Month: November 2018

It’s Often Windy Here in the California Alps – Why is That?

As a San Jose native, I was very familiar with the wind patterns. I lived in South San Jose for many years and could plan my rides knowing pretty well how the wind would blow: Go out early and get the tailwind on the way home. Go out later in the afternoon and get the headwind on the way home. Certainly this did depend on the direction of my ride but for the most part I could easily predict the patterns.

So, what’s the deal here? Well, thanks to “A Sierra Club Naturlist’s Guide” by Stephen Whitney I’ve found some answers. 

Mountain winds: “Winds and breezes passing over a rugged mountain range such as the Sierra follow tortuous courses over and around ridges, up and down canyons, through gaps in the crest. Eddies set up by the irregular terrain blow here and there in vigorous gusts that rattle trees and shrubs one minute only to abruptly die down the next. In the protection of a large boulder or grove of trees there may be scarcely any wind at all, while just a few yards away, in a more exposed area, it howls furiously.”

Wind-driven clouds in the CA Alps

Okay, so that makes sense. It’s somewhat analogous to the flow of a river. Rocks = rapids. Eddies are often downstream of those big rocks and flat water can bee seen where there aren’t any big rocks to interrupt the water’s flow.

Let’s dive a little deeper, though. Why is it that I can head up Hwy. 4 (Ebbett’s Pass) with a headwind and then not get that tailwind on the way back? Okay, sometimes I do get the tailwind but it’s not consisent like it was in Silicon Valley. Well, Mr.Whitney has a bit more information in that regard. It’s about mountain breezes, valley breezes and the mountain ranges “intrusion” into the tropopause

“On a warm summer morning the air next to the ground surface is heated and rises. Cooler air nearby moves in to replace it and rises in turn. This movement is felt during the day as an upslope breeze.” Typically, he writes, this starts about three hours after sunrise and reaches its peak during the hottest hours of the day and then it tapers off again around dusk. This is a valley breeze.  “At night, cool air flows downslope, creating the mountain breeze.”

Dust off those cobwebs and cast your mind back (thanks Paul Sherwin) to those high school science days (daze?); here’s some additional data: “Wind speed increases over mountain crests and through canyons and passes because air – like any fluid – accelerates when forced through a narrow passage. As a volume of air moves upslope, it is increasingly squeezed between the mountains and the tropopause, the inversion layer acting as a lid on the lower atmosphere. Since the volume of air remains the same as it squeezes over the mountain crest, it becomes elongated.” Okay so that means it picks up speed. Makes sense. He goes on to write that “air forced to squeeze through a canyon or mountain pass is accelerated in much the same way.”

So, there we have it! Mountain winds, mountain breezes and valley breezes combined with the myriad canyons, crests, passes and that ol’ tropopause challenge those of us who cycle in the California Alps. It’s a rare day when we have no wind and due to the topography you can’t count on consistency. If you ride here then you, grasshopper, like I, need to learn to embrace the wind. 

Ride safe out there and let’s kick some passes asses!™ Even the windy ones…

L’Etape California – A Good Yet Hard Day on the Bike

A few of us California Alps Cycling members had signed up but we lost a couple, one to injury and one because he became a new daddy last year and so has not been able to put in the miles.

So, it was just Scott Keno and I representing C.A.C. a week ago Sunday (the ride/race took place on October 28th). I made the trek east from Markleeville and Scott made the trip north from Clovis. We met up Saturday at the Expo where we picked up our bib numbers, timing chips, t-shirts and schwag bag. John and Diana Velez, two hard-core local riders, and friends of Scott’s (and now friends of mine) also came by the Expo, along with their standard poodle, Studly (what a cool dog).

An image of Mark with a dog licking his ear.
Studly introducing himself to me, while his Mom, Diana, looks on approvingly.

We spent a bit of time checking out the gear at the Assos truck where John, and the Assos boyz, turned me on to some cool bibs (I bought the Equipe and wore them on the ride the next day – man were they commmmffffyyyy).  The five (5) of us then bailed from the festival, but not before checking out some TDF history at the Expo’s museum (mouse over the images and the captions will pop-up. Dig that wool jersey!),

and headed out for some pub grub and a few cervezas. Later that night, we met up with a couple more friends for some good eats at the Corner Tavern and Grill.

After dinner it was time to get the gear ready, put the chips and numbers on the bikes and our jerseys and get some rest.

The day of the ride started well. Nice weather – not too cold – and so we didn’t have to wear “the warmers.” I did, though, add a light base under my jersey and wore a neck thingy too. You’d think that since I live in the Sierra that I wouldn’t be such a cold-whimp, but alas, that’s not the case.

A couple pix from the start – That’s Scott doing “the Kilroy” and me chatting with another rider in that image on the right.

We took off with an escort (always cool) about 8:00 a.m. and after just a short bit of flat roads, the climbing started. For those of us doing the 90 mile ride, we had about 8000′ of climbing to look forward to and we did about 7000′ of that in the first 50 miles! As is the usual for L’Etape, the course was a difficult and challenging one but hey, as we’ve all heard, if it was easy, anyone could do it!

Three riders smiling for the camera.

This was my third L’Etape and I had a goal of placing in the top 200 riders, a ride time of 6 (six) hours and an elapsed time of under 8 (eight) hours. I felt pretty good about hitting those goals since I was peaking fitness-wise and I had a really strong rider to pull me (and push me, if you get my drift) around the course. And John met us early on and rode with us for part of the course too (that’s him in the middle of the above pic.).

Rider pointing to his location on the elevation profile of L'Etape California.
Yup, I was there.

For those of you who haven’t done a L’Etape before then you’re probably not aware that the TDF organization does a bit of timing on certain sections (KOMs) and on this particular ride there were three (3). Now this big boy is never in the top of those standings but it’s always fun to compare myself to others. Scott is a big boy too (not as big as I but not your “typical” rider) but we climb fairly well and always enjoy the looks we get when we pass smaller riders while climbing.

Anyway, as it turns out I was 221st out of 394th on the climbs (cumulatively), 27th (out of 38) in my age group (55-59) and for the “classic challenge” (.3 miles at 12% average but let me tell you there were some 18-20% pitches in there!) I came in 99th out of 207 riders! Overall, I finished 165th so really stoked about that! There were 295 participants on the 90 mile course so I’m pretty happy with that. Time on the bike = 6:14:20 (almost hit my 6 hour goal) and elapsed time was 7:08:01.  Click here to see my official results, and click here to see Scott’s. Note: he would have had some much better results if he wasn’t letting me suck his wheel all day long. Well, I did do one good pull towards the end of the ride. Thanks Scott for taking care of me. You are the man!

L'Etape Course Map and Profiles
The course map and my elevation, speed and HR profiles for the day.

Hopefully I didn’t bore you with too many stats and such. I was just trying to give all of you, especially those of you who haven’t participated in such an event, a good sense of the day. I’ll leave you with one last picture…

Me and Scott after finishing the 2018 L'Etape.
All smiles now that we have our finisher’s medals, which (GOOD IDEA) also double as bottle openers.

And bid you all a happy Monday and remind you to challenge yourself and ride safe.

Now Let’s Kick Some Passes’ Asses!™