It was a beautiful day to ride! Which is always a good excuse for another shot of West Old LaHonda.
Kevin and I needed to get in some miles; it’s less than two months before we head to France and tackle some nasty climbs. Would have been nice to do a Santa Cruz run,
The “big curve” on Haskins
but school work for Kevin meant he had to get back at a reasonable hour, so we set out to do the loop I did April 21st (I think)- Over Old LaHonda to Pescadero, Bean Hollow and south on Highway 1 to Gazos Creek, return to Pescadero via Gazos Creek and Cloverdale. Food. Cokes. Mix more Cytomax.
Up to that point, things went reasonably well. Kevin was running into some pain issues from his kidney (isn’t this getting to be pretty stale news about now?) so he was just barely hanging onto my wheel as we rode into a stiff headwind, but kept it to himself until we were just about ready to leave Pescadero, saying he wanted to pack it in, call home for someone to pick him up.
Fun. I talk him into heading to San Gregorio before calling for the broom wagon (in racing, the broom wagon “sweeps” the back of the race, picking up racers who’ve abandoned), since it would be much easier for someone to come straight over 84 looking for us, rather than have to figure out Stage Road etc. He makes it, painfully, we call from San Gregorio, then head east on 84 for the intercept. I figured La Honda, and sure enough, just past La Honda, the broom wagon appears.
Waaaaay too soon for me to pack it in though! Can’t even believe my wife asked the question. As if she doesn’t know after 34 years? Just 50-something miles by that point, none really hard, it was time for me to finally shake my legs loose, which I did, getting a new personal best for upper section of 84 up to Skyline.
77 miles, “only” 6200ft of climbing, so it didn’t even meet the definition of a “tough” ride (needs 1,000ft of climbing per 10 miles). The original plan had been to head up Los Lobitos Cutoff and Tunitas, which would have been 1000ft more… still not enough! Maybe next weekend…
Lots of people out riding today!
Kevin on West Old LaHonda
Nearing the top of Haskins
Notice the flag. Strong winds today!
From Pescadero Bakery. Seemed funny at the time.
Garmin computer giving elevation profile on Cloverdale Road
Cloverdale Road heading north
The “Machine Gun Man” metal sculpture used to live here
What’s missing? Mr. Mustard’s hot dog stand, that’s what? 80+ degrees, dying on the climbs and you’re really looking forward to an ice cold coke… and it’s not there. Did I arrive too late?
56 miles should not have been as difficult as it seemed to be! It didn’t start so badly; a nice cruise south through the foothills with a stop at our Los Altos store to use the bathroom and check in on things (they looked busy, which is good!) and from there it was all downhill. Or rather uphill. Uphill being, in this case, Redwood Gulch and Highway 9. I had these fine ideas of trying to do the climbs seated, so I could get some decent video. What stopped me? 80+ degree temps, riding by myself, and there’s no way around it, I just don’t have what it takes anymore when it gets really steep.
But what made it worthwhile was knowing that, once I got to the top, Mr. Mustard’s hot dog stand would be there, with ice cold drinks and, yes, hot dogs. A hot dog has to be one of the worst things you could eat on a ride, but it’s not as bad as you think. The right place at the right time makes the difference.
Tried feeding it dollar bills, even a 10 but it just wasn’t hungry!
But Mr. Mustard wasn’t there! Just checked the time stamp on a photo I took… 4:44pm, and he’s usually there until 5. Thank goodness for the Saratoga Gap fire station just down the road, with its outdoor coke machine. Just a couple minutes north on Skyline. I am so looking forward to something cold to drink. Get to the fire station, feed it a dollar bill, and… it’s not taking it. I mean it’s not even making a noise like it wants to. Maybe quarters would work, but dollar bills aren’t today. Had to settle for making some more Cytomax, which probably was better for me anyway and I did, in fact, start feeling a bit more lively shortly thereafter.
What finally got me going was being passed by another cyclist, the only cyclist I saw on all of Skyline. For a (brief) moment I let him go and then thought hey, I don’t have to do that, I’ve got legs, so I chased him down and stayed with him the rest of the way. He did drop me pretty quickly descending 84 into Woodside though.
