Monday, February 13, 2012

Last weekend before winter

For every ominous challenge looming over the horizon, there must inevitably be a quiet weekend before. The lists are complete with gear sorted. Travel plans have been made, transportation arranged, training tapered, and fitness as good as it's going to get. All that can happen now is injury, sickness, panic ... you get the picture. Daily routines must go on, distances must be traveled, and pre-race chaos must ensue. But, by and large, this is a week of waiting.

I am not great at waiting. Rather than let phantom pains and panic get the best of me, I decided to stay busy this weekend. And because the Susitna 100 is all about mastering mind games, I also wanted to log some happy images in the short-term memory bank. Happy memories = biking with friends in scenic places. A four-hour mountain bike ride and a five-hour road ride didn't exactly fall into the smart taper plan, but I believe they were a good use of this weekend all the same.

I was going to add warm weather to the happy memory bank, but Saturday was not exactly warm. We were off to a late start after Beat and Liehann spent more than an hour trying to fix Liehann's rear axle (they finally pronounced it busted, and Liehann had to ride Beat's mountain bike, which is why Beat rode the Fatback.) The boys raced each other up the mountain while I struggled to keep up, and then we were hammered by weather on the ridge. We descended Alpine in a spray of mud and cold wind, teeth chattering and fingers numb as we surfed the slick clay with locked-out rear wheels. I fluctuated between a wide, mud-splattered grin, and quiet fretting about all the maladies I would surely catch from this ride — a cold, broken wrists from endoing in the mud, maybe pneumonia. Ah, phantom pains.

Today I met up with a new friend, Leah, for a "mellow" road ride through San Francisco and Marin County. Leah is a cross racer who is recovering after an intense season (cross season just ended a couple weeks ago in these parts.) And I'm tapering for a 100-mile foot race on snow. We both agreed we wanted to take it easy, but Leah secretly likes to hammer and I secretly like to ride all day. In some ways, we both got our secret wish, although the ride did maintain a mellow vibe. Leah guided me through the city and pointed out the sights while I stressed about dodging street cars, descending steep hills and clipping in and out and in and out of my road pedals. I am not well-practiced in urban riding. The Golden Gate Bridge and Sausalito bike path felt like a slalom through an obstacle course of pedestrians and meandering bikers.

I think Leah could sense my weariness with crowds and suggested riding "some dirt" to connect with the road on Mount Tam. We were both riding road bikes. I had Beat's carbon S-Works, and I'm new enough to road biking that I'd hadn't ridden skinny tires on dirt, ever, so I was skeptical of this plan. "It's an easy fire road," Leah said. "We'll ride the dirt up and take the pavement down."

I agreed before I remembered that Leah is a cross racer, and well-practiced in skinny-tire dirt riding. We ended up on Old Railroad Grade, a road that climbs most of the way from sea level to the 2,500-foot peak on soft dirt, rocks and loose gravel. Although the grade made climbing easy, much of the surface was just as rugged as any other fire road I've ridden or run in the Bay Area, with stone slabs and deep ruts rippling through drainages. All I could do was put the fact I was riding an expensive road bike out of my mind, and this technique actually worked. It felt just like mountain biking, only bumpier. A few times we passed groups of mountain bikers who were clearly impressed ... "Whoa, nice bikes."

Then, as we were rounding a tight hairpin turn on a particularly rugged rocky slab, two completely out-of-control mountain bikers came careening around the corner on our side of the road (it was a wide road, and we were all the way on the right edge.) Leah was in front and swerved first. I yanked my foot out of my pedal so fast that my ankle rebounded painfully into the crank, and I slammed my knee into the handlebar as I dove toward the bushes. That was the closest I have ever come to a head-on collision with another mountain biker — while riding a wide gravel road on a road bike. I was livid. All one of the guys could do was say "sorry" as he screamed past us. He was going too fast to stop. "What the hell!" I screamed back. Now I have bruises on my right ankle and left knee, and a grumpy disdain for mountain bikers who ride like idiots on easy trails (Seriously, guys, at least find a real downhill trail or a new hobby.) I only hope they didn't hit somebody else further down the road.

But all was forgotten when we reached the top of Mount Tam, hiked up to a dismantled military installation on the west peak, and looked out over the San Francisco Bay as a storm approached from the south. It was so peaceful up there, seemingly so far away from the noise and the crowds. I decided I loved the dynamics of our ride — busy urban streets to the tourist slalom to the fire road to this beautiful, tranquil perch above it all. As we descended a road cut into cliffs above the sea, I made a point to absorb as much speed as I could handle. Next weekend I'll likely be moving very slow when it's dark and cold, and it will be nice to remember what it feels like to fly above the open ocean, breathing air filled with the aroma of spring grass, sea salt and cherry blossoms, and descending into city drenched in golden light. 


  1. Sounds like a really nice weekend. It will be a good way to enter this week of madness.

  2. I'm glad you now know that you enjoy shenanigans like riding skinny tires on dirt. Hope Beat didn't mind a little bit of dirt on his s-works...

    "Seriously, guys, at least find a real downhill trail"

    Soooooo true! I laughed when I read this. No one should be getting that sideways on Railroad on a Sunday. At least the 13 year olds had better bike handling skills than that guy...

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  4. Well, I am just new to your blog site and just spent about an hou. I think I will frequent your site from now on after going through some of your posts. I will definitely learn a lot from them. Thanks one more time. Regards SANDEEP SHARMA

  5. Every time I see pictures of where you live with all the sunshine and green stuff, I get so jealous. Not to say I don't love this snowy winter, but I'm definitely aching to wear shorts for a change.

    It looks like I'll be participating in the Susitna this year after all. And I'm definitely keeping in mind your simple sugar tips for staying warm. Good luck and have a blast!

  6. Riding across the golden gate looks cool!!!


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