What is Essential Is Invisible to the Eye

It was August 1996 and I was in the TV room of Akwe:kon, the Native American Residential House at Cornell University watching TV with a freshman named Beth. Beth was whiter than fresh snow from Michigan and had just arrived as a Freshman. She turned me to me and asked “What do you think of biracial marriages?” Shocked by such a question in a NATIVE AMERICAN RESIDENTIAL HOUSE, I looked at her lily white a** and simply said “As the product of one, I’d have to say that I’m okay with it.”

Seriously, WTF?

Me cross-country skiing in December 2019.

I may not look like it, to you, but I am ethnically half-Chinese. I’m neither an eighth nor a quarter, but a full 50% Chinese blood. My maternal great-grandparents and my grandfather were born in China. My maternal grandmother was born in Peru and spoke Chinese and Spanish. Her name was Rosalbina Mu Lok de Yi. My grandfather’s name was Humberto Yi Man. I do not know what their Chinese first names were. People are surprised when they see photos of them and say “[but] they look Chinese.” I hope they do since they were. It’s been a struggle though since I wasn’t entirely accepted as Chinese growing up since I didn’t speak the language and had never been there. My dad is of Slovenian and Croatian descent and I inherited his side of the family tree’s wavy brown hair and brown eyes. My mom was born and raised in Lima, Peru and speaks Spanish. I grew up going to Peru to visit my relatives, speaking Spanish, and learning Peruvian culture with a heavy Chinese influence. I guess it’s more common in Lima, which has the largest concentration of Chinese outside of China (5% of the Peru’s population, mostly in Lima). In San Francisco though, unless you looked 100% Chinese and spoke the language, it didn’t seem like you were accepted as Chinese. This was especially true if you were a mix, like I was.

Visiting my grandparents with my sister and mom in Lima, Peru. Grandpa is holding me.

My dad recalls being in San Francisco Chinatown with me as an infant. We were in a shop when the woman behind the counter said “her mother is Chinese, isn’t she?” and my dad said “How can you tell?” I had light skin, light brown hair, but slightly slanted eyes, the only clue that I had any Asian blood in me. I didn’t have a Chinese name, heck I didn’t even have a Latin name. I have enough yellow in my skin though that yellow clothing is not a good look on me, but blue looks fabulous.

I was lucky that my parents never emphasized race lines. I didn’t realize until years later that my Catholic grade school class only had 2 black kids, a handful of Asian kids, and then the rest of the 66 students in my class were white. I was embarrassed by the horrible annual “holiday” of “Grandparents Day” where you brought your grandparents to school with you for all these special activities with them because of course they live nearby! My paternal grandparents were in Lazy Acres, Arkansas (I dare you to try and find it on a map), and Lima, Peru. Eventually my mom started letting me take a “sick day” to save me from the embarrassment of being one of the only kids at school without a grandparent there. I wouldn’t have to sit there at my desk alone all day doing all these special activities by myself while everyone else got to indulge in the fact that their grandparents came to school with them that day. Catholic school could be cruel.

My parents’ wedding day in Lima, 1964.

I can’t even say that I wanted to see people to look up to who looked like me. I never thought about physical looks. I wasn’t conscious that I didn’t look like other kids. I don’t even look like I’m related to my maternal first cousins, who are half-Chinese and half-Japanese (born and raised in Peru). My parents, in particular my dad, didn’t make a big deal out of it. In fifth grade, my teacher had us write down on some homeroom assignment what our ethnicity was. I had no idea what mine was. I knew my maternal grandparents and a bunch of my family lived in Peru and my paternal family were in the Illinois and Minnesota. So I ended up putting down “Peruvian-American” after asking her for help on how to spell “Peruvian.” That was also the year that I first learned where Peru was on a map after going there twice a year my entire life.

Swimming with our first cousins was always a highlight of our annual Spring trip to Lima.

No one else in my class spoke Spanish. A couple of close friends were Chinese and spoke it at home, but I didn’t understand a word of it. We didn’t really celebrate Chinese New Year like they did except for my Tía Julia giving us a red envelope when we’d see her around that time. My family would go to dim sum on the weekends and knew Chinese food. It’s always uncomfortable for me when in Chinese restaurants they’re explaining what the foods are to me like I didn’t grow up with it.

I have cousins in Boston who were born and raised in China and moved to Boston with their parents and grandmother (my maternal grandfather’s sister). They speak English and Chinese fluently. I’m sure people see us and think that we’re just friends, not cousins related that closely. Of course they look related to my maternal first cousins even though we have the same degrees of separation on the family tree.

I’ve been called “white girl” by some people which always rubbed me the wrong way. I’m proud of my heritage from my dad’s family, but it’s completely disregarding half my family tree that I grew up closely with. It was an ignorant dig of not being accepted as Asian that stung. Ironically I’m accepted as being Peruvian around other Latinos both in the US and in Peru. I was talking to a man in Trujillo, Peru once in Spanish telling him that my mom was a Limeña (woman from Lima) and he said he could see it in my face.

A friend in college once said that she was more Hispanic than me because some distant relative of hers was from Spain. She didn’t speak Spanish, didn’t know any of family there, didn’t know the culture, had never been there and had no real connection to it. Somehow she felt like she had some birth-given right to say that though which I didn’t understand. Yes my maternal family has Chinese blood, but to say that they’re not Peruvian would be like saying that us born and raised in the United States aren’t American since our families originated elsewhere. It’s a very narrow way of thinking.

My grandparents.

My mom was a bilingual education grade school teacher. At the graduation ceremony for her MS in Education at SFSU, the staff kept trying to make her sit with the “Chinese education” graduates instead of the “Spanish education” graduates. It took quite a bit of arguing with them to finally get to sit with her correct classmates. Even in the 1990s San Francisco, she was being cast based on her looks.

To this day though I don’t really feel like I belong to the Asian culture since I don’t speak the language and no one from it outside of my family ever made me feel like I was a part of it. It’s a difficult loss for me that I don’t know if I can recover from. The only people who ever accepted me as Chinese are my family Do I even need to overcome not being accepted as Chinese? I don’t know. A longtime friend told me once that it was important for me to go to China to see where my family came from even if I don’t know the language or anyone there. I would like to go even though I have this underlying feeling that everyone there will look at me as “White American woman.”

The Black Lives Matter movement has made me think more about the situation. I find it painful to read messages from friends saying that they can’t bear the thought of their children watching them killed by the police because they’re black or knowing that they are more likely to be killed by the cops than anything else because of the color of their skin. They’re not “my black friend” as they’re “my friend.” I’ll never refer to them by their skin color since it isn’t some demographic checkbox I’m trying to check off. It really bothers me when people talk about their friends even with phrases like “You know my [insert race or sexual orientation] friend [insert name here]” or similar like that’s the single most important characteristic that they and you should remember about their friend above all else. I have to consciously think about people’s demographics as I naturally focus more on if someone’s a good person with a good heart. I care about them immensely though because they’re good souls who positively contribute to the world every day. I have compassion for their situation that they’ve lived their entire lives and continue to endure. I want to help them out however I can. They don’t deserve to live in fear.

Small collection of my family at my Tíos Lydia and Nañin’s wedding at my grandparents’ house in Lima.

My good friend Naji and I were talking the other day about the BLM movement. He flat out said this is a white people’s problem, not his, to fix. I whole-heartedly agreed with him. He doesn’t want to be the token black guy for any group that was severely lacking in blacks before today. People and organizations overall need to start doing more to include blacks who tend to be at social and economic disadvantages. We as individuals need to start treating each other without prejudices based on skin color. Like when people ridiculously aruged about if President Obama was really black and someone said “Put him in a hoodie in an alley and what do you think?” How many would have avoided Obama dressed up like that not realizing he was the U.S. President?

I’ve gotten countless emails from companies saying that they were standing with the BLM movement without any real specifics on what they’re doing to actually help make progress. However I got an email from my cross-country resort saying that they were changing their hiring policies to be based on abilities instead of years of experience and removing the bachelor degree requirement for job positions to be more fair to applicants. My employer, the California Academy of Sciences, also sent out an email to us saying that they realized they were part of the problem as their upper management and staff overall didn’t have enough minorities represented and are evaluating ways to correct it. THESE are constructive steps in the right direction!

Naji has worked on trying to teach more black children how to swim. He was told as a child by white people that it was impossible for blacks to learn how to swim. He didn’t learn for himself that this was a lie until he learned how to swim in his 40s. Blacks have the highest rate of drowning among any ethnic group. How many of them were told that they couldn’t learn? I felt pain hearing Naji’s story as white guys laughed at his request to learn how to swim and he just went along with it without understanding what was so funny. Now he knows that they were making fun of him and what they made him belief about himself was completely false and racist.

I may never be accepted as Chinese outside of my own family. Between being treated by my ethnicity and who I actually am as a person, I’d rather be treated based on my heart and mind. Stereotypes will continue to exist until we stop making assumptions about who people are based on their looks. There are so many mixed race people now in the world, but it isn’t going to automatically make racism go away. A cultural change needs to happen in order to make this go away. People need to change their attitudes. Many still see with their eyes and not their heart. The same as people need to start treating others, especially minorities, for who they really are as individuals and not based on some demographic or artificial idea that isn’t based on who the person really is.

My mom, Tío Nañin, and grandparents.

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
— The Little Price

Posted in Motivation | 6 Comments

0.0 : I Don’t Run — Or Do I?

I’m not a runner. I have never liked running. Running was a horrible punishment for my high school Women’s Swim Team when we still had 2 months left of the semester after the Fall sport season was over. Insult to injury was that they’d throw us out there to run around the track with the cross country team. Nothing like struggling to run a mile around a track with the cross country guys effortlessly lapping you without breaking a sweat. Back then I’d swear that my lungs crystallized over whenever I had to run. I considered myself lucky if I could run an entire .25 mile lap without having to stop to walk.

I have the lungs of a guppy too. Don’t think that I’ve got some massive lung capacity with my swimming and cycling resume. I can’t make it across a 25 yard pool in a single breath. If we’re ever stuck in a flooding chamber, you can bet that I’m going to drown first. Somehow the rest of my body seems to manage to compensate for the fact that I need to breathe at a higher rate than most people. Thanks to swimming and cycling, I have a well developed cardiovascular system with a max heart rate of a 23-year-old even though I’m 42 years old.

Fast forward about 25 years to when I’m on my semi-annual trip to visit my family in Lima, Peru. My normal routine in Lima involves visiting family, eating a bunch of food, and holding down an aunt’s couch with a book and tea. I am pretty much on complete vacation from even my fitness routine when in Lima since I don’t have access to a pool, gym, or road bike (and Heaven help you if you decide to try road cycling in Lima). My fitness level goes downhill there slowly turning me into a soft round shape. Unfortunately there was one obvious solution for getting a cardio workout in when there which was *running*. Ugh.

Do I need to remove the bottom sticker on my locker at South End Rowing Club now?

My friend Enrique has been trying to get me to run for years. He managed to drop me on a run around the block once years ago that was supposed to be a negative split on all 4 sides. I’m pretty sure grannies could have beat my last block length time. If anything, I hate having to do anything with a time pressure.

In November 2019 though I was down in Lima with a huge sense of dread that I was going to have to actually go on my first run in 25 years. Luckily my Tia Chito lives right on the coast so I’d at least have an ocean view while making the rest of me miserable. The first day I managed to run 2 miles, which tied the longest that I’d ever ran back in my obese high school physique days. For those who think I’m joking about obese, I weighed 165 pounds at my senior year physical and 180+ pounds by the time I *started* college. So not a huge surprise that I could run 2 miles when weighing 25 – 45 pounds less now. My calves were killing me the next morning and stretching didn’t help at all. I dragged myself out for another run though as I was going to get some cardio while on vacation even if it killed me. Interesting to think that those legs could ride a bike 200 miles and be taken down by a 2 mile run. I did another run on Day 3 even though my legs were begging me to not do it. I was feeling sore just walking around town now. I’d make a futile attempt to stretch my calves while waiting for the shower water to heat up. Only stubbornness was getting me out the door every morning. My last day of running was very joyous knowing that I wouldn’t have to run ever again, or at least for a long time since this was a quick trip so I’d be heading back home tonight. I was impressed that I managed to do 4 runs even though none of them were longer than half an hour.

4 days of running in Lima

Something horrible happened that last afternoon though when my right hip joint flared up and hurt with just weight on it along with walking. I needed to use my arms to help bend my leg at the joint. I had no doubt that my pelvis and hip joint were still in tact from the reconstructive in 2011. I was worried though on why I was feeling this pain. I don’t feel pain in my hip joints often and it’s usually random breakthrough pain that’s hard to pinpoint what caused it. This pain was more sustained though and I called my surgeon’s office at Stanford Hospital as soon as I got home. The pain went away after a few days, but I still wanted to see him to discuss what happened.

I met with Dr. Bellino for an emergency appointment on 20 December 2019. He said that the impact of running on the asphalt most likely caused the joint to hurt. He recommended only running every other day and/or on a softer surface like dirt. He likes that I’m cycling and swimming since that isn’t any pressure on the joints. 🙂

Enrique was back in SF for a hot minute to get the rest of his stuff as he, his wife, and their cute puppy were moving to Puerto Rico, where he’s from, sooner than they’d planned. After discussing things with him, he suggested trail running also. I consider EJ to be a close friend and mentor so I take all of his words of advice with a lot of weight as I trust him. I at least wanted something that I could do when traveling and didn’t have reasonable access to swim or ride. Trail running could combine my love of being outdoors in nature with getting some cardio in. Sure, I’ll try this.

Enrique and me catching up over beers. We discussed my recent hip pain from running on sidewalks and he suggested to try trail running.

In January I was visiting friends in Grass Valley and decided to go for a quick 2.4 mile run around Empire Mine. This was my first real run on a dirt trail. Despite the air being cold, I was impressed that I was able to finish the run without feeling like I wanted to die by the end. I felt accomplished and glad it was over when I got back to my car, but I could have gone further. I was not feeling any pain in my calves or hip joints afterwards.

Over about the next several weeks I’d do a 2 – 3 mile run every so often if I needed a quick cardio workout, but it was hard to get me to do it. I had plans to run in Singapore and Thailand while on vacation, but decided Singapore was too humid and I’d only run in Thailand early in the morning (maybe). It still didn’t really feel like a workout though aside from my body hating me since each run was only about half an hour at the most compared to multiple hours that I can spend cycling, swimming, hiking, and cross-country skiing. My only plan though was to just do some “maintenance” of 2 – 3 miles so I could run with some relative ease when traveling away from home.

Wildflowers on San Bruno Mountain

23 February 2020 was the 27 year anniversary of my maternal grandmother’s death. I had piloted a RIB for a swim at South End that morning. I’d eyed the Summit Loop at San Bruno Mountain State and County Park for awhile to go for a trail run. I decided to go for it that day on my way home. The uphill part sucked and reminded me of cycling where I know I’ll be glad when I get to the top as there should be a nice descent shortly afterwards. I dragged my sorry butt up that climb and loved the views of the Peninsula. I knew that I could easily run along the ridge once I got to the top and then had the fun of the switchbacks all the way back down. I consider downhill mileage to be bonus mileage since it takes a lot less effort to go down them than up in both cycling and running. The balls of my feet hurt the next day from this run, but I’d managed to survive a 3.84 mile / 736′ run. I felt like I was finally starting to get into an area of these being real legit workouts. Maybe I could go further with this?

Panoramic view from Las Trampas Peak

A few days later I implemented a yearlong plan to surprise my friend Cathy at her work on her birthday, 26 February. The previous year all she did for her birthday was go to Masters swim practice, work, then a PB&J sandwich at home before going to bed early (BS in my book!). So I’d decided a year ago that I was surprising her at her work and at least take her out to dinner. I was excited that the day finally arrived and the birthday girl was not suspicious at all when I asked her if she was going to work that day. Since East Bay traffic originates from the 9th circle of Dante’s Inferno, I went over to San Ramon early. My horrible plan was to go run up Las Trampas Peak to kill time while waiting for Cathy to get off from work. This would have been a great time to know a) elevation profiles and b) not all hikes make good trail runs. I had figured I could do a 4.25 trail run, but I didn’t pay attention to the little fact that it was 1080′ with most of that being in the first 1.5 miles. That uphill was all “I hope it’ll level off after this upcoming turn/bush…Oh crap it keeps going up….” I’m still not sure how I didn’t die on that run since my legs were definitely not happy with me. I managed to finish it along with the equally steep descent past a bunch of cows that I’m sure were laughing at me. It was worth it though to see the surprised look on Cathy’s face when I walked into her office. 🙂

Happy birthday Cathy!

