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Distance Training #7: San Francisco (4/3/2010)

Date: Saturday, April 3
Meet time: 7:00 a.m.
Ride-out time: 7:30 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: 3 - moderate-fast pace (12-15 mph)
Terrain: 3 - rolling hills with some steep climbs
Miles: 90

Update: The description of this ride has been changed from the original. Construction at the Crystal Springs Dam has been delayed, so we won't need to detour around that area.

There's an easy way to get to San Francisco on a bicycle, and then there's this way. But today's ride is an important one because it gives you a preview of a significant part of the traditional Day 1 route of AIDS/LifeCycle -- including some freeway cycling, and it's helpful to experience these conditions before you've got 2,500 other cyclists around you.

From our start in downtown Mountain View, we'll take a gentle route through downtown Palo Alto and Menlo Park before climbing Highway 84 to Woodside. From there, we'll join the throngs of weekend cyclists along Cañada Road and head to lower Skyline Drive. After a brief rest stop in San Bruno, we'll take Skyline all the way into San Francisco and head along the oceanfront on Great Highway to our lunch stop just north of Golden Gate Park.

Our return covers much of the same route, including two more brief trips on I-280. And we'll descend the glorious Ralston Avenue hill into Belmont for our return along Alameda de las Pulgas to Menlo Park. After our fifth and final rest stop, our final leg travels past Stanford and through Los Altos before returning to Mountain View.

Total climbing is about 3,900 feet. There are several significant climbs on this ride and some challenging traffic situations, but nothing worse than what you'll experience during the event in June.

Leaders: Chris Thomas, Larry L'Italien, Randy Files, Kathy Sherman, Ellen Goldstein, Michael Casas

RSVPs are requested but not required.

Trying to make sense of another stormy weekend?

The National Weather Service has some optimistic news in their latest forecast discussion:
Best chances of showers on Saturday will be in areas closer to the low center (i.e., the southern part of our forecast area). In fact... the 00z models indicate the North Bay will be mostly dry on Saturday. Clearing will then occur on Saturday night ... . After the morning fog clears...Sunday will be a mostly sunny and mild day with highs mostly in the lower to middle 60s.

So, if the forecast is to be believed, North Bay rides (here, here, and here) are probably safe. Peninsula and East Bay rides (here and here) might see a few scattered showers, and the first Hollister ride of the season (here, the one I'm scheduled to ride) ... well, maybe not looking so good. And look for a bit of northwest wind just about everywhere.

And Sunday looks good all around! So get out there and ride this weekend.

So long, Crystal Springs Dam bridge

Did you enjoy your ride over the Crystal Springs Dam bridge on Saturday's ride? I hope so, because that might be your last one for quite a long time. The existing bridge is about to be removed and, ultimately, replaced with a new structure that contains bicycle lanes. Until then, however, riders headed up and down the Peninsula via the foothills are, as they say, screwed.

Detours are available, and they're not impossible, but they're mighty inconvenient. From the project description (2MB .pdf):
Detour for bicycle traffic coming from north of the Crystal Springs Dam Bridge either via the terminus of the Sawyer Camp Trail or Skyline Boulevard. Southbound bicycle traffic on Skyline Boulevard or Sawyer Camp Trail will be directed east (left turn or straight respectively) onto Crystal Springs Road. From there, bicycle traffic will be directed southbound (right turn) onto Polhemus Road which then becomes Ralston Avenue near the Highway 92 interchange. Immediately south of the Ralston Avenue/Highway 92 interchange, bicycle traffic will be directed west (right turn) onto the Ralston Recreational Trail (a 1-mile long paved recreational trail) which runs parallel to Highway 92 and connects to Cañada Road via a bicycle/pedestrian bridge that crosses over I-280 south of the construction site. The total bicycle traffic detour length is 4 miles. If crossing over the Crystal Springs Dam Bridge from the Sawyer Camp Trail terminus (at intersection of Crystal Springs Road and Skyline Boulevard immediately north of the bridge) to Cañada Road, the distance is 2.5 miles.

