Saturday, February 26, 2011

Fighting Complacency

Before the rain started last Friday, and despite the raging tailwind, I was starting to think about how routine my commute was becoming. The excitement of returning to this kind of riding/commuting was wearing off, and since I count the number of times I've ridden this route in the thousands, it's more than a little understandable. However, having sheets of rain descend on you as you try to negotiate your path in an increasingly saturated state, then having one of your tires start to have air pressure issues (in this case, the front tire), tends to upset the routine a little.

Once I was able to recover from last Friday's adventure and retrieve my trusty XO-2 from Carlsbad, I could get down to the preparations for the following week. I returned the Heron to my locker at the Melrose Sprinter station, walked home (it was a beautiful, post-rainstorm day, and you could see the snow on Mt San Gregorino and Mt San Jacinto from the station), and set out to make the XO-2 roadworthy again. A good cleaning, then chain lubing got the process started, but I needed to solve that air pressure issue. It was easy to spot the thorn that had caused the puncture--yes, the dreaded Tribulus terrestris--but a more careful inspection found two more thorns embedded in the tire, waiting to cause me more misfortune. I patched two tubes, but one of the issues with not riding for a while is not replenishing your patch cement supply. The cement I used seemed almost half-way to dry, so my confidence in the repair was low. I put one repaired tube in, inflated it, but an hour later, I wasn't happy with the firmness, so I installed the other repaired tube. It seemed to hold, so I went to bed Monday night, after a three day weekend...and dreamed about deflating tires.

Sure enough, upon waking Tuesday at the god-awful hour I do, I went to the garage to find a deflated front tire. I suppose it says a lot about me that at 4:30am I put a new tube in the tire since I was bent on riding to work. Still, I had no confidence in a brand new tube, but I took off anyway in the pre-dawn dark, convinced that every feeling I had was that of a punctured tire. However, a pinch of the tire at every red light suggested otherwise, and soon I was in the brightening dawn on the coast route.

I thought that maybe Donald Trump was building a sandcastle, but it's another sewer project that'll soon better direct our sewage. That's the "warm water jetty", where the cooling water from the Encinas Power Station used to come out, and it was a great place to body surf because the ocean was like bath water. The only problem was when a set wave would come in at ocean temperature--it would shock the system.

This is where the coast route is really obviously on the coast, and the sounds as one rides by in the otherwise quiet dawn are quite refreshing. Surf crashing and sea birds singing are almost a lullaby. By this time, I was more confident in my tubes and tires, and I focused on pushing south. I focused on appreciation rather than complacency and rolled to Swami's, which is a good place to change lenses on the glasses and to take a picture.

Lenses changed, passing Coaster waved to, and commute resumed, I pedaled into that week beginning Tuesday. And I found 65 cents on the way.

Again, the forecast said rain on Friday. I plowed through my freeway commutes during the week, hoping the Friday forecast would recede, and just like the previous Friday, the forecast pushed the rain back. However, this time, while I was at SIO Friday afternoon, I took a pic from the dive locker which, since I could see Dana Point, let me realize that the rain was pretty far off.

So, like the idiot I am, I took off towards home. My start wasn't early, but the wind was an almost perfect out of the southwest. This is the interesting sky time of year here in North San Diego County, and I kept stopping to snap an interesting pic of the sky. The best I could do was at the San Elijo lagoon.

It took a while to snap that pic, since there was a lot of car traffic at the time. Once I did, I noticed the southbound Coaster going by, and I was calculating. I really didn't want to ride all the way home, but that's not a good place to see the southbound Coaster if you want to catch the northbound at Encinitas. I had a tailwind, and I took off, but to no avail. I was cycling all the way home.

Like a lot of the shit that goes down after an injury, occasionally one is confronted with an obstacle to be overcome. Earlier in the day on Friday, I met with the surgeon who fixed my hand a year ago, and there are lingering issues, but the fact that I can ride a bike the way I can are a testament to his (and my) success. So, pushing on into the night was a total, "what the fuck--I'm happy to be able to do this" sort of thing.

I made it home, and I wasn't overly traumatized by it all, so I can't wait for next week!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Change in Weather/Bikes

I'm just about recovered from riding all the way to work on Monday morning, so that must mean it's almost Friday.

That was written before I passed out last night. Sweet dreams ensued, but morning still brought the realization of the previous night's weather forecast. Rain, starting late, with strong winds out of the south. "Strong winds out of the south" is a very good forecast to me for riding home, but "rain, starting late" could mean anything. I rode the short ride to my Sprinter station, prepared for multiple combinations of return trip variants (all the way home was the preferred variant), looking to the eastern sky whenever I could. I thought of the old Fixx song, "Red Skies", but these were the sailor's warning--red skies in the morning. Are they also a cyclist's warning?

