The Biking Lifeby: Naomi Bloom 8/1/2007
Are We Having Fun Yet
Right here, right now seems like the perfect place and time to be on a bicycle in Northern California. The weather is perfect -- high 70s to mid 80s nearly every day, with cool afternoon breezes blowing off the Bay. And every day there's coverage of the Tour de France on the TV or the Web to whet my appetite for getting out on the bike.
There's just one little problem: I'm not having as much fun with all that as I used to. I seem to bog down like this at least once a year. Last year, when I asked How Come?, it was later in the summer. At that time it felt kind of like a letdown after returning from the Pyrenees. This year things seem to have ground to a halt much sooner.
Road work ahead
This summer I'm riding the same old roads, the ones I love to brag about to out-of-towners the rest of the year. But nowadays they all seem to be under construction! Exhaust-belching behemoths of grinding, paving and slurrying equipment are out there laying down oil and gravel -- what I like to call "cheap" seal -- ruining the surface of some of the best climbs and descents in my part of Santa Clara County.
Even months after that stuff rolls out, I find myself battling with the surface instead of concentrating on the climb. Case in point: Mt. Eden Road, once my easy-going early-morning pre-break fast workout, which the county resurfaced with cheap seal over a year ago. Now it feels a lot harder to climb than its tougher neighbor, Pierce Road, with its 12%-or-so paved wall that's smooth as silk.
Bottom line: It's no fun to ride bumpy, sloggy roads.
Hurts to be me
Adding injury to the insult of rotten roads, I've been in pain off and on this past month. This is my second episode of plantar fasciitis so I knew what was happening and how to treat it right away. But the pain still radiates up through my heel and ankle. Pushing off from a start, not to mention standing or even sitting to climb hard, can sometimes be a miserable experience.
Another, totally unrelated, injury is bugging came about because of a steaming pot of pasta, a colander and a misguided pour. The scalding water smacked me in the abdomen, leaving two second- degree burns. Aloe vera gel and gauze pads seem to be promoting the healing. But they still burn and itch when I bend over and when I --er -- perspire.
So after 20 miles or so, I tend to head for home. Not the kind of distances I should be doing this time of year. But it's no fun riding in (more than usual) pain.
Clubs aren't cutting it
I belong to three -- count them, three -- local bike clubs. One has regular rides on those durn- burned, **&%$# roads mentioned above. I go and struggle through the mush because it's the best workout I've been getting lately.
Another has lots and lots of rides that start far from home. With the price of gas what it is these days, driving long distances to rides isn't much fun anymore (if it every was). Yet socially this is my favorite club, and I miss the camaraderie on those rides. It's not much fun cycling without good riding companions.
Club number three has simply stopped offering rides at my pace. Not one single ride I can keep up with on any weekend during the month of July. And believe me, it is absolutely no fun trying chasing those hotshots who go racing off, leaving me in the dust.
I know, I know. I could sign up to lead rides closer to home that are at my preferred pace. And I do, at least once a month. But guess what? It's not that much fun any more! We're running out of places to ride without driving extensive distances (again, see above). And in some cases attendance has fallen off -- enough that I stopped listing with one club. Which one? Why, the one that doesn't list my kind of rides. Is there a message here?
Tour de phooey
The good news about not spending as much time on the bike is that I have time to watch the Tour de France. (Note: I'm writing this in mid-July). The bad news is that it's not very exciting this year. There's no one to root for. Instead I'm feeling sorry for the "old pros" like Vinokourov and disgusted with the crashes caused by the newbies who can't even negotiate the feed zones. Sigh: It's not much fun to watch the Tour this year.
I'm actually paying much more attention to the scenery than I am to the riders. More good news: The scenery is awesome! I'm eagerly awaiting Stages 12 and 13 (the Individual Time Trial), which will run through some of the countryside we'll be riding in September!
So what's the cure? Some time off? I fear my fitness will suffer. Join a new club? Hey, three's a crowd already! Just keep plugging at it and hope things will take a turn for the better? Yup, that's basically what I'm doing.
The last time I rode Mt. Eden, I used a granny gear and middle cogs. It was a lot less of a struggle. So what if I'm slow? It was kinda fun.
I've been icing my sore foot and doing some extra stretching, so my feet don't hurt as much. I did a couple of easy but social club rides lately and had a good time. And I'm looking forward to more interesting tour stages in the Alps and Pyrenees. Meanwhile, what does it do in the middle of July? It rains! Quite a lot! Did I get caught in it? Sure did. In the process I discovered that some of those "sloggy" roads were paved to reduce skidding. And they work -- significantly for bicycle tires. The handling on slick, wet roads was surprisingly stable, especially where new striping has yet to be laid down.
Am I having fun yet? Yeah, sometimes (when I can stay dry). And the good weather is back on track. Geez, I'm cycling in (usually) sunny California, often with my captain at the helm and me stoking strong.
And in just a couple months, we'll be doing the same in la belle France. And that will be BIG fun!
Naomi can be reached at email@example.com