Friday, May 15, 2009

BTAFWD

Okay, this blog post is way too long. But it was an epic day, so forgive me.

Introduction

Yesterday was Bike to Work Day. Sure, San Francisco Bike Coalition does a fantastic job of supporting riding to work in the City, while down south, the "Energizer Stations" set up by the Silicon Valley Bike Coalition are also fantastic. For many, just getting on the bike and riding those few miles or even one mile to work that would normally be driven is a big challenge. Hopefully for a number of these people 14 May was a stepping stone, a push over the activation barrier to more regular bike commuting. There's plenty of reasons biking to work is considered impractical. But if one's looking for reasons to drive one can typically find them, while if one's decided driving just an acceptable option for any of a large number of good reasons there is a way. If you've got a hammer, you tend to see a lot of nails.

My normal modus commutus is to take my bike on Caltrain. Indeed, on Wed I seem to have left my Bont cycling shoes on the train, a very expensive mistake. But while the bike-train combo is an excellent one I want to encourage more people to try and use, it's not "Take your Bike on the Train Day!" There's plenty of reasons I need to take the train and can't ride in. But when Bike to Work Day comes, I ride in anyway and make it work.

The past few years, the Google SF2G has taken bike commuting to another level. Plenty of the Google employee base, wanting the lifestyle of San Francisco while working at the Mountain View company, prefer to do it carless. The train and the famously wired Google shuttle are excellent options. But at least occasionally, there's a surprising number who ride their bikes. And what a ride! Around 45 miles one-way. The web site has route details, with planning done via their Google forum.

Of the three "standard" routes, by far my favorite is the Skyline route. A lot of climbing, sure, but more scenic, less stopping, and fewer cars. There was a big turn-out for their "BayWay" commute yesterday morning, leaving from Ritual Roaster's on Valencia at 6:05 am. But a relatively hard-core seven of us were at the start @ Peet's Coffee at Fell and Broderick for Skyline.

Southbound

We left at 6:35. As soon as we entered the nearby Panhandle, the leaders surged, and I was gapped, rejoing the lead group when we sloed to enter Golden Gate Park. Then we crossed the park along its major axis. No traffic issues in the early morning. (Why is car traffic even allowed in the park? Another matter...) Again I was gapped on the rough roads. Soon we were on Great Highway, another regroup, where a brief ride up the coast under the hovering haze fortold the conditions on the climb of Skyline which followed.

The climb began, and we were soon enshrouded in the morning mist. I climbed at a steady pace, well dressed for these anticipated conditions, not too cold but wanting to keep active. The first regroup on the climb was supposed to be after "the third hill". On the rolling climb, it was difficult to count "hills", as anyone who's tried to count the "Seven Sisters" of Ridgecrest Blvd on Mt Tam can attest. The misIntroductiont began to solidify, but it still wasn't too wet. I wanted to keep going, not risk chilling by the road-side (memories of hypothermia in Marin two weeks ago).

Eventually my sphere of visibility revealed 280 with its huge volume of commuter traffic. Was today Drive-to-Work-Day? Every day is. What if cars were banned from 280 for Bike to Work day? That would put some teeth into it, give it more meaning. In any case, I'd missed the turn to San Andreas Trail the others were taking to bypass 280. I continued on anyway. Bikes are allowed on the 280 shoulder for two brief segments. It feels safe, far safer than riding across a typical parking lot, for example. The cars are out there, I'm over here. Drivers face a larger speed differential versus oncoming traffic on a typical undivided highway like 35, with consequences just as potentially fatal.

My goal was the store at Skyline and Hillcrest, where I wanted food. Soon I arrived, and bought a banana. As I left, I saw a rider, not in our group, pass by. I realized I wasn't sure if the crew had passed while I was inside. I decided to just continue on.

After some brief confusion about route, I took Hillcrest under the highway, then instead of passing by the gate marking the Sawyer Camp trail, I took the 280 shoulder again, the southernmost of the two bikeable segments. The exit ramp, of greater concern than the highway itself, took me to Truesdale, which I rode under the highway. Then a quick right on Skyline to continue southward.

About this time I emerged from the mist into glorious morning sunshine. What was mist was now overhead clouds, clouds which would later reflect on the water of the Crystal Springs Reservoir as it came into view. I was by now well into the second half of my ride, and what a wonderful finish to a commute. As I rode south on Canada Road, riders going northward waived. James Conway, in charge of the e-beam lithography system at Stanford, waived from his car as he passed. Through Woodside, passing the creeping traffic on Sand Hill, then check-in at the Energizer Station on Palm Drive. Miles? 45. They were impressed, those those signing in ahead of me more typically 3, 4, 7....

