Rapunzel & the 3 Bears, southern east bay hills style (Sierra, Calaveras, Palomeras), (Sunday – June 17, 2012)

Rapunzel and 2 lovely handmaidens (Sue J & Barb McQ) started this moxy metric century on Sunday.  I didn’t bring the camera this time, nor did i snap any phone pics, but we may see some from Barb’s direction soon?

I am pleased to be in the company of two women cyclists in the club whom I greatly admire… Sue does doubles and brevets and has completed PBP (twice!!) and Barb is a triathlete/iron-woman who started riding doubles last year or so and is also a marathon runner (this year entered and completed Boston marathon!).  I know I am looking at a nice day in the company of these wonderful women and maybe a few other folks; I also know the usual suspects are already pre-committed to Fathers’ Day activities, or currently ensconced in the pleasures of bicycle touring in Italy, or the Sierra Century, or still recovering from injuries, and a few others. . . well, maybe they just thought the ride would be too HARD!!  In the end, three of us left Fremont BART together, and two of us finished in Castro Valley as scheduled… a smaller gang than I would have expected, but we had a wonderful day nonetheless.

We waited for the next train after the one Barb & I came in on, because BART has “scheduled delays” now at Hayward, where each train just sits there now for about 17 minutes before continuing on through Union City to Fremont…. so our 9:30 departure (delayed to 9:45-ish with the delay of our train) was further delayed to accommodate anyone who might be on that next train originally due in at 9:28…. I also was waiting for one rider who had indicated the day before would be there, but figured out there weren’t any more riders on that train after everyone had exited the station and the train had pulled away, so we headed out at about 10:00.

We started out slow and easy. Paseo Padre Parkway is such a pleasant alternative to the straight route out through Fremont, and we enjoyed nice conversation and an overall lack of traffic. My route also detours on a zig zag pattern from E.Warren Ave through the quiet residential areas of town (before joining Warm Springs further south), and then bends back along Scott Creek Road and onto Green Valley Road which becomes N. Park Victoria… another mellow, breezy parkway, then onto Jacklin shortly before the intersection of Evans-Piedmont and Calaveras Rd. It’s a nice stroll along Piedmont Rd to our first rest stop at Penitencia Creek Park at mile 17 (http://www.yelp.com/biz/penitencia-creek-park-and-trail-san-jose).  Sue makes an adjustment on her handlebars – height and angle; she is riding her Bike Friday today, favoring its low gearing over that of her road bike… but it’s the first time after a bicycle-vacation out in New Mexico w/ the bike Friday, and the bike wants some tweaking for today’s adventure.

From the park we double-back onto Berryessa Rd to Piedmont Rd and start to see the DMD signs marking the roadway and the main portion of our route, starting with the one signaling to turn RIGHT up Sierra Road.  I have enticed the gals with the notion of “ICE CREAM” and “Salty Snacks” and coffee (not Peet’s but it does have some caffeine) at the Olivera Egg Ranch market at the base of Sierra Road (http://www.yelp.com/biz/olivera-egg-ranch-san-jose), both as a cultural diversion (i figured they’d get a kick out of the salted duck eggs and balut… I’d never been in myself, but had researched it when making my original cue sheet a few months back.  Besides, Sue has indicated she needs to buy snacks, so we duck in there and all happily purchase our light treats while the regular customers come and go, carrying huge flats of fresh, cheap eggs on their way out.  For us, it’s IT’s-IT for $1.25, Ben & Jerry’s bars for about the same!  The freezer section also has those yummy, refreshing Mexican fruit bars and a variety of other ice cream confections: Klondike bars, drum sticks, rocketships and the like.  Some packaged nuts for Barb, Dove bar & cookies for Sue, It’s-It for me, and Barb has a quick coffee, as well.  We take our time with the advantage of shade in the drive-through area outside by the entrance to enjoy or treats.  Can’t beat it!!

Each stage of the ride offers increasingly rewarding reasons to do it (the sheer challenge culminating in incredible views on Sierra, the descent on Felter, the rural, expansive beauty of Calaveras and a wall at the beginning that is so short and sweet it’s over before you know it… and the cool, tree lined afternoon shade of Palomares).  Papa, Mama, Baby… bing bang bum, here i come!

