Category: rides

Riding in Peanut Butter – Gravelly Lessons Learned

MY ride last Thursday was quite an adventure: a slippery, sloppy, peanut-buttery, very short (as it turns out) ride on the East Carson River Trail, just outside of Markleeville.

“Gravel remains largely undefined, which is exactly the point. It’s supposed to be an adventure.”

NO doubt Selene! Yeager, that is… Her words from “Gravel! The Ultimate Guide to the Gear, Training and Grit You Need to Crush It” certainly ring true. More so today than last month when I wrote another post about gravel. That post, “A Brief What and Where,” didn’t include the trail to which I’m writing about today so do give it a read when you get a chance; it has a few more gravel grinding factoids for you.

It All Started Innocently Enough

ROSCOE (II, a 2017 Domane 600 Series Disc) and I headed out from HQ here in Markleeville on an almost 60 degree day knowing that some mud was possible — but unlikely or at least navigable we thought after a couple weeks of dry weather.

THE trail starts at Hangman’s Bridge, just about two (2) miles from Markleeville, and I had hiked it before. A few little rollers to kick things off, and a couple others about half-way out, but other than that it’s a fairly flat, non-technical out-and-back trail that tracks the East Fork of the Carson River for about 3 1/2 miles or so. Click here to check it out on All Trails.

THAT first pitch wasn’t rideable (at least for me) so I kicked things off with a little hike-a-bike. Little did I know then that I would get a bit more of that (hike-a-bike that is) pretty quickly.

I was having a great time riding through the squishy, pine-needley (is that a word? not sure) muck and was really enjoying the sound of my tires hitting that squishiness. Some fish-tailing, some mud-splattering, some big ol’ rocks and some pine cones; all of which made for some serious, shit-eating grin kinda fun. Roscoe and I were really enjoying ourselves and then we hit IT and as soon as we did we knew we were in a bit of a pickle.

The path from whence we came – that track that looks a little like a thread was ours. ‘Twas okay as long as we were moving. Then we hit that patch of thick peanut butter mud.

Now What?

THERE was no more progress to be made and I had to dismount. It all went very much downhill from there and it was a veritable laugh-riot. I was cackling like a madman as I surveyed the scene. I had seen mud but I had never experienced THIS MUD.

MY wheels would not move. No problem, I thought. I’ll just grab one of these sticks and clear ’em out. Snap. Okay, let’s try another one. Snap. No joy there. I need a better (not necessarily bigger) stick. Again I tried. Crack.

OKAY, let’s pause for a moment, I said to myself, and look at the shoes. Holy sludge Batman, this stuff is incredible! There was no way any stick was going to clean out this caca.

I realized at this point that we were doomed, Roscoe and I. And yes, that is hyperbole. We weren’t really doomed but the ride sure was. At least we were fairly close to the trailhead. So, I swallowed my pride and called for extraction. Luckily, I still had cell service so that made it easier. I also had, if needed though, my inReach Mini. So if I had too…

For more on that little gadget of wonder, by the way, take a gander at this post. I think it’s the most valuable thing I carry when I’m riding, or hiking, or snowshoeing, or pretty much doing anything here in the California Alps, or any adventurous location for that matter!

We then did a little hike-a-bike, Roscoe and I, laughing (just me) all the way, and my lovely assistant (and wife) Patricia was there lickety split.

Those Lessons Learned?

THE ride that I hoped for instead turned out to be an afternoon of shoe and bike washing and the first thing I learned was that regular water (i.e. from a garden hose) does not work on this stuff. That cold water just made the mud harder.

LESSON #2: When you are riding a road bike (albeit an endurance-oriented, Paris-Roubaix tested model) made a gravel bike with the simple addition of some gravel tires, mud is a problem. It wasn’t designed with enough clearance like today’s true gravel bikes. Sand, check. Loose dirt, check. Rocks, check. Gravel, check. Mud, negatory. Better clearance is better!

LESSON #3: SPDs can be problematic in the muck. I did have a small swiss-army knife in my kit but it would have been a long slog to use that little thing to clear out everything to the point where I could actually ride. I should have installed those hybrid pedals (SPDs on one side, platform on the other) before I left.

