Friday, May 26, 2017

Making the turn for home

We left Walker this morning and rode up the canyon this time, enjoying a beautiful but brisk change of perspective on the river in the early morning light. It was raging still, and the combination of the early hour, coupled with the cold water coursing through the canyon, brought the temperature down to a low of 45. Where the sun had breached the canyon walls, it was a bit warmer - but there wasn't much sun at that hour!
Out of the canyon, reflecting on the run

I asked Roger as we exited the canyon if the experience coming down with the river yesterday had been what he had hoped it would be.  I have to agree with his response, which was, 'I can't think of anything that could have made it better!' It's not often that you have a chance to go back to an experience from your youth and re-create it. It's even less frequent that such an attempt turns out well. To have it be so splendid is rare indeed, and we will remember the event with pleasure for years to come.
Autumn headed up, again!

Our trip and the pleasure we've had has been enhanced by sharing it with our daughter and our friend. Dana left us yesterday, so our trip back towards home now just includes our friend Autumn.  The three of us came back over Devil's Gate Summit, which didn't seem too bad this morning.  A great run into Bridgeport for a second breakfast was just breathtaking, as we approached the mountains below town.
Mountains near Bridgeport 

Then we had the long climb back over Conway, and the descent to Mono Lake. I'm running out of superlatives to describe these scenes, but they really are just over-the-top gorgeous.  There's a kicker on the way back into Lee Vining; the road goes all the way to lake level and then you have to climb back up to town. We were suprised to see Steve and Brielle come by while we made the last climb; they were headed home from a canoe trip on the lake.
The road down there is where we'll be momentarily. 

They are going to join us in the morning when we head out to climb Deadman Summit. We haven't ever done it from this side, so this stretch of our tour is the only part I have never ridden. Autumn made the observation that I seem to be feeling more comfortable on the bike, and I think that's true. These roads are familiar to me; I love the scenery and I have done the climbs and the descents before. It lessens my anxiety to have some knowledge of the road before me. I guess that's pretty much the case no matter what the topic.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Racing the wild river

One of the really wonderful things about bicycle touring is that you have your stuff with you. So if you decide that you need to stay a little longer somewhere, or if you want to take a different route, or if you have to adjust your schedule to accommodate wind or weather, your level of fitness, mechanical failures, or just your need to relax in a beautiful spot, it's not really any problem. You are in charge. You do what you want to do.

Thus it is that we determined to go as far as Walker and stay for the night, rather than turning around to do another 30 miles and return to Bridgeport. Both Autumn and I are tired. This is more riding than I have done in months. We're feeling pretty good, but I personally did not want to push back to Bridgeport (what would have been a 90-mile day) into a headwind and then face a similarly difficult day following that. That is how I find myself now, enjoying the sunshine in a beautiful little courtyard at a really sweet motel along the highway here in Walker. We have had the requisite Walker Burger when we arrived, and eaten barbecue for dinner on top of that! Soon we are headed to bed. But first, a few notes about today.
The Fabulous Four plus Steve!
We left Lee Vining with Roger's old friend Steve and headed up Conway Summit above Mono Lake. This is a spectacular climb, with views of the mountains and lake in every direction.
Mono Lake and the mountain backdrop from Conway

Once you are at the top, you are treated to a truly smashing descent down towards Bridgeport. It was pretty windy along this stretch of road, but it was just gorgeous. I found myself being more and more comfortable on the bike.
Conway Summit

Our second breakfast was in Bridgeport, and then Steve headed back home. The four of us continued on to Walker over Devil's Gate Summit.

Stopping to admire the river's power 
We had been a little apprehensive about the transit through the Walker River Canyon. Dana in particular was concerned about the traffic. There is no shoulder to speak of, so you have to be very aware of the cars. However, they were doing some road work near the Sonora Pass junction, which resulted in the cars being held up and escorted through with a pilot car. We arrived at the stop point just as they were letting our side of the cars go through. The result was that we had the canyon more or less to ourselves! We were able to ride the entire stretch with only a few vehicles coming through behind us. What incredible fortune!
Coming off Devil's Gate 

The canyon is one of my favorite parts of this drive, and with the water raging through the river, it really was spectacular. There have been many times that we have driven through the canyon and the water level is so low you could walk across the river without getting your shoes wet. Today it looked like it might make a great run in a raft. Even more fabulous, the winds turned around just as we got to 108 (Sonora Pass), so we had a wonderful tail wind through the canyon. It truly was everything that I had hoped it would be. I think Roger had a good time.