A week later I needed to get in a quick workout so I decided to run at Pulgas Ridge. There was a 4.4 mile loop that I knew with a couple of other options to make it a bit longer. I loathed the uphill as always, but I enjoyed the quietness and being the only person out there at daybreak. It just amazes me that these preserves and parks are right next to city life, but you feel like you’re miles away especially when you can’t hear car traffic anymore. I did most of my run not seeing anyone. I decided at a junction to tack on another mile as I was feeling that I possibly had it in me to do a 5+ mile run that morning. I would have to try it to know if I’d regret it later. It ended up being a 5.5 mile / 1100′ run which the only part I really didn’t like was the part where I had to run on a paved path. Running on a paved path is like hiking on one to me where it kind of feels fake in a way. I’m a slow runner, but I seemed to have surprisingly good endurance. I’m not even sure where this endurance came from aside from having some cycling legs and a pretty regular cardio routine based on going distances for swimming and cycling.

A week later I decided that I could try running some more challenging routes in larger parks. I had mapped out a 10K distance at Wunderlich County Park. It was a bit daunting and I wasn’t entirely sure I could do it, but I wanted to try. For the most part to me Wunderlich was just a park that I passed by countless times on my bike between Old La Honda Road and Kings Mountain Road. I realized on this run that my “wall” is about the 2 – 3 mile mark where if I can get past that then I can keep going. Unfortunately on a lot of my runs, this is where I’m still going uphill and wondering why am I running. The foliage helps though and makes me feel like I’m more on a quick paced hike than a run as I easily get distracted by trees, leaves, squirrels, birds, etc.. I end up going too far up Skyline Trail which adds mileage to this run, but at least I know that I’ll run at least 10K today. I’m relieved when I know that it’s mostly downhill once I turn around on Skyline to head back down to the parking lot. I usually try to make my runs be a loop instead of an out-and-back so I can get different views and see more of where I am. Thanks to my extension this run ends up being a 7.3 mile / 1500′ run in 90 minutes, which I feel is finally a real workout and very respectable distance and climbing. My legs weren’t sore the next day. Could I run farther?

Of course now you know where this is going. The same part of my brain that made me push my swimming distance to 20 miles and cycling distance to 300K is now wondering if I can do a 10 mile run. After 7.3 miles, 10 miles actually seems within reach. I’d been hesitant too to sign up for the Strava 10K and Run Climbing (2000m) challenges since I wasn’t sure that I could complete either of them. Now they seemed within grasp, which completely baffled me.

Craig Britton Trail in Purisima Creek Redwoods

Less than a week later on St. Paddy’s Day 2020, I pick one of my favorites, Purisima Creek Redwoods, to do a 8/9/whatever mile run in. Honestly, I didn’t really calculate the distance when I was looking at the map and decided that the 8 mile mark towards the end of a loop was close enough for me. I was foolishly thinking of starting at the bottom and running up the 3 miles to the top and then take the easy gradient down the rest of the distance. Time constraints that morning made me start the top instead. I made a last minute decision to go down the steep 3 mile trail and take the long way to get back up as that would spread the climbing out over several miles instead of just 3 miles.

Purisima Creek Redwoods

A steep descent wasn’t fun, but it oddly left me feeling a bit warmed up to tackle the uphill. Once I got to the bottom, I immediately turned and started my way back up on the other side of the creek. I’m glad that I decided to run up this way and enjoy the scenery while running along the creek. I cut over onto Craig Britton Trail which is my kind of trail. It’s narrow and dense and I don’t see anyone else here the entire time. Sharp pain shoots out as my left ankle rolls outward about 7 miles into my run and I hobble a few feet. I know that I still have about 3 uphill miles to make it back to the car. I do a quick assessment and can still put weight on it without much pain. I’ve sprained that ankle several times in the past so it has so much scar tissue giving it a permanently swollen appearance. I have to feel to find any squishy inflammation. Life as an endurance athlete comes in handy here where I can figure out if I can reasonably carry on. The pain subsides quickly and I continue running with the thought in the back of my mind that it may hurt more later. I am pretty exhausted by the time I get back to the Harkins Ridge Trail. I make a deal with myself that I’ll walk all the steep parts and run the flatter parts of the trail. It seems weird otherwise to call it a “run” when I walked a bunch of it. One accidental wrong turn at the top leads the total distance to being 10.5 miles / 2400′! My left ankle wasn’t exactly happy when I got in the car. I was more elated and astonished that I actually ran 10 miles, let alone that it was far from being flat terrain. I immediately started treating the sprained ankle as soon as I got home. (Btw what’s it say when you’ve sprained your ankle so many times that you already have a brace, physical therapy bands/exercises, and ice packs for it?)

Fallen tree blocking the Skyline Trail at Wunderlich

A week later (aka a few days ago), my ankle was feeling okay after testing it out on a couple of hikes and a bike ride so I felt like I could do another run again. I wanted to go back to Wunderlich and do the full loop up Skyline Trail and back down Alambique Trail. This would be about another 10 miles / 2000′ run. Running ten miles just six days after a first degree sprain sounded a bit crazy to me too, but I also knew that most of the inflammation was gone. I would wear my ankle brace for extra support. I’d been wanting to see if I could get a faster overall time by starting up Bear Gulch Trail instead of Alambique Trail, but decided to just do the route that I knew going the opposite direction. A large tree had crashed down right across Skyline Trail blocking several feet of the trail. Against my better judgement, I decided to do a Class IV scramble around it while being careful not to dislodge any part of the tree. I’m rewarded with getting to see 2 barn owls fly across the trail right in front of me shortly after! It was foggy and significantly colder at the top of Skyline. I was glad that I was wearing gloves because the ligament damage in my left hand from a cycling accident last year renders most of my left hand pretty useless when it gets cold. I turn right from Skyline onto Alambique to start my descent down. I’m actually really enjoying this part since I feel pretty good and know the majority of climbing is over. My left ankle isn’t bothering me and I’m enjoying seeing the trees in the fog along with, of course, the solitude. I opt to not go down the super steep service road and unfortunately have to scramble around the fallen tree again. I catch glimpses of a few rabbits around the Meadows on my way back to the car. Somehow I’ve managed to pull off a 10 mile / 2000′ run again.

March 2020 Climbing Challenge of 2000 meters (6561.7 feet) completed! Wow!

I still don’t consider myself a runner. I’m still not entirely sure how I was able to pick up trail running so quickly either. If you had asked me in January if I could run 10 miles, I’d have laughed. The climbing challenge intimidated me also as I never would have guessed that I was capable of running 2000+ meters uphill in a single month. I can’t really explain how I was able to go from a 2.x mile run to a 10.x mile run in only 6 runs in a handful of weeks with increasing elevation gain also. Running isn’t natural for me. Some other friends agree with me since we feel prouder of finishing any run than we do a 60+ mile bike ride.

I have no desire to run a marathon or any other organized run event, especially not ultra-marathons (sorry Marcia, you’re on your own for those 100 – 400 mile runs!). I don’t like the competitive setting or running on pavement. I’m lucky that running on dirt doesn’t hurt my hip joints. I thought that I couldn’t run for the last 42 years so my small success with trail running has been a surprising experience. I like being able to get away from other people and like with hiking, just get out and enjoy nature while you happen to be getting in a cardio workout. Running isn’t my forte and is still a big challenge for me. It puts me out of my comfort zone, which is good to do that to yourself every once in a while. I’m not sure if it’ll ever get any easier for me. Trail running definitely reminds me of open water swimming where the terrain is always changing and no two runs are the exact same. I treat each run like riding up Tam with “just get to the next corner” and you’re at the top before you know it. I enjoy getting lost in the trees as I want the the sunrise, barn owls and bunnies scamper. I’m far away from the city alone with nature and my own thoughts at least for a couple of hours of the day which makes me happy.

Sunrise from Wunderlich County Park

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300K for A Buck

I woke up half an hour before my alarm on Saturday and immediately felt like not showing up to that day’s 300K. I’d been worried about it all week as I wasn’t sure if I could ride 300K let alone more after finding out that a route change made it 191 miles instead of 186 miles. The previous weekend’s 200K ended with the balls of my feet being painfully sore and I couldn’t imagine having 70+ miles more in that condition. I’ve spent many rides counting the tenths of miles until it was over (usually the last climb on one like Tunitas Creek at times). Ken had hooked me up with his friend David who was also doing the ride so I wanted to honor that. More importantly, I had found out the night before that my friend Buck was being taken off of life support at the exact same time that the ride was starting at. Buck was a fellow swimmer at South End who was also a cyclist, runner, and general athletic devotee who I related to completely. He rode to the club every morning rain or shine in the same outfit: black cycling shorts, fluorescent green puffy jacket (rarely his red orange one), fanny pack, headphones, and the biggest smile you ever saw. Somehow I always knew when he was walking up the stairs to the Day Room at the club and we’d talk for a bit before he went to head off on his swim. You could hear him from the Day Room loudly sniveling as he quickly walked backwards (since he wore fins) into the water. Later he’d come out from the end of his swim with an even bigger smile saying how that was the best way to start the day and the water was nice regardless of if it was 65F or 47F! A botched brain tumor biopsy surgery earlier that week left Buck in a coma with little chance of waking up again. His family had made the difficult decision to take him off of life support as Buck wouldn’t have wanted to have been kept alive artificially and already had a DNR on his medical record. The man’s philosophy was basically that if he couldn’t be physically active then life wasn’t worth living. The ride was starting at 7 a.m., which was the same time that Buck was being taken off of life support. I couldn’t take the opportunity to do this ride for granted. (Note: I found out the next day that Buck died around 9:00 a.m. Saturday).

Lots of windmill and sheep between Rio Vista and Clarksburg. Photo by Brian Feinberg.

I had stayed at my friend Kip’s in Folsom since we hadn’t seen each other in years and that put me 45 minutes closer to the start than coming from home. I figured too that I could use that extra sleep before the ride. I left Kip’s around 6:00 a.m. and got to the meeting place in Davis right on time. David found me immediately as its not hard to figure out who I am with my calling card of “really long brown braid/hair.” The air was warm enough that I didn’t wear my arm warmers or leg warmers, but did put my light jacket on. I packed the warmers in my saddlebag just in case. Deb of the Davis Randonneurs gave the briefing that didn’t include Rob (of SF Randonneurs) making us right our right hand and vow to “not do anything stupid.”

And we’re off! All of us stay more or less together for the first 10 miles as we head out of Davis and everyone is still warming their legs up. Shortly after is when the fast gazelles take off and leave the slow ones behind. David had taken off with the fast pack so I figured that I’d never see him again. I’m behind a man and woman gabbing as I stealthy draft off of them. It’s going to be a long day so I’m going to conserve my energy. There’s another cyclist just a bit further up from them and I eventually move around the couple to join the lone cyclist. We’re moving at a quicker pace and catch up to another cyclist who I recognize as David! He had decided that he didn’t want to push it that day as he was still tired from a 600K a couple of weeks ago.

Leaving Dunnigan and heading towards Winters. Photo by Brian Feinberg.

Our first control is about 28 miles into the ride in Dunnigan. It isn’t specific but says we need a receipt so we hit up the Chevron’s mart to buy something. I’ve never paid $1.00 for a banana until today. Bananas are my riding food of choice since I like how they taste and appreciate their potassium contribution to keeping my brain happy. After all, I did the Tour de Cure century a few years ago eating nothing but 7 bananas. Yum. Our little pod of 5 finally introduce ourselves. Sandra tells me that I’ve got blood all over my leg. I’m confused and then see that there’s dried blood behind my left knee. WTF? Ioannis said that he had seen it earlier and thought I crashed, but now I just look like a badass. Haha! I brush off the blood and see where the cut is, but still clueless on when and how I cut myself. But whatever..we still have 153 miles to go…

Sandra heading towards the Putah Creek State Wildlife Area. Photo by Brian Feinberg.

I find it interesting to think that our next control isn’t until Mile 80. I can’t even remember anything about it except that it’s an Information Control, which means that there’s some question we have to answer at that location. I just know that we’re heading from Dunnigan to Winters and then up and over the pass on Highway 128 that I hated just last week. We’re pacelining all the way to Winters which seems to work out very well and I’m impressed since we never discussed doing this. I feel dumb here as it finally clicks that I met Sandra on the Faultline 200K in June AND she was the other woman that in a loose pack from Hercules to Winters in last week’s Winters 200K. D’oh! We get to Winters quickly and make a quick pitstop before the 128 climb. I down a Honey Stinger energy gel and some dried fruit. It’s not a long or steep climb, just miserable if you’re fighting headwind the entire time like I was the week before. Sandra, Ioannis, and Brian took off 2 minutes before David and I resume the route. I see the golden mountains ahead and still want a picture of that view some day. Today I’m too busy keeping with David. We’re actually both looking forward to this climb after the last 70 miles of basically flat road.

Lake Berryessa on Highway 128

We start climbing at about the same pace and catch up to the rest of the pod. I stop briefly at one of the Lake Berryessa views to take a photo. David’s wife is doing the 100K route today and they’re passing us in the opposite direction on this road. He’s expecting to see her somewhere along here. David and I regroup at the top and start heading downhill. He sees his wife and her friend on the side of the road during our descent and stops to say hi to them for a minute. I figure that he’ll catch up to me soon and continue with my beautiful descent. David and I catch up to the rest of the pod and we continue on as we’re not quite out of the pass yet. The second descent turns into one of my scariest as a van has decided to wedge itself between Sandra and me. On a very twisty road, I am now descending without being able to see anything in front of me except a van’s butt with no margin for error. This van can’t even keep all 4 of its tires on the asphalt either! I finally get a small break and sneak past him to get behind Sandra and continue our descent with me finally being able to see every upcoming corner entrance and exit the rest of the way.

Shirley’s Tavern in Bird’s Landing

We turn onto Wooden Valley Road and our pod start pacelining again all the way to Fairfield. Our next control is at the Fairfield Safeway which happens to be the 100 mile mark too. I’m really hungry by this point and tell David that I’ve never looked forward to getting to a Safeway so badly in my life! I also have hot spots developing in my feet and plan on undoing my shoes as soon as we get there. David breaks from the fold and opts for the nearby Subway while the rest of us get different things at Safeway. We need a Safeway receipt most importantly as that’s what counts for this control’s requirement. I grab some water, veggie sushi roll, and seaweed salad. I’m actually really wanting a veggie burrito but the burrito/sandwich guy is taking WAY too long to make just 3 sandwiches for another customer. Brian is trying to eat two large pieces of fried chicken as quickly as possibly. I tell him that I’m not riding through his chicken after lunch! We get ready to head out again and Sandra makes it a point to note that we’re waiting on the men to finish using the bathroom and not the women. 😛 (Note: the customer who was getting sandwiches just finally got them at this point!) We also pick up another Randonneur who caught up to us here and was ready to roll back out with us. Sadly, I never caught his name even though I would ride 60 miles with him in the pod!

One of the many fields we passed by. Photo by Brian Feinberg.

I lead the paceline out of Davis towards Travis and our next control at Mile 128 at Shirley’s Tavern in Bird’s Landing. You gotta love Rando rides for taking you to tiny towns that you’d have never even heard of otherwise! Bird’s Landing only has about a dozen houses, a fire department, a gun club, and Shirley’s Tavern. Shirley Paolini greets us and lets us fill up our water bottles from her sink. She offers us ice and makes one of her employees grab an ice hunk out of the freezer to start chipping off ice cubes for us. They don’t issue receipts there so we opt for the Information Control option (which is supposed to be what you do if Shirley’s was closed) and answer the question of when some dude named Clint was there (answer: July 1982). David’s looking pretty beat and grabs an 805 and Doritos at the bar. He tells us to head off without him as he’s not up for our pace today. I’m the last of the pod to roll out besides David and catch up to the other guys. I chat with Ioannis most of the way and it turns out he’s a hardware designer for Apple. I say more than once that I can’t wait to get to Rio Vista (Mile 132) as that means we’re more or less on flat roads the rest of the ride. Are we done yet?

Rio Vista Bakery & Cafe

Brian’s got a particular place in mind for the Open Control in Rio Vista to get a receipt at: the Rio Vista Bakery and Cafe (Baerbel! You just have to ride 132 miles to get to this bakery!). Brian wants ice cream though. I’m not really hungry so I opt for a water refill and a sparkling apple juice as I just want something carbonated. Sandra’s got a flat so we take extra time as Ioannis helps her as she’s unfamiliar with the CO2 cartridge method. I eat a Naked date bar stashed in my saddlebag along with a few more pieces of dried fruit. We’re about to embark crossing on the Rio Vista drawbridge, which is one of the most dangerous parts of the ride. Luckily the drawbridge is up so traffic is completely stopped and we manage to find a huge space between the first and second cars. We decide to take full advantage of it and fill up the space with all 6 bikes. It’s one lane both ways so not like any of the cars can go around us. The truck driver we’re in front of is very nice and gives us plenty of room to ride across the bridge without honking at us. We are actually perfectly lined up to turn left immediately after the bridge onto River Road to start making our way to Clarksburg for dinner (another control at Mile 161). I realize shortly after we get onto River Road that I forgot to plug my Garmin into my battery pack at the last control! Eek! I’m down to 18% battery. We’re pacelining for the most part or in a cluster, but either way I don’t want to drop the pace I’m going at or lose the pod. I’ve had hot spots again around the 150 mile mark so I’m really fantasizing about pulling over to unbuckle my shoes AND plug my Garmin in. I *think* I can make to Clarksburg and start trying to do the math that if we can make it there in 2 hours then I should be okay….right??? Brian tells me that he’s ridden farther on 2% battery so I should be able to make it just fine. I’m panicking though and even contemplate just pulling over once we get to Clarksburg’s town limit to plug my Garmin in as there is no way in hell that I’m losing this ride’s data.

