Month: May 2020

Pedalling During the Pandemic – an Imperfect Practice

If you’re like us, and the other cyclists, mountain bikers, gravel riders and e-bike riders we know, then you haven’t given up riding, or other outdoor activities, since our battle with Covid-19 began. Mark continues to ride, although he now carries some additional equipment he didn’t carry before. Note: he DOES NOT wear the mask while riding.

Mask and container, and a tube of hand sanitizer, make up Mark’s Covid-19 cycling kit. No gloves, though.

Other members of our merry band of troublemakers also continue to ride and as far as we know none of them are doing it Lone Ranger style – who was that masked man? Of course, that would be the WRONG type of mask to wear anyway, but hey we’re going with a bit of poetic license, k?

A New Dynamic

There’s a new and interesting dynamic on the road, paved or gravel, and the trail too. We’ve seen masks (only once) and no masks, big groups and little groups, social distancing and not so social, or more correctly stated not so distant, distancing.

What used to be a “approach the rider in front to say hi and yak a bit” is now a full-gas approach from behind, giving appropriate space in case of droplets, breath, or god forbid, actual phlegm, and then allowing at least six-feet of elbow-room, with a wave as we go by.

From “Medium’s” post of April 7, 2020.

That feels somewhat rude to us. Does the rider we just passed think we were waving hi or do they think we were being a-holes and emphasizing just how slow we thought they were? Hopefully the former. Perhaps a “howdy” or “beauty day” we just realized, would alleviate that confusion (or our consternation) — need to start doing that.

Just How Much Is Enough?

Speaking of appropriate space…Our friends over at PedalWORKS published a post (last month we think) that really hit home with us – 6 feet ain’t enough, riders! We tried to find that post and the appropriate link thereto but no dice.

So instead here’s a link to the post from which the above image is taken — Hey PedalWORKS, was this one of your sources? It looks familiar!

The Belgians and Dutch (’twas their study) have the cycling creds to be able to speak to this with some (ok, a lot of) authority. Here’s their highlight:

On the basis of these results the scientist advises that for walking the distance of people moving in the same direction in 1 line should be at least 4–5 meter[s], for running and slow biking it should be 10 meters and for hard biking at least 20 meters. 

20 meters? That’s 65.62 feet in case you were wondering!

Alta Alpina Cycling Club’s Social Distancing Series

We wrote about this last month but it’s worth mentioning again; the club continues to nail it!

Side note: As a member of this club, Mark’s been participating in this series and has just finished week #6. He loves the number nine apparently: four 9th places, one 10th place, and one snake-eyes. His goal is to finish the series in the top 10 and our math shows him at an average of 9.5 so far. Still a ways to go…

Advocates for Safety

We here at California Alps Cycling feel very strongly that as cyclists and riders we need to go the extra mile. No pun intended. We’ve seen so many photos on Strava, and elsewhere, that seem to indicate many, many individuals are taking a nonchalant approach by riding way to closely together or taking group shots where there is barely any distance between riders at all.

While we understand it may not be a perfect science, and that we could be a bit paranoid, we’re concerned that it sets the wrong example.

See our post from a couple weeks back where we speculate why some drivers hate cyclists. This “hey we’re too healthy, or pretty, or whatever, to get this thing” approach is adding fuel to that fire in our opinion.

What’s Your Approach?

Perhaps you can help…what is your club doing? What are you doing? Are you riding inside? Not riding at all? Wearing a mask? Holding your breath while passing another rider or posing for that group shot? Wearing an oxygen mask? What?

We’d love to hear how you’re dealing with the Covid-19 adversity. Or are you?

What Else Can You Do in the California Alps Besides Cycling? Here are Some Ideas…

Mom’s boot gives you a sense of the size of a bear. In this case a black bear – no grizzlies (aka brown bears) here. Nonetheless, I must confess, I know not the size nor age of this bruin. If the size of the poop we found on the trail is any indication…Well, let’s just say this particular bear appeared to be eating well.

