California Dreamin

EL SEGUNDO, CALIFORNIA

Having just returned from California from the Phil Gaimon Cookie Gran Fondo weekend, I need to revisit my planning – for next time, you know.

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All in all, it was a great trip.

Bike packed in Thule case

In 2019 I am celebrating my 10-year Cancversary and will ride 10 miles (at least) every day. That affected the flights that I could take. If I fly out early it has to be real early so I have time to ride when I arrive. Or I can ride in the morning and travel late – but that one isn’t for me.

Barry and Ernie Rodriguez

I left home by 4:30 a.m. for Washington-Dulles. I parked in the long-term Economy lot and was still at my gate by 5:43 a.m. – two hours before scheduled take-off.

In Terminal B is a Five Guys that served breakfast sandwiches. I had the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich. And it was good.

The flight arrived LAX on-time. My only checked bag was my bike and despite the luggage arriving at Terminal 6, mine was an Oversized bag and arrived in Terminal 4 at the Oversize Baggage.

Building the bike at the hotel

I took the hotel shuttle to the Fairfield Inn and Suites – El Segundo. Arrived by noon. No room was ready but I built my bike in the pool area (only a few funny looks). I jumped on my bike and visited – In-N-Out Burger which was right next door. Then I rode west – towards the ocean.

El Segundo at the beach
Bike path El Segundo

I had texted Robert Hess and he offered to pick me up at the hotel for a ride. I told him I already found the bike path and could ride to meet him. That was better. We met close to Manhattan Beach then rode north towards (but not to) Venice Beach. We found a straight section used for KOMs and both went moderately fast.

Manhattan Beach
Bike Path in Hermosa Beach
Robert and Barry

RIGHT: By taking the hotel shuttle from the airport I avoided one day of car rental charges.

RIGHT: By renting in El Segundo, I avoided the LAX fees on rental cars. In addition, a much higher rate.

I drove to Thousand Oaks where I stayed at the TownePlace Suites by Marriott. I was going to stay at the official hotel of the Fondo, the Hyatt, but the rooms were $60/night more.

TownePlace Suites by Marriott, Thousand Oaks. The pool wasn’t so nice.

I was 10 miles from the venue on Saturday and decided to ride there instead of drive. That also made my decision to choose the 40-mile ride over the 50-mile ride.

The official Cookiemobile

One problem was I was riding directly into a low sun on Thousand Oaks Blvd. Even with two rear lights, I was worried about the traffic seeing me.

The hotel was only about 15 miles from Sunday’s venue so I could not complain. Plus it was very close to an In-N-Out Burger and a Chili’s.

I was initially going to ride in Santa Barbara on Monday but decided to ride again in Manhattan Beach. I did not explore the southern end of the trail before and I could save a day’s rental charge.

RIGHT: By getting the car back before 11 a.m. I would have three days’ rental and not four.

Wildfire on the 101

One problem was there were wildfires including one I went by one Hwy 101. Waze found a better way but that meant hundreds of drivers all used the same side streets. I got in a little late but within tolerance.

Wildfire on the 101

Once packed, their driver took me back over to the Fairfield Suites where I boarded the Fairfield airport shuttle, the one that dropped me there four days earlier. I don’t know if this was cool or not but when I checked out on Friday I asked Scott Trexler at the hotel and he said it would be no problem. Of course, he wasn’t working when I returned.

Near Manhattan Beach

I rode south to Redondo Beach then one last time to In-N-Out Burger. I went back to the car rental location where I had left my luggage. I think they were more bemused than annoyed that I tore down the bike in their office and packed it in the case.

At the airport, I found a restaurant and watched the Steelers-Dolphins on Monday Night Football (Steelers won 27-14). About one hour later I boarded the redeye flight to Dulles.

Watching the Steelers at LAX

Arriving Dulles, I had to figure out where my bike would arrive. It came in on the Oversize Baggage belt. It has come down the regular belt before (ugh) so I have to figure out by airport where it will arrive.

I went back to my car in the Economy lot then to Chick-Fil-A, Ashburn, for breakfast before getting the Trek Pilot out for a ride on the W&OD. I had packed the Domane for California but also brought the Pilot and left it in the car. It was on its side covered by a blanket in the car. Then when arriving back, rather than trying to rebuild my Domane, I could just jump on the Pilot and ride.

