Sunday, August 07, 2011


Well, I think that someone doesn't think it's healthy for me to be all data-nerdy about my cycling. As previously noted, I semi-recently passed 3000 miles on my bike. 3000 miles since when, you might ask? Um, since the pretty random start date of "sometime around February 2008." I was all proud of myself for documenting when I rolled over the 3000 mile marker, since that would set a good milestone for tracking future progress, given my new cycling habits.

'twas not to be. The battery on my cyclocomputer died; I've replaced it, but lost the odometer. It's possible to manually set it, but since I'm not sure what it was, it wouldn't be at all accurate. (I THINK that last I checked it was somewhere around 3600 or 3800 or something like that... but could easily be wrong.)

The bright side is that I replaced it immediately before participating in the Tour de Peninsula, which seems like a pretty great random occasion to start measuring my miles. The TdP is the first organized ride that I've participated in, and while I'm sure that organized rides won't be a very significant part of my bicycling experience, it is a convenient milestone.

The TdP is a fundraiser for the San Mateo County Parks system, and the TdP route has been an important resource for me as I've started exploring the bike routes in the area. I registered early for the ride, and have used that as extra motivation to push myself to try out the route - specifically, tackling my first hard climb (King Mountain Road in Woodside) and my first very fast, long descents (Skyline and La Honda). That alone was worth the price of admission, but fortunately, I was able to take part in the ride itself.

They offer a variety of lengths to riders, ranging from 20 miles to 63 (a metric century). Now, even the 20-mile ride is pretty intense, climbing from sea level all the way up to Sawyer Camp Trail at Skyline (up Crystal Spring Road). One of the things that most attracted me to TdP was the great, laid-back attitude they have about the event. Their mantra is "it's a ride, not a race;" they let you change your mind and take a longer or shorter route on the day of the ride; and they endorse the use of shortcuts (or, as they call it, "distance conservation.")

The longer rides start at 7AM at Coyote Point Park. That's pretty close to where I live, so I set an early-ish alarm for 5:45, had breakfast and got ready, then headed out on my bike around 6:30 and arrived 5-10 minutes before the start. Signage in the park was pretty good, and once I got close it was easy to find the corral. Folks kept trickling in as the emcee repeated a set of announcements. Most important was an admonition to obey the rules of the road - stop at all stop signs and red lights. He also warned of the construction on Old La Honda Road (which I had encountered on my earlier outings), and said to look out for tacks on Kings Mountain Road (!).

Soon 7 o'clock rolled around and we rolled out. They released us in waves; I think I was near the end of the second group. The first section of the ride was quite slow - but again, this was totally fine, since everyone was just there for a good time. I was extra-observant of the people riding close to me, being very careful not to overlap wheels or stop too suddenly.

We rode out through the southern edge of Coyote Point Park, then through downtown San Mateo. The police had closed down the street for us, but not the cross streets, so we had to stop periodically at traffic lights. Again, it was fine, as people were just enjoying the ride.

The group stayed pretty tight as we exited downtown and started the easy climb up Crystal Springs. It started to break up once we hit Polhemus (which I've heard is a Category 4, though I'm not sure how much stock to put in that). I actually passed a decent number of folks, resisted the urge to chase down some others, and kept pedaling.

It was a surprisingly damp day out. I think it might have been very low clouds, or perhaps a bunch of fog, but whatever the reason, my sunglasses were coated in water by the time I hit Polhemus. I was quite wet, but despite being in shorts and a vest, I wasn't too chilly.

At the top of Polhemus, we hit our first rest stop. Because I'm a food nerd, I'll recount the food that each one had. This first one was just fruit - nectarines, bananas, and oranges, along with bottled water. I was pleased to see that, at this rest stop and every one I'd encounter later on, most people stopped, and nobody seemed in too much of a rush - they'd stand around chatting for a while before hitting the road again. Me, I'd select the one piece of food that looked the most tasty (here, it was a banana), eat it, toss the trash, then move on.

I'd been concerned about the descent of the Ralston Bike Trail - it's very narrow, in poor repair, and can't really handle a large volume of riders. However, this early on all the traffic was going in one direction, and despite a few riders passing me on the (very steep) descent, it felt safe.

The weather started to clear up once we hit Canada, which was weird - Canada was nice, Woodside was nice, and the entire ascent of Kings Mountain Road was nice. It seems like we had two cloud layers this day - a lower one on the bay side, and a higher one on the ocean side. In any case, I enjoyed the chance to warm up.