LESSON #4: Use warm water (and brushes) to clean off the caca. Like I said earlier, that cold water just made things worse. I even had to use a steel brush to clean off the tires. Thankfully I have a big ‘ol laundry sink in the bathroom off the garage so I was able to apply that hot H20 liberally. Still, it took a surprising amount of time.

LESSON #5: This one I had applied before: wadded up newspaper in those wet shoes make for fast, efficient drying. I cleaned the shoes before I started on Roscoe, by the way, and did so in the sink, with warm water and a nylon brush.

IN case you’re wondering…Yes, I did clean the chain (I use Park’s Cyclone Chain Scrubber) and lubed it as well. Roscoe needed a bath anyway.

  • Time actually riding the bike: ~ 22 minutes
  • Time cleaning the shoes and the bike: ~ 2-3 hours

ROSCOE and I are still laughing about that day’s adventure. It was pretty much an epic failure of a ride I admit, but those lessons learned? Priceless.

ESPECIALLY as we gear up and train for more gravel riding. Lots more learning to do, to be sure.

YOU?

Cycling Events in 2021? Here’s What on Our List

2020 was not a very event-full year, at least in terms of “real” bike events. Sure, many of us, yours truly included, did some virtual events/tours, and even some racing, but it wasn’t nearly the same as being there with a bunch of riders that were suffering (or not) right along with me.

And the after parties…I really miss those!

SPEAKING OF EVENTS

AT the Alpine County Chamber of Commerce we’ve continued to work on the 2021 Deathride and are optimistic that we can pull it off. I’m on the periphery if you will — the actual work is being done by our Executive Director, Becky DeForest-Hanson, and our Ride Director, Curtis Fong — so I won’t go into much detail but suffice it to say there’s a good chance IMHO that we’ll be riding those iconic California Alps climbs in July.

WE’VE also been talking with the folks at FulGaz about doing some sort of virtual Deathride in the first quarter of 2021! Something along the lines of the Bay Area Virtual Fondo, perhaps. It would give you veteran Deathriders a chance to do some training in the pain cave prior to the big day. And for any of you who haven’t done the ride you’d get a chance to wet your wheels, so to speak. Remember, we’ve filmed all of the climbs (and some other local rides too) so you’ll be able to experience the real thing…virtually ;-).

BIKE the West’s America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride and Tour de Tahoe are on my list. Well, at least one of them is…And I’m looking forward (admittedly with a bit of trepidation) to my first gravel grinder: Stetina’s Paydirt, in September of 2021.

ON a somewhat tangential note

RECENTLY I participated in a virtual meeting involving several bike coalitions and representatives of Caltrans District 10. Rob Williams, outreach manager at the California Bicycle Coalition (aka CALBIKE) set up and facilitated the meeting, which was primarily focused on us all getting to know each other a bit and devising a plan to work together moving forward.

IT was a great get-together and nice connections, and in several cases, reunions, were made. More on that in a future post.

FOR now though I’d like to direct you to an article that was recently published (Rob was the author, by the way) on Bike Valley to Sierra, entitled “40 Years of Cycling the California Alps.” It’s a nice little missive and besides other data that matta, has links to some other events in District 10, which includes Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, Mariposa, Merced, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.

WHAT’S on your list? Feel free to share by commenting on this post, or on our Facebook page.

HAVE A HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Please stay safe and healthy and keep training so we can all kick some passes’ asses next year.

Together.

In person.

Mark in Markleeville – How a San Jose Native Ended Up in the California Alps – Part Two

MY saga continues…’Twas day three (3) of my Markleeville stay and I had some business to attend to today: a visit with the staff at the Alpine County Superior Court.

AS I mentioned in last week’s post, working with the courts (mostly in CA but also in other states) was my day job and so I had planned to stop in and introduce myself to the CEO (in court parlance CEO stands for Court Executive Officer) and the clerk(s) at the Markleeville Courthouse.

Unfortunately my timing was off a bit so my check-in would have to wait a day. I did, however, snag this image from the steps of the courthouse.