Previously, on Monday--the first of the bookend days--I again rode all the way from home to work. I left a couple of minutes earlier, felt a little better, and had better riding conditions...and still managed to ride slower. It could be because I switched bikes. Instead of the 700c wheeled Heron, I rode the 26" wheeled XO-2.

It's a 1993 Bridgestone XO-2, and, as you can see, it's been highly personalized over the years. That is a cellulose-based composite storage unit mounted on the rear. Lightweight, versatile, and sustainable. This bike has been through a lot, and been ridden to and from a lot of places, but its main use has been to transport me from home to work and back (or at least some portion of that trek). Over the years, it's done a more than adequate job.

It's also my best bike for when the weather turns nasty, and that it did this week. Yep, the spotless, kick-ass, winter weather we'd had since the new year turned, and I had to start thinking about alternatives to cycling. A storm blew in Wednesday, and rained strictly during the commute hours. I was out and about at Scripps Institute of Oceanography and snapped the incoming afternoon storm.

A typical San Diego day looks like this:

I took pride in my maturity because I didn't ride that day, and since it rained during both my morning and evening commute, my pride was reinforced. The storm blew out that evening, and a usual commute ensued on Thursday, and then was watched constantly. A storm was due to blow in Friday evening, but when? It forecast for noon in the early morning, but as the morning wore on, it was pushed back, back, back, until it was not forecast to rain until 7pm. I started on my campus rounds at 1pm, knowing I could leave when I finished, and the wind was howling out of the south. I was licking my chops! School of Medicine, School of Engineering, then S.I.O., the wind kept up, but odd sprinkles emerged, off and on. I got back to the store, wrapped things up, and at 2:40, headed north.

Things went great. A 15-20mph tailwind wisked me across campus, across the Torrey Pines Mesa, down the Torrey Pines grade, past Torrey Pines beach, to the climb into Del Mar. No problems, a couple of sprinkles in town, but still that tailwind was driving me on. It continued through Solana Beach, and into Encinitas. I was delighted that there were no surfers parked at Cardiff Reef, and thus, no opening doors and no surfboards being moved around in the bike lane like a bad Laurel and Hardy routine. However, there were also no bikini sightings (sigh).

In Encinitas proper, things started to change. The rain became steadier, but I pressed on, thinking that it was maybe a fluke. I plowed on into Leucadia, and past Leucadia Blvd, the coast route floods. While negotiating the pools of standing water in the bike lane, I noticed three 1960's era Volkswagen microbuses passing me. Whose idea was that? One was totally early 60's with the Quarter-sized taillights that were barely visible 50 yards away. At least they were dry inside; I was getting drenched. I passed La Costa Blvd and into Carlsbad, then rode around the construction at the Bataquitos Lagoon, and I made it into the new neighborhoods by the state beach. Still, the rain that wasn't supposed to start until 7pm was pouring on me before 4pm.

I took a break under the Palomar Airport Rd overpass to make sure my phone was okay, then pushed on into Carlsbad proper. Right when I got to Tamarack, I thought: if I'm going to have a puncture, this would be the best place.

I had a puncture.

I limped into the Carlsbad Village Station, because they have bicycle lockers that I can use. I pulled all my stuff out of the cellulose-based composite storage unit, and stuffed my bike in the locker. I walked into the station where I could shelter and change into dry clothes. There is, how shall I say, an on-going gentleman's club that meets there, and the gentlemen have varying control over their faculties. I was offered dry clothes, but I carried a dry wool sweater and that, along with wringing out my wool socks, gave me more than enough sartorial warmth to carry on.

The Coaster would take me to Oceanside, but I'd have to wait a while for the next Sprinter. However, a very late 101 bus showed up, and I got on. In soaking wet cycling gear, holding a helmet with a light attached, I fit right in on that bus! I realized that this bus also wouldn't catch the Sprinter in Oceanside, but then I realized I could get off at Oceanside Blvd and catch the Sprinter there! I watched the bus driver come back during a long traffic light and make sure that a certain veteran was aware of where he was at. His care for this passenger really made me feel good on a stormy, dangerous day. I got off at Oceanside Blvd, and waved at the driver as he went by, then crossed to the Sprinter station. As it worked out, I only waited about a minute for the train.

As usual, the Sprinter sped me across north county with only minimal singing by my fellow passengers. I got to my stop, and pulled the Heron out from the locker where I'd left it on that red sky morning, and rode it home. Getting home after a commute like that feels mighty good, and the beers one has at home taste unbelievably good!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cutting Through

Accepting the grinding nature of bicycle commuting is yet another stage of my return to it. Friday afternoon gave me a good dose of the grind. The first rides after a protracted absence always seem wonderful, and all the indignities of sharing the road are easily forgotten. However, reality is that cycling is not a perfect commuting solution, but rather it has advantages over others. Being able to overcome those situations where it is not advantageous is the key to success.