Canada was gorgeous, as always. By now the riders were thoroughly broken up, and it didn't feel any busier than a typical weekend morning on Canada. I enjoyed the ride past the reservoir, watching the blue sky approach and then envelop me.

The second rest station, at Pulgas Water Temple, was hosted by Buck's of Woodside. In addition to the fruit, they had trail mix and cereal bars; and, more impressively, some coffee cake! I had a piece. It was delicious.

On my way into Woodside, I has to suppress muscle memory to stick on Canada all the way to Woodside, instead of turning onto Olive Hill Road, which has become my favorite way to start the mountainous ascent. Traffic started getting heavier here, but (judging by a few furtive glances for wristbands) I don't think most of the riders were part of the TdP.

The climb up Kings Mountain was a lot of fun. Partly because I've done it so many times now that it isn't too challenging. (Not that I'm awesome or anything - I do the whole thing in one of my lowest gears - I'm just used to it and can anticipate how hard I'll need to work.) I also appreciated it because, though I hate to admit it, it's actually gotten a little boring - it's a very slow climb of about 45 minutes. Now, though, with a lot more riders around, and phenomenally clear weather, I felt like I was experiencing it afresh. This was also the section where I kept the best pace with other riders, sometimes sticking within sight of them for twenty or thirty minutes. Oh, and this is also where I spotted the funniest racing jersey of the day - "Old Guys Who Get Fat In Winter Racing Team."

Another rest stop at the top of King's Mountain (at Tularcitas and Skyline) was hosted by Alice's Restaurant from Woodside. In addition to the standard items featured at the last stop, they were also serving peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, along with grilled potato wedges. I had some of both. Oh, and some Gatorade; I think this was the only rest stop to have that.

Skyline was fun; again, this didn't seem any more or less crowded than a typical weekend. It did have the weird weather that you often get up there, where it will rain for, like, three feet of the road. You can see the damp patch up again, you'll ride through it, get wet, and then be in the clear again.

At the intersection with 84 was the turn-off for people who decided that 50 miles would be enough. They were good at indicating that you should turn left for the shorter route, but were not as good at explaining that you had to keep going straight in order to do the metric century. I would later run across a rider who had mistakenly turned right on 84 - which, as he pointed out, IS easier than the posted route.

After crossing 84, the weather turned more persistently drizzly. This is often the case on the ocean side, but I think it was probably more so today than for any of my earlier test rides. It would be interesting to try this route in the winter, or really any time of the year other than summer, which is when we tend to get the most coastal fog.

The intersection with Old La Honda was another place where, if you'd done the ride before or studied the map, you would be fine, but otherwise, you wouldn't get a whole lot of help. The person standing there with the orange flag seems to be indicating that you should do something... but what?

Since I'd taken Old La Honda before, I was prepared for the condition of the road (which certainly isn't bad, but, as the man at the start had put it, it isn't where you want to make up time). However, I wasn't as prepared for the very poor visibility. The thick fog made it hard to see anyways, but worse than that, my glasses had once again completely filled with water. Needless to say, I took this descent very cautiously and quite slowly. I was even more glad than usual at how little traffic this road gets.

At 84, I took a minute to wipe down my spectacles and turn on my rear blinker. The climb up went well - I'm always pleasantly surprised at how quickly this ascent goes, which I'm guessing is partly due to the great pavement and partly due to the stiff wind that we usually get from the west. A small rest stop here had some more fruit; this time I helped myself to a peach. It tasted utterly delicious.

By the time I reached Skyline, the sky was clear again, and my descent on the east side of 84 was breathtaking as always. (The most gorgeous panoramic views I've seen of the middle of the Bay Area, screaming past as I fly down at thirty miles an hour.) The rest of the ride down and my return on Canada went smoothly. And, yes, I did make another stop at the Buck's station for another slice of that coffee cake.

I was a little nonplussed to see that the clouds were still in full force from the northern end of Canada - usually that stuff burns off fairly early. On the plus side, the bike trail continued to be fine - I think that most of the 8-o'clockers had already been down, so everyone was going in the opposite direction. The rest stop at the other end was out of food by now, but I did refill my water bottle here.

Descending Polhemus is thrilling - you can build up a good head of steam, like on Skyline and La Honda, but unlike those roads, there are very few turns, plus there's a good bike lane. (After you've ridden it the first time, you know the two parts where you don't want to be in the bike line, and can safely move out of it while maintaining your speed.) I felt the naughty thrill that I usually get when I manage to activate the speed limit sign.

A left turn on Crystal Spring had me climbing back up again. I usually do this ride on a Saturday; it looks like the construction workers have Sundays off, so it was a bit quieter around the dam than usual. At the entrance to Sawyer Camp Trail, I grabbed an orange from the penultimate rest stop.

