The Shelium wakes up in Snelling, CA. My race starts at 12:20 but I carpooled with Kim, who starts at 8:30. Good morning!

I line up today, more nervous than last Sunday, desperate for a familiar face in the field of 30 Cat 3 women. Holy smokes, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a field of 30 w3s. I’m too busy keeping panic at bay to stop and think about how cool that is. There’s a sea of baby blue Tibco jerseys, with intimidating accents of polka-dot Metromints. Crap! Do I know anyone here? Anyone at all?…Bueller?…Bue…I spot two girls I met at Pine Flat, Kimberly and Lisa, and line up behind them. Making a mental note of people who look more nervous than I do. The whistle blows.

Sure, it's not my race (it's the womens 4) but you get the idea....

The start of the w4 race, Snelling Road Race 2012. (Kim is on the left.)

Clip. Pedal. Wait. How did I get here? Panic. I’m at the back of the pack, rolling through the neutral start. Okay. Don’t panic. Sure, the 30 mph winds are picking up riders and depositing them at random lateral intervals and there’s no one behind me but one or two nervous Nellies. No reason to panic. It’s just a neutral start. We’ll turn onto the course, where we can use the full road, and I’ll make my way towards the front. Get to the front, stay there and chase anything that gets away. That’s the plan.

How long is this neutral start, anyway? Finally the moto pulls off and we are released, into the gale. I make my way towards the front and try (rather unsuccessfully) to stay tucked in.

At one point in the first lap I’m a few wheels back, the field just having caught another break when I hear a noise, the bike starts to wobble. Have  I flatted? I’m riding some old wheels that I haven’t been on in ages, they suddenly just feel funny. My hand goes up. Waiter, check please. I fall back, pull over to the side of the road, look my bike over, determine that my problems are mental, not mechanical and proceed to chase my field. I can see the follow vehicle and for a mile or so it isn’t getting closer. Push harder. If someone would just turn off this howling gale for a few minutes maybe I could catch them. But the howling continues and I pedal. One chasing thirty. Are they getting closer? They field is bobbing in and out of view on the little rollers. I can’t tell. The women bob. I pedal.

As I crest one of the little rollers I see them, just ahead. I will catch them. Swimming upstream I catch my breath. Someone breaks. I bridge up to her and keep going. We fly over the last leg of NorCal pave, around the corner and head towards the finish line with 3 laps to go and a wall of crosswind. I feel strong but I don’t know her. Sure, I only know 2 of these 30 women. Odds of knowing anyone in a break are slim but I’m not feeling cozy enough in my pain cave to hang out there with strangers. Not yet. She asks, “Should we go for it?” My only response, “It’s going to be a long race.” When I sit up and wait to be caught I feel a weird kind of remorse for my would-be breakaway. Sorry. It’s not you, it’s me. I’m just not ready yet.

The winds are getting uglier by the minute. Today in Texas my friends are racing in Walburg, known for it’s WIND, just like Snelling. Is it written somewhere in the Race Promoter Handbook that popular early season races can only be scheduled in small towns likely to have post-apocalyptic winds in the spring? When buffeted with 30mph blasts of shifty winds, it’s hard for a green field not to be sketchy. Note to self: When I schedule an early season race with packed fields, I’m going to have it somewhere a little less windy…like the Metrodome. But whatever. Wind I can do. We’ve got nothing but wind in Dallas. I think about one insanely windy ride last spring in Dallas, my friend Mark was smiling and yelling across the tempest “I love the wind! The wind makes you strong!” as we fought to barely maintain upright speed. He was right. I try to channel that memory and love the wind.

In less than two laps we are neutralized about a dozen times, and it somehow seems like this always happens when a break gets off the front. Eventually halfway through the second lap Lisa and Metromint are getting smaller up the road. Kimberly decides to chase and I go with her. Together we bridge to Lisa and Metromint. I look back and am surprised at how small the field is. I’ve got a good feeling about our little group.

