Wednesday, June 30, 2010

2010 Summer Solstice Century

Last weekend, we headed up to the mountains to visit Linda and ride the Summer Solstice Century. This is a most excellent organized ride on gorgeous forest roads out of Quincy, CA that is relatively little known and thus not crowded like some other rides we've done. And there's a bunch of climbing, which is always an attraction.

We've done this ride before (most notably in 2007 when we got engaged on the ride!), but always chosen shorter routes due to not getting up early enough to do the big loop. Both the 100 and 150 km routes follow the road from Quincy to LaPorte up and over the first big lump on the profile before turning around and heading back towards Qunicy. This year, however, we were determined wake up early enough to do the 200 km loop route, which would take us into some new territory.

On paper, this looks like a 2-lump ride -- one big lump in the morning, a descent down to Lake Oroville, and another big lump of about the same size in the afternoon. We knew the first lump was steep-ish from having done it before, but it seemed entirely plausible that the big loop could be a very pleasant ride with gorgeous terrain.

However, as is often the case with these big rides, the map and route description on the event website made it easy to overlook some critical details. The paper map we got had even fewer details, lacking an elevation profile and not making it clear exactly how many miles between rest stops. My bike computer has been obnoxiously turning itself off whenever I go over a bump lately, so I chose to ride without it, leaving me with very little information about how far along I was at any given moment. Fortunately, the route was well-signed and easy to follow, and there were markers telling you how far you've gone every 10 km.

We got started shortly after 6am, and were pleased to find that the first big hill wasn't as steep as either of us had recalled. Getting that early a start meant it was still nice and cool. This first big hill is on an utterly gorgeous road through the forest, with decent pavement, many stunning views off to nearby peaks, and very little traffic. There were wildflowers and still some patches of snow off the side of the road near the top to look at too. Pretty much as good as it gets, in my book.

Time for the long, restful zoomy descent.

I'll give long and zoomy. Restful, no. There are actually quite a number of small rollers on the way down -- just short enough that one is tempted to repeatedly power through them in a relatively high gear rather than repeatedly dropping in and out of climbing mode.

Somewhere in there, I realized "Oh, that minor lump before lunch is actually a real hill." It looks insignificant on the profile provided on the website, but is something on the order of 1000 feet of climbing. No biggie, and it was relatively gentle, but a bit unexpected.

Despite this, we still felt pretty fresh by the lunch stop at about 60 miles, though I suspected I might tire later in the day from the repeated bursts of energy required on the downhill. Lunch was yummy (wraps, fruit, and roasted potatoes with salt for me), and the stop was staffed with lots of cheerful, energetic volunteers. I'd have to say that they had a most excellent crop of volunteers at all of the stops, as well as having a good variety of food and drink. It felt like an extremely well-supported ride, given that there was a total of only 200-250 riders.

Drop drop drop down to Lake Oroville. At this point, we were no longer in the mountains, but getting down toward the edge of the Central Valley. It was hot, as one would expect in June. About a hundred degrees hot, to be more specific. The road surface by the lake had been recently chip-sealed, making it bumpy and somewhat annoying. Ick.

All misery was forgotten at the next rest stop, as the volunteers had set up a shade tent with a large powerful fan and a mini snow-cone operation. It was pretty hot and it felt like I had just eaten lunch, so I skipped the actual food, drank an icy cold coke, had a small blue snow-cone, and headed on up the hill.

Climb climb climb climb. Chad disappeared up the hill ahead of me. Drink drink drink. Hot hot hot hot. Where'd that nice forest go? Good thing I used to live in Phoenix, this doesn't seem THAT bad. Drink. Climb climb, hot hot. Not brutal, but hot. Hot hot. Drink drink. Tummy full of water. Glug glug slosh slosh.

Eventually made it up to the next rest stop, stumbled into the shade, looked at volunteers who appeared to be wearing kilts and jaunty Scottish hats, decided I must be imagining things due to heat. Poured water on head. Rubbed ice on limbs. Nice volunteers still wearing kilts. Hmmm. Drink drink drink. Gatorade now seems too thick to drink. Water water water. Eat a few grapes, cookies seem too hard to masticate.

