Monday, September 29, 2008

A weekend in the mountains

Well, with the kitchen still not up and running, Sherry and I did another weekend get-away. This time to the mountains. We have a friend with a cabin near the town of Strawberry, CA (which is about 50 east of Sonora). So 5 of us headed for the mountains for the weekend. We try and go every year but somehow our schedules never lined up in '07.

The drive out on Friday was pretty uneventful. It takes about 4 1/2 hours to get there from home. But we had both taken the day off and where in no real hurry. We arrived to some of the most beautiful mountain weather imaginable. The highs were in the upper 70s and the lows in the low 40s. On our arrival, there was not a cloud in the sky. The other 3 were already there when we arrived so we performed the functional duties of unpacking before settling down to relax.

The cabin is very close to the South Fork of the the Stanislaus River. So after a little relaxation I hiked down to the river and spent some time exploring. Is there anything better then a mountain stream to wash your cares away. I found a big rock to sit on and just sat there thinking about nothing and everything. Finally, it was back to the cabin for grilled tri-tip and other assorted goodies for dinner.

Saturday dawned just as beautiful as Friday. For me, the day started with a 55-mile ride to Kennedy Meadows and back. I was feeling strong and considered going to the top of Sonora Pass. I am still not sure if it was the allure of tri-tip sandwiches and beer for lunch or the sign stating 26% grade that changed ultimately my mind. This is my third ride in the mountains this year and they have all been special in their own way. (There may be more about the cycling in a future post.)

Back at the cabin it was time for lunch. After which, I tried to read and relax a little. It ended up being more of nap a little and then nap a little more as I was sitting on the deck. I eventually found enough energy to do more river exploration and spend some time writing in my journal. I am in the slow process of writing a book. (I actually started this blog to practice my writing style.)

That night brought another great dinner and then one of our group wanted to play cards. I have to admit that I am not much of a game player. And I can definitely do without card games. But, I wanted to be a good sport so we played for a couple of hours. I definitely understand the reason people enjoy playing cards as we spent a great deal of time laughing.

Sunday morning brought another ride, only 20-miles, and then it was time to head home. All-in-all, it was the perfect weekend retreat.

To add to our fun here are the wines we drank.
Navorro 2006 Pinot Gris
RWC Le Mesnil Champagne
Valley of the Moon 2004 Cuvee de la Luna
Ferrari Carano 2006 Fiorella Chardonnay

We may try our first winter trip this year which should be spectacular. Until then, we will keep warm with the memories of this recent trip.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

The first official ride of Autumn

I love autumn. I always have. There's just something about the crispness of the air, the color of the light, and the cooler temperatures that has always awakened me from my summer heat-induced haze. The only down side - shorter days. Between working until 6:00 p.m., or later, and darkness arriving in Wine Country by 7:20 (as I discovered), that doesn't leave a lot of time for riding.

That's why I was thrilled on Tuesday when I managed to get off work a little early. So I dashed home, changed and off I went for my first official autumn ride of 2009. I am saying "first official ride" because although it has felt like autumn for a few weeks now, autumn did not officially arrive until Monday, September 22nd at 8:44:18 a.m. PST. That's when the Fall Equinox occurred (did you know that autumn had an official start time?).

As I started the ride, it was 85. Of course, that's 85 with a hint of coolness. I headed out of town along the same route as usual for my after work rides. There is a bike path that follows our major creek out of the city and it allows me to avoid traffic and, more importantly, traffic lights. As I ride along the creek, I can just see the beginning of color change in the trees. We have not had any rain since May (our typical pattern) but the creek still has plenty of water. So there are lots of birds. And since I have now decided to simply enjoy the act of riding for the rest of this year I am sitting up on the bike and enjoying the view.

As I head out of town, I begin to ride past the first vineyards. This is where you really see the autumn color of Wine Country. All of the vineyards turn into beautiful palettes of red, orange, and yellow. In fact, you can tell the varietal of grape from the colors of the leaves as they change. I had the whole thing explained to me once by a winemaker but since I was drinking wine at the time I cannot remember the specifics (although I remember the wine was red).

The color and crispness of the setting sun were amazing. As I continued to roll along at a pace that allowed me to enjoy the scenery, I passed a couple of wineries. They are now in full crush mode and you can smell it. If you like wine, it is almost impossible not to be swooned by the bouquet of the crush. Of course now I have to have wine with dinner when I get home.

