Tag Archives: cycling

Sad start to a tough day

It was the same phone call we got maybe half a year ago, just as Kevin and I were getting ready to ride this morning. Your cat has been found dead, hit by a car, about a quarter mile from home. Probably within a hundred feet or so from where our other cat had been run over. This was a cat we’d inherited about 6 months ago from someone who’d moved to a place that didn’t allow pets. For a few weeks we might have re-named her “razor” for the way she struck out at anyone trying to be friendly, but she soon turned into a wonderful, playful and well-mannered addition to the family. So I began the ride already a bit sore after having to shovel a place for her in our side yard, an area which, over the past 28 years, has become the final resting place for quite a number of pets, including rabbits, chickens & cats. In fact, it’s tough to find an area that hasn’t already been used, and this morning, yes, I came across a few rabbit bones.

It was 10:40 by the time we finally got out on the road, quite late for a longer ride, but the days are still long enough it’s not much of an issue. From Redwood City all the way to Mount Umunhum, and part of the way back. The ride to the base isn’t terribly exciting; I greatly prefer having a “real” climb much earlier in a ride than mile 40. We had lunch in Los Gatos on the way, quite a bit “heavier” lunch than what we’d normally have if we did the Pescadero loop (Kevin and I each had a “plate” of Mexican food, his a Torta, mine a pair of Tamales) and it took a bit before we felt like we had our legs back.

Just about the time where I started to feel OK again, I felt awful again. That mile 40 hill. The steep section of Hicks. I do mean STEEP. I have no recollection of it having been THAT steep any time I’ve ridden it in the past. It felt Redwood Gulch steep! A full tenderizing treatment before even getting to the main event, Mount Umunhum.

I’ve ridden Mount Umunhum twice in the past. First time was probably 1973 with a good riding friend of mine at the time. I think the attraction was visual; seeing that huge radar dish in action, from many miles away, was very impressive. Things were different then; you didn’t have the internet so research on the status of a road could be tough. For navigation, you had a combination of the AAA “Bay & River” map, along with USGS topographic maps. We discovered the road was “closed” with signs saying it was an air force base and tresspassers could be met with violent force. And yet, as we rode up, there were real estate signs for properties along the way!

My next ride up was in 2009 with my son. Again the road was “closed” although its status was much friendlier, as it had been purchased by one of the regional parks and was undergoing renovation. It was open to hikers but not cyclists? We rode anyway, looking out for park rangers as we tried to weave our way through on the remnants of pavement that existed.

Today? The road is not only open to all, but beautifully paved and, of course, it’s still almost-impossibly steep in sections. Kevin was definitely doing better than I, as he managed to stay out of his lowest gear almost the entire way up. Me? I was thinking, at least a couple times, that a 32 in the back would have been nice. I mentioned to Kevin that, the first time I rode up it, I probably had a 42 in the front, 26 in back. Hard to imagine it can be climbed in a gear like that.

There should have been a fantastic view at the top, but the valley was shrouded in heavy haze. Too bad; you can see in all directions from up on top. The site itself is a bit barren, almost sterile. Just a huge concrete box that looks like the prototype for the Borg Cube. I should also mention that there’s no water anyplace on the climb, so make sure you’ve got two full bottles before you start up.

The descent? It’s so stupid-steep it’s really not much fun at all. One of those few roads where you find yourself thinking a bike with much wider tires and disc brakes might be nice, allowing you to not worry so much about gravel in the corners or your rims heating up so much that your tires blow off. We did stop once on the way down, to check how hot the rims had gotten, and were quite surprised to find they didn’t burn your fingers. The combination of Bontrager carbon rims with Bontrager cork-style brake pads works very well indeed!

For the return we stuck to the original plan and met my wife at our Los Altos store, where we checked out the status of “deconstruction”, before being driven home the rest of the way. 75 miles instead of 95, but that was enough for today.

A great ride backward is even better! Gorges du Nan revisited

Going back in time, only in reverse. Guess that makes sense if you go back in time, right?

Exactly two years ago today, Kevin and I rode part of this ride in the opposite direction, descending through the Gorgues du Nan and thinking maybe this would be a better ride in the opposite direction. Today Larry and I proved that right. Or maybe wrong. Not sure. It was a much shorter version of what Kevin and I did in 2015, when we took the train to the beginning point and rode back to Grenoble afterward; that ride was 54 miles with about 4000ft of climbing. Today’s ride was a much shorter version, just 23 miles (we drove to the start/finish and drove back afterward) and 3400ft of climbing. Partly shorter because rain was threatening to move in this afternoon, and partly because Larry, well, let’s just say he doesn’t have many opportunities to climb much in Texas!

That’s Larry on the ground, at the top of the main climb. He’s not exactly dead, nor could he claim to be alive at this point.

Whether the ride is better in this direction or the other is up for debate; clearly the Gorges du Nan section, with its cliff road, is the payoff, and descending it puts it at the end of the ride, vs the beginning if you climb. The best case for climbing it is that you have more time to experience the insanely-built road than if you descend, and we climbed at a speed that allowed a lot of opportunity for viewing the gorge. 🙂

We started the ride in Cognin les Gorges, giving about, what, 300 meters or so before you hit the base of the hill? And when I say hill, I mean it in the meanest-possible way because this is a relentless uphill journey without any descents or even flat spots on the way up. Over 3000ft up, 3000ft down. Consider this a “compact” ride. It goes UP for about 9 miles, and it goes DOWN for about 9 miles. We did find a little village with water about 1/2 way up the climb, which was a good thing because Larry goes through water very fast. Fortunately, we were climbing at a rate where water wasn’t an issue for me, despite the fact that I’m drinking about twice what I used to do to my meds.

The views on the way up are stunning, the road surface pretty good, and the cars… well, maybe we saw 5 or 6 the entire time we were on the mountain? France is pretty amazing that way, once you get off the main roads and onto the fun stuff.

The descent doesn’t favor high speed, as it’s got a lot of corners with decreasing radii and quite a few that are even banked the opposite of how they should be, but after that long climb, it’s a pleasant relief for most. Me? Yeah, I would have liked to have climbed more, but I’m kinda nuts that way.

Post-ride Ice Cream

At the end of the ride Larry and I stopped at the same place Kevin and I had lunch before riding back to Grenoble. Two beers, a panini and ice cream later, Larry was fully revived. I chose Orangina over beer, and a Salami sandwich (but did go for ice cream too). Our last ride in France, so it made sense to celebrate a bit.

Tomorrow morning we take a train at an entirely-reasonable hour (9:15am) to Marseille for the Tour de France time trial, arriving back around 9pm. Then pack up and leave the next morning for Paris, to see the finale, and head home on Monday. I love being in France, and it’s great the Mike F, Becky and Kevin can take care of things in our Redwood City store while I’m gone, but it’s my business to get people to enjoy cycling like I do, and that’s best done in person, in a bike shop. That’s the point to Chain Reaction. –MikeJ