Month: March 2020

Checking in from Deathride Town, USA

First and foremost, all of us here at California Alps Cycling hope this post finds you and yours doing as well as possible in this new “pandemic-age.” Yup, we’ve had ’em before and we’ll have ’em again. So “says” a recent article in the San Jose Mercury News. Full disclosure: I’m from San Hoser – born and raised – so I still get “the Merc.,” the digital version of course. My wife and I came up to the Sierra in October of 2016. In any case, the article was good reminder – been there, survived that. At the same time I realize some haven’t. Or, won’t. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them. And their families.

Speaking of the pandemic – Gawd, I sound like one of those characters on that Don Henley song “Dirty Laundry” – Alpine County was just added to the tally; we’ve had our first Covid-19 case here in the county. It was determined that the the disease was picked up in a distant location, not via community transmission, so that’s good. What’s MUCH better is that the patient is recovering well and did a good job of self-quarantining (and the family did too).

There is Snow in Them-thar Hills

On a lighter, weather-related note, we had some good snow up here the first couple weeks of the month – helped with the snowpack. I heard we were up to ~70% of normal. Not bad considering it was closer to 45% at the end of February. Ironic, certainly, that the ski resorts were (and still are) closed due to Covid-19. My wife, Mom and I went for a great hike last weekend (and the weekend before) at Grover Hot Springs State Park (see photos below). Note: The park is closed but hiking is still allowed, although our Sheriff’s office is recently told us all that DOES NOT MEAN BACKPACKING or other backcountry endeavors. He doesn’t want to potentially strain resources on rescues and the like. I’m definitely going to get a bit of snowshoeing in soon, though, before what’s here melts. Not sure what the lay of the land is in Carson Pass and the trails up there. I suspect they are open. Highway 4 (Ebbett’s Pass) is closed just south of Silver Mountain City (and the snowmobilers are happy) and Monitor Pass is closed (and has been, for the winter). Pssst…I heard Monitor was going to open soon but I have yet to get confirmation from Clinton the CalTrans guy.

Cycling, Hiking, Skiing or Snowshoeing and Social Distancing

Had to point it out, if for no other reason than to get the phrase in there so the search engines pick it up and rank me higher. In all seriousness though, I’ve seen some folks up here riding their bikes, enjoying the views by car, snowshoeing, hiking and snowmobiling. Great time to get outdoors, more like a necessity nowadays but I’ve been picking up mixed signals about that and so I thought I’d reach out to our County Health Officer, Dr. Richard Johnson, with a few questions.

Dr. Johnson Says…

  1. Is it okay to hike as long as we keep our distance?
    Absolutely!
  2. Weโ€™re not backpacking or anything like that – just day hikes, if not hour hikes. 
    Go for it!
  3. I am a cyclist and just yesterday went out to Diamond Valley and Emigrant Trail – I live here in Markleeville. Was about a 2 hour ride.
    Perfect.
  4. Iโ€™ve been furloughed (indeed – the courts, how I earn my living, are hurting) and so am planning on doing some longer rides here in the next few weeks. Is that cool?
    OK to sweat!
  5. I also do a cycling blog so anything youโ€™d like me to share about cycling, mountain biking, etc. here in Alpine Co. would be great. 
  6. Should I tell folks to stay away?
    Yes.
  7. Partake but be safe?
    No.
  8. The issue we are having is visitors coming to recreate, buying up gas supplies and groceries, pooping in public because restrooms are closed. We also do not have emergency services capability to handle accidents. Therefore, we are discouraging all visitors – not residents – from coming to Alpine County for recreation. That also violates the Governor’s order to stay at home.

So, there you have it. A bit of green light, red light. Another irony, unfortunately. We like visitors. Visitors like us. There’s no one around and even less traffic than usual. Sadly, it’s just not a good idea right now and we’re all suffering for it. I’m planning on re-doubling my efforts to help with that damn curve. Flatten baby, flatten! Save lives, stay home. Or perhaps: Save lives, stay away (works both ways as far as I’m concerned – We Markleevillians, and Bear Vallians, and Woodfordsians, need to stay the heck away from you too! Hey, I’ve seen this one before…How about: Save lives, ride a bike.

I like this one best: Stay Away – BUT just for little while; looking forward to seeing you one day soon!

Deathride Update

As this point, the Deathride – Tour of the California Alps, is a GO! As many of you know, tons of cycling events, including UCI races, have been canceled or postponed. I was going to ride the Wildflower Century in April in Chico, CA but it was canceled. The Truckee Dirt Fondo, on the other hand, scheduled for June 13th, emailed me to say it was a go. I suspect, based on the recent extension of the social distancing guidelines, that it might not fly, however. It’s hard to say at this point if “the DR” is going to go for sure but we here in Alpine Co. sure hope so. It’s our mainstay event and keeps our little Chamber solvent and more importantly it puts TONS OF DUCATS into our local economy, which relies primarily on tourism. Fingers crossed; the eternal optimist…We will of course be having that conversation soon and any updates will be forthcoming. In the meantime…

Please be well and do stay healthy and let’s all kick some viruses asses!

Jumping on the Gravel Train

I’ve taken my road bike off-road before but only for some “sectors” here and there, not for anything of decent length. So, this was my first true gravel ride experience and I was excited (and admittedly, a bit anxious). I’m blessed to be able to live, work and ride in the California Alps yet I also realize that I need to break things up a bit. Here was my gravelly opportunity to do just that!