Detour for bicycle traffic coming from south of the bridge from Highway 92. Bicycle traffic traveling in an easterly direction on Highway 92, (coming down from the top of the Highway 92/Skyline Boulevard intersection) will have the option to either make a left turn (northbound) onto Skyline Boulevard at the lighted signal intersection on Highway 92 and Skyline Boulevard (located immediately east of San Francisco Public Utilities Commission's [SFPUC] Crystal Springs Reservoir and west of I-280) and continue northbound towards the Bunker Hill Drive detour (right tum) which connects to Polhemus Road or have the option to continue easterly on Highway 92 and make a right turn (southbound) onto Cañada Road and connect to the Ralston Recreational Trail detour described above.

That's a mouthful. The detour in the opposite direction is essentially the same, as shown in the big photo.

The difficulty is that, no matter how you slice it, the detour means at least one extra climb that's somewhat significant. Southbound, you're stuck climbing the Polhemus hill (which we did Saturday). Northbound, you have to climb the Ralston bike path plus Crystal Springs Road. And as for Bunker Hill Drive ... yikes. It's got a grade of between 12% and 20%; uphill is westbound. And downhill, it's got stop signs literally at every intersection.

For me, the ride up and down the Peninsula is plenty difficult as it is; this just makes it more challenging in an I-don't-like-hills sort of way. Those of you who love to climb might actually welcome this detour.

San Mateo County supervisors recently approved the Environmental Impact Report for this project, so construction is set to begin soon. And although I'm not an official ALC anything, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this will affect the Day 1 route of the ride.

As soon as I get a specific date, I'll let you know. In the meantime, if you want to see this scenic spot one last time before the construction gear moves in, I'd head up there during one of the few upcoming clear days.

Cold and wet in Sunnyvale

Today I drove a SAG vehicle for the Sunnyvale training ride. Congratulations to the 12 riders who braved the crappy weather and showed up for today's ride into Stevens Canyon and Saratoga. Here's a short video capturing some of what I saw:

Ride report: Distance Training #4 (2/20/2010)

Go, riders!

We finally got a Saturday that was mostly rain-free. Those scattered sprinkles in the afternoon were a little more than what had been predicted, but that didn't stop our intrepid group of 30 riders from making our 60-mile trip up the Peninsula to the Crystal Springs Dam.

And make no mistake about it -- today's ride was a long ride. With the hills, it's roughly comparable in difficulty to the shorter days of the event in June. This is the threshold where many of your preconceptions about cycling might start to change. Your nutrition requirements become more important, your pacing becomes more important, and your mental state becomes extremely important.

Nutrition is a topic we've talked about before, but now it's vital that you properly fuel your body so that it can handle several hours of cycling. Your body's stored energy can power only about two hours of cycling, so you need to eat healthy foods at every rest stop. Don't overeat and try to take it in all at once; find the foods that work for you, grab 'em, and go. Depending on your weight and your pace, you should try to take in anywhere from about 250 to 400 calories per hour. And while we love those graham cracker PB&J sandwiches that are served on the event, don't forget more traditional food and electrolyte replacement as well. Everyone has different needs and preferences, and this is the time for you to figure out what works best for you.

Pacing is important on long rides -- and it's one of the key secrets to happiness on the event in June. As generally stronger riders, many of us can open it up and haul down the road if we want to. But it's a long way to Los Angeles, and there's no point in burning yourself out after 50, 100, or even 400 miles. Today's ride was the opposite of what we did two weeks ago: We had hills early in the ride, and the last part of the ride was comparably easy. But even with today's glorious tailwinds, if you exerted yourself too strongly on the hills, you might not have had as much energy as you'd like for the last part of the ride. Call it a pace that you can do forever, or call it your "happy gear" ... find your optimum endurance pace, and recognize how that might be different from what you consider your training pace. Even though we're on training rides, they're now long enough that they count as endurance events on their own.

