Thursday, December 27, 2007


Just like at Thanksgiving, we decided to go to Porterville to spend our Christmas holiday with relatives. My mother is visiting us, and both Vaishali and I have the whole week off. My original plan was to bicycle the full distance from there back to our house. This 240 mile trip would have taken two days, with an overnight stay at a motel near the halfway point.

However, this plan was put in jeopardy Sunday evening before we left for Porterville. Somehow, while walking down our staircase, I slipped or tripped and fell. I really do not remember how it happened because it took me by surprise. The bad part of it was that my big left toe got bent downward and caused a sprain. My foot started swelling at the big toe knuckle after an hour.

I was so disappointed. I had spent several days researching the bike route and planning all the preparations. Now it looked unlikely that I could do it. But there was a possibility that the sprain was not serious and the trip could still be done. We would only know by resting the foot a couple days and seeing if the swelling goes down. We left the next morning (Monday) and I took the bicycle and all the necessary gear.

We drove on the route that I planned to come back on. This was the first time that I had been on state routes 25 and 198. Route 25 could be described as a perfect road for cycling. It is fairly remote (starting at Hollister, but going through no significant cities after that), has almost no traffic, has beautiful scenery, and has many hills (none steep).

Route 198 was scenic, but it did not seem like an ideal bicycle road. The traffic was not too light, and it was relatively fast. After reaching Coalinga, there was 85 more miles to Porterville. Driving that section of the route made me decide that I probably should not bother to cycle on it.

This part of the route is totally flat and not particularly scenic. It is all farm fields, dairies, and feedlots. The latter two made sure that there was a strong smell most of the way. The road condition was not good either. Much of the way had rough road edges and no shoulder. Plus the traffic kept fast speeds.

Upon reaching Porterville, my decision (assuming my foot would have healed) was to just start at Coalinga and go as far as daylight permitted, hopefully as far as Hollister (100 miles). I rested and stayed off my foot as much as I could for most of the visit. I investigated the route online and found I could skip route 198 by taking Coalinga Road, which is much smaller and should have little or no traffic.

On Wednesday, I decided I would try getting on the bicycle to see how my foot responded. The swelling had been gradually decreasing, but I still could not move my big toe up or down without pain. I did a very short ride and found that I had no discomfort in the foot. In the normal pedaling motion, the toes are almost not used. The pedal is attached to the shoe at the ball of the foot.

Later that day, Vaishali drove me into the hills (the route of my last ride in Porterville) so I could see if more strenuous riding would be a problem. I had no problems with a one mile flat section nor with a one mile steep section. However, the weather kept me from doing any more than that. There was fog and a drizzle in the hills. Later that day, my foot showed no ill effects, so I decided that I could do the ride back home.

We left at 8:30 on Thursday, which was much later than I had wanted, because it took some time for everyone to get ready and packed. By the time we got to Coalinga and I was able to start riding, it was 10:00.

Although the first few miles were totally flat, I had to fight a vicious headwind. It took quite a lot of effort for me to reach 10 mph (normally this is slow and effortless). The wind reduced by the time I reached the hills, but it was still there. The ascent was gradual, with very few steep sections.

Almost immediately, it was clear that taking this road was a good idea. The road had two wide lanes and a smooth surface. Plus it was scenic throughout. Vaishali and Mom waited in Coalinga for an hour and then met me along the way. I had eaten an orange while I pedaled and they refilled my water.

There had been signs for a county park further down the road, so I decided that I would take a longer break there. They waited on the side of the road while I continued on. They overtook me just before the park and pulled into a campground that they mistook for the park. I was slowing down to pull up to them when I saw a pack of small dogs run up. Not knowing if they were friendly pets or aggressive strays, I decided not to stop but to continue down the road. The dogs decided to chase me, with the biggest one coming up beside me and then running in front.

As they quit chasing me, I came upon the actual park. We rendezvoused again there. Here I ate a peanut butter jelly sandwich. We all used the restroom because we knew that there were few others (if any) on the rest of the route. I continued on while my support crew had a good place to sit and read.

The only other dogs I encountered were on chains or behind fences. The other wildlife I saw (ignoring the many deer and squirrels) were a bobcat, roadrunner, and a golden eagle. At the summit (2900 feet) the road crossed the county border and the condition changed. It was no longer smooth and wide. But it still was in good enough condition for easy biking, given that there was little traffic.