But just as we come around the corner towards the line, a gust gives wings to one of my contact lenses and off it flies, along with any hopes of my finishing this race. Really? Again?! Between people moving sideways in the squall and the Roubaix-worthy roads, Snelling had seen several bad crashes earlier in the day. I wasn’t going to be the reason there were more. Racing today was dangerous without depth perception. As I get up to the line I can hear my friend Kim’s voice from the side of the road. I pull over to keep her company while she cheers on her teammates in a few of the masters races. (Huge kudos to Kim for winning the w4s race that morning!)

And so my race ends, unceremoniously, at two to go. No finish for me this time. I’m trying not to act disappointed on the ride home but when I walk through the door, my fan club is waiting for me with nothing but praise. Talking to Brian about the day, I realize that even though my results were bad, today was good. I felt good….Zen.

Kimberly went on to take the win, with a sizable lead on Metromint, who in turn had a sizable lead on the rest of the field. Nice job, ladies! Props to everyone – the racers, the officials, the countless volunteers, and the small rural  town of Snelling for a great day of racing in Northern California. See you again next year!

Race: Pine Flat Road Race, Womens 3 (P1/2/3)
Course: 62 miles, 4150′ vertical feet (http://app.strava.com/rides/4328694)
Teammates: Misha (cat 3) and Emily (cat 2)

Today I lined up for the first time in Cali, shivering as much from nerves as I was from the cold. As there were only 11 women on the start line, five w3s and six P1/2s, we very quickly agreed to race together (with the 3s to be scored separately.) Duh. The 15% grade, quarter mile climb out of the parking lot seemed like a reasonable neutral start, although I did find myself wondering why we couldn’t have just started the race up on the road.

At any rate, once we turned on to Trimmer Springs Rd, the race began. Apparently womens racing in Cali isn’t all that different from it is in Texas, and I soon found myself chatting in a double paceline with everyone sharing the “work.” A few pulls were harder than others and I got the sense that some of the women were sizing each other up, but general consensus seemed to be that it was pointless to start actually racing until we hit the first climb – at mile 51. Part of me was a little indignant that the ladies had chosen to have a 50 mile social ride followed by a 12 mile race, but given that my front derailer wasn’t shifting reliably from the get-go, I haven’t raced in 8  months, the hub cone in my front wheel was loose by mile 5, there were women with impressive pedigrees in the small field, and I’ve never raced 62 miles before, I happily settled in for the promenade. Really, it was a good thing, because more than anything, I needed to start meeting the women who race in NorCal.

<girlie moment> OMG, they’re super nice! That was so much fun! </girlie moment>

About 30 miles into the race the strangest thing happened. We stopped for a pee break. Personally, when I race, I’m always wound up so tight relaxing enough to pee would be impossible. Apparently, that’s just me. Instead of watching the gals squat, I looked down and realized I was almost done with one bottle and my flask was pretty full still. Not good. I finished up the bottle and took a hit from the flask, resolved to drink more consistently. Of course had I been paying attention, I would have realized that I was already in trouble.

Promenading up Trimmer Springs to Belmont was getting really old. I watched wistfully as a few groups of masters stormed past us. <sigh> Oh yeah, that’s what racing looks like. Misha and Emily were riding strong, taking good pulls. On Belmont I started keeping towards the front of the rotation. I was beginning to fear, at our current pace, we’d be out all the live-long-day. Nice, except my calves were twitchy. We turned on to Riverbend, mile 40, and I realized there were no neutral water hand-ups. What the?! Shit. I was down to half a bottle and cramping already. Wanting to at least finish today, I decided we’d better hurry so I pulled more, each time a little harder. Clearly, for some of the group, my attempts to turn up the heat were child’s play. Misha came along beside me and gave me a heads up about the course – one climb coming up soon where people will start attacking, go hard, there’s a long descent for recovery before the final mile uphill to the finish. Not having done my homework, e.g. mapping the route in Google Earth before the race, I was incredibly grateful for her recon on the course.