Hiking (and Posey Sniffing)

Heenan Lake

We came upon this print last year, on the trail to Heenan Lake, while checking out the fish hatchery. It’s a short, flat (except for the little hill as you leave the parking lot) walk along the lake to the hatchery, where you can see, and get splashed by, if you’re so inclined, the famous Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. We were just there again last weekend and were greeted by Doug, the “hatchery-master,” who regaled us of his recent bear (bears, actually) encounter. You’ll have to hit Doug up yourself for the complete story. In the meantime, just use your imagination. Bears and fish…Get it?

Thornburg Canyon

I did a portion of this trail just yesterday and can’t wait to do the rest. Didn’t have a lot of time and the weather was coming in so I cut it short. As you can see, though, it’s a beauty of a trail with great views – both near and far.

To say we’ve just scratched the surface on the local trail and flora seen would be quite the understatement!

So, for more on Markleeville area hiking, check out this post (from January of last year) or this one, from last fall. For more data that matta, take a look at AllTrails and if you’re looking for something you can touch and feel, we recommend the Alpine Sierra Trailblazer. And for a cool application that you can use to ID flowers, trees and other plants, check out the PictureThis – Plant Identifier on the App Store.

Birding

Wild turkeys are definitely about, although we haven’t seen them as much lately. That is typical though – they seem to follow a different pattern after hunting season ends. Go figure! Other birds we’ve seen lately include hummingbirds (Anna’s, Rufuos and Calliope), which, admittedly, are best spotted on the feeders here at HQ (or perhaps at your house!).

We’ve also seen many hawks (mostly Red-Tailed) as well as some eagles (Bald and Golden) here and there. Steller’s Jays, Clark’s Nutcrackers, American Goldfinches and White-Crowned Sparrows have been frequenting the area, too and just recently we’ve been visited by Black-headed Grosbeaks. Check out this post from last fall – it includes a mention of a very rare bird in these parts, a Yellow-browed Warbler, who decided to make a little stopover here in Markleeville. Here’s another post with an image of an osprey that came by for a visit in October of last year and sucked down a Garter snake.

Here Fishy, Fishy…

Whether it’s the East Carson, the West Carson, Markleeville Creek or Hot Springs Creek, you’ll likely get some action. We’ve also got a few lakes and reservoirs around. Okay, you’re right – waaaay more than a few! Check out Dave’s Sierra Fishing for the details that I just don’t have room to post. Talking with our friendly neighborhood Chamber of Commerce would be a good idea as well.

By the way, trout season just opened last Friday and as I understand it, Fish & Game did a plant already. Soon, though, a bigger plant, with bigger fish, will take place. Perhaps for the Memorial Day weekend…You’ll have to come and see for yourself!

So Much to See, Tread (on) and Catch

More and more businesses (including restaurants) are open here in Alpine County; and so are hotels and some of the campgrounds. Definitely poke around our site too for more ideas as we’ve posted quite a few missives that may whet your appetite further.

We’re not all just boring cyclists, as we hope you’ve now noticed! We encourage ourselves (and you) to take some time off the bike and do some hiking, birding, posey sniffing, fishing or whatever strikes your fancy. Do it here in the California Alps, or anywhere else. Just do it safely, with dare I say, appropriate distancing, and carefully (mountains can be dangerous places). And, if you’re in need or want of some specifics, let us know!

Why Some Drivers Hate Cyclists and What We Can Do About It

Well if you’ve ridden as much and as often as I have (and even if you haven’t) then you’ve likely gotten yelled at, or honked at, or worse. We’ve all heard those stories about “the worse” and my bet is that some of you may have experienced it. Lucky for me, I haven’t, and of course I hope I never will.

A few years back, though, when I was riding the Mendocino Monster – and a monster it is, a driver intentionally plowed into a small group of cyclists out of frustration and rage (that’s what we were told, anyway). Thankfully, no one died. As I recall, though, at least one rider was taken to the hospital. One of my greatest fears when on the bike, if not the greatest: road rage.

