Monday, April 20, 2015

Cures for the springtime mehs

You'll have to forgive me if I'm a little quieter on my blog these days. I'm just going through my annual period of readjustment that I've come to think of as "the springtime mehs." This begins when temperatures climb into the 80s, and I remember that summer is coming and summer is long. I regard summer with the same disquietude that many people feel toward winter. I adore winter — from deep cold Alaskan winter to (ideally) rainy and mild California winter. I manage summer, with its hot hot heat, searing sunlight, insects and wide array of allergens. I'll admit the outdoor stoke just doesn't come as easily when faced with these discomforts. I'll also admit that most of my outdoor stoke is driven by the prospect of adventure — any adventure. Even backyard adventures can be full of novelty and discovery. But as I enter the fifth year in my tenure as a Californian, adventure admittedly takes more creative spark than it once did. Some weeks, inspiration is running low, it's hot outside, and I find myself contemplating Lifetime Fitness memberships and other ways to avoid the outside. 

 At least my friend Leah was available for a Wednesday night ride in the Marin Headlands. As we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge with the late afternoon sun sparkling over the ocean, I thought, "It's been far too long." The evening was perfect — not hot or cold — and we chased quick runners up the hills and descended through dust clouds saturated in sunlight.

 We also encountered many animals, including this crotchety turkey who was not about to let anyone through his territory on the Marincello Trail. He was like a gnarled old troll, but instead of shouting "none shall pass," he'd puff up all his feathers and chase people while gobbling and hissing. We watched these two runners sparring with him when we were still a half mile down the trail, and they still hadn't made it past when we approached. The woman was especially afraid, but I was too. That turkey was mean!

 Leah and I both scooped a handful of little pebbles and she fearlessly led the way. He seemed deterred by her defense but came charging toward me. I yelped and lifted both legs off the pedals because I thought he was going to peck my shins. I tossed the whole handful of little rocks at him, which sent him darting into the grass. Just as I skirted by, he re-emerged to chase the poor runners some more as Leah and I pedaled furiously up the hill. I still don't know whether the runners made it through. They may still be locked in a turkey standoff on the Marincello Trail.

As we crossed over the ridge and dropped into Rodeo Valley, we passed a coyote making a ruckus near the trail. She was yipping and howling loudly in a way that seemed directed at us, and wasn't backing down. Just when I wondered whether there was a full moon making all the animals act weird, a bobcat leapt across our path. We raced the fading sunlight back across the bridge, filled with renewed stoke.

When we returned to my car, I couldn't get my electronic key to work and Leah noticed the rear window had been smashed in. Ugh, horrible feeling. When we met at the bridge parking lot 2.5 hours earlier, Leah arrived straight from work and had a large commuter bag. I stuffed her bag beneath the rear seat, covering what still showed with a greasy old sheet that I keep in my car to cover bikes. I had my own bag, full of extra clothing and my Kindle, that I left in plain sight on the passenger's seat. These thieves managed to grab Leah's bag from under the seat, while leaving my bag and everything in the front of the car alone. Unfortunately Leah's bag was filled with valuables, including her wallet, her work laptop, keys, and expensive pieces of clothing. Ugh. Big headache and losses for her, and a $150 repair for me. We heard the lectures about leaving stuff in cars at trailheads, but this is a big parking lot, usually packed with tourists, and Leah had nowhere else to put her bag. I really thought I had hidden it well, and the only reason I can think for a thief to go directly for that bag and nothing else in the car is because they'd watched us hide it. Well, nothing can be done about it now. Just when you get all worked up about grumpy turkeys on the trails, you are reminded where the real dangerous animals reside.

The weekend came, and I had the mehs something fierce. Beat wanted to put in some long rides for his Freedom Challenge training. But he was on call, so he had to carry his laptop and couldn't leave cell phone range — which can be surprisingly spotty here in the Silicon Valley. He wanted to ride the same route we rode last Sunday, and I was unreasonably cranky about joining him and Liehann, given the reality that it's a beautiful and challenging route. Also, it was the warmest day of the year so far, with temperatures in the mid to high 80s. I froze a bladder of water and went anyway, grumbling about "same old" early in the ride, but picking up enthusiasm in the later miles. You know — bikes just doing their job.

For Sunday I couldn't think of anything remotely exciting for our purposes of staying close to home and in cell phone range. Beat was feeling under the weather after Saturday's ride — whether from the heat, relative lack of cycling, or prolonged recovery from his arduous Alaska journey, he wasn't sure (I think the latter.) The second long ride was almost nixed until I came up with a great plan — we'd ride repeats up and down Montebello Road, as many or as few as each of us felt like riding.

Montebello Road is our go-to hill climb. From our house, the ride is 17.5 miles round trip, and Montebello Road itself climbs 2,000 feet in 5 miles. It's ideal for a quick weekday workout, so I ride this route anywhere from 1 to 3 times a week when I'm at home, and have for four years. I've logged well over 200 trips up Montebello Road. What better way to battle the "same old" mehs by riding the same old route a whole bunch of times in a row?