Waiting for the drawbridge to lower so we can cross the Rio Vista Bridge

Our control point in Clarksburg is Husick’s Taphouse, which I completely forgot which place we were aiming for. The pod turns into Husick’s parking lot which I didn’t even realize was to my right as I sat at the stop sign right at its corner. I immediately plug in my Garmin and see that it was down to 4%. Brian apologizes for his comment earlier as he knows how long his Garmin’s battery lasts, but he doesn’t know how long mine lasts. I tell him no worries and I’m just glad that I managed to plug it in just in time. 🙂 We head in and have dinner. It’s about 6:15 p.m. so we’re still making really good time and should be done around 9:00 p.m.! Some of the guys get beers which I can’t fathom drinking alcohol while riding, but Randonneurs are a different breed. Some swear that the alcohol metabolizes differently during these endurance rides where it’s actually an enhancer. I’ll take their word for it, but I’ll pass! The rest of the pod is ready to roll when I’m still halfway through my veggie panini (which I was the PITA ordering this with no red onions, pepperoncini, or cheese but YES to the extra avocado!). My quads are starting to get sore just from going for the last 12 hours. It’s a different soreness from when I have to do a lot of climbing though as this is just exhaustion instead of climbing soreness from squeezing the life out of them. Deb, the Davis Randonneurs’s official cat herder, is at Husick’s and tells us that David’s wife DNF’ed 2 miles short of the 100K route from cramps. 😦 This would have been her first 100K ride too! So disappointing, but the ride will always be there for her to do another year. Deb assures David that his wife is okay and resting up. David’s looking pretty beat and I decide to ride the last 29 miles with him. It’s really no fun riding these distances by yourself and that way both of us have company.

Pod en route from Bird’s Landing to Rio Vista. Photo by Brian Feinberg.

David and I get back on the bikes. It’s about 7:00 p.m. now and completely dark outside! I’m glad that I’ve got David with me as especially as there is really no street lights even in these remote areas. The other guys are only about 5 minutes ahead of us but we can’t even see their lights wherever they are. I’m not even sure where we are for most of this part since I can’t see any scenery or street signs. There’s a pair of headlights directly in our path but it’s too small to be a car. David slows down and we discover that it’s a security golf cart parked in the dark outside of some establishment. No idea why it’s parked there since that’s asking for a head-on collision with a car, but we just say good evening to the security guard (?) with a death wish and continue on our way. We come across a stranded motorcyclist elsewhere in the dark who at least had his hazard lights on. David asks if everything is okay and the guy says he’s just waiting for Triple A to come. That really sucks! One reason why I didn’t want to ride alone here was that getting a flat in completely darkness would really suck. I notice these roads have no shoulder either. I can tell that David and I are getting closer to civilization from the frequency of cars, car lights of what I think is a freeway off in the distance, and that we’re getting to the 170 mile mark. I know the hotel I’ve booked for the night is around Mile 177 and we’re going to go right past it. Sure enough, there it is on the left as we cross over I-80.

Our dinner stop at Husick’s Taphouse in Clarksburg

OMFG are we done yet? 14 miles to go. Stop whining as this is basically your distance straight home from work without any climbing. We should be done in an hour! We’re back on smooth paved road so I realize that we should be going faster now by default. I start noticing the street names and ticking off in my head the order that they’re on along 80 to help myself feel like we’re making progress. We’re on a bike trail running along 80 so at least we don’t have to worry about traffic. I get a little excited when we turn off the bike trail onto Mace Boulevard as now we’re going through a neighborhood area so we are definitely in the home stretch! I’m starting to be in a little bit of disbelief that I’m actually going to finish this ride. And I’ve got the data! David and I entertain ourselves with checking out the neighborhood Halloween decorations as some people really went all out on them. We’re calling out the distance left to go every now and then as we’re both obviously ready for this thing to be over with. David calls out that we have .4 miles to go at one point and I jokingly say that I’m going to call for a Lyft. He said that he used to joke about that too, but after finding out his wife DNF’ed so close to the finish, he’s never making that joke again. Totally understandable! We both almost miss the last turn into the parking lot for the ride’s finish at Dos Coyotes.

My completed brevet card at the end of the ride

I turn my brevet card in with all my receipts to Deb. Official finish time is at 9:02 p.m. Two hours earlier than we expected and well ahead of the 21.5 hour time cutoff (4:30 a.m.)! I could have technically just driven home at this point, but my hotel room was already paid for so may as well go use it for awhile. Also means my next shower is mere minutes away rather than 2+ hours away. Deb asks if I’m going to stay to eat or drink anything and I decline as I just want to get my bedtime routine going. I’m not really that hungry anyway!

There was still a disbelief that I’d just finished my first 300K. Actually, I didn’t just finish my first 300K, but there was an additional 5 miles (8 KM) because of a route change. I had thought that I could perhaps do a 400K, but I don’t think I’m ready for that yet. This 300K had minimal climbing, but the 11.5 hours in the saddle and cranking my legs around that long were taking its toll already. I couldn’t imagine having to put another 62 miles on the bike when I finished this ride. While some people assume that I’d be walking bow-legged after such a ride, that’s not the case. My legs are directly underneath me the entire time cranking my feet away in a circle. I felt like I was getting close to my limit of how long I could be on a bike. I probably could have kept going if I had to, but I didn’t have to that night. Every ride is different and this would have been much more difficult if I had to do a lot more climbing like my Marin Century’s double metric with 10,000′ of climbing. I didn’t hit the point where my legs were now numb and I felt like I could have kept going forever. I’m still not sure where the point is where I absolutely cannot ride anymore. I finished this ride with still being able to get back on the bike and ride across the parking lot back to my car. My legs felt very heavy the next day, but not so sore that I couldn’t get out of bed. I was just tired, but not to the point where I didn’t think I could have done something the next day if I had to. Cycling, as like open water swimming, is a sport where every ride is different as there are too many variables to compare. In many ways this ride was easier than the Marin Century double metric and in many ways it was harder. I can only be certain that regardless, I had traveled with my bike for 191 miles powered only by my legs and will power. There were no fancy staffed rest stops with food and water, road closures, police escorts or SAG vehicles. I had pushed my mental limit to 191 miles of knowing that if anything happened to me or my bike that it was fully my responsibility to get myself out of it. A true meaning of “self reliance.”

Me somewhere en route from Rio Vista to Clarksburg. Photo by Brian Feinberg.

Ken had vowed earlier this year that he’d get me to do a double century this year. While this ride was technically 9 miles short of that, he still considers me to have finished a double century. Funny thing is that he didn’t push me to do it or even mentioned this ride to me. I found out about this ride from my friend Dan and decided to do it in about a minute when I saw it fit into my schedule just to see if I could do a 300K. I now know that I’m comfortable doing a 200K (even with 10,000′ of climbing) and think I can get my body adapted to riding 300Ks.

Now the big question…do I dare try a 400K next year?

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Climb after climb after climb…repeat

My friend Ken said back in April to register for any route of the Marin Century ride and he’ll sign up for the same one so we could do it together. I’d always wanted to do the Mount Tam Double Century, but didn’t feel like I was ready for that kind of ride (yet). I decided to do the double metric century (200 KM / 124 miles) without looking at the ride profile (as usual). It sounded like a good idea at the time even though part of me was nervous about it for some reason.

I was feeling pretty good and prepared for this ride after the Rando Faultline 200K in June. My muscles weren’t sore after that ride and I surprisingly never got any hot spots in my feet either. I went to load the route onto my Garmin the week of the ride and then I finally saw that the double metric involved 10,631′ of climbing. WTF? Faultline was “only” 8,832′ climbing so this was almost 2000′ more climbing! Holy smokes! I looked up the route finally also to see what looked like hitting almost every single climb in Marin County except Marshall Wall and Coleman Valley Road. I was starting to think that this was a really bad idea, BUT I’d have Ken with me and he wouldn’t let me back out.

The morning of Saturday, 3 August rolled around and Ken picked me up at my friend Kat’s as I was puppysitting her cute labradoodle Gromit for a few days. We set off for San Rafael to get as early a start as possible. Ken said that he made a “dumb decision” on which bike he brought…aka his 51 x 17 fixie. We were discussing the route and he didn’t realize that we were going to the East peak of Tam after Seven Sisters. I’m not sure if he realized either how much climbing this ride was, but he’s also one of the strongest (if not THE strongest) cyclists I know.

Tagged and ready to roll.

We rolled out after Ken stopped talking to everyone he knew around Registration. I hadn’t paid attention that this was actually brand new routes for all of the rides. The air was crisp, but I’d refused to bring any arm / leg warmers knowing that I’d have to rip them off within a couple of hours and then be stuck carrying them around with me the rest of the day. I’d happily freeze for a brief period of time to save that real estate in my jersey pockets. We got a nice warm-up along Lucas Valley and Nicasio Valley Roads. We turned onto Sir Francis Drake Boulevard which I was starting to get a little bored with all this relatively flat road. I knew better though than to wish for more excitement since I knew that there’d be plenty of climbing coming up!

I felt odd rolling into Fairfax at the beginning of a ride instead of seeing this view coming back from a ride. I was more comfortable now 20-ish miles in and knowing that we were going to start getting to work! We starting the hill to Alpine Dam which always seems longer to me than I remember, even though I’d just been here two weeks ago with my NorCal Velo friends for the annual Tam ride. I made a comment to another rider of “almost there” and he started describing the route to Tam to me. I cut him off (just a little) saying that I knew exactly where I was since I was here two weeks ago and that’s just something I say to myself even though I know it’s not true. There was a rest stop before the dam that neither Ken nor I needed to stop at especially since we hadn’t really done anything significant yet. I was expecting the rest stop to be at the top of Tam or at least at the top of some climb section instead of on the way to Alpine Dam still. We roll right past Alpine Dam and everyone who stopped to take photos. I’ve got enough photos from here that I didn’t need any more! Seven Sisters had a better view than when it was heavy wet fog two weeks ago and at least it was dry, sunny, and cool today with (most important) a nice dry road. We finish the Seven Sisters and hang a left to the East Peak of Tam. I see some other cyclists already on their way back from the East Peak which always makes me think that I’m the slowest gazelle. I get to the East Peak a few minutes after Ken. We’re off again after just a minute to take a couple of quick photos. We can rest on the downhill portion of Pantoll Road! I see a bunch of other cyclists who were behind me which always helps reaffirm that I’m not the slow gazelle!

Top of Mount Tam.

I have to wait for Ken on the downhills since he’s on his fixie and I’ve got the route loaded onto my Garmin. We make our way to the 4 corners where there’s some confusion among riders on which way they’re supposed to go for the 3 routes. This is when I realized that it’s not just the double metric route that goes through here. I’m glad that I have the route on my Garmin since there’s not really any clear signage here on which direction. I know though that Ken and I have to turn right onto Muir Woods Road. I’m glad that we’re getting this hard climbing done early on in the ride!

I’m not entirely sure if I’ve ever been on Muir Woods Road and it doesn’t exactly look familiar. It’s still overcast which I’m not minding! My lower back is hurting. I’m starting to wonder if this route was a mistake and doubting if I can make it. Ken is somewhere up ahead of me. I finally pull over to take some ibuprofen and pray that it kicks in soon. I’m hoping this isn’t a bad indication of what the next 70 miles are going to be like. I catch up to Ken right before Muir Beach and we head north along Shoreline Highway. We stop at the rest stop around Stinson Beach where of course Ken runs into more people he knows! Some metric century riders are here and they’re starting to make their way back to Santa Rosa while Ken and I are only halfway through our ride (and we started a good 2+ hours earlier).

I finally get Ken back in the saddle and we head off to Olema. For some reason this stretch of road always makes me think “are we there yet?” It’s a bunch of short climbs and not-long-enough descents. Some pretty scenery and hard to believe that you’re not out in the middle of nowhere as there are long stretches inbetween towns that many local cyclists know and most Bay Area residents have probably never heard of.

Ken and me at the top of Mount Tam.

We turn right out of Olema towards Tocaloma. There’s a quick water stop around one corner that Ken wants to stop at to refill. As usual, there’s at least one person there who sees Ken’s fixie and starts talking to him about it (although I think mostly it’s a combination of “omg you’re crazy!” and “badass!”). I forget the details but Ken usually makes fun of himself being “the old guy” also when he’s talking about this subject. I’m secretly seething with jealousy of the metric riders turning onto Nicasio Valley Road as they’re in the home stretch for their route. Ken and I continue on Point Reyes-Petaluma Road on a very long and boring stretch of road. I groan at the sign for 12 miles to Petaluma as I look down the mostly straight road. I resisted the urge to cut the ride short here because damnit, I’m doing this double metric if it kills me. There’s too many cars going by for Ken and I to really talk much which means that this stretch is about as boring as it can get on a bike!

We turn onto Hicks Valley Road which I can never remember the name of even though I’ve taken it every time except once to get to Marshall Wall (aka the climb on Marshall-Petaluma Road which isn’t that steep or hard of a climb really). I’m hitting my typical mental block at 80-ish miles. At Mile 83, Ken asks to stop for a minute as his feet are hurting. Ironically we’re in front of a house that I actually recognize on this road too as I look at it every time I’m out here for some reason. I take the opportunity to have a quick snack and ask him if he wants to continue. Part of me is hoping that he says he’s in too much pain and wants to go back to Nicasio Valley Road instead of marching onto Petaluma. That part of me whimpers when he says he’s okay and we can continue on.

My legs cry a bit as we start pedaling again towards Wilson Hill Road. It’s now mid-afternoon and definitely getting warm out there. I don’t know where any of the rest stops are (of course) so don’t know there’s one just on the other side of the hill. I’m surprised that I’m feeling pretty good going up Wilson Hill and take a moment to enjoy the view while waiting for Ken. I’m a bit surprised at how long I’m waiting for Ken at the top of the hill. He finally shows up some minutes later saying that he had to pull over again to rest his feet. Ken’s the ultimate badass cyclist as despite his feet hurting this much, he says that he’s fine to continue riding. Remember too that he’s on a fixie for this 200K w/ 10,000′!

Enjoying the view from the top of Wilson Hill.

I take off down Wilson Hill and turn to the rest stop at the hill’s bottom. I run into my friend Kat Browne, who is doing the traditional century (and her first century!). She’s overheating a bit and looking pretty spent. I know her route is a big challenge for her and I’m glad that I got to see her during it! Ken hasn’t shown up yet and I start getting worried as he was right behind me when we went down Wilson Hill.

I give up waiting for Ken and continue on Chileno Valley Road towards Petaluma hoping that I run into him. I keep looking behind me to see if he’s behind me still for some reason. I catch up to a guy we’d talked to at the water stop and tell him that I’m looking for my friend (which the guy knows as “the old dude” of course). I text and call Ken and keep checking my phone to see if I’ve heard back from him. We know we’re in the same area, but it’s hard to say where we are exactly.

I get to Petaluma and still don’t see any sign of Ken. I turn onto D Street to start heading back South to Nicasio Valley Road and stop underneath some trees still trying to figure out where Ken is. I’m worried as he said that he’s out of water and he’s on some big climb. I’m clueless on where he is since I’m unfamiliar with where I am exactly or this way back to Nicasio Valley Road. After waiting for about 15 minutes, I figure I better get moving again. Kat just passed me while I was waiting and I quickly catch up to her. I try to ride with her and notice that she’s going slower than usual. I suspect she’s tired, but she seems okay. I’m also still trying to hunt for Ken so I can’t stay with Kat for too long and I start unintentionally pulling further and further ahead from her. I look back at one point and don’t see her anymore. Later on, I’ll feel bad about this moment as I found out that Kat mentally lost it on the next climb and 2 strangers comforted her. I regret not staying with her and being able to take care of her then. I know that I couldn’t have known that that was going to happen to her.

I start climbing up a hill on Point Reyes-Petaluma Road. I realize after several minutes that this isn’t just some bunny hill. This must be the big climb that Ken said he was on with no water. I’m feeling a bit miserable on this thing also and it’s full on afternoon sun now making it even more uncomfortable. I’m not sure how long this climb is, but it certainly feels like it’s going on for miles and miles. I finally get to the top and start fantasizing about a long descent all the way to Nicasio Valley Road, even though I know that’s not true. I remember there are several miles of just boring flat-ish straight road somewhere ahead too and no Ken to keep me company on it.

