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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  10/1/2002

Rides That Scared the Lycra Off Me

It's October. Daylight is disappearing faster than a tandem barreling downhill. Broom-pedaling witches are slamming into poles and walls in every residential area I ride through. And I'm thinking that this bicycling stuff can be pretty scary business. (Come to think about it, I'm scared most of the time I'm on a bike.)

So this month I'm highlighting some of the scariest rides I've ever done in my 20+ years of cycling.

Patterson Pass

This has to be the weirdest experience I've ever had on a bike. It happened on the Cherry City Cyclists' Jubilee Century. The route took me over both Altamont and Patterson passes, between Livermore and the Central Valley. It was no big deal -- I'd done one version or another of this ride quite a few times.

But somehow this time when I got to the top of Patterson Pass, there was nothing there but the ghosts of wind energy. The wind was sighing, wheezing, breezing across the pass as it normally does. But the windmills stood perfectly still. And all around me the air was crackling with static. It was soooooo creepy.

Although the Jubilee Century no longer exists, you can still ride over Patterson Pass on any of these routes. But be sure to bring some friends along who will pace you. Because you don't want to be up on top of Patterson Pass alone!

Or maybe you'd be content with a virtual ride with Tom.

The Naomi Challenge

OK, first a definition: The Naomi Challenge is the one-day Mt. Hamilton Challenge, 128 miles from Sunnyvale to Livermore and back, split up into two days.

I used to do this personal version with friends in Skyline Cycling Club. We'd head out on a Saturday morning in early May, climb Mt. Hamilton, swoop down the other side amongst the wildflowers, climb Eylar Ridge and camp at Arroyo Mocho Boy Scout Camp -- a nasty climb up from Mines Road above Livermore. On Sunday we'd head back through Pleasanton, around Calaveras Reservoir, and into the wind the last 13 miles home. (Here's a blow-by-blow route description.)

The scary part was that Boy Scout Camp, especially the last time we did this tour. Although we'd reserved -- and paid for -- our campsite, we were greeted with no working lights, no open outhouses, and a newly arrived "caretaker" who knew nothing about us. This guy was just moving in with his young family, so all night long we were serenaded by loud screams of, "DAD! DAAAAADEEEE!"

It wasn't exactly trick-or-treat time, but that kid could have made a great poltergeist.

Paranoia in the Santa Cruz Mountains

This happened on a group ride from Soquel to Scotts Valley and up Mountain Charlie Road. As we started out, I suddenly realized I'd forgotten my water. I told the leader I'd catch up with her and headed back to my car. No water there; must have left it at home. Nothing to do but head up the hill to the little roadside store and buy a bottle.

By this time the group had left me in more than dust. But since I knew the route I just kept plugging along to Scotts Valley, where I picked up Bean Creek Road and headed to Mt. Charlie. All by myself -- with disturbing memories of the early 80s and the local Trailside Killer runnin' 'round my brain.

Now understand, this was the late 90s and the Trailside Killer had long since met his just reward. But such logic didn't occur to me as I plodded along in the deep shadows of the overgrown roadside foliage. I didn't catch up to the rest of the ride until they were regrouping at the top of Mt. Charlie Road. By then my mouth was sandpaper and my heart was slamming (whether from the challenging climb or the paranoia I'll never really know).

Here's a different kind of spooky adventure on Mountain Charlie Road.

Tarantulas in the fall

The first time I saw tarantulas on the road, I admit I kind of freaked. Since then, however, I've encountered these deceptively gentle arachnids on the way up Mt. Hamilton, in San Benito County south of Hollister and even in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Turns out they're not the "deadly black" spiders Harry Belafonte sang about in "Day-O." These are cute brown furry critters that seem to like being out on pavement in autumn (yeah, right about now).

I wouldn't advise dismounting to pick up a tarantula and play with it. They do bite on occasion and can do some damage even if they can't poison you. But please try to avoid squishing them under your wheels. They're just part of the scenery. Really.

Terror at Lake Tahoe

Riding around Lake Tahoe gives good heebie-jeebies, not the least of which comes from the tourist traffic. My advice about that is to do it in late September or early October, in between summer and ski seasons.

We like to do the Tahoe "circumcycle" in a clockwise direction for two reasons:

  • You get better views from the right lane.
  • From South Lake you get a nice long warm-up before the first non-trivial climb above Emerald Bay.

But riding clockwise means descending into South Lake via Highway 50 from Spooner Summit. If the weather's clear, the wind is usually blowing off the lake and over the road like the proverbial Halloween witch. I've been so terrified of that cross wind I've been known to walk. Relief doesn't come until you have to enter the tunnel above Zephyr Cove. Oh, great! That makes me feel a lot better (NOT!).

OK, so the one time Jim and I did it on the tandem the wind wasn't blowing too hard. Instead, it was raining! And there was tons of traffic. And we were descending at the posted speed limit (50 mph). And I was shivering, praying and trying not to scream!

Cristo Rey Drive

Although it's a staple here in the South Bay for training climbs, not to mention access to the handy restrooms at Rancho San Antonio Park, Cristo Rey Drive between Cupertino and Los Altos terrifies me.

To set the scene, there are usually two kinds of motorists driving Cristo Rey:

  • Runners and hikers who gotta get to the park and open space trailheads RIGHT NOW!
  • Retired folk heading to or from their nests at The Forum, just beyond the park

Drivers and cyclists alike must climb rapidly, descend into a saddle, and climb again while shuttling around a narrow traffic circle before reaching the park entrance. Right smack on the traffic circle is a large cemetery. So add the occasional funeral procession to the automobile population.

Our first scare on Cristo Rey was on the tandem, descending into the saddle at some 30 mph. A funeral was winding its way up in the opposite lane. Suddenly a frustrated sweet young thing driving a brand new (no license plate) SUV makes a U-turn right smack in front of us!

You're not supposed to be able to do a brodie on a tandem. But Captain Jim did it and avoided a crash. He readily admits he was scared out of his wits. (And this time, I was screaming!)

Although not quite as terrifying, our second scare happened as we were climbing towards the first summit. Suddenly an SUV buzzed us from behind. We looked up to see a huge bike rack on the top of the car and (another) sweet young thing at the wheel. We managed to intimidate her right back by yelling at her. That's when she seemed to realize she was the one who was out of line, not us for choosing our best line of ascent. She hung back all the way up to the park. Whew!

Scariest of all

Truth to tell, the scariest rides I've led are the ones that featured a spectacular crash. There's nothing quite as frightening as seeing a fellow rider go flying through the air right in front of you. Like the time Rita hit that pothole descending Phillips Avenue in Los Gatos.

Or when Michael hit that crevice on Larkin Valley Road in Watsonville. (At least he chose to crash right around the corner from the hospital!)

Sometimes it feels like just about any ride these days is a scary proposition. It takes more than fortitude to face the multitudes on the road. It takes awareness, good judgment and a big bunch of luck to avoid the tricks and reap the treats.

So Happy Halloween. And please -- keep the rubber side down.

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net

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