Some Drivers are Just Shitheads

And there’s nothing we can do about that. Unfortunately. They, their friends and their family have to deal with that. I don’t envy any of them. It should be said, too, that some cyclists are also doody-heads (my friend’s son Mikey coined that term).

In any case, there’s not much that can be done for someone who is just an a-hole by nature; just give them a wide berth and figure that karma will take care of business.

Some Drivers Just Don’t Know

They don’t understand why we do what we do. They don’t know what it’s like to push themselves to the limit on a bike (or perhaps on a treadmill, or in a weight-room).

Most importantly, they don’t know the law (i.e. THE VEHICLE CODE). In CA, for example, they don’t know that V.C. section 21200(a) reads (in part): “A person riding a bicycle or operating a pedicab upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle…”

They don’t appreciate that V.C. section 21760(c) reads: “A driver of a motor vehicle shall not overtake or pass a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on a highway at a distance of less than three feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator.”

It’s not their fault; they just don’t know.

Some Cyclists Act Like Prima Donnas

We’ve got our carbon fiber, or titanium, or unobtanium bikes. We’re rocking the lycra with the bright, tight jerseys and the high-end shoes that sound like horses hooves when we’re getting that espresso. We’ve got our own lingo. We often ride in groups (well, maybe not so much right now) and don’t follow the “single-file please” best practice. Most times that’s just because we revert, as I tell some of my non-cyclist friends.

Some Cyclists Revert to Childhood

We can’t help but go back to the time when we were five and we could do whatever the hell we wanted on our Sting-rays! Sometimes, though, it’s because we feel or act like we’re privileged. Hey, we drive cars too! We pay our taxes! We’re entitled to the road as much as a car, damnit! While this may be true, when we harrumph about it too much or too loudly, we become the shithead.

What We Can Cyclists Do About It

First and foremost – we can engage, advocate and educate. We also need to listen. One of the first things I did when I wanted to start this little adventure called California Alps Cycling was reach out to one of my neighbors. Nancy Thornburg was a community leader (unfortunately we lost her on December 31st, 2017) and she was known for her outspokenness, but also for her fairness and kindness. When I called her to explain my idea she said something like: “you know we don’t care much for cyclists, right?” I replied that I did know that and it was exactly for this reason that I wanted to talk with her.

She invited me and my wife up to her and her husband Fritzes house, and we got to know each other. I explained why for example we don’t ride close to the fogline all the time and admitted that yes, periodically we were dolts on bikes. I also pointed out that most of us help our communities, do more than ride bikes (i.e. fish, eat at restaurants, shop at the general store, etc.) and that we also drive cars. She and Fritz related to me some of the things we do that pissed them off and I acknowledged she had a point. Several actually. We became friends. I miss her.

What Else Can We Do?

Participate. Without asking for anything in return. Be active in the community, whether that’s picking up litter (as you may know, we “own” a stretch of Hwy. 89 here in Markleeville and we do our Adopt-a-Highway routine several times a year) or clearing rocks from the road.

Empathize. Occasionally I’m a nut. I’m a distracted cyclist. I’m talking to my friend and I’m being an idiot. That guy should have been irritated at me. I would have been too!

Attend local events. Especially those that are not cycling related. It’s a great way to show you care and that you’re not just about the bike. Contribute your opinions, your time and if you can, your money. Be a part of the solution, not the problem.

Smile and wave more often. It sounds simple but I find most riders don’t do it enough, or at all. I salute the CalTrans drivers whenever they pass. I ALWAYS wave or acknowledge other riders and most of the time I smile and wave at cars (or the drivers thereof). When I don’t it’s because I shouldn’t, or can’t – i.e. a big wind gust; a sharp turn; I’m about to pop an eyeball on that climb.

What Do You Think?

Am I smoking something? Too simplistic? Right on? Have you had any run-ins that ended well because you took the high-road? Do you have any advice you’d like to share with your fellow readers?

I’d love to hear from you. I promise, I’ll listen. Even if you don’t ride a bike!