Ken and my bikes together again finally!

I do get excited though when I turn onto Nicasio Valley Road knowing that I’m finally on the home stretch. I’m developing hot spots on my feet though so need to pull over to let my toes cool off. I notice that I’m having a bit of trouble unclipping my right shoe, but don’t bother looking at it. I check my phone again and try calling Ken with no luck. We both know that we’re still in the general vicinity of each other, but just not sure where. I got the idea that he’s still in front of me so I get back on my bike and continue on. I turn into what I can safely assume is the last rest stop to refill on water. KEN! He gets there a couple of minutes after I do. Turns out he had stopped at the French Marin Cheese Factory to refill on water and rest so I’d passed him there. I’m SO happy that we’re finally together again! I’d felt so guilty on losing him at the bottom of Wilson Hill Road. He thought he had seen me keep going straight on Chileno Valley Road and never saw the sign or turn for the rest stop there. I get another surprise here too as my friend Angel’s dad walks up to me to say hi! I hadn’t really realized that he was a cyclist let alone liked to do any kind of distance. He’s finishing up the traditional century route. Ken and I get back on the road knowing that we’ve still got what’s really the hardest part of the ride left since you’re so close yet so far from the finish.

We turn onto Lucas Valley Road which always has more climbing than I remember. It’s mostly shaded luckily. We stick with each other on all the climbs, but I lose him on the big curvy descent. I try to pull over to wait for him, but I can’t unclip my right shoe without feeling like I’d really have to crank hard on twisting it. I mentally apologize to Ken as I continue on the finish. I’m afraid to unclip now as I may break something and not be able to clip back in again. My legs are feeling pretty good and we’re almost to the finish.

I turn onto Las Gallinas Avenue and talk to another cyclist about how this always feels like the longest part of the ride. It’s through a residential section and sometimes feels like they just tack it on to add a couple of more miles to the finish as we had to go through here also when the ride started from the Marin County Fairgrounds on the other side of 101.

I broke my cleat!

We turn onto Nova Albion Way to the finish at Terra Linda High School. I ride straight to Ken’s van and finally unclip. I look at my shoe and realize that I’d broken the cleat sometime during the ride! I’d just changed my cleats two months before so wonder why this one broke so quickly. Ken went straight to get food so I walk my bike back over there to join him. We head home after we’ve had our fill.

This was definitely one of my most challenging rides to date as I didn’t know if I could do 10,000′ of climbing in a single ride. I’m glad that I had Ken with me for support though, even if he didn’t realize that I had wanted to quit at Mile 80. My calves, quads, and glutes hurt for a good 3 days afterwards, which at least I know that I was using my entire leg on the pedal strokes. I felt like this was a really good route. I’m glad I picked it though and that Ken was game for doing whichever route I chose! I’ve done two double metric centuries now and Ken has been with me on both of them. I’m glad he encouraged me to push myself further and harder on the bike to see what’s really possible for me to do. I’m already looking forward to my next long ride with him!

Strava post of the ride.

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Going Rando

When my friend Ken said that it was his goal this year to get me to do a double century (200 miles), I thought he was crazy, but I was also up for the challenge. He introduced me to this group called the Randonneurs, whose shortest rides are 200 KM (130 miles) and up to 600 KM (390 miles) generally with the rare 1200 KM (OMG my body hurts just thinking about it). The longest I’d ever ridden was 107 miles and I didn’t know what it would feel like to go longer than that.

Going right in line with my past history of foolish decisions that look like I’m trying to find new ways to make my body hurt, I joined the Randonneurs this year. I was attracted to the Faultline 200K in June since it went within a few blocks of my friend Becca’s house and her mom’s house in San Rafael along with being roads I was already familiar with. Ken had to cancel on me for another ride, but offered to make it up to me by doing the Faultline with me. Sure, apology accepted! 🙂

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed before the ride!

Ken picked me up on the morning of Saturday, 29 June to head to the start at Crissy Field. I’m not sure if it was nerves or what, but my stomach was very upset that morning. I was trying to push through it though and if anything, I wasn’t bailing on Ken. He’s well known in in the local Randonneurs community given his addiction to 400K and 600K rides, mostly on a fixie (aka fixed gear bike). He knows a lot of the guys here today and is proudly telling everyone that this is my first Rando ride and first 200K. Today he is using a geared bike, which I didn’t even know he owned one! Ken’s “lazy” mode is riding a geared bike for 200K apparently. He puts a piece of bright pink tape on my top tube with the mile that each checkpoint is at and what type of checkpoint it is. We have cards that list the checkpoints and what we need for them (e.g. answer a question about something there, take a photo from there, get a receipt from an establishment, ATM, etc. there). These are used to verify that we were there and then will be ratified later that we did indeed complete the ride. The ride organizers reserve the right to also have unannounced checkpoints along the route also. I was mostly nervous about this works, but knew that Ken would show me the way. 🙂

These poor bastards have no idea what’s in store for them today!

There are more people for this ride (about 25) than I thought there would be and one in particular who looked kind of familiar. Turns out the guy is Tom Hughes, who I used to work with at Coupons.com until I was laid off in 2012. This is the first time I’d ever run into anyone from there! Neither of us were cycling when I was there nor did we work directly with each other (I don’t recall) so I didn’t really know him back then.

After a quick ride briefing at 7 AM, we all roll out towards the Golden Gate Bridge via the bike path up Crissy Field Avenue, which I’d never actually been on. My mind is still wondering WTF am I doing here and I assume everyone in this group is a faster and stronger cyclist than me. I’m expecting that I’ll be doing most, if not all, of this ride by myself or with Ken. Ken promised to not leave me behind I know that he won’t get too far ahead of me, if he does at all. I thought that this ride would be unlike the organized rides where even with the number of riders, we’d be stretched out all over the route. There is a generous time limit though of 13.5 hours that I’m not worried at all about.

Rob Hawk gives a quick briefing before the ride

We hit the first checkpoint at the end of Bunker Road, which I’m surprised to see most of the other riders there. There’s some confusion on where the sign is that the checkpoint is asking about (something like “Where are dogs not allowed according to the sign next to the last set of benches before the gate?” Answer: The lagoon.). Some finally find the sign that is at the second to last set of benches before the gate. Ken and I decide that we can write the answer down later and continue on. We zip our way up and around San Rafael by Becca’s mom’s house and along the Whole Foods that I stop at when going to either of their houses. We head out to do a loop around China Camp and the second checkpoint at a campsite (question was “How many picnic benches are there?”). I’m sure everyone else there was wondering why the hell a bunch of cyclists with little yellow cards are counting the benches! 13. Ken and I decide we can remember that also and press on. We buzz past Becca’s area of San Rafael and onto Lucas Valley Road to start making our way to the coast.

Ken’s method of keeping track of where the checkpoints are on a ride.

My stomach is still bothering me a bit and I contemplate on bailing. I reason though that I’m 45 miles into this ride and looking at about 45 miles back, which would be a total of 90 miles. It’d be foolish to quit now as then I’d end up being just 40 miles short of finishing my first Rando ride and first double metric. Did I really just say “just 40 miles short ..”? I joke about how it feels like I was just on these roads a week ago, which is exactly where I was with Dan on part of our Sonoma backroads century a mere 8 days ago. I’m with Tom and a woman named Sandra right now though. Ken’s pulled ahead so they’re joking that he’s not doing a very good job of liaison on this ride. I know he’s up there waiting for me somewhere though. I tell Sandra a bit about my doubts and she says “This ride is tough, but you’re stronger.” (a new favorite quote!). She’s telling me about Marshall Wall and asking if I’d ever done it before. I say yes, and actually just last week. This’ll be my 4th time climbing up it.

View from the top of Marshall Wall – a rare time of actually stopping to “enjoy the view”

Sure enough, Ken is waiting for me at the end of Nicasio Valley Road. I like riding with faster people like Ken and my friend Dan because even if they pull ahead, they know to be ready to roll again when they see me since I’m not going to need to stop. They’re good company too. 🙂 We do stop at the intersection of Pt Reyes – Petaluma Road and Marshall – Petaluma Road for the third checkpoint (“At the first mileage marker on Marshall – Petaluma Road after the turn, what’s the distance in KM?”) Ken and I finally take out our cards to write this number down along with the answer to the other 2 questions. We take off towards Marshall Wall and the coast. The only issue I have is we’re downwind from a guy who has leaving a distinct Pepe Le Pew sweat stench in his wake. I don’t blame Ken for zipping past this guy and I would too if my legs could handle it. Instead I go a little bit slower to get some distance between Pepe and me. Ken’s waiting for me a top and I tell him to hold on as I want to take a photo. I’d told him before that I’d planned on documenting every single mile of my first double metric. 😛 I knew that if I got to the top of Marshall Wall that I’d be okay the rest of the ride. After this we’ve got some short climbs and rollers all the way to Tomales and then I know the route back too isn’t too bad (minus Panoramic Highway). Also, at this point it’s really too late to quit since I’m too far into the ride.

I’m really glad that I did the Sonoma backroads with Dan the week before as all of these roads are still fresh in my memory. Ken and I roll on to Tomales. We see some guys on their way back from Tomales already which either they’re very fast riders or they skipped lunch. Tomales is the “open” checkpoint at mile 76, which means to just get a receipt from anywhere there. Ken wants to stop to eat at the Tomales Deli & Cafe, which I actually join him in ordering something. Neither of us usually eat much on rides, but today is a rare occurrence. I was ordering some veggie sandwich when the guy behind the counter says that they have a vegan burger (with cheese..???) that I could/should order instead. Sold! Minus the cheese. This is the longest I’ve spent at a lunch stop in who knows how long, but it’s worth the wait as this burger is delicious. Then again, 76 miles into a ride on an empty stomach and it could have really tasted like sawdust on a normal day for all I know. The Tomales Bakery is generous enough to have a water pitcher outside for cyclists to refill their water bottles. One of Ken’s many friends on this ride pulls up confused as he’d passed us miles ago yet somehow we got to Tomales first without him ever seeing us pass him. Wormhole? 😀

Lunch! So good that I’d come back just for the vegan burger here.

Ken and I depart Tomales with our lunch receipts and make our way to Stinson Beach. Along the way we meet a guy who is riding to SF from Portland. Ken says we’re heading to San Francisco too and the guy seems a little confused when we say that we started in San Francisco. 🙂 We make a brief stop in Point Reyes (almost home!) as one of Ken’s water bottles successfully escaped somewhere after we left Tomales. Point Reyes reminds me of the time that Liz and I did the SF-Point Reyes-SF loop on a weekday where we were the only ones on several of the roads, had lunch in Pt Reyes, and then got the surprise “road closed” in Stinson Beach that resulted in us unexpectantly going up and over via Panoramic Highway to get back. At least this time I knew that I’d be doing Panoramic Highway!

I hear a woman’s voice behind me while cruising down Highway 1 through Olema. Danielle is doing her third double metric and it’s always nice to have someone to chat with, even if you can’t see them. Ken, Danielle, and I form a little pod which helps as I get very bored on the flat section of road around Bolinas Lagoon. We’re at our last checkpoint in Stinson Beach and most of us to go the Stinson Beach Market. I’m not really needing anything so I ask Ken to grab me a banana (my standard classic go-to for any ride…see “2017 Tour de Cure Sonoma Century’s diet of 7 bananas and nothing else for food”). I’m definitely sure that this cashier is confused as all hell that about 25 cyclists just came into his store asking for receipts! A couple of other riders have a gallon water bottle they bought and offer to share their water with us. Damn this group is hella cool! I finally see what Danielle looks like too now that we’re off of our bikes. All she’d seen of me for the last several miles is the back of my kit and a long braid too! I already like her a lot as she’s super positive without being cheesy. I realize that we’re at 109 miles so I’ve officially gone my furthest distance ever on a bike and every mile from here to the finish will be another mile further than ever.

Banana peel safely disposed of and Ken urges me to shove off. I know what’s coming up so start whining a little. Another rider Phil has come along who is covered completely in black! I ask him while we’re climbing on how he cannot be overheating. He’s wearing arm and leg warmers though still for sun protection and does admit that he’s (finally?) getting pretty hot. Like many people, he’s a faster climber than me and I lose him too on this climb. Cars and motorcycles are passing us and I wonder if they think we’re nuts to be climbing up this road. They don’t even realize that we’re 110 miles into a ride! I do stop a couple of times on this climb to drink as I’m so out of breath that I want to make sure I don’t choke while drinking. I see a few spots that I remember waiting for Liz on this road when we went up it two years ago. My Suunto watch’s battery dies, but at least I’ve got a backup of my Garmin going also. Yes, I was wearing two heartrate monitors on this ride.

Faultline 200K Brevet card. Each one already has your name printed on it and you turn it in at the end of the ride.

I get to the intersection of Panoramic Highway and Pantoll Road (aka the top of this climb). I tell Danielle and Ken that I’m going to refill my water bottle in the campground there. I probably won’t need two full ones for the rest of the ride, but you never know. Phil’s at the water fountains trying to figure out where to go from there to get back to Crissy Field. I tell him to just join our pod as that’ll be easier.

We fly down Panoramic Highway the 4 Corners. Once we regroup, our foursome head down Sequoia Valley Road to Mill Valley. Home free! We get onto the bike path where I bark at a group riding 5 ACROSS that we’re coming up on their left. They respond quickly and our foursome sail past them. I’m actually feeling pretty good and the legs aren’t showing any signs of giving up anytime soon. I tell myself (just in case) that the climb to the bridge is one that I usually do at least once a week so it’s nothing to be worried about. As usual, the climb isn’t a problem at all although I have to remind myself to get on the West side (only open on weekends and cyclists only) since I’m used to the East side (cyclist/pedestrian mix on weekdays). I can’t remember the last time I’ve been on the West side let alone having to deal with Blazing Saddle nitwits. I do my usual prayer of not running into anyone who is going to make me break my personal 40+ years of never setting foot on the Gate record. Success! We had to maneuver around a few groups, but I was able to reach the other side again seamlessly. 🙂 My Garmin gives a low battery warning, but I know we’re less than 10 minutes from the finish so whatever…I’m not plugging in my battery pack right now.

My ride stats from my first 200K. Not too shabby. 🙂

Ken and Phil are a little bit up ahead. Danielle thought we were dropping down the bike path to get back to Crissy Field, but the route says to go around and down McDowell Avenue. She follows me around and we coast into Crissy Field and the finish. I hand my brevet card and receipts in and grab some veggie soup with Ken, Phil, Danielle, and the others who are there. Total moving time of 9 hours 49 minutes with 9000′ of climbing (total time 11 hours 13 minutes). First metric century and first Rando ride done! 🙂 🙂 🙂

I’m really surprised that my legs, back, and neck weren’t hurting at all at the end of this ride! I could have kept going if I had to actually. I wasn’t sure if I’d hit a wall between 100 and 130 miles where I wouldn’t be able to go anymore. This ride had 9000′ of climbing though so it definitely wasn’t an easy 200K. I’m glad that I had done three centuries recently, even if I wasn’t really training for this ride or had it in mind when I was doing those centuries. Like my Catalina and Anacapa swims, I didn’t know if I could ride this far. I was willing to give it a try though. Now that I know I can do 200K though, I’m wanting to try a 300K (and later a 400K! Eek!). Next double metric on my schedule is Marin Century’s 200K route in August, which I’m also doing with Ken. Mostly though I’m looking forward to my scheduled Pajama Day tomorrow. I loved my first Rando ride and looking forward to joining these guys again!

San Francisco Radonneurs Faultline 200K Route

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Return of the Century

Four days after I broke my thumb in March 2019, I signed up for the Grizzly Peak Century being held in just 2 months. I was pretty sure that I’d be able to do it one way or another and if anything, this’ll help motivate me to be able to do that ride. I’d never broken a bone on my own before and in this case, I didn’t know that I had broken anything until I went to the ER at St. Francis Memorial Hospital because my hand had swelled up to be a paw! On Friday, 1 March, I had been riding from work back to the club when I had to go around a double-parked FedEx delivery truck on Hyde Street. My back wheel went into the track on my way back around the truck and I broke my left thumb against my handlebar (I was in my drops) as I fell onto my right side. I really thought that the pain was just from the cut on the thumb as the glove had ripped too right there. I learned that I’d actually broken the thumb when I did my follow-up appointment with Dr. Victor Prieto, orthopedic surgeon at the Center for Sports Medicine at St. Francis Memorial Hospital, who is also a cyclist. Oddly enough, he asked if he’d seen me before and I told him briefly during one of my appointments with Dr. Stephen Van Pelt (my sports physician) 8 years ago when I started having my hip dysplasia issues. Good memory!