And when rides get long, your mind can start to go to all sorts of amazing and scary places you never dreamed possible. This is one of the toughest aspects of training, and it's one of the things that can ruin your June ride if you don't plan for it. When we spend hours on our bicycle, it's easy to zone out and let the mind wander -- but doing so is dangerous, especially when you're around other riders. Try to stay as focused as you can on the riding that you're doing, while still being aware of all of the other pesky messages your mind is sending you while you pedal. Perhaps it's something about your reasons for riding, perhaps it's something about a special person, perhaps it's a memory from long ago, or perhaps it's just a nagging message of self-doubt. You can't shut out these messages, so embrace them, make them yours, understand what they're saying, and integrate that into your ride. Yes, this sounds all touchy-feely, but training your mind for hours on the bike is just as important as training your body.

Today, our ride leaders saw a few instances of rule-breaking, and that disappoints me. Several riders did not come to complete stops, with one foot on the ground, at stop signs. This is one area where ALC rules are more strict than California law. We require one foot on the ground and no forward motion at every stop sign, without exception, even when no other vehicles are present. Law enforcement was handing out tickets to cyclists along Cañada Road today, and we're lucky that none of our riders were cited. In June, failure to stop can lead to disciplinary action ranging from a warning to being pulled from the ride for a day, and repeat offenders can be ejected from the ride. Moreover, running stop signs makes a bad impression on the dozens of jurisdictions that we pass through, and as I said this morning, we need to stay in their good graces. In June, ALC has roaming safety patrols that are on the lookout for rule-breakers, so don't you be one of them.

Also today, I'm sad to report that we had one injury -- not serious, fortunately. In San Carlos, a rider went down along Alameda de las Pulgas while trying to signal an upcoming stop. No ambulance was needed, but the rider's jacket is more than a little banged up! A reminder that it's OK to just call out your intentions ("slowing!") if you don't feel you can safely remove a hand from your handlebars to make a hand signal. But be sure to use your out-loud voice so that everyone around you can hear it.

What's next? Two weeks from today, we'll head to the East Bay for a picturesque trip around the Calaveras Reservoir and back through Sunol and Niles Canyon. This is a 70-mile ride with only about 2,200 feet of climbing (about 800 feet less than we did today), but there's a devious catch: Almost all of that climbing comes on just one big, glorious climb out of Milpitas. Count on about 2.5 miles of 8% climbing (roughly as steep as Kings Mountain but not as long), but then there's a very short but nasty segment of climbing at grades of up to 20% at the summit. For those of you who did ALC8, it's comparable to the evil Halcyon Road hill south of Pismo Beach. But it's also perfectly OK to walk this short part of the route -- it's over in just a couple of minutes. The reward is a low-traffic, rolling ride around the reservoir with an excellent descent into Sunol, so don't let that one hill keep you from joining us. Details and RSVP are here.

Our meet time next time is an hour earlier, at 8:00 a.m. It's very important that everyone arrive on time so that we can ride out on time and make it back to Mountain View on time, so please make every effort to be here, unpacked, and ready to participate by 8:00. Also, please make sure that you're up to the task of at least a 12 mph pace for several hours.

Special thanks again today to Dennis for his outstanding volunteer SAG service.

Thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.

Friday night weather update

All clear. The National Weather Service reports that tonight's showers are not making it much farther north than Monterey, and the Bay Area is looking dry throughout the night and all day tomorrow.

There might even be a bit of sunshine! So, because we'll be outside for up to six or more hours, be sure to bring sunscreen. But you'll probably still need a light jacket and leg warmers in the morning as temperatures should be around 50 degrees at ride-out time.

See you at 9:00 a.m. You can still RSVP.

Distance Training #6: Coyote Valley (3/20/2010)

Date: Saturday, March 20
Meet time: 7:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 8:00 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: 3 - moderate-fast pace (12-15 mph)
Terrain: 3 - rolling hills with some steep climbs
Miles: 51/80

We've taken this classic South Bay training ride and added a few extra challenges along the way to give you a good workout as you continue to get ready for ALC9.

From our starting point in downtown Mountain View, we'll first go through Stevens Canyon and then up and over Mount Eden, and then into Saratoga for our first rest stop.

