Category Archives: biking

Ride Report: Tour d’Organics 2014

My first century ride — the Tour d’Organics last Sunday — was my favorite kind of day: up and down hills, on two wheels, with good friends. Granted, I had nothing to compare it to; I’d never done an organized non-race before. But I had a blast — and frankly, a much better time than I expected from a day when I’d be spending seven-plus hours on a bicycle.

The race started and ended in Sebastopol, one of my favorite West County towns. When Pete and I were first together, he lived in Santa Rosa, and I spent almost every weekend of that year somewhere in West County — wine tasting on Dry Creek Road, hiking at Annadel, eating cookies and ice cream in Sebastopol, lazing in the Russian River at Memorial Beach (open for wading only this summer, sigh). I’ve waxed emotional about my love for West County in this space before, and I was excited to bike these roads with Pete for the first time.

At the community center, where we arrived at 6:30 to pick up our bibs and maps, there were bagels and a whole spray of blue-and-silver balloons that I thought might have been left over from some recent teen dance. A handful of volunteers checked people in; the race director offered some course beta and asked us to remember that the legendarily poor Sonoma County road paving wasn’t his fault. (Foreshadowing!) The Taylor Maid people were making free pour-over coffee in the parking lot. West County at its finest.


Sufficiently fed and caffeinated, a group of about six of us rolled out together, ignoring the arrow that pointed the wrong direction — not the most auspicious start! — and heading south out of Sebastopol.

Start-mile 30 — Three Ox Farm stop

Our longest uninterrupted stretch of riding came at the start of the day. It was cool and gray, and our little group chatted and reminded each other that chatting speed was the right speed; this wasn’t a race; we had a long way to go.

The climbing started with short, spiky hills. Someone described this to me as “rolling” but I’d call it more “grinding” — little bursts of needing to be in my lowest gear, alternating with quick downhills. The roads were … non-awesome, and I would become glad later that I’d gotten them out of the way so early; I think I’d rather have terrible stretches at the start and end of a long ride than have moderately bad roads the whole day.

This stretch had the best animals: there were actual frolicking lambs, and piles of sleeping cows, and a farm kitten, and llamas and ducks and chickens and goats. I called out each one as I passed — LLAMA! DUCK! Alpaca? ALPACA! — because the second you put me around livestock, I become a 4-year-old. (I found out at the rest stop that there had been a group of lambs playing on a log, and I didn’t see them, and if I had, I’d still be standing there right now taking pictures.) I’m pretty sure it was in this segment that my friend and I literally got heckled by a herd of cattle.

I was riding alone for the last 10 or so miles, firmly in between two sets of friends, and to entertain myself, I made bets about how much I thought we’d already climbed. I settled on a number that would make me very happy (2400′) and a number that would make me very sad (1200′), and when I finally pulled up to Three Ox and leaned my bike against the fence, I let myself look: 1800′. Not so bad.

image_1Three Ox was a lovely little farm and would turn out to be my favorite stop of the day. Within a minute of my arrival, someone handed me me a dixie cup full of kale smoothie; someone else pointed me toward a tray piled with Asian pears and Gravenstein apples. I ate fennel salad and roasted potatoes and brie on Ritz crackers at 9 a.m. We probably lingered too long, but it was a really good stop.

Miles 30-40 — Gabriel Farm stop

The shortest segment of the day was my least favorite. I never got into a consistent pedaling rhythm, and I never felt like I was choosing the right gear for the grade and the conditions. I was either coasting around big potholes or losing all my momentum chugging up yet another short but steep hill. There was one climb right after Three Ox where I was truly not sure I was going to be able to keep moving (apparently that’s what an 11% grade feels like).

I was grouchy when I pulled into Gabriel Farm, where it was suddenly very crowded: riders from all four ride distances were together for the first time. Some friends who pulled in shortly after said a course marshall had been giving them a hard time about being close to the cutoff, and I started getting nervous. I got out of there pretty quickly, but not before drinking some Asian pear/apple cider and eating some homemade jam on more Ritz-with-brie.

Miles 40-53 — Middleton Farms stop

Surprise! Offroading! Somewhere in this segment, we turned onto an unpaved portion of county bike trail. It was well-maintained but still gravel and sand and dirt, and it was a little shocking to suddenly be navigating it.

That mile was probably the worst of the day — but the bit of riding that followed was lovely, as I caught up to a friend we started really trucking as soon as the trail turned back into (reasonably paved) road. I don’t remember much about the scenery here, because I was so busy talking.

At exactly the moment my Garmin beeped for mile 50, the sun came out. We always used to say there were two kinds of days in West County: gray in the morning and 80 and sunny by noon, and 80 and sunny in the morning and 100 by noon. We were lucky that this was the first kind!

At Middleton Farms, they had great peaches, and — even better — a big container of watermelon and a big shaker of salt. I might have stayed there even longer had the next stop not been lunch.

Miles 53-63 — Dry Creek Peach stop

The ride to lunch was so much fun. It started out following the Vineman course, but then we turned and ended up riding one of my favorite winery-studded roads for several miles. We went past the place that makes my favorite mustard (I thought seriously about stopping for a jar) and a few of the first wineries I ever visited when I started living in California.

I’d been looking forward to lunch at Dry Creek Peach — the farm where Alice Waters gets the peaches that she’s famously served for dessert — but it was kind of a bummer. There were soggy wrap sandwiches that I was (incorrectly, thank goodness) told were almost gone, and there was a big, empty pan with chocolate crumbs in it that I assume was more delicious when the 70-milers and faster 100-mile riders went by. I was annoyed at what seemed like an overall lack of food considering how many people could potentially still be coming; the stop was open for another 1.5 hours! I realize that slower participants in all sorts of distance events have had this kind of experience at one point or another, but it was not great.

Miles 63-79 — Alexander Valley School stop

This section included the climb up Canyon and the descent into Geyserville, one of my favorite parts of the Vineman course. It’s honestly a weird part of the course to call my favorite, but I had plenty of alone time to think about why I loved it, so here’s my reasoning: The climb up Canyon is gradual and pretty quick for me, and the descent is smooth and perfect, with vineyards on both sides and beautiful rolling hills straight ahead. Often in cycling, I think the descents aren’t enough of a payoff. Canyon is the rare case where you get a better descent than you deserve.

I got a little competitive with myself here, realizing that I would be able to check my times against my Vineman Strava file. I caught up to Pete at the rest stop, and as it was our one non-farm stop of the day, we didn’t stay too long. I grabbed a handful of chips to stuff in my bento box, and we were off to conquer our last big climb of the day.

Miles 79-91 — Golden Nectar stop

It was getting warm, so I attempted to take one of my remaining salt pills (and ended up dropping all of them). I took that as a sign to chill out and not try to keep up with Pete, figuring I’d probably catch him on the Chalk Hill climb anyway.

