Sunday, June 29, 2014

East Bay Furnace

People often say that the Bay Area has an amazing variety of micro-climates. While largely true, the summer weather patterns can be divided into two simple categories: sunny and warm or foggy and cold. Depending on where you are, the ratio of these two weathers changes, sometimes dramatically within a few miles.
We always liked South Bay, because it is mostly sunny, the ocean layer is kept away by the tall Skyline ridge, and if some clouds spill into the valley, sun will burn it off by 11AM. When we lived in San Carlos, just south of 92, and I worked in South San Francisco, I had to deal with the worst weather a bicyclist (or a runner) who works regular hours can imagine. Foggy and cold in the morning. I tried to go running at the Belmont XC course, but quickly got tired by the damp cold mornings with no visibility. Bike commuting to the South City was challenging, too: the sunny hours of the day were spent inside the building and as soon as the fog started to blow down the hill in San Bruno, I climbed up steep hill with freezing wind trying to flush me back down to the valley. At least, the ride was downwind along the Skyline.

I used to ignore the East Bay somewhat (except for road rides to Mt. Hamilton or Mt. Diablo), I never paid much attention to the weather patterns there. Being in Pleasanton now for close to 6 weeks, I realized that even here, there can be a strong daily pattern: The Pleasanton ridge is a barrier to the fog, keeping the town of Pleasanton sunny, but pleasantly cool overnight. The I-580 gap lets lots of fog in and San Ramon and Mt. Diablo are often under a thick marine layer. When this pattern is strong, it is comfortable in town while the ridge is very windy and cold. This was the case for a trail run two weeks ago, when the cold wind forced us to wear headbands and vests.

But in many protected valleys, it was hot, combined with the very steep terrain, it was difficult to stay cool.
 Last Thursday, I rode after work up Pleasanton ridge, starting on the Foothill Rd and climbing up the Golden Eagle Rd to the Augustin Bernal Park. Once on the ridgeline trail, there was a nice breeze. As I progressed north, the breeze became a howling cold wind. Even the sheep seemed cold, despite their thick wool coats. By the time I reached the northern end of the North Ridge Trail, I was quite cold. Jumping three gates and trespassing on some private land kept my adrenaline high enough not to notice (I was trying to find a connector to trails at the Preserve).

Saturday forecast called for increasing temperatures, reaching 97 on Sunday and 99 by Monday, meaning the onshore flow was weakening. I picked the cooler of the two weekend day for a run at the Sunol Regional Wilderness.  This is a beautiful park, with quite diverse areas. The canyon is shaded by trees, and there is even a rocky gorge aptly named Little Yosemite.

 I don't know how little water flows in the Yosemite Falls this summer, but Little Yosemite had little of it. There were some kids splashing in a pool upstream, and enough water to pour on my head and back to cool of.

A 1.7 mile steep climb on Cerro Este was next. First I tried jogging, then fast walking but soon, I was walking and slowly. The grade was super steep and surface loose. This trail is open to bikes but I did not see any. No wonder, I think it would be very difficult to maintain traction uphill or downhill, even on a 29er. Trails like this could be perhaps ridden on a fat bike, if one had the strength to pedal the 35 lb beast up 20% grades. 

 After reaching a high point on Cerro Este, where a trail splits and continues towards the Ohlone Wilderness and eventually to Del Valle Lake, I ran along the ridge with some interesting rock formations.

 The final leg downhill along the Indian Joe Creek was lovely - next time I have to try this loop clockwise.
Feeling quite wiped out and dehydrated after Saturday slog, Sunday was supposed to be a recovery day. I guess I feel well enough these days as to chose an active recovery method. I went to explore Pleasanton neighborhoods and bike paths. By the time I left the house, it was 97F and no wind.
We have crushed gravel paths along the irrigation canals here, one of them, Arroyo Mocho right behind our house. This one connects to the Centennial Trail and Arroyo Del Valle. Close to downtown, the Pleasanton town bike path even becomes a rocky singletrack with few switchbacks!

When the bike path ended, I continued on Vineyard Avenue towards Livermore, along some vast vineyards and quite a few opulent wineries. Right after crossing 84, I picked up Arroyo Del Valle regional trail again, which goes through some interesting old ranch lands and eventually spits you out right across the huge Wente Winery. Just 0.2 mile up the road is a trailhead and parking lot for northern access to the Del Valle park. The fire road on photo below looks quite benign, but it steep, I swear. I was hot, tired, my corneas and nasal mucosa seared by the dry air. My computer showed 15 miles and it was another 5.8 miles to the nearest shore of Del Valle lake, so I turned around.