By the time we turned on to Watts Valley Rd, the field was getting strung out. Emily, who had worked hard for the team the day before, was fading. Misha was toward the front still, in smooth pedals. We hit the climb and Tanya (RED Racing) magically disappeared into the fog, with Korina (Metromint) on her wheel. Taking Misha’s advice, I hit the climb hard. Awesome! Unfortunately, it would have been a good idea to ask her how long the climb was. I began to pull away from the others and hammered off in search of the two up the road. A few minutes (that felt like hours) later I caught Korina, my lungs filling up with congestion at the onset of effort. “Nice work” she says as I pass her. I managed some inarticulate vowel sounds and wheezed past her. Legs on fire, lungs struggling, fog obscuring the road ahead, I looked down to watch my watts drop even though cadence and heart rate weren’t. Stupid asthma. The motor needs oxygen. Going backwards now. Not so awesome. I heard Misha behind me, “Not much further” and I fought to keep her wheel as she pedaled pretty circles away from me.

Ultimately, on the long descent that followed, we became a group of five, with Tanya still lost somewhere in the fog. (Which in all honesty was really cool.) My big chainring proved elusive and by now both calves and my left hamstring were writhing, threatening to seize up entirely if I eased off the effort too much. With nothing left in my bottles, I took a quick hit of EFS and spun out my small chainring trying to keep up as best I could with the chase group that was now flying downhill at 35 mph. In the interest of just about everything going wrong, my left contact lens decided to fly out of my eye, it too now lost in the fog at mile 59.

Briefly I considered dropping out but decided I would profoundly regret it. We were so close to the finish. However, these ladies were now actually racing and I didn’t feel safe mixing it up without my good friend, depth perception. I fell to the back of the break and kept some distance in front of my wheel. I wasn’t going to jockey for position but keeping the group in sight was good motivation not to go fetal and cry on the side of the road until SAG came to get me. By the time we hit the final climb the distance in front of my wheel had grown. No worries, at this point I just wanted to finish this sufferfest. I stood and pedaled, trying to keep the cramps at bay just one more mile, pausing for a split second as I rode closer to Misha. After all, my race ended at mile 59 when my contact took flight, and the rest of the field was nowhere in sight. Maybe I should stay here, behind my teammate.

In that same split second my right hamstring started to twitch. I sat down. Time to finish this (sorry Misha.) Now on a 14% grade with cramps in both calves, both hamstrings, and in my right bicep (that’s weird) I turned the cranks over in the saddle, thinking I had a few choice words for the jokers that put the 200m sign five miles away from the finish line. I unceremoniously crossed the finish line and quickly pulled over to the side of the road and stopped before I fell over. Welcome back to racing. That hurt. A lot.

Lessons learned:

  • Bring a 3rd water bottle. Always.
  • Investigate vision correction options, although had I been properly hydrated, perhaps my contact would have stayed put.
  • Womens racing ain’t so different after all. There still aren’t enough of us, even here.
  • Eat more. Drink more.Duh.
  • Get routine with the FloVent, dummy. You’ve got asthma.
  • Upon inspection, Mark says my outer ring is warped. Look into options asap. That sucked.
  • Always recon the route.What were you thinking?

Two weeks ago, I drove to Berkeley, eager to attend the first in a series of CyclingSavvy workshops, which were being offered for the first time on the West Coast. I arrived to find a room full of equally eager people, from all across the state of California (and beyond.) There were some impressive resumes in the room, people who have spent years, decades, advocating for and educating cyclists. The kind of people everyone who uses roads in California should thank, but who rarely get the thanks they deserve, because bicycle advocacy isn’t as high-profile or glamorous as one might think.

