Monday, April 27, 2009

4-26-09 Hills of the West Coast Ride Report

I almost never decide where the ride is going until the morning of the ride. The main variables are the weather, who shows up, how many show up, and, to be honest (and selfish), what kind of riding I feel like doing as well as how fresh I feel energy-wise.

I like to climb, so when I saw a group of like-minded folks show up this morning, I started to narrow my options. I actually didn’t commit to a route until we had ridden out to the I-90 tunnel. It was tempting to head north on a flattish loop because of the reported clear skies and ten degree warmer early morning temperatures, but no way! As opposed to the last two years when I was getting ready for trips to Europe, we have not taken the HOWC on any purely climbing focused rides so far in 2009. I think everyone, me included, was getting a little sick around May of last year of our weekly assaults on Cougar and Squak Mountains.

So we headed out to the “mountains”: across Mercer Island/up the “Honda Hill” in Factoria/to Eastgate Elementary School/up Horizon Crest to The Summit/down to Lakemont/up Cougar Mountain from the south/down Montreaux/out to Issaquah/up Squak Mountain via Olympus Dr. (for my money, the hardest of the hard routes)/up the climb of your choice, either Zoo Road or 164th to the top of Cougar Mountain/down Forest/back through Mercer Slough/optional loop around Mercer Island on the way back. Depending on whether or not you did the Mercer Island loop, you wound up with 49 or 57 miles, and around 5000’ of climbing either way. Not a bad first 2009 climbing ride for the HOWC.

We had a great crew of 13 today, strong riders who worked together as a group. I never saw a wheel “out of line”, and just about everybody took turns on the front, a not insignificant accomplishment considering how little flat terrain we traversed in between hills! The pace on the flats was really about what it should be for this time of the year; turned up a little bit from a month ago, but nowhere near the frenzied pitch of a mid-summer ride. FYI, for May we will be leaving the starting gate at 8 AM sharp.

As always, pace on the hills is what you make of it. While we certainly had some strong climbers, we definitely didn’t have any weak ones, which is good when there is no easy way up most of the climbs. When the climbing gets steep and long, you have to bring either the legs or the gearing to handle it, and since we don’t allow triples…just kidding! Luke on his triple can smoke just about anybody he chooses to.

While we don’t have any 10+ mile climbs lurking right outside our backdoor, we are so fortunate in Seattle to have an incredible variety of high quality climbs scattered across the entire metro area. Living downtown, in the winter, when I want to keep it close I can just go to Magnolia and Queen Anne, or over to West Seattle. When the weather is nice a short boat ride gets me to Bainbridge or Vashon, and it’s an easy jaunt (and a way to add some more miles) to buzz out to Cougar and Squak. Tiger stands alone a little bit, but it’s great to add it as part of a longer loop, and it is worth doing from either the north or south.

Hey, nothing is perfect. We don’t have the Galibier or the Stelvio, but man, we have it good.

I hope to see you on the road.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

4-19-09 Hills of the West Coast Ride Report

Twenty riders started today’s HOWC. After a spirited romp on Jones Road and a pretty hard climb up 196th we were down to 14. The ride went off at quite a hard pace, more like the typical June ride than a ride in April, and I think the pace, as well as the nature of the pace, may have had something to do with the early attrition rate.

I always feel a little guilty at this time of the year when the ride goes at a pace harder than the ”strenuous” we advertise in the ride listing. In the summer, we list at “super strenuous”, and that entails 22+mph, and that “+” is key. I view the summer HOWC as kind of an open class ride, and it always seems to go just as hard as the strongest in the bunch want it to go. If riders can’t hang, I don’t feel so guilty if they bail early. I feel badly, though, when riders show up in the spring and can’t keep up with an elevated pace, knowing full well that they would have no trouble if we were riding the stated pace. Oh well, sometimes it’s just hard to make that happen. More on that later.

Jeff led today’s ride, and he was looking for a route of about 60 miles with a little less climbing than we normally do. The basic plan was: across Mercer Island/down the east side of the lake/89th through Newcastle /May Valley/148th south/Jones Rd/196th/SE Wax Rd/Soos Creek Trail/Renton/Rainier/Seward Park/back downtown.