Along my route I was not alone. I saw many, many cyclists all trying to get in a decent workout in before night fell. There is nothing like racing the sun in terms of lifting your pace, and your heart rate. I also saw many people taking walks with strollers, dogs, and kids on bikes. I passed a couple of equestrians heading home. It seem like we all shared the same felt need to get out and enjoy the evening.

I notice it was getting dark a little earlier then I anticipated so I head for home. I thought I had until around 7:30 but I was off the mark by about 10 minutes. So back towards town, back along the creek and to the house. I can tell the last 15-minutes were interesting (read - scary) as all the cars passing me already had their lights on.

So safely back home, I was reflecting on the ride. It had everything I was looking for in an autumn ride. Great weather, great scenery and a pace slow enough to enjoy it.

I better enjoy it while I can. I also saw a UPS truck with its one lone driver and for some reason it make me think that soon, every UPS truck will have two people as they try to stay on top of holiday deliveries. That means that the holiday season, and rain, can't be far off. Until then, I'll keep riding along and enjoying my favorite season.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

A great week

This has been a good week. Work was fine, the kitchen has noticeable progress (cabinets are in and painted), and I even managed to get out and do some workouts. All-in-all, not bad.

Part of my new found motivation involves a group at Fitness Journal. There are a few of us who regularly post items onto the discussion board and then we post comments on each other's posts. So, we now have this informal social network where we talk about workouts, weight loss, our latest event, and so on. Recently, someone in the group suggested we start a six week challenge where we set goals and then report on the progress each week. It sounded like fun so I joined in with a few simple goals. Now I have to stick to them so I can report success. I guess that's kinda the whole point.

I ran again on Tuesday since one of my goals is to run twice a week. This time I upped the distance to 3.5 miles. It was a fine run and I am still taking things nice and slow. I finished at just under a 9:00 minute pace. I am okay with that since speed is not important at this point. And the best part, I could actually walk the next day.

Wednesday I managed to get on the bike after work and I headed straight to Fountain Grove which is a section of substantial hills. I did some hill work and then decided to just cruise around town. It ended up being a sort of tour des maisons à vendre (tour of houses for sale). I can't believe how many houses are on the market in some of Santa Rosa's best neighborhoods. I also rode through downtown. I know a lot of cyclist hate riding in town, and in traffic, but I actually enjoy it. When it was all said and done, I managed to get in 20 miles.

My second run of the week was Friday. It was pretty cool, around 40 degrees, so I was running in tights. I don't know why, but I prefer to run in tights. I think it's because they hide that ridiculous tan line you get from cycling. It was a beautiful morning that announced autumn is arriving fast in the Wine Country. It was the same 3.5 mile route as Tuesday with one difference. I ran at an 8:30 pace and I felt great.

On Saturday, I put together a group ride that went down some of my favorite roads. I love these roads for many, many reasons, but mostly it's the scenery. They go over small hills and drop into gorgeous valleys full of vineyards, redwood trees, running streams, and other such idyllic features that they should be in a painting. And since it is the end of the season, we were not training. We were moving at a good pace, but not so fast we couldn't enjoy the splendor that was around us. I really need to start carrying a camera on some of these rides.

Sunday was another spectacular ride. Nice and easy with a couple of friends. Nothing to really speak about. Well that's not true since we talked the entire ride. Oh yeah, I forgot. We also did a couple of climbs. Actually, about 2000 feet worth of climbs.

So tomorrow starts another week. Hopefully, it will be just like this one.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The fear of crashing

For those of you out there who cycle, raise your hand if you like to crash. Ok, now raise you hand if you are afraid of crashing. That's what I thought. (In my mind, more of you raised your hand the second time.) If you cycle for any length of time you are going to go down at some point. It may me a simple dead bug, a gentle slide or something more serious that ends with a ride in an ambulance. The question is - does the fear of crashing stop you from getting out there and enjoying the ride?

I used to be very concerned about crashing while road riding. And I have virtually quit mountain biking because of crashes (I seem to go down almost every ride and rocks really hurt). My friend Sarah did her first road race last month and she only had 2 goals, 1) get a good workout, 2) not crash.

We have good reason to be concerned. You can get seriously hurt, or worse. We all know Barbara Warren's story too well at this point. We also all know someone who knows someone who went down hard. Don't ask my coach, Tim, about his history of crashes unless you've got a beer in your hand a few hours to kill.