I’d forgotten how much of Chalk Hill Road is actually lovely — flat, if not a little downhill, and shaded by tall trees. The shadows were playing tricks on me — pothole? or just dark? — and I couldn’t remember exactly where the hill started, so I tried to quiet my mind and enjoy the non-climbing stretches while I could.

Soon, we hit the little teaser hill for Chalk Hill, and not long after that the real climb started. My mantra for Chalk Hill is “it’s hard because of where it is, but not because of what it is” — and if that’s true at mile 45 of Vineman, it’s even more true at mile 85 of a century. It felt harder than I remembered — but of course I’d biked almost twice as many miles! — and yet I still knew, rationally, that it’s not a bad climb, that I regularly do worse than it, that I could definitely keep moving. So I kept gping up, and soon enough, I was catching up to Pete …

… who, suddenly, was pulling off to the side of the road with a broken chain, less than 100 feet from the top. Neither of us had a chain tool; frankly, neither of us knew how to use one, either. I could get phone reception if I stood in one tiny patch of driveway, so I called SAG and proceeded to have a cute but frustrating conversation (“We need a ride, or a mechanic.” “Aw, don’t feel bad, a lot of people have been calling saying they’re done for the day.” “No, no, we want to keep riding!” “Isn’t that just the worst, though, when the mind wants to ride and the legs just won’t go?” “No! We can keep riding! It’s just, the bike is broken.”). After 30 minutes, a SAG driver finally showed up — just by chance, apparently; the one we’d actually called came 10 minutes later — and was able to drive Pete down to the last rest stop, where a mechanic station was still open.

I rode down the hill and met Pete at the rest stop, pulling in as he was learning that riding the rest of the way would be feasible. We filled up our bottles one last time, I ate one last round of cheese and Ritz, and then we pointed our bikes back toward Sebastopol.

image_3Miles 91-103 — Finish

The ride between Golden Nectar and the finish followed a lot of the Vineman run course, which I have a new appreciation for having seen it from a bike: Some of those hills are hard! I think it looks harder from a bike than it does on foot; which way it feels harder is sort of a toss-up, at least 90+ miles into a ride.

The closer we got to Sebastopol, the worse the roads got — like numb-your-hands-and-rattle-out-your-eyeballs bad. I could not have dealt with a whole ride of roads like that! We were so close, though. The best thing I did all day was save the last of my amazing Japanese gummy candies (some bought earlier this year, some saved since 2013 for a special occasion) for this stretch. I was tired, but “bike 2 miles, eat a gummy” was a bargain I could accept.

There were some sketchy left turns in this section where I wish the traffic markings had been better, and they sucked what little momentum I had to spare, but who cared? This was mile 100, 101, 102. Right as I saw the car, my Garmin clicked over to our promised mileage of 103.

And, that was that. We loaded the bikes on the car. We changed into clean clothes and ate pork tacos. The rest of our group trickled in as we drank our free Lagunitas IPAs, and somehow we found ourselves closing down the party at the community center and regrouping at Screaming Mimi’s for ice cream.


All in all, the ride went better than I was expecting — physically and mentally. I was barely sore on Monday and back to normal on Tuesday. My Coeur shorts survived their biggest test yet. And I was impressed with how relaxed and positive I felt throughout the day. Before the ride started, I didn’t think I’d done enough long rides to be truly ready. Having done it, I think I did just about what was required for a non-race casual ride with a lot of stops. It wasn’t easy (5000′ of climbing in total) and I still ended up riding a pace I was fully happy with (14+ mph for the riding sections) while enjoying the day with friends and eating all the peaches.

In other words, yes, I’m already looking for the next one.

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Scenes from 160 Miles

Day One

Mile 0: I almost don’t realize we’re riding. There’s some talking, a photo, a round of names I don’t remember. Some people make a right turn out of the Golden Gate Bridge parking lot and it’s like, OH. I guess we’re riding 80 miles now.

Mile 6: There’s a hill on the back side of Lake Merced? No wonder I always feel so speedy on the second half when I’m going around clockwise.

Mile 10-12: I’m climbing up a hill in a neighborhood in Pacifica. This must be what happens when you take Skyline Drive, the calm residential street, instead of Skyline-that-is-actually-Highway-35. A dog is barking rhythmically and I’m hearing his “woof! woof! woof!” as “go! go! go!” This hill feels hard, which is freaking me out more about Devil’s Slide, because I don’t remember seeing this one on the map.

Yeah, it totally was on the map.

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 3.27.07 PM

Mile 13: I’m going downhill, and so is everyone else, when we realize we have no idea where we’re going. Our directions involve turning at a golf course. Everything seems to be a golf course.

Mile 18: Pacifica State Beach stop to regroup before Devil’s Slide. I’m kind of freaking out. I’m babbling in the general direction of anyone around me. I have spent enough time on Google Street View for this stretch of road that I literally recognize specific trees.

Mile 19: “Tunnel: 2000 feet”? That cannot possibly be true. This is the easiest 7% climb in the world! Why did I freak out about this?

Mile 19.5: This tunnel is amazing. Note to self, maybe when you thought the guy who GoPro’d his trip through the tunnel was riding on the sidewalk because there was no bike lane, you should have realized there was an entire empty car-width “emergency lane” next to him that bikes could ride in.

Mile 21: Through the tunnel. There’s some wind. Oh, a lot of wind. And a cliff. It’s OK. Don’t look. DON’T LOOK! …OK, I bet it’s really pretty. You can look.

Mile 30: 30! Some stoplights through Half Moon Bay, then open highway. We’re by the water; the hills are green and bursting with yellow flowers. There’s a guy cruising on the other side of the road, and I think, “That’ll be me tomorrow.”

Mile 38: There’s a hill. I don’t see it coming till I’m climbing it, but I just take off. I pass the other women I’ve been riding behind; I pass these two other guys; I’m flying. I’m rolling through these beach towns, Pescadero and San Gregorio, and I’m remembering the days when I used to drive more. Before I biked, before I ran, I’d drive to clear my head. Pete and I had a sunset picnic at San Gregorio on one of the days of our week-long first date. I haven’t been out here in the middle of the day in years (if ever), and I don’t remember the water being this blue. Up and down, these rolling hills between 92 and 84 become my favorite part of the day.

Mile 50: Maybe I should have eaten something during those rolling hills. Whoops. I’m starting to get tired, and I’m starting to hate sitting on my bike seat. I bargain with myself: You can stand up and stretch every mile. Every three minutes. OK, once a minute, but just on the downhills.

Mile 54: Thank heavens — it’s our gas station. I pull over mostly just to stand and not sit. A couple of other riders roll in a few minutes behind me; one of them buys Pringles to share and they melt on my tongue. Someone says “We’re so close!” and I think, huh, we’re an Olympic-distance triathlon ride away; when did that become “close” to me?