Starting out up Sierra Rd after our ice cream break, Barb is first, then Sue, and then me.  I pass Sue in the first block, pedaling slowly since I had donated blood as recently as Tuesday, so my own pace was deliberately measured and more relaxed than I would have normally put out, taking care also to take deep, slow, meditative breaths so as not to stress my heart muscle and legs which had during the week given me sharp reminders to “slow down” on my hilly commutes on Spruce/Grizzly Peak Blvd. on Wednesday & Thursday: those tugging sensations next to the sternum and some tingly, twitching in my thighs.  Coach Ben sez if he had known I was thinking of donating blood so close to both my Rapunzel ride and the upcoming Alta Alpina Century, he would have counseled me to skip the bloodletting this time around. I kinda knew that, so hadn’t mentioned it ahead of time (oops!).  The downside is that I don’t dare go into a standing pedal stance even once during that climb, so i’m out in the heat longer, and my legs want a break toward the top.

Sierra Rd has a few trees now and again, specifically right when you need them the most at miles 18, 19, 20 & 21 of my ride (accordingly at mile 1, 2, 3 & 4 of the Sierra Rd portion).  Still, this Papa Bear (Sierra), compared with our milder local version, she’s a bitch!!  And in the noontime heat, riding up that blacktop surface, a bit HOT!

I keep forgetting as I ride which mileage point and what lies around each bend in the road, and am imagining that every big turn might be the summit, only to be proven wrong with a steeper section just around the corner, especially in the last mile of it.  It is a welcome sight to finally see Barb up by the big green gated fence near the final left-hand turn, taking pictures of my “Victory” approach.  I feel pretty proud, my fourth time up this monster, and this trip with a slightly compromised red-blood cell supply.  I lead Barb down to the next plateau, where I favor the views out south-westward over the Silicon Valley and also south-eastward out toward Lick Observatory visible on the top of Mount Hamilton in the distance.  Then after a few minutes of waiting, I decide it would be nice for Sue to get the same welcome I’ve had at the first summit, so we double back to that point, pick a nice place in the cool breeze with a built in step/seat carved out in the dirt, and chat away for a while. Finally check my phone, and see a txt msg from Sue saying she is bailing “hot but not strong. Bailing. enjoy the ride.”   I send back a text intended to say “OK, we’re heading out. Thanks for the msg,” only i couldn’t see the danged screen to verify what keys i’m pressing, and between that deficiency and the auto-spellchecker on the phone, when I saw many hours later at BART, I burst out laughing, having realized that THIS was the reply I’d actually sent: “Old. Wenninger head out[smiley droid monster icon]. Thanks Js for note.”  SHEESH!!!  Poor Sue must have thought me either incredibly rude or perhaps insane!!

Here are some photos Barb snapped at the top (while waiting for me):

Home, home on the range…..

here i am, happy to be arriving at the summit.. at last!

pretty popular route for such a hard mutha…!

Continuing on Sierra onto the backside of the mountain, Felter is one of those glorious descents over a lush, variegated green, steep canyon.  There’s a short, rolling climb between the first/western summit of Sierra Rd and where Sierra transitions to Felter, and then you’re passing farmhouses and horse ranches on a fast but not scary or overly technical one-lane road all the way down to the outskirts of Milpitas.  Felter intersects Calaveras Rd at the bottom, so going straight you continue onto Calaveras Rd (the piece that eventually comes down to Evans/Piedmont), or you take an uphill RIGHT up the Wall.  I prefer the former, as the right turn comes up fast in the middle of a fast descent, no reason to break stride… besides, it’s a good idea to head to Ed Levin park for a real brick/mortar/running water bathroom and water fountain.