But then you watch the Tour de France and these dudes crash all the time. Sometimes in quite spectacular fashion. And most times, they get up, wipe the dazed look from their face, get back on the bike and ride to the finish. So the new question is - Is it possible to crash and simply get back on the bike and finish the ride?

I went a long time before going down on the road bike but this seems to be my year. Here are two previous descriptions of my crashes this year.

Terrible Two training ride - (I was having good thoughts just before the crash.) All of those thoughts changed when I hit the ground - HARD! I actually got to see the crash unfold in front of me. I knew I was going down and also knew there was no way to stop it. I was descending about 20 mph, keeping things slow because the road was very wet. As I rounded a 90 degree corner I was greeted with a cattle grate in the road. I tapped the brakes and tried to go over the grate perfectly perpendicular knowing I was still at too hard of an angle. As soon as the front tire hit the grate the bike slid and I was bounced of the ground on my right side and then took a decent slide down the road. I ended up completely separated from the bike on my stomach and my first response was (well, you know)! Time to assess the damage. My shoulder and head hit very hard but nothing broken. My hip was starting to swell and I knew it had road rash. My elbow was also bleeding but what the hell - it could have been worse. Get up and get the bike. It seems to be okay. Back on and down the rest of the descent.

Colorado Courage Classic - I touched Brian's back wheel and dead bugged. As I hit the ground, on my right side, I naturally ended up on my back looking behind me. And that's when I knew I might be in trouble. All I could see was a front wheel and the face of panicked rider heading for my head. I immediately curled into a fetal position and braced for impact. Surprisingly, I didn't feel anything at first. But as I collected myself, I was noticed I was sore and there 3 Air Force Academy guys down. We all took stock of bodies and bikes. With no bike damage or major injuries, they head out and we followed just a short time later. As I start to ride, I notice my left thigh is really sore. The full story was I basically dead bugged into the path of these 3 guys as they came flying over the hill, in a congested area, and passing on the right (not a smart move). The first guy was the one who barely missed my head but he still went down. The second guy, to quote Tim, "used my ass as a ramp" and went flying over his handle bars into a ditch of tall grass. The third guy also manage to miss me but still went down as well. So, we ended up with a 3-1 ratio. Once Tim realized I was not hurt, only a little bruised (no biggie) he called it "the best crash ever."

So what's the point? Surprisingly, these crashes are helping me get over the fear of crashing. I now know I can go down and bounce back up with little more then some road rash and bruising. I not saying it's fun, but I have decided not to let concern about crashing stop me from enjoying life (notice the switch in terms).

So get out there and ride! Ride safe! Ride sensibly! Ride within your abilities! But most of all, ride!


Friday, September 12, 2008

3 very long miles, sort of

Let's just get things started by saying I used to run a lot. It was actually my primary form of exercise. Most of my running was on the trails of Annadel State Park, which is simply a great place to run while enjoying nature. I had 2-3 different running buddies but I also enjoyed being out there on my own. Then I turned my ankle quite badly one day (I actually fractured it) and my running was put on hold.

As part of my rehab, I borrowed a friend's mountain bike so I could exercise while still enjoying the trails of Annadel. Well, mountain biking led to short triathlons which led to road cycling. That's where I am today - a roadie! I am such a hard core roadie that when I log other activities in Fitness Journal, I do not include the miles, only the time. Why? Because I want my miles across the US map (see below) to only reflect road riding. (BTW- The constant crashes eventually led to me abandoning the whole mountain bike thing.)

Still, after a year so far dedicated to cycling it was time to bring back some cross training. So on Wednesday I went for a 3 mile run. Now you tri-geeks and marathoners might find this distance pedestrian but I expected it to be a big deal.

So shoes on (but first the whole tie my laces to exercise threw me) and I hit the road. I start out nice and slow. No heart rate monitor today. I just want to ease back into it. I am feeling ok so I just need to settle in to a nice slow rhythm (I have I used the word slow enough?).

Well, my route takes me right past Sarah's house. She just finished third in a local sprint triathlon and she is also mastering the art of talking trash. So, just in case she's making coffee and sees me out the window, I better look good. So one block before her house, I get my form in shape, lengthen my stride and cruise by her very dark and closed up house. Oh well! I still looked good.

