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Ride report: ALC12 Distance Training #5 (2/23/2013)

Go, riders!

Some rides are designed to be eventful and interesting. But this ride ended up being more eventful than intended. Our group of 26 riders plus two SAG drivers who were worth their weight in gold (more on this anon) conquered an extremely challenging hill, confronted surprisingly strong winds, took a couple of spills, and even had an unpleasant post-ride incident. The good news, however, is that everyone (as far as I know as of this morning) is basically OK: no ambulances, no hospitals, no doctors.

The interesting day started early for me. When I woke up before dawn and checked the weather, I was pleased to find that temperatures were generally in the upper 40s. But I also had lost three of our seven scheduled ride leaders due to illness or family emergencies, so I knew we'd be a little low in the leader department. (Also, several of our other regular riders backed out at the last minute due to illness. We missed you!) Then, when I started to take all of our supplies outside to load in my vehicle, I was shocked to find a fresh coating of rain on everything! While I had been getting ready, a very unexpected, brief but moderate rainstorm had passed through the area.

Would this affect our route to Redwood Gulch? Fortunately, super SAG driver Andrew had driven out to check the route, and he reported that the pavement in Stevens Canyon was its usual damp self but that Redwood Gulch was already starting to dry out.

By the time we started our pre-game activities at 9:30, skies were clear blue, but there was a bit more wind than we've had in the mornings so far this year. And we had many new faces to the Mountain View rides -- welcome! This gave us a small boost in the morning as our route was generally north to south. And soon enough, we were at Redwood Gulch.

This ride was structured to be similar to the beginning of Day 3 -- Quadbuster day -- of the event in June. Just like yesterday, Day 3 begins with about 10 miles of constant but gradual climbing to the main event, a 1.4-mile steep climb.

Quadbuster is, of course, not as steep as Redwood Gulch (7.6% average vs. 9.4% average), but it's also true that Day 3 is when many cyclists begin to feel the effects of multi-day riding, causing hills to feel more challenging than the numbers might indicate.

Redwood Gulch is more difficult than any hill on AIDS/LifeCycle. And there's not another hill nearly as steep on any of our remaining Distance Training rides this season! Strong kudos go to everyone who attempted the hill, regardless of whether you rode Every Friendly Inch or decided to cross-train part of the way. (And if you did part of it on feet instead of wheels, you might have even noticed that you were going just about the same speed as the cyclists!) One of the good things to take away from Redwood Gulch is that it helps you find -- and possibly expand -- your limits. If you didn't think you could make it up such a hill before, now you can. And if you took some breaks or cross-trained, then you can possibly aim to return later and do even better. (Or, if you're just as happy never seeing Redwood Gulch again in your lifetime, that's OK, too.)

After Redwood Gulch, the rest of this ride was designed to be much less eventful. What I didn't expect, however, were the winds that continued to strengthen as the day went on. They provided a nice assist as we traveled south to Calero reservoir (many personal records were set), but as soon as we turned east for the descent into Coyote Valley, those winds became potentially dangerous crosswinds.

And, yes, we had a rider go down on the Bailey Avenue descent. Super SAG driver Janet was on the scene quickly and transported the rider and bicycle back to Mountain View. They're OK, but the jury might still be out on the bicycle.

Then, after our next turn onto Santa Teresa Blvd., those winds became annoyingly strong headwinds that only became stronger as we approached the mini-hill at the border of the developed area of south San Jose. As I've mentioned before, headwinds usually aren't frequent on the event in June, but they can happen. Crosswinds can be a serious challenge on some parts of the event: a brief segment in the latter half of Day 2, but a more daunting segment of several miles on Highway 1 approaching Guadalupe near the end of Day 4, with little shoulder and high-speed traffic. (And those winds can make yesterday feel like nothing at all.) So even though crosswinds and headwinds generally aren't much fun, it's nonetheless a good idea to spend some time experiencing them before June gets here so that you'll know how your bike handles before it's surrounded by 2,500 other bikes.

The winds were waiting for us again after lunch in south San Jose, and the infamous Santa Teresa Slog certainly lived up to its name. Although there was only 12 miles until the next rest stop, more than one cyclist commented that those miles were especially difficult, despite the nearly flat terrain. And we had another cyclist go down in that segment, but there was just a bit of road rash and some minor bike damage -- that cyclist was able to finish the rest of the ride without further incident.

As we approached the end of our long day, we got a pleasant surprise as several of the folks from yesterday's Sunnyvale training ride rang the cowbells and cheered us on as we passed their meeting location. And our last riders made it back to Mountain View at 5:35, well before sunset but with an increasingly chilly wind. With everyone accounted for, the day was done.

But we had lost a couple of cyclists before we even got to Redwood Gulch. Some riders took a wrong turn early in the day and got way off-route. And then, to make things worse, there was a minor car-vs.-bike incident (again, nothing serious). Remember to always take a route sheet so that you'll have phone numbers to call if something goes wrong, or at least program those numbers into your phone before starting.

And to cap off our event-filled day, one cyclist drove home with their bike attached to their roof rack ... and right into the top of their garage.

Some days are just full of trouble. Despite the amazing scenery and numerous personal accomplishments, Saturday was one of those days. One of the truisms about the event in June is that many riders will have what we indiscreetly call a "queen b*tch from hell day" sometime during the week. (It's happened to me often.) You get to a point where you're mad at everything and everyone, you lash out at others (and yourself), and you're a generally unpleasant person to be around. On a training ride, this often isn't a big deal: You'll be going home in a few hours, and you'll be doing something else the next day. But in June, this can quickly spiral into a mental and physical state that's dangerous not only to you but to those around you. Angry riders can do stupid and dangerous things while on the bike.