Things were a little looser and a little more chaotic today than on a typical HOWC. Early on, people were missing turns after they rode off the front, mostly challenging each other as opposed to thinking as a group of 20. I don’t think it was the pace that split up the rest of the group; it was more the rolling through stops, and then bolting off hard, that produced the inevitable gaps in the peloton. Riders toward the tail of the group were forced to try and bridge these splits over and over, and I think that is what actually cracked some of the riders. If you don’t understand what I am talking about, try “sweeping” a hard paced ride. The tail gunner always works hard, even when the rest of the crew starts off from stops smoothly. Only the first person in the line has a clear view at a stop, and everyone behind is forced to pause longer to not only look for cars, but to see around the bikes that are ahead. This puts pressure on following riders to risk blasting through stops, and/or hammer to close the gaps that open.

Today’s ride reminded me a little of early rides that we did back six years ago when I started leading the ride. People were running stop signs and red lights, and we backed up some traffic as some riders were unresponsive to the “car back” calls being passed forward. We had a fair number of first timers today, and it’s understandable that they were not familiar with the things that we do on the HOWC that I think has made the ride a very safe hard ride over the years. Not all group rides seem to have safety as priority #1, and sometimes it takes new riders a little while to sort that out. Having twenty riders to keep track of (with some of them off the route at times) made it challenging for Jeff and I to sort out and keep track of the ride and riders (we try hard not to strand riders out in the middle of nowhere). The wrong turns, etc., caused a lot of extra stops. What I know to be true, after six years of leading the HOWC, is that new HOWC riders who return week after week become familiar with the ride protocol and become leaders of the pack.

One of the major reasons I joined Cascade and started up the ride was the fact that I looked around town and I couldn’t find a hard group ride that I was comfortable with. I’m sure they exist, but maybe I was looking in the wrong corners. In any case, I decided to start a ride and design it myself. It took a while to get the ride fleshed out, but that’s the great thing about being a CBC Ride Leader. You take the responsibility for the group, but you also get to make the rules. The HOWC is such a hard ride (especially in the summer months) that having to “manage” it takes away from the fun for everybody. Maybe I am just spoiled because in recent years the HOWC has mostly been on auto-pilot; we get such strong and skilled riders that the group just rolls along, and all Jeff and I are required to do is point out the route.

After a stop, Jeff and I decided to try the “remote re-group” approach that has worked well in the past, and that settled things down. Normally we ride together as a group on flat sections, and re-group at the top of longer climbs. Today we would give directions detailing the next 3-5 miles, and then name a point at the end for the next re-group. I rode near the front almost the entire ride today, and I immediately noticed a change after deploying this strategy. All of a sudden the pace slowed down, and rarely was there a need for the remote re-group as most of the time the group hung together! I’m not sure if riders were afraid of making a wrong turn and getting lost out on their own; more likely when the fun of trying to blast away from the group was removed, the ride settled in at a slightly softer pace.

We had two women show up for the ride. That Julie and Carol rode would not be a big deal, except for the fact that I don’t think we have seen a female rider on the HOWC for several years now. A while back, Sue would join the group frequently, and she always put in a solid showing. Both Julie and Carol were strong today, and Carol finished the ride. She succumbed a little to the Hurt Locker toward the end, but she put her head down, dug deep, and rode well. Sue, where are you out there? We need to have you back, and it would be nice to see other women join us. What’s the downside? If you don’t enjoy the ride, just leave and ride home.

Shane, a first timer on the HOWC, did a lot of work on the front. He has just moved to Seattle from Boulder. He’s a great guy, and people like Shane that are willing to sacrifice themselves pulling hard at the front for long periods of time…well, just like Armstrong appreciated Hincapie, we appreciated Shane’s effort.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

4-18-09 Team HPC Powered by Cycle U Rider Report

People come out to play when the sun shines and the temperature warms up. There were cyclists and runners all along our route today. We had 19 Team HPC riders show up for the mini-clinic on fitness basics and the following group ride. Perhaps as the weather continues to improve, we will see more new faces of people that are now part of our 60 strong team.