SINCE I had some time to kill I thought I’d stop in at the Intero Real Estate office a few doors up, and just for shits and giggles (my actual thoughts at the time), ask about the house on Hot Springs Road. I met Sarah Chichester that day and we talked about the house (it had been on the market for some time) as well as land in the area. It was she that gave me a reality check about the expense of putting in water and power on a vacant piece of property. I told her why I was here and that at this point I wasn’t at all serious about buying the house but I asked if I could take a look anyway.

SHE was so friendly (just about everyone here in Markleeville is that way I later learned) and immediately picked up the phone. “Sure,” she said, “we can head on over. The owners are both home and are expecting us.”

THE SIGNS CONTINUE

SO off Sarah and I went, about a mile from town to the house. There I met Pat and Rich, the owners. Oh, and the sign? It was Pat (her name, really). Pat is my wife’s name! They gave me a tour of the entire house and property and a bit of history too. Pat and her first husband built the place in 1976. After about 40 years here she was ready for warmer climes, she said, and so they were going to move to Florida, where they already had a beachfront condo. But, she told me, they had to find the right people first. They felt very strongly that the next owners had to care about the land and surrounds as much as they did; there was a lot of history here and not just theirs, but generations of settlers, and before that, the Native American Peoples.

Chalet Schwartz before it was Chalet Schwartz. We took this shot about 3 weeks after I first saw the house and property. Just past, and a bit left (south as it turns out) of the white trailer, is Hot Springs Creek, fka the Middle Fork of the Carson River. As you can see, Pat and Rich were prepping the U-Haul.

IN fact, there is a grinding rock on the property and yes, that was yet another sign. My wife and I love Native American lore/karma/energy, whatever you want to call it!

MY FIRST TRIP UP

I had meetings beginning at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, August 3, 2016, so I had to get moving early so I could get up to Ebbetts Pass and back. I had estimated about two (2) hours round trip (not too far off) and so was on the road about 7:00 a.m. It was hot that summer so the morning was cool, not frigid, like it is today. Still, I did have some arm warmers and a base layer on, and a shell for the descent.

MY wife and I talked the night before about the possiblities. Could we afford to buy the house now as a second home? We decided that no, we could not keep our San Jose home and have a 2nd home in Markleeville (or anywhere else for that matter). She floated this idea, though: perhaps we could move there? She only had about a year or so left before she retired and I was already a remote worker and accustomed to working from home. Nah, that’s crazy. We can’t do that! Still, the thoughts kept coming…

ANYWAY, off I went. I stopped for a photo at Monitor Junction (the image at the top of this post) and as I got back on my bike I remember thinking: could we actually move here? I kid you not that right at that moment I had my first eagle sighting (a bald eagle it was) here in the CA Alps! It flew directly over head as if to answer my question. Yes, you could, said the eagle. Yet another sign…

AS I road up, and up, and up the mountain I was astounded by the beauty of it all. The river, the mountains, the trees and THAT SKY…

Man, what a place!

EBBETTS PASS – AND YET ANOTHER SIGN

THAT last mile or so from Kinney to the pass isn’t an easy one but I knew I was close and so it didn’t matter how tired I was. I did have to go to work, even if was in the river cabin, so no more dawdling allowed, I said to myself. I arrived at the pass and took the requisite selfies to document my success. As I was taking a few more moments to revel and reflect, a pickup pulled up next to me and the driver asked if I knew where the trailhead to the PCT was. No, I said, it was my first time in the area and I had no clue. The passenger then leaned forward and cocked his head to say thanks and I couldn’t believe it, it was my friend (and former dentist) Mike!

“Mike Forster!” I said and he then recognized me. It had been several years since I had seen him; I knew he had a place in South Lake, though, and over the years he was often there. He was just as surprised as I was and said he didn’t recognize me at first because I had lost quite a bit of weight. What are the odds, eh? For us to connect again at this exact moment in this amazing place.

If that wasn’t a sign (and a BIG ONE) then what was!?

WE yakked for a bit but as I already told you, and then I told him, I had to get going. I had a meeting. I let him know where I was staying and he promised to stop by before he headed back to his place in Tahoe. He then took a better photo of me at the marker and his buddy took the photo of us (both below) before we parted ways.