Continuing on, I pass the house of a young lady I work with so I repeat the whole process of making sure I look good. This is all based on the philosophy of my cycling coach that if you can't be fast, look fast. The rest of the run was fine and I was over 2 miles into it before I started getting a little tired. Still, I ran smoothly all the way home and felt good.

It ended up being a little shorter then I thought. Only 2.8 miles. I ran at just under a 9-minute pace, which is normal for me when I have not run in while (my last run was in January). I had fully expected to struggle through it but overall I felt pretty good. So now I am thinking "Oh look at me. Mister cycling dude can just go kick out a run whenever he wants. It's no big deal."

Then came Thursday morning. I could hardly friggin' walk. It's now Friday and my legs and back still hurt. I am just grateful I live in a one-story house. All day at work I kept getting the question, "What's wrong? You're walking funny." I simply replied, "I ran yesterday for the first time in while." That answer always seemed to suffice.

So once again, I have a new found respect for those of you who can pound yourselves on the pavement for 10, 15, 20 miles or even more. I don't know how you do it.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go hug my bike.


Monday, September 8, 2008

The perfect Wine Country cycling weekend

Let me just start off by saying this was a great weekend for cycling in the Wine Country of Sonoma and Napa counties. The weather, the sites, the smells (more on this later), and the people I rode with, turned the rides into near magical moments. It doesn't really get any better then this.

On Saturday, I went out with Pat for what has to be the quintessential Sonoma County Wine Country experience. We left from his house, which made it an 80 mile loop, but you could easily do this ride from Healdsburg and shorten the loop to around 50 miles. The loop took us first through Alexander Valley and then into Dry Creek Valley, which are both world-renown grape growing regions.

We rolled at 6:15 a.m. to beat the heat and traffic. The weather was perfect. If you have never spent time in Sonoma County let me explain our summers. The days are typically in the 80's while the nights normally cool off into the mid to low 40s. There is often a marine layer, basically high fog, that also keeps things very cool and sometimes very wet. Since we always leave early, this means even our summer rides start with arm warmers and wind vests. Not this Saturday. We did start with the arm warmers but left the vest at home as we started out at a balmy 61 and not a cloud in the sky.

Our trip through Alexander Valley was gorgeous. The "crush" has started so there is a lot of activity in Wine Country. Pat and I continued to ride and chat about how lucky we are to live were we do. Then we noticed we were moving at a pretty good clip. We kept up the pace, taking turns on the front, and just did a solid ride all the way up to Cloverdale. Along the way we passed a couple of wineries in full crush mode. I just love the bouquet of the crush. Something about the smell of one those wonderful little grapes on their to way to becoming wine. It's enough to bring tears to my eyes.

Cloverdale is small town USA. It's a cool little place that is coming into its own. On Saturday, they were having Cloverdale Days, which include a classic car show. So Pat and I cruise through all the cool cars being set up. I am not much of a car enthusiast but there were some cherry rides to look at as we rolled down Main Street. From Cloverdale we began to lift the pace once again and headed for Dry Creek Valley.

Getting to Dry Creek required climbing the small hill on Dutcher Creek Road. If you read my Fitness Journal blog this may sound familiar. This is road where I knew my attempt at the Terrible Two was over as I climbed it in the triple in 111 degree heat. On Saturday, big ring all the way as the temperature was a lovely 71. (Just a side note - I still can't believe that on the day of the Terrible Two the temperate was 40 degrees higher. No wonder I was struggling.)

Another gorgeous ride through Dry Creek Valley that would have been uneventful except for one thing. We gunned down and dropped 4 tractors. As we were riding, we were slowly gaining on these tractors carry trailers full of grapes from the vineyards. We catch the first one on a small roller and Pat starts to settle in behind it and draft. However, I am feeling a little frisky, so I simply shout "Drop 'em!!!" So as Pat accelerates, I come out of the saddle and immediately think "what the hell was I thinking?" We pass the first tractor and catch the second. Pat pulls in behind it and we draft for 15 seconds, take 5 deep breaths, and go again. We catch the third and fourth tractors the same way. But once we dropped all four we had to keep going. I mean, you can't drop someone like that and then let them re-catch you. If you are going to ride like that you might as well stick to 28 mile rides that end with a yoga class.

So enough about Saturday. The rest of ride was fine, except for my 2 flats, and we just kept riding hard to the local coffee shop. However, as we sipped our coffee, we were both feeling the day's efforts. Then we checked the numbers. We did 80 miles, with 2200 feet of climbing, in four and a half hours. I won't speak for anyone else but that's a good ride for me.