After the clinic, we split fairly evenly into Development and Expert Groups for the ride.

Our standard route through Medina, Kirkland, and Bellevue seems to work great. Traffic is always light, and we roll through some very scenic parts of town. Most of the riders seemed to agree that the route is a lot more interesting than the basic “around the end of the lake” loop. It also has fewer stops, and the additional climbing makes it more challenging as well.

The Development Group was a fit group, and several people moved up to the Expert level at re-group points. Most of both crews threw in a lap around Mercer Island, bringing the total to about 36 round trip miles from our morning meeting spot.

It’s rewarding to be around so many people who want to improve their cycling fitness and/or skills. Riders seemed enough at ease with the group to ask questions and offer input throughout the ride.

Next Saturday at 9 AM we have our second “Meet the Team” group ride. This is an opportunity to invite your friends who might be curious about what Team HPC is all about.

I hope to see everybody on the road and at Pert’s in Leschi for the ride.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

4-4-09 Hills of the West Coast Ride Report

The easy ride summary: I hope everybody had as good of a time as I did!

For a rare Saturday HOWC, we had 16 riders, and it was a strong group, especially considering the lousy weather we have had. With less chance to ride, you would think people would be less fit than they normally are in early April. Maybe there was just a lot of pent up demand to ride hard?

It was cold at the start, but the April sun is so much higher relative to the January sun (if it ever comes out) that I don’t think anyone, even the few wearing just shorts, was ever cold. The basic route:

Mercer Island--89th-May Valley--148th-Jones Road--Maple Valley Highway for a mile-Cedar Grove--Lake Francis-200th--Issaquah Hobart Rd--Climb of Tiger Mountain--Tiger Mountain store for a rest stop.

At this point, Jeff took 10 of the 16 back on May Valley to bring the ride in at around 60 miles. Maybe Jeff can comment on how the rest of their ride went. A group of five went with me to Issaquah. We then climbed Squak Mountain, took Newport Way to the west, and climbed Somerset mostly just for the view. From the top of Squak, Mt. Baker looked like a giant Sno Cone, and the view from the top of Somerset has got to be one of the top three vantage points in the entire metro area.

Squak is certainly one of the hardest climbs in town, and while it didn’t seem like a walk in the park, all of the brutally steep climbs I did in California made it seem…well, benign in a relative sense.

From Somerset, we re-traced our morning route across Mercer Island back to downtown. We wound up with 70 miles, and just under 5000’ of climbing.

Our group passed a number of riders wearing local racing team kit. The racer group doesn’t seem to like it when they get passed, especially by a large group. On Lake Francis, we went by four guys in ? kit (can someone help me here?), and two of them worked so hard to get back with us that they dropped their two friends. No matter, many of us passed the “fast two” on the first small hill we encountered.

Not that we were being competitive. As a matter of fact, I thought the group worked together very well all day. A number of people took turns on the front, and I don’t think anyone was deep in the Hurt Locker at any time.

We were just a bunch of guys (yes, no women…again)-a mix of regulars and first timers, just out having a great ride on a beautiful day.

I hope to see you on the road.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Tour of California Part III

On Sunday, March 22nd, Justin Angle and I caught a Southwest flight to Oakland, CA and embarked upon a very challenging five days of cycling. Having already ridden the entire west coast on two separate solo trips, I thought it would be fun to cycle with Justin in the Santa Rosa area, near his old Bay Area stomping ground.

We have Justin’s friend Kieran to thank for a place to stay in San Franciso the first night, as well as on Friday night when we returned. Kieran and Jen showed us a few great restaurants and neighborhoods, and Kieran led us out of town by riding with us Monday morning.

I’m going to try and write a summary of this trip, as opposed to the daily blogs I did for my June 08 European cycling trip (blog entries starting with 7-10-08).

I can see why a number or current and past professionals have used Santa Rosa as a training base. After doing these climbs, the Tour de France would seem easy! I’m going to write about what I think this area has to offer for people who ride without cars following them around to block traffic.