THE TALE TERMINATES…NEXT WEEK

I hope you’ve found the story entertaining so far. I am certainly enjoying the re-telling of it but alas, I must keep you waiting for the conclusion until next week. I don’t mean to belabor the “sign thing” but there are still a couple more to come, mostly related to the specific hows of our exodus from Silicon Valley.

Until then, be safe, stay healthy and let’s kick some passes’ asses!

Gravel! the California Alps? A Brief What and Where

This past spring I took my first real foray into gravel riding. It was a challenging but oh so fun adventure. You can read about it here. Since then I’ve done a lot of thinking, and a bit of reconnaissance, on potential gravel ride routes here in Alpine Co., and as you can imagine there are many possibilities.

What is Gravel Riding?

I’m not really qualified to answer that question since I am by no means a gravel expert. Not even close. In fact I’m not very experienced on a mountain bike either. I’ve ridden over 6000 miles this year on my road bike yet I have only about 400 miles total on my mountain bike, and I’m a bit embarrassed to say, that’s in about 4 years. As for gravel riding, I’ve only done that three (3) times (but all this year at least!).

With that said, in my mind gravel riding is riding a road bike, with special tires, on trails or fire roads. I now know it’s not quite that simple but I think it’s a pretty fair one-sentence description. Selene Yeager, author of “Gravel! The Ultimate Guide to the Gear, Training, and Grit You Need to Crush It,” (which by the way is a good read and full of “gravelly” advice) writes that:

…”gravel is still up for intepretation. You know to expect some rowdy, even scary, stuff in a mountain bike race. You expect road races to have some technical turns. Gravel remains largely undefined, which is exactly the point. It’s supposed to be an adventure. One person might imagine quiet, rugged, relatively smooth, if crunchy roads [my original expectation]. Another considers any unpaved surface fair game [the reality of gravel riding that I’ve come to know].”

She also notes that “if you’re brand new to riding unpaved surfaces on a drop bar bar bike, everything may feel a category tougher.” I can relate. She goes further by adding to examples (categories), originally crafted by Neil Shirley and “codified” in his Industry Standard to Gravel (ISGG). Check out the book or the ISGG for more on those cats.

Also check out this post on VeloNews, written by Pete Stetina, where he compares a WorldTour year to a Gravel year — really eye-opening!

Adventure Indeed!

As you’ve now read in that post from earlier this year, I didn’t set my expectations very well this past spring and now that I’m better at that I’m happier when riding gravel.

Here’s three (3) of the four (4) gravel rides I’ve done this year (there’s a link to numero quatro – not shown below – in the first paragraph of this post), one of which, Leviathan Mine Road, was technically not a gravel ride since I rode my mountain bike. But it could be and so I’ve listed it here. I hope to ride it on the gravel bike sometime between now and next spring/summer.

  • Starts at Highway 88 in Alpine Co., CA
  • I rode up to the lake, with a slight detour on the way
  • 11.61 miles round trip
  • 1:31:15 of moving time
  • 1542′ of climbing.
  • Starts at Jacks Valley Road in Carson City, NV
  • We road up to the Clear Creek Junction
  • 16.77 miles round trip
  • 2:11:39 of moving time
  • 1909 feet of climbing.
  • Starts at Hwy. 395 near Topaz Lake, in NV
  • I rode the Fuel up to the intersection of Leviathan Mine Road (LMR) and Loope Canyon Road (LCR)
  • 25.89 miles round trip
  • 2:29:44 of moving time
  • 2874 feet of climbing.

More to Come!

Admittedly I’ve barely scratched the gravel-riding surface but like the title of this post reads ’tis a brief what and where. Nonetheless I hope you found some of the “what” enlightening and some of the “where” inspiring. Pick your adventure, whether it’s one of my suggestions or not, and do some gravel.

It’s definitely more challenging than road cycling. In some (most) ways it’s harder than mountain biking (e.g. no shocks, smaller tires) but I’ve found that it’s also easier in terms of speed and nimbleness. I’ve got a lot more to learn but now that I’ve done a few rides, and gotten out of my own way a bit (those expectations, you know?) I’m certainly ready for more gravel!

How about you? Any tips or suggestions for some gravelly adventures?