We have a short break at Ed Levin, then head back out on Calaveras to the Wall.  Barb and I both agree that Calaveras this direction is much preferable to the seemingly endless grinding climb in the clockwise direction.  As Barb puts it, you feel like you have a net-downhill.  I also like the approach onto the Calaveras “Wall” taking a left turn from Calaveras Rd, you can see what you need to do in advance, all laid out in full glory.  No secrets, no nasty surprises.  The wall is steep but short and sweet, and we soon glide into the rhythm of the alternating turns.  There seems to be less water in the lower marshy part of the reservoir, almost like a pond.  I look for the eagles, but don’t see them.  On Calaveras, we are no longer suffering the heat.  Every turn affords wonderful breezes and new views of the canyon.  We pace each other well, also giving each other encouragement and reminders to lean into the turn here, lay off the brakes there, spin through in a stand now and again.  In no time we’re on the downhill stretch from the construction area.  I have had an eye out for signs of Friday’s fire, and see/smell/feel no trace there has been one.  On the other hand, the construction site is making that end of the canyon and the dam look like a giant, barren quarry.  YUK!

On the final stretch along Paloma Blvd to Sunol, Barb is ready to just be there.  Her odometer has been acting up, so I am reading off the mileage points, offering encouragement “just another 2 miles of flat” and we are hammering along, as one can’t help but do on that road.  At Sunol, we make a B-Line for the my next scheduled regroup, the Sunol Jazz Cafe (http://sunoljazzcafe.com/index.html), my favorite spot in town since a year or so ago. Good coffee drinks, sandwiches, Sunday a.m. brunch, occasional live music, and even when it’s canned, it’s hip and cool.  Well, in our case it’s coming up on after 3:30pm, so brunch is long over!  And still a bit hot, although nothing like on Sierra Rd. When we arrive, Barb says “Boy, I could really go for a smoothie” (i really don’t know whether this was just good karma or wishful thinking or there was a sign in the patio entrance advertising these) and magically, the gal sitting around the corner on the shady porch steps up and says “Do you want a smoothie? I can make one, we have mango, banana, strawberry today.  Oh yeah, do we EVER want a smoothie!!  “Two, please!!”  And as we were contemplating sandwiches, the smoothie-maven’s workmate entices us with the offer of making us a “slice” of pizza.  We realize later he was kneading the dough as he asked us, and then they explained that the slices are actually like little personal pizzas.  Well, not just personal size, but personally, custom-made.  Barb and I chilled happily in the patio with another rider from Livermore who had come up right when we arrived, and to whom I’d given the affirmative nod when he asked “is this the best place in town for getting some food?”  Oh yeah!!  By Far! I say (and mean!).  All three of us order smoothies and are blissfully sipping them when the guy’s “SAG” arrives.  I say that favor is definitely worthy and deserving of a smoothie, which he offers his friend/wife/sister, but she declines (??)… Then our pizzas arrive.  Man o man, just like Italy.  Sitting in the shaded patio, al fresco — filtered sunshine gracing the day, excellent company, streaks of cool breezes and made-to-order hot-from-the-oven organic pizza: thin, crunchy crust, fresh toppings (Barb has ordered something with sausage and tomato: Bella – Italian Sausage, Baby Bella Mushrooms, Sweet Bell Peppers, Fresh Garlic, Red Sauce); feeling the good effects of a “girl day”, I have chosen the one with the wistful name and some of my favorite ingredients: Mary Moon – Sun Dried Tomatoes, Kalamata Olives, Spinach, Feta, Mozzarella, Fresh Garlic, Pesto Sauce – basically a bit of health heaven.  It is past 4pm when we leave Sunol, but such a pleasant break.  Somehow we don’t feel like we are rushed.

artistic moment at the Sunol Jazz Cafe after a satisfying lunch of pizza and smoothies…

my intrepid ride companion and photojournalist, Barb… all decked out in Grizzly kit.

almost ready to go… one more pic for the road. hey, there’s both of us!

