Fatigue Limit – 13

June 13, 2021

Agricultural Park race track in San Jose (today’s Race Street) in the mid 1890s. From Sourisseau Academy

Several riders gathered around to hear Carl. “Go on.”

“I entered a ten-mile contest at the Agricultural Park track when I was young. My penny’s clunky wooden wheels slowed me down, while the top racers owned the newer rubber-clad iron wheels. They dismissed my antique. Well, once we got underway and I left them behind, they stopped laughing. Jack Barnes used chicanery to snatch my victory. He took most of the local races using his persuasive ways. He exhausted himself to catch up and then recommended we trade off in the final five miles.

I knew the value of drafting. I joined him and we powered our way to the finish line, leaving everyone else behind. What wasn’t so apparent is I did the pulling. That’s what the young and strong like to do. Age gave him the advantage in other ways. With yards to go he unleashed a sprint and sent me off the back. I learned my lesson. Never again. I quit racing.” He went back to drinking his beer, circulating among the riders and trading stories.

I wandered over to where Gary sat and listened in. I needed some quotes from the racing sensation. He told us about his plans, and mentioned the race in San Francisco as a possibility. “I’m going to do my best to be invited. They might pay for my races back East, if I can win.”

The riders suggested Gary contact the event promoter for an invitation.

“I think I can help.”

Gary gave a puzzled look. “Your name?”

“Tab. I plan to enter.”

Gary just stared. “You’re a racer?”

I laughed in a lighthearted way. “I can hold Carl’s wheel on a good day, but I’m a reporter. I’ll write a daily story. My work for the newspapers will help.” Little did Gary know I bluffed. I hatched my plan right there.

Gary gave me his address and asked that I keep him informed. I assured him I would as I jotted it down in my notebook.

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Saving the planet, one turtle at a time

June 10, 2021

This turtle got a helping hand crossing the path.

Today went about as well as could be expected in these uncertain times, and I helped a turtle off the road.

It’s amazing to think about all the events that transpire in just a short ride around Santa Clara.

I started the ride by picking up trash along the San Tomas Expressway recreation path between Homestead and Monroe. I’ve been cleaning it monthly for a while and I usually collect a bag and a half.

My best find was a cell phone, which I returned to the owner via the police.

It’s obvious that some of the trash is generated by the homeless, but not all. Some people weren’t brought up right and have no regard for their environment.

Continuing north, Nvidia’s second headquarters expansion looks like it’s moving into its final stage. Will employees return?

Intel’s working on its second new building just down the road from Nvidia. The first one is ready for occupancy.

More fancy apartments are opening near Scott Boulevard and the San Tomas Aquino/Saratoga Creek path.

Screaming voices have returned to Great America! School’s out and the rides are running again after more than a year in lockdown.

Levi’s Stadium continues to vaccinate residents, but it’s down to a trickle. No waiting.

In Alviso I rode around a police barricade, including SWAT wearing body armor.

On the approach to Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge on Grand Boulevard I once again picked up trash and cleared the road.

Topgolf, located next to the Guadalupe River recreation path is open for business and balls are flying.

On the way home I had a stiff tailwind. Who could ask for anything more?

Fatigue Limit – 12

June 6, 2021

Freddy Maertens races horse at Amiens, July 1977. Notice the broken wrist. He was supposed to be racing in the Tour de France. Cyclist vs. Horse Duel

I rode north on El Camino Real, quiet as always on a weekday morning. As I passed Mr. Olson’s home I saw him entering the road in his carriage, pulled by Jenny, his faithful mare. She had a healthy-looking chestnut coat offset by a long blonde mane. I stopped to greet Jake Olson, who owned the county’s largest cherry orchard. “Good to see you, Mr. Olson.”

“If it isn’t Tab. You plannin’ to pick cherries again? Sure can use those long arms of yours.”

“You can count on me Mr. Olson, if it’s a buffet picking.” Mr. Olson chuckled.

“If’n you don’t mind the bellyache afterwards, eat all you want.”

“Say, Mr. Olson, want to race?”

“You still think you can beat Jenny? She whupped you last week. She’ll do it again.”

“Half a mile, same as before. And I get thirty seconds head start.”

“Deal.”