Stay safe, be well and let’s kick some passes’ asses!

Yesterday’s Adventure – Big Blue Redux and Filming FUBARs

Fall is giving way to colder temperatures, including some sub-freezing readings here lately, and so I’m working hard to get some of those special rides in, film some fall colors for FulGaz, and knock off some more of those honey-do list items before our epic winter (putting out those Game of Thrones vibes, if you get my drift) sets in.

As you may recall I published a post late last month about riding around Lake Tahoe (aka Big Blue), and one of our loyal readers, Roy Franz, urged me to try the ride again, this time on a weekday and taking the clockwise direction.

And so it was that yesterday I found myself in Stateline, NV, on a fairly brisk morning (about 45 fahrenheit), gearing up to do just that.

Prepping for the Shoot

Yesterday morning I was up at o’dark thirty so that I could prep. my gear and the bike and get the GoPro mounted and ready. There is a little bit of work involved to make sure the camera angle is good, the battery back-up is charged and the top-tube pack that holds the back-up, cable and tool is not flopping around. A bit of “tape-work” is also needed in order to secure the cable to the bike, and to keep the GoPro’s battery and cable connection secure as well.

Before I headed out I used the very cool preview feature to make sure that the horizon was where it should be on the camera and I also double checked the settings too, or so I thought.

The plan was to record the entire ride in three (3) manageable sections, each approximately 1.5 hours long.

  • Stateline to Meek’s Bay
  • Meek’s Bay to Incline Village
  • Incline Village back to Stateline

Rolling…Kinda

All geared up. Settings good. Camera angle good. Power button pushed. Requisite beep heard. Hand waved in front of camera to signal the start for FulGaz’s engineers. Off I went.

Switching tacks for just a moment; let’s talk biology. There are a few times during the year that for whatever reason I seem to lose a lot of water weight. Typically a few days after hard efforts or too much mexican food. That salt, you know? I wasn’t expecting this day to be one of those but that’s the way the water works I guess, especially when you have (as my friend Mike would say) a bladder the size of a peanut.

A bit more context…If you do stop while filming a ride for FulGaz (FG) then you just go back about 20 yards from where you stopped and start again. I make a mental note of those instances so I can pass that info. on to FG. The team then edits that section out and for the most part you don’t even notice.

So, after about five (5) stops in the first 30 minutes, I was getting frustrated. Really bladder? Now? Today? Seriously? I kept doing my thing, and re-starting and apologizing to Klaus (their lead-dawg engineer), by commenting during the video. Finally, Mr. Bladder had gotten rid of the excess fluid and I was able to get to Meek’s Bay without another stop.

Beep. Upon my arrival I pushed the button and heard that comforting sound that acknowedged I had in fact stopped recording. I also stopped the ride on my Wahoo and saved it as well; the .fit file then syncs up nicely with the video. It’s also important to toggle off auto-pause or things get a little screwy, and to my credit I did do that. What I didn’t do, though, was look at the camera before I took off from Stateline.

Had I done that I would have noticed that I was in photo mode instead of video mode!

Yup, that’s what the FUBAR portion of this post’s title is all about. After all of that prepping, nature-breaking and riding from Stateline to Meek’s Bay I had NOTHING! Zippo! Nada! Oh well, I thought, at least it was an amazing day so far and I did have a section of this section recorded (when Chris and I did the counter-clockwise route in late September) so I’ll just use that. Still…shit! Or FUBAR! You pick.

Meek’s Bay to Incline Village

I planned on redeeming myself on this portion of the ride and what a BEAUTIFUL segment it was! Not too much climbing and a lot of the course was really close to the water so it should be a really pretty video. I made it to Incline without another bio-break and had a nice encounter (seriously) on the way with a Placer Co. deputy sheriff who pulled up next to me to remind me that two (2) ear buds is not better than one (1) when on a bicycle.

Frankly I’m a bit anxious to look at the clips for fear of another SNAFU (see “FUBAR-link” above) but based on what I saw on the GoPro’s screen (fingers crossed) I got this one so on to the next.

Incline to Stateline – The Finish

Looking down at the emerald green waters of Lake Tahoe from Highway 89. This photo was taken just south of Incline Village.