Mile 65: There’s an amazing downhill; we sweep around and we’re on the other side of a cliff, snuggling right up to the ocean. It feels like LA, or like somewhere else that isn’t here. But it is here; I’m here.

Mile 68: Davenport! Suddenly, we’ve caught up to the group in front of us, who are just leaving the rest stop. I’m too lazy to make a left turn and too energized by the thought of having more company to take a break, so I cram some food in my mouth and pick up the pace again. I roll through the hills I last tackled at the end of the Santa Cruz tri bike leg, remembering how much bigger they look in real life than on an elevation chart, remembering that momentum is my friend.

20140328-155549.jpgMile 77-80: We turn off Highway 1, following city signs now. Almost there! Winding around West Cliff, down down down next to a line of cars at the traffic circle. I spot our little blue hotel and pull in after about 5:45 of riding time, just in time for the second half of the Michigan basketball game. Perfect.

Day Two

Mile 0: Ow. Ow. Ow. Why does riding a bike involve sitting?

Mile 2: We crash a race. The road closure signs we saw the night before had said it was a marathon, but I googled and learned it was the “ The Pinkest 10K and 5K”. Before I share this news, I remind everyone that we are currently doing a thing known as the Diva Ride. Then I giggle.

Mile 8: On the road to Davenport, I’m behind the main group. Close, but not close enough to really catch up and ride at their pace. The funny thing about yesterday is that I came in smack in the middle of the riders; I had just assumed I’d be last, but I wasn’t close. Weirdly, I’m now more OK with being last today. Plus, it’s nice at the back. I’m not alone, and we get our own escort.

Mile 20-something: I’m riding with two other women when we come up on the signs for Pie Ranch. We start talking about pie. The woman in the front suddenly signals a turn and it’s done, we’ve gone rogue, we’re making an unofficial pie rest stop at 10:30 a.m. It’s kind of obnoxious, and it puts us more than 15 minutes behind the main group, but it’s also the greatest decision, and I ride the rest of the way back to San Francisco with half a chocolate chunk cookie wedged in my back pocket.


Mile 30: I steel myself: This was the longest stretch yesterday, 30 miles with no rest stops, and I know those rolling hills are coming. Partway through, the ride organizer catches me, and we chat side by side for a few miles. Then she asks how comfortable I am riding on someone’s wheel. Me: “Not very?” Her: “Great, time to practice!” She takes the lead; I cruise behind. It’s amazing. Half an hour flies past. Just before a climb, she pulls off, and I chat my way up with one of our guides … until I realize how long the hill is, and our chatter turns to just me saying “how are we still on this hill?” over and over again.

Mile 57: I’m surprised when we hit the stoplights in Half Moon Bay. The rest of the group is there, snacking on Subway. I cant resist the urge to brag about pie. It feels like we’re almost done, and yet I know the worst is yet to come, Devil’s Slide and that hill in Pacifica. The first group leaves, and I wait to go with the second. Suddenly, I am not so sure about this last bit.

Mile 60: Devil’s Slide is worse going north — partially road conditions, partially time of day with more traffic — but the climb is fine. When I hit the descent I say, out loud, “This is why you rode down Twin Peaks all those times when the wind was bad in the middle of the day. You did it so you could feel good about what you’re doing right now.” Then I realize someone is right behind me, listening. Cool life.

Mile 65: Nate: “Do you want to see the graph of the hill?” Me: “Nope.” Nate: “It’s a spike that goes straight up through the neighborhood.” Me: “Nope.” Nate: “I think it feels harder going this way. Yesterday we had a stair-step, and this time we’re going straight up it.” Me: “Nope.” Nate: “I think it’ll be over 10% grade sometimes.” Me: “Nope.”

Mile 67.5: I’m actually OK with this climb. I mean, it sucks, and I’m fantasizing about the moment that the houses on the hillside start pointing down instead of up, but I’m 100% sure I’m going to make it up without stopping, if only because I’m not sure I can keep going if I stop. And then BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP a city goddamned bus pulls up, and a dozen people are waiting to board. I unclip, wait. I guess I can stop and start again after all.

Mile 68: I’m done! I mean, I’m not done, I’m probably still riding for another hour, but it’s easy from here. It’s stuff I know. It’s the lake and the park and the zoo. It’s my home base. It’s home.

Mile 75-79: Of course, home is where all the crazy stuff starts to happen — like cars pull out randomly from Beach Chalet, like I drop my water bottle and it rolls to the other side of the street and while I’m waiting for a break in traffic to retrieve it, a car runs over it and it explodes into a dozen pieces. Like there are all these children popping wheelies in the park and why are children more terrifying than Devil’s Slide? I am tired and wired and dumb; I am so glad I went home instead of back through the Presidio because if I’d had to get myself home from the bridge I probably would have called a cab. And instead, here I am, pulling up to my front door, walking in like I’m back from a regular ride through the park, except this one was two days and 160 miles long.

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Pep Talk

Most of the time, I think I’m ready.

Like, right now, sitting on my couch drinking an appropriate-for-the-night-before-an-athletic-endeavor amount of beer with my feet up watching basketball, I think I’m ready. Packing up what felt like a literal ton of food earlier today, I felt ready. Picturing myself coasting into my hotel parking lot in Santa Cruz tomorrow, I feel ready.

Sometimes I don’t feel ready. Wednesday afternoon, I managed to work myself into a frenzy about Devil’s Slide (the one serious climb and the sketchiest bit of road on the ride — at least, that’s what I’m told). I don’t want to admit how much time I spent looking at maps and watching YouTube videos of bikes riding through the new-ish tunnels and looking up every hill I’ve ever ridden to see if I’d done anything equivalent, but let’s just say I ended up finishing quite a bit of work from home later that night.

But that’s the exception.

I am not sure I have the right to feel ready, that I’ve done the work to ride a century-and-a-half, when I’ve never done a century, when I’ve never ridden in a group or a pack like this, when I don’t really have any idea what I’m getting myself into.

I’ve had some good rides, though. I’ve been consistently riding more weekly and monthly mileage than I was capable of conceptualizing back in January. Last week I accidentally rode 60 miles instead of 45 because I failed to read a ferry schedule properly, and it felt like a casual cruise. I rode over the Golden Gate Bridge and didn’t panic (much) for the only time ever. I’ve gone up Twin Peaks at the tail end of a weekend of tough rides, still climbing strong with a lot of miles on my legs.

Barely more than two years ago, I rode my bike clipped in with a group for the first time. It was sort of a fiasco and I could not really imagine it getting much better.

Tomorrow I’m going to ride to Santa Cruz. On Sunday I’m going to ride back.

I think I’m ready.

Most of the time.

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What to Wear for 160 Miles

I sent my deposit. I signed the waiver. Next weekend, I’ll be biking to and from Santa Cruz.