Yeah, Beat and Liehann didn't really get the logic either. But I was quite excited for these Montebello repeats. Five times would log 10,000 feet of climbing in 50 miles, and that was the goal. We parked the car with a cooler full of cold drinks and a couple of sandwiches at Stevens Creek Reservoir, and took off at our own paces for our chosen number of climbs. I enjoyed myself immensely, spinning up a road I could almost ride with my eyes closed (not really; there are really treacherous drop-offs lined in poison oak) and daydreaming about Alaska. Since I got back from our recent travels last month, I've noticed that all of my Alaska daydreams still revert back to my 2014 walk to McGrath with Beat. It was just such a special trip, and not so emotionally wrenching as my more recent tour on Alaska's western coast. I think I'm just really excited about the prospect of getting back on the Iditarod Trail next year. It makes for great daydream fodder when summer is coming, because summer is long.

Each lap I returned to the car for cold drinks and a snack break. It was just so simple and relaxing. Sometimes repetitive laps through familiar places are just the right cure for the adventure blues. Plus, it's a fun activity for geeking out on Strava data:

Total distance was 56 miles with 10,300 feet of climbing. Over five trips up the mountain, I kept a consistent pace and heart rate throughout. My slowest lap up and down Montebello was my first, at 1:08 (I stopped a few times during this lap.) The second was 1:04, the third was 1:02, and the fourth and fifth were both 1:04.

Now I'm curious how many of these laps I can complete before my pace falls off a cliff. I have an ultimate dream of 100 miles of Montebello — 10 laps and 20,000 feet of climbing. Liehann and Beat are not so convinced that this would be any fun at all (it would be a 12- to 13-hour ride, requiring an early start and an entire day.) But they weren't so sold on today's plan initially. Both told me at the start that they were going to bail after two laps, and I caught them both smiling all the way to the end. (Beat rode his loaded mountain bike and did four laps. But he looked strong after feeling so down on Saturday.)

This week I'm planning to re-introduce long runs into my life. Beat and I signed up for the Ohlone 50K next month, and it's been quite a while since I completed a long run (the White Mountains 100 notwithstanding.) When one is awkward and clumsy, running is always an adventure, and I'm looking forward to this, too.


  1. Love the new banner photo! And love what you said about how "even backyard adventures can be full of novelty and discovery." So true! Great challenge you made out of the Montebello climb. A new twist on a familiar ride. I've been doing a "challenge" of sorts, 30 Days of Biking ( for the 2nd year in a row, and have tried to find different little "hooks" to make the rides more interesting. (Have been blogging about it, too, at:
    Sorry to hear that your car was broken into and that Leah's bag was stolen. Bummer!

  2. Jill, I'm about as exact a polar opposite of you in regards to weather as can be...I LOVE warm and toasty, and can't STAND the cold and snow (if I want to see now, I'll look at a picture!) I always DREAD the stupid fall-back time change, as my daylight hours after work just took a huge hit.

    Maybe the 10 years I spent in Hawaii had some effect, I can't say for sure. All I know is back in 1984 when I stepped off the plane in Honolulu (coming down from Alaska btw) around midnight, and I got a nice breath of that wonderful warm and slightly humid Hawaiian air from the open-air gates they have, and I thought to myself "I'm HOME!"

    Maybe part of the allure to me is that I'm a 'water-dog', snorkel, scuba, roughwater swims...sailing, fishing, beach volleyball...ahh...LOVE IT ALL! I've just always loved being out around/on/in the water....much like you love being in the snow and cold.

  3. One Montebello is quite enough for me! I'm slow (~70 min) but I enjoy taking the MTB back down thru the canyon once in awhile. Thanks for sharing your adventures! (Yes, the banner photo from near Cone Peak is a great one)

  4. I once had an idea to ride my home Water Dog loop for eight hours to train for an 8-hr race. I quickly dismissed it as an unusual and cruel punishment. You not only reduced such a nutty idea to practice, but also convinced two other people to join! I think you are ready to be a CEO of a Silicon Valley startup. I will let you know when I'm looking for one :)

  5. I think 10 hill repeats on Montebello would be an awesome and insane 100 Miles of Nowhere ride. So crazy that I would love to do it with you!! It would beat my 15,000 feet of climbing I did with mine last fall.

    1. Corrine. Anytime! You and Eric should make a trip down to California someday. We could do 10x Montebello and all sorts of fun rides. There are only a handful of road climbs around here where a cyclist could log more vertical in 100 miles, and they'd all hurt a whole lot more than Montebello. This road has a nice, relatively even grade and enough scenery and views to keep one engaged for the duration. It would be a fun challenge. :)

  6. Being chased/delayed by a turkey is too, too funny. I'm used to moose--had no idea turkeys could be so mean, lol. Also love that you saw a bobcat. I was in Arizona for eight weeks and each time I ran in the evening, I felt that sick exhilaration of fear as I imagined a mountain lion pouncing. P.S. It's nice and cool in Alaska right now, perfect riding and running weather. Still, your pics don't make CA seem all that bad.

  7. Similar thefts from cars in store parking lots here in Fairbanks, too, unfortunately. Mostly from unlocked cars, but also of hidden stuff where the thief probably saw the driver hide the stuff.



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