Climbing Mountain Passes – 5 Key Things to Know

I’ve lived here in the heart of the Sierra Nevada for about 3 1/2 years now and in that time I’ve tackled our “Big 3” (Carson, Ebbett’s, Monitor) a bunch of times (well except for Carson Pass), and I’ve done some of the lesser known climbs as well. The below tally is by no means a comprehensive Sierra Nevada list but it gives me enough experience to offer some advice as to what to be wary of when you’re climbing big mountains here in the California Alps.

The Current Count

  • Carson Pass = 1
  • Ebbett’s Pass (N. – the Markleeville side) = 14
    (my favorite climb as you can see)
  • Ebbett’s Pass (S. – the Bear Valley side – from Hermit Valley) = 2
  • Geiger Grade = 1
  • Luther Pass = (S. – the Tahoe side) = 2
  • Kingsbury Grade = 2
  • Monitor (E. – the Topaz side) = 5
  • Monitor (W. – the Markleeville side) = 7
  • Spooner Summit (Hwy. 50 – E. – the Carson City side) = 2

That’s a total of 32 climbs on local mountains (or passes as they are also referred) for approximately 112,000 feet of climbing, or the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest almost four (4) times! Here’s some of what I’ve learned in all those hours and pedal revolutions.

Climbs up Mountains are Steep

Yeah, this may seem like a no-brainer but just last week, as I was climbing the west side of Monitor (the first 3.5 miles of which average close to 10%) I came across a few cyclists struggling to maintain any kind of cadence. I noticed that several did not have the right gearing (I ride a 50-34 in front and a 30-11 in back).

Lesson learned #1: make sure you have the right chainrings and cogset.

The Air is Thin

A couple riders told me as I passed (and they gasped for air) that they didn’t realize how hard it would be and that it was difficult to get any air. Some riders I’ve talked to like to come up and spend time here before they hit the climbs. Others come right up and do their climbing before their body realizes they’re here. In any case, be do your homework!

Lesson learned #2: address acclimatization.

Winds Can be Vexing

One of our members, Dr. Rich Harvey, commented on this post (which I wrote some time ago) and it was he that used the word “vexing.” So appropriate because here in the mountains there really are NO reliable wind patterns. Just yesterday I rode part-way up Ebbett’s Pass, into the wind. Did I get the tailwind on the way back? Nope. The wind shifted due to, among other things, the valley winds (explanation in that post).

Lesson learned #3: It’s a rare day that there is no wind and so set your expectations (and plan your wardrobe) accordingly.

The Climate can Change Quickly

There can be a temperature variation of 10-20 degrees between the start of the climb and the summit! And, in the summertime there are often afternoon thunderstorms. During the 2018 Deathride several of our riders were pelted with hail and rain on Carson Pass. This was in July and it was sunny here in Markleeville!

Just last Saturday I climbed Monitor. I brought an additional neck-gaiter and hat for the descent but it wasn’t enough. The wind came up and the temperature dropped while I was still climbing up to the summit. I did have a vest on, and arm-warmers, but I should have brought another jersey or vest. In the past I’ve done so (using a cinch-pack). This day, though, I didn’t follow my own advice and I was so cold on the descent I started to shiver badly enough that I had to stop and warm up before I could continue.

Lessen learned #4: Bring the necessary gear, or layer up, so you can deal with any adverse conditions that may arise.

There is No Cell-Service

We’ve all come to take cell service for granted. Here in Markleeville it’s really only Verizon that works. My wife and I had AT&T in San Jose but when we moved up here we quickly switched to Verizon. That doesn’t do diddly-squat up on Ebbett’s Pass, though, or even in some of the lower elevations. I carry a Garmin inReach Mini on my rides. Admittedly, I already had it before I moved up to the mountains because I’ve got a yellow-jacket allergy. But, had I not had it before I moved here I would have gotten it afterwards. Among other things (including an SOS feature) it allows me to send texts to my wife from anywhere in the world.

Lesson learned #5: Get a satellite communication device if you can and if you can’t (and I do this also) make sure you have clearly communicated to “your person” your route, your approximate return time and what to do “if you don’t hear from me by such and such a time.”