An old ALC meme used to be "I'm a kitty, you're a kitty," often accompanied by cute/annoying pawing motions. The idea was to defuse any downward spirals before they became hopeless. Whatever your strategy, it's important to not ride grumpy. And it's equally important that you learn to detect your own early warning signs of getting grumpy and take quick action to address them. Improper nutrition is a common cause of grumpiness (it's happened to me many times), but it also can happen just by taking your mind into the wrong place. 

This is what we mean when we talk about the "mental challenge" component of endurance cycling, and that's why we'll be spending the rest of our training season on increasingly long rides. Even if you have a body that can pump out 100 miles with little effort, your mind is an equally important component in actually making that happen.

Our next ride is only 6 miles longer, and it has considerably more climbing (the most of any of our training rides this season), but I believe that it will feel easier than Redwood Gulch. Our ride to Pacifica has only a couple of steep climbs, and they're not nearly as steep as what we've done on our past two rides. Also, we'll ride about 16 miles of the Day 1 route, including a little time on a bicycle-legal part of I-280. (If you've never done it before, this is definitely something you want to experience now before being surrounded by 2,500 other cyclists.) This ride has about as much climbing (of roughly the same type) as Day 1 and is about the same distance, so it's a good way to gauge your progress at this point in the training season. Find out more and RSVP here.

A note to our riders who have been arriving on southbound Caltrain: Unfortunately, we've reached the point in the season where our rides have become too long to sync up with the train. Our next meeting time is one hour earlier, at 8:30 a.m. I hope you'll still be able to join us; start working now on alternate transportation arrangements.

Thanks to everyone, congratulations on making it through a challenging day, and thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.

ALC12 Distance Training #7: Palomares and Calaveras (3/23/2013)

Date: Saturday, March 23
Meet time: 8:00 a.m. Note the earlier meeting time!
Ride-out time: 8:30 a.m.
Meeting place: Parking lot at Villa and Franklin streets, Mountain View (across from the Tied House) (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Heavy rain cancels
Category: 3 - moderate-fast pace (12-15 mph)
Terrain: 4 - steep hills, long climbs
Miles: 88


Today's ride begins by heading to and across the Dumbarton Bridge and through Newark, Fremont, and Union City on our way to the first couple miles of Niles Canyon (the part where the shoulder is mostly good).

Then, we'll tackle the 4.7-mile and 4.4% northbound Palomares climb (the "easier" direction), followed by the Dublin Grade (again in the 2.6-mile and 2.7% "easier" direction). After a lunch stop in Pleasanton, we'll do, yes, the "easier" 2.8-mile and 3.8% southbound climb of Calaveras Road. We finish with a rest stop in Milpitas and then return through San Jose, Santa Clara (by the new 49ers stadium), and Sunnyvale.

Strava reports about 4,100 feet of climbing for this route. There's a lot of climbing on this ride, some of it a little bit steep, but none of it stupidly steep. We've rated this ride a terrain "4" because the climbs are long, not because they're unusually steep.

Click here to RSVP
RSVPs are requested but not required.

Schedule change

I've changed the last four rides (beginning April 6 and ending May 18). The Bay Area has been lucky enough to score some amazing stages in this year's Tour of California, but this created a conflict over part of our route in Livermore that very same day, at about the very same time we'd be there on our Altamont Pass ride.

Instead, the sixth annual Altamont Pass Double Metric will now take place on Saturday, May 4. (This also removes the conflict with the Jon Pon ride.)

The details on what's ahead:
April 6: South Bay century, 100 miles
April 20: Gilroy, 113 miles
May 4: Altamont Pass, 125 miles
May 18: Celebration ride, route and miles tba, but likely coastside

If we get rained out between now and then, we will try to run a make-up ride the following Saturday (on our normally off week), assuming I can gather enough ride leaders.

ALC12 Distance Training #6: Pacifica (3/9/2013)

Date: Saturday, March 9
Meet time: 8:30 a.m. Note the earlier time!
Ride-out time: 9:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Parking lot at Villa and Franklin streets, Mountain View (across from the Tied House) (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: 77


Today's ride is very similar in distance and difficulty to Day 1 of the event in June -- and, in fact, covers about 16 miles of the Day 1 route from recent years. With almost three months still to go before Day 1, it's perfectly OK to not be fully ready by this point, but today's ride will help you gauge your progress so far and help you identify any areas of your training where you might want to focus more in the weeks to come.

We start with a simple spin up to Woodside for our first rest stop. Then we'll travel the entire length of CaƱada Road and up and over the Ralston Bike Path on our way to the Sawyer Camp Trail, where we'll get some practice riding on a multi-use path with many other types of trail users (something we do on parts of the event in June). Next, we'll spend a couple of minutes on a short bicycle-legal part of I-280 (just like we do on Day 1) and then ride the spine of the coastal hills before the big, steep, incredibly scenic descent into lunch at Pacifica.

Because we descend to the coast, we must also climb back from the coast. Today, we do this on Sharp Park Road, a somewhat challenging 2-mile climb that's fairly consistent but not stupidly steep. From there we pick up the Day 1 route and follow it as far as the Ralston Bike Trail; we return via Alameda de las Pulgas (bypassing Alameda de las Steeps, thankfully) and Foothill Expressway.

Total climbing on this ride is about 5,000 feet, distributed throughout the day. There are very few flat sections.

Sorry, but due to the earlier time, the first southbound Caltrain of the day will not arrive in time for this ride. Because sunset is at 6:10 p.m., please sign up for this ride only if you are reasonably confident that you can complete it in nine hours or less. We hope to have at least one SAG vehicle available if difficulties should arise.

Click here to RSVP
RSVPs are requested but not required.

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.