Last week was my biggest of training, with a goal of 160 total bike miles — because if I can do it in four days, I can do it in two, uh, right? I made it to a little over 40 during the week with one bike commute and one intense computrainer class. That left me with 120 for the weekend, which I split as 45 Saturday/75 Sunday.

Saturday’s 45 crawled by. I’m not sure if I was just tired of the route (home to Aquatic Park to the Presidio to Ocean Beach to Lake Merced until I’m sick of going in circles to Twin Peaks) or if I ran too much with TAG in the middle (I meant to run no more than six miles but a combination of hill repeats and running by time instead of mileage left me at almost 7.5). All I know is that I spent the better part of an hour fantasizing about how good it was going to feel when my Garmin finally clicked over to 38 (I’d ridden 7 miles to TAG earlier in the morning, which might be cheating, but whatever: my rules).

Or maybe I was just nervous about Sunday. That 75 miles was my longest ride to date, and I had absolutely no idea how my body would react or how I would entertain myself for what I figured would be five to six hours on a bike. My solution was to favor company over novelty and did the first leg of my ride twice — out and back to the Cheese Factory with the TAG group, then out again on my own. It seemed a little silly to make the full out-and-back loop when I didn’t have to — especially because part of it goes through stoplight-studded Novato — but having people around for the first 25 miles made a world of difference. I was at 36 by the time I hit the Cheese Factory for the second time, 45 in Point Reyes. The last 30 miles were not fast — it was more than two hours of riding — but they were so much less of a slog than any part of Saturday’s ride. I did get a little lost at the end — which, it turns out, a way to make me angry is to have me ride randomly through a neighborhood at mile 73 of a 75-mile (now 76-mile) ride — and I started wanting food that didn’t come in bar or gummy form after a couple of hours. But physically I was fine, and mentally I was 90% there, even when I rolled up to my car after 5.5 hours covered in road grime and dead bugs with only a bag of Chex Mix to look forward to.

(I do wish exercise were more meditative for me, because I can only imagine what big thoughts I might have had over the course of all those solo hours on a bike. Instead I sing dumb songs to myself and occasionally think about how much I wish I could think better while exercising.)

This weekend I’ll do something like 45/25 and then I’m ready to go. I guess. I mean, I have no idea. But I’ve decided that’s what it means to be ready, so it is.

Except there’s one last question: What the hell shorts do I wear?

Background: Last year I switched to wearing tri shorts exclusively. I’ve never been a fan of bike shorts (diaper-y) and I also thought it was a little unwise, if I was training for triathlons, to have comfort in training that I’d never have on race day.

Here’s my current roster:

  • Houndstooth SOAS: I bought these last spring after being convinced by the damn blogosphere that they were worth it. I was skeptical of the no-drawstring waistband (I do not have the kindest proportions for keeping pants in the right place with my body alone — or, as a friend put it, “that seems like an idea that doesn’t scale well”), but to my great surprise, they stay up. I wore my houndstooth shorts for every significant ride last year. I’m not saying they’re magic, and they still have some seams and some weird chafe-y parts in unpleasant places. That said, I think they’re my favorite all-around tri shorts.
  • Teal SOAS: I was wearing the other shorts to death, and when I saw some of the older patterns going on sale last year, I bought a second pair. But the shorts I got as pair #2 don’t fit as well as the houndstooth ones — even though they’re the same label size. They’re shorter and smaller in the waist (see below), and the fabric feels heavier to me.


    I still wear them, because even on sale they weren’t cheap, but I feel itchy and uncomfortable in them and I don’t have a particular desire to feel that way for 6-8 hours.

  • Cheapo Zoot tri shorts: I have 2 pair of these. Super thin/light under a wetsuit, but they don’t have enough padding to even vaguely consider wearing them for 75 miles (or, like, 30 miles).
  • Coeur Chevron: When a bunch of the former SOAS blog ambassadors started repping Coeur, I was curious — and more so when I found out Coeur was the new project of one of the SOAS founders. But I didn’t like the designs, so I’d more or less written them off. What got me back was this blog review pointing out that the chamois padding goes all the way down the leg, meaning no weird crotch seam to rub between my seat and my leg. How is this not even mentioned on their own product page? (They did finally blog about it this week, but seriously? I’d be screaming it from the rooftops if I were them!) The fit is very similar to my SOAS shorts, but the fabric is lighter (more like a bathing suit). The downsides are that they feel flimsier/more likely to slip — which I don’t care much about in this case since I’m not running — and that the gray fabric shows sweat/moisture extremely quickly. It’s not a fashion show, I get that, but I try to minimize the amount of time I spend looking like I’ve just peed on myself. I wore these on Sunday and for about 60 miles they were very comfortable, then after that I really wanted to not be sitting on a bike any more. (But that might not be only about the shorts.)

So the Coeurs will cover me for one day. But will I want something more forgiving on Day 2, especially since I’ll be sitting on my bike for another 6-8 hours and, oh yeah, probably riding into a headwind?

I’m interested in seeing if I can find any traditional, more heavily padded bike shorts that won’t chafe or feel saggy. I’m not getting my hopes up too high, but I am going to REI, armed with a gift card, to see what I can find.

My question, for anyone who’s done multi-day or otherwise long rides before: What might I want on day 2 that I’m not thinking of? I have noticed that changing brand/fit of shorts between the two days makes a big difference for me, but is my instinct right that I will want more padding on day 2? And who’s got a favorite pair of shorts to recommend?

(Yep, this has been a lot of words about my bum.)

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How Do You Know When You’re Ready?

Over the weekend, someone told me I was a strong cyclist.

My initial response was to laugh. And then to downplay. “Oh, um, not really. I mean, not outside, so much.” (We were in the midst of a three-hour indoor ride.) “And I’m only really good at hills. I mean, I just started riding a bike two years ago.”

Her response: “Wait, seriously? That’s crazy!”

Yeah, it is kind of crazy. It’s hard for me to believe how much my relationship with cycling has changed in two years. Sometimes when I’m wondering why I have this blog, I remember that it’s a record of my evolution from non-cyclist to half-Ironman finisher. Bringing my bike home, riding clipped in for the first time, my first bike commute, my first 50-miler … it’s all here, and I’m so glad it’s all somewhere.

But even though I can now largely look at cycling with a “look how far we’ve come!” mentality, I’m definitely not at the end of that story. I’m not confident in my abilities on new routes. I don’t often ride with groups. People from my tri club have been posting awesome rides all (sunny, dry) winter long, and I haven’t gone to a single one. I may be able to get myself out the door and to my job and up Twin Peaks and over the bridge (if I really have to), but when it comes to riding with other people, I’m absolutely petrified that I won’t be able to hang.

A while back, one of the club’s coaches posted about a ride she was going to coordinate: two 80-mile days of riding to Santa Cruz and back. All women, all for fun, etc. My heart wanted to say “sign me up!”