It took me a few seconds to realize that something was weird - there were no people here! Oh, there were cyclists, sure, but when I ride SCT, I usually hardly see any of them. Instead, it's usually teeming with walkers, and runners, and kids on tricycles, and elderly couples, and young families pushing strollers... all sorts of stuff that I enjoy and that keeps my pace fairly sedate. It seems like they actually close down the trail for this event, though, which is... I guess awesome? Like I said, it felt a little weird, but once I got used to it, it felt GREAT to be able to cruise along this beautiful six-mile stretch between woods and water.

Waiting for me on the other side was the final rest stop. I first swung by the "first aid" station to pick up a band-aid (a cut on my finger had re-opened). The food section was out of everything but oranges, but I guess they re-stock, since  car pulled up and they unloaded some boxes of stuff. I grabbed a nut and berry cereal bar, ate it, and then headed into the final stretch.

On my typical ride, I'm almost done at this point. Here, though, I got to go through the "Millbrae Maze": a right turn on Skyline, left on Millbrae, an immediate right on the first street, and then a series of (very clearly marked) turns that fairly gently bring you back down, through quiet residential streets, while you're picking up another set of gorgeous views of the area (San Bruno Mountain, Millbrae, the airport, the Bay, Coyote Point, Oyster Point, etc.).

We eventually rejoined Millbrae. Here's where it started to get bunched up again, probably due to the reintroduction of stop lights after a VERY long absence. I'd been curious/concerned about exactly how they were planning on taking us over the freeway on Millbrae. Well, they do it perfectly - the police separate out the far-left lane with a fairly solid line of orange cones, and we ride in that all the way across El Camino Real, Rollins, and the various ramps. At the end came a pretty easy merge back into the right line for our trip down Airport.

After a few more frustrating red lights, the road opened up and the pack broke apart once more. Oh, I forgot to mention it before, but there was a STRONG northerly wind this day. Crazy as it sounds, it felt like the return on Canada was more challenging than the climb up Kings Mountain! But on Airport, all that wind purely benefited me. I was riding in my very highest gear, on flat terrain, on good pavement, with nice long stretches between lights, just flying down to Coyote Point.

The traffic got a little crowded at one point where the road narrows down to one lane, but overall this was a great route, with very few cars. (I typically ride the Bay Trail when I'm in the area, so it was nice to get some exposure to the alternate route. The Bay Trail does have much nicer views since it's right on the water, but it's also pretty narrow and you have to contend with the majority walkers. Airport usually doesn't have a bike lane, but traffic is pretty light and you usually have two lanes to share.)

After re-entering the park, I got my picture taken, then pedaled along the very good bike path to the finish. Hooray! The kids' race was just getting started when I pulled in, about a quarter after noon, for a total ride time of over five hours.

They had the standard set of booths that you see at all athletic events these days, but it was a smaller and more manageable collection than, say, a marathon would have. I picked up my "dirty shirt" from the (very well concealed) booth, then got in line to order lunch. (I think most people bring picnic stuff with them, but since I cycled to the park, I didn't exactly want to bring food along with me.) I picked up a barbecue tri-tip sandwich, which also has lettuce and tomato, and came with a small cup of pasta salad and a bag of chips. It was pretty good, though I think it would be more accurate to call it a "grilled tri-tip smeared with barbecue sauce" sandwich. Nothing wrong with that, but tri-tip is a tough enough cut that it really benefits enormously from the long cooking you get in a true barbecue.

Be that as it may: I'd just finished a long bike ride, and anything would have tasted delicious. I chilled out on a picnic bench for a while, listening to the progress of the kids' bike race, then the upbeat band that started playing. With all the variable weather we'd had that day, I hadn't been sure what to expect at the point. I lucked out - it was clear, sunny, warm, and bright. I contentedly finished my sandwich, pulled on my dirty shirt, and rolled out back home.

The ride was phenomenal - extremely well organized, well supported, and well designed. And, best of all, their attitude was just as cheerful and laid-back as I'd hoped. I'm sure that I'll try it again sometime. I don't know yet if I'll do it next year or not - I'm tempted to pick another ride that I can use as my next goal/practice. Since finding out about the TdP I've learned about several other intriguing rides (Giro di Peninsula, Tour de Cure) that I might want to take a crack at. I keep hearing about these "century" things and am curious to see what that's all about...

1 comment:

  1. OK, all right, you've convinced me. I shall move to California, learn to ride hills, and go on any organized rides you choose.