There’s a bit of climbing to get up and out of Incline so it was somewhat of a taxing finish but I thought it would be a nice juxtaposition to come from such a beautiful place to Stateline with its casinos and such. However, just after I went throught the tunnel at Cave Rock I heard a telltale series of beeps from the camera that indicated that either the battery had died or the media was full. Shit, again. And again, the oh well…If nothing else the FG ride will be Incline to Cave Rock. We shall see. Still not brave enough to look.

The Moral of the Story

Roy was oh so right. What a day of riding in one of the most beautiful places on earth! Clockwise, on a weekday that isn’t a Friday is definitely the ticket. There was much less traffic, the view from the lake side of the road is much better (there are some drop-offs but nothing too scary) and there were fewer tourists. Don’t get me wrong, I like tourists. I realize some don’t right now and I get that, too. IMHO they infuse the area with much needed ducats, yet it seems that sometimes they leave their brain at home, especially when confronted with such amazing scenery.

As for the FulGaz Faux Pas’, what can I say? Apparently I left my brain at home too. I’ve never (add saracastic tone here) done that when I’m doing the tourist thing.

The beauty of it, though, is that I can head back anytime before winter rears its oh so wonderful head and take another whack (or two or three) at it. Looking forward to that!

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?

Social Distancing Racing in the California Alps

American Lady

I hope this post finds you all staying healthy, safe and sane during these turbulent times. A special tip of the hat, by the way, to our front-line warriors who are helping many of our fellow citizens survive. At the same time, condolences go out to the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones due to the covid-19 pandemic. As I write these words, and so again take stock of the current state we’re in, I still can’t help feeling like Alice, or perhaps Dorothy. But, this ain’t Wonderland and it sure as hell ain’t Oz. Pardon the ain’ts – dramatic effect… Those stories, too, were more like dreams. This? This is a nightmare…and on so many levels. So, like you I suspect, I try to keep my mind focused on other things and live as normally as I can. Quick break while I sanitize my keyboard…🤓

Social Distancing Road Race Series

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest, by the way. No doubt many, if not all of you, are feeling the same way. That brings me to the main subject of this post: racing in this era of social distancing. For me, cycling has become even more important right now – it’s one of the things (probably the main thing) that’s helping me keep my mind off the nightmare. And, thanks to Alta Alpina Cycling Club I’ve got some racing options! AACC did us all of us locals a solid and morphed at least the first three (3) races of the season into virtual rides. Now I’ve never raced before but I’ve been training hard for organized rides that have now been canceled or postponed. So why not put some of that energy towards racing, eh? Especially, since it’s little less intimidating in this format. So, I jumped on in.

Race #1 – Fredricksburg Prologue (Time Trial)

The race director sends an email the weekend before the race and everyone has the entire week to complete the course, as many times as they wish, with results recorded on Strava (click on the link to see the segment). I took my first whack at it on Tuesday of last week and so was able to compare my numbers a bit to other racers/members. I knew I had some work to do to get into the top 10, which was my goal. So last Sunday I got my soigneur (aka my wife, Pat) to join me. Actually, she offered. Pretty sweet. She parked her fine-self next to the truck, read the paper and sipped on some coffee and off I went for a short warm up…

The course is only about 8 miles long so it was full-gas the entire time. Thanks to the live segments feature (try it if you haven’t) on Strava I was able to see my goal time, as well as my carrot’s best time, displayed on my computer. I was kicking ass on the way out – behind my goal (which was okay, it was a big hairy audacious goal after all) but ahead of my carrot. That all changed at the turnaround. I started losing time even though I had a bit of a tailwind. I put too much into the first-half of the course; I should have paced myself better. Oh, well, I said to my solo-self, only about 10 more minutes of pain.

The view from Foothill Road – can’t beat the location.

As I approached the finish, feeling and looking like many of the big dawgs I’ve seen on the TDF over the years, with snot pouring out of my nose and so much sweat on my glasses that I could barely see, I was cooked. As it should be, right? After a few minutes of gasping and hacking I was able to function again and actually speak to my wife, instead of just grunt. That spiked hot chocolate went down well as I reveled in my new PR. And, I ended up with a 9th place overall. I’ll take it!