My brain, on the other hand, had some other things to say. Like: “You can’t handle that!” “You’ll hold everyone up!” “You seriously think you can ride further than you’ve ever ridden … twice?”

I ended up sending an email (“I love biking, but I’m slow…”) and getting an encouraging response back (basically, “as long as you prepare — which you will — you can absolutely do it and won’t be holding anyone up”). And still, I’m waffling. When I look at it objectively, I know I can; I’ve climbed more, I know the first and last 25 miles of the route pretty well, and while I haven’t actually ridden 80 miles ever before, I’ve a) come close and b) learned what to expect from myself when adding distance on the bike. But I’m still not convinced I’m ready.

Since it’s not a traditional race or ride, I haven’t had to register or commit; I have some time to make my decision. So in the meantime, I’ve done the only thing that I think makes sense: Start training as though I’m going to ride and save the actual hard decisions for later.

So far, training has looked like this:

  • One long ride every week
  • At least two back-to-back riding days per week
  • At least two shorter rides per week

Those principles have played out differently every week, depending on weather and friends’ interests and personal schedules. Last weekend was a 50-“mile” computrainer ride of the Wildflower long course route on Saturday and a 12.5-mile trip up Twin Peaks (not long but plenty of climbing) on Sunday. The weekend before that was all trainer hours during our one rainy spell. Before that, I knocked out my longest continuous ride ever — well, continuous minus a stop in the last hour for pastries — of 60 miles, riding through the Chileno Valley to Point Reyes.


Over the course of the month I’ve been seriously considering this, I’ve seen some progress. Back-to-back riding days are starting to feel normal. I’ve learned the value of having two different sets of shorts with different, uh, seam patterns, but other than that, it hasn’t been as painful as I expected. (The worst part seems to be sitting down on the saddle for the first time on day two; once I’m actually riding, I’m fine.) I finished 60 miles knowing I could ride for another two hours if I really wanted to. And I had my fastest-ever trip up Twin Peaks the morning after the long computrainer ride, which still wasn’t that fast but must mean something.

It’s about to be a lot harder to get in those long rides, since I’ll be captaining for a training group again this spring and arranging my own workouts around that. But I’m actually excited about shifting around all the puzzle pieces — riding longer on weekday mornings once the sun starts rising a bit earlier (… and before it starts cruelly rising later again), riding up to Marin for group workouts (and taking the ferry home!), catching up on TV shows on the trainer after biking home from work.

I’d love to ride 80 miles at least once before the ride, and I’d love to do one bigger (50 mile Saturday/40 mile Sunday?) weekend. I’d also really appreciate if the weather could be nice the weekend of March 22, because one thing I’m still not into at all is riding in the rain. But I’m slowly building the confidence that I can actually do this thing. I realized the other day that it would be roughly my two-year anniversary of clipping in for the first time. What a way to celebrate

San Bruno Mountain by Bicycle

As Bay Area mountains go, San Bruno Mountain isn’t much to look at.

I mean, it’s not un-pretty. But it’s hardly the double peaks of Tam or the mighty and intimidating Diablo. It’s low and loaf-shaped. Even when I was hiking all of the Bay Area’s peaks, I never gave a thought to summiting San Bruno Mountain. I’m not even sure I knew it was possible.

A while back, though, I started Googling something — OK, I wanted to know if you could hike to the letters in the South San Francisco sign (yes, you can!), and then I found myself reading an article that called San Bruno Mountain “the ultimate Sunday bike ride,” and one thing led to another, and suddenly the only thing I wanted to do was go up San Bruno Mountain on my bicycle.

A side note, here, about the state of my cycling: I dream of being able to think about cycling the way I think about running, as a low-barrier activity where I just walk out the door and go. But that requires a place to go. I have one standard route through Golden Gate Park, but it’s only 12 or so miles round-trip; I can tack on some Lake Merced loops, but I end up so rage-y and hoarse from yelling “on your left” that it’s not much fun for anyone. Twin Peaks is lovely but not a particularly long ride (despite its intensity), ditto my Legion of Honor hill repeats, and riding over the Golden Gate Bridge (to where the best cycling is) makes me nervous and pukey-feeling and it’s rarely worth suffering through that. So my options for longer rides have been to deal with getting the bike rack on the car, and the bike on the rack, and the driving, and the parking, and the riding, and the re-racking, and the driving, and the re-parking, and the unloading … or just not to do them. I don’t like either of these options. I have long wanted to find a ride largely within San Francisco limits that would be a good distance for a longer off-season ride, not terribly scary traffic-wise, and challenging without being impossible, but I’m not sure I truly believed in its existence.

So, once San Bruno Mountain got in my head, I turned to the handy “show-bike-paths” view on Map My Ride, put together a 30-ish mile route on (reportedly) bike-friendly streets, and talked Pete into thinking this was a good idea. I then spent probably half an hour writing down key intersections and studying them on Google Street View. Not exactly “throw on the shoes and go,” but it will be the next time, right?

We started with a long, flat stretch through the park, across a corner of the SF State campus, and then onto the quiet Holloway and busy (but still bikeable) Geneva. The whole time, I kept saying, “I’ve never been here before!” I’ve lived in San Francisco for seven years, and I’m still so far from having a handle on this little seven-by-seven spit of land.

From Geneva, we turned onto Bayshore, the busy thoroughfare frequented by those who bike to Google and other points south. And from Bayshore, we made a turn onto the road that would take us to the road to the top of the mountain. By which I mean, we started climbing.


It wasn’t much at first, but it never stopped. We were on a wide ridge road, perfectly paved, still a few stoplights, but definitely starting to look like a California mountain, with trees and scrubby brush lining the road. That road apparently continues, depositing travelers into Daly City, but we turned off after about 2.5 miles at the entrance to San Bruno Mountain State Park.

We really weren’t sure what would happen after the park, when we looped through a short tunnel and onto Radio Road. I’d read that it wasn’t in great condition and could be up to an 11% grade, and while I couldn’t summon exactly what an 11% grade could feel like, I assumed it would be hard. Impossibly hard? Time to find out. Almost immediately we hit a thicket of trees — eucalyptus, apparently — and the ride went from hard and urban and traffic-y to dreamy and nature-y and wild.

Cars can drive up Radio Road, but few did while we rode, and after an initial rough stretch, the pavement wasn’t really that bad. The climb was steep, for sure, and I kept thinking that I’d just go a little further, maybe to the next stopsign, maybe just around the bend, maybe just till I was sure I was done riding, and then suddenly I was at the top.


It’s a view I’ve never had before, the inverse of driving south of the city when you see all the “little boxes on the hillside” houses that make up Daly City. This was the city from above the boxes, the bridge just peeking out, the water, Mount Diablo?!? Yes. Diablo there. And then the radio spires, and what’s apparently an old missile site, and the airport runways. Things I didn’t know you could see at all, much less from my bike.