I lined up with Jenny on the boulevard that ran straight as a ruler through orchards on its way to Mayfield and beyond. “You can begin counting Mr. Olson.”

The aging farmer looked at his pocket watch. “Go! Thirty, twenty-nine, twenty-eight…”

I pushed down on the pedals as hard as I could. Last week he beat me by five seconds. I knew how fast I needed to ride this time. Within the first hundred yards I was out of breath and my legs hurt from the sudden acceleration. The bike’s heavy iron rims slowed me, but loose gravel and dust made matters worse.

I heard Mr. Olson crack his whip after a half minute and looked back to see him coming. “Darn you Jenny, I’m going to outride you this time,” I said to myself.

I rushed past another wagon hauling farm equipment. The driver turned to look at me and then Mr. Olson. “Harder!” he yelled.

Seeing the road intersection we used as our finish line renewed my determination. Already gassed, I reached into my reserves and spun the cranks faster. I heard Jenny approaching, her hooves pounding the hard ground at a gallop, Mr. Olson yelling for her to catch me. I glanced back a last time and saw his mare only a few feet behind.

Jenny nosed me by a foot at the line, so claimed Mr. Olson. “Beat you again,” he said after we slowed down.

“I’m not convinced she won Mr. Olson. Too close to call.”

The cherry farmer patted Jenny and said soothing words. She snorted in response while she caught her breath. “All righty, me and Jenny will give you a draw. You’re gettin’ strong on that bike of yours. Why don’t you try racin’ over at the track?”

“I might Mr. Olson. I happen to be headed to Mayfield to interview a bike racer.” We waved goodbye.

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Fatigue Limit – 11

May 30, 2021

Same location since 1852, Alpine Road and Arastradero Road.

The view inspired, and gave me peace of mind after the near miss. Puffy white clouds and blue sky made this experience an occasion upon which dreams are made. As much as the rides hurt during the climbs, seeing the valley’s sprawling fruit groves erased those thoughts on the way down. This road offered serenity to cyclists who mastered descending.

The racers focused on the road ahead and not much else. Even on the twisty turns, Gary stayed on Carl’s wheel. Other riders followed close behind as they chased for honors as best descender. I trailed the pack. I didn’t want to encounter another wagon going up the mountain, but obvious hazards did not concern the racers. They owned the road and nothing slowed the scorchers.

At Searsville Road [Arastradero Road] we turned left after everyone rejoined. Carl finished right behind Gary, who blew by on the flat section before the junction. Enlivened by the hair-raising plunge, the riders returned to being their sociable selves. They relived the descent while taking on the last climb to the turnpike. We rolled up to Chepete’s to enjoy a late-afternoon beer. Those of us who didn’t drink would draw down a sweet sarsaparilla.

Carl downed his brew in several gulps. He wiped his mouth of foam. “Gary is a strong climber, but he’s still learning on the descents. He’s going places.” Carl opened up after a few beers.

I drank my soda. “There’s a seven-day race in San Francisco coming soon. Gary should enter.”

“I hope not,” Carl objected. “That wouldn’t be smart.”

“Why not? He’s got speed.”

“He’s too young. He’d fall apart. Besides, those races are gladiatorial fights to the death. Last man standing. Fighting lions. These promoters disrespect real racing. Not that I love the sport. I had my fill of racing on my penny. Everyone is a cheat when they’re racing.”

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Fatigue Limit – 10

May 23, 2021

South Bay orchard in the 1930s, colorized.

No matter what the road conditions, I felt safer on the safety than I did the highwheeler. The one occasion I borrowed a highwheeler, I walked down steep slopes. Carl feared nothing. He mastered the art of the header: tuck and roll.

The first steep section dipped into a gully, where Carl propped his feet up. I decided to give it a try on my safety. I reached top speed within seconds. No sooner had I gotten used to it then a hansom came my way from the opposite direction. We both headed downhill into the swale. The horse’s brisk pace took the driver wide on the curve and into my path. I issued a bloodcurdling scream. Bike swaying to and fro, I flew by the carriage. The driver looked back and screamed bloody murder. What he said I cannot say. It happened so fast. Close calls on the bike become a routine matter. Death, always lurking, reaches out and shakes cyclists at every opportunity to remind us we are mortals. We learn to live with the hazards or we quit riding.

