Monday, October 31, 2011

Jill Homer Inspired Ride

Last week, I read a post on the Jill Outside blog about her awesome long ride through the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Pescadero coastal area, and Jill's description made me realize that numerous possibilities for this style of riding (a mix of trails and backcountry roads on a mountain bike) is what makes cycling here in the Bay Area so great. For reasons explained in more detail here, I took my 29er hardtail for an outing with a plan of combining rides I have done in the past, with no exact idea on how long or difficult this ride would be.

I started late so I kept my Magicshine light on the handlebars. The first part of the ride was all pavement, although if there were more pro biking officials at San Mateo county offices, it would not have to be:
  • Hallmark to Canada Rd. - could be Sheep Camp Trail, at least there is the paved Ralston bike path
  • Canada to Olive, Greer to Huddart Park - could be on the dirt path paralleling Canada Rd, horses only path alongside Olive and Greer
  • Huddart Park service road to Kings Mountain Rd - plenty of great trails in Huddart leading to the Bay Area Ridge Trail on Skyline, all closed to bikes
  • Kings Mountain Rd to Skyline, on Skyline to Purissima Creek OSP parking lot - paralleled by the BART, thought of riding it but the NO BIKES sign just seemed too ominous
Finally on dirt! At Purissima, I descended the Whittmore Gulch trail, with its nice views of the coast:

Down in the cool redwoods the trail has been smoothed and repaired at spots prone to get muddy.

I left the preserve at the Purissima Road and continued onto Lobitos Creek Cutoff and Tunitas Creek Rd. These are small roads with little traffic winding through some farmland, I guess there isn't much chance for trails around here.
I refilled my Camelbak at the Bike Hut, which I think is a fantastic idea, not just because their honor system is really cool, but also because it makes even roadies to stop for a friendly chat, something of a habit among mountain bikers but a rare occurrence with the Lycra clad crowd.

The fog bank was looming along Highway One and sure thing, once I started climbing up along the coastal cliffs towards Stage Rd, temperature dropped to 60F, visibility turned low, but the cars passing at 70 mph did not seem to care. Luckily there is a wide shoulder here.
From here on, it was Stage Rd down to San Gregorio country store, crossing Hwy 84, up over the ridge and a nice downhill to Pescadero. The temperature dropped again here and there were no cars on this road, just a couple of motorcycles and lots of cows around. I did not stop in Pescadero either, knowing there was water in Memorial Park. I got to the group sites at Memorial Park via the Wurr Road and looked for a water source, since my Camelbak was empty and I had a long climb ahead. It took me a while to locate a working water faucet but the water here was ice cold and fresh.

The next six miles or so on Old Haul Road were fast and totally enjoyable on the big wheel bike, with fast rollers and a little of an incline. I decided against taking the Camp Pomponio trail since it was getting late, and continued to Portola Redwoods State Park, where there is a new bridge in place of the old stream crossing. The park was deserted on late Sunday afternoon as I started the steep climb on the Park road towards Alpine Road. This climb is a grinder but I felt good and alternated between spinning a granny and pedaling standing at the middle chain ring. I reached the upper parts of Alpine Road around the golden hour.

From Alpine road, I took my favorite Ancient Oaks trail at the Russian Ridge preserve to Ridge Trail and after a sweet fast singletrack crossed the Skyline onto Clouds Rest. The dirt trail riding then continued on Alpine trail and ended at the pavement of Alpine Rd. At the bottom of Alpine Road, there was a chance to cross into Windy Hill preserve on some more dirt doubletrack, which I did. Having ridden about 65 miles at this point, I dreaded the flat section through Woodside and Canada Road, but for some reason (could be the tailwind), I spun the pedals almost effortlessly at comfortable 17-18 mph. The sun went down behind the western ridge and I turned my lights on on Canada Rd. Reaching the gate to the Sheep Camp trail, I quickly pulled over, shut the lights off, gulped a gel and rode up the dirt trail towards 280 and the Belmont cross-country course. I did not feel too good about poaching a trail closed to bikes, but this is a gravel service road used by pickup trucks and the only reason why it is closed to bikes is due to the fact that this is a sensitive water management area. No damage done and after the home stretch climb, I felt a little dizzy getting off the bike after 8 hours, 80 miles and 8100 feet of vertical. GPS track here.