Then we were back — down the looooooooooooong descent, then Bayshore, then San Bruno, then some stoplight-riding down Silver as we crossed both the college streets (Amherst, Yale, Cambridge) and the Europe streets (Vienna, Naples, Lisbon). Somewhere in there was a steep little block that took me by surprise, but that spilled us out into Glen Park in time for our last long climb of the day, up Bosworth and O’Shaughnessy (which, thankfully and to my surprise, has a paved sidewalk bike lane) to the base of Twin Peaks. We could have climbed Twin Peaks then — what the hell — but it was getting dark and my front light was dying, and we figured it was the better part of valor just to coast on home.

We finished at just under 30 miles, with about 2500 feet of climbing spread over two major hills. It was, honestly, exhilarating to do that kind of ride in the city without encountering the bridge or the Marina and its massive throngs of people. For a nervous city rider, the terrain was all manageable; I kept it to bike lanes when possible and “bike-friendly streets” in the worst case, and even on a busy Sunday afternoon with lots of people out, I felt safe and visible throughout. I got to see neighborhoods that I honestly had not known existed, or that I had not properly knitted into my evolving mental map of my city. And I catch myself looking for San Bruno Mountain now, catching a glimpse of the antenna spires, and doing whatever the brain equivalent of a fist-pump is: Yeah. I did that.


The map, for any local riders who might be interested (I’m sure the route can be improved and I welcome any suggestions!):

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 10.40.54 AM

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“Winter” Cycling

For some reason I’ve been really into the idea of winter cycling. Winter, of course, being relative — I do live in Northern California, and I still have no interest in biking in the rain. But I love sunny, chilly weather, and I regret that I basically didn’t ride my bike between July and January of last year. So, sure: winter 2013-2014, the season of cycling.

First, of course, I had to get some gear. I cashed in some REI gift cards for knee warmers and full-fingered gloves and a non-sleeveless top, and I dug out a fleece-y jersey that I bought on super sale last year but hadn’t had much occasion to wear, given that I’m usually sweaty and steaming the second it hits about 58 degrees.

Then, it had to get cold. Enter: the legendary California cold snap. Perfect.

I had these fantasies of slicing through the winter sun, casting long shadows, seeing my breath. I’d be bundled up and perfectly toasty, smugly taking advantage of the fleeting gorgeous days.

Yeah. Here’s what actually happened when I headed to the Three Bears on Saturday:

  • It was windy — the kind of wind that bored into my eyeballs and gave me a headache about three minutes in. And despite the fact that the route is a square, it felt like I had a headwind on three of the four legs.
  • My gloves made my hands cramp up, another sign (see also: padded socks, cushioned running shoes) that my body rejects all attempts at comfort.
  • My normally perfectly grippy tri shorts bottoms gripped less well on knee-warmer fabric than they do on my legs, so the shorts rode up and the knee warmers slipped down, squeezing out a little line of pudge on each thigh.
  • My newly exposed thigh pudge started rubbing against a rogue piece of velcro from my flat kit, which I was too cold to feel, which led to the chafing from hell, not to mention frayed spots on the shorts and the knee warmers.

Not exactly a stellar first showing.

I’ll get another try this weekend during my tri club’s Santa ride, during which I’ll add plush reindeer antlers to my winter cycling ensemble.

Then again, it’s supposed to be 60 degrees again by Saturday.

Six Months of Bike Commuting

I’ve been commuting by bike semi-regularly for about six months now. “Semi-regularly” in this case means once a week, sometimes twice, with a few extended breaks during especially risk-averse periods like right before Vineman and a few spots of riding more often because of transit issues. I’m not completely converted to the wonders of bike commuting, and I still find it too psychologically taxing and logistically challenging to do it every day. But over the past six months, I’ve found it to be a nice change of pace and something I can even look forward to, with the right preparation.

I read a bunch of “beginner bike commuter” posts before I started riding, and they were helpful. But they were also generally written with the rosy haze of having conquered something: “I was scared to bike to work, but now it’s amazing!” I don’t necessarily feel that way. I’m happy to be riding to work, to have it as an option, but it’s also still a big deal and something I have to psych myself up to do. I feel like I’m still in the thick of learning and figuring out my process and dealing with my fears. Here’s where I stand six months in:

I do not find it relaxing. I do not feel about biking to work the same way I do about other exercise — e.g. that it’s a way to clear my mind, spend time with myself, or relieve stress. I do enjoy that I get to be outside more, and I do like not having to deal with the whims and frustrations of public transit, but I do not find the required constant awareness of cars/pedestrians/other cyclists/traffic signals/construction/the wind to be particularly lovely. It’s a way to get to work. Like all ways to get to work, it has its positives and its negatives.

It doesn’t take much more time than my transit commute. Door-to-door, my bike commute takes about 35 minutes in, 45 minutes home (home is both a longer ride and a hillier one). My train commute is closer to 30 minutes each way, but that doesn’t account for time spent waiting for trains, adjusting for missed trains, or simply coordinating my schedule with NextMuni’s.

It’s hardly a race-pace workout, but it is time in the saddle. My commute to work is almost entirely downhill, and I don’t do a ton of work going that direction. I do have to ride back up those hills on the way home, though, via a slow and steady gain over about three miles. It’s more of an interval workout (stoplight to stoplight) than a normal ride, but I know it’s made me stronger. I’m also more confident in my bike-handling skills. And I can’t really shrug off a 12-mile, 1:20 round-trip as nothing.

I am not trying to “win” my commute. I’m slow. I’m fine with letting other people jump the lights and lead out from the intersections. I prefer being toward the back of the pack. I take the long way around so I don’t have to mix with buses and streetcars. Sometimes I’ll hop off my bike and walk on the sidewalk for a little bit if things get shady. I can only do so much to make myself safer, and I know that behaving predictably is part of riding safely, so I’m always trying to find the line between “cautious” and “actually making it worse for myself.” It’s not easy. But I’d generally rather slow down and let the car make its move first than … not do that, I guess.

I have given up completely on commuting in work clothes. I’m a sweaty lady. I sweat because of exercise, and I sweat when I’m nervous, so the combination of exertion-sweat and fear-sweat makes me a particularly attractive specimen by the time I roll up to my office. My office is casual, so I tried commuting in jeans for a while, and I even bought some cheap spandex shorts at Target so skirts and dresses could be options. But the top half of me still required a full costume change for sweat reasons, and eventually I just decided I’d be happier biking in comfy clothes from head to toe. I don’t go full-biker for the commute — usually yoga pants and a tank — and I’ve acquired expert-level knowledge on which coffee shops near my office have bathrooms and which of those are best for a quick change while I wait for my drink. My gym has a branch about two blocks from the office, so showering and changing there could work, but I’d need to either not care about wet hair or carry my hairdryer with me, and neither of those options is great, so I haven’t gone that route yet. A quick freshening-up in a nearby Starbucks is usually sufficient, and these Purell wipes are amazing at removing the bike grease I inevitably get on myself.

my backpack. it is blue and pretty and holds EVERYTHING.

my backpack. it is blue and pretty and holds EVERYTHING.