 After 30 hot, dusty miles, I did not regret not going for a swim in Del Valle lake, since our pool is nice, and has the advantage of a freezing cold Pilsner being just 2 minutes away.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


I started mountain biking when I was 38 years old. Mountain biking was really the first aerobically challenging sport I have ever done. After a few years of recreational rides with friends in Connecticut, I met John who really made me take biking more seriously. I started road riding for fitness and discovered that road bike trips were the perfect way to get to know the area where we lived. Biking also led to running, again mainly to improve my aerobic fitness. I have never trained systematically or followed any structured training plan. By just riding longer, moving to California where the hills are big and climbs long, I just somehow ended up in decent shape. Multi day bike races, 100+ mile hilly bike rides and whole day dirt / road excursions filled my weekends and vacations. It all seemed very easy and natural to do. The in-between-jobs period in 2012 helped me to be able to ride with John for 6 out of 8 days over brutal hills of Southern California on a loaded bike. I lost him after a mechanical, but I was toast anyways.
Over the years, I also met quite a few guys about my age who always said "I used to ride centuries..." or "When I raced bikes..." I thought, why would anybody talk about the past? Just hop on your bike and ride!
During these "peak years", it never occurred to me to worry about injuries. I crashed a few times, had some overuse issues (tendonitis) and of course, lots of cramps, soreness and fatigue. What I also did not think about is how my inherited body composition and biomechanics, plus sports that really mostly work out your legs, may affect the rest of the body. As a kid, I was always a chubby boy, hated soccer and all sports that involved running. I also had weak arms and equally hated push ups and rope climbing. High school and college years were spent mainly in beer pubs, smoking. Next ten years of asthma did not encouraged me to use my lungs much in activities that actually require it. Despite getting fit in my forties, I think that some genetic factors (predisposition to spine problems, arthritis, bone loss) combined with neglecting my upper body strength eventually led to the recent episode of herniated cervical discs and damage of nerve roots that inervate the right shoulder and arm. I could speculate whether my active 40-ies had delayed what was inevitable or whether the muscle imbalance accelerated what could have happened ten years later. It really does not matter. The lesson I learned is that one has to pay attention to one's overall wellness.

My physical therapy continues to restore some strength in the affected limb, the neuropathic pain is gone. I realized how pathetically weak my arms are, not just the "big" muscles, even the rotator cuffs which are 100% endurance muscles. Exercising the arms, shoulders and back muscles will be a routine from now on.
I ran a 7-mile trail run and a 6-mile street jog recently. The past weekend, I hit my favorite trails along the Skyline ridge on my Mojo. The Mojo (despite its miniature, today almost comically looking 26" wheels) equipped with a 70mm Thomson stem and 740mm wide Ibis carbon bars is now a switchback slayer. It also climbs lot better with none of the front wheel wandering on steep inclines. Next came a shorter stem on the 29er (it already had the super wide bars).

So what's next? I have plans for a touring setup on the 29er as well as the fatty (if snow ever returns to California). I probably won't be able to ride a road bike with low drop bars due to the neck spine strain, but that's perfectly OK. Long road trips can be done on a touring bike. Whatever type of biking I do, it will have to be a part of a sustainable, holistic (I really dislike that word) and happiness inducing self-care.
It is also the time to pass the baton to the younger generation - I am extremely proud of my son Jiri, who not only chose a bike as a graduation gift, but also rides it often and seems to be falling for the sport. All this despite me taking him on rocky trails in CT, where he endoed and knocked the wind out of him, made him push a mountain bike up steep trails on Mount Desert Island in a 95 degree heat and even tried to explain that riding up Haleakala is the best way of spending a day on Maui.

Is bike color choice genetic too?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Small Victories

The reason why I haven't posted anything here in almost a month is that I really did not want to whine online about my condition. I did enough real whining. Those three weeks since April 28 were filled with reasons to whine: besides the constant neuropathic pain, there were pain medications that did not work, multiple medical tests and procedures accompanied with steep hospital bills, lack of sleep, simply a pure misery. There were positives, too: a chiropractor recommended Swedish made inflatable cervical traction device (which would make Austin Powers proud) worked and brought temporary relief, and eventually the epidural injections worked.
Some nerve path through my shoulder and right arm lost the ability to transfer information, so even after the pain went from 11 to 3 on the scale of 1-10, things like lifting a cup or spoon with soup, moving a mouse etc. all of a sudden were not quite possible. Every hour of physical therapy made me a ball of twitching nerves, covered with ice packs. The best was when I put a lid on a cup of coffee in the morning at work with my bad hand (or so I thought) and splashed myself with coffee chin to waist just before an important meeting! Nerve impingement also results in muscle atrophy, so my right arm looks like a stick covered in wrinkled skin (remember Fat Bastard after he lost weight?), whereas my belly fat layers thickened (who knew that sweets help to deal with pain?).

But slowly, things started to improve. I walked to work and home (even a few minutes behind the wheel brought the symptoms back), then I rode the fat bike to work (1.6 miles each way!) - although carrying a backpack even for 15 minutes turned out to be an ordeal. On May 30, I rode to work not to miss the bike to work month, at least symbolically. Then I ran 2.5 miles on steep hills in 95F weather - no extra pain caused by running! Yesterday, I took a 3 mile detour along the Arroyo Mocho path on the way to work and almost forgot about the whole painful deal.
It will probably take a few more months, but I am getting the bikes ready for longer rides. I am very lucky to live in a place with endless summer.