Overall glad that I got out there, but it will be nice when Kevin’s past his kidney issues and riding with me again. But I remain concerned that my “tough” rides are getting shorter and shorter… what’s next, a 25 mile ride that does me in? Hope not! –Mike–
This is what I get in my inbox. Absolutely no respect for me from United Airlines. Am I going to get a discount coupon for Skylawn Cemetery in tomorrow’s emails? Maybe nursing home, er, I mean, “assisted living” brochures in the mail?
I used a blowtorch on the invitation the AARP sent me in the mail last year. I suppose they think sending an email means I’m less-likely to produce on-line vitriol again? They’re wrong. 57 is just a number. 65 will be just a number. 70 will be… well, tell you the truth, 70 does scare me a bit. At some point I’ll wonder if that last ride over Sonora Pass was the last ride over Sonora Pass I’d ever do. At some point I’ll not be thinking about scaling back, but probably actually have to.
I’m not there yet, and I don’t plan to be anytime soon. So don’t talk to me about taking a vacation on a cruise ship (Little-known fact about cruise shops- they’re actually run by aliens seeking to fatten you up for their dinner). Don’t tell me that I’ve worked hard enough all my life that I’ve “earned” some nice quiet time doing nothing.
Breaking news! This just arrived in my email box a day later. Again, I’M NOT DEAD YET!
How much time do I have? I don’t know if I might get stricken some day with something like my father got (a rare blood-born cancer), which took his strength and his life, 25 years ago. Younger than I am now. But what I do know is that each and every day is an opportunity to do something. Something real. Something more relevant, to me, than a “Senior Citizen” discount at the movies, or a great deal at the Scooter Store. My plan, and remember, there’s always a plan, is to go down screaming and kicking. I literally pray to God that I can execute that plan. –Mike–
I should be thrilled that today; our Los Altos store has achieved a 4.5 Star rating on Yelp. And I am! It’s a great indication that we’re doing a few things right. But I’ve got more than a few mixed feelings about Yelp. And not just because we’re “only” at 4 Stars in Redwood City.
A success story
On one hand, it’s a great window into what people think, and it keeps you on your toes. At its best, it’s a two-way street, where you can respond to reviews and they respond back. Sometimes you can fix misunderstandings, sometimes you can make things right where you screwed up. I feel really good about that. Believe it or not, I want happy customers. Why a select few think otherwise has been the cause of more than a few sleepless nights over the years.
An (un)deserved rant?
But eventually you discover that some people that have it in for you, no matter what. Like the one on the right. I did my personal best for him, even exploiting my connection with Keith Bontrager to make sure the information I gave was accurate and relevant. Did not matter. Thankfully it was so over-the-top that I couldn’t really feel all that bad about it.
The biggest flaw in Yelp’s review process is that they allow for one-way communication, where someone can vent and you have no opportunity to correspond with them. The “cloak of anonymity” thing that removes credibility from much of the modern world. You can hit & run on a competitor (I’ve seen this first-hand) or trash a business just because you needed a lawnmower part and were annoyed (and didn’t believe) that a bicycle shop didn’t have it.
In my perfect world, when someone trashes a business and the business responds, Yelp should require that the reviewer respond to that business (a response that can remain anonymous) or else the review is removed. There should simply be some sense of accountability. Without that, you actually get people demanding better deals in the store or else threaten to post a Yelp review trashing us. And stores taking advantage by offering deals to people in exchange for high ratings, a practice that you can actually find referenced in some reviews.
We don’t ask for reviews (which is probably dumb, because if you do ask for reviews from good customers, you’re likely to bolster your ratings… but I just feel funny about it) and we actually fired an employee who posted a fake positive review for our store. Seriously. That wasn’t the only thing he did, but it was way up on the list.
And finally there’s Yelp’s own business practices. We signed up for a 6-month campaign, $315/store/month, where you essentially buy a higher placing when someone’s looking for bike shops, and you get a high-rated review moved up to the top. Bad reviews aren’t eliminated, they’re just moved down the page. We told the (very aggressive) Yelp rep that we’d just be doing this for the busy season, end it after 6 months, and then perhaps restart again the following year. 6 months went and the billings continued. Phone calls and emails couldn’t stop them. I finally had to call the bank to have the payments stopped. Crazy!