Next, it's off to Los Gatos, where we'll repeat the Shannon/Kennedy hill that we had earlier this season but which many riders skipped due to weather. After descending into San Jose, we'll climb Camden Road for an amazing view of the city and then take our second rest stop along Almaden Expressway.

After that, it's into rural southern Santa Clara County as we slowly climb to the Calero Reservoir. Today, we'll be heading almost to Morgan Hill before turning around and heading back up Santa Teresa Blvd. (strong headwinds are possible) into San Jose for our third rest stop.

Here, 51-mile riders take VTA light rail back to Mountain View. (Bring $2 cash.) Be warned, however: The light rail requires a transfer and is almost as slow as riding the distance yourself.

Then, it's a gentle ride across the southern edge of the city with a short climb on Blossom Hill Road into Los Gatos for our fourth stop. Finally, we take a scenic tour through Monte Sereno and Saratoga and head back to Foothill Expressway for our return to Mountain View.

Total climbing is about 3,400 feet. A SAG vehicle will be on the route to assist with any minor situations that might arise.

Leaders: Chris Thomas, Bob Katz, Linda Kemmer, Paul Vargas, Randy Files, David Gaus, Bruce Der-McLeod, Michael Casas

RSVPs are requested but not required.

Today's skill-testing question

When riding with clipless pedals, can you safely unclip with either foot first? If not, that's an important skill you probably want to acquire, as I learned yesterday.

A little more than halfway into Sunday's 35-mile Sunnyvale training ride, I began to notice that my right pedal stroke was feeling funny. After a couple minutes of this, I decided that I'd try to unclip and reclip to see if that took care of the problem. One problem, though -- when I went to unclip, I couldn't! If you're in motion and can't unclip, it usually doesn't end well.

Fortunately, I kept my cool and unclipped with my other foot. Doing so while in motion was more difficult than I expected, but I did so without incident. I looked for a place to stop where I could lean against something because, as I suspected, even after I stopped, it was darned difficult to unclip the trapped foot. The culprit was a missing bolt, and that had done a good job of getting the cleat lodged in the pedal. (I use SPD cleats.)

Had I done everything properly at the time, I would have slowed before attempting to unclip, and I would have called out to the riders around me to alert them of my possible problem. As it was, nobody else knew I had a problem until after I'd steered the bike right up against a convenient fence for me to lean on. Better to let others know that something bad might happen than to not warn them and be responsible for a crash.

With careful clipping and unclipping and periodically tightening the one remaining bolt, I was able to safely finish my ride.

(Oh, and make sure your cleats are tightly fastened, too.)

Getting to know my $19 video camera

I took the camera to San Francisco today to shoot some footage of the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito, and Camino Alto. Especially for those of you who aren't familiar with the Bay Area, I'm eager to show you some of the places we ride while training for AIDS/LifeCycle.

Things started out great. I got about 10 minutes of riding to and across most of the Golden Gate. But, unknown to me at the time, the camera then shut itself off. It had done that before, so I wasn't horribly surprised when I got to the other side and discovered it was no longer recording. So all day long through our 49-mile ride, I'd periodically turn the camera back on, and at the next stop, I'd discover it had shut itself off again.

"Oh, you fool," you're probably thinking by now. "It's the batteries, you fool." Well, no. At least it didn't seem that way! The handy battery-level indicator always showed full or just one notch away from full. And every time I turned the camera back on, I appeared to have plenty of battery power.

My excellent theory (a-HEM!) was that the camera was sensitive to big bumps in the road, and there was some threshold at which the camera would shut itself off.

So when I got home, I decided to do a little testing. I turned it on, started recording, and shook and dropped the camera rather sharply (no moving parts, so no worries). It kept recording. I tried various combinations of leaving the flip-out dispay open and shut. What I learned was that after about 1.5 to 2 minutes, the camera was turning itself off, just like happened on the road. So I tried again, and this time I watched the display. And sure enough, right before it shut off, it displayed the battery-dead icon.

Apparently the battery status goes from "all" to "nothing" rather quickly, which also explains why the first segment I recorded every time seemed to work so well. Looks like it'll be lithium batteries for foolish me.