After riding and dropping the Domane at the bike shop (broken front derailleur), I found myself fighting drowsiness on the 30-mile trip home. That redeye took it out of me but was necessary if I was to ride today. The other option on American was 10:30 a.m. arriving at 6:30 p.m. It would be hard to ride in the morning, tear down the bike, and get to the airport on time. And it arrived too late for an evening ride.

I am comfortable with almost all the decisions I made for this trip. I like the hotel shuttle and the first night near the airport. It worked out renting off-site. And getting back to the hotel. Keep this in mind if I do this one again.

San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA

Rodrigo Garcia and I met at the Mill Valley Community Center parking lot. We rode to meet the 4K for Cancer group on the last day of their 70-day journey across the U.S. and were surprised when they went by us in the opposite direction. We turned, gave chase, and caught them – because we could.

It wasn’t just surprise but something seemed odd. Rodrigo had delivered a mail stop to them yesterday and we left with solid plans including their roll-out time. A number of them had our cell numbers and were to contact us if that changed, It did and no one notified us. It felt as though we weren’t welcome to see them today.

Ever since saying goodbye to them in Manassas, Va., two 1/2 months ago, I wondered if I would see them again. I rode with them, from Baltimore to Alexandria, and then to Manassas, and it was great that my west coast trip coincided with their finish.

Patrick Sheridan, Barry Sherry

We were on a bike path and I first rode behind Kelly Schofield. Her rear tire was split and looked as though it would blow at any time. I was horrified, knowing the risks one takes on bad tires. But a number of the 4K cyclists rode on tires as bad or even worse than Kelly’s. With pride.

Splitting tire – no problem

The lack of safety awareness greatly concerned me. They told tales of descending at 40 mph on worn out tires.

But one need not have bad tires to cause a crash. On an easy rollout to San Francisco, Michael Wray crashed hard in Sausalito. No one seems to know why – one second he was upright and the next second he was down on the road. He had some pretty nasty road rash on his legs and arms and a busted lip. Ouch.

Michael Wray

We rode with the 4K to their photo ops on a foggy Vista Point and into Crissy Beach in San Francisco. At Vista Point, Rodrigo and I were introduced to the COO of the organization, a guy named Brian. I extended my hand and said, “My name is Barry.” He looked at me and said, “I know who you are.” It was a very strange greeting and was quite unbecoming of a COO of a cancer non-profit. I guess I crashed his party. Clearly I was not welcome.

Briefly leaving Vista Point I rode again with Jeff Graves, Chris Chitterling, and Lauren Schoener. It was a reunion from the first day. Along with Patrick Sheridan, the four of them had been my riding partners the first day.

It was also a bittersweet day for me. I started and finished the 4K as a Pedal Pal. The most inspirational Pedal Pal, Jake “The Hero” Grecco, did not finish. His health took a turn for the worse around Memorial Day. While he had hoped to be in Baltimore to meet his Pedal Pal, Chey Hillsgrove, he was too weak and tired. And just three days before the 4K ended, Jake passed away.

While the riders were wearing their 4K jerseys, I wore my special one. Cyclists Combating Cancer, I have written on the back “In Loving Memory, Jacob Grecco, 2004-2012.” I felt empowered riding with the 4K wearing Jake’s name.

My jersey for Jake
(On left – Erin Mack, Jeff Graves)

We had a nice ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and then stopped to let the 4K finish at Chrissy Park on their own to the applause of friends and family. When we joined them I met a “Pedal Pal” from Sausalito. She told me she found out about the 4K from an article in RoadBikeRider.com. Yes! I had contacted publisher John Marsh about running an article seeking Pedal Pals and was very happy that it paid off.

Chrissy Beach

The riders enjoyed a closing ceremony — I said goodbye to my Pedal Pal, Patrick, and Rodrigo and I rolled back to Mill Valley.

Barry Sherry, Peter Bai, Rodrigo Garcia
Riding partners the day before

In Washington, D.C., I have to be mindful that many people on bikes are tourists and to be careful when riding near them. But Rodrigo and I both agreed that perhaps the single largest location for tourists to rent bikes is in San Francisco to ride over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Approaching the bridge I had a tourist stop in the bike path and turn his bike width-wise and block 3/4 of the lane. I put my foot down to avoid a crash. And on the bridge itself, Rodrigo had a tourist step back (taking a picture) into his path. When he swerved it was in my path and I hit him. How neither of us crashed hard on the bridge I’ll never know. Somehow we stayed up.