First non-surgically broken bone. Radiologist’s yellow arrow pointing to the clean break in the bone.

Dr. Prieto prescribed me a wrist brace to mostly provide 4 tourniquets to the thumb to primarily minimize the swelling and secondarily to immobilize and protect the thumb while the bone healed. The ligament holding my thumb in place was torn, but not completely ripped so no surgery was required. Luckily there was no offset either so it was as clean a break as you could get. He said the bone would take 4 – 6 weeks to heal and asked what I was taking for painkillers. Surprising to many, I was only taking a couple of ibuprofen every so often since I didn’t feel any pain as long as the thumb didn’t move.

True to form, I asked him what I could do while the bone was healing. He said I could swim, but to bandage the thumb to the rest of my hand so it would stay protected and not get dragged by the water. I continued with my spinning classes with Enrique and Rob because hey, the legs still worked. I could also do modified TRX workouts with the brace on and limited it to ones that didn’t really involve my thumb being needed at all to grip. Duncan’s Row HIIT workouts were completely out of the question though. Spinning would help keep my legs in shape for cycling though with the added challenge of the thumb starting to swell during the workouts as fluid rushed to protect the fragmented bone.

Left photo is 3 days after the accident when I decided I should probably go to a doctor. Right photo is much closer to what my hand usually looks like!

Dr. Prieto confirmed that the bone had finished healing during my follow-up appointment 5 weeks later. The torn ligament would still take several more months to heal though. I got his blessing to get back on the bike again and he gave me some tips on how to adjust my riding style as he’s a cyclist also. He gave me some physical therapy exercises to help regain mobility and strength in my thumb and I also found a hand therapist’s methods for massaging the thumb to help soften the scar tissue. Needless to say, it’s been very frustrating still almost 4 months later that I can’t bend my thumb all the way and the ligament is definitely still healing. The ligament is slowly getting better though and at least I can do simple things like unscrew most bottles or lids though with my hand.

4-point tourniquet and reminder that I’ve got a broken bone / torn ligament.

I was eager to get back on the bike, yet terrified as I wasn’t sure what it was like. On 9 April I got on a bike for the first time to ride the 5 miles from the club to work to see how my thumb would hold up. Legs still worked fine like nothing ever happened, but I did notice that it took me longer to get into my drops as I had to focus on stretching out my left thumb to get into position. The reduced flexibility also meant that I had to shift with the tip of my left middle finger as the rest of my fingers couldn’t really reach my shifter. I had to use more of my core to support my upper body since I couldn’t put too much weight on my left hand. I also couldn’t wrap my thumb around the top of my handlebar for too long as the ligament would start hurting. Regardless though, I was back in the saddle! 🙂

The next day I rode to and from the club and work with a detour of Hawk Hill (to work) and Twin Peaks (from work) to make it about 16 miles each way. My thumb continued holding up well and I kept up with my daily physical therapy exercises. I went to my sister’s in Delaware that weekend for my nieces’ birthdays and learned that I could finally touch my thumb and pinky together. I’m not sure if the cycling helped with anything physical, but it was certainly helping me with mental and emotional recovery.

After I got back home the following week, I went out for my typical midweek ride that includes Hawk Hill, a dash up to Larkspur, and Twin Peaks for a total of about 53 miles. That ride was one of the best rides of my life and restored my faith that I could definitely still ride at all and get back into my normal routine.

I signed up for the Wildflower Century’s 75-mile route as I wasn’t sure if I could handle the full century. I had the Grizzly Peak Century the following week and this would help asses my readiness for both my thumb and the rest of my body. Truthfully, I was a little worried about GPC since it was at least 1000′ more climbing in 100 miles than I’d ever done. This ride was actually a lot of fun and I rode about half of it with a guy from Salinas who was doing the 60-mile route (as he had to go back to Salinas to chaperone his daughter’s prom that night). He was a great cycling buddy that day since neither of us needed to stop at any of the rest stops. I’m always amazed that cyclists can just start talking to each other during rides like we know each other well even though we’ve never met and don’t even know each other’s names. It felt a little odd to me to be telling other riders that yeah I broke my thumb about 8 weeks ago and yes I’m doing the 75-mile (4200′ climbing) route. Like I said though, the legs still worked! I managed to finish that ride in 5 hours and was feeling pretty good.

Wildflower Century’s 75-mile route with 4200′ climbing just 2 months after the accident.

The next week was the Grizzly Peak Century that I was doing with my friends Ken and Baerbel (who said she was bailing on me after 70 miles and I had to do the rest on my own). Baerbel had texted me asking how my training was going and I responded with “What training?” While I was doing Wildflower, Ken was busy riding 600K to Santa Monica on a *fixed gear* bike. Shortly after Baerbel met Ken, she asked me where did I meet this guy and I said “Mount Hamilton. He was on a fixie then too.” (true story) I’m slower than both Ken and Baerbel, but at least they wait for me every now and then..especially Baerbel at rest stops. I got to the rest stop in Port Costa and told Baerbel to get going since she already had plenty of time there while waiting for me. 😉 She decided that she loved the food at the rest stops and wanted to do the century route to see what the food at that rest stop was like. Ken was too tired still from his 600K ride the weekend before and wanted to cut it to the 76-mile route. I was a bit disappointed as I really wanted to do the century route, but I knew that Ken would do the same for me if the roles were reversed and the route would be there for another day. Ken was also my ride home too!

Me, Baerbel, and Ken before the GPC 76-mile ride.

I was still a little frustrated about not getting a century done as it was something I really wanted for myself in my thumb recovery. I had a brilliant idea though given that somehow I’d unconsciously taken on Ken’s characteristic of becoming a virtual camel on rides with not really eating or drinking much on rides. I didn’t drink or eat anything on Wildflower until about 60 miles in and didn’t eat anything during GPC. I didn’t finish an entire water bottle on either of those rides. I knew that I wouldn’t actually need a rest stop for doing the full GPC century route.

Century #1 – Grizzly Peak Century route
My friend Dan wasn’t really working full-time and said that he was up for riding with me even during the week. Dan is a very fast and strong cyclist who like Ken, does a lot of real long distance riding. Before I’d met him in person, I’d asked him over email during my Wildflower weekend if he was riding that weekend and then saw that he’d done a (self-supported) double century that day. We’re the Bay Area contingents of the NorCal Velo cycling club based in Santa Rosa. He was leading another Diablo ride and opened it up to NCV so I’d accepted the invitation.

A week later I met him to do the GPC route so I could finally get this out of my system. Black Ruby was in the shop so I was doing this on Sapphire, which has a smaller drivetrain and a composite frame (vs Black Ruby’s larger drivertrain and carbon frame). Doing my first post-break century on GPC was significant since it was the roads that I used to ride weekly with Liz when she lived in Berkeley. I haven’t gotten to ride there much since she left and hadn’t rode some of them in years. Given my history with many of these roads, I really wanted GPC to be my first post-break century. I was also wearing my 2015 Marin Century kit which (aside from one of my favorite kids) was the first century that I ever did.

I met Dan bright and early to roll out at 6:30 a.m.. It was foggy most of the morning and he stayed next to me the entire time even though he could have finished the ride on his own at least a couple of hours faster. Most of the roads were empty or very light traffic. The climb out of Port Costa was noticeably harder though on Sapphire than Black Ruby which I understood why people were whining about it during GPC. I did have to stop towards the top for a short break, but it still isn’t that horrible. We made a slight detour in Martinez for a very quick lunch break at Safeway (which he told me that Safeway sushi was the common Randoneeurs’ lunch of choice). I’m pretty sure it took us longer to figure out what to eat than to actually eat it. I actually ate a veggie burrito plus the Naked bar I munched on while waiting in line. Dan and I rolled off again. We had stopped just long enough that my quad muscles were crying that they thought we were done for good already. That was the hardest part during the ride as they took several miles to get warmed up again. I had to make a couple of short stops to take off my leg warmers and arm warmers though and then again during Three Bears to put on sunscreen as the sun was finally out. BTW Dan runs cold so he’s still bundled up like it’s January. We make our way back to Redwood Road, which Dan knows intimately as it’s his way home from a lot of his rides. We end up doing a few laps up and down a flat part of it by where my car is to get the last few KM that I need to make it a full century. Once my watch hit 162 KM, I knew I definitely had it and we made our way back to my car.

Sometimes you just gotta get it out of your system!

GPC century route done in 7:55 moving time with 8200′ climbing (total time 8:38). First century of the year, first century completed 11 weeks after breaking my thumb, and also the most climbing I’d ever done in a century ride by over 1000′.

Century #2 – America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride / Lake Tahoe Century
Two weeks later I did American’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride, a Tahoe century I’d done before while raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. LLS is the largest charity I support since my Uncle Bill died of leukemia. This year I raised over $3600 for LLS. Unlike 2 years ago, I did this ride by myself and never even met my TNT (Team In Training) team. I didn’t need the training schedule or the high school style cheerleading that they do in well, everything. TNT stops at every single rest stop including the one hour break at the lunch stop. Give the minimal food that I eat on rides, this adds up to a lost of wasted time for me. I wanted to just get the ride done and since I was solo, I’d have to drive myself afterwards. I was highly motivated to get an early start and get done quickly!

I was not alone that morning as there were several others who also started early to avoid the official 6:00 a.m. start with some 3000 other cyclists. It was a very brisk 40F air temperature! Most of the road between South Lake Tahoe and Emerald Bay was closed which was very nice to know that there wouldn’t be car traffic either way and, of course, a lot less noise between less riders and less cars. Most of the time I’m physically alone and I’m thinking that it’s just me and Uncle Bill’s spirit on that road. I’m imagining what it felt like for him to ride a bike with every pedal stroke. The last time I’d seen him, he told me that he enjoyed cycling as it was the only time his feet didn’t feel like they were on pins and needles. It would have been awesome to have been able to do this ride with him with him wearing a “Survivor” jersey, but that wasn’t meant to be. Instead it’s just me on this road solo and his remains are in a plot in Peoria, Illinois. My goal was to get through this century as quickly as possible so I didn’t take a lot of photos during it. I only stopped 3 times too: 1 rest stop for a bio break, once to strip layers / apply sunblock, and once at the top of the East climb to have a quick waffle snack and drink. I was done by about 12:30 p.m. and at Cold Water Brewery (a favorite stop on name alone) by 1:00 p.m.

Total moving time was 6:45 and total elapsed time was 6:55. This is really how I prefer to do long rides with minimal stopping. It’s really hard to get my muscles moving again if they have a chance to cool down so it’s optimal to just keep them warm. I saw one of my TNT team members on Strava did the ride in 6:05 BUT the total time was about 8:30. That’s almost 2.5 HOURS of standing around. I just can’t do that! I’ve set what I’ve come out to do though of finishing this ride and fulfilling my request to my generous donors that I’ll ride 100 miles if they donate to LLS.

America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride aka Lake Tahoe Century in memory of my Uncle Bill.

Century #3 – Sonoma County Backroads Challenge Route
I was supposed to do the Sonoma County Backroads Challenge’s Century on 25 May, but the pouring rain weather led my friend Annie and me to stay safely inside drinking wine instead. I reasoned that we can ride the route another day and need to given that I’ve already got the pint glass and t-shirt from the ride. My friend Pat had been giving me s*** that I’ve been riding with Dan and not him so we had worked out Friday, 7 June to ride together and I invited Dan. Pat had to work and I may have had to work so this got postponed to Friday, 21 June with just Dan and myself. I think Dan is a sucker for punishment for riding with me given that I average about 3 mph slower than him.

I let Dan dictate the start time of 8 a.m. which is also about 3 hours after most of my rides start. After a bit of heckling about how I’d have been almost halfway done by the time he showed up, we take off from a car park in Penngrove. We both know a lot of the roads but our memories are kinda fuzzy. Somehow we ended up with different routes too and decide to follow the one on my Garmin. This proves to be one of the greatest errors in human judgment.

Everything is going fine with the usual riding camadarie and even the East-West climb up Marshall Wall. I joking ask Dan if he can at least pretend that he’s putting some effort into this climb and he starts mockingly grunting. There’s a trio of guys who past us on the climb and then we pass them on the top as they’re taking photos. Were we supposed to stop and enjoy the view? Both of us have been up Marshal Wall enough that it’s a “been there, done that” scenario and we do the long semi-boring ride to Valley Ford.

We do a quick stop in Valley Ford for water and a snack at the Valley Ford Market. Dan’s a cyclist after my own heart with the mentality of “I’m done drinking / eating / peeing…can we go now?” I think I ate 2 bananas, a Naked bar, and a Stinger waffle along with a bottle of water for my “lunch.” Another slap of sunblock and we’re off again.

I had considered Bodega Bay for the lunch stop which I decide is cute enough as we roll through it that I’d like to go back and actually see it sometime (mental note: nieces visit in August). My muscles are still semi-warm so moving them isn’t a problem until we get to (No) Joy Road. I’m feeling very pathetic as I am having a helluva time cranking my way up a climb that isn’t that steep. I do the walk of shame for a few minutes until the road flattens out a bit. I then rightfully declare myself an idiot as I notice that my front gear is in the biggest ring so I was making this climb almost as hard as possible. ARG! I shift into the gear that I should have been on and magically everything is easier. However, I’ve also expended much more energy in my legs than I needed to so somewhere up the road I see a parked truck and tell Dan that I need to pull over there. He suggests adjusting my seat post then as the “Not Mike” mechanic who put the new cables on my bike obviously had adjusted the seat post and put it back WAY too low for me (my usual mechanic Mike would have never done this to me but he wasn’t at work when I dropped Black Ruby off).

I start climbing again with my seat post closer to where it should be and that made a HUGE difference. I can finally use my entire leg to ride with! I forgot to do this when we stopped for “lunch” and am very grateful that Dan suggested to do it now. We’re on an about 5 mile / 1000′ climb that he recognizes from some of his Rando rides and I’d never been on before. I seem to remember this was the second and last of the steep climbs on this route.

I was wrong.

Dan and I start doing a lot of snaking around the suburban backroads just West of 101 which is obviously just to add distance to make this route a century ride. We do one gnarly descent of tight hairpin turns with no shoulders. I realize one reason why I really like riding with Dan is that it’s helping me get over my crash trauma. I crashed 4 years ago on a descent so I’ve been apprehensive about fast descents since then. I trust Dan though and with some slight pressure to at least stay closer to him on the route combined with trusting that if he can do this descent as fast as he can then it must be safe, I’m slowly starting to get my descending confidence back. Slowly.

We’re stopping every now and then to check out the route map since we’re both feeling slightly lost and wondering when is this back and forth going to end and..where are we??? Then something horrible happens at about mile 80 as we turn from Barnett Valley Road onto Burnside Road…a 1 mile / 500′ climb this far into a ride. WTF? It hits about 17.5% at one point in this climb. Dan makes it up without a problem but I just mentally lose it about halfway up and walk the rest of the way. I was not expecting any more steep climbs like this! I’m feeling a bit defeated and Dan reassures me that I wasn’t mentally prepared for that climb as opposed to how I felt that I’m just a really weak cyclist. He gives me an out to cut the ride short and I decide to just continue on and see what the rest of this now hellish route provides.

Heaven really was just around the corner though as we FINALLY descend down Burnside Road! It’s about a 6 mile straight shot descent. The road is crappy with unevenly filled potholes left and right. I’m actually watching Dan’s movements and adjusting my line based on his adjustments. I hear the sound of my rim scraping on one of the filled potholes at once point, but I don’t slow down. I feel a huge sigh of relief that I’ve managed to get through the overwhelming desire to just somehow cut straight across the 101 line to get back to the cars and quit this ride.

We are finally done with any steep climbing on the ride as we start recognizing roads and know that we’re less than 4 turns from the finish. Seeing 101 in the distance is kind of like a mirage. Dan recognizes that I’m feeling better as he said that I looked pretty cooked back on Burnside Road. I was and am very grateful that he stuck with me through it and let me sort out whatever was going on in my head. He could have decided for me that the ride would end back then and I’m glad that he left it up to me since as he always said, it was my ride.

We get closer to Old Redwood Highway and start comparing our distances. Dan does his in imperial and mine is in metric. We have this unspoken agreement that we’re not going back to the cars until both of us have hit 100 miles in our respective units. I’m a bit short so we go past the cars until I’ve got 161 KM on my watch a short distance away. We turn around then to go back to the cars and end the ride.

In all we ended up doing 8000′ of climbing on a route that his version had 6000′ and mine had 7000′. We still don’t know how RWGPS had either route’s climbing amount wrong. This was probably the hardest century I’ve done as I was not expecting 8000′ of climbing, especially that last steep climb!

