Novice and Sandbagger Ride #5 – Franklin Canyon and Carquinez Scenic Drive (Sunday – September 2, 2012)

Great ride today, wonderful turnout and fantastic weather! Just enough breeze to counter the heat. This was Ride No. 5 in a Novice Series currently coordinated for the last nine years by Toshi Takeuchi to bring new riders into the sport and into the club. The Novice Ride Series serves a great role in our local cycling culture, building confidence in people who might otherwise not attempt a ride on their own.  It also introduces people to  roads in our area that are completely new to them.  We have no shortage of incredibly beautiful roads and really cool old towns in between which make exploring a lot of fun.

We had one tandem (Fil and Sally) and of course Toshi on the triple with intrepid stokers Mei and Tomo, who kept us entertained with their lively conversation, mostly bartering with each other for energy snacks, and good positive energy.

Entire family on the move: Yonchu, Toshi, Mei and Tomo…..

Ben rode his new recumbent. His longest ride on it yet! (So much for injury status… he was consistently off the front with the fast group! But to be fair, yes, this day he did deserve and also receive a good neck rub at our lunch break and then again after the ride once I got home.)

This year the ridership in the Novice Series has been lighter than usual, and I attribute that to the great job that GPC members are doing posting rides in the Wheel Truth, as more often than not, the Novice Rides also draws many current club members who are far from novices, but show up just because it’s a listed ride that’s easily accessible via BART, but also to lend some additional guidance and assistance… in this regard, some of us of the more sardonic persuasion often refer to the rides as the “Novice and Sand-bagger Ride Series”.

However, based on this year’s counts on Rides 1-4, we decided that 30 cue sheets and 2 rider sign-in sheets (15 names per sheet) would be sufficient.

Well!!! We were pleasantly surprised: we had a showing more in keeping with the rides of previous years’ Novice Series rides. Thirty-six riders including the five ride leaders (myself, Jeff Kurtock, Barb McQuinn, Jim O’Melia and Ross Simkover)…. maybe 37 cuz on the rider sign-in sheet looks like two people signed in on the same line.  Then again, i just noticed Toshi signed twice, once as himself and once as himself as part of the triple group.

Since Ben decided he’d like to come, I opted not to go for “bonus miles” with a ride up and over from Albany, and we drove out together with both bikes loaded up on the car. I thought we arrived pretty early, so we took our time a bit getting things unloaded, necks rubbed, pockets filled and then riding around the corner to the meeting point on the other side of the BART station. Many riders already assembled, and even more once i finished my detour to the BART restroom.

I had brought rider sign-in sheets in addition to the two Jeff was going to bring, and we started sign-ins. Jeff showed up and we had most people signed in. Jeff passed out lengths of bright orange ribbons for each of us 5 leaders, to tie to our helmets to be more easily identifiable as ride leaders, gave the general briefing about the route and the ride, and we were off. By the time we were done signing everyone in, we had filled both sheets, plus the back of one. Pulled out from BART along Coggins and I was the last to leave and was doing “sweep”… just before taking off, I saw a grey handlebar cap, and stuck into my pocket hoping to find its owner during our ride.

making the turn onto Pleasant Hill Road

The group stayed together on Oak Park Blvd, but once we got onto Pleasant Hill Road things started stretching out. This is partly because of the frequent stop lights along PH Road, some of which change quickly from green to red in about 10-15 seconds (similarly to the ASSR from Orinda BART).  And partly because the last section of Pleasant Hill Road has some bumps that can almost qualify as a hill, and most certainly do for a new rider!

Just past the shopping center in Pleasant Hill Road, Ross announced that Barb had lost her orange “ride-leader” ribbon, which had fallen off of her helmet. I hadn’t seen it, or would have picked it up. Just after that, I saw Barb ahead of us, pulled over on the side of the road. I asked if she had stopped because her ribbon came loose, but she had stopped to return a phone message (because she is “on call” in her real job that day), but it turned out to be a wrong number.

happy biker chick!

I stopped at the light where Pleasant Hill Rd becomes Alhambra Ave at Alhambra Valley Road to take a picture as some of the other riders behind me passed which ended up confusing some people. One rider slipped in new clip less pedals, and Mike asked if thinking maybe we should be turning there. No.. go straight, i said. After waiting to get another shot of Toshi and his family, I set out again….

Then we reached the left onto Franklin Canyon Road, a largish pod of our riders were pulled over on the side of the road just after the turn: Toshi and Mei were both off the triple, Tomo still sitting 3rd saddle, with Toshi’s wife holding the bike steady. Toshi and Mike were working on the Yonchu’s bike… the rear derailleur was rubbing and causing a lot of friction, making pedaling very difficult. Toshi and Mike got it rideable. Meanwhile, Ross showed up with Elaine, who had gotten a flat on PH Road. Ross also said that Jim was chasing down a couple of people on mountain bikes who had missed the turn at Franklin Canyon (or maybe taken the early turn onto Alhambra Valley Avenue… and maybe weren’t even a part of our group), and I knew that Barb was still back there too.