For those of you wondering what CyclingSavvy is, it’s a new bicycling education program focused on teaching effective traffic cycling skills. If you’re wondering what the big dealio is, let’s just say that, in the bicyclist educators ring, there’s been a lot of buzz about the curriculum’s approach. Sure, you may not have heard of CyclingSavvy, but bicycle education gets about as much media coverage as bicycle advocacy. For a more thorough discussion of what CS is and how it’s different, you should read this.

In an effort to avoid a review so lengthy it requires an intermission, I’ll try to limit this post to broad impressions and save the nitty gritty for future posts. Having been certified by the League of American Bicyclists as a League Cycling Instructor, my comments will likely compare the CS material to LAB’s.

The inaugural West Coast classes were led by CyclingSavvy Co-Founder, Mighk Wilson, from Florida, and CyclingSavvy Instructor Gary Cziko, from Illinois. Friday’s workshop was a lecture on topics ranging from bicycle traffic code and traffic cycling principals to route planning and problem-solving strategies. First, let me say that no matter how you dice it, there’s a lot to cover in the lecture. And presenting the material to a room full of seasoned, outspoken cycling educators presented unique challenges, to put it mildly. While Mighk was presenting the second half of the lecture, Gary snapped a quick shot of the room:

Oh sure, they look soft and cuddly, but this crowd asked some tough questions.

So, general impressions: The helmet-cam videos were awesome. They serve as a powerful illustration of the traffic cycling principals being taught, more so, I imagine, when the audience is familiar with the roadways in the videos. But that’s a job for future California CyclingSavvy Instructors to tackle. Gary and Mighk are visiting from out of state so we’ll cut them some slack. The lecture is content-heavy. Even with certain commonly covered topics eliminated, CS introduces enough fresh content that it’s a lot to absorb in 3 hours. The slides are complex the presentation could use some streamlining. There were just too many words on the screen most of the time. Perhaps broad concepts could be covered in an online module similar to this one and the lecture used to reinforce the ideas and discuss details.

In the interest of getting this review published sooner rather than later, I’ll save the on-road review for another post. From what I saw in Friday’s lecture, the CyclingSavvy program offers some awesome, practical
information on how to plan routes and take advantage of patterns in traffic flow and clearly communicate with motorists to minimize potentially stressful interactions on high traffic roadways. There is a heavy emphasis on urban riding which is, for the most part, great, except that I would love to see the program delve further into strategies for the heavily trafficked narrow, rural roadways that we encounter here in Southern Marin. Sharing the roads in my little slice of California presents challenges for which I have yet to find a good solution. CyclingSavvy is a big step in the right direction and, with a few modifications to address certain West Coast conditions, is the type of course that all cyclists could attend and walk away from having learned something new and useful. This isn’t cycling 101, it’s dancing for cyclists. We could all stand to learn a few new moves.

About two weeks ago I signed up for group CompuTrainer classes at Velo SF, located in San Francisco. In case you missed my last post, I’m in Mill Valley, north of the City.

I'm up here and Velo SF is down there.

So over the weekend I decided it was pretty silly driving my car to a cycling class in hopes of getting fitter on the bike. Much better to ride to class. I’ll be leaving at 6am when it is still dark outside which of course means I’ll need gear. I have lights but what I don’t have is a good hi-vis jacket and a backpack. While florescent hi-vis yellow may not be fashionable, it is easier to see at 6am before the sun is up and the coffee has kicked in. In low light, our eyes are particularly perceptive to bright yellows and greens. I’m so behind the haute couture curve, I don’t really care how cool I look in a jacket, but I do care about getting to where I’m going safely and being seen by sleepy motorists is an important part of the equation.

So I headed off to Studio Velo where I found a Rapha jacket and backpack with some cool visibility features. The chartreuse colored jacket with reflective accents is a shade hipper than florescent yellow but still very easy to see in low light. The backpack is pretty cool. In normal light it looks like a rather plain black backpack:

Back of jacket, side of backpack without the camera flash.

But when a a light hits the reflective stitching and details, the backpack looks a little different…..