Our plan as it stands now is to head out early in the morning to come back up the canyon before the traffic gets bad and then stay a night with Steve and Brielle in Lee Vining. We'll then go over Deadman Summit and back down Sherwin Summit to our car in Bishop on Saturday.

At least, that's the plan as it stands right now! When you are touring, anything can happen.

This is hard work. Autumn and Roger are just 'resting their eyes' a minute before bedtime!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

And away we ride!

The Fantastic Four ready to roll: Dana, Autumn, Roger and Kathy 
Well, we made it through day one of our mini adventure.  If, as they say, 'what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger,' then we should be a good bit stronger now!

Stuck like bugs to our rear wheels on the downhills
I think that the day's ride was basically a cakewalk for our daughter, Dana. She is fit and strong and an excellent bike handler. She makes maximum use of the tandem heading downhill and then has no trouble sprinting up the hill. For me, though - not so much. At 66 miles and about 6,000' of climbing, it was the most difficult, longest duration and toughest ride I have done since October. 

But it was beautiful!  Oh, man - the mountains still have great snow cover and the creeks are full . . . Our temps today were great and we had a nice little cloud cover to keep the sun off us. It was just a sparkling day in the saddle. And, we did get through it in one piece. So that's something. 
The road to Paradise
We started by climbing up the Old Sherwin Grade. It's an alternative to the highway, and has some great stretches through the community of Paradise, along Lower Rock Creek, through pines and aspens - and always climbing.  Well, almost always.  About 700 feet from the summit, you descend maybe 250-300 feet, which means you have a bit more left to climb when you thought you were almost done!

Breakfast was at Tom's Place, at the top of Sherwin Summit, and then we headed for our second climb of the day, Deadman Pass. From there, it's a jolly descent down to Lee Vining.  That stretch of road may be my favorite in all the land, and today it was spectacular. I am familiar with the road, and that may be one reason I was almost comfortable going downhill. I hope that I am regaining my confidence.
Coming off Deadman Pass to Mono Lake and Lee Vining

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The excitement is growing!

We are on the way up 395 to begin a short tour of the Eastern Sierra.  For many years, Roger and I have traveled this route on our way up to our daughter's home in North Tahoe. One of the prettiest sections of the road goes through Walker Canyon, alongside the river. It's usually just at a modest level of flow, and with the recent years of drought, it's been downright puny.

Not supposed to have this before we ride, but oh, well!
Many years ago, when Roger was doing a lot of touring with his buddies, they took a trip on this route and rode down the canyon adjacent to the raging river. As events of our youth often do, this trip has assumed apocryphal status in Roger's memory and he has long sought to recreate it. Every time we make the trip, he talks about that time and expresses his desire to ride the tandem down the Walker River 'when there is some water in it.' 

Well, the winter just past having delivered a mountain of snow to the Sierras, coupled with a few nice hot days this week, have resulted in an expected 'record flow' on the Walker River this Friday. And we will be there. After 17 years of hearing about it, we are primed to do our own 'river run' with Autumn, Dana and one of Rogers old buds, Steve.

The logistics of planning a trip like this are daunting. Were we to head out by ourselves for a few days, it would be no big deal. But coordinating with Steve (and his wife, Brielle) - who live on the route, but only part-time - and Dana - who must arrange child care while she's away - introduced a level of complexity akin to coordinating troop movements through a major military campaign.  Roger was handing all the arrangements while I took care of pulling out our gear and clothing.  

As it stands now, we'll meet Dana in Bishop to begin the climb up old Sherwin Grade through Paradise. She drove to Walker (I think) and then she's taking the bus south with her bike to meet us.  We will stay with Steve and Brielle in Lee Vining (after we have climbed both Sherwin and Deadman Summits) and then he's planning to join us the next day and ride along as far as Bridgeport (over Conway Summit).