First off, a little perspective is in order. Justin is an elite level endurance athlete (who likely could have a car following him around if he had chosen that path) and an extremely strong rider, and rarely did he express the need for a gear lower than the 34/23 he had available. He also is 34 and solidly in the endurance prime of his life, and he was able to do the long miles for five straight days, and still recover well enough that he could go at the climbs at a pretty hard effort level. That wasn’t an option for me (although there was no “easy” way up the majority of the climbs), as the combination of early season form, the long days, and the sustained climbing at 12-16% (with pitches up to 20%) forced me into day to day survival mode. Luckily, I chose to take my new steel bike with low gearing. The suppleness of a steel frame would also prove to be helpful, but not able to totally mitigate some very rough roads we were to encounter.

Despite making it look pretty easy, Justin does describe the area roads as “butch” on his blog:

Even if I had the best form of my life (which occurred after I returned from my June 2008 European trip), and even if I gave the hardest routes a fully rested one day shot, I really don’t think that I would have enjoyed the riding much more. The climbs are that hard—perhaps too hard for a multiday trip, at least for me. Combined with the difficulty of the grades and having to dodge potholes on the way up, having to ride extremely defensively on the way down due to the steepness and poor road surfaces guaranteed some very mentally and physically taxing days.

As a matter of fact, my average daily speeds were higher in the Dolomites, French Alps, and Pyrenees than they were for the brutally steep climbing days Justin and I racked up.

Waaaah, let’s get on with it.

We have local cycling guru extraordinaire Bill Oetinger to thank for his help with our daily route selection. Bill is the Ride Director of the Santa Rosa Cycling Club:

The Santa Rosa Cycling Club is the host club for the Terrible Two, one of the hardest double centuries in the country. This event must make the STP look like a walk in the park!

Bill has been involved with many regional cycling developments over the years, including the excellent Sonoma County Bicycle Map. We asked Bill to list the three most classic very hard rides in the area, and he delivered in spades.

Day 1—first we had to get there—90 miles/8500’ climbing/Route Quality 10 (of 10)/Difficulty 10 (20-25 mph headwinds didn’t help):

Start (Kieran’s place in the Inner Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco)-Presidio-Golden Gate Bridge-Sausalito-Mill Valley-Fairfax-Mt. Tam-Nicasio-Wilson Hill-Sebastopol

Since we were already on its flanks, we diverted off of our route to top out on Mt. Tam at 3000’ elevation, making it a 2500’ climb; well, technically a 3000’ climb from San Francisco.

After a spectacular exit from the city over the Golden Gate Bridge, the Tam climb was hard but a lot of fun. After the descent we then fought, and I do mean fought, really strong headwinds the whole way to our base camp town of Sebastopol.

Day 2—King Ridge/Meyers Grade/Coleman Valley Loop—95 miles/8500’ climbing/Quality 6/Difficulty 10+ (still a 10 even without the many poor road surfaces):

Sebastopol-Occidental-Monte Rio-Cazadero-King Ridge Rd-Meyers Grade Rd (the “elevator shaft”—what goes up, must come down—at a sustained 15-18%--nice ocean views, but kind of hard to peek)-Jenner-Coastal Highway 1-Coleman Valley Road (what goes down, must go up—740’ in 1.3 miles=10.8% average grade—what “valley”?)-Occidental-Sebastopol.

Today featured sensational moments spliced before and after a lot of grueling riding on poor surfaces. Descending on the “Elevator Shaft” we dropped from 1500’ to the Pacific Ocean on a good road. Coleman Valley Rd was not even the steepest climb of the day, but it was the most psychologically jarring, coming as it did after eight miles of sensational tailwind riding down Highway 1. Imagine doing multiple climbs of Zoo Road, Somerset, Montreaux, Squak Mountain, then make them steeper, and put them in the middle of a 100 mile ride. That’s how it felt at times, no; make that a lot of the time, on this trip.

