seemingly the middle of nowhere around Calaveras Reservoir, high in the hills above Milpitas. We'll climb Calaveras in the shorter, steeper direction and then cruise through the hills before returning through Sunol and Niles Canyon and across the Dumbarton Bridge.

Ride 6: 80 miles, March 19. Get ready to climb! We're going to Half Moon Bay via Highway 92, just like the traditional Day 1 route of ALC, and we'll continue down the coast to San Gregorio before turning inland and climbing Highway 84 to Skyline Blvd. Total climbing for the day is about 4,400 feet.

Ride 7: 90 miles, April 2: Get ready to climb again! After taking an easy route into Hayward, we'll climb into the CSU East Bay campus on the notorious route from the Seismic Challenge ride in October, all the way to the top of the Hayward Hills, followed by a steep descent into Dublin Canyon. We'll climb over the Dublin Grade and drop down into San Ramon for a somewhat less stressful ride into Sunol and back through Niles Canyon. One long, steep climb, but only about 3,000 feet total for the day.

Ride 8: 100 miles, April 16. For our first century ride of the season (and quite possibly your first century ever?), we'll make a giant loop around the South Bay. We'll visit Los Altos Hills, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Newark, Fremont, Milpitas, San Jose, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Cupertino, and Sunnyvale. One significant climb: Silver Creek Valley Road in south San Jose, and our reward will be quite possibly one of the most exciting urban descents in the Bay Area.

Ride 9: 110 miles, April 30. We'll do another favorite of Distance Training riders -- a ride all the way to Gilroy and back. We get there by going along the Calero and Uvas reservoirs, and we return on the east side of Highway 101 to Morgan Hill before taking Monterey Highway back to San Jose. Although the second half of the ride is almost flat, strong headwinds are possible, making this ride more challenging than it looks. (Then again, in 2010, the headwinds were almost nonexistent.)

Ride 10: 125 miles, May 14. This is it ... the Fourth Annual Altamont Pass Double Metric. Now part of ALC legend (the longest one-day training ride on the nationwide ALC calendar), this ride has a little bit of everything: scenic backcountry, suburban sprawl, and busy city streets. About the only thing it doesn't have is any extremely steep climbs; total climbing for the day is only about 2,600 feet, so the ride is more a test of your endurance than of your climbing strength. Weather can be the biggest challenge on this ride; in the past, temperatures have exceeded 100 degrees along parts of the route. But in 2010, riders were lucky to have an unusually cool day in the 60s, so anything can happen. We have outstanding volunteer support on this ride, including well-stocked SAG vehicles and a group of dedicated roadies who are committed to helping you conquer this challenge.

Rides 1 and 2 run at an official pace of 10-12 mph. Beginning with Ride 3, the pace increases to 12-15 mph. Faster riders are always welcome, but be sure you know how to read a route sheet so you can navigate on your own.

You can't sign up for these rides quite yet, but save the dates. When RSVPs are open, the rides will be posted both here and in the official ALC training ride calendar.

I look forward to riding with you on the 2011 Distance Training rides.

Photo: Riders descend Altamont Pass almost halfway into the 2010 Altamont Pass Double Metric.

Return to Death Valley


I'm still here; I merely sent this blog on vacation for the past month or so while I get mentally ready for the upcoming season of AIDS/LifeCycle 10 training rides. I've still been riding; in fact, I recently passed 6,000 miles for the year so far and am likely headed toward my second-highest annual mileage ever.

In the meantime, however, I've just signed up to ride the Death Valley Century on February 26. This will be my second time on this ride, but the first was way, way, WAY back in 2004 ... long before I was part of the ALC family, and about 35,000 miles ago in my training. While most of this route of the Death Valley Century is relatively easy (there's another route in the fall that is significantly more challenging), I found the ride quite difficult six years ago, and I'm curious to see if my perception of the route will change -- especially the strenuous climb to Jubilee Pass (pictured, 2004), since the climb actually starts well below sea level.

Stay tuned to this blog; as of this Saturday, I will be certified as a training ride leader for ALC10, which means that I'll soon be offering rides out of Mountain View, including the fourth year of the ever-so-popular Cat-3 Distance Training rides, culminating in the Fourth Annual Altamont Pass Double Metric in mid-May. (The Death Valley ride means that I might have to miss one of my own training rides this season, but I'll have a highly qualified team of ride leaders to back me up and fill in.)

If you're an intermediate or advanced cyclist who's part of ALC for the first year or the 10th, I invite you to join us in Mountain View every other Saturday starting in early January. We'll start with a 40-mile ride and gradually work our way up to the double metric with rides that are exquisitely planned and mapped and usually with outstanding support by our volunteer crew of SAG drivers and friends. You'll get an excellent preview of what days on the ride in June will be like, and you'll get to see parts of the Bay Area that you might have never seen before.

Before that, I'll probably run a couple of warm-up rides in December; details on those are coming soon as well.