It was good to see the 4K finish. While their bicycle journey across the U.S. ended today, it is my hope that their journeys as cancer fighters never end.


IN LOVING MEMORY
JACOB GRECCO, aka BATMAN

Batman

Sierra Road

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA

Rain came down, hard at times in San Jose. The boys have two mountain passes today on their way to Modesto. Have a safe trip!

My last day at the Amgen Tour. of California. I decided to spectate. I had a good time volunteering throughout the tour. In Sacramento, Santa Rosa, and especially Santa Cruz, I was the face of the Tour for many people and the face of cycling for these folks. The good people who came out in Sacramento and Santa Rosa were somewhat informed but still were inquisitive.

The folks who came out in Santa Cruz were mostly curious. My position in Santa Cruz was along a residential street and the only spectators, and there were a few, were locals who lived in the neighborhood. Most of them were retirees. I had to begin with Cycling 101. It was fun. My position on the course was necessary to keep people off a dangerous part of the course but it was a bad place to view the race.

After three days of being stuck in locations that were helpful to spectators but boring for me, I decided to head to the hill where I could simply spectate.

Sierra Road was the place. It immediately leaves the Silicon Valley and starts a climb. Sierra Road climbs from an elevation of 264 feet to 2041 feet over 3.6 miles. It has an average grade of 10%. Walking it I passed a number of walkers and a couple of cyclists.

Sierra Road, San Jose, Calif.

My thought while headed up the grade was “wow, this is really steep and this is really long.” Only after I returned did I look up the stats and discovered it’s half as long as Mount Washington, doesn’t reach 6,000 feet, isn’t nearly as steep (12% is, after all, 20% steeper than 10%), and actually has some flat and even downhill sections where the body can recover.*

Some cyclists walked. Others kept plodding along. A few cyclists came by with a pretty good pace and then a Liquigas rider came flying by. He left them in the dust (well, road mist). I know some people buy kits of their favorite teams but who owns the complete Liquigas kit other than a true rider? I figured Team Liquigas brought an extra rider or two and they are riding ahead of the peloton for their fitness. I don’t know who that was.

Once I reached the top the temperature dropped, the winds picked up, and the rain started. And it was cold. My estimate was it was in the mid 30s with a wind chill in the mid 20s. I had an umbrella and shared it with another guy.

Unlike Sacramento, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz, there weren’t any curious onlookers at the summit. Everyone there was a cyclist or cycling fan. I figured the people who were erecting signs for Steven Cozza (Garmin-Slipstream) were his parents. At the top were the parents of Scott Nydam (BMC) and his fiance. She was marking the pavement with his name in chalk although it was a losing battle against the rain. It’s neat being at the top and chatting with the families of the riders. Try that in France!

There were probably 100 of us at the top and, who knows, a few hundred more at various points on the way up. I had one time to get it right and decided to make my last view of the Tour from the King of the Mountains summit. If I had a second time I would pick a location about halfway up where I could see the entire course without my view blocked by the masses. But I don’t regret being at the summit.

We were cold. People were jumping up and down to keep warm and we cheered everyone who came across the summit. Mountain bike. Yeah! Walker. Yeah! Policeman. Yeah! Cheering kept us warm.

One cyclist recognized me from Sunday’s stage. “You were in Santa Rosa.” He thanked me for talking with him there then asked if he rode down 100 yards and came back up if he thought we would cheer for him. I assured him we would. The cyclist goes down 100 yards, turns around, and comes back. Yeahhh!

The police came through followed by a group of four riders followed closely by the peloton. Francisco Mancebo (Rock Racing) was first. Although we were only 8.1 miles from the start, and many riders were grouped, it was surprising to see some real stragglers. I had already started down when another rider came up. I first assumed it was a recreational rider — he was behind the team cars — but it may have been Alejandro Alberto Borrajo (Colavita-Sutter Home). He abandoned today.

The rain picked up and was really coming down. They were very big rain drops, almost hail. I was wet and cold and wasn’t looking forward to my trip down. My pants were weighted down with a camera, cell phone, wallet, and car keys. I could not run but run I did. I started slowly. I didn’t have running shoes — turf shoes that I probably ruined all the little nubbies. My gait was a half stride, because it was downhill and because I couldn’t really run or else my pants would fall down.