Could Chain Reaction ever get a 5-Star yelp rating? I don’t think so. Could be that I’m just rationalizing, but as long as we try to be inclusive, and take care of as wide a variety of cyclists as practical, we’re going to have situations where we’re not the ultimate source for, say, fixie parts, or cotter pins for that 34-year-old Firenze in the basement. Our location in Redwood City has a broader range of demographics than most, giving us a much wider clientele than the typical shop gets to deal with. That appeals to my sense of egalitarianism, but gets in the way of becoming a super-specialty-retailer that can give white-glove treatment to everyone coming in the door. Am I trying to rationalize? You bet. But I think I have solid ground to do so. I think, on balance, Chain Reaction has more heart than most. I think my staff does an awesome job. And when we fail, we feel badly, and work to make things right. Hopefully that comes out in my Yelp responses.
In the end, I think consumer review sites like Yelp are a good thing. You get a sense of what the shop’s like, reading both the review and, if it’s there, the reply from the business. I’m just not a fan of the complete anonymity and lack of accountability, which, as I mentioned earlier, could be easily fixed by simply requiring a dialog between reviewer and the business. A dialog that could remain anonymous! But a dialog nevertheless. In my perfect world, of course. –Mike–
If you’ve wondered about alternate routes up to Skyline from Woodside, I’ll fill in some details on the Skywood Way option for the last mile up to Sky Londa. Video of the route below. Heavily “stabilized” by YouTube to avoid the seasick feeling you’d get from watching me wobble from side-to-side on the way up. This is a much-tougher grade than Old LaHonda, not quite as difficult as the nastiest part of Page Mill (between Gates 3 & 4 I think?).
Generally you’d access Skywood Way from the “bottom” while climbing up 84 from Woodside towards Sky Londa. Look for the road on the right, pretty much the only road on the right. Make the first left and just follow the non-dead-end options (or, simply choose the steepest option, which is almost always the correct route on any ride!). –Mike–
Last night was not fun… one of those nights where you’re trying really hard to get to sleep which, of course, keeps you from getting to sleep. You feel your pulse racing faster as your anxiety level rises, leading to… more anxiety. I have no idea how little sleep I actually got, but it wasn’t much. Even thought briefly that maybe I wasn’t going to be able to ride, but that’s nonsense. Cycling cures everything, therefore cycling without sleep will help me wake up. And that’s pretty much how it went.
What I didn’t enjoy was waking up to it being dark. Really dark. As in, should daylight saving time really start this early? But it all changes once you get on the bike. You start up the hill past your driveway and it feels… right. The bike feels light. Things are moving. I can do this. That week off the bike didn’t kill me after all.
Large group today; no way to remember everyone, but I’ll do what I can. Kevin, Kevin, Karl, Karen, Nigel, Eric, Marcus, JR, George. Pace up the hill was reasonable for winter; a few guys riding faster up front but nobody trying to kill themselves. I got to the top in about 28:25 or so, faster than I anticipated. My heart rate was also faster than I imagined, running very high for the entire ride, likely an effect of riding without much sleep. Glad I didn’t have any coffee first!
Cool & foggy at the bottom; sunny & warm up top. Just like a typical summer day… in March. This is Why We Ride.
If you were any other man, I’d kill you where you stand!
(Worf, Star Trek First Contact)
And “First Contact” could have been very appropriate this morning, when, during the first sprint on the Tuesday/Thursday-morning ride, Kevin, that would be Kevin my son, not the pilot, claimed he didn’t know I was there when he made a move to try and get onto George’s wheel… problem being, I was already on George’s wheel. And how could Kevin not have known I was there when he had to first pass me? Watch the video. You be the judge!
Had this been an actual race, my wife might not have been too happy if instincts had taken over and I had strong-armed Kevin across the road. It’s not as if I don’t know how to “protect” myself in a sprint. Thankfully, I redeemed myself a bit later.
