Beta Testing Along the SF Peninsula

Photo: Elena Zhukova

Photo: Elena Zhukova

There's a lovey-dovey photo for you.

That's the closest I'm going to get to acknowledging this wacky tradition of expressing our individualistic love by way of cliched, obligatory corporatism and collective bad taste. [In other words, Happy Valentine's Day.]

Hey guys! So I finally went on my first overnight trip, as a way of dipping my toes a bit further into what the "real" trip is actually going to be like.

Day 1
San Jose, CA

As usual, Chaos/Serendipity/The Universe/The Force/what-have-you did a better job planning out my adventures than I ever could have.

Originally I was going to do a big loop up starting in the South Bay, up through the city, over to Sacramento, down through the East Bay. Largely the appeal of this particular route was to visit some good friends. 

Then there was weather, which displaced my trip by two days...which was enough to foster schedule conflicts with all of the friends I intended to visit such that they'd be unable to hang out or in many cases even offer crash space. Mwop, mwop.

But I needed to get at least one practice trip in this month.

So, without much of a plan, Alex and I rode up to Pacifica to stay with Elena Zhukova, a conceptual advertising photographer who's been photographing me since I was a modeling greenhorn and she was an art student in San Francisco [i.e., for a while], and her husband Aleksey.

Barely six miles into the ride, Alex's old tire was shredded, and so I ferociously guarded our bikes while he ran off to get a new tire and tube—a delay that bit an hour or two into our day. There was one stretch so unrelentingly steep that I wound up walking my bike for about a tenth of a mile [cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater]

When we got to the Pacifica, we decompressed for a while, poking at bugs [we found a cluster of maggots outside] and battle droids before being treated to an awesome home-cooked dinner of fish and vegetables, and liberally supplied with beer, wine, and bourbon.

Conversation that evening was punctuated by the hum of the ocean and the crackling of the outdoor heater. I leaned on a pillow stuffed with $15,000 in shredded dollar bills. Eddy the dog leaned on me. It seemed like a first taste of what my trip might turn out to be like on its best days: long mornings of cycling through beautiful country, rewarded in the evenings good food and company and a delicious feeling of satisfaction that was a paradoxical hybrid of "having discovered somewhere new" and "having made it back home"

Day 2
Pacifica, CA

Originally we'd planned to move along the next morning, but it turns out that Aleksey is an avid cyclist, so he offered to take us on a ride the following day around Pacifica and Half Moon Bay!

In one stunning loop, I rode behind Alex and Alex [there are so many Alexes] as we climbed through steep eucalyptus forests, down along Devil's Slide [stopping to explore old military bunkers en route], past surfers on the beach, past helicopters taking off and landing on an airstrip in fields of wildflowers, past the smells of fish and chips and waffles and seaweed, past upscale marinas, through a surreal mountain tunnel, and I had a harrowing first off-road excursion along the edges of sea cliffs. At first I was going kind of picture-crazy, but eventually had to give up on taking photos in favor of just enjoying the view and the present moment [the best moments in life are typically ones when no one has the time or inclination to take photos, anyway].

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That night, we modeled for Elena, resulting in the topmost and bottommost photos in this blog entry. 

...and enjoyed a warm February night and a couple bottles of cold IPA out in the yard.

Day 3
Pacifica, CA

The trek back down to the South Bay, to tend to my neglected inbox and finish planning my much larger trip that's looming ever closer [eep!], was quite educational. 

We'd decided to do a winding, hilly detour along trails in the mountains, which lent themselves both to giving me more practice off paved roads and to stunning panoramic views that I largely didn't bother photographing [was too busy looking]. 

It was in the mountains that I wound up on the phone with an old friend from high school who, it turned out, had scored $10 tickets to the opera Carmen in a small house in San Francisco, and would be heading there from Redwood City [which was more-or-less where we were headed that day]. 