Front of backpack and jacket, with camera flash.

Back of jacket, side of backpack with flash.

Nice! Visibility? Check.

The jacket is windproof, water resistant, and easy to wash. Sorta.

I'm pretty sure there are no othems of like colour in my closet.

There’s more to the San Francisco Bay Area than just San Francisco. A lot more. The Bay Area is made up of zillion* other cities, towns and hippie holdouts.Some of them you’ve probably heard of – like Oakland or Palo Alto but others not so much – Komandorski Village, Dogtown, and Farwell, for example. We’ve got all kinds of towns in the Bay Area that sound like they belong somewhere else, Pittsburg, Newark and, in case I’m homesick for Texas, there’s a San Antonio and Alamo right here, just a short drive away.

When I talk to friends back in Dallas about my life here, I can’t help but think most have no concept of where I actually am in relation to the places they may have heard of in the Area. So, to put things in perspective, I created a map. Given my unfamiliarity with the Bay Area, there’s a strong possibility that this map is highly inaccurate. It is not at all intended for navigational purposes.

Enjoy and check back, updates to come as I continue to explore my new home.

*Note: not an actual statistic.

My map of the San Francisco Bay Area, with important (more or less) landmarks.

Bolinas-Fairfax Road, typical of many of the roadways along the area's popular cycling routes. Note the narrow lanes, poor shoulder conditions, and my lane position. (Photo by Chris Hobbs)

California’s commonly misunderstood “Far to the Right” law reads:

C V C Section 21202 Operation on Roadway

Operation on Roadway

21202.  (a) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:

(1) When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.

(2) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.

(3) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes) that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge, subject to the provisions of Section 21656. For purposes of this section, a “substandard width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.

(4) When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.

(b) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway of a highway, which highway carries traffic in one direction only and has two or more marked traffic lanes, may ride as near the left-hand curb or edge of that roadway as practicable.

Out of all the reckless cyclist and motorist behavior I’ve seen in California, I think a majority stems from the misunderstanding/misinterpreting of this portion of the California Vehicle Code. The misunderstanding is across the board – cyclists don’t use the rights this law gives them, motorists don’t seem to think it gives cyclists any rights to the roadway, and perhaps worst of all, law enforcement doesn’t seem to think so either.

Honestly, this section of the CVC should be an empowering, liberating bit of law for cyclists. After all, it reinforces a previously given right – to ride on the roadway. Here’s a newsflash: Shoulders are not roadways. Per CVC 530: “A ‘roadway’ is that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel.” Shoulders certainly aren’t designed or improved for ordinary vehicle travel. I cannot help but wonder if cyclists are dooming themselves to the shoulder by making it a place “ordinarily used for vehicular travel.”

There are some common-sense items written into the code, such as moving left to avoid hazards, moving to the left for left hand turns and when approaching right-turn only lanes. Aside from being not-so-common-sense for some, these are topics I’d prefer to save for future discussions. Back to the liberation….

21202 (3) empowers cyclists to take the lane on narrow roadways: “For purposes of this section, a “substandard width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.”

Many of the roads on which I, and countless others, cycle are narrow roads, with one lane in each direction and a disappearing/re-appearing, debris filled shoulder. Speed limits range from 25mph to 55mph on these twisty, hilly roads and traffic can be quite heavy on a warm sunny day. More often than not the cyclists are crammed, single file, into the shoulder as motorists pass, often alarmingly close. Seriously, alarming. Perhaps the worst was a ChPs patrol car who passed within 3 inches of me along Hwy 1, where the speed limit was 50mph.

I don’t know if I have a point for this post yet. It’s a warm, sunny day today and I did a humbling, crippling set of intervals this morning. I think I will take my bike for a walk, perhaps take a few photos of the road conditions (assuming I can make it up Mt Tam to get to these roads) and I’ll take note of the motorists’ responses to my lane positioning. I can tell you from previous experience, it’s not what some of you will be expecting….