“…. the long and NOT winding road…” that leads to your door, or at least to Crockett (Cummings Skyway)

So, realizing that Jeff was the only leader anywhere near the front of the group, i decided to jet out and see if i could catch up and help out up near the front.

Seasoned riders attacking the hill on Cummings Skyway!! (Bebe, Mark and Jeff)

Finally caught Jeff on Cummings Skyway. He mentioned about a dozen riders were ahead of him, and that we didn’t really need to chase them down, since they had chosen to go way above the listed pace.. and i knew that Ben was among the faster riders on this ride.

Crockett Hills Regional Park – restroom and water break

Jeff caught up with me on the downhill of Crockett Blvd and marked the turnoff for our restroom break at Crockett Hills Regional Park. A few riders were waiting in line. One restroom…. then Bebe figured out there was no-body inside, and the line went quickly after that.

I led the group out from the turnoff back onto Crockett Blvd as the traffic cleared, and we held a steady pace on the slight uphill through Crockett turning onto Pomona. At the end of town, Pomona does an “S” curve and becomes Carquinez Scenic Drive. One rider is a visitor from Kentucky who keeps her old bike here for her yearly 2-week visits. It was enjoyable hearing about the rides along the rolling hills in her home turf. I also love sharing the Carquinez Scenic Drive with new riders, who are also usually less familiar with the general geography and history of our little seaside towns along the Strait, Crockett, Port Costa, Martinez, and on the other side, Vallejo at the edge of San Pablo Bay and Benicia at the turn of the Strait into the beginning of the Delta.  As I ride along Carquinez Scenic Drive, I feel and have a picture of my face with an ear to ear smile of perfect contentedness and joy.  This road does that to me every time!

I have to reflect, when asked by Carole from Kentucky about how this ride compares with other Grizzly Peak Cyclist rides, and tell her that although this ride is listed as a 3/L/32, it doesn’t feel like a “3” to me in hilliness, more like a 1-1/2 or 2, and the “L” rating, denoting an 8-9 mph overall speed, seems about right for the novice group, but is now much slower than what I am used to doing. In fact, at times it feels like if i hold back too much more i’ll be going into a track stand, although that is a bit of an exaggeration. I mention that i’m planning on going on the Mt. Tam ride the following day which will be about 50 miles and I say I’ll be really pushing it to “keep up with the big kids” on that ride which is a notch faster than i’m comfortable or really capable of doing for any long stretch, at TMM. So this weekend i’m pushing my abilities at both ends of the spectrum, as SLOW as i can ride on Sunday, and as FAST as i can ride on Monday!  As I say this, I marvel at the wide range of riders we have in GPC and even on this Novice ride.  It’s a good feeling to know I’ve come a bit along in my own riding abilities since joining GPC, too.  I know that many ride leaders have been very patient waiting for me at regroups over time, and i’m grateful.

We reach Martinez and the one little bump that feels like an actual hill — and used to feel like a really hard hill (passing the Cemetery), and then descend on Talbart and Escobar into town. I have hung back and given some heads up about what to expect, in the bumpiness of the pavement, wanting to be in the left (i.e., wrong) lane due to the metal teeth in the road in the right lane immediately before the approach to the hill.

Ben and some others are at already (or still) at Luigi’s and Ben shares the bag of chips with me for a salty snack. He has an orange energy drink he’s also purchased there. Some other people have detoured up the street to Starbucks or other places for food. I head inside Luigi’s to check out the drinks, and the lunch counter is in full swing.

Luigi’s makes killer sandwiches at a very fair price. Sandwich, drink & chips combo is $7.50! I had brought my standard peanut butter, banana, jelly and arugula sandwich from home and was tempted to leave it in my pocket/Camelbak in favor of one of Luigi’s creations, but decided just to choose a drink from their amazingly well-stocked cold-beverage refrigerators. Unbelievable selection. Apparently one of the sandwich-counter workers called in sick that day, so there was a bit of a wait for folks who ordered sandwiches, but they looked (and apparently tasted) wonderful. Next time through I might just bring my wallet and plan on having one of Luigi’s sandwiches! They also have a nice selection of freshly made salads.

Luigi’s Deli and Market – salads!

Hooray for 3-Twins ice cream, too! Delicious…..and nice to support a relatively “local” company (Petaluma). I had a double, with pistachio and Bittersweet chocolate. Really, really good pistachio…. chock full nuts and great flavor, and the ice cream itself just tastes like real food, not too sticky-gooey, very fresh and healthy!! (ice cream is one of the four food groups, you know: ice cream, coffee, chocolate, alcohol). Some people even had to go back and get a second cone! (and of them is a Tri-athlete and Iron-woman, so she can eat ANYTHING she wants, any time!!).