I carried the umbrella and fought the wind. It only turned inside out once. I made it down passing lots of people along the way and made it back to the car. Even with an umbrella, I was soaked. Again. But no longer cold. At the lower level, it was near 50° and with wearing two riding jackets I was sweating.

I opened the car, peeled off some of the wet clothes, but really had to go to the bathroom. I found an empty Diet Pepsi bottle and created my first “urine bottle.” The urgency was such that I could not wait.

I then reflected on four days of fun. The Amgen Tour of California is a great event. It will become a major American sport just like the Tour de France is (when soccer becomes as popular as American football) so you better plan to see it while you can still mingle with the parents and girlfriends of the riders, and even meet them at their trailer.

I would like to come back– maybe volunteer at one stage, but not four. Spectating is much more fun. Now if they offered me a position as traveling course marshal — we’ll talk. Especially if Lance comes back next year.


*Actually, with flat and downhill sections in the calculation, perhaps the actual climbing sections may have been 12% or so.


EDIT/EPILOGUE – This was my first urine bottle – ever. I had a headache and lots of body aches on this trip. With 20/20 hindsight, I likely had e.Coli at this time. A few weeks later, I had the same symptoms while officiating at the Jefferson Cup in Richmond, Va. Headaches and fevers continued until May when Dr. Semerjean at George Washington University Hospital finally diagnosed the e.Coli and was able to treat it. He also diagnosed cancer.

But it is likely that on this day, my cancer journey began.

Cold, Wet, and Windy

SANTA ROSA, CALIFORNIA

AMGEN TOUR OF CALIFORNIA – STAGE 1

All day long the rain came down. It was quite hard at times.

As was typical with the ATOC, volunteer check-in was hours before the assignment. I checked in at 9:00 a.m. but didn’t need to report to my location until noon. It gave me a chance to walk around this town — in the rain, of course.

The downtown area is quite neat. Except for the driving rain, it’s a great choice for a tour city. But February is the rainy season in California, especially in northern California. It’s probably not the best time to hold a major bike race.

Downtown Santa Rosa

The tour cities make a day of the event. In Sacramento, we worked a community ride on the course two hours before the event. In Santa Rosa, it was a professional women’s criterium.

And it rained. And rained more. They women did a nice job of staying upright. The winner was the Swedish national champion Emilia Fahlin although for my money Lauren Tamayo was the rider of the day as she led out the breaks and did most of the work.

Women’s Race in Santa Rosa

After the race, which ended at 2:00 p.m., we had to kill time waiting for the arrival of the men. The bad weather grounded the race airplane and getting information was hard. Even Versus, the television broadcast network, was affected. One marshal at our location was connected to ham operators and he kept us informed as to their locations. That was useful in answering the many questions “what time will they arrive?”

Last year there was a crash on the run-in to town. In cycling, the officials can give everyone who are together the same finishing time if there is a crash within the last 3 km. This rewards the risk-takers who make those dare-devil sprint finishes so exciting.

But what is the last three kilometers? The finish in Santa Rosa was circuits of the downtown on a 3.1 mile (5 km) loop. Is a crash on the first circuit within 3 km of the “finish?” It is usually literal, that is, within 3 km of the finish line.

Last year, favorite and Santa Rosa native, Levi Leipheimer, got caught in a crash on the first loop. At the time he was near the front but lost massive time due to the crash. The race officials then decided to give all the riders the same time, making Levi very happy. It was controversial, to say the least.

Today we were not informed of the local rules. But the race director made the decision that once they got to Santa Rosa, the first time across the “finish line” would be the actual time for the stage. In essence, the second and third passes didn’t count — at least for time.

The roads were soaked. High speed corners in this weather was a recipe for disaster. So arrive Santa Rosa and get your race time when you arrive.

Fransicso Mancebo (ESP) came though town first about two minutes ahead of some chasers. Although the chasers eventually caught him, they were racing on the final two laps to be the stage winner. He would have the best time regardless.

Fransicso Mancebo

I was a marshal at a very difficult location. Although it was not a curve which I hoped for (they go slower there), it was a potential bottleneck on the course. The traffic lanes went from four to two in the space of an intersection. And we had no barriers to keep the people back. They were standing on the sidewalk.