Halloween Bike Ride Tribute to Brave and Strong Women

Halloween Bike Ride Tribute to Brave and Strong Women in My Family
In Czech Republic, the last weekend of October, or the first November weekend, are the days to remember our dead. Families get together at cemeteries, since often times, multiple members of one family are buried on the same graveyard. This is also a good time to catch up with your relatives after the visit to the graves, over hot coffee and strudel, on a typically foggy and drizzly autumn day. I remember carving a pumpkin lantern as a kid with my grandfather, but that part of tradition is I believe lost after many years of communist-organized night vigils at fallen Red Army soldier’s monuments, even though these included paper lanterns.
This year’s “Dusicky” weekend was especially hard for me not only for not being able to visit my gone ancestors, but also because I talked briefly to my aunt who is on her deathbed in an oncology hospital in Prague. I felt her suffering but was helpless, so I did what I do when I need to clear my head: go for a long bike ride. During this ride, particularly when riding along the foggy coast between the Tunitas and Pescadero creeks, I kept thinking about women in my family and realized that many of them were / are really strong. But at the same time I thought being strong to endure periods of hardship is one thing, being brave to make life decisions which include totally uncertain future consequences is quite another.
So images of my clan’s women, sometimes quite blurred, floated in my mental vision while I pedaled. In no particular order, I thought of their life stories and realized each of them did some things remarkable, so here is the account:
My grandma Miluše went to live in Paris in the 1930-ies to perfect her French and to have an affair with a Serbian Royal army officer. During the World War II, the night after the Heydrich assassination in Prague, she thought about marking her two little children so that they could be found after the war, in case the Gestapo would take her and her husband. At the end of her days, when her mind and body were betraying her, she kept on soldiering through without a complaint.
My other grandma Ludmila stayed in Prague during the Nazi occupation when other Jews fled, with her husband in a camp and two hungry kids, one sick with TB. She survived the Soviet occupation of 1968, unlike her Holocaust survivor husband, whose heart could not take another loss of freedom. Her many years before she passed away were a pure torture, bedridden in pain, she kept her mind sharp by reading newspaper and sarcastically commenting on the world’s nonsense. Her sister Máña, about whom I actually don’t know that much, raced cars and motorcycles in the 1930-1940-ies, when not that many women would even consider driving.
My auntie Lída shared her life and love with another woman, which must have taken a good deal of courage during those 40 years of communism, when LGBT lifestyles were criminalized. She also showed so much strength in her recent battle with cancer. My mom Hana decided to join the Prague Spring movement in 1968, not as an idealistic teenager, but a young, married woman with two kids. She ended up bearing the consequences of her decision for the next twenty years when her career was limited and she had to face daily repressions of the regime. Today, she is not afraid to hike the Alps with thirty year olds and learn computer skills. My sister Tamara was brave to ditch her stable but boring job, she quit teaching others how to design things and instead went ahead and started her own design studio, while raising two teenage daughters on her own. My wife Markéta is strong to run and finish marathons. Mostly, she was brave to have left all her previous life behind and move to a foreign country with me, and brave to having embarked on a long and uncertain path to becoming a psychologist, after more than twenty years of not enjoying life sciences so much.
So I am not exactly sure why none of my male ancestors or relatives made the picture on the Halloween ride yesterday (they certainly deserve it), but there you go girls: you make the rockin’ world go round.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Low Key Hill Climb No.1 and an Introduction to Coe

The first in the nine-week long series of Low Key Hill Climbs took place Saturday at Montebello Rd. This used to be my after work road ride to a nice vista point with great views of the Silicon Valley. I tested my climbing legs last weekend on Kings Mountain Rd, OLH and Crestview in one ride and felt good. But this ride did not go well for me and I struggled for the first half of the climb and was able to catch my breath on the second half but just barely. I "improved" my 2009 time by 3 sec to a miserable 39:56. But the scenery and the view from the top was as nice as ever.

On Sunday, I finally got myself to make the long(ish) drive to the Henry Coe State Park. I have been thinking about riding at this park the whole summer long, but a lack of companion for this remote place, weather being too warm etc. were among the reasons why this ride always got postponed. With weather forecast threatening rain this week and also reading on about several people's crazy idea of riding 140 miles and 29K vertical at Coe pushed me to venture there. I decided to ride just a basic, introductory loop from the park headquarters, starting on a nicely flowing singletrack (Frog flat) to a fireroad climb to Frog Lake, then taking Middle Ridge downhill to China Hole. The downhill trail could be fun if it was not for my first cautious time there, I was on my brakes most of the time in order to avoid surprises at switchbacks. The trail surface was pretty loose and I fought for traction at places, probably due to too much tire pressure as well as my rear Nobby Nic due for replacement. It was obvious that this trail was not a purpose-built MTB trail, rather a typical trail used by horses with a V-shaped trough, as well as of-camber turns.
The dry river at the bottom of the canyon was interesting, but the hike a bike section on Creekside Trail to China Hole less so.

At China Hole, I met a chatty backpacker, who was trekking the park on a three day trip and was probably sick of being alone at this remote place. He also told me about meeting the group of six ultra-endurance riders attempting the Coe Everest Challenge.

The climb back to my car on China Hole Trail was nice, very sunny but with a nice breeze coming from the west, and very nice views of the ridges around.
So as a first glimpse of what Coe has to offer, this 13.7mi ride was perfect. I will be coming for more of Coe, since it will stay open for 2013 and hopefully beyond.