Gravel i.e. sand, dirt and rocks, on Sierra Vista Lane. That’s the Carson Range to the right.

What Gravel Riding Isn’t

Coincidentally, I had just read the March/April issue of VeloNews and in it was an article entitled “Harder than Robaix,” by Andrew Hood (the article’s about the Strade Bianche). He writes: “Gravel racing has deep roots in Europe. In its earliest iteration, nearly all bike racing that wasn’t on a velodrome was held across gravel or cobblestone roads, simply because paved roads were a luxury at the turn of the last century.” Luxury, indeed. I realized immediately that I wasn’t in Kansas any longer.

Note to self: Gravel riding isn’t riding on nicely graded roads covered in decomposed granite. Yup, I was pretty naive but I had this picture in my head that this was not mountain bike riding on a road bike but was instead something much more civilized. That isn’t the case! At least not on this particular ride.

Jobs Peak and Jobs Sister, and other peaks of the Carson Range, as seen from Sunrise Pass Rd.

Setting Up the Bike

My faithful steed, Roscoe (named after an Italian Gentlemen – Roscoe Fanucci, because my Domane thinks he’s Italian) has been with me for many years and we’ve put in thousands of miles together. But, after getting an Emonda last year, I decided to convert Roscoe to a gravel bike. Really wouldn’t be too hard I thought. Not going to change out the fork or do anything too drastically complicated, so it’s really just about new tires and pedals, right?

Tubeless and Platform

Tubeless I thought for the former (my wheels were tubeless-ready after all) and as for the latter, my braddah suggested pedals that are clip-in on one side and platform on the other. Found a nice set of pedals at REI that fit the bill – Shimano EH500 SPD Sport Road Pedals. As for the tires, I’m thinkin’ hey, I run tubeless on my Fuel so I know what I’m doing. I’ve got Stan’s NoTubes and that injector thingy. I’ve done this before.

Not that Easy – the Tubeless Part That Is

So I ordered the stems and some Panaracer Gravel Kings. I should mention that the Domane is not a true gravel bike so my clearance is limited to 32mm in back and 35mm in front, which is what I set out to mount on my trusty stallion. The wheels had the right rim-tape on them and I put in the stems and got the tires on. As for the “tubeless but holding air part” I looked at the instructions and did what I could to interpret the petroglyphs, arrows and “cross-out, no you dufus” icons. I failed in the translation. I could not for the life of me get a seal on those tires! And, I reminded myself, I hadn’t done this before. I’ve added sealant to tires that the shop set up but I’ve never actually installed tubeless tires from scratch. So, after a couple tries I decided to cut my losses and I filled the tubes with Stan’s; I’ll seek expert advice from Jay at Big Daddy’s, or via YouTube.

Roscoe on the left and Chris’ steed (with Chris) on the right.
Photo taken at Riverview Park in Carson City, NV

Ready to Roll

Chris, our fearless leader, and I went with the hydration pack approach since we weren’t sure what to expect. Good call since we were out there for about five (5) hours. I also carried a couple bottles with Skratch’s Sport Hydration Mix (that stuff is awesome!). We packed some sandwiches and the obligatory gels and bars, too. We met at Riverview Park at about 10:00 a.m. (not too cold but not too hot either, we figured) and after the typical pre-ride prep. (that’s where Chris waits for me to get my shit together), off we went.

Definitely not a flat ride!

Gravel Riding is Challenging

But oh so fun. I giggled like a crazy-man while fish-tailing and sliding around in that sand. I was stoked that I was able to stay upright and power through, having never ridden in sand that deep, for so many miles. That all changed about two-thirds of the way through the ride, though. I became an uber-whiner (Chris was much more stoic and bore the pain silently). The terrain had become very challenging with some big ol’ rocks (some loose, some not), sand, mud, steep climbs and creek crossings. — Great suggestion on the pedals, by the way Scotty! — My lower back and glutes were screaming and I was kinda pissed off at myself that I hadn’t set my expectations properly; this was TRULY challenging. I am a strong cyclist after, all. This ca-ca, though, is different – mountain biking with a twist. Now I understand why cyclocross riders are true bad-asses! Roscoe, by the way, wasn’t challenged at all. He handled everything that was thrown at him. And those tires…I was blown away by their traction and durability!

The Light at the End of the Gravel

The sand was a kick (and meant that coasting was not an option); the climbs were made more difficult by that constant sucking feeling (I swear I heard sucking sounds), the rocks were scary but at the same time exhilarating when I cleared them, the creek-crossings (sorry, too tired to take pix at that point) were disconcerting, BUT IN THE END, it was a great day. Cycling (and gravel riding) is pain, right? If so, lots of weakness left my body. Seriously, though, I will do it again; especially now that I know what to expect, and what to bring: more GRIT, or dare I say…True Grit?)

All smiles AFTER our epic ride. Cold cervezas await.

Epilogue – How Do They Know That?

As it turns out, five days after the ride. I received an email from Bicycling. Subject line: Are you ready for gravel? Okay, that’s just too weird. From the email: “Thing is, gravel can also be hell, especially if you hit terrain youโ€™re not expecting. To crush it, you not only need special equipment, but also a different kind of fitness, fueling, finesse, gear, and grit.”

Grit? If grit means stoically taking the pain and quietly dealing with all that’s thrown at you, I didn’t have that. Chris did. But, if grit is persevering, even if vocalizing a little (okay, a lot), then I DID HAVE THAT. Perhaps I need some more of that, I decided. I ordered the book. Should be here this week. Stay tuned for a review.