Tummy full. Glug glug glug. Keep drinking. Up up climb climb. Strong Chad disappeared up the hill again. Really pretty forest reappears, with interesting looking rock formations off to the left. Note to self: go hike Bald Rock sometime. It looks neat. Not many riders around me, but those I do see seem to be suffering. Climb climb. Slow.

'nother rest stop, refill water, can't eat, pour water on head again. Climb climb glug slosh. Now passing people that passed me on the first climb in the morning. Tummy tummy drink slosh. Hot hot. Climb, climb, gotta be more downhill than up at this point, right? Repeat that hopeful thought to others suffering around me. Get weird looks in response. Note SAG vehicles going by now have bikes on the back. Poor suffering cyclists needing to be peeled off of the oven pavement. Climb climb. Where is that darned rest stop? And shouldn't this grade be easing up soon if the ride is 200 km? Revel in the knowledge that the last 20 miles are downhill and I must've already done about 90 miles. Climb climb hot hot.

Silly other rider riding on wrong side of road, claims there is more shade there. Silly rider, there is no shade. Only sun. Big bright hot hot sun. Drink drink. Glug. No I will not ride over there with you silly rider, no matter what you say. Hot hot hot climb climb. Tummy tummy tummy slosh.

Other rider on wrong side now walking, claims forward progress is good. I'm stronger than you silly rider. Augh augh arrrrrrgh! Small patch of shade has tractor beam. Bike has stopped of its own volition! Sloshing queasy carcass has sat down! On the side of the road not at a rest stop! Food desperately needed!

Have food with me, but can't eat. Uh oh. Full blood sugar drop bonk augh. Need food but too queasy from sloshing water. Silly walking rider on wrong side of road has disappeared up the hill. Uh oh. Sip water. tummy slosh sick slosh. Choke down half a nut/fruit/seed bar. See guy in yellow shirt who I passed earlier coming. See SAG truck. Better get back on the bike. Slosh slosh queasy slosh pedal pedal hot. Pedal.... pedal.... pedal.... pass guy in yellow shirt, exchange suffering sympathy. Climb climb climb. Where is that rest stop??????? Need rest stop to sit and eat. Climb climb climb. Yellow shirt guy passes me. Almost catch back up. Pass wrong-side-of-the road cyclist.

Rest Stop sign. Would say "Woo-hoo!" but need food too badly. Still feel queasy. See Chad at rest stop. Woo hoo. Splat in dirt with water bottle.
Food being offered, but can't eat.
Eat grape. Nope. Eat energy chew. Bleah. Queasy.
Nibble banana. Mmmm. Nibble again. Nibble nibble nibble nibble. Banana all gone.

Friendly volunteers point out that that section was thought to be the worst of it. Watch SAG vehicle pull in with cyclists retrieved and given a lift. Note that perhaps 50 cyclists expected through that rest stop total, some of whom got a ride for part of it. More got lifts over parts of the next section.
Don't feel quite human, but do feel somewhat better. Get back on bike. Request Chad keep an eye on me for a few miles just in case.

After all that time waiting for me to recover, Chad flatted just a few minutes past that rest stop -- a sharp fragment of that evil chip seal down by the lake had worked its way into his tire. I stopped and ate a little bit while he changed the tube. Oohh--no longer queasy. Woo-hoo!! The SAG vehicle stopped to see if we were all right; Chad took advantage of this to borrow their floor pump to finish filling his tire, and we were off rolling again. Perhaps not as vigorously as earlier in the day, but making good progress.

We passed the 180 km sign. At this point, I realized the ride must be longer than the advertised 200 km; Chad, having looked a little more closely at the map, confirmed my suspicion. Argh. Half the reason the earlier climbing seemed so relentlessly long was that it was relentlessly longer than I had mentally allocated for. Another rest stop, a few more rollers, fabulous views and nice cool breezes coming off the snow patches on the side of the road, and then


down the hill. And I do mean zoom -- there was quite a long section of fun, not-too-technical descent. Chad was grinning when I caught up to him at the bottom of that section. Somewhere in there, we passed the 190 km sign.

There was no 200 km sign. Perhaps they didn't want to rub in the demoralizing fact that the "last 10 km" was actually 20 miles. At any rate, I tucked into Chad's draft, and he was nice enough to make sure I didn't drop on the last flat section into town.

