Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Riding Unnoticed

Tour de Menlo (100 km), August 21st, 2010

It's nice to delegate blogging on special occasions. As you will see, Fabienne had good reasons to accept taking over the keyboard!


I kinda' got sucked into doing the "Tour de Menlo" when both my best friend and my sister begged me to sign up with them for a fun day of beginner girlie riding. But then, they both ended up having to work, so I was stuck riding with my Dad. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing more rewarding than spending the day in my father's element, pedaling (endlessly...). But given his fame, you simply cannot ride unnoticed, which can be pretty embarrassing when you're no longer riding with beginner girls, and the route gets changed from 25 miles to the 100 k "for experienced riders."

I have to admit, I enjoy my gym spinning classes, but being perched up in the street with a helmet, my feet cleated in, and not being able to reach the floor at red lights is not my idea of fun. But I know that if I want to spend any time with my father when I come to visit, that's a sacrifice I have to make, even with an injured knee. Like a friend said, "if he's not at work, he's on his bike." So I made it my secret goal to go ride with him, but to remain as unnoticed as possible...

At 6:30 a.m., I was layering up and my Dad walks past my room to say: "Here's your jersey! Don't you want to match? We're a team!" That's when I knew I'd have to be on my best behavior if I was to accomplish my goal. It's a 1992 jersey that looks like it came from the 1970s... Rainbow Apple and all. You either have Apple pride or you don't. I guess that jersey makes a statement, and I couldn't complain: it's different. I got lucky that it was a cool, dark morning, and I had a great excuse to wear a jacket and "blend in" with the other riders ... NOT.

We arrived at the start, and there were 498 other participants! We were on the road with other cyclists in a heartbeat, and I nervously focussed on not only staying in the bike lane, but not falling over while trying to uncleat at red lights.That's when I realized I stuck out like a sore thumb... People were passing me and very nicely calling out "I'm passing you on your left!" as they left a huge margin around me.

The route was beautiful! I knew I did not have to memorize the route sheet, because I could simply draft my Dad's back wheel and pretend I totally knew what I was doing. When I quickly looked the directions over, however, one turn specifically stayed in my mind: right on Bunker Hill. At that intersection, two men yelled out that this was the wrong way, and that we should follow them straight ahead. I answered sheepishly that I thought we needed to go right on Bunker Hill. My father convinced me not to let myself get distracted, and we continued over Bunker Hill to Polhemus Rd. There was a surprise water stop there, and we hung out for about 15 minutes. As I got back on the bike, those two guys arrived swearing about the "stupid route."
They passed us on the uphill, grumbling "We should have listened to you!"
I wanted to tell them that they got more miles for their buck, but they zoomed past so fast they almost threw me off. So I was left to ruminate in my own thoughts...Great... I had been spotted and I could not blame the jersey or the matching costuming... I knew I looked as awkward as I felt.

An hour later, I saw police lights flashing after a stop sign, and carefully uncleated and got ready to unmount and put my foot down about 400 feet before actually needing to. That's always the moment when I have so much time left before actually reaching the stop, that I start wondering if the police will feel bad for me if I fall trying to uncleat in front of them, and maybe let me slide through at the following stop sign... But as we passed the cops, they were busy writing tickets. And I was amused to see that it was the same two old lads who had missed the turn on Bunker Hill (they were not amused). Clearly, they were not having a good day. They looked at me as if to say: "We should have stayed behind you."

This reminded me of a quote written about my father. Not only do I enjoy riding with him because he is "a marvelous riding companion and witty conversationalist" (Karen T.), but as Alex P. once wrote,
"He's sneaky, too. The way he rides so casual while outbound in the morning, and then quietly passes you while you're stopped." I decided right then and there that I was going to keep cycling, not stand out like a mop on a bike and that this was going to be my riding technique as well: sneakiness...

All of a sudden, I felt really sneaky and could swiftly (or not) ride by and get ahead of faster riders. My moment of glory was short lived, and maybe I deserved it. It wasn't too long after that my left knee started shooting pain and I had trouble pressing down uphills. And not only did it get much warmer and I had to take off my jacket (and match my Dad) but my famous Dad was showing off by pushing me up the hills as he was riding so we would pass the other riders on the hill.
Needless to say, we got many compliments on our jerseys, and I was going even less unnoticed.

When we reached Montebello, our last climb before lunch, the pain in my knee became acute and I cannot remember a time in my life where pain was so unbearable I had tears streaming down my cheeks. I had to stop until my knee would give me a break as riders passed me and said, "you can do it! You're almost there!" Might as well wear my Marilyn Monroe costume because at that moment, I was pretty sure 498 people had seen me completely fail. The Picchetti winery was much closer than I imagined, and I cannot even believe (nor can I remember how) I made it up there with a combination of walking/ lightly pedaling.