In the meantime, enjoy most of today's morning ride across the Golden Gate Bridge, before it became packed with tourists on rented bicycles. No audio track this time.

How to ride across tracks

From Streetsblog, here is a quick one-minute film that shows you the proper way to ride across tracks ... and how Seattle has marked one particularly dangerous crossing to guide cyclists.

Keep this in mind at places such as the VTA light rail tracks that cross eastbound Central Expressway in Mountain View.

(And how did these folks get such a nice camera setup on their bike anyway?)

Another chance for Westridge/Altamont

Did you miss our Saturday ride because of the weather? Looks like some of the other ride leaders are organizing a rerun for this coming Saturday the 13th. And it's being scheduled as a Cat-2 ride, which means that you only need to have a pace of 10 mph or greater to qualify ... so, even with all the tough hills, you'll have no problem with the pace.

It's running half an hour earlier: meet time at 9 a.m., ride-out at 9:30 a.m., from our usual place in downtown Mountain View. Everything else is the same.

If you're interested, RSVP to Ellen Goldstein, who's facilitating this ride. RSVP even if you were scheduled to ride this past Saturday, so she knows about how many people to expect.

This was a fantastic training ride with some hills that are probably new to you ... and as I said in my ride report, it's an important simulation of the endurance conditions you'll encounter in June.

What a training ride looks like

This won't come as any big shock to those of you who are already part of ALC. But for the rest of you, here's seven minutes of video (sped up from about 35 minutes in real time) from today's Sunnyvale training ride. Now you can see -- from the vantage point on my handlebars -- some scenes of a typical midwinter day in the Bay Area.

This is all from my $19 video camera, which unfortunately seems to have a habit of stopping at unpredictable times ... which led me to miss capturing the most challenging climb of today's ride. Sorry!

Ride report: Cat-3 Distance Training #3 (2/6/2010)

Go, riders!

Again this week, I didn't think we were going to ride. And again, I was proven wrong. Although scattered rain fell across the Bay Area all day long, our intrepid group of nine riders somehow managed to avoid almost all of the precipitation and even enjoyed some intermittent warm, sunny skies. And although we had a bit of attrition on today's ride (only five of us finished the full 50 miles), every one of you is to be commended for taking the chance and for listening to your body and doing what was right for you.

Also, extra-special thanks are again due for our super SAG driver, Al. Even though he didn't have a lot of incidents to take care of (not a single flat on today's entire ride!), his presence throughout the day was a welcome sight on more than one of those nasty hills that your facilitator jammed into the second half of the ride.

Yeah, and what was the deal with all those hills, anyway? Today's ride was an attempt to simulate what happens to many riders on Day 3 of the event in June. We ride nearly 200 miles on the first two days, but most riders don't have much trouble with that because most of us include two consecutive long-mileage days at least once as part of our training. But very few of us have the opportunity or the time to attempt three long days in a row before June. So when Day 3 begins with Quadbuster, more than a few riders don't know what hit them.

Today, you were treated to about 25 miles of nearly flat terrain (made just a little more difficult than usual today because of the wet pavement) followed by a few miles of very gentle climbing, and then whoomp! it's time to climb Westridge. And sure enough, in the words of one rider today, "Westridge hurts." It's a fairly good simulation of Quadbuster, perhaps just a little bit shorter, but still quite a workout. I took a few breaks on the way up, some folks walked part of it, and some just bore down and went for the whole enchilada. Any one of those strategies is perfectly OK, not just on a training ride but also on the event in June. It's not a race, and there's no special certificate for riding Every Friendly Inch of the route. Your health and safety always come first ... always try to practice the philosophy of "no permanent damage."

And as if Westridge wasn't enough, then there were more hills ... and then even more hills. Fortunately, there are very few parts of the route from San Francisco to Los Angeles that have so much climbing in such a short distance -- the new Day 5 route between Buellton and Lompoc probably comes closest. (I found that part of the route surprisingly difficult, although others might disagree.)