How I carry stuff matters. I’m a one-bike woman (my commuter is my road bike is my racing bike), so I didn’t want to add pannier racks. That meant finding the right bag. For smaller loads, I love my Rickshaw Small Zero, into which I can easily fit a change of clothes, a pair of flats, and my wallet, phone, and U-lock. But I often have to commute with my work computer, a 15″ behemoth. I have a larger Rickshaw (Medium Zero) that fits my computer, but after a few test commutes, I realized that messenger-style bags don’t work for me with a heavier load. I’m short-waisted, and no matter how tight I made the strap, my computer would still smack the back of the seat when I got on and off the bike. So, I turned to backpacks. I loved the look of the Osprey FlapJill, but it felt bulky, and accessing my stuff by unbuckling the flap was a pain. Eventually, I settled on the InCase Compact, which I found for a steal on Amazon. I cannot say enough good things about this bag. It’s comfortable, it doesn’t create a “backpack blind spot” when I need to look over my shoulder when changing lanes, and it fits so much stuff. On Monday, I packed into it my laptop, my U-lock and cable, and full changes of clothes for work, a post-work swim in the bay, and an anticipated colder commute home — including my wetsuit and a camp towel. It’s unreal.

I’m a fair-weather bike commuter. For the same reason I don’t want to put racks on my bike, I also don’t have fenders. And even when I’m changing clothes later, the “water-shooting-up-my-ass” look is not really my favorite. If it suddenly starts raining while I’m out, I can get myself home, but I won’t choose to ride in anything more than a drizzle.

Everyone behaves badly. I get equally annoyed with drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists — and I’m sure others are constantly annoyed with me. Nobody is necessarily “more in the right” or “more in the wrong”; people using all modes of transit break the law (usually minorly, sometimes majorly) or just do dumb things all the time. That said, I am constantly stunned at the number of cars that don’t use turn signals — or that flip them on only after starting to make a turn. Using a turn signal is not a burden, people.

I’m braver about riding around the city generally. I’m much more confident looking at a bike map and figuring out how to ride to new places now. I can (often) get my bike on a rack without dropping things and looking like an idiot. I have a better frame of reference for what kind of hills I’m comfortable riding, and the idea of “Oh, I’ll just run to the store on my bike!” is no longer absurd to me. That’s nice.

I still get scared. Sometimes it’s for understandable reasons — cars turn without signaling, or I don’t know how to handle a particular traffic situation developing in front of me, or I remember partway through an intersection that oh crap, this is the one with the huge pothole, or a cyclist is hit and killed where I commute. And sometimes it’s totally random. About a month ago, I suddenly developed a mad case of the yips at a particular intersection that I’d been navigating cleanly since I first started biking in the city. All of a sudden, I could no longer start from a dead stop when the light turned green. I’ve come up with ways to navigate it (try to time the previous light differently so I have a green when I get to that particular intersection; let other cyclists go ahead of me; stop further to the right of the lane, where the pavement is more even), but it’s still iffy. On the other hand, embracing the fact that I might get scared makes me feel more OK when I do.


A Month of Biking

When I said the next race on my radar was Santa Cruz, that was a giant lie. That’s my next solo race. But there’s something fun before that, something that actually was one of the very first races to make my calendar this year. In just under three weeks, I’ll be biking along Lake Tahoe in an Olympic tri relay with two of my best friends.

I’m doing the bike leg as purely a matter of convenience: I’m the one of the three of us with a bike in the state of California. I know all I really have to do is survive it — we’re racing for fun, and for an excuse to travel somewhere fun and chill at a lake house, and for a way to do something physical together that I’m pretty sure none of us would have anticipated back in college. (I especially would not have.) But I also want to ride well and feel good about my effort on what promises to be a tough course.

How tough? Well, here’s Wildflower, definitely the toughest course I’ve done in a race, with just over 1,000 feet of elevation gain in 25 miles. Here’s Napa, the toughest course I’ve raced on this year, with just under 1,000 feet of climbing. And, uh, here’s Tahoe — 1,900 feet of elevation gain and six rated climbs, including a cat-3. Oh, and it’s at 6,300 feet.

I can’t say I’ve never done anything like that. I’ve at least climbed more. But the layout of the hills, and the fact that I have no idea how my sea-level lungs will react to elevation, is making me take it seriously.

So I’m taking this month to get cozy with my bike again — to ride more, and ride harder (though not necessarily longer), and to get back to hill repeats and computrainer classes, and to not take the easy (read: flat) way out.

My first week — and my first workout after Vineman — was a Paradise Loop ride with Courtney. We parked in the Golden Gate Bridge lot (because not taking the easy way out only goes so far; windy death-by-pylon is not something I relish nor require) and had a relaxed ride to Tiburon. The climb over Camino Alto was fine, but by the time we hit Alexander on the return, the wind was blowing so hard I swear I went backwards at some point. Ride totals: 32 miles, 1700′ gain.

The next weekend, I doubled up: a flatter, easier 22 miles with a friend new to San Francisco riding on Saturday, then 25 more on Sunday — 5 to a bike clinic with TAG, then another 20 including my second-ever climb up Twin Peaks. I was actually surprised to see the total elevation numbers, because the Twin Peaks climb felt fairly gentle this time around — save for one block of 15th Avenue where my choices were power up or fall over. Getting onto a calmer, residential road from the more heavily trafficked route I used on my first trip certainly helped. The trip down was another story, and with the wind banging around the street signs at the top of the hill, I think I descended almost as slowly as I’d climbed. ~2400 feet of climbing for Sunday’s ride.

Then, this past Sunday, Pete and I decided to ride down the Peninsula, eventually meeting up with the Sawyer Camp/Crystal Springs trails before taking Caltrain home. The route we picked promised a couple of good climbs, including one in the southwest part of San Francisco and another right after turning onto Skyline/Highway 35. I learned a valuable lesson on this ride, which is that if a route has Highway in any part of the name, it might end up feeling like riding on a highway. The wind (again…a theme of San Francisco “summer”) was pushing me around on descents, and I never settled into the climbs, what with being so afraid that I’d eventually have to go down. Skyline eventually plateaued and also stopped having 55-mph traffic, so I started breathing again and even threw in a ride up the Sawyer Camp hill just for kicks, though our route only required us to coast down it. We ended the ride with 34 miles and 2400′ gain, then capped off the day with another 5 miles and almost 400 feet of climbing home from Caltrain; that’s San Francisco living.