Roger told him that if he turns around then, he'll miss the river run - which is pretty much the whole reason for the trip. But Steve is concerned that his legs might not be ready for a long day on the bike. To which I would say, 'Really?! You think you are going to have any trouble keeping up with a tandem climbing up hill?'  C'mon! And who would want to miss the downhill flight behind the tandem? 

Anyway, after we reach Walker, we'll turn around and head back. All in all, it is about 250 miles. I am anxious about the distance and the climbing, but I have done all this before. As long as we keep pedaling, we'll be fine.

Frankly, it's the descents that have me worried; even though I have done them before (or maybe because I have done them before), I am apprehensive.  The roads are good and the grades reasonable, and the scenery is spectacular.  But they will be fast, and I am still nervous about fast.  But - I am 'all in' for this one. It's one of my favorite parts of the world, and I am here with my favorite people.  So off we go!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

"I'm ready for my close-up"

Old friends on the road
Last weekend, the club ride was a remote start down in Temecula that Roger and I have done several times before. It is one of the prettiest rides we do around here - climbing up a mesa above Old Town, and then rolling through a sweet little valley along a road under the oak trees, passing the avocado farms and eventually reaching Fallbrook.
Autumn under the oak trees

That's where we usually stop for a taco, and then the route home can either be taxing or crushing, depending on whether you head left or right at the T intersection!

Your next guacamole may be growing out here!
We've done the longer, more difficult route before, but I didn't feel like my legs were ready for that. So this time we took the shorter trip back to the start, which felt "just right." It was tough, and we were ready for our beer and sandwich, but it didn't kill us. Autumn came along, and other friends from the bike club were with us on the road, so it almost felt like old times.

There was another group of our friends who opted for the longer route, and it was fun to hear them bitching and groaning when they made it back to the rendezvous spot (just as we were heading for home after our lunch.) I was glad we opted for the less difficult route this time out.

We must have been going downhill if the tandem was out front.
It was our first ride on the tandem with the club. All in all, I felt pretty comfortable, except on the descents. I am still very nervous when we go fast - and it's hard for the Silver Queen to descend without going fast! (This wasn't our first shot at coming downhill; we had gone up to Oak Glen earlier in the week with Autumn.  More on that in another post!)

Since this was the Silver Queen's debut, everyone was very interested in her new components. Roger was in his element, explaining how we'd had the back triangle re-engineered to provide a better touring experience. Here's a little run-down on the work she had done:
New brakes, wider fork

The brakes were changed to V brakes (I think that's the right term) to allow room for a fender to be installed.  This was one of the most troublesome retrofits that Roger attempted for our tour, and he eventually got tired of tangling with them and pulled them off the back wheels.  I definitely suffered the consequences of not having fenders when we hit rain. I was just soaked, while Roger managed to stay relatively dry up front (where the fenders remained.)

Beefy wheels and 32 c tires
You can probably also see the 48 spoke wheel and big ol' beefy 32 c tires. The front fork was replaced to make room for the larger tires.

My fancy seat post shock absorber
 I did not know this change was coming, but Roger selected a "Thud Buster" seat post thingy for my saddle that is supposed to help smooth out the bumps for the stoker. I'm not sure I can tell yet if it's working, but then, the road felt pretty good Saturday so maybe there's something to it. Seat shock is a particular problem for the tandem stoker, because you can't always see the road from the back of the bike. It's easy enough for most cyclists to rise slightly off the saddle if the road is rough, or when you hit something (provided you see it in time.) But we stokers are completely at the mercy of our captains. If Roger hits a hole, it can really be a shock!

Enhanced cluster
The rear cluster is expanded. I can't quote the stats, but we now have an even lower gear than we had before, with the largest gear on the rear being larger than the smallest on the front. This allows us to creep along, advancing forward less than the circumference of the wheel with one turn of the cranks.You don't make a lot of progress in such a low gear, but with the bike loaded up, it is mighty handy to have one when you hit a very steep grade.