Several minutes of level pedaling gave me a chance to gather my wits before another long, steep descent. From my vantage point, descending this hillside with few trees to block the view, I saw Santa Clara Valley. Such a view gave me no untold satisfaction, like a glass of iced tea on a hot summer day. A sea of white and pink flowers transformed fruit orchards into a painter’s canvas. No wonder they called this place the Valley of Heart’s Delight. Another range of hills to the east hemmed in the valley. Mount Hamilton at four thousand feet altitude hosted the new observatory, its white dome sitting mushroom-like on the summit. Located behind a series of hills, this mountain settled into the eastern horizon.

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Fatigue Limit – 9

May 17, 2021

Gabriel Chrisman demonstrates coasting on his custom-built safety.

In winter, rains made many tight turns muddy, and horse hooves left bumpy depressions. The summer months had their own difficulties. Logging wagons and stagecoaches churned the road into a fine powder. We  fishtailed down, gripping our metal steeds with all our strength. But this was late spring. Thanks to dry weather during the past week, Page Mill showed itself at its finest — hard-packed dirt ideal for speeding. Travelers gave us an uncomplimentary nickname — scorchers. And scorch we would down to the valley.

Carl took the lead, demonstrating his unconventional technique. He placed his feet on pegs attached to the fork, similar to a practice perfected by the highwheelers on tricky descents. With legs out front, they avoided tumbling head-first in a crash. Cranks always turned on our direct-gear bikes. Several years later some smart engineer came up with the coaster hub. Putting feet up was the only way to let the bike go as fast as possible. The position resembled a mantis attacking its prey. Many riders emulated Carl, having learned how to descend fast thanks to his methods. I was not a true believer, planting my feet on the pedals and spinning like crazy. On these occasions, Carl always yelled in a mocking voice as he flew by, “Spin to win!”

However, I did subscribe to keeping back on the saddle to minimize weight on the front wheel. On a dirt road with poor traction, the rear wheel stabilized with extra pressure and the lighter front end had less chance of catching a rut.

Carl used his front spoon brake as little as possible, which threatened to lock up. We were cheap too. Spoon brakes increased tire wear on steep descents.

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Fatigue Limit – 8

May 10, 2021

Bobby Walthour, six-day champion

A rider spurted from the pack. Kirk Olivero, a racer who performed well in local contests, had visions of being crowned “king of the hill.” Let the chase begin. Lungs and muscles responded to willful attempts at picking up the pace. We started to hurt. Lactic acid turned muscles hard as rock. Grunting and gasping for air, we hammered on the pedals. Gone was the friendly banter. There would be no mercy given until the top of the climb where the winner would be decided. Beating the pack into submission had a animal appeal to it, like an alpha ape ruling over its shrewdness.

Gary responded. He would show us what he was capable of when challenged. Spinning his pedals like they were free of earth’s gravity, he quickly reeled in Kirk and built a gap between himself and the other riders. We flailed the cranks. We were no match for the young champion. He pulled out of sight on the tight turns of Martinez Road [Alpine Road] as it climbed through the wooded hillside.

We scrambled up the final yards to Page Mill Road, gasping for breath, sweat dousing our frames — a caustic salt brew that rusted steel. Gary waited, already recovered from the effort, and smiling. That beaming grin made him all the more appealing. It disarmed you. He never uttered a boastful or condescending word. He treated us as though we were his best friend. Was there anything about Gary to dislike? I hadn’t seen it yet.

Carl suggested we ride to La Honda and take the stage road, but nobody expressed his support for the longer route. We all wanted to enjoy the descent on Page Mill, two thousand feet down a road that twisted and turned. The road had a reputation. It was so steep that highwheelers stayed away. Only with the introduction of the safety did cyclists begin to take on the road. This was our day for a fast ride under ideal conditions.

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Trash Mountain a sad sight indeed

May 6, 2021

Several miles up from Smith Creek. The burn extends to within a half mile of Smith Creek.

My 42nd annual ride up Trash Mountain left me in a sad mood on what should have been an uplifting occasion: perfect weather with a cooling onshore breeze (tailwind no less), and a newly paved road to the summit.