All told, 137 miles with a bit over 13,000 feet of climbing. Wouldn't even have been that bad if I had eaten properly -- but then again, if I hadn't made that error, I wouldn't have experienced the requisite amount of suffering :) I actually do think this route was tougher than the Markleeville Death Ride (that being the previous Ride of Most Suffering), just because of the relentless-seeming climb section from miles 75-110.

After getting home, I made a better ride profile using the tools over at MapMyRide.

Not only does it show useful grade information, but it is easier to note some critical things:
1. The descent off the first big hill has a lot of little rollers -- not really a resting descent.
2. There's a smaller, but still significant lump about halfway through.
3. You drop to a significantly lower elevation in the middle, meaning that the second large hill is larger than the first.
4. The ride is 137 miles rather than 200 km (though I should have picked that up from the route info on the web site had I looked carefully enough).

None of these are bad things -- it's just useful to have a clear picture of the ride for proper pacing and feeding from the beginning!

We're now back home and recovered (aside from my left hand, which is sore from being leaned on too much) Already plotting and scheming the next adventure...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Itty Bitty Kitties

As part of our very full weekend trip to Downieville, Nimue got to go over to a farm with Linda to pick up our yearly lamb meat. When they got there, Nim was quite predictably enthralled with the six-week-old kittens.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Caffeinated Nim

I made a cake and frosting flavored with coffee for Chad for Father's Day; this transformation from mild-mannered 7 1/2 year old to juvenile velociraptor is what resulted:

My apologies if the videos don't work yet; blogger appears to be having problems...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010



Our apricots are coming ripe, and for once I got to eat one before the evil squirrels got it. Yum.

goes with Nim's previous post


Saturday, June 19, 2010

I discovered a new kind of mud!

When I was playing in the dirt today I dug a hole. I filled the hole with water, and waited a few hours. I looked at it later and found an ooey, gooey mud. I just invented a new mud!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Many Moods within a Minute

Today was the first day of Nimue's summer vacation; she and I went on a hike to burn off the morning's energy. I'm quite sure someone will need to cart me off to the funny farm by the time school starts up again on August 26th, but it might be fun getting there...


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mt. El Sombroso

I went exploring on the mountain bike again yesterday. The day's goals:

1. Check out the trails at Almaden Quicksilver County Park

2. Explore more of Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve. I'd really like to get to the top of Mt. Umunhum at some point, as at 3486 feet, it is the highest bump along the ridge, plus it has a very distinctive square building plonked at the top of it. The area used to be the Almaden Air Force Station, and was used as one of the NORAD radar stations scanning for troublesome aircraft during the Cold War. Sadly, that part of the preserve is currently is closed to the public due to (a) some needed cleanup work at the former air force station and (b) intervening private land whose occupants take their privacy seriously. I had to settle for the next nearest peak: Mt. El Sombroso, at just under 3000 feet.

3. Ride myself silly and enjoy the fact that Nim would be in school and an after school activity until 4:00.

I started out at the parking lot at the top of Hicks Road and first headed into Almaden Quicksilver for an 11 mile loop on dirt roads. It was delightfully easy riding -- nothing too steep or technical, just nice views in many directions and lots of old mining structures left over from the days when this was a major mercury mining area. Also many wacky colored rocks, which isn't too surprising given the metal content of the local minerals. At one point, I looked out to the horizon to see Mt. Hamilton, and realized that from that vantage point, I couldn't see San Jose at all, or any other populated area for that matter.


After making it back to the beginning of the loop, it seemed like I had only just warmed up, so of course I headed for the big climb up Woods Trail in Sierra Azul to Mt. El Sombroso. Once in the park on this side of the road, I didn't see any other people, and not many signs of civilization beyond the occasional long view out over the South Bay. And this:

Maybe this southern alligator lizard was responsible for the smiley face...

Or the western fence lizard. He has a blue belly that you can't see in the picture.

Or maybe this deer with fuzzy antlers. Clearly Mountain Biking Ma is not as scary as a mountain lion, as this fellow was most unconcerned about my presence.