Larger disk brake
We swapped our teeny tiny disk brake for a size that would probably actually stop the bike. It's still under my control, and I am getting used to the increased "grab" that it provides if I use it.

The change that got the most attention was the belt drive that replaced the linking chain. For some reason, this just really got everyone all hot and bothered. I admit, it's pretty! And it's nice to know that I don't have to worry about getting greasy on the left side of the bike anymore.  But I am not sure what all the fuss is about.

Belt drive linking our cranks

Roger had already made the shift to bar-end shifters while we were on the tour, and he really likes the increased control they provide. So he had them installed again. He's been very pleased with the performance of the bike so far. Shifting is working great, and he says it handles very well with the larger tires.
Bar-end shifters

I think he was initially worried that it would be sluggish or something, but that seems to not be too much of an issue.

In addition to all this cool stuff, the lugs for mounting the racks are beefier, and the good folks at Seven cleaned her up, polished everything and put new decals on. I've even reinstalled my bell!  So the Silver Queen, v. 2.0 is back in action.  Long may she reign!

I think the folks at Seven were having a little fun with us!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Shakedown Cruise

If you have been reading our story for any time, you know that I early on named our tandem the "Silver Queen" and likened her to a grand old steam ship. Like a ship, I refer to the bike as "her" or "she" and while this may seem odd to someone who does not ride, it's probably not unlike the pet names that many give to their favorite automobiles.

She's home!
I have a great affection for her; I was despondent when Roger found the crack in her frame and I've thought of her rehabilitation as somewhat parallel to my own healing efforts. The hairline crack in her rear triangle and the stable fracture in my pelvis felt like mirrored wounds. When we learned that Seven would be able to repair and even improve the geometry and structure of the broken part I rejoiced that we would not have to replace her. Maybe I was too caught up in it, but it felt a bit like we needed to give her a chance to heal, just like I needed to heal.

It is with great joy and some trepidation, therefore, that I can now announce that the Silver Queen is home!  About two weeks ago, Roger got a call from Mel, the fellow up in New Jersey that he had found while we were on the road. Mel specializes in tandems; Roger thought it would make sense to have him build up the bike once the back triangle was rebuilt. Seven Cycles shipped him the frame, and he had it ready to go in a day or two.

Meanwhile, the Redlands Classic bike race was coming to town, and since we host a team and enjoy going out to watch the races, Roger was fretting about the likelihood that the bike would be delivered while we were away.  Sure enough, UPS informed him that it was coming "between noon and 4 pm on Thursday the 4th."  He was concerned enough that he even contemplated missing the race that day, but the prospect of missing the finish atop Oak Glen proved too enticing! In the end, he worked out with UPS to have it delivered without signature - which was a little bit scary since it's a pretty pricey package to have sitting on the porch while we're away.
Roger's puzzle pieces

Once it arrived, he began the process of putting it together. But wait - you say! Didn't Mel put the bike together already?  Yes, of course he did. But then he had to disassemble the frame using the couplers, and pack it all up, and that's the job of putting it together that Roger had to do. And of course, like any good assembly story, this one involves some missing pieces, and a bent or broken part, and so poor Roger, though he toiled into the evening darkness, could not finish the job.

I'm not kidding about the bent part. The large chain ring was apparently damaged in transit, and it had a bad wobble to it. In addition, Roger had ordered a fancy seat post for me that is supposed to help smooth out the ride for the stoker. One of the very small parts needed to fasten the saddle onto the fittings was missing. Despite this disappointing turn of events, Roger persisted. Rather like on our tour, he made repairs and substitutions - using our old chain ring and my seat post - so that the bike was ready to ride on Sunday.

I was very nervous about going out on it, I will confess.  This is the "trepidation" part. While I was happy to have the tandem back, I was worried about being back on it. The bicycle race on Sunday travels a loop around the neighborhoods in the hills below Sunset Drive. It's not a flat course, by any means, and while you can get around the route on a bike, you have to be mindful of the racers and caravan autos and motorbikes. I don't really like being on the road like that, but Roger really wanted to take the tandem, so despite my misgivings, we headed out on the course to watch our boys make the loop. The weather was threatening - freakishly so for May in this part of the state - and there were thundershowers and even hail predicted for the afternoon.
Roger waiting for me - we are thrilled with our team kits!