Instead, I saw a continuing eyesore, trash everywhere, spilling down slopes. This was my first close-up of the devastating fire that engulfed the mountain last August. It’s worse than I thought.

Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of trees were cut down after the fire. I’ll especially miss the giant manzanita that lived several miles from the summit next to the road.

Manzanita tree in 2010

Now the mountainside looks like a disaster area. It’s barren where there used to be welcome tree shade. Reminds me of Mt. Diablo.

The irony is that the road is in the best shape ever. Only three small patches were left unpaved from Quimby Road to the summit.

There’s another stretch of road, about a mile and a half, that’s not new, but that’s it. Smooth, fresh pavement for nineteen miles. And beautiful new culverts.

What should be done to clean Trash Mountain? My suggestion is to recruit residents who live on the road. I think some do clean near their property, but I doubt that it’s a coordinated effort.

Another thought is to dedicate a day for cleanup, the same as we do for coastal cleanups, Coyote Creek cleanups, and so on. Put up signs at the base of Hwy 130 and invite the public.

With some coordination, it could be cleaned within an hour. The heavy items would take longer and require some extra effort.

As for the road itself, I think all that’s left is striping. Thanks to O’Grady Paving in Mountain View.

Note that the observatory parking lot and approach is still closed. There’s a water spigot at the summit, first building on the right.

Halls Valley descent no longer bumpy.

Fatigue Limit – 7

May 3, 2021

Penny farthing race sprint finish.

Nothing can compare to the camaraderie cultivated between individuals with like intentions beginning a long ride. Turning the pedals works wonders to loosen the tongue and put the rider in a mellow frame of mind. The legs are still supple, the lungs rested. And so it was in this upbeat mood that we began a long climb heading into the hills. We followed Martinez Road [Alpine Road] next to Corte Madera Creek, which had carved out a narrow canyon over millennia. Oaks, madrone, big-leaf maple, redwoods, and laurel hugged the steep slopes, giving us shelter from the sun.

I had been on this road before with Carl. Calling it a road stretched the definition. Carl assured me that San Mateo County would claim the right of way and improve it “one of these days.” He often railed against the county’s capricious treatment of roads as they put off maintenance or abandoned them all together.

Gary stayed in the pack as riders jockeyed for position around him on the rutted trail marked by mud puddles. They waited for the inevitable surge, at which time their good-natured friendliness would evaporate as fast as fog on a hot summer morning. They were like a school of sardines transformed into a pack of hungry sharks.

Gary had plenty of competition from local riders. Tim Mafer had shown promise in recent races at San Jose’s dirt track. He lived on Skyline near Spring Ridge where his father grew hay and cultivated vineyards. Paul Johansen, track racer and frame builder in Menlo Park, followed behind Carl, who stayed near the front.

Even though Carl was twice the age of many riders in our group, he had the strength to keep up. I fell to the back, gasping for air as the pace quickened, but managed to hang on.

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Alpine Road looks the same

April 28, 2021

Upper Alpine Road hasn’t seen any maintenance,
although this section has always been good.

Recently I mentioned in my blog that a rider told me the Alpine Road improvement, announced by Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District last year, was underway.

I decided to check for myself. I rode down from Page Mill Road for a quarter-mile and that was far enough to tell me nothing has been done in this section.

I didn’t see any evidence of road maintenance or brush removal. Maybe improvements are being made elsewhere, but I had no desire, physically, the check out the entire trail.

Today’s weather couldn’t be nicer, unless you prefer things a little cooler. I rode up Old La Honda Road and wondered what it must have been like back then to try to ride up it on a highwheeler, or down. Impossible? For me, yes.

I’m impressed that a four-horse stagecoach could manage the distance to La Honda and back. It must have been quite the experience.

This was the main stage road to the Pacific Ocean in the 1800s. The Highway 84 route up the eastern slope didn’t come along until much later.

I located Hallidie’s road that intersects with Old La Honda, 0.2 miles from Skyline, and took a photo. The gate is still there with strands of barbed wire for good measure.

Sadly, the road is no longer rideable, and would even be difficult to explore on foot. It’s visible from Old La Honda for a short distance. Trees have fallen over the road and it’s heavily overgrown.

I’m lucky to have ridden down it a couple of times. Life moves on…

Hallidie’s road at Old La Honda Road. Now just a memory.