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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  12/1/2008

Looking Back

Desperate for a topic for this month, I started surfing for ideas from my BikeCal.com archives. OMG! I've been writing this column since 2002 -- seven long years! That's over 80 submissions - minus a few months off to go touring in la belle France. No wonder I'm scraping the bottom of the bracket for content.

Cruising through those old columns from years back made me feel nostalgic. What better time to take a look in the rearview mirror and see what's changed -- and what hasn't?

When I started writing this monthly piece for BikeCal, I was a much more ambitious cyclist. I thought next to nothing about climbing from the Peninsula to Skyline Drive/Highway 35 on a regular basis. I racked up a personal best of under 35 minutes on the 3.4-mile ascent up Old La Honda Road. And clocked my 14-mile early-morning Mt. Eden loop at an average speed of at least 15 mph. Centuries were a regular spring, summer or fall weekend outing, even if I didn't always opt for the full 100 miles.

In the past seven years, I've acquired a few too many aches and pains that I didn't have to put up with before. (Although I certainly did have to deal with quite a few then as well.) And the price of gas, although falling at this writing, is still a deterrent to travel "over the hill" or up or down the state. Let's face it: I'm getting older. And poorer.

These days my longest ride might fall just short of 40 miles. Rides with challenging climbs are much shorter, and the climbs themselves are measured in feet, not miles (but they're often just as steep). Most importantly, I stick close to home; I have no desire to drive to some faraway venue to ride my bike. If it starts more than 10 miles from home, I'm not interested.

So maybe I'm a curmudgeon. Or maybe I'm too old to hammer with the hotdogs and hard hitters. But don't you dare try to tell me I shouldn't be riding anymore. Hanging up the bike is not an option. Someday I will probably really be old and frail. That's when I intend to pedal a trike around town. And it better have gears on it!

My faves

Gilroy HSRereading some of those old articles make me wince. Did I really write that? But there were plenty of others that I have to admit are pretty darned good.

One of my favorites is The Green Hills of Winter, penned in March 2003. I still feel that way about California cycling. Now if only the green would return in the wake of a good rain season. Believe me, I don't mind sitting at home through a rainy weekend or more in order to have those green hills back.

I also loved doing personality profiles. I did some really fun interviews, like the ones with Jim Langley Jim Langley
and Bruce Gordon (now there's a real curmudgeon). Best of Show

Then there were those tour reports. The first was the best IMHO, the Top 10 Reasons for Biking in Southern France. I haven't changed my opinion in all these years:
10- Prehistoric caves
9 - Medieval castles and chateaux
8 - Churches (the ones maintained as heritage sites)
7 - Les petites routes (pristine back roads)
6 - French drivers
5 - Rural French hospitality
4 - French food and wine
3 - The land and the light of Southern France
2 - Guided (and self-guided) tours
1 - Pelforth brune (best beer in France)

OK, maybe my ranking might have changed a bit. Like, putting French food and wine in the number-one spot, and moving the back roads and hospitality up a bit. Jim and I have led two other tours in southern France since that one -- La Route du Fromage ("The Cheese Road") in the Pyrenees, and La Route de la Pluie ("The Rain Road") through the Tarn, Aveyron and Cevennes. Neither one disappointed in any of the categories above (except the Pelforth -- come to find out you can't get it in just any French bar, but we did find it in a Champion supermarket in the Pyrenees).

Then there were my feeble attempts at humor. It's obvious to me that, in the humor department, I can't measure up to Scott Martin. He's my go-to source for ideas that make me chuckle (credit always gratefully given). You can read his weekly chortle -- and try to figure out what I "lifted" from him -- at RoadBikeRider.

Happy Holidays

My first real stab at being, if not funny, then maybe cute, was around this time of year, and the theme was "Santa Baby." Four years later I wrote another letter to Santa.

This year I'll skip the wish list for myself. I figure even Santa has been hit by the economic slowdown so I'm not asking for much. Same old bike will do. Got a new helmet last summer, and I can certainly forgo other upgrades. But I'll still take this opportunity to include a section on giving back to the cycling community.

I figure if I have a few extra bucks to spend, it should be for gift memberships or direct donations to help make Christmas and the coming year brighter for others without. Like kids whose families can't afford a bike. Turning Wheels for Kids (TWFK) is doing something about that, and they could use all the help this year they can get -- in kind, in labor, and especially in cold hard cash. The Silicon Valley Bicycle Exchange is another deserving local effort. Hint: Go out and find the local one of these grass roots efforts in your area and help them out this December.

If you're looking for a present for fellow cyclists, consider a gift membership or donation in their name to one of the following:

  • The League of American Bicyclists
  • Adventure Cycling Association
  • California Bicycle Coalition
  • California Organization of Bicycling Organizations, aka CABO
  • Thunderhead Alliance
  • Bikes Belong
  • Your local bicycle advocacy organization (mine is Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition)

Even as recently as two years ago, there weren't that many links I could include to cycling charity or advocacy web sites. Nowadays, I can Google "Bikes Belong" and come up with this SFPD training video on YouTube. How cool is that? In 2002 there wasn't even a YouTube, and even if there were, hardly anyone had the bandwidth to watch.

Now you can search on the site for cycling videos and enjoy vids like Chris O'Donnell's Pink Floyd salute to riding Bay Area roads.

Enough looking back. It's time to look ahead. What's in store for 2009? Well, for one thing, Jim and I are planning to lead another tour in southern France in June. We're calling it "The Best of the Dordogne" and we still have openings. Email me for an itinerary and FAQ.

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net

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