Cycling in the Mountains is an Awesome Experience

And one that is made that much better if you are prepared for what you’ll experience. Understand the topography; prepare for the thin air, wind and climate; and address communication. By following some of my lessons learned you too can have an awesome experience cycling in one of the world’s most amazing venues – the Sierra Nevada, and our little slice of heaven within, the California Alps.

Ebbett’s Pass and Monitor Pass – After Action Report

Here’s smiling at you! Sending good vibes and mountain energy from California Alps Cycling!

Well it’s been a great week of riding I must admit. Being furloughed has its benefits. I am one lucky dawg. I also recognize that many folks are not so lucky; some are sick or have died, some have lost loved ones, many are unemployed and many are working (some on the front lines – THANK YOU!). And yet life continues for me, and you, and most of us, albeit in this twilight zone. And so, writing a post about cycling two (2) iconic California Alps climbs this past week feels a bit weird. Nonetheless, for your reading (and cycling, if you’re coming our way) pleasure…

Ebbett’s Pass

Last Monday, April 27th, I partook, and I’m pretty sure I was the first cyclist up the mountain this year (my friend Bill Cassity said so!). It was a beautiful day (in the 60’s and 70’s), made even more beautiful by the fact that there were no cars on the road past Monitor Junction (see last week’s post for more on that).

There was no snow or other issues on/with the road until I got up towards Cascade Creek. There I found quite of bit of rock (a few large boulders but mostly small stuff) that had fallen from above, which made for slow going on the descent.

As I approached Kinney Reservoir I was excited for the photo op — the mountains and sky reflecting in the water are amazing — but felt like such a nit when I got there only to find a still frozen body o’ water. Skating anyone?

Yup! Still frozen. It is at about 8000′ after all.

I didn’t see any riders at all until I was coming down. And, again, that no motor vehicle thing is awesome! The pass will likely open soon (May 15th perhaps) so if you want to experience the climb, with no cars, like you only get on the Deathride, now’s your chance. It’s not for the faint of heart nor the inexperienced, though, so please be aware of that, and be cautious.

Monitor Pass

Just this a.m. I climbed Monitor and it was not nearly as pleasant as my trip up Ebbett’s Pass earlier in the week. I knew it was going to be windy; conditions at HQ before I left made that pretty apparent, but it was particularly “sporty” today with lots of crosswinds and gusts and such. I did, however, get some help from a nice tailwind for a lot of the climb; it was especially welcome on that first real pitch of about 3.5 miles from Monitor Junction to the cattle guard at Heenan Lake. That’s really the toughest section on the western side of Monitor; once you’re above that guard it becomes a bit more manageable. And while Monitor is steeper than Ebbett’s it’s only about half as long…That’s my story and I’m sticking with it!

Just about at the 8000′ mark. That’s the Carson Range in the distance behind me.

I’ve never seen Hwy. 89 to Monitor Pass so devoid of snow this time of year; it validates (not that I needed it) the recent “only 3% of normal” snowpack report. As you can see, there was no snow on the side of the road (and there was nary a bit (just a couple of small patches) at the summit, neither.

The wind seemed to get colder, and more vexing (that’s for you Rich) on the way down – it was so cold (and I brought a couple extra items with me for the descent) that I had to stop and warm up. I was shivering so badly that I was starting to shimmy (and shake) – not a good thing when you’re barreling down a mountain at high speed!

Anyway, I did survive the descent, which, with the exception of some gravel and other debris on the road closer to the bottom of the hill, and a few of those gusts, was uneventful. I was back at HQ by lunchtime and beer-thirty.

So, there you have it. Did I mention that climbing these passes, or any passes for that matter, is not for the faint of heart nor the inexperienced? My lawyer told me to tell you that you assume all the risk if you decide to partake. Your loved ones would remind you to be careful (and I am reminding you too) and to keep in mind there’s no sag wagon behind those gates. And cell service? Forgettaboutit!

On that cheery note though…Let’s Kick Some Passes’ Asses!