Sonoma Backroads Century route

I didn’t realize until a few days later that I’d done 3 centuries in 4 weeks. That wasn’t intentional, but I’m very proud of the accomplishment. Similar to when I’d had my pelvic surgeries to correct my hip dysplasia, it’s almost like my thumb breakage has reminded me of how lucky I am to be able to physically move and helped reinvigorate my love for cycling. Having friends who are always up for riding like Dan help also as if anything, the camadarie is a bonus. I may not have Liz or SheSpoke in my regular daily (cycling) life anymore but it’s evolved yet again. After a couple of years of not really riding much let alone centuries, I was back and starting to push my distance and climbing limits again.

Next up: my first double metric century (eek!) and my first ride with the Randonneurs.

Note: Working on this blog has been bittersweet as my close friend John died a few weeks ago and he’d read every single one of my previous blogs. This became a small challenge for me to write knowing that this would be my first entry that he’d never read. He was one of my biggest cheerleaders, unconditional supporters, and always there for me through thick and thin. He left the world too soon 19 days after being diagnosed with a rare form of mylemona, a blood cancer. I find comfort in knowing that he didn’t suffer for months or years. The world needs more people like him and I’m blessed to have had him in my life for 16 years.

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Losing My Bike Touring Virginity

I’d never done an overnight or multiple day bike tour before and had been a bit jealous of hearing the adventures that my friends Liz, Erika, and Arianna would have on them (minus when Liz and Arianna both had the flu in Ireland). My friend Chris organized one for last September and I said that I’d do it if Liz came out for it. Liz, of course, was in along with her boyfriend Nic. Okay, I’m committed now one way or another!

I had two bikes and neither were outfitted for bike touring. I talked to both Erika and Kevin about options. Erika suggested some large removable saddlebags, but I didn’t really like the idea of that bouncing around behind me along with the very limited weight and size restriction. Kevin suggested altering one of my bikes for fitting a rack on it, but the information I found online was kind of confusing. He suggested that I go to REI since at least they sell panniers. I talked to the bike mechanic at REI who said that there was no way to fit a rack onto my bike without drilling into the frame. WTF? Even I know that’s incorrect! I resisted the urge to throw my Orbea at him and instead went to my bike shop, which is where I kind of knew I should have gone to in the first place. My usual mechanic, Mike, knew exactly what rack to get, which came with the adapter to fix it to my bike. I’d be able to pick up my bike in about 3 days after he got the parts and installed them. Yipee! I borrowed a pannier from a very pregnant Arianna so I was good to go now. 🙂

Our overnight was scheduled for September 8 – 9, 2018. Liz and Nic were flying in from ABQ a couple of days before and staying with Arianna and Matt in Berkeley. We were all meeting up that Saturday morning at the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park and the plan was then to ride down to Pescadero via Half Moon Bay and a lot of time on Highway 1. I packed the bare minimum I’d need to try and keep my pannier as light as possible. I didn’t ride the Orbea much anymore since it’s an aluminum frame so the heavier of my two bikes. Since it’s my first bike though, I’m never getting ride of it! Now it’s my official touring bike. 🙂 I opted that morning to ride from my house to GGP even though we’d be riding right back past my place on the route. This added 15 miles and 1100′ climbing.

Ready to roll

Day #1 – SF to Pescadero

I was glad that this was going to be a small group and I already knew everyone. Erika was supposed to join us, but opted not to. She still drove out for the start with her wife Terri, who was riding with us. Erika would drive and meet us in Pescadero for dinner and spend the night. Chris, Terri, Liz, Nic, and I took off towards Ocean Beach to start our ride with the first stop being in Pacifica. Chris’ intent was to make this as leisurely a ride as possible so she had lots of stops scheduled all the way down, which is different then my mentality of more or less “keep moving!”

We had just come up and over the hill on Skyline Boulevard in Daly City past the water tower when a van driver who was turning (?) got upset with Nic about something. The driver turned towards us and started yelling at Nic. It was unintelligible on what he was so angry about, but I was afraid that he’d get out of the van or worse, pull a gun out on Nic (a sad reality today). Nic was just like “I don’t know what your problem is man.” Terri went into full Mama Bear mode and was yelling at us to just keep going and leave her with him. I’m half-expecting her to yank him out of the van and start beating him with her bare hands. Terri is a tall and very lean woman, but trust me that she’s solid muscle and I wouldn’t want to f*** with her. A couple of minutes later Terri rejoins us and tells us to just keep going.

Terri, Lizziekins, and me

We catch up to Chris and make our first stop at the Chit Chat Cafe. Some grab a belated breakfast and/or coffee and there’s a lot of photo taking outside. We seem to spend way too long there for being online an hour into this ride. Next stop is Half Moon Bay for lunch which is less than an hour away too! After much dillydallying, we get back into the saddles and peddle off towards lunch, which I’m actually really looking forward to.

I’d never ridden the new Devil’s Slide bypass. I saw the flower beds and thought that if it was an old Liz/Kelley ride then we’d have definitely stopped there for taking photos (as Liz likes to take a lot of “oh pretty!” photos). The bypass is super nice and didn’t have a lot of pedestrians there either. We got a surprise coming down the South side of it though with Erika waiting for us! She wanted to surprise us (okay maybe just her wife) on the route and we’d almost blown right past her.

I missed Liz’s personality

We rolled into Half Moon Bay shortly after. Lunch was ironically at a place that I always think of as where I’d had lunch with a high school BFF Michelle when we cut class to go to the beach (sorry Dad). I’m glad it’s still there and more or less looks the same as when I was in high school. After a fairly unhealthy lunch of a lot of fried seafood and fries, we head back off south.

Chris had lost a golf club the last time she’d been at the Ritz Carlton in HMB so she wanted to go by there to see if they had it. We traversed through the hotel property and got to the walking trail right along the coastline and in front of their restaurant. There were a bunch of people walking along it and Chris said that she guesses we should walk our bikes. I look at the distribution of people and say “I can make it.” I go relatively slow but there’s no way that I’m pushing my bike up that uphill walkway. I get through just fine without freaking out any pedestrians and I think Chris had decided to try riding up it also. We wait for the other guys to join us. I’d noticed that there was a wedding party taking photos a short distance away and gee I really hope we ended up in the background of some of those photos. 😛

Chris looks at the map and figures out last time where they’d done some off-road to which I say a hard “no” on riding my bike on even “hard packed dirt.” I really am pretty lazy when it comes to cycling so the less work I have to do, the better. We snake around the various side streets before getting back on the main highway with the next stop being all the way down in Pescadero.

Terri and I are the fastest riders in the group and both of us like to regroup every so often. With only 5 of us on Highway 1, I don’t want us to get spread out so far especially if something happens to one of us (flat tire, car, etc.). We definitely regroup at the top of any long climb or set of climbs. I know from Liz that Nic isn’t in the best cycling shape, but he wanted to come with us regardless. I’m happy to accommodate as I like Nic and just glad that he wanted to join us to spend the time with us. Terri is wearing her usual head-to-toe black ensemble which always amazes me that she isn’t roasting in it. I’ve only seen the woman’s naked legs and arms while she’s been riding once.

Made it!

I get excited when I see the sign that we’ve made it to Pescadero! I’m not sure where the lighthouse is that we’re spending the night or what the plan is so I wait to regroup for Chris’ instructions. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that we were going to stop at Arcangeli Grocery for artichoke bread (gee there’s a lot of eating on this ride!). Erika’s there waiting for us and also to transport any breakfast groceries to the hostel we’re staying at. We migrate to Downtown Local a couple of doors down for a little bit before heading off again to the Pigeon Point Lighthouse where we’re spending the night. I’m glad that I let Terri take the lead since the lighthouse hostel was at the start of a long straight descent, which would have meant that I’d have blown right past it and never even seen it!

Catching up with my favorite cycling partner Liz while watching the sunset

We get checked in, unpacked, refreshed (some partake in a little hot tub time), and then it’s off to dinner. Nic admits that he was so tired that he didn’t even want to get back on his bike after Pescadero so he’d almost asked Erika for a ride from there. He tells us though that he’s so glad that he’s gotten to know us since Liz talks about us all the time and he sees why we’re so special in her life. Aw! ❤ The 6 of us pack into Erika’s car (one of us is stuffed in the footwell behind the driver’s seat) and head to a quick dinner at the Highway 1 Brewery. Afterwards we retire to our rooms for the night with Nic and Liz in one room and the rest of us in another.

Sunset in Pescadero

Day #2 – Pescadero to Palo Alto

I wake up at my usual o’dark thirty time and lay in bed for awhile. No one else is awake and there was some confusion where all the keycards went yesterday so only a couple of us have a key to the room and I’m not one of them. I do the best I can to entertain myself until at least someone else is up. Erika wakes up second and I thought she had a card with her so I figured I could finally escape the room. She didn’t have hers though and the door got accidentally closed. I needed to go back in for something so unfortunately this involved trying to wake up Terri (aka “I don’t do mornings”) to answer the door. She finally answered it after several minutes.

Everyone else finally gets up and start making breakfast. I had actually been moving away from having breakfast and doing my morning workouts in a fasted state (more on that in another blog post), but these guys were into a very leisurely and good spread Sunday breakfast.

We’d finally cleaned up, repacked, suited up, and checked out by 11:00 a.m. I’m a bit worried about the late start and afternoon sun, but nothing I can do about it. We say bye to Erika who decides to just go back home to Berkeley instead of meeting us in Redwood City later. There’s the Santa Cruz ironman happening and our path goes along their cycling route for a few miles. Their officials let us continue our route since we don’t really have any other option to get up and over back to Redwood City.

(L to R) Chris, Nic, Erika, Liz, Terri

We turn onto Gazos Creek Road which is nice and shaded. I have no idea where we are though as I’ve never been in this area despite growing up not that far away. We climb up Cloverdale Road and I wait for everyone else to meet up. We continue on and Chris and Liz jokingly call my attention to what’s in front of us. I see a short but steep climb and immediately yell out “WHAT THE F***?” I have a real love/hate relationship with climbing. It’s getting warm in the day and I definitely notice every extra pound this Orbea has between its frame and the pannier.

I stop at the junction of Cloverdale and Pescadero Creek Road as I’m not sure which way we’re supposed to go and I want to regroup with everyone. Terri and I wait for Liz and Chris to arrive. Chris immediately turns onto Pescadero Creek Road pointing for us to follow her. I don’t see Nic though and don’t want to leave him behind as he wouldn’t know which way to turn either. I take off to catch Chris and tell her that we need to wait for Nic. The 4 of us wait back at the junction and no Nic for several minutes. Liz can’t call him as she has both their phones in her saddlebag. We backtrack to find him at the side of the road changing a flat. His tire had caught a crack in the asphalt which split his tube several inches. We discover too that not only is the tube flat, but the tire is ripped also. We put a dollar bill into the tire to see if that’ll hold the rip and then continue on.

Not your average flat tire!

We head up the long climb of Pescadero Creek Road (my quads are hating me and it’s now officially “hot afternoon”) and drop down to the other side. The idea is to meet up at the La Honda Market for lunch. I’m following Terri as she knows the way supposedly. The other guys are taking longer than expected to catch up to us, but at least we know that they’re together. They finally get to the market about 20 minutes later. The dollar bill didn’t hold and Nic got another flat. This time they put in a BART ticket as that’s a lot sturdier than regular money paper. I asked about the rest of the ride and Chris says that we have one more climb (La Honda Road) but it’s not as bad as Pescadero Creek Road (thank goodness).

After lunch we head up La Honda Road which is a very easy 6 mile route up and we get there no problem. The BART ticket continues holding for Nic’s tire and it’s awesome to see him and Liz get to the top together. 🙂 We take a couple of photos outside of Alice’s before dropping down Woodside Road to start heading back to Palo Alto.

Introducing Nic to Alice’s Restaurant

Somehow if there’s going to ever be a car honking at me incessantly, Terri is going to be right behind said car. This day was no different where a very angry Prius driver (yeah I know) was the one who apparently decided that I was ruining her day doing only 36 mph down Woodside Road on a busy traffic Sunday afternoon. I always seem to get honked at around the “Share the Road” signs too ironically. I stop at the bottom of the descent as I’m sure the others won’t know to turn there to get to Sand Hill Road. Terri said she’s glad I didn’t pull over for that jerk. I actually couldn’t hear her honking nor would I have moved anyway since I’m just trying to get home in one piece too jackass and share the f***ing road like the sign says.

Chris and Liz are taking longer on Sand Hill so Terri hangs back with them. Nic and I go to try and make the 4:00 p.m. train and I stay close to Nic the entire time since with his tire problems, there’s no way I’m leaving him by himself. We get to Cal Train with plenty of time, but don’t see the others. They end up showing up about a minute before the train pulls into the station and we all make it into the bike car.

Nic and Liz have to return their bikes too at the Sports Basement in the Presidio but at this point they’re tired and not sure how they’re going to get them there. I’m pretty sure I can make 2 bikes and 3 people fit into my car so I volunteer to try this. We say bye to Chris and Terri at the my CalTrain stop and part ways. I leave Liz and Nic at the station while I do the longest ride ever (literally, this took 16 minutes and is closer than the BART station that only takes me 11 minutes to get home) up my street to get home to get my car. It works getting everything in my car! We get their stuff returned on time and I drop them off at BART where they’re off to spend the night at Liz’s friend’s house before they head back to ABQ the next day.

So I lost my bike touring virginity in the best possible way with a very small group of close friends. I’d do it again in a heartbeat with them as it was a lot of fun. Keeping the group small worked well as we were all already friends and got to spend some quality time with each other during the weekend. It wasn’t like a big miscellaneous bike tour with a bunch of people you don’t know and many who you won’t ever see again (and some who you never caught their name to begin with). This trip was just like what it’s always been about with them, first and foremost we want to spend time together and secondly we love cycling. And bonus that we got to know Nic a bit more too. 🙂

Taking off on Sunday morning. Photo by Erika Rowen.

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3 Peaks in 3 Days

I remember talking about trying the 3 Peaks (Mounts Tam, Diablo, and Hamilton) in 3 Days with Enrique and Rob back in 2015. I was still fairly new to cycling then and not that good of a climber so the idea of doing any of those was still pretty daunting, let alone doing all 3 over the course of 3 consecutive days. It was something that I knew I’d have to train for but wasn’t even sure if I could pull it off. I was relatively fresh off of my Catalina Channel swim and didn’t know anything about Hamilton except that it was in the South Bay.

Then of course I wasn’t riding as much so that challenge got shelved but not too far back. When I started riding again this past April, the idea surfaced again especially when I discovered that I was having an easier time climbing. When I’d done Tam for the first time in years with Baerbel, Kevin, and Ann recently, it seemed like this may be something that I could pull off since I had no problem getting up Tam with plenty of energy to burn the next day.

Mere coincidence presented the opportunity back at the end of July. First I just happened to see an invite from Lorri to join her for her traditional birthday ride up Hamilton. Then Brenda invited me to join her NorCal Velo team to ride Tam the day after Lorri’s birthday ride. A carrot was being dangled in front of me and all I needed was to add Diablo to the day before or after and I’d have all 3 lined up. What’s a girl to do? Clear my schedule as I’ve got some business to attend to in less than 24 hours.

Day #1 – Mount Diablo
I wasn’t sure which sucker I’d get to do Diablo literally the next day with a 6 a.m. start. And with everyone I asked, ironically Baerbel was on Diablo at the exact time I’d texted her. She wasn’t going to be available the next morning though. I posted in my SheSpoke Cycling Club group and thanks to the miracle worker and incredible human being (and our fearless leader) Erika, I got hooked up with Kat Chen. I still can’t believe that Kat was willing to get up at 4:30 a.m. to be picked up by a total stranger at 5:00 a.m. to go ride Diablo at sunrise. She could also have been a mass murderer too that I was letting into my car.

Kat and me at the top of Diablo, 26 July 2018.

We started off at the Peet’s in Danville like I had last time with Kevin and Baerbel as it was easy to find and close to the freeway. Kat had to be home by 10:00 a.m. which is fine since I’d wanted to get back to the West side of the Bay as soon as possible. We both agreed on just a quick stop at the top before heading back down too. We rolled out relatively on time and being before the park opened, we had to carry our bikes over the South Gate. I actually prefer Diablo when it’s closed to car traffic as at least I know that I’m not going to get hit by a car. We cross paths with several cyclists who are already on their descents. Kat’s behind me somewhere but we agreed to meet up at the Ranger Station at the junction.

I end up having an unfortunate chat with a ranger who goes off on me about how he could cite me right there and that it’d be on my permanent record for the rest of my life, blah blah (seriously, does he think I’m a teenager that can be scared by this?) and asks me if I had to lift my bike over the South Gate (duh, yes). I’m the third cyclist he’s talked to already that morning and at least blamed his boss saying that his boss started wanting all cyclists in the park before 8 a.m. (the official opening time) to start getting tickets. I give the obligatory “I’m sorry” and continue on my way. I talk to another guy at the junction waiting for his friend on their descent and he never saw the ranger that day. He rides Diablo twice a week in the early mornings and has never had a ranger stop him before even though he’s seen them frequently. Kat catches up to me and was also stopped. She says that she’s been chewed out way worse by rangers for such things. Okay, Kat’s getting even cooler.

