Wednesday, November 6, 2019

A Cycle of Hope in the Bay Area

This is where the kid-writing-from-summer-camp "Sorry I haven't written" is supposed to go and I'll do my best writing that bit by saying the three terrible words I've Been Busy.  I really don't have a whole lot of words to add to that - and words have been failing me a lot lately. I've had an unusually large amount of writing - or as it is passionlessly called "content creation" - and that has sapped a lot of strength. I also came to terms with the fact that I couldn't get enough people together to pull of Cranksgiving San Jose this year** which contributed to the relative gloom. So I'll just fall back on the standby line, I've Been Busy, move on, and write about a ride I just did to try to find my footing again.

As I've written about before, there's a big connection between bikes and housing: the more we use the former, the easier it would be to build the latter. Parking minimums cost money and empty cars take up valuable space, and without #SB50 in California, apartment projects can be denied or NIMBYed to death. Also there's the whole cars-are-killing-the-planet thing too.

Habitat for Humanity East Bay/Silicon Valley landed on the idea to use a bike ride to raise funds for their efforts to build affordable housing. Last year was their first one which I did not get to attend. This year, I was keen on the idea, but since I've Been Busy and everything I was working on was shape-shifting mass of timesinks I wasn't sure I'd be able to do the ride - or even if I wanted to: I've been taking fewer rides than I'd like since I've Been Busy and, as shown with my failure to put together Cranksgiving this year, haven't felt connected with the cycling community lately.

But just as my much loved and forever-to-be-remembered ride up to Lick Observatory was born from a crummy mood I figured an organized ride - that had other people and everything - might do me some good. I signed up for the Habitat for Humanity Cycle of Hope ride four days before the event and decided to do the Metric Century - or 62 mile - course. 

I flung the link to the fundraising page on my Twitter and Facebook page like a spaghetti strand to a refrigerator and didn't bother to see if it would stick. I would have written a passionate blog post about it to try to ask for donations but, as I said, I've Been Busy.

I rode home from work several days in a row (about 11 miles each time - often the most biking per week I ever get to do) and used the cargo bike to do Saturday errands. Hoping I was in the right shape, I filled my Camelbak and - after the Expired Kirkland Protein Bar Debacle associated with my Lick Observatory ride - I set the stage for a new debacle by only packing three individually-wrapped waffles about the size of coasters - only crunchier. 

And early on Sunday morning, feeling groggy because of wretched sleep the night before, I drove to Palo Alto, picked up my registration packet - some cool stuff was in there - and  made it to the start line with ten minutes to spare before we were off. 

Even though I brought a serious* road bike with me - one that I made over the Spring but didn't tell you about because I've Been Busy - I wasn't sure how well it or I would do. As you all know, most people ride faster than me and I'm fine with it. I did keep up with most of the group for a while cruising through the streets of Palo Alto.

The ride was well marked thanks to a little company called which has been - and this is from their website - "enhancing the quality of cycling and running events since 2007." If you've been to a cycling or running event over the last decade you've probably seen sticky arrows attached to asphalt. These arrows were color coded because there were routes of different lengths. And I didn't get lost once. Getting lost in a professional cycling event isn't ideal, and not getting lost enhances my cycling experience - so RouteArrows did some outstanding work that day.

And a hat tip to the volunteers who put up the arrows, too. Usually, at just about every intersection there was a turn, there would be a political campaign-style sign, Route Arrows on the pavement, then another political campaign-style sign. If it was a more complicated intersection there were extra Route Arrows to go around or a volunteer with a flag.

I followed the Route Arrows and after going about ten-twelve miles or so we ended up in the Forest Moon of Endor phase. 

At times the roads were uncomfortably narrow in this stretch and at one point I was shocked by a woman driving huge, white Cadillac Escalade. Here's what happened: she came up behind a group of three or four of us, did not use her horn, and hung back. She slowly drove this living room-sized behemoth while following us, and she waited patiently for room to pass. When she got it, she gently accelerated and passed our group with more than 3' to spare.

If you have to drive, please drive like her.

But back to the ride. The Cycle of Hope people were thoughtful enough to share the route map before the ride but that didn't matter to me for the simple reason I didn't read it. If I had, I would have noticed there was about 5,500 feet of elevation gain (about 1,000 fewer feet that riding all the way to Lick Observatory).

The ride also had stations to stop and get water and food. This one came after some climbing - and if I had known there was a lot more climbing to follow I would have eaten more food and listened to the Aloha Ukelele Squad longer. 

I also would have had more of the food at the first couple of rest areas before continuing on. The first one had these little cups of trail mix, and I was so pumped to keep going on the ride I actually pedaled carrying one. A few bumps left a trail of the trail mix behind me...hence the name, I assume.