Very nice morning; started out not so cold maybe 40 degrees, and warmed up to 55 by the end. The end of winter is in sight! Karl, Kevin, Kevin, Eric, Todd, George, Karen and, for a little while, Les, the guy who used to own a bike shop or two, but apparently had a better exit strategy than me. Which doesn’t take much, since I have no exit strategy at all! Thankfully this is a business I really enjoy. Not much bad about putting people on bikes. –Mike–
I woke up briefly at 4am this morning, looked out the window and saw clearing skies. Ah, maybe the weather was going to hold off! Back to sleep until 6:55am when I woke up to… rain. No quite right; at most a light drizzle, but really wet streets. Thankfully, I’d already made sure our rain bikes were ready, so Kevin and I dutifully hit the road at 7:31am, a few minutes earlier than normal ‘cuz the rain bikes are a bit slower and you’re somehow just a bit less inspired when all bundled up and staring into gray skies that are literally descending upon you.
First flat, descending 84. 37 degrees, raining pretty hard. Not fun!
Just one other silly person at the start, the other Kevin. It’s a bit confusing on a ride in which the only other people are both named Kevin; I decided to call the older guy (the pilot who’s done this ride with me for 20+ years) “Captain” and the other Kevin, the 20 year old whippersnapper who shares my last name and address… well, still trying to figure that one out. It wasn’t a pretty ride by any standard; 33 minutes up Kings tells that story! Not so bad across the top (Skyline) although we did notice the temperature steadily dropping, which isn’t normal. It’s supposed to start out cold and get warmer, not start out cold and get colder.
But nothing too exciting, no drama, until just prior to heading back down 84 “Captain” Kevin notices his rear tire is low and stops to inflate it. We make it about 3/4 of the way down the hill before it’s nearly flat again, so we stop to replace it. In a very cold (about 37 degrees according to my Garmin) and steadily-increasing rain. Cold and wet enough that, after “Captain” Kevin used a CO2 cartridge and placed it on top of his gloves and the old tube on the ground, everything literally froze together. Seriously. And I didn’t get a photo! Darn.
Post-ride coffee not optional today, but required!
We then proceeded down the rest of 84 and got less than half a mile down the road before his tire went flat. Again. This time with a bit of a bang, because during the inflation he’d apparently pushed the valve up into the tire a bit, causing the tube to wrap down underneath and rip. Sigh. At least it was now 41 degrees. 10 minutes later we were off again, no more drama the last few miles, and finally, clearing skies. We were left wondering if it was going to be a beautiful day for riding just as soon as we finished, but fortunately, that didn’t turn out to be the case as the blustery weather continued for most of the day.
It was a very, very good feeling finally getting up over Jefferson, half an hour behind schedule, knowing a hot shower was in my immediate future. One of those hot showers where your gradually-thawing hands become incredibly painful as they finally warm up, and one of those mornings where a Caramel Latte at Peet’s wasn’t optional, it was required.
Could we have skipped this morning and ridden tomorrow, when it will be much nicer, instead? That’s what most people would do, but we’re not most people. When it’s time to ride, it’s time to ride, and you can’t let the world tell you otherwise. That’s just how we roll. We’re stupid that way. Curiously, looking at Strava, very few others were out riding this morning. Wonder why?
This has to be the most-common moderate-distance ride I do- the Old LaHonda/Pescadero/Tunitas Creek loop. It’s the go-to ride because it’s safe, it’s reliable (you know where to find food & water), it’s challenging if you want to make it challenging, or just a bit on the “tough” side it you want to take it easy. But there’s no way to really take it easy, ‘cuz you’ve got a few hills along the way-
Old LaHonda (1300ft)
Haskins Grade (800ft)
Stage Road climbs 1, 2 & 3 (about 400ft each)
Tunitas Creek (2000ft)
Total time on the road runs from 3.75 to 4.5 hours, depending of course on how much time you spend at the Pescadero Bakery! But even though it doesn’t take very long, and it’s not even very far (from my place in Redwood City it’s just 58 miles), it still feels like you’re quite a distance from home as you head out past Loma Mar on your way to the coast.
Today Kevin and I had an earlier start than usual (on the road by 8:30am) because he had to be back in time for a 1pm on-line video game contest of some sort, one of those things where you form teams and go after military objectives, which sounds better than saying you’re trying to kill as many people on the other team as possible. Kevin was a bit concerned that we weren’t going to make it back in time, but y’know, after doing this route so many times, it’s not like I don’t have a handle on it. But there may have been a reason for some of his uncertainty, as this was only his 3rd time back on the back after 17 days off due to a kidney issue and tonsillectomy.
