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Hills with (almost) pleasure

Today's 50-mile ride took me someplace I'd never been on a bicycle: to the summit of Sierra Road just outside San Jose, about 2,030 feet high above Silicon Valley. I took the "easier" route to the top up the backside, unlike the Tour of California cyclists who climb the massively brutal Sierra Road directly to the top on a steady 3-mile grade of more than 10%. But "easier" is all relative here; I still had to gain all that elevation in just a few miles, and once up there, a series of rolling hills kept me on my toes.

It was difficult ... and even mildly painful at times. But I didn't end up in a foul mood, like I do on so many other hilly rides. Why not? I didn't do any special nutrition tricks today; moreover, the ride wasn't really long enough to cause issues -- I reached the summit only about 27 miles into my day. The temperature was warm to slightly hot in places; much of the climb was exposed to the autumn sun. And the hills were sufficiently steep that I had to take several breaks just to keep my pounding heart under control. (Who knew ... mine can still thump at 183 bpm!)

But there was an important difference today. I was by myself.

This isn't about being antisocial. But many of us are inherently competitive, and this spirit can easily manifest itself even on a recreational or group ride. With nobody in front of or behind me, I could climb at my own pace, stop when I wanted, and not worry about what anyone else would see or think. In fact, early in the ride before the climbing began in earnest, another cyclist passed me on Tasman Drive, and I instinctively sped up to keep pace with him until it was clear that he was far faster.

On my entire climb up Calaveras and Felter roads today (and back down Sierra), not a single cyclist passed me, nor did I pass any other cyclists, a total distance of about 12 miles -- perhaps a positive side effect of my relatively late 10 a.m. start from Mountain View. (Several were traveling in the opposite direction, so I wasn't out there all alone.)

In my years with AIDS/LifeCycle, I seem to have developed a reputation as a "fast" rider -- a reputation I can sometimes uphold on flat to gently rolling terrain. But when the hills get steep, it's another story, and more than once I've burned myself out trying to maintain a pace that just isn't right for me. The time limits on the ride and during many training rides -- sunset, if nothing else -- impose a deadline on me, and my style when given a deadline is usually to be ahead of deadline as much as possible. (Oh, those years in the newspaper business.)

But unless you're on a timed ride where the deadlines are near the limits of your performance, there's often little need to stress out over them. And, just as important, there's no need to stress out over what others think of your pace or abilities. (It's also a lot easier to say this than it is to practice this.)

Whenever possible, try to make every ride your own.

Photo: Sierra Road winding through the hills, about 2,000 feet above San Jose (in the haze at the bottom).

Help, I'm turning into a cyclist

Today's 80-mile ride from Daly City BART to Pleasanton BART was an experiment for me. I knew going into the ride that the route contained several hills for about 3,850 feet of climbing, including a particularly nasty climb that I'd never done before. (I knew this because today was Day 1 of Seismic Challenge 3.0 and, while I didn't officially do the ride or the whole 105-mile route today due to logistics, I did make the route sheet for them.)

Regular readers of this blog might recall that hills -- especially steep ones -- often put me in a mood most foul and leave me hating the world, the ride, and myself, often all at the same time. Since I started tracking my calorie expenditures about a month ago, I've come to the conclusion that I've been taking in far too few calories for the distance and pace that I usually ride. So I started experimenting with some high-calorie powdered mixes, and I used one today, apparently to great advantage, since even the toughest climb I'd done in a long time didn't ruin my day.

If my heart rate monitor is to be believed, I burned 7,781 calories on today's ride, counting the off-the-bike time I spent at rest stops. In return, I took in about 2,150 calories, about 1,250 of which were in liquid form -- a bottle of Odwalla strawberry-banana juice, plus three water bottles mixed with Perpetuem. The most substantial actual food I ate during the whole ride was a solitary blueberry bagel, although I had a good breakfast before riding and a big sandwich (with, shhhh, curly fries ... don't tell anyone) immediately afterward.

And I think it served me well. The instructions for Perpetuem warn that mixtures can go bad after a few hours, so there's a strong motivation to consume the liquid regularly, which I did -- at the rate of about one bottle (300 calories, in the proportions that I used) for every two hours on the bike. At the end of my 80 miles, I was riding strong, and I don't think it was entirely due to the moderate tailwind that was pushing me into Pleasanton.

Perhaps I could get the same effect by eating more actual food while riding, but attempts to do so in the past have often left me with an upset stomach and reaching for the Pepto-Bismol. I took in about 350 calories per hour of riding, which might be just a wee bit low for my weight but probably a lot closer than I've come in the past.

This merits continued investigation, since anything that keeps me happy on difficult rides is probably good for my cycling psyche!

And a final postscript: Giant, big thanks to everyone in the Seismic Challenge family who welcomed me into their "home" today. As a non-fundraising faux rider, just the route sheet creator, I didn't want to interlope into the big day for everyone else -- the riders who by all measures did an awesome job of fundraising, the roadies who made this difficult route a success for everyone, and the foundation staff who brought it all together. You're the real heroes of the day and the weekend.

Photo: Climbing Hayward Ave. (center foreground), looking west toward the San Mateo Bridge.