The hot lunch of grilled chicken (served amidst free roaming chickens) was a great treat - I had a hot dog. I dreaded the descent.

When that hot dog was unquestionably finished, I once again made sure everyone still around noticed me... My Dad was already gone before I realized that I did not know how to click into my pedals on a steep slope. Everyone passed me asking if I was ok or if I wanted a ride, and I must have looked exactly like my nephew in this video:

When I finally did make it onto my bike and wore out the brake pads completely, I saw my Dad climbing back up to find me: He had been told that I "was ok" by the descending public.

As much as I enjoyed the 25 km back to Menlo Park, they were much slower than I had anticipated. My knee was reminding me who's boss and I had to stay in small gears and allow each light to turn red on Foothill Boulevard. I like to think I just wanted to spend more time with my Dad.

And maybe that was a good thing, because at another crossing, my father's Apple Europe coworker whom he had not seen in 20 years recognized him and they chatted a minute. If it weren't for my goofy riding, we might never have met him.

Knee problems aside, in my father's own famous words, "best ride ever."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Six Years Later, in my Boxer Briefs

Santa Cruz Randonneurs Skyline 200, August 7, 2010

I already told the story here and won't repeat myself. But I want to point out that when I decided to take "bike riding more seriously" and started riding brevets in 2004, the SCR Skyline 200 was my first official brevet ever! The results from that 2004 edition are still available here; they show that I finished in a time of 9 hours 55 minutes - not too shabby given the challenging route, and given that my lungs were still in slow convalescence then.

Six years later, I came back to this route which has remained one of my favorites. I picked the RUSA jersey for the occasion, both to mark the anniversary of my first RUSA brevet, and to honor the RBA couple consisting of RUSA cofounders and past and present RUSA presidents. What would we do without them? In comparison to 2004, the number of participants had doubled, and my RUSA number was now among the lower numbers whereas it was nearly the highest six years ago - so many new faces! The weather forecast was favorable with mostly cool temperatures and no precipitation - a prediction that didn't quite come true during the first two hours, where the moisture in the air came dangerously close to a fine drizzle. But that's Santa Cruz ...

Given my ambitious plan for the next month (stay tuned!), I had to make this brevet into a hard training session, desperately hoping that this will eventually have some beneficial effect on my "engine." I also looked to it that my stops at the controls were not too lengthy - it's all part of the training for bigger events - although I tried not to make it too obvious that I was going for time. After all, brevet riding is non-competitive. And when other riders passed me effortlessly while I was huffing and puffing at close to my (whatever) threshold, and asked me how it was going, I honestly replied that I was enjoying myself. Too bad I don't have pictures from the great views from the Skyline, both east and west; or from the fast ride back south along the coast!

For a while, the friendly Brian S. kept me company, and we negotiated the traditional postcard control in San Gregorio with the infamous question about the color of the Post Office door together (for one, there are two doors, a green and a brown one; and then, some time during the last years, a rider happened upon this control alone and realized that he couldn't answer the question for reasons of color blindness).

By that time, I also noticed that my hard riding had been successful in making my legs tired, but not so successful in getting me earlier to the finish. I still don't know why.

No matter what, I tried to recall how it all felt six years ago, for comparison. I do believe I can enjoy these rides much more now that I don't have to worry about the distance any more, and that the various sources of possible discomfort on the bike have been mostly eliminated or at least greatly reduced. Another difference is that the perceived distance scale has changed: I never look at a stretch of road as "endless" any more ...

And so I arrived at the backyard finish with the satisfaction you get from a good workout. Life was good in the sun, with salty peanuts and a Pepsi (or was it a Coca Cola?). My finishing time was mysteriously a tad slower than six years ago (the route changed slightly and is probably a little longer now; or the wind was even more favorable along the coast in 2004?); but I signed in among the first half of finishers - good enough for me!

Bill (right) conducting an imaginary symphony at the finish

I had parked the car around the corner and decided to change clothes for the drive home. With traffic, it could take an hour, and I would be more comfortable replacing my sweaty clothes (even without washing myself off) by dry ones; in particular my bike shorts with their accumulated reservoir of Lantiseptic by my clean Boxer Briefs:

(Sadly, the legs are not mine. Don't know whom they belong to)

There was no traffic where the car was parked; and so I set myself up discretely on the passenger seat where I had more leg room, with the bag of dry clothes handy on the driver seat, and proceeded to do my exercise in contortionism which you can visualize if you are so inclined. It all went well - I was back in dress shirt (or close) and boxer briefs, and only needed to pull my pants over the legs and I was done. But - there were no pants in the bag! I had prepared my clothes the evening before, while I still had the pants on me - I would add them later. Well, I must have forgotten. What now? No way I would go through all the exercise again to put my Lantiseptic shorts back on!

And so I drove home in Boxer Briefs. Don't tell anybody. The apprenticeship continues.