The weather was typical San Diego-fine Friday, but checking told me that I would be facing about a 10mph headwind on the ride up the coast. I've had worse, but I was younger too. I searched for the mental image to guide me (I also searched for the right music to listen to beforehand. Oddly, I chose the Monkees. Say what you will, but "I'm a Believer" will get you over a hill or two. Oh, I listen to the music before I leave. I don't listen when I ride. It interferes with my singing), and it was that one from wood shop class in junior high. The shop teacher always says the same thing when you are sawing a piece of wood--let the saw do the work. That is, as you move the saw back and forth, you don't also need to press down on it. So, as I grind along into the headwind, I think, "let the bike do the work".

I didn't really burst into the ride, and auto traffic was pretty backed up on the coast. It's a little like riding in a tunnel when it's like that, with the added danger that the left-hand wall can suddenly turn into your path! I negotiated my way with only a few minor scares, and once I was through Encinitas I started to feel okay.

In fact, the rest of the ride was quite good, though quite dark, and visions of the two Stone Lukcy Bastartds in my 'fridge were driving me on. Now, a new week dawns, full of indignities and irritations that I'll try my best to see as challenges. If I can collect enough Lukcy Bastartds during the week, it might just end with another happy Friday!

Friday, February 11, 2011


Riding home from work is pretty straightforward. You close up shop, get on your bike, and ride home. Riding to work is trickier. I can get home any time I want, but there is a certain time I have to show up at the job, and both calculating when to leave home and deciding what to take are the morning's challenge. Since I had not only not ridden home from work since 2009, but also not ridden to it since then, I had to spend the whole weekend thinking about this. Fortunately, I had a lot of beer and a rather big football game to help out the thought process.

However, a ride to work means being awake to hear the crack of dawn. In fact, you should be drinking your first cup of coffee when it cracks. Fortunately, I was pretty excited by the whole thing, and I'd been training my early-rising mind-set for a while. Getting ready to leave home was an issue--there were complications. A 5:30am departure was delayed until 5:45, but that's still pretty early.

So, this Monday, I set out in the dark towards the coast, and met it and the dawn proper in Carlsbad.

What was left was the relatively flat ride to San Diego which I spent thinking mostly about what gear I should choose to go up the Torrey Pines Grade (I picked the 36x21). Once over that, I could get a better idea of how much commuting I could do, and for the next couple of weeks, I'll be bookending them--ride all the way to work Monday and all the way home Friday.

And since it is now indeed Friday, I'll be riding home tonight. I will be helped by the attractive force provided by the cold beers I have stocked in my `fridge. That should keep the morale up this evening!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

All the Way, Baby!

The stars aligned, I got early release, I'd listened to enough Richmond Fontaine, and it was just plain about time.

I left work Friday afternoon and rode my bicycle all the way home.

Yes, instead of careening down the I-5 shoulder to the train station, I braved crossing Revelle, Muir, and Marshall (Third) colleges, then exited the University and braved old highway 101.

Ah, the open road...such as it is. However, a closer inspection revealed this:

Yes, that's right, I was entering Encinitas' photo enforced tsunami danger zone. While I could have stayed there for hours contemplating government bureaucracy gone haywire, I was racing the sun and I was getting hungry and thirsty, so I braved the danger of a tsunami-based citation and pressed on north.

I haven't done this whole ride since, of the reasons I keep this blog is to remind me of when stuff, sometime in late 2009. Since then I've discovered that:

1. The guys on my former cycling team, Swami's, are a lot faster.

2. Encinitas is now more dangerous than Del Mar.

3. I really no longer give a fuck about how fast I ride.

Nope, not anymore. Too many dreams about cycling when I couldn't have altered my perception of it. As much as I like the atmosphere, companionship, and scenery of the afternoon Coaster train, there's nothing like being able to stop on a whim and take in all that's around you. Especially when it's familiar pleasantries that you've been without for a while.

However, the sun sets on everyone, and it set on me in South Carlsbad. From here, the ride got serious. Carlsbad Village may be a joy during bikini season, but it is otherwise a nightmare of jaywalkers...then there's the State Street/Hwy 101 merge to negotiate. Oceanside is skirted through pretty quick, until the harrowing Crouch St. descent to Oceanside Blvd. If you pick the right line on the potholed descent, you can hit 50mph, but there's always a line of cars wanting to both turn left and right in front of you at the bottom of the hill. At night, it's just that question rattling through my skull, "does *anyone* see me??"

Once on Oceanside Blvd, I felt okay, and as one goes east, the calm increases. When I got to Melrose Station before the 6:22, my competitive side was assuaged a little. From there it was all downhill to the Stater Brothers, where they had food and just enough beer to get me through the evening.

Yeah, I admit, I jumped up and down a few times when I got to my garage and I'd realized that, yes, I did it. I could then eat and drink like I deserved it, and sleep a sound sleep. Today, there were hours spent in the garage with the bikes, and more will be spent tomorrow, because, since I rode home Friday, I have to ride back Monday.

See this space for details...