I worked with a Santa Rosa policeman and we moved some road barriers through the intersection and the people did well to stay behind them. This was also at the end of a 500-meter downgrade, not steep, but definitely 2-3% downhill and they were flying. Maybe worse, the support cars were flying through the intersection.

I would estimate a couple of the race cars went by at 60 mph just seconds before they had to hit this narrow, somewhat curvy two-lane stretch. My big concern was making sure no one tried to cross in front of the cyclists (ugly) or a race vehicle (death). No one died.

As in Sacramento, people came to me seeking knowledge about the race and cycling in general. And I was glad to oblige. I stood on the inside of the barriers but as the riders approached I knelt down so the spectators could take pictures without my big head in them.

My most vivid memory was not of the pro race but a local ride that also occurred. About 3:30 p.m., a cyclist came down the street and stopped to ask for directions to the finish line. He was about my age but he could barely speak the words. As he tried to talk his mouth just shivering uncontrollably. I don’t know where he was but clearly was affected by the day’s cold (about 48° or 9° C), but more importantly, the bone soaking wetness. We directed him the quickest way through the course to his destination even though we weren’t supposed to allow riders on the route at that time.

After the race finished and the crowds left, I passed through the team bus parking lot. There, at least 100 people gathered in front of the Team Astana bus but one could find the others much easier. I made my way to Jelly Belly to speak with Phil Gaimon. Phil is in his first pro race. He is also the only rider in the Tour of California who can say that he has beaten me in a race — last year’s Newton’s Revenge up Mt. Washington, NH.

Phil Gaimon – “Who are you and why are you stalking me?”

We spoke briefly — he wondered why the heck I was there but I delivered a personal message to him from Mary Power, the events director at the Mt Washington Auto Road.

Soaked, really soaked, and cold, I got in my car for the two 1/2 hour drive to Santa Cruz through flooded roads.

Tour of California – Prologue

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA
Although reporting time was 8:30 a.m. I was checked in by 8:00 a.m. In line with me was a volunteer from Redding, Tamy Quiqley, who would be paired with me as volunteers. After getting our bright orange course marshal T-shirts we headed to our posts. But it was much too early. So we walked the entire 2.4 mile (4k) course. Even then we were back to our posts by 10:30 a.m. and the race would not begin until 1:30 p.m.

The temperature was in the low 40’s but eventually warmed up to 50. The rain that was feared held off until the last rider, Levi Lepiheimer, finished.

Early on we were treated to watching individuals riders and teams warming up on the course. And we helped get a community ride started at 11:30 a.m.

My volunteer manual asked us not to take pictures because our role was to watch spectators — not riders. Indeed, the toughest part of our task was keeping people from crossing the street once the race was underway.

But we were able to see Team Astana warming up and I felt no guilt snapping a picture of Lance Armstrong.

Lance Armstrong

But what happened to Anthony? Anthony Colby, Colavita-Sutter Home, was listed in our handbook as a climbing specialist but did not report to the start line. I was carrying a personal message for him from Mary Power, the event coordinator at the Mt. Washington Auto Road. I was proud to tell anyone that Anthony beat me (and 160 others) last July in the race up the mountain.

But I was glad to see Phil Gaimon race. He just joined Jelly Belly over the winter and was named to their starting team. Phil also beat me at Mt. Washington. He finished 2nd in July but won the Mount Washington Autoroad Bicycle Hillclimb  in August.

Phil Gaimon
I was on the first part of the course which went out and back. That was my penalty for signing in early — assignments were handed out in order. Maybe if I had showed up late I would have received the finish line. The out and back section created a large four block median in which people were trapped once the race began.

It was dangerous to cross the street during the route. These time-trial machines with their aero bars and disc rear wheels fly and are very hard to control. Our instructions were to keep people from crossing the street once the ace began. If we weren’t serious about this, the Sacramento police showed up and walked the lines with us to enforce it.

Some volunteers took this more serious than others. I tried to identify those who looked like they wanted to cross and just talked with them. With thousands of people needed to cross the street if for no other reason than to use the porta johns, the crowd eventually won. I’m for safety of both the riders and the crowd but to have no where out for three hours or more was unworkable and when enough people ignored the volunteers and even the police, they eventually instituted one intersection where we could send people to when they needed to leave.

The first rider went at 1:30 p.m. Thereafter, one rider per minute until all 136 riders came through. Excitement rose towards the end as all the big names came by. I even violated my own rule by trying to take a picture of Floyd. Great to see him ride again.