Race #2 – AACC (Alta Alpina Cycling Club) Diamond Valley Clockwise (Time Trial)

Here’s a link to the course/segment, which I just road yesterday. While the course was really “designed” for a true road race, again this was a solo effort for each of us. I had done the route last year and so was anxious to see how (if?) I had improved. I needed some additional miles so I decided to do three (3) laps; if I did well on the first one then I’d take it easy on the next two (2) I figured. ‘Twas a beautiful morning and I was stoked that I didn’t need a vest or knickers. I wore my 2017 Deathride Finisher’s Jersey as I knew it would make me ride faster (it’s my version of the yellow jersey, you know?) and it did help. I shaved 3 1/2 minutes from my previous best time! Yowza! Still, not enough to beat the strong riders who have yet to ride the course. Right now I’m sitting in 5th position but I’m pretty darn sure that won’t hold. May have to give it another whirl this weekend but at this point I don’t think I’ll improve my time much so perhaps I’ll just ride Monitor or Ebbett’s instead.

Stay tuned! More Updates to Follow

I do have some news about Monitor and Ebbett’s, two (2) of our three (3) passes that we here at California Alps Cycling ride regularly, as well as some information about the upcoming fishing season and the Deathride. Stay tuned for that post. You can, in the meantime though, check our Facebook page for information on the former.

Happy riding and stay safe and healthy!

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 you’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.

A Deathride Resurgence in the California Alps

Well, in case you don’t already know…It’s official! Registration is open for the 40th anniversary of the Tour of the California Alps (aka The Deathride)!

The Alpine Co. Chamber of Commerce, located here in Markleeville, CA, hosts and owns the ride, and this year, as I alluded to back in September, we’ve (full disclosure – I’m on the Board of Directors) decided to up our game, hence the tagline: “Deathride Resurgence.”

First and foremost, we’ve hired the Bike the West team! These are the same professionals that put on “America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride” and “Tour de Tahoe” so we are stoked! (I’ll be riding the former in June, by the way).

We’ve also inked a deal with Alta Alpina Cycling Club to host a training series of approximately five (5) different rides in the Deathride area. This club (it is based in Carson Valley – Lake Tahoe but members, including yours truly, do a lot of riding in Alpine Co.) does a lot of good works in the area (among other things they are one of our “Adopt-a-Highway” neighbors) and also has great experience putting on races and rides of their own, including the Alta Alpina Challenge.

As the only hard-core cyclist on the board, I’ve also been making it my mission to help my colleagues better understand why we cyclists do what we do and why we like what we like; I’ve been able to bring some of what I’ve learned doing organized rides over the years as well as share some insights about the Deathride course and the mountains that we climb.

15000 Feet of Elevation and 5 Categorized Climbs

Like I mentioned above, a change in terminology…We’ll still be climbing both sides of Monitor Pass, both sides of Ebbett’s Pass (albeit not all the way into Bear Valley – keep reading) and the eastern side of Carson Pass. In the past we referred each of these as passes but this year we’ve begun using the UCI lexicon – climbs. Technically, we only climb to three passes, right? We do, however, do five categorized climbs, four of which are hors catégorie (the other is a Cat. 1).

A Renewed Emphasis on Safety

With a strong(er) emphasis on safety this year, including more outreach to neophyte deathriders, we will make the ride even safer. We’re talking hay bales at risky corners (think Cadillac Curve), better signage, more robust outreach to non-riders, course marshals, safety talks and training, SAG and sweep support, HAM radio communications and staggered starts. For you early birds, including this guy, that means no more getting on the course at 3:30 a.m. The ride begins no earlier than 5:00 a.m.; we’ll have groups of riders departing every 15 minutes (you can pick your start time when you register). While we’ve got an excellent safety record, thanks to Curtis and Team, we’ll be even safer this year.