After one and a half hours of pedaling, the support crew reached me again and I stopped to eat lunch. We had brought tamarind rice with us and I ate a lot of that. As I rested, I took off my shoe to see how my foot looked. It did not give me any discomfort at all, so I expected it to look fine. In fact, it had very little swelling. The air was so cold that my toes had gone numb and had the same effect of holding an ice pack on my foot.

Again I continued while Vaishali and Mom waited where they were. I expected to reach route 25 within 45 minutes from that point, but it took longer because there several uphill sections. The crew care passed me and stopped again, but I told them that I did not want to stop and lose body heat before the upcoming downhill sections.

I reached route 25 much later in the day than I had planned. I clearly did not have enough time to reach Hollister before it got dark. I decided I would just continue on as far as I could go. The car passed me again and stopped just before 4:00. I asked them to give me just 30-40 minutes more, since it would be dark by 5:00.

They reached me for the final time at 4:40. I figured that I should just stop now since they were here and I would not get much further in the remaining 20 minutes. I loaded the bicycle onto the car and we headed home. It turned out that I was just a two mile downhill section away from the Pinnacles park entrance. I had gone 62 miles in over six and a half hours.

I was disappointed that I did not go as far as I had planned. But I would still consider the ride a success because I discovered a new bicycle route that was absolutely beautiful. I can reattempt the ride in the summer when I have much more daylight.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Old La Honda

I came into this weekend with no specific bicycling plans. It had been a while since I did a long ride (60 miles or more), but I did not think I had enough time to do one. Plus I wanted to do some yardwork at home and we have limited daylight this time of year.

I decided to just do a medium length ride. I did a loop from home, up Old La Honda Road and then back. I have done Old La Honda before, but had never timed myself on that particular stretch. I decided that I should do that this time. The 3.3 mile, moderately steep road is a benchmark measure for local cyclists.

Bay Area cyclist measure their time on this road and use it to determine what level of cyclist they are. In the 2006 Low-Key Hillclimb series, the median time was 20:24, with the fastest time being 16:33. You have to be a very strong bicyclist to do it in the former time, while the latter time is in the realm of actual racers.

I measured myself at just under 30 minutes, which is about where I would have expected. I need to seriously improve my conditioning to come close to the Low-Key median time. Maybe that will be one of my goals for next year.

My whole ride ended up being 42 miles, and I did it in just under 3 hours. This falls into my "moderate" length category.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Montebello Biking and Wine Tasting

I had no route planned for my weekend ride. Earlier in the week, I got in touch with Paul, my former co-worker at Rearden. I had not talked to him for a few months. He suggested we meet again at Ridge Winery on Saturday for some wine tasting. Ridge is on Montebello Road — one of my favorite roads to bicycle on.

I first rode on Montebello Road last summer, and have ridden it many times since then. The road is fairly steep and medium distance. There are wineries at both the bottom and top of the hill. The first time I rode there, I thought it was peculiar that the winery at the top was fairly big yet nondescript. It did nothing to advertise itself.

The Santa Cruz Mountains are not a significant wine growing area like Napa or Sonoma counties. I assumed that the wineries here are small, insignificant operations. I found out later that this is true for most of the wineries, but definitely not true for the one at the top of Montebello Road.

Ridge Winery is actually a famous and historically important one. It was one of the participants in the 1976 "Judgement of Paris" wine tasting that established California wines as world-class. To this day, Ridge produces highly regarded wines. They grow grapes in different vineyards across California, but their premium wines come from their Montebello vineyard.

I had planned to meet Paul at 1:00pm, so I decided to ride the hill in the morning. The days have been getting colder, and this is the coldest ride I have done this season. I was generating plenty of heat pedaling uphill, so I did not feel cold. But I could tell that the air at the top was much colder than it was at the base.

I really felt the cold coming back down. It was warmer and sunny at the bottom, so I warmed up on the flat stretch back home, but I was still feeling chilled when I got back to the house. I had enough time to shower and eat lunch before heading right back (by car this time) to the top of Montebello.

The wines were excellent. I bought a couple bottles (their cheaper stuff).