In the Endor Stage, the trees were beautiful along the switchbacks but for the most part they were blocking my view of anything that would have given me a frame of reference in terms of distance. With Lick Observatory you could actually track your passage up and think "ten miles to go from here, I can do that" or the like...but you'd have to make time to look at a map. I didn't before Cycle of Hope because I've Been Busy so after a while each mile uphill felt like ten. 

To make matters worse, the serious* road bike I made - which has a triple chainring up front - would ignore the tiny 'granny gear' at very random and extremely inconvenient times. I sighed. Ever since building my first mountain bike eight years ago, properly installing a front derailleur has always been my weak spot. 

Before long, nerves in my legs began hitting me with intermittent pain - like each one was being plucked like a guitar string. Even when my bike would get me to the tiny ring, I felt like the essence of my body was sitting in a La-Z-Boy reading a newspaper and would occasionally look over the corner of the page at me with a disapproving expression.

From time to time I was able to take my mind off the pain I was in by taking in a view once one was available.

As with Lick Observatory, I don't mind being passed by faster cyclists since it makes my photos more interesting. 

Even with the stunning view of Silicon Valley I was not doing well until I hit another rest area. This time, I ate food. None of what you see on this table, but I ate the Clif bars and bananas on the other side of the table.

I also refilled my fast-emptying Camelbak with electrolyte water - not in the mood to care about potentially ruining it by filling it with such a concoction - and slowly began to pedal again. The serious* road bike I built never felt heavier. 

But then - a miracle. 

I followed the Route Arrows and suddenly began descending Highway 9 - which felt as though it had been given new pavement the previous afternoon. The serious* bike, which had less than 325 miles on it, came to life - and some of that life came to me in kind. I passed 40 miles an hour at least once as I swooped down the hill and back into the valley. Miles fell. 

As you know from the Lick Observatory ride I did in April, I've begun using Strava - if for no other reason it helps me later remember what hills I was on, which ones were an incredible challenge, and which were a joy to descend - here's an actual screenshot of my ride that day:

After several miles of this bliss, I had to follow the Route Arrows - and a volunteer waving a flag - through yet another beautiful neighborhood with houses few humans can afford. Still, the odometer on my serious* bike told me I had only 16 miles left to go. 

I pedaled as steadily as I could. Back in the populated areas I began stopping and riding beside other cyclists as we were waiting for traffic lights. My legs hurt but it wasn't catastrophic. Simple conversations were struck at red lights. The serious* bike got me a few questions. A drained CamelBak was refilled a third time (even though it is November things are a little hotter in the Bay Area compared to the way it is back east)

Eventually, I rolled back to the starting point and someone on a loudspeaker welcomed me back as "Rider 391!" and I was met with scattered applause...and a medal! I actually got a medal similar to the kind I get when I do the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event in Santana Row. Only there they have a volunteer put the medal on you as you pass through the finishing point. Me, I was so exhausted I misjudged the height and swiftly banged the medal on my nose trying to put it on myself - my only injury besides my tuning-fork legs. 

Moving slowly but with effort, I checked in to say hi to a friend at Cycle California magazine - who was completely understanding as to why I wasn't doing Cranksgiving San Jose this year but he said he wanted to help out next time. And I met the owner - or the new owner, I should say - of Tonik Cycling - a brand of cycling clothes for women. I took a picture to remember the name and I hope you do too, because it has a cool story behind it

Even though I nearly needed a spotter to get the bike back into the car, I decided I was very, very happy I had done the ride. On the drive home I vowed that there would be a next time and began to think being Busy was a state of mind instead of an absolute. There would be more group rides. There would be more meetings with interesting people where plans would form and friendships would be made. I also started to plan ahead for a new year's resolution. In 2019 I gave up French fries, in 2020 I'm going to give up being Busy. Sure, I'll have work to do, errands to run, grown-up stuff to deal with, but I'm not going to say I've been Busy. Time, like a bicycle, is something that can be made - and I'm going to commit to having more of both - if for no other reason it is good for me.

I hope you join me in that commitment - failing that you make a donation to Habitat for Humanity East Bay Silicon Valley - and not to my page, either. We need affordable housing here and we should support the causes and entities that build them. Sorry I haven't written but I'll be writing more. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

*with an asterisk. 

**I strongly encourage anyone reading this to #ChooseYourOwnCranksgiving and ride, volunteer, or find another way to give to worthy causes this season. I'll write about this more soon.  In the meantime the hours of the Second Harvest of Silicon Valley at 750 Curtner Avenue in San Jose) on Saturday, November 16th is 8am to 4pm and on Nov. 23 from 8am to 7pm. If you have a bike and can ride it safely, please ride there with some food and bring friends with you!


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