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Ride report: ALC12 Distance Training #4 (2/9/2013)

Go, riders!

You pretty much can't ask for finer cycling weather than we had today -- even though you might not have been as hopeful when you awoke to near-freezing temperatures this morning. But our group of 29 intrepid cyclists enjoyed the conditions so much that some of us might have momentarily forgotten that we were climbing some very challenging hills. (And thanks to Tom, now an official Friend of ALC, for stepping up at the last moment to be our SAG driver.)

The good news is that the event in June has no hills as challenging as Parrott Drive. (But a few years ago, there was one ride that had a hill almost as tough on Day 4 when we got rerouted.) But as you move through the seven-day event, it's common for smaller hills to start feeling tougher than they really are -- so even though there's no Parrott on the event, it might almost feel like there is.

We had a small taste of that toward the end of today's ride when we climbed La Cresta Drive. Yes, it's a difficult hill, but it's not nearly as challenging as Parrott. When I did La Cresta today and checked my results later, I saw that my pace on La Cresta today was quite a bit below my other recent visits there, and it's a safe assumption that I was feeling at least a bit tired by then. Remember to listen to your body and search for your "happy gear"; the hill is still there, even if you take a few extra seconds (or minutes!) to climb and/or descend it.

I learned about Parrott Drive back in 2006 on Le Tour de Menlo. I, of course, had about seven fewer years of cycling experience then, and I distinctly remember lifting my front wheel into the air at one point on the steepest part of Parrott. During the few minutes that I stood there today, I saw the same thing happen to a couple of other riders, too!

I didn't have the confidence to return until several years later, and now I lean way forward and put as much of my weight as I can toward the front of the bike. (Of course, I saw some other riders today simply stand up and power their way through the steepest part. If you can do that, more power to you ... literally!)

And as with many unfamiliar hills, I can almost guarantee that Parrott would seem easier the second time you do it. One thing you'd know about is how well (or poorly) the curves and turns are engineered. One turn in particular was very, very nasty, and riders who didn't move to the left side of the lane might have gotten trapped and had to dismount to get around the corner. That's OK, too! But noticing the different grades on turns will be very important on our next ride when we go up Redwood Gulch Road, which has one curve where the inside, near the center line, is "only" 13% but the outside is a quad-busting, almost-impossible 21%. I strongly recommend using the inside if there's no other traffic around!

The central and lower Peninsula area has countless short but steep hills that are excellent for building strength. If you live in the area, I'd recommend scoping some of them out. You can use tools such as Strava to search for segments and see in advance the distance and terrain. Last year while wearing my Different Spokes San Francisco ride-leader hat, I led a 25-mile "Los Altos Hells" ride -- seven short hills all with grades of at least 10%, and all within just a few miles of our Mountain View meeting location.

You don't have to train on very steep hills to be ready for ALC, but for intermediate and advanced cyclists (like you!), this type of training can make June much more pleasant.

Other than the climbing, today's other big feature -- for better or worse -- was a bit more urban riding than usual, complete with annoying stop signs at annoying places. Some of that was because I'm still avoiding taking us on westbound Junipero Serra until the PG&E gas project is done, but some of it was because it's an unavoidable fact of life in June as well. (Don't worry; I'm specifically not talking about the stop signs on Parrott Drive here.) Every time I come across a series of closely-spaced stop signs, I think of Day 4 approaching Pismo Beach. It's a similar situation, and we've stirred the anger of local authorities in some past years by not observing all of the stop signs. It can be frustrating, especially when you can practically smell the cinnamon buns that are just a couple of miles away, but it's also part of the ride.

My apologies for a small error on today's route sheet. The exit from Foothill Expressway is actually "Fremont / Miramonte / Loyola," not "Foothill / Miramonte / Loyola." Most of us locals know that exit instinctively and do the right thing out of habit, but it tripped up one of our guests from San Francisco today. The funny thing is that I make sure I put those three streets on the route sheet in the same order as they're listed on the exit sign, and I remember the order by thinking of the slightly-impolite acronym FML. I got the F part right, but I stupidly typed the wrong street. Sorry about that!

Several of our regulars missed today's ride due to either illness or today's Tour de Palm Springs. If you're reading this but didn't ride with us today, be sure to do a ride of about 60 miles sometime in the next week or so. That's because our distance starts to increase quickly from here, and falling behind could make it difficult to jump back in to our sequence of rides.

Indeed, our next ride takes a jump all the way up to 71 miles. We're going to climb another hill that I've never had on one of my training rides until now. (However, I'm told that it used to be part of the Sunnyvale Cat-2 rides several years ago.) Redwood Gulch Road is a mercifully short but unmercifully steep connection from Stevens Canyon to Highway 9. Like Parrott, it does a stairstep of steep, flat, STEEP, and flat. The flat parts are a little flatter, but the steep parts are a bit steeper. Again, however, a positive attitude will go a long way to getting you up the 1.3-mile hill. (And you can always walk some or all of it with no shame whatsoever.)

The reward for climbing Redwood Gulch is a glorious 4-mile descent on Highway 9 into Saratoga. The construction zone on Highway 9 is gone, so there's no longer a traffic signal partway down the hill! And the total climbing is about the same as today's ride -- and nearly half of the climbing occurs just getting to the top of Redwood Gulch, in the first 12.5 miles of the day! That means that the rest of the day is relatively tame. If you made it up Parrott today (and even if you cross-trained part of it), then you can do the Redwood Gulch ride. Find out more and RSVP here.

When you look at the listing for the Redwood Gulch ride, you'll notice that I've increased the official pace to 12-15 mph. That's where we'll be for the rest of the season, but this shouldn't worry you at all. Everyone on today's ride is more than sufficiently qualified to ride my Cat-3 rides. (Really!) The main reason for the change is that, as our rides get longer, we start flirting more closely with sunset, and a total beginner might not be able to make it back to Mountain View before darkness. There won't be anyone pulling you off the route if you're at 11.8 mph. And remember, that average is over an entire ride, not just the steep climbs. My best pace ever up Redwood Gulch is a blazing 5.3 mph (which earns me 1,035th place in Strava), so don't let your time on that climb discourage you one bit.

Finally, a couple of words about some cycling behavior I saw today that ... pleased me greatly. I was part of a long line of cyclists making our way through the traffic signals of Palo Alto. Our footprint would naturally expand as we pulled away from signals, and then it would bunch up again at the next red light. Then, after the light turned green, those of us at the back would slow down and simply latch on to the back of the group ... instead of continuing on at full speed and blowing past the riders who had just been stopped. This shows consideration not only for other cyclists, but for motorists as well, who shouldn't have to deal with us swerving out into the traffic lane just to get around five or six cyclists who had the misfortune to get a red light.

In June, I often see the opposite behavior by ALCers, especially around Santa Cruz on Day 2 and through Malibu on Day 7, and it always annoys me. It's not a race, and you'll rarely go wrong by considering how your actions will affect -- and will be perceived by -- those around you. It's often the faster cyclists who exhibit this behavior on the event, so we can help set a good example by being courteous and remembering that the ride isn't about "me" ... it's about all of us.

Thanks for riding today, and thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.