So we bombed down bumpy switchbacks, past equestrians, stopped to grab some fish and chips, coasted along the 92, no problem...and then rush hour hit.

And we were on a steep two-lane highway, with no shoulder, with sheer drop-offs, with blind turns, and we'd gone too far to easily turn back. Hills are one thing, rattlesnakes are one thing, weather is one thing...but cars. Drivers. Those freak me the fuck out. Because, no matter how defensively I ride, no matter how many bright yellow or blinky or reflective things I stick onto myself or my bike, I have no ultimate say in whether the drivers coming up on me are paying attention, or of sound mind, or sober, or whatever. Aggressive, reactive, impatient drivers are all too common. So are absent-minded, text-messaging, daydreaming drivers. And drunk drivers, or sleepy drivers. And drivers zipping around tight corners at 90 MPH. You get the picture. Besides avoiding situations where I'm likely to be hit in the first place, there's really only so much I can do once I'm on the road.

Existentially jarred after almost getting booty-bumped by two semi-trucks in a row, Alex and I pulled off and sat in a patch of grass next to a kitschy old sign that said Santa's Tree Farm, the only distinguishable landmark in sight, debating whether we ought to chug on through and hope for the best, or wait for traffic to die down or, I don't know, hitchhike. After our heart rates settled down we decided to mosey on through, walking our bikes through a few particularly bad stretches.

Lesson learned: be more attentive to traffic patterns and look at my entire route before proceeding, particularly if it's going to be on a highway [before setting off, we'd scanned Google Earth very briefly, seen that a chunk of the 92 had a nice shoulder and four lanes, and called it good]. Hurp dap.

By the time we got to Redwood City, we were a bit exhausted for the opera [even at $10 a pop, it's not all that worthwhile going to a show if you sleep through the whole thing]. Fortunately our buddy Carlos was in town, and facilitated our recalibration to life with Mexican food, card games, and a gift of rum he'd infused with vanilla beans, before we headed off to visit my parents in order to spend the weekend going on bike rides with my dad [whom I'm just now beginning to keep up with].

Final tally for this trip?

104 miles ridden
6,167 feet climbed

Not too shabby for someone who got her ass kicked by a few-hundred-feet climb on a twelve-mile loop just over a month ago!

My improvements have been noticeable on a day-to-day basis, and as time goes on it becomes easier [more exciting, less daunting] for me to motivate myself to push that little bit harder. Thankfully, the beginning of my trip won't involve so much climbing [since my whole route through Florida and Georgia will be pretty much flat].

Two weeks left until my flight, and I've still got so much to figure out!

Tomorrow? Morning yoga, going on a ride [of course] with my dad [he's promised to subject me to some more hills], catching up on emails [I know, I know, I'm really behind—forgive me], studying maintenance/repair/my pack list/my route yet again while not panicking.

Fortunately, I've also got a voucher for one of those wildly underrated $10 cheap foot massage places [and, as a trained massage therapist myself, while I think there's no substitute for deep, specialized, specific body work done by a qualified and intuitive therapist...these cheap line-the-clients-up-in-rows-like-we're-in-an-airplane places can be a whole different kind of awesome to non-snobs, and really are underrated].

Photo: Elena Zhukova

Photo: Elena Zhukova

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Crunch Time!

It’s begun. From now until the end of February, I can spend virtually all my time preparing for my trip. 

This sudden freedom-to-be-single-minded isn’t random; I’ve spent a year trying to get to this point. I’ve saved up and hustled skrilla over the last year to allow myself this cushion of time, and finagled the perfect situation: I’m house-sitting, so I get a comfortable private space with no rent, in a place with mild weather. There’s no WiFi, which has a silver lining in that it forces me to get out of the house to get online and makes me less likely to waste the time that I do spend online. Plus, I’m relatively close to two REI stores; several great grocery stores; and Planet Granite, my favorite climbing gym in the country, where I’ve just bought a one-month membership. All are within a seventeen-mile bike ride.