We continue on our way with the next meetup being the obvious top of Diablo. I hate the Wall more than Coleman Valley Road during Levi’s Gran Fondo though (where I’m 65 miles into the ride by the time I hit that horrible climb). I just pray that there’s no stupid ranger in his truck stalking me when I’m on the Wall that morning. Nothing stresses me more on a ride than knowing there’s a car right behind me and I’m holding it up. The engine sound is a huge distraction and I need all my attention on trying to keep my heart from exploding when I’m on the Wall. I have to split it into sets of 30 pedal strokes to try and break it up and at least this morning there’s no hungry ranger truck behind me.

I have the top all to myself except for one other person and wait for Kat. It’s so quiet and peaceful up there and thinking of how many people are still asleep or just getting up. Kat arrives sometime shortly afterwards and we do our quick photos and then start heading back down. We pass by more cyclists who are already well on their way up and obviously didn’t start when the South Gate opened just a few minutes before. We get back to the car and I quickly dress while Kat grabs some coffee at Peet’s. Time to go sit in lovely East Bay traffic but Waze says that I’ll get Kat back to her place right on time.

Okay, I can do this. Just Hamilton tomorrow and then good ol’ Tam the next day. I’ve already did one and I don’t want Kat to have woken up at an unholy hour for her to have been a total waste. Onto Hamilton…..

Day #2 – Mount Hamilton
A lot of people know that I’d been whining about never having done Hamilton for a few years now. This was the one ride that’s eluded me for one reason or another all this time. “Strong hints” didn’t seem to get picked up by friends who had done it before or were doing it to invite me to join them there. Luckily that finally changed with Lorri’s birthday this year! I consider it fate since I miss about 99.9% of posts on Facebook but just happened to see her post asking for Hamilton birthday ride buddies for later that week. I jumped on the chance to not only get Hamilton finally done but also get to see Lorri!

Lorri is the founder of Savvy Bikes and Velo Girls. I met her in March 2015 after I’d been riding for 5 months at a basic skills workshop she did for SheSpoke. I’d also taken her climbing/descending course and joined along for some North Bay ride she lead for Rapha Cycling Club which I only remember beating her to Four Corners because she made a wrong turn somewhere. I still hear her voice in my head during my descents as she helped me work through my crash trauma (still an ongoing process). I hadn’t seen Lorri in a few years but I recognized her car and bike immediately when she was still driving down the road.

I met Lorri and her friends Ken and Adrienne (?) at Berryessa Community Center. I still hadn’t looked at the ride profile so wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. Luckily Lorri believes in warming up also so we had a nice long flat and a bit of a bump over Alum Rock before heading to Hamilton. The roads were pretty clear and I was still feeling pretty good after Diablo the day before. I quickly learned too that Ken has to be the more unusual climber and cyclist I’ve ever met. The saddle hurts him so he does most of his riding out of the saddle. New definition for “quads of steel.”

We turn onto the start of the road that leads up Hamilton. I get to catch up with Lorri about our life and relationship philosophies. We meet up with Ken and Adrienne who had gone ahead as Adrienne needed to refill her water bottles already. Not a bad idea to top off especially when I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get to the summit.

Our little pod of 4 turns into 2 pods of 2 as Adrienne and Lorri are gabbing like it’s a Sunday afternoon. Ken’s pretty easy to talk to and talks a lot so I have a feeling this is going to be a good and entertaining ride. He tells me that he’s stashed some birthday signs for Lorri along the route so has us slow down so Lorri gets to see them first. What a sweet surprise!! Lorri squeels when she sees them and says that she’ll have to drive back with her car later to collect them.

Ken keeps me company most of the way up talking about our respective major surgeries, how we got into riding, and an incredible annual ride he and his friends do once a year of 600 kilometers. He says that a double century is nothing for him which I believe! He only missed the last 600 KM ride because he was recovering from heart surgery. He rides Hamilton a lot so could go a lot faster and I appreciate him hanging back with me as I slog my sorry butt up it.

I do get a little excited when I first see the Lick Observatory even though it seems like a million miles away. Ken told me that it’s a bit of a mindf*** though since you’ll see it for a long time but the road up there is so windy that it’s slow progress to actually get there. I decide to take it just like Tam and Diablo of “one turn at a time” and try to ignore how much further I possibly have. It’s hard though since the road is fairly exposed to the sun and it’s getting really warm quickly. I keep checking the distance on my watch to see how much further I have after seeing the sign that the observatory is 5 miles away. Ken’s encouraging me to keep going as it’s “only a little bit further.” I’m fighting the urge to just turn around and head back down BUT I’m also wanting to finish this 3 peaks thing and I’m over halfway there now. After all, I’d already posted something about it on Facebook. 😉

Ken and I get to the summit and even though I was born and raised in the Bay Area, I’d never been up here. He tells me that there’s one last little steep climb to get to the very top although it’s not that bad or steep IMO. I swear you can hear my back creak as I finally sit up for the first time in a few hours. I’m a bit in awe that I’ve finally completed Hamilton after having it on the To Do list for the last 3.5 years! I’m looking forward to the descent too since it’s all downhill from here literally. 🙂

We wait for Lorri and Adrienne to arrive. Ken has to get to work so he takes off back down after a few minutes. Lorri, the coffee addict, is of course trying to get some Starbucks Frappucino thing or something out of the vending machine that isn’t cooperating with her. Adrienne brought up an entire pack of cookies and natural energy bites that she had stashed in her jersey somewhere. We enjoy the well deserved break and then it’s time to head back down. We take a group photo sans Ken at the mirror (standard Lorri on Hamilton photo) before heading back down. I stay behind Lorri all the way down and enjoy watching how she descends. You can tell her thought process as she picks her lines and I find it educational. Good to know too that even cyclists as skilled as she is aren’t flawless either. 🙂

Reflections in the mirror at the top of Mt Hamilton, 27 July 2018.

We skip Alum Rock and make a beeline for where our cars are parked since this ride took longer than Lorri had quoted. The 3 of us stick together pretty much all the way back which is good since I have no idea where we’re going. There’s an ice cream truck in the parking lot so Lorri channels her inner child and gets 3 ice cream sandwiches (it is her birthday after all!). She gives me one saying she doesn’t know if I’m vegan or anything like that (I’m not!). I haven’t had an ice cream sandwich is years and it tastes exactly how I remember it. I quickly throw my bike in my car, say my goodbyes, and head off to my dad’s for lunch with him as he lives in San Jose.

Two peaks done and my ol’ favorite left to go….

Day #3 – Mount Tamalpais
Tam has always had a special place in my heart since it was the first peak that I’d ridden up back on 25 December 2014. I woke up with my legs feeling a bit tired and considered for a second on just staying in bed. My BFF Maurice texted me asking how I was feeling as I crawled out of bed. As addicted to riding as I was when I first started, I’d never done 3 rides of any intensity 3 days in a row. I keep telling myself that this will be over in a handful of hours and I’ll have completed my goal. I’ve come this far so no sense in quitting now! I actually got a new (better) drivetrain for my bike too the night before that my mechanic was kind enough to install immediately since he had all the parts already.

Brenda had told me that they were meeting at the Java Hut at 8:00 a.m. with a 8:30 a.m. rollout. I’m running a little behind with an ETA of 8:15 a.m. so message Brenda that I’m on my way. She replies that she totally forgot to tell me that she was bailing on the ride as she had too work to do at home. She’d invited a couple of other people too and remembered to tell them but forgot about me. She contacts Jeff to let him know that I was coming as I could still ride with her team NorCal Velo.

I get to the meeting point and no one is there! I panic that they’ve left without me and contemplated on what to do. I was already there and had just done Tam from that spot (via Alpine Dam and Seven Sisters) so pretty sure I still knew the route so was preparing myself to do it solo if need be. Brenda texts me that everyone is actually running late. The rest of the guys get there a few minutes later. I like them instantly as they’re all giving Brenda s*** by introducing me as “Brenda’s former friend Kelley” and it’s no secret that she bailed and forgot to tell me. 😉

We roll out towards Alpine Dam. I’m in the back with Clint and Jeff which is fine with me as I’m just glad that I’m getting to do this ride with them instead of by myself. Jeff isn’t feeling well so turns around at Alpine Dam while the rest of us continue on. A few of them are waiting for me at the Ridgecrest Boulevard junction which I don’t need to stop so we all just continue going. I haven’t actually counted the Seven Sisters and tend to forget while I’m on it to count. I just know that when it’s over, I’m only a few miles from Tam’s East Peak.

Our mighty pack continues onto the East Peak which I think I spent most of that time talking to Clint who is relatively close behind me. We talk about our respective major surgeries as he’s just getting back into cycling from back surgery. There are a considerable amount of people at the East Peak as this is also the latest I’ve ever been on Tam (except for the first time on a Christmas morning when it was empty!). The fog is still heavy in the area below so there is no real view to speak of.

Top of Mt Tam with NorCal Velo, 28 July 2018.

It’s kind of surreal that I’ve successfully completed the third peak now even though it doesn’t feel like such a big deal since I’m not really sore anywhere. I am happy though that we’re done with any real climbing the rest of this ride since we’re not doing the Tour de Buckholtz of going to Salinas and doing that miserable climb back out of there again. We’re dropping all the way down towards Mill Valley to then loop back around to Fairfax on the flats. 🙂 We get momentarily disoriented a few times with one hilarious semi-illegal (okay pretty illegal) u-turning at the Blithedale intersection which Nancy is just glad that she’s not wearing her NorCal Velo kit (although some of the other guys are). Once in Faifax, we do the customary stop at Gestalt Haus for a few beers and socializing before scattering. I like these guys a lot as they seem to have a healthy sense of humor and all get along on personal levels. I’m looking forward to riding with them again and the Santa Rosa area is a cycling territory that I’m not that familiar with outside of some organized rides like Levi’s Gran Fondo that I’ve done.

I’m glad that I took the opportunity to do all 3 peaks in 3 days when it presented itself. A few years ago, I didn’t know if I could do it and felt like it was something that I’d have to train for and no idea how to go about it. Having done Diablo and Tam recently with Kevin and Baerbel helped me have the confidence that I could do at least those two peaks, with Tam being part of a longer and harder ride with them. It was a bit weird though as it was easier than I’d built it into my head to be. Would I do it again? Of course.

The first and last time that I’d have climbed more than Pat in a single week.

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It’s like falling off a bike

I’d been on my bike so little in the last couple of years that I wasn’t even sure if I could still be considered a cyclist. I stopped wearing my “Ride On” bracelet that my favorite riding partner, Liz, had given me because I felt odd wearing it when the most either of my bikes had traveled in months had been between the living room and kitchen when I was cleaning my floors. It wasn’t that I got distracted by a shiny new toy or loss interest in cycling. Cycling has always been really social for me and I never liked riding alone. Everyone I rode with just got busy with other things or like in Liz’s case, moved.

Back in 2015, Liz was getting burned out from her job and would spend time staring at Google Maps during the day to create routes. Basically every week she’d text me asking if I was up for riding some route she wants to try (in the 50 – 80 mile range) and I said “Sure!”. I was doing my Catalina training swims on Wednesdays so I could ride with her on the weekends. I actually don’t remember the day I met her and she was just in my life one day. She lived close to a guy I was dating at the time (another cyclist although we only rode together like 3 times. He didn’t like to ride that long and one time said “I don’t want to go for a 3 hour ride” so we did one in 2:58. Ha! He did it purely for exercise though which should have been a red flag for me.). We were in close proximity or one early BART ride away for me to get to the East Bay.

Liz and me on one of our many Turkey Tuesday / Oakland Hills rides.

To put some stats in perspective, with Liz around, I rode some 2100 miles (216,263′ climbing) in 2015 which was in addition to my training and successful completion of my Catalina Channel marathon swim. My Catalina crew chief, Peter, wasn’t exactly happy when he found out I was doing things like the 107-mile Marin Century 2 weeks before my Catalina swim (“tapering”? What’s that?). Marathon swimmers typically gain weight on purpose for these swims for insulation and/or extra fuel source. I probably actually lost fat weight back then because I was cycling so much in addition to my long training swims in the Bay. Compare that to the fact that I only rode some 1500 miles combined in the 2 years after she moved away.

Liz eventually quit her job and took off to Ireland then the Pacific Northwest then Montana (did she make it there even? I forget…she’s in New Mexico now though). Erika, the leader of our SheSpoke cycling club, was busy nesting with her now-wife Terrie so there were less club rides getting organized. Needless to say, I stopped dating Mr. No Passion for Cycling (or much else in his life really) as that got really boring quickly.

My two favorite goofballs to ride with! Arianna, Liz, and me on I think a 4th of July with the Oakland Hills all to ourselves while everyone else squatted in SF to watch fireworks later.

I didn’t do any marathon swims in 2016 and 2017 aside from one RT Angel Island Figure-8 pattern attempt last September. I’d only spent a few weeks “training” for that swim though and the rest of the year was just bumming along. Arianna, our other cycling partner in crime, was off cycling around Europe with her husband so that basically left me by myself. Oh, and then Arianna got pregnant right after they got back from Europe. I was expecting that I’d be cycling a lot more without having any swims to train for and that just didn’t happen. I’m a bit particular (haha) on who I’ll ride with and any kind organized ride tends to make me skeptical that it’ll be a ride full of too many stops and/or each stop being way too long. Arianna and I look like a pit crew at breaks where we try to get in and out of there as quickly as possible. I don’t really eat much on rides either so my lunch can be timed to how long it takes to eat a banana.

I then met another cyclist Brian this past April who got me interested in cycling again. He was training for a multi-day 250 mile / 40,000′ climbing event on the Eastside of the Sierras. I started thinking about why I wasn’t really riding much these days. Liz was in New Mexico and Arianna was watching her belly grow bigger (and not just from her insane cravings for “white carbs” 24/7) but why was that really stopping me? They really are two of my favorite people to ride with and we’re good friends. I knew I was too attached to them in terms of riding but if I really wanted to ride, I’d have to overcome that and find new people to ride with on a regular basis. My friend and fellow South Ender Baerbel had been pestering, I mean “kept asking”, me about when we were going to go riding for awhile. I finally took her up on her offer in April in conjunction with us going from the club to my friend Rob’s art studio open house in at the Hunter’s Point Shipyard Artists. It was the first time in over 8 months that I’d been on a bike. Even with just 8 miles each way, it felt good to be back in the saddle.

Baerbel and me on my first time in the saddle after 8+ months.

Baerbel is always up for riding if she’s available so I started arranging some rides with her. First up was a couple of my favorites in Woodside: Kings Mountain and Old La Honda (36 miles / 4800′ climbing). I invited fellow South Ender and compatriota Alex Honor to join us. Alex and I chatted all the way up both since we’re slower than Baerbel and we discovered that we went to the same grade school, but didn’t overlap at all as he’s 10 years older than me (I just realized that makes him 50!). I’d wanted to do a repeat of either of them after we finished OLH but was overruled on hitting up a bakery instead. For someone who hasn’t been in the saddle in months and picked that route as the first real ride, I was surprised that my legs weren’t sore at all the next day. Hm. Next up was Diablo since Baerbel basically lives on that mountain. We planned it out with Kevin for 27th May as the day that all of us could make with a 6:30 a.m. roll out time. This was ideal for me since I’m scared of cars on Diablo so the earlier the start time, the better! There was something really nice too about having Diablo more or less all to yourself. I still wanted to do longer and harder rides though like I used to do when I felt more like I was an actual cyclist. There was something different this time around too where even though I wasn’t much faster, all of this climbing was a lot easier on my legs. I wasn’t having a difficult time on these climbs like I had experienced on previous rides there.

Having done Diablo in Baerbel’s backyard, next up was the obvious of Tam as that’s Kevin’s front yard. We settled on a date (14 July) as that was the next date that all 3 of us could meet up (and we were joined by Ann at the last minute). In the meantime, I went out for the first time in months with my friend Jaime to do Three Bears in the East Bay. She was still tired from doing Tam and Seven Sisters the day before so she did one pass of Three Bears and told me to do another pass of them by myself. She’ll just ride the flats of Camino Pablo back and forth for the 75+ minutes it’ll take me to do another loop. It wasn’t our intended ride, but I rolled with it since at least I was back on the bike and I appreciated Jaime coming down from Sacto to ride with me. Like many things in my life, I paid zero attention to details about Kevin’s Tam ride plans beyond the date and time to meet. I noticed something the day before where he had said “45 miles, 6600′ climbing” for this ride. WTF? I’d completely missed the plans to go to Tam via Alpine Dam and Seven Sisters to the East Peak then dropping to Stinson Beach and climbing back up and over via Alpine Dam back to Fairfax. It ended up not being too bad actually except the climb from Shoreline Highway to Ridgecrest. I was surprised when we got to the end of Seven Sisters as I was expecting them to be way worse since their nickname is “Seven Bitches.” I was just like “That was it? That’s all of them?” Kevin asked me after we got back to the Ridgecrest Road junction if I wanted to go do the East Peak again. I immediately said “F*** no.” Ann, who hadn’t wanted to do it the first time around said “NOW you say that.” My glutes didn’t start feeling it until the very last climb before we descended to Fairfax. Even though this was a lot of climbing, I still didn’t quite feel like a cyclist again since it was “only” 45 miles. I didn’t think of it as already being a stronger cyclist than I was before or being well on my road to re-defining myself as a cyclist.