Jerry climbing up Tunitas on a beautiful winter day! We sold him that Trek back in 2003; it’s seen a lot of miles since.
He needn’t have worried. While he wasn’t particularly fast going up Old LaHonda, finishing less than a minute ahead of me (22-something), he held up fine everywhere else. We even skipped the near-mandatory stop at the Pescadero Bakery after checking to make sure we had a few energy bars, just in case. And Tunitas Creek provided the opportunity to chase down some rabbits, including Jerry, a very good customer of ours (seen in the photo). We arrived back home at 12:30, plenty of time for his game.
On the face of it, it seems so stupid, yet so addictive. High-end carbon road bike with high-zoot carbon wheels and skinny road tires. What could possibly make a dirt road attractive?
Maybe it’s the fun of the “Undiscovered Country.” Having lived in this area since birth (almost 57 years), and having ridden extensively since 11 years old, it’s not so easy finding new roads, new challenges. The obvious answer? Off-road. Trouble is, I have so little time to ride that I can’t rationalize putting a mountain bike into a car and driving somewhere to ride it. But y’know, there was a time when we didn’t have things called mountain bikes, but this crazy local cyclist, Jobst Brandt, thought the bicycle, the bicycle you had at hand, was limited in capabilities only by the user… so it wasn’t unusual that we’d have a 10 mile stretch of dirt trail (not even fire road) in the middle of an epic Sunday 115 miler. We’d do this on fragile sew-ups (usually called “tubulars” these days), threading our way through rocks and sand patches and somehow rarely had flat tires. That experience was a huge thrill for a 16 or 17-year-old kid… it was probably what convinced me that cycling really was the solution for everything.
But for years, decades even, my road bike has pretty much stayed off the dirt, at least if it could be avoided. That is, until last week, my first run over Old Haul Road, from the Loma Mar (Pescadero) side and heading into Portola State Park and the infamous hellish climb back up to Skyline. Today, I figured I’d reverse it, dropping down into the park off a different road, one that Keith (one of our semi-regular Tuesday/Thursday-am riders) took a couple weeks ago. Riding with me was Jeff K, one of our reps who’s come with me on a number of rides, although most have covered familiar territory.
Beautiful views from W Alpine
The ride started out like many, ascending Old LaHonda, but instead of heading down the other side, we went south on Skyline before descending West Alpine and admiring the spectacular views of the coast. And then, shortly after the normal turn-off for Portola State Park, it started to get silly. I’ve put together a video of the 10 minute descent into hell, on a twisty single-lane “paved” road that actually leaves you wanting more.
Honor Camp left, Medium Security right
Once at the bottom, we over-shot the normal choice for getting across to Old Haul Road, riding down into a deserted correctional facility, looking, essentially, for a way out. It was there; I even started down the “jeep trail” a bit before deciding it wasn’t it and back-tracking to a gated dirt road that was signed as leading to Portola State Park.
A very long .8 mile later and I was back in familiar territory- Old Haul Road. It wasn’t much different heading north than it had been the preceding week heading south, and once again my high-
My bike on Old Haul Road
performance “road” bike proved its worth in dirt & mud. We had one more opportunity to back track when we came to Towne Fire Road, which signage indicated would end up on the eastern slope of Haskins Grade (Old Haul dumps you off on the west end). That sounded interesting! Unfortunately, after a few hundred meters you plunge down to the creek, which, at that point, is very wide and very cold with no way to cross other than walking through it. So back up we go, soon exiting Old Haul Road at Loma Mar where we rejoined civilization.
The rest of the ride was the basic “coastal classic” heading out to Pescadero (lunch at the bakery, of course!), Stage Road north, then return on Tunitas. At San Gregorio we were flagged by Perry, a
Climbing Tunitas with Perry & Jeff
cyclist who’d had a flat but no way to inflate the spare tube he carries (he had his CO2 cartridge but forgot the head). We got him going and he sped on up ahead… but we caught back up with him again at the Bike Hut on Tunitas, where he’d gotten another flat. This time I assisted him, finding the tiny piece of glass in his tire that would have caused yet another flat, and the three of us rode together up Tunitas, over the top and home.
This was not an easy ride, but it was a lot of fun exploring new territory… and exploring is certainly the appropriate word!