Niles Cyn is well… Niles Cyn. We trade pacing spots front/back whenever there is a safe place to switch, and the sharp turn up onto Palomares comes before we know it.  And oh, how sublime!!  Nothing too steep (ok, that’s not quite true, the overcorrected uphill right turn ONTO it is hecka-steep!) and the ascent almost completely tree lined with the gurgle and views of water and little waterfalls (from both sides of the road as it meanders back and forth over the creek).  I usually count off the mileage points on this climb, but today am engaged in nice conversation and as with other parts of this ride, the summit with its stands of oak trees overlooking the golden hillside is suddenly there before we expect it.  No need to stop for either of us, and we start that beautiful descent down the other side.  I feel myself grinning ear to ear, like a kid out of school.  Now THIS is a sweet downhill, i think!  Barb finally catches me toward the bottom, commenting that i was just bombing it from the top… Felt good, too!  I am so pleased to be completing the WHOLE ride, since my earlier pre-ride solo version was a race against the clock and shortcut to Union City BART in the interest of time.  This time, Palomares has been such a welcome treat.. kind of like dessert after the harsh rigors of Papa Bear (Sierra Rd) in blazing sun earlier in the day and the rolling, slappy Aunt Jemima curves of stout Mama Bear (Calaveras) in the middle.  Truly, this Baby Bear (Palomeras) feels JUST RIGHT… In control, nothing too steep, nothing too fast, but having fun and being reminded each foot of the way of why we love this cycling life!

Just a short stretch further onto Palo Verde, Dublin Cyn Rd, and then the final stretch along E. Castro Valley Blvd. (not so bad that direction, not the continual uphill slog against stop lights you encounter on the other side, going the opposite direction on a “clockwise” Palomares loop).  Since it is Fathers’ Day, Barb plans to head back to BART directly; again I give encouragement about the mileage to let her know the end is in sight and close at hand (“only 2 miles left”).  Also, I still have my PB&J&Banana sandwich from home in my back pocket and plenty of liquids in my bottles, so given the approaching evening hour, it’s a no brainer to skip the optional post-ride recovery meal on Redwood Road (Lucky shopping center), and we take the nice cut-off from E. Castro Valley Blvd onto Norbridge Ave straight to BART (which had been my original route before tweaking it to add the extra rest stops for the March ride calendar, and also is noted on the present cue sheet as an option).

On the last stretch of my BART ride, between about MacArthur and my final exit station at El Cerrito Plaza, I contemplated the bone-chilling “summer” fog present all along the Berkeley-Albany-El Cerrito corridor… and was suddenly thankful for my escape that day to the warmth of the south bay.  Apparently the cool layer had arrived and settled into Albany much earlier in the day and was stubbornly staking out its claim on my home turf when I reached El Cerrito at 7:15 pm and home a few minutes later.

Somehow Ben hasn’t received or seen my text replies to his messages, so is feeling wounded and a bit sore at my apparent lack of communication about dinner and my general whereabouts and safety, and also at that point is in no mood to hear tales of my big day, so I munch my Peanut Butter/Banana/Jelly sandwich in silence (but happily) while he concentrates on the US Open or maybe Champions’ League.  At some point the viewings switch over to the Tour de Suisse, and we watch a few stages together as i attempt to multi-task with edits on my now-late write-up about Jane B’s memorial ride and gathering, and also a nap between huge gulps of water.

Wake up feeling buff and strong Monday morning.  I think I might be ready for the Alta Alpina, after all!  Thanks to Barb for going the distance, and to Sue for showing up and attempting the ride.  No question it’s a tough one, very hilly for the mileage… but so very worth it!  And yeah, tough is always relative… i remind myself each time i see another one of those markers on the road, it’s only just over 1/4 of the DMD!! DUDES AND DUDETTES OF DMD, YOU RULE!!!  I am in awe!  (but as our buddy Rich Fisher would say, “different buckets”… true dat, mon!!)

I’ll re-list my little ride again in the Fall and hope for slightly cooler temps (or perhaps on a summer Saturday, which would allow for earlier start times due to earlier BART trains), so there will be opportunities in future to join us and I think it will eventually prove to be a popular route, despite the challenge.

My stats for the day (includes some slow-mo bike walking in and around Castro Valley BART and BayFair BART stations before i unclipped my cyclometer from the bike):
62.59 miles
Hills: about 6159-6700 ft, depending on which mapping tool one uses.
mph: 10.9 avg
max: 36.9
slowest time: about 3.2 going up Sierra Rd when i felt my heart muscle pinching
saddle time: 5:40 and change
start time: about 10 a.m. – finish time: about 6 p.m. (long breaks and slowed pace)
payoff: Priceless!!

Cheers & peace out!

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