Other Route Options Being Explored

We had hoped to change the route this year to include Pacific Grade, and to remove Carson Pass. Unfortunately due to various concerns from CalTrans, local and state law enforcement, business owners, and others, we were not able to make it happen. Many riders have expressed support for this change and we appreciate that but currently there are so many logistical concerns we decided we needed to move on, at least this year. We’ll continue to work on it with the hopes that we can bring our neighbors to the southwest into the Deathride fold. Wouldn’t it be awesome to ride into Bear Valley or Lake Alpine next year? And, while Carson Pass is beautiful, I personally would much rather do a longer stretch of Highway 4 instead. Have some thoughts on this? Comment on this post or our Facebook page or better yet, bring your fine self and your voice to the ride this year and let us, and others, know how you feel. We’d love to hear from you!

You coming?

It’s a grueling and painful, yet amazing experience to do the Deathride. I’ve ridden it three (3) times yet only completed all the climbs one time (in 2017). In 2018 I was only able to complete three (3) climbs and last year, while I was the strongest I had ever been, I caught a nasty cough the day before the ride. Still, I was able to complete four (4) climbs: 7.5 hours on the bike, 10,433 feet of elevation and about 83 miles of distance. This year, I’m hoping to PR this bad boy and it would be great if you could join us too. Whether you’re all in and planning on doing all the climbs or doing fewer, I promise you’ll have fun and most importantly, you’ll learn a lot about yourself. And remember, there will be no cars on Monitor or Ebbett’s for most of the day – and that makes for an even more remarkable (dare I say mind-blowing?) experience.

I should also mention that we’re looking to up our game when it comes to food, fun and other amenities. Those things are still a work in progress so stay tuned for further updates but suffice it to say we’ve heard you, and our community, so it’s all on the table and our goal is to impress.

So, if you’ve joined us before, we’d love to have you back and if you haven’t and you’re looking for a world-class ride in a world-class setting, come and check it out. Alpine Co. would love to see you!

Some photos from past Deathrides

I’ll leave you all with some images that I’ve taken from past rides. Enjoy!

Oh and by the way, there’s been some confusion over the years about the relationship between California Alps Cycling and the Deathride. While the ride is near and dear to our (and mine) hearts, and were are both in Markleeville, California Alps Cycling is not affiliated with the Deathride.

Last Weekend’s Adventures in the California Alps

After a crazy week of work, community activities and training it was great to take a day for my head and just relax a bit. The weather was about to turn cold (it has as of this a.m. – 5 degrees fahrenheit here this morning) so we wanted to take advantage of the mid-70’s we were supposed to have, (and did!) on Saturday.

Footprints tell the story…

My wife, Mom and I headed to Curtz Lake here in Markleeville for a bit of hiking and birdwatching. The former was the plan, the latter was a bonus. As you can see by the many prints on the trail (there are some deer and other animal prints in there – look closely) lots of folks take advantage of this loop trail that was built, and is maintained, by the Alpine Trails Association.

It’s a nice easy loop and good for all ages and levels of hiking, and for me personally it was a great rest/recovery day after a hard week of riding. I did mention birdwatching… Here’s a few of the birds we saw (and that I could actually identify – not a professional birder by any means) on the hike:

  1. Clark’s Nutcracker
  2. Western Bluebirds (male and female)
  3. Red-breasted AND white-breasted Nuthatch
  4. The ubiquitous Steller’s Jay

We were surprised by the amount of activity, especially the nuthatches. They were all over the place and so fun to watch with their telltale downward “walk.”

After that taxing (not!) stroll we were in need of sustenance, so off to Genoa we went. A blood mary at the Genoa Bar (Nevada’s Oldest Thirst Parlor – founded in 1853) is always an excellent option and some good grub at the Genoa Station Bar & Grille was a nice follow up.

Amazing light and fluorescent aspens

Later that afternoon it was time for a ride. I hadn’t planned on it since it was supposed to be my rest day but the weather was glorious (mid-70s) and it was supposed to (and did) turn cold the next day, so of course I had to partake. So glad I did because the light coming through the East Carson River canyon was fantastic.

We’ve still got a bit of leaf-peeping left here in the California Alps so come on up if you’re so inclined.

We’ll be doing a bit of peeping ourselves this weekend. A few of us are doing a ride up to Ebbett’s pass Saturday (weather should be good – 65 or so by late morning or early afternoon). If you’d like to join us give me a shout!

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the pix and that your riding, or other planned adventures, are feeding your head, too.