Day 3—Alexander Valley/Geysers Loop—105 miles/7500’ climbing—Quality 8/Difficulty 8 (with one 10+ climb to bump up the average):

Sebastopol-Windsor-Healdsburg-Cloverdale-Geysers Rd-Jimtown-Chalk Hill Rd-Santa Rosa-Sebastopol

The day started with enjoyable riding into a milder north headwind through the wine country. We then did a pretty mellow climb on rough roads on Geysers Rd; mellow until the last pitch which gained 620’ in a mile for an average grade of 11.8%. Thankfully, the long descent to Jimtown was wonderful, and the views were as nice as the road.

Day 4—Cavedale/Spring Mountain Loop—90 miles/6500’ climbing—Quality 6 (docked from an 8 because of a mildly terrifying car riddled stretch with no shoulder on Calistoga Rd)/Difficulty 10

Sebastopol-Santa Rosa-Oakmont-Glen Ellen-Cavedale Rd climb-Oakdale-St. Helena-Spring Mountain Rd climb-Santa Rosa-Sebastopol

Today featured two HARD climbs, one of them enjoyable, with the other one ranking towards the top of a list of the least enjoyable roads I have ever ridden. Bill led us all the way from Sebastopol until the town of Glen Ellen. I realized why he split the scene as we started up the Cavedale Rd climb.

Cavedale is a 2000’ climb through the trees on a horribly surfaced, yet almost car free road (only the few locals would want to drive on this goat path) with no views, save for one brief glimpse of the distant San Francisco skyline.

There, I said it-it sucked. The average grade of 8.5% with sustained sections of 10% would have seemed easy compared to what we had done in previous days had I not had to focus more attention on navigating through the deep potholes than on pedaling. The steepest section (20%) occurred right before the top, and that only added insult to injury. Rarely do I find a climb that I do not ever want to repeat. Cavedale qualifies, and the descent over equally rough pavement was hand numbing to boot.

Contrast that with the pleasant riding that followed in the Napa Valley, albeit with a stout headwind, and yet there were more shocks to follow. Justin had asked Bill for advice on how to extend the day’s riding, and he headed east up Sage Canyon Rd., while I decided to go have lunch in the touristy town of St. Helena.

Almost as soon as Justin started up what turned out to be a 27 mile/2500’ climbing extension, he had the single flat of the week. I had the only pump, and he had the only phone! Doh! Justin had just started the long walk when he was rescued by a helpful pickup driver with a floor pump.

I held down a window table at the deli, expecting Justin to surface soon from the expected 12-15 mile loop. He got a lot more than he bargained for, and Justin admitted that he dropped a few f-bombs along the way. When he showed up salt encrusted and near bonking, I was pretty content with my decision to stick to the basic loop.

After sitting for a few hours, the Spring Mountain Rd climb came as a very rude awakening, yet coming on shaded smooth road, it was quite enjoyable. We chalked up another 1700’ of climbing, the main section of which had an average grade of 11.33%. With a max grade of only 16.5%, this one seemed almost benign! The 3 miles of gravel road riding in the last 10 miles of the ride made it seem like we were finishing up Paris-Roubaix.

Day 5: Return trip—82 miles/6000’—Quality 10/Difficulty 7

Sebastopol-Valley Ford-Tomales-Pt. Reyes Station-Bolinas-Stinson Beach-Pantol-Sausalito-Golden Gate Bridge-San Francisco

With the exception of Stinson Beach, today we had a mild tailwind, and the climbs were not as steep. The longest climb of the day took us from sea level to Pantol at 1500’ with an average grade of 7.2%. With temperatures near 80, and stunning ocean views, this climb was one that I wish I could do weekly, which is close to how often Justin must have done it when he lived in Mill Valley. Traversing the Golden Gate Bridge late on a weekday afternoon is a little sketchy, given the free for all the east path becomes with pedestrians from all over the world. If we would have arrived a little later, the west side path would have been open for cyclists only.

This trip was the third “tour” that Justin and I have done together, and overall, we had a great time. The weather was warm, and most of the time we were on bike friendly roads. Nevertheless, this is not a trip I care to repeat. Riding the California coast a few years ago was fantastic, but I think the next base camp type trip I do in California may be in the Solvang area.