Floyd Landis
As the first riders departed they got cheers from the folks behind us (I was on the inside of the median island) and I often turned to see who was riding. The early riders took about 1:10 to go from behind us out to the turn to pass us on the way back. But the big boys, Lance, Fabian Cancelarra, Levi, and others, could do it in 60 seconds. And when they went the cheers were louder. We were enveloped in a sea of cheers. While our group was yelling loudly for Floyd, just one minute behind was Levi going out to loud cheers. It was a great sound effect.

According to VeloNews, “George Hincapie described the scene at the Amgen Tour of California prologue in Sacramento Saturday, saying only Tour de France crowds could compare. And those crowds were treated to a Tour de France-caliber show, with Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) blazing the downtown 3.9km course with a winning time of 4:32.

But it was a long day. I was on my feet from 8:00 a.m. until 4:10 p.m. when I got in the car to drive to Santa Rosa. But it was a great day, made greater by the fact we missed the rain.

Looking Forward to the Tour

WOODBRIDGE, VIRGINIA

An unexpected trip had me at the Super Bowl on Sunday. Thoughts of working the Amgen Tour of California disappeared beneath the excitement of the Steelers 27-23 victory in what some experts proclaimed the greatest Super Bowl ever.

Getting back to earth, I am looking forward to working the Tour. I will be a course marshal on two stages. The rosters were just announced. How about these names?

Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, Christopher Horner, Yaroslav Popovych, José Luis Rubiera, Andy Schleck, Fränk Schleck, Fabian Cancellara, Jens Voigt, Stuart O’Grady, George Hincapie, Mark Cavendish, Kim Kirchen, Michael Rogers, Christian Vande Velde, Thomas Danielson, Danny Pate, David Zabriskie, Tom Boonen, Oscar Freire, Ivan Basso, Cyril Dessel, Carlos Sastre, Thor Hushovd, Alexandre Moos, Floyd Landis, Rory Sutherland, Ben Jacques-Maynes, Kirk O’Bee, Anthony Colby, Phillip Gaimon, Oscar Sevilla, Tyler Hamilton, Victor Hugo Pena, and Freddy Rodriguez.

You’ve probably heard of Lance. Probably Levi and most of these guys. But how about Anthony Colby? Or Phil Gaimon? These guys are on our domestic teams — Colovita-Sutter Home and Jelly Belly, respectfully. I’ve had the privilege of having them kick my butt up Mount Washington, New Hampshire.

Anthony won the Newton’s Revenge race July 12, 2008 while Phil finished second. In August, in the Bicycle Hill Climb Race up the Mount Washington Auto Road, Phil won (and he would want me to tell you that Anthony wasn’t there).

I know I won’t be able to get close to Lance. I hope I can talk to Floyd even briefly. I sure want to say hi to Anthony and Phil. Mary Power, the events director at Mt. Washington, even sent instructions with me to give them both a hug from her. I think I’ll pass but will pass on her greetings.

This is going to be good.

The Crookedest Street in the World

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA

I’ve been off the bike for a while. During the Blue Ridge Extreme I thought I had a problem with my rear wheel as it was rubbing on the brake. I had been riding for 50 miles of climbing (and descending) with the brakes on. I concluded the wheel was out of true.

I took it to my local bike shop and discovered the wheel wasn’t out of true but that the rim was cracked. Yikes!. Trek has a five-year warranty so it was covered but I was without the bike for a week and missed the Potomac Pedalers Century which I hoped would be my last long ride of the summer.

I picked up my bike on Monday and was able to ride Tuesday which felt great. I then left for San Francisco on Wednesday hoping to make the highlight of my trip a bike ride. (Don’t tell my bosses.)

Needing to rent a bike, I settled on Bike and Roll at Columbus and Lombard Streets. I was fitted, well not really fitted, for a Trek 1500 road bike. Not fitted because the seat was too high. Three times I asked that it be lowered one inch and three times it was lowered about 1/8″. Finally, I accepted it and rode away.

I was at the corner of Lombard Street, the famous crookedest street in the world. I looked up and could see the street calling me. I didn’t have my Garmin Edge with me so I can only guess at percent grade. It was about a half-block climb up to and across Taylor Street. I would guess that was about a 10% grade. The second block was an honest long city block up to Jones Street. I would guess it kicked up to 15-18%. After Jones Street, it is still steeper up to Leavenworth. I read it was 27% but have no way of confirming that. It sure felt like it though.