3 Twins ice cream (from Petaluma) at Luigi’s.

Barb and Hal, deciding on seconds at the ice cream counter… seriously, it was THAT good!

Luigi’s also has a pretty sizable outside seating area, or really two, as there is a “park let” both along the front on Main Street, as well as one on Castro Street, in addition to indoor seating, where diners can enjoy live music (today it was a Hawaiian combo, complete with dancing).

Ben took off with Fil and Sally and some of the other riders who’d gotten to Martinez ahead of us, while I waited to make sure the rest of our group was accounted for. After a while, they all arrived. Yonchu had had another mechanical with the derailleur and I think Jeff ended up helping out with that one. Since we had agreed that Ben should just drive home when he got to BART and I would either take BART or ride up and over the hills (not likely, as i wanted to save my legs a bit for Monday’s Mt. Tam ride with the fast folks). In any case, there was no reason for me to be in a rush, and i waited with the rest of the group so we could all head out together.

On the home stretch, I bombed through the green light at Taylor, then waited on the other side for the group who got caught behind the yellow light. When they caught up, Jim & I reminisced about “that exact spot” for last time we were on this part of Pleasant Hill Road, I was treated to a free emergency broken-spoke wheel tuning demonstration as Jim got his broken-spoke wheel fixed up enough to ride back to BART and then home, as he’d broken a spoke on that ride just before that intersection. He did a fine job on that wheel, too, if I may say so!

When we got back to BART, we hung around waiting for some of the other riders who were behind us. I remembered I still had that bar-end cap in my back pocket, and when I mentioned it, Jeff said that Barb was missing one. I called her cell to tell her I’d found one and it might be hers… and also saw a text message from the GPC person who’d contacted me earlier about the ride, but didn’t show. (unfortunately, if my phone rings while i’m in the car or on the bike, or in the midst of pre-ride sign-ins and briefings, i don’t necessarily hear the call coming in). The message said he’d caught the wrong BART train and would be at PH BART at 10:10. Then a follow-up message saying “make that 10:17.” Aha! We’d taken off around 10:20, and with a sizable group, so had just missed him, long stairway in those BART stations, etc.. Turns out he was resourceful and having made the trip, found the Iron Horse Trail and explored a bit in those parts, also a good option for a novice ride.

Some of our other riders straggled in at BART finish, and one of the new riders was on the phone talking his partner through the home stretch, telling how to make the turn onto Oak Park from PH Road, etc. Not the only person who was lost. Barb showed up and confessed she’d also put in some extra miles, having taken a wrong turn (onto Alhambra Valley Road) from Alhambra Ave, instead of staying straight and taking Pleasant Hill Road, because she had her cue sheet folded in such a way that the word “DON’T” (in “Bear left to stay on Alhambra Ave; don’t turn right onto Alhambra Valley Rd”) was not visible, so she followed the instruction to “turn right onto Alhambra Valley Rd.” She was all the way up almost to the top of Pig Farm Hill and cursing the cue sheet before she figured out the error of her ways and turned around.  Barb is a strong rider, so the extra miles were no hardship for her; besides which, she had plenty of excess fuel after those 2 double scoop cones of yummy 3 twins in Martinez (-:

Barb and Jeff, recounting a successful ride during the home stretch on BART

I appreciate everyone’s participation in today’s ride, and thanks to all my co-leaders Jeff, Barb, Ross and Jim, for a great job! I’d like to also call out a special thank-you to Melarie, who marked the turn from Cummings Skyway to Crockett Blvd (apparently some riders missed it last year). Melarie is one of those Grizzlies who is always on the ready and lending a hand, even when she is not in an “official” ride-leader capacity. Just a good person, all around!  We are very fortunate to have Melarie in GPC!

One thing about today’s ride: It was a challenge to remember what “L” felt like and to try to hold to that pace, and very rewarding to see so many riders coming out and putting in an all-out effort…. So congrats to all the riders who completed the ride. I remember when the climbs on that route felt really, really hilly….. and the descents felt scary fast.  What a difference a couple years make!

Thanks to Toshi for designing and coordinating the Novice Ride Series.  Great concept, truly, and very rewarding.

Distance: 33.34 miles
Speed:  11.2 mph avg (a bit fast for an “L” paced novice ride, but i did some short loops on Franklin Canyon sweeping, and pushed hard between the bottom of Franklin Canyon to Cummings Skyway and Crockett Blvd to give Jeff K a break when i realized that he was alone up in front with the bigger group and there were 3 leaders behind me with only a handful of riders.)
Max Speed:  30.2 mph
Pleasure Meter:  36 big wide grins counted, including mine!



Addendum/Correction:  correction!!… it has been brought to my attention by a very reliable source that the Novice Series started sometime before Toshi’s tenure.

I still think he does a great job organizing it in the current period…..
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