Again, today's lesson: When you encounter easy terrain in June, don't necessarily consider it to be permission to crank up the dial to 11 and go all-out. You can if you want, but remember that ALC is an endurance event, not a quick sprint. Ride at a pace that's comfortable for you ... and one that you can maintain essentially forever, given proper nutrition and hydration. That's one of the biggest secrets to happiness on the ride.

What's next? We're back on schedule now, so it's two weeks until our next ride. On Saturday, Feb. 20, we increase the mileage to 60, and we head up the Peninsula to the Crystal Springs Reservoir. Although there's about 50% more more climbing than we did today, I think the overall ride is a bit easier. There's only one big hill on this ride: the climb up Polhemus, followed by the steep descent on Ralston. (Check your brakes before the ride!) The second half of the ride is entirely in populated areas (but still a bit hilly), so bailouts will be easier for anyone who needs them. Details and RSVP are here.

One important note: Beginning with our next ride, the meet times start getting earlier with almost every ride. We're half an hour earlier (at 9 a.m.) next time, which means that the southbound Caltrain no longer runs early enough for our rides. (Sorry about that!) Get used to the earlier times ... by ride #10, our meet time will be a truly insane 5:15 a.m.

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

P.S.: If you skipped today's ride and want to try it on your own sometime, here is the route sheet, and here is a custom-drawn map that might help you avoid making any wrong turns on this complex route.

We will try to ride today

This is a tough call. Heavy rain has moved through overnight, but the radar currently suggests that only a couple small bands of rain are left off the coast and set to move through in the next few hours. Since this ride is "heavy rain cancels," and since heavy rain appears unlikely at the moment, we'll try to do the ride, or at least some part of it. Everyone seems to agree that the chances of rain decrease as the day goes on.

But conditions might change in the next three hours, so we will see what happens when we gather. Here are the possibilities:
-- We delay our ride-out if it's raining at 10 a.m. but appears to be short-lived.
-- We ride only part of our scheduled route.
-- We get to Mountain View and decide things have turned sour, so we cancel.

See you in Mountain View at 9:30. Dress appropriately, and bring a change of clothes with you so that you won't need to drive home wet.

Distance Training #3 weather update (9 p.m. Friday)

One last check with the nerdy forecasters at the National Weather Service before I head to bed. And it's a tiny bit more interesting than the last outlook:
Unlike the Thursday evening frontal passage with its steady rain... this system to be marked by shower activity and varying amounts of rain due to the convective nature of the precipitation. Instability showers lingering a little longer by recent forecast solutions than previous forecast package so much of Saturday to have shower activity and not tapering off until Saturday night.

What they're saying is that tomorrow might be more like today ... yes, it's fairly certain that any one area will receive some precipitation, but it will be scattered throughout the day, making it tough to predict how heavily impacted any particular location will be. But also, the earlier prediction that things might start clearing out in the afternoon now seems to be not so likely.

AccuWeather still calls for seven hours of rain tomorrow, with a precipitation total of a hefty 0.46 inch, with a 30% chance of thunderstorms. A reminder: Thunderstorms in the ride area mean an instant cancellation.

So, with all that said, I'll check things early in the morning and post a decision here. And remember, if we don't do the entire scheduled route on Saturday, we'll try it again on February 13. Ride leaders: Let me know if you can make it that day.

In slightly more positive news, Sunday looks more favorable. Why not consider the 30-mile Cat-2 ride in Sunnyvale? And here's a protip: If you park at our usual spot in Mountain View and commute to and from the meeting point, the ride becomes a quite respectable 41 miles.

Slippery when wet

This morning's Sacramento Bee has a well-written report on bicycling in the rain. Although it's written mainly for a mainstream audience, it does make several good points that bear repeating, especially this:
Winter cycling starts with adapting to the season's changing conditions. The most important rule is "slippery when wet." In addition to branches and other debris, major hazards include leaves and road paint, such as the thick white lines at intersections. Riding over either when wet can be like rolling over ice, especially while cornering.

And if you encounter any of these things while going downhill, that calls for even more caution ... or even walking if you're the least bit unsure about your safety.