Honestly, work is a bit of a downer after such a wonderful beginning to the day. And it wasn't bad time, either: I pulled into my office at 9:10 am, not when I want to begin my work day every day, but definitely doable.

Northbound

A productive 7.5 hours, it was time to head back. I was concerned about the headwind which had been reported to be strong recently for G2SFers. To keep in the shelter of the Emerald Hills, I rode Alameda de Las Pulgas to Jefferson instead of the more canonical Whiskey Hill-84-Canada. Jefferson is a solid ten-minute sustained climb, but the route only adds around 100 climbing feet to the longer Whiskey Hill route, focusing the climbing more than adding to it.

After descending Jefferson to Canada, I got my first real taste of the wind. A stiff headwind all the way north to 92. In the distance, clouds obscured the top of the mountains, a hint of what would come. It wasn't too bad, however: I was able to sustain 15 mph without too much trouble.

Back on Skyline, I began the long slog up to Golf Course Road. Here I was mostly sheltered from the earlier wind, so climbed without problem. Golf course took me back to Skyline, where now at the crest of this particular hill I got hit with the wind again. A stop at the Hillcrest store was mandatory!

Again after taking the 280 shoulder I arrived at the store, where I got a Gatorade. A 20 oz Gatorade does wonders for flagging reserves, I find, and my today's experience supported this observation. However, the more telling issue was the mist.... it was blowing over the hill in huge clumps. I put on my vest and long fingered gloves before continuing.

After another 280 shoulder, I exited @ 35 and crossed 280 for the final time. The Eucalytus were creaking in the gusting wind, bringing memories of Dan Plummer. The fog thickened, requiring periodic "windshield-wiper" action with my gloves to clear my glasses. When I reached Hickey, conditions were approaching epic.

Onward I climbed into the mist. The wind was sometimes from the head, but more often a cross or tail-cross depending on the local topography and orientation. Light clumpy rain would periodically fall, then seconds later the sky would brighten and the roads would be dry. Then the rain would begin again.

My main concern was the Hwy 1 interchange. My fiend John Murphy prefers to bypass this on local roads, but I'm too impatient. There's four hazards at this interchange: two entry ramps and two exit ramps. When the fog's really bad, these can be treacherous. But today I was lucky -- it happened to be clear enough to check for conflicting traffic when I reached the interchange. As I crossed, I passed another rider, the first I'd seen on this road. It was good to see I wasn't the only one crazy enough to be up here this evening. I think he felt the same about me.

Hwy 1 basically marks the top of the hill. Soon I reached Westmoor, which is my favorite way down (via Eastmoor) if I'm crossing San Bruno Mountain on Guadalupe Canyon Road Alternately, you can descend and ride back to the City on Mission. During low traffic periods, this works well, but during what was still the tail end of an evening commute I preferred to stick to Skyline. I knew I'd be out of the mist soon.

The descent was surreal through the mist. By the time I reached John Muir, the southern boundary of Lake Merced, visdibility had substantially improved, but not as much as I'd expected. Still, I'd survived. I passed Great Highway, then reached Sloat, a rough road which climbs to Portola. Once again the fog thickened, but not anywhere close to what it had been. Portola is another long climb, gaining most of the altitude of the Twin Peaks to which it leads. Often when doing this route I detour for a quick frisky climb of super-scenic Twin Peaks Road. Not today: it was getting late, 7:07 pm when I checked my watch. So I continued to Clipper. Now I was deep into the end game.

Clipper is said to be the fastest descent in the City. 50 mph is possible, but you need to blow a stop sign to do it. I'm not into throwing my fortune at the mercy of random traffic, so was content to keep my speed well south of that speed.

As I descended the Mission glowed magically in late sunshine ahead. The epic was over. Effortless riding took me to Valencia, which I took north to 17th, where I stopped in El Toro for what I felt was a well-earned tofu burrito. From there, it was less than two miles home, ending with a brisk climb of Potrero Hill via the 18th street bike/pedestrian bridge. When I arrived at the door, it was only 7:38. Still plenty of light. I'd made decent time.

Reflection

Wow.... what a day. 89 miles and 7.5 hours of work. I felt surprisingly good considering my shoulder injury. Fitness of a sort is finally coming around. I'm recovering better, with better endurance. What's missing is sustained aerobic power. I really want to see that. If I have any hope of achieving my goal of breaking 17 minutes up Old La Honda, a goal which last year I thought was in the bag, I've got to see that magic middle of my maximal power curve start to move.

Anyway, I want to thank Brent for leading the SF2G ride. I promise I'll be back soon. Hopefully next time a bit less fog on the mountain.

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