This week, I’m hoping to finally make my return to computrainer class; I went on a few Tuesdays during Vineman training, but I’ve been told the Thursday rides better simulate climbing, so I’ll be trying to hit those each week until Tahoe. And this weekend, I’m planning to ride some BART-accessible East Bay hills (to get a dose of real summer and not have to drive, as this is one of the weekends when parking in my neighborhood is at its most in-demand). I’m also sporadically riding to my office again and even trying to take some crazier routes home. If I’m going to roll through the city at 8 mph, I might as well get some hill work out of it.

I have no idea how well any of this will translate to 25 miles at 6,000 feet, but I’m pretty confident I’ll be able to show up on August 25 ready to find out.

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The Quiet Place

These are the things people told me about riding Alpine Dam and the Seven Sisters:

– That I’d never get a break from climbing.

– That I’d hit some stretches that seemed impossibly steep.

– That my hands would hurt from braking on the downhills.

These are the things nobody told me about riding Alpine Dam and the Seven Sisters:

– That I’d ride so high I’d be above the clouds.

– That the biggest hill I climbed in training in 2012 would now look and feel like a mere bump.

– That deep in the woods, I’d discover an incredible stillness.


It says something about my tenuous grasp on geography that even when I saw Alpine Dam on my training schedule, even when I saw the reference to the Seven Sisters and the 3300-plus feet of climbing, I didn’t realize we were basically climbing up Mt. Tam. That would be this guy —

Mt. Tam

Photo by Jesse on Flickr

— where we just ran the Dipsea, where some of my wedding photos were taken, where when a friend recently told me he used to ride up it all the time, my response boiled down to “LOL, that’s nuts.” That Alpine Dam. Those Seven Sisters. That mountain.

Granted, we didn’t go all the way to the top peak. (Though people do that — crazy people.) My vague understanding of the route is that we basically looped around the back side, climbing to the top of that second, smaller peak off to the west in the photo above, then descending around the front side of the mountain before coasting back to our starting point.

Screen Shot 2013-06-12 at 10.16.24 PM

I woke up a nervous mess, and the chatter in the car ride up — three of us talking about the various horror stories we’d heard about the route — didn’t help matters. We stocked up our support vehicle with sunscreen and windbreakers and extra water, picked up cue sheets, and rode easy through some residential neighborhoods, chatting to distract ourselves. One of the women in our group was a local who’d done this ride many times, and she was the most wonderful coach — telling us “it’s going to get steep for a while” or “you get a downhill after this” or, most often, simply “settle in.”

We hit the first big climb right out of Fairfax, a steady three-mile rise with a couple of tougher pitches. I was afraid I was going to hit a stretch so steep I wouldn’t be able to unclip — I didn’t want to stop, but once it occurs to me that I can’t stop, the only thing I can think about is stopping — but there was none of that, just long, continuous climbs. Our de facto coach called back that we were about to hit a bit of downhill, and all of a sudden we came coasting up to this:

Alpine Dam

A bridge over deep blue water, surrounded by tall trees: Alpine Dam, living up to its name.

We stopped there for a while, took some pictures, celebrated making it that far, and then heard what was next: a little roller or two and then three miles of switchbacks, which I’d later learn was about 900 feet of climbing. “Settle in,” our local expert told us, and we headed deeper into the woods.

I was still expecting the road to point straight up at some point; how else could we climb so much? But the grade stayed reasonable (mostly, except for a few curves). It was just … up. Up and up and up. Around a curve and up. Our mountain coach had told us to never look for the top, and so I tried to keep my eyes on the road ahead. Pedal, pedal, pedal, curve around and up. Pedal, pedal, pedal, curve around and up.

I was breathing hard and I knew it, and I searched desperately for something to tune it out. I’d somehow pulled ahead of the little group I’d been with at the dam, and the closest people to me were two other friends climbing together, talking about birds. I listened to their conversation for a while — an osprey’s nest? — and then, eventually, I wasn’t listening to anything.

It was quiet.


I don’t know how it got so quiet. The phrase that popped into my head was “go to the place where it’s quiet” — just like that, awkward grammar and all. I don’t know where these things come from, or why they only come when my heart is pounding and sweat is pouring down the tip of my nose, but they come sometimes, and that was Saturday’s. I don’t know where “the place that it’s quiet” is, or if it’s even a place. What I do know is that in that moment, it was a place where I didn’t hear my breath. Where I didn’t hear the bird ladies. Where I didn’t hear my bike, or my thoughts, or anything except the occasional reminder to snap back into the quiet place. I was riding among redwoods. I was climbing a mountain. And yet I was still.

Pedal, pedal, pedal. Curve around and up. Stay in the quiet place.


What snapped me out of the quiet place were the biting flies. One perched on my shoulder and dug in. A few others dive-bombed my chest or buzzed around my face. At one point I yelled out “leave me alone!” — because flies, as we know, frequently respond to orders. It was definitely not quiet anymore.

Luckily, when I started to lose it, I wasn’t far from our coach’s water drop. Just a few more curves and I came upon half my teammates and five gallons of cold water and a safe place to hop off the bike for a while.

We didn’t stay there long — the flies again! — and soon we were back to climbing, shorter and steeper hills this time. These were the Seven Sisters, and we’d been told to count them so we knew how far we were, but I didn’t even know what counted as a hill at that point. Was the one with the dip and rise one Sister or two? What about the steep one that wrapped around the ridge? Nothing to do but keep on riding and to try not to look too far ahead; there was less total climbing in this stretch, but some of the Sisters were monstrous. We were riding a rollercoaster on the ridgeline, pushing up and rolling down.

At one point, I passed a guy who knew the route and asked what Sister we were climbing. “Six,” he said, “or maybe seven.”

“Wait, what? Six?”

“At least.”

“Oh, thank god. I thought you were going to say two!”

After the summit of that Sister, we had a little downhill to a wide vista point, and I was stunned to see this:

Clouds at Mt. Tam

Clouds as far as we could see. Big, cottony pillows. Big, cottony pillows we were far above.

A quiet place.


We descended from there, and it was, to be honest, not my favorite — winding and windy, and steep enough in parts that I did worry I wouldn’t be able to brake hard enough. We had a water refill stop after the first long stretch of downhill, then a few miles congested with cars that stressed me out, and I was so, so happy to bottom out at Highway 1.

There was one last climb before we got back, up Camino Alto, and my little group laughed all the way up it. This hill? This hill that we dread on a normal day? This hill felt like nothing! We were spinning up in our easiest gear and feeling like we were cheating. Nice try, Camino Alto, but you’re hardly a Sister.


The final stats: 32.7 miles, 3,405 feet of climbing (most of that between miles 4 and 16), and a peak elevation of 2,008 feet, per Garmin. Tired quads and burning hamstrings, hands tired from braking and my Shot Blok stash destroyed.

Clouds from the Seven Sisters

And quiet.

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