Knowing the terrain in this area a bit (I've done some other trails lower down in the park, and have ridden up the paved road up Mt. Umunhum up to the point where you start to see very forbidding "No Trespassing" signs), I fully expected some of the trails to resemble steep gravelly walls, and I wasn't surprised. I learned that while I can ride up a 24% grade gravel misery, I couldn't get started from a full stop on it. It gives one a whole new appreciation for the dirt climb the riders at the Giro d'Italia were subjected to on their time trial this year... The stop, however, was for a good cause -- there were still many wildflowers up at that elevation, like this nice mariposa lily:


I continued to stop whenever there was an interesting plant or view to photograph. This one is some sort of Dudleya. I love the name (after Stanford botanist William Russell Dudley), and to me, these succulents look like they're ready to crawl off and do mischief when they flower.


At some point, the grade levelled off a bit. I had an odd moment when I though "Gosh, this almost seems flat!", but then looked down at the bike computer and saw that it was still 12%. The previous crazy angles sure screw up one's sense of what's mellow. Still, I continued to stop to enjoy views like this one of Mt. Umunhum through a profusion of wildflowers:


A somewhat unusual red thistle. This one is actually native, unlike the evil purple ones that seem to be taking over at lower elevations.


I eventually made it to the top, and followed a trail of power line pylons down over the crest of the hill to enjoy the view. It's been unusually clear given the warm weather for the last couple of days -- there's been enough of a breeze to keep the usual brown layer of airborne guck from accumulating over the valley.


Of course, it was gorgeous, and I was still feeling pretty good, so the inevitable error in judgment occurred. That extra loop of trail off to the west? It's only 6 miles. I've got an extra hour. How bad can it be? The map indicated that it dropped a bit, but of course the contour lines were faint, and I didn't actually count how many were involved in that particular loop. You can see below that it dropped almost 1500 feet, and I discovered that the climb up the west side was almost as steep as that on the east side.



So suffering was had. As it should be. At this point, I was a bit worried about making it back to the car in time to get back to pick up Nimue, so was trying to push the speed (otherwise it probably would have been quite pleasant!) As it was, when I made it to the top where the turkey vultures were playing in the thermals, I felt like they were eying me up as a potential afternoon snack.


Fortunately, the descent on this side wasn't too scary, and I made good time back to the car -- or at least good enough time that I had time to drive home and ride over to school to pick Nimue up -- with 5 minutes to spare :)

Crispy Critter back in the parking lot.

30+ miles; 5000+ feet of climbing. All on fire road rather than singletrack, but it was so gorgeous up there that who really cares?

Half Moon Bay adventure cycling

A three-day weekend for Memorial Day with no other plans? Bike trip must be done. This time around, we took a quick jaunt over to Half Moon Bay. Nimue and Anna rode together on the tandem, while pack mule Chad got most of the luggage on his touring bike.

In the spirit of the Rough Riders' credo ("Any Bike, Anywhere") we took in many miles of dirt on this trip. From the rustic little singletracks along the bluffs south of Half Moon Bay, to the shaded dirt-road climb through redwood groves along Purisima Creek, this trip provided no shortage of fun challenges.

Sunnyvale to Half Moon Bay, via Old La Honda, San Gregorio, Stage Road.

Sunday (not shown): Coastal trail from golf course up to town and back. Part paved, part delightful maze of singletrack strands along the bluff above the beach.

Half Moon Bay to Sunnyvale, via Purisima Creek, Kings Mountain, Stanford Mall, Palo Alto, Mountain View.

The hills are not shown in the same scale -- the Purisima Creek climb is steeper, gains more altitude, and is on dirt. On the bright side, it was also infested with banana slugs to cheer Nimue up as she got tired. Between the slug-watching stops and snack stops, it took a while to climb out, but we made it in the end, and the trail was jolly enough to count as a good discovery.

Chad the pack mule.

Nimue, who wrote a beach note rather than using her voice to express her need for lunch.

Ma and Ni.

Ma and Ni heading up the trail along Purisima Creek.

A rest on the bridge. Nim needed saltwater taffy to keep going.

One of many banana slugs, photographed especially for Eileen.

Nimue's Face

During the bike trip, Nimue decided that she could use "Monkey Face" as an alternative to sticking out her tongue when the camera was near. Of course, the tongue still came out, and she couldn't help but smile upon finding a tree to climb.


Friday, June 4, 2010

A Thing in the Garden


I made a Thing in the front yard this morning.
Maybe beans will Grow on it.
Maybe Nimue will play in it.
The sticks from the apricot tree carnage are Useful.