So, I’ve been getting emails pestering me for updates on what I’m doing, or interrogating me about my training methods, previous experience, packing list, etc. 

And I’m stoked on the interest [really, I am, that’s not just me being PC—the positive reception I’ve received so far was honestly pretty unexpected and has got me feeling ecstatic] but I honestly do not have time to answer all these emails [my time on the Internet’s already being spent studying the terrain and conditions of my route down to the mile, scheduling bookings, investigating camping and making arrangements with hosts, and learning about bikes from the ground up]. 

Here’s the full disclosure; hopefully it’ll satisfy everyone’s questions. 

Training

Last week and this week:

  • 2+ long rides per week [increasing what “long” means each time; yesterday I did a thirty-mile ride, so my next ride will be thirty-five or forty]
  • 2+ shorter rides per week done to my maximum capacity [anaerobic], ideally with a steep, sustained climb
  • 2 rest days [meaning no long or hard bike rides], only bicycling for small, local commutes [i.e., errands like grocery runs or going to cafes to catch up on emails, or doing small loops around local trails and roads]
  • Cross-train daily, but particularly on rest days. For cross-training, I’ve been climbing and doing yoga at PG, and doing NeilaRey.com workouts at home [a fantastic site, with something for everybody: some of the workouts are far too easy for me, but others completely demolish me].
  • Incorporate weight loads in some of my rides, incrementally increasing the weight. 

Yesterday’s thirty-mile ride was my first with weight, and while I only packed ten pounds, it showed me just how crucial minimalist packing is going to be on this trip. If you ask me, riding with a loaded bike is worse than hiking with a heavy pack, and I know plenty about that: at the end of my season working for the Parks, I had to hike out our last twenty-five miles with seventy pounds on my back…and on top of that, had to drag a friend’s eighty-pound pack for the last couple miles when half our crew came down with some crazy flu. Now when I go backpacking, I’m obscenely minimal, so much so that I’d never suggest to anyone that they ought to pack as little as I do.

Some people have asked me about what computers or heart rate monitors or what have you I'm using; the answer is "none".

I've been using the free versions of Strava and Ride with GPS apps to plan/track my rides, that's all.

Research

  • As of now, I’ve read most of The Complete Book of Long-Distance Cycling, and have been obsessively Googling articles and watching Youtube videos to answer my questions [and, before that, to figure out what the questions were that I should be asking, because I had no clue].
  • I’ve been scouring sites like Adventure Cycling Association and East Coast Greenway and repeatedly, neurotically plugging my route into Google maps, one chunk at a time, to check miles and terrain and make modifications. Over and over. Revising and revising. I’m finally at a point where I’ve got the skeleton for my complete tour; there’s some wiggle-room and I’ll be making some changes, but I basically have my dates outlined, and it’s looking like the tour will take exactly [or close to exactly] four months from Key West, FL to Bar Harbor, ME.

Diet

Pretty simple. High protein. Aiming for about 125g a day [since I weigh between 120-125 lbs].

Otherwise, healthy/varied in general, low junk. [Though I’m a sucker for free food, and cave whenever the opportunity arises.]

Other

Since a few people have wanted to nerd out about gear, I’ll jabber on about that in a separate post.

Upcoming Agenda

  • Planning a couple multi-day bike trips in February. As of now, I'm dreaming up one up the coast, and one down the coast; hopefully I'll have time to do a few more before I leave California
  • Continuing cross-training 
  • Continuing bookings. I don't expect to have everything finalized by the time I head out on my trip, but I want to at least be past the filtering/reference-checking/cold-calling/figuring-out-who's-actually-serious phase. [Psst: Got a serious interest in hiring me? Contact me ASAP! We don't have to schedule or confirm anything right away, but I need to get you on my list.]
  • Looking into hosts and camping
  • Buying the rest of the shit I need [I've got a little stack of REI vouchers for February, ka-ching!]