We watched the race develop and cheered our guys on through several laps, and finally decided, not quite early enough, to head back to house to change clothes and then go downtown for the finish. On the way down from Sunset, we were hammered as the storm broke. It was freezing cold - it did in fact hail in parts of town though thankfully not on us - and of course we were not dressed for it. We had a rain jacket, but no leg covers or inner layers so by the time we arrived home, we were drenched and shivering. I took comfort in two facts: in anticipation of the rain, we'd not worn our brand-new shoes, and - unlike the professional cyclists in the race - we did not have to stay out in that weather!

Our team controlling the race.  TJ, the winner, is 5th, in the yellow jersey.
We wiped off the bike, took a warming soak in the hot tub, and then headed out in the car to cheer our team on to a win. Even with the rain, it was a thrilling race, and our guys looked strong and shepherded their yellow jersey onto the winner's podium.

And so our first ride out on the new and improved Silver Queen was a success, even if the ride was shorter than we had planned.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Oak Glen

Around here, the ride up to Oak Glen is one of those "bucket list" items for many cyclists. It's about 2000' in 6 to 7 miles (that's from the Stater Bros at the last intersection) - hard enough to require a serious effort but not out of the reach of any club rider who gets some good climbing training in during the year. If you go up, folks may ask "front side or back?" as there is some difference in the pitch and duration of the climb depending on your approach.

Roger and I have done this climb many times, both on our own bikes and on the tandem. When we ride the tandem, it's painfully slow and our friends are usually up at the top relaxing by the time we arrive. Since we arrived home last fall, I'd not been up there. And since I have only been riding for a few weeks, I was not at all sure how I would fare on my trip up there today.

It's not that I thought, for a moment, that I could not get up there. I knew that I would be able to do it. It was just a question of how painful it was going to be! And it was pretty painful. Mostly it was due to the heat. My Garmin read 105 degrees in the sun. Roger always says it's not accurate, and I suspect that is true. But everything being relative, when this particular piece of equipment says it's 105 - well, that's a lot hotter than when it reads 89!

So we labored on, in the heat, and I was very glad to get up there at last. Roger stayed behind me the entire time. It must have been all he could do to stay back and let me set the pace.  But I was thankful for it. It is terrifically dispiriting to always be chasing him. And with this heat, and my present level of conditioning, I was happy to be able to go at my own speed, without feeling pressure to catch him.

We were there because the Redlands Classic was finishing today's stage up at the top, and since we have a team staying with us, we wanted to watch the race. That smiling young man in the picture is TJ, one of the Holowesko Citadel Hincapie riders who is bunking with us this week while they race. It's awfully fun to get to know the riders, and just thrilling when they do well.  TJ pulled away on the climb and motored in alone, 40 seconds ahead of his closest competitor.

I figure he probably went about 4 to 5 times faster than I was going. As I rode, I gave some thought to the conditioning, strength and endurance of these athletes. They impress me with their skill, bike handling, power and speed. And then I thought, "well, that's all relative, too, I guess."  Because I certainly had plenty of people comment that they could not believe we were taking six months to ride 9500 miles around the country. And I always felt like responding, "it's really only 4 or 5 hours riding each day. No big deal."  You just have to keep doing it, day after day. That is certainly one of the things that came clear to me during our trip. Nothing is so large or so impossible to accomplish that you cannot get it done, as long as you take it in little pieces - just do a little bit at a time. You just have to decide that's what you want to do, and then get started.

Like climbing Oak Glen - take it at your own pace, stop when you need to, and you'll get there. I don't feel like I could ever win a race to the top but who knows?  I have done amazing things, when you get right down to it.

For now, congratulations to TJ and to the entire team. Tomorrow they will be defending the yellow jersey. We'll be there to cheer them on, just as so many of our friends and family cheered us on in our journey.