Baerbel, Alex, and myself at the top of Old La Honda.

I had needed something though and the Marin Century was coming up. I was confident that my legs could handle the distance and climbing but I didn’t know if my back and neck could handle it. It’s not a natural position and no real way to train for that off the bike. I needed a longer ride in the saddle though and to start pushing my body’s limits again since for some reason I seem to enjoy seeing how many pain I can put myself through. Double Metric Century with Joanne? Maybe, but she just got back from riding in the Pyrenees and I’m not sure if I’m ready for a ride that long. Mt Tam Century? Maybe, but not sure if my back could handle it and would rather do it with someone. Traditional Century? Sure, I did that 3 years ago and it wasn’t that bad, just perhaps what I was looking for.

So I looked at my Google calendar and with no swims to train for, I started making more time again for riding, including riding to/from home and work once a week again. I even improved it with stashing clothes and food at work the day before so I could do the ride without a backpack trapping a bunch of heat! Kat, a fellow SheSpoker, was going to Tahoe for her first ride around the lake and invited me to join her. I needed the longer ride and love riding around the lake (and just being in Tahoe in general as I’ve gone there my entire life). I ended up getting way more out of those two days than I could have imagined.

The first day in Tahoe I did the longest solo ride I’ve ever done (41 miles, 2700′ climbing). I never looked at the ride profile so didn’t know what hell awaited me. This ride was actually one of the most challenging ones I’ve done since it was 90F outside at 1:00 p.m. and I decided to go anyway as “how bad could it be?” UGH. I was doing the North Tahoe Loop from Truckee to Tahoe City to Kings Beach back to Truckee in heat starting at 6000′ above sea level. I seriously considered calling a Lyft from Kings Beach as I wasn’t sure if I could make it back to Truckee. The 2.7 mile / 900′ climb to the top of Brockway Summit was extremely painful but dreams came true at the top when I saw the sign that said 9% downhill for 5 miles! Knowing Truckee was about 6 miles and my friend Mick’s was just a few miles of flat-ish beyond that, I only had to really pedal for 4 more miles and nothing like what I just dragged my sorry ass up. I was slightly dehydrated and getting hot spots in my feet. At least I knew the worst was definitely over. I rolled up Mick’s driveway later just happy to have survived the last 3 hours. This was the first ride in a long time that I really had to push myself to just keep going because of the heat and lack of support when riding solo. Come to think of it, every cyclist I saw was going up Brockway from the other direction so obviously they were smarter than me to do the more gradual climb.

Double lap of Three Bears with Jaime.

The next day Kat and I were rolling out at 6:00 a.m. from Squaw Valley. If it wasn’t for her, I would have been tempted to skip the ride though given that I was still a little sore from the day before but at least my brain had recovered from the dehydration. Any tiny amount of muscle soreness went away after the first few miles. I don’t think many people would do a 83 mile ride the day after a 41 mile one (especially that ride I’d suffered through) but I’ve usually made questionable choices in just about every area of my life. Side note: My dad told me once that he’s always thought “I can’t believe I’m saying this but..” when telling his friends about me but it was for my juvenile antics when I was a kid and now it’s because of things like swimming up to 21 miles across ocean channels or in the Bay or other swimming/cycling shenanigans I’m up to somewhere on the planet.) We had a beautiful sunrise to watch as I thought to the sun for it to try its worst because I was going to be done with this ride before the time I started the prior day’s ride. This ride was WAY easier than the day before with the cooler temperatures. The biggest climb (1000′) is on the East side which I didn’t realize we were on until we got to the top and I recognized the downhill portion. Oops. Those 83 miles were awesome though as it gave me 7.5 hours in the saddle and like riding with Liz, I waited for Kat at the top of all the bigger climbs as then we don’t get too far separated and you still have the feeling that you’re riding with someone (works both ways!). 🙂 I finally felt like a cyclist again after having finished my first 80+ mile ride in over a year and was now feeling stronger in rides with lots of climbing.

Am I a “climber” now? How’d that happen? What does this mean for the future of my cycling challenges that I take on?

I’ve gone from not being on the bike at all for several months to being back slightly obsessed about riding again. Although it’s different this time since I don’t have Liz around to look like bike bums with. I have to put more of an effort into reaching out to other people to ride with which isn’t something I’m used to. Like when I moved back after living in Pasadena for 15 months, my life is like an alternate version of how it was before. I look at my calendar though and try to figure out where I can stuff rides into it and looking up possible routes on RideWithGPS for wherever I’m going to be. The most important one will have to be scheduled sometime to re-do the route that I crashed on 3 years ago in Paso Robles.

I’m curious too on what this means with having an easier time climbing up hills without having spent time actually riding. My legs feel stronger now and I feel like I’m capable of longer and harder rides now. There’s the bonus also that my sense of what is steep has changed which is making me more comfortable on the descents again. I’ve still had a hard time with any 20 mph blind descending hairpin turns which is now only starting to dissipate. While it may seem like all of this riding again is because I’m in training mode, I’m really just doing it because it’s fun and feels good. I feel healthier and stronger with a sense of accomplishment after rides that I don’t even get after swimming. There’s just something different about it. I didn’t think that I’d ever have an easy time with climbing on a bike and now I’m curious to see what I can do with it combined with my endurance. So begins a new chapter in my cycling career and I’m excited to find out where it takes me. 🙂

Emerald Bay on my 83-miles around Lake Tahoe (start/end Squaw Valley) with Kat B.

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10 Miles of a 10 KM Swim

As much as I’ve swum in the San Francisco Bay in the last 4.5 years and been going to Santa Cruz / Monterey my entire life, I’d never actually swum in Monterey Bay. When the Monterey Bay Swimming Association announced that they were reviving the Santa Cruz Pier-to-Pier 10 KM swim, I was in! What better way to introduce yourself to a famous bay just south of where you’ve lived most of your life than to decide to swim 6.2 miles in it?

All perky the night before the swim with friends and fellow marathon swimmers Kim Rutherford (left) and Robin Rose (right).

I knew that I could swim a 10 KM with little trouble or preparation since this is a sport that’s more about endurance (which I have a lot of) than speed (which I’m a proud member of the “Elite Slow” club). Knowing that my usual and preferred kayak support of one Cathy Harrington would probably not be available since she’s in the midst of training for her own big marathon swim this summer, I set my sites on a irrefutable kayaking slut (in his own words), my friend Miguel. Miguel has been spending the better part of the year kayaking for just about everyone training for a marathon swim so hey, what’s one more?

Miguel foolishly agreed to be my kayaker for Pier-to-Pier. We did a couple of 2.5 and 3 hour training swims to work out our dynamics on the water and also to force me to stay in the water longer than my usual morning swim. I hadn’t swum more than a couple of hours at a time in months. Since I’d never swam in Santa Cruz before, I didn’t know what the water was like in temperature, condition, wildlife (Pacific sea nettles!) or salinity. I figured that this 10 KM would only take about 4 hours for me to do and like most of my rides, I had no idea what this route that I would be swimming was either.

Needless to say, this 10 KM was dominated by South Enders. 15 swimmers and 12 of us were from South End! Scott Tapley, one of MBSA’s board members and of course a fellow South Ender, asked who was from South End during the safety briefing. Only about 3 people there weren’t South Enders. Actually all 5 directors of MBSA are all South Enders also. If you ever hear of someone who swims in the San Francisco Bay and goes off to do crazy long hard swims elsewhere (usually also in cold water), more likely than not they belong to South End (and not that other club next to us who gets more press).

On the shuttle from the finish at Santa Cruz to the start in Capitola!

I’m usually over-prepared for my swims since I don’t like to run out of feeds. I had 4 feed bottles even though I knew that I’d probably only need 3 at the most. We got ready at the swim start in Capitola. I still use the method Lynne Cox taught me of applying sunscreen 2 hours and 1 hour beforehand so it has time to soak in. I use Headhunter Suncreen these days thanks to my friend Amy Gubser’s recommendation. It comes in a spray version and goes on clear so I’m not leaving white zinc oxide marks everywhere. I’d also put on a layer of Safe Sea Anti-Jellyfish Sting Lotion since I didn’t know how I’d react to being stung by Pacific sea nettles if I came across any. Cathy is there kayaking for Susan Blew (a last minute favor) and I jokingly ask her if she’ll lube me up like she had to for my Catalina Channel swim. I wish I had a photo of her reaction. We became much better friends during my Catalina swim whether she liked it or not! 😉 I liberally apply my Bag Balm every possible place I remember that I can possibly chafe.

We go over to the kayaks and drop our feeds off and then the swimmers head to the start on the other side of the Capitola Beach pier. Okay, ready to work on my tan for the next few hours. How hard can this be? Famous last words.

We start off and I meet Miguel at the end of the pier and we head off. Monterey Bay isn’t quite like what I see in the exhibit at my work of nice clear water with lots of kelp and wildlife swimming around. This is like a mixture between SF Bay and Laguna Beach where I’ve got the green water of the SF Bay with kelp from Laguna. For the first few KM I wonder why am I doing this. I keep going though because Miguel came all the way down here to help support me and I don’t want to have wasted his time so I keep going. The water temperature isn’t too bad and probably around 60 F. Miguel asks if I want to feed after 30 minutes and I decline. I normally would do this on longer swims but for something this short, I’d rather push through for the first hour. Given that the turn buoy is supposed to be about 1.6 or 1.7 miles out, I figure that my first feed will be around this buoy. Miguel stops me at the hour mark to feed and I’m nowhere near the buoy. I’m wondering if I’m swimming ridiculously slow for some reason. I stop to tell him that I really need his body abeam to my head so I can see where he is. It’s a comfort thing for me too since I like to sight off of the kayaker without having to turn or bend my neck. If I can only see the stern of the kayak, I have no idea where the rest of it is. Surprisingly too, I can actually hear and understand Miguel even with my earplugs in! I can’t hear Cathy, horns, people on boats yelling, whistles, etc. but I can hear Miguel squawking at me. We keep plugging along until I get to the buoy. He feeds me around there and is saying something on his radio to one of the support boats. I’m just treading water wondering when can we get moving again. I know the plan is to make a 90 degree turn here and it should be a straight shot to the Santa Cruz pier. The sun is out and I’m enjoying the little warmth of it on my back. Miguel keeps pointing towards what I assume is Santa Cruz and I can’t see anything in front of me.

South End Rowing Club contingent at the Santa Cruz Pier-to-Pier 10 KM

I look at my watch and see that I’m past the 5 KM mark. Goodie, so we’re in the second half of this swim and it should be relatively downhill from here and over in the next couple of hours. The sun has gone away and the sky is gray which I assume is just overcast, not fog. I feel something on my foot and think it may be a sting but Miguel assures me that it’s just seaweed. I’m so paranoid about jellyfish and afraid that I’m going to run smack into one sooner or later. I see more kelp so I know that I’m getting closer into shore again. I start thinking about my Dawn Patrol pod in Laguna and start playing a game with myself of naming the kelp after my friends like Lynn, Cherie, Howard, Marc, Carol, Tanya, Peter, etc. I’m fighting off a slight doubt that creeps in that I’m not sure if I can do this. Peter’s always been one of my biggest supporters and I just swam with him in Laguna a month ago. Suddenly I get the confidence that I can do this swim because I know Peter would be telling me that I could do it if he was there. I can see one of the support boats so instead of thinking of there being 14 other swimmers in the water and this being part of a larger event, I go into my solo swim mode of pretending that that’s just my support boat on my left and my kayaker on my right. The rest of the swim’s participants fade away. My brain finally re-engages and any sense of doubt goes quickly away. I’ve swum about 8 KM now.

My right shoulder starts bothering me. F***. This happened just under the halfway mark of my Catalina swim when I pinched it and spent 11 hours in severe pain. Not again! I start thinking about my Catalina swim when Peter had gotten in with me and tricked me into trying to stretch it out. I start trying to glide more. I notice also that my sinuses are irritated and inflamed. I don’t have any ibuprofen in my feed cooler either. I’m kind of wishing Peter was here so he could take care of me as he’d know what to do. He’d probably have started me off with making sure I had ibuprofen in my feed pack to begin with actually. I’m thinking that we have only about 2 KM left so I can crawl my way to the finish like this. The wind has picked up and all I can see is water and Miguel.

I’ve been swimming 10 KM now and see that we’re off shore still and that the pier is actually way off to my left. Heck, the Boardwalk is way off to my left even. I’m wondering what’s going on and how we ended up so far off course. My left shoulder is starting to bother me probably due to my right shoulder hurting so the left is trying to compensate. My tongue is starting to swell from the salinity (happens around the 5 hr mark for me) and I don’t have any mouthwash in my bag to neutralize it. This is starting to feel like the painful parts of my Catalina swim! We’re in line with the end of the pier though so Miguel tells me to swim directly towards it. I’m getting grumpy and so he kicks his vocal support into overdrive to keep pushing me (omg this worked wonderfully). Like my mom, Miguel is Peruvian so he knows how to deal with me getting grouchy (along with him understanding the pain I’m putting myself through right now). Basically the more he barks at me to get and keep moving, the less time I have to bitch. After swimming for awhile and seemingly getting nowhere, he tells me that the pier is about 3/4 of a mile away. WTF? He suggests that I can pull myself if I want to. I’ve swam almost 13 KM by now and tell him “No. I’m finishing this f***ing swim.” and put my head down to keep going.

Forever and a day later, we finally get to the end of the pier and right into what I swear is the coldest patch of water in the entire Monterey Bay. I half-considered pulling myself here just to get out of it. The water is muffling my screams from how cold it is. My shoulders are in pain and I’m trying to not rotate them too much. I don’t want to visit my sports physician at St. Francis Memorial Hospital again (even though I’ve kept my promise of not seeing him again for at least 2 years after the last visit back in 2015). I know we’re in the home stretch but still have .75 miles to go. I’m looking at the buildings on the pier and using them for distance markers to break up this last part.

Not your friends!

I finally get to Cowell’s Beach and clear the water. Robin, Evan, Naji, Dylan, and a few others are there to greet me. I look at my watch and it says 15.8 KM (9.8 miles) in 5:44:40. F***. 2.5 more miles and it would equal the distance of my Anacapa Channel swim, which I did a lot more than just 2 training swims. I swam 3.5 miles and 2 hours longer than I’d been planning on. I don’t stick around for long after as all I want to do is get out of my suit and shower. Miguel and I throw everything in the car and head back to Robin’s house where we were staying. Unlike my Catalina swim, my shoulders aren’t so sore that I can get my own suit off (note: for Catalina, Cathy had to help me because I couldn’t lift my arms all the way). I take a long shower that only ends because I’m hungry and I had a little panettone that I’d brought back from my last trip to Lima waiting for me down in the kitchen.

I find out later that the fog and wind caused a lot of issues and that nearly everyone was blown off course and had to swim more than 10 KM. Miguel tells me that the buoy had moved .5 miles which is why it took us so long to get to it before we could turn. Looking at my path later, I basically swam along the coast all the way to Santa Cruz instead of swimming a straight line to Santa Cruz. Cathy tells me that her water thermometer measured 55 F at the turn buoy (a 5 degree drop from the beach). I swum the longest in both distance and time. I’m glad that I had my previous marathon swimming experience of being able to shut out the world except for the crew directly around me. Miguel was wonderful in being able to keep me engaged for the last few KM when I was starting to mentally lose it a bit and keep me focused. I apologized to him afterwards which he said to not worry about it as he understood that it wasn’t personal. I owe him a lot though for helping me through this.

This was my first successful marathon swim in almost 3 years. I’ve got some unfinished business with a not-quite-angelic island later this year so will continue with my training. I’m going to resume my overdue stroke work with Evan as I’ve known something hasn’t been quite right with it for awhile and this swim emphasized that it’s time to pick it up again. I’m proud of successfully completing this swim, which was mostly a mental than physical accomplishment. Again proving that even though my body wasn’t in the best shape for it, if my brain wasn’t there, there’s nothing my body could have done to compensate for that. However because I could get and keep my brain engaged, my body was able to pull through even though it was experiencing some degree of pain for almost half of it.

Still beats swimming in a pool.

My swim route for the Santa Cruz Pier-to-Pier 10 KM.

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