Sunday dawned with the same gorgeous weather and I headed out to town of Somoma to ride with 2 other friends. As soon as I started to pedal, I felt Saturday's efforts. My legs were dead. I spent most of the ride desperately trying to keep up and failing. I was constantly dropped and had to work hard to rejoin. Still ,it was a great ride.

There are 4 things that made Sunday a great ride despite my soreness and fatigue. First, we were riding in gorgeous weather through the Carneros wine region. Next, I was still spending time with friends, and ultimately I had a strong ride (I just couldn't keep up with their fresh legs). Finally, it delayed my trip to the laundromat (our kitchen remodeled includes the laundry room).

So there you have it. A perfect weekend of cycling in the Wine Country. I hope that whatever did this last weekend brought you the same beauty and joy.


Monday, September 1, 2008

A fabulous weekend

There is a young lady who works in my department who's favorite word has to be fabulous. She uses it constantly. She actually uses it the way college-age frat boys use dude. She may use it so much, and in so many contexts, that she has forgotten its original meaning. Well I have not and I can honestly tell you that Sherry and I had a fabulous Labor Day weekend.

As I recently mentioned, Sherry and I decided to spend a few nights in Yountville since our kitchen is kaput. So, after my morning ride on Saturday, it's time to load the SUV and head east for some good food, great wine, and plenty of rest and relaxation. First stop along the way is Calistoga for a leisurely lunch at Wappo Bar and Bistro. Then it is off to St. Helena.

St. Helena is our favorite city in the Napa Valley. It is beautiful city full of quaint shops, turn of the century (that is the 20th century) architecture, and great restaurants. We hit our 3 favorite shops which are Woodhouse Chocolates, Olivier Napa Valley, and River House Books. And, since we are on vacation, let the spending begin. We then continued south to Yountville and check into the Bordeaux House B&B.

To be honest, the Bordeaux House began what was to be series of slight disappointments. It was nice but it had so much more potential. I will say as a plus it was one of the quietest places we have ever stayed. So all checked in, I bop over to the local wine shop for a bottle of rosé. When we were in France last year we became huge fans of Provincial rosés. And since we were staying in the Rosé Room, it made perfect sense. The wine shop had 2 different Provincial rosés and I bought both. However, neither was chilled so I also purchase a Central Valley rosé for drinking that afternoon. It was not what we wanted! It was strong and overbearing, so very much the opposite of the lite refreshing rosé we anticipated. C'est la vie! (Such is life!)

Then it was off to dinner at one of favorite restaurants, Bistro Jeanty. Once again we were a little disappointed. The meal was not that bad, it just did not live up to the expectations of our numerous meals there before. C'est la vie deuxième!! (Such is life a second time!) Oh well, after 22 years of marriage, Sherry and I know how not to let minor setbacks ruin a fun trip. Tomorrow would be another day.

Sunday morning was gorgeous and after stressful morning of reading and cycling, we were off to lunch at Etoile, the restaurant at Domain Chandon. Let me just say right now that lunch on Sunday was enough to wash away any disappointments of Saturday night. In fact, it was enough to make you forget every bad meal you ever ate. Yes, it was that good.

Our lunch consisted of a 5 course meal and each course was paired with wines and sparkling wines from Domain Chandon. We sat on a patio overlooking beautiful grounds and enjoyed our nearly 3 hour lunch. The service was impeccable. The food was simply stunning in flavor and presentation. Just to give you a sample, the butter served with the french bread was infused with chardonnay. You know that brought out the Niles in me.

Finally, with lunch complete it is on to St Clement Vineyards for wine tasting. We discovered that they also have a fabulous (I had to use it at least one more time) terrace patio overlooking the valley. There, we sample a vertical tasting of the last 5 vintages of their Oroppas (2002 - 2005), which is their Bordeaux-style blend, paired with chocolate. I won't turn this into tasting notes but let me just say there now 6 bottles of St Clement Oroppas in our cellar (2 each of 2003, 2004, and 2005). Dinner that night was a lite meal at the local blues pub.

Monday morning dawned bright and beautiful. We enjoyed breakfast and stopped by the Buchon Bakery for coffees and more french bread. Finally, we headed for home, perhaps a little poorer in the wallet but much richer in memories. Now that's a fabulous weekend.