I didn’t know the bike and just put it in the lowest gear possible. I struggled to keep going and thought I would have to abandon before reaching the top. I didn’t look up but kept the eyes focused on the front wheel. Breathing heavy and loud was my sign to the tourists standing at the base of the crooked part of the street to move out of my way when I got to Leavenworth. I don’t remember ever breathing so hard. It was a short climb but very steep. I made it then stopped to survey the view.

Beautiful. To my right, an extension of Leavenworth Street, one could see the San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz Island and prison. It was a warm fall day, about 75°.

I made my way over to the Presidio. While leaving the Presidio, I passed a pet cemetery which was so neat I had to go back and take a picture.

Presidio Pet Cemetery

Leaving the Presidio I descended to the water level of the bay but then had to climb a hill up to the Golden Gate Bridge. I was surprised at first by the number of people walking their bikes but then it made sense. Most bikers were tourists who probably seldom ride and couldn’t resist the temptation to “Bike the Bridge.” I easily passed lots of riders here.
 
The bridge was crowded with walkers, many walking two and three abreast oblivious to people trying to pass on bikes. Even the families that were biking were trying to ride two abreast at a very slow speed. One just needed patience and to pick your spots to get through.

On the bridge, I noticed cyclists coming from Marin Co. were dressed in cold weather gear complete with long finger gloves, jackets, and leg warmers. I began to regret leaving my jacket and arm warmers in the car.

It was cool, if not cold, on the bridge. I would guess the temperature was in the mid 50s. But in a matter of 200 meters or so, from the end of the bridge into Marin Co., I would guess the temperature jumped 20 degrees. It went from 55° to 75°.

At the end of the bridge is the entrance to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area which climbs a steep hill and provides a wonderful view of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, as well as the Pacific Ocean.

I began climbing on my bike with its too-high seat. I didn’t see any other riders here. I was right that almost all riders were interested in biking across the bridge but climbing a one or two-mile hill was not for them.

I was near the top, pedaling my own rhythm when out of nowhere a young lady passed me. I hate that. Everyone is better than someone and everyone can find others who are better than they are. And I was on a rental bike with a hideous saddle bag on the front and uncomfortable at that. Plus I had climbed up Lombard Street.

Who knows where she came from but she certainly looked comfortable. We exchanged pleasantries and I settled in about 10 meters behind her. That was about where she was when I realized she had passed me. She was out of the saddle and I was in. I maintained that distance for a while and then decided to match her tempo out of the saddle. Once I did she began to pull away. I was actually riding better in the saddle than out although being out of the saddle was a little easier on the legs.

When I reached the top I wanted to keep going but I had to stop. The view back to San Francisco was just too great to pass up. I only had my cell phone but still wanted to snap a couple of pictures.

San Francisco through the lens of a flip phone

Here began a dangerous one-lane road down towards the Pacific. I took it. It was one of the scariest roads I have ridden. One lane, steep in sections, and only a guard rail preventing me from going over a cliff down to the rocky ocean coast, maybe 100 meters below. On my Trek Pilot, I would have sat back and bombed the descent but I was not comfortable on this bike. I felt my butt was too high which is scary while descending on a steep oceanfront road with many sharp curves.

I came to the bottom and stood over the ocean. It was absolutely beautiful!

I wondered how I would get back and what climb I would have to get back up to the top of the hill I just descended. I took Bunker Road back and had a 3-4% climb but nothing big. Then I came to a tunnel. That was a surprise. A very pleasant surprise.

The tunnel was one lane and I waited at a traffic signal (five-minute delay) until it was time to enter. There is a bike lane on either side and cyclists are to stop, press a button, which illuminates a flashing light “Bicyclist in Tunnel.”

At the end, I found my way to Sausalito up to Mill Valley then turned around. I went back to Sausalito, waited for the ferry, then headed back to San Francisco. A highlight of a bike trip in San Francisco is a ferry ride across the bay. It was back to the Embarcadero and another mile ride back to Bike and Roll.

I had enough. I probably rode 25 miles but my back and shoulders were aching from a bike that wasn’t fit very well. But it was a great day! I hope to get back and do it again. Soon.