Sunday, April 23, 2006

Weekend Wildflower Bike Tour

From Friday, April 21 to Sunday, April 23 a group of us were biking up Mt. Hamilton to look at the annual wild flowers in the San Antonio Valley with our first overnight stay in San Jose (taking the Caltrain from San Francisco to San Jose), then on Saturday morning we would ride over 4,000 foot Mt. Hamilton, through San Antonio Valley and sleep in Patterson. Then on Sunday we would head back to the San Antonio Valley and bike to Livermore and end up in Pleasanton where we catch the Bart (Bay Area Rapid Transit) back to San Francisco. The trip takes about 10 hours the first day and maybe a little less the following day.

Day 1: 4:56 pm, Friday, April 21, 2006:

Some of us meet in San Francisco and others catch the Caltrain at other stops. I new it would be a great trip when, as I got on the train, one of the riders handed me a beer. We were all excited about our trip ahead and seeing the spring wildflowers.

After we reached San Jose we all got off the train and I noticed my rack, which holds my luggage on my bike, was coming loose. So I borrowed a tool and tightened it, but when we got to the taqueria, I noticed the same screw had fallen off. Luckily there was a Walgreen’s next door and I bought a small lock that was the same width as the screw and when I got to the hotel I tried it out and voila, it worked! Just call me Magiver.

Day 2: 6:30 am, Saturday, April 22, 2006

The morning was cloudy, a good day for bike riding and we steadily head towards Mount Hamilton. That’s right I’m biking up a freakin’ mountain with 20 pounds of supplies… it’s fun.

Once we get out of San Jose, we begin our ascent up the mountain, or so I thought. We see beautiful, green rolling hills and we are climbing gently up the hills and the roads are somewhat gradual because they were created during the horse-n-buggy era. We are still in a neighborhood and as we were climbing I hear a rooster waking up, which means I got up before a rooster just to look at some flowers. I am a flower whore, so if you say flowers, I’ll bike 70 miles a day to look at them.

We continue to climb up lovely winding hills that are lush green from all of the rain we have been having. Not many flowers yet, but still beautiful. We could have been in Switzerland or Austria because the hills were so steep and green.

Soon we are above the hills, in the mountains, and there are more trees and shrubs. We continue to climb, some points steeper than others, but we are making good distance, then it happens... we begin to descend. Now you would think I should be happy because I just coast as I am descending, but I am not near the summit where the Lick Observatory is, so if I am descending, this means I need to ascend again to reach the summit of Mount Hamilton. If you were riding in front of me you would know my displeasure about this, but what can one do, you just keep peddling. We are now probably 1 ½ hours into the ride.

'Dodecatheon' Shooting Star flower

Then the second climb comes, oy! What am I doing? Am I crazy, it's just flowers. Each climb becomes more of a struggle, I start to feel my knees and legs more. Each bump feels like a mountain, yet I continue and actually enjoy the wonderful surroundings. It is now about 10:00 am or 3 ½ hours since we began.

Then believe it or not, I start descending again…. “No, bloody buggery hell!” (I’ve been watching too many British comedies lately). This means I have a third climb, ugh! Also, remember, we are or will be about 4,000 feet above sea level once we reach the summit, which is currently shrouded in fog.

By the third climb I am noticing my lungs are not capturing enough air, my ass has melded into my bike seat and my hands are numb. At some points I have to walk, but I need a human size shoehorn to get my ass off my bike and I am gasping for a complete breath of air and the last five miles to the top were the toughest.

This is an example of the roads we climbed and climbed up to the top of Mount Hamilton.

Another member of the group and I were tag-teaming back and forth and arrived together at the top, meeting our other group members at 11:50 am.

This is the wonderful group of people I was riding with. The Observatory is in the background.

Surprisingly my legs, hips, etc. feel fine, but I have a slight stomach cramp and I am not very hungry.

After almost an hour we begin our descent down the mountain. We have done 25 miles and have 48 miles to go. This descent is really steep, long and hard; the turns are sharp, the wind hits your face and body, the speeds are fast and soon your hands are spasming and sending sharp painful pulses up your arms, think carpel tunnel, and your hands are vice-gripped like, well, you know… and you are only ½ way down the mountain.

We finally reach the bottom and start a long somewhat flat ride through the San Antonio Valley with cows, steer, horses, sheep and if you are lucky, you may see a mountain lion or an elk… I was not lucky. The place was beautiful, almost surreal. During this entire trip I have seen, maybe, 6 cars.

We stop at “The Junction” which is a biker/red neck (in the most loving way) haunt in the middle of the valley that serves mostly alcohol and some basic bar food. We stay for about an hour, for a much needed rest and refueling.

The tallest peak in the back is Mount Hamilton, that's how far we have come.

We then head towards Patterson and the Best Western, but we need to make one more climb. Of course I had no idea how I was going to do it, but once we got started and actually made that climb, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had imagined and the final descent into the rolling green hills that lead us to Patterson is strikingly beautiful.

As we have seen throughout most of this trip, we continue to pass cow pastures, babbling brooks, old farmhouses and towering green hills (we would call them mountains on the east coast).

It is a gentle descent with only a few little hills (20 foot climbs) and even though it has been almost 10 hours, I had the strength to continue.

The last 5 miles seemed to stretch on forever, since every steep, green hill that I passed revealed more steep green hills, which means we still have not reached civilization and our hotel.

I see the freeway between two hills but only more green hills in front of me, where the road continues. I peddle along, cursing each hill that lay before me. Then I see the freeway again, between two more hills, then I turn another hill and there it is, the freeway and the hotel… lovely!

Everyone arrives by 4:30 pm and 5:00 pm, 10 ½ hours or so since we started out that morning. We all checked in to our hotel rooms, took showers and went to Denny’s for dinner… believe it or not, that was the cream of the crop in Patterson.

By 8:30 – 9:00 pm, everyone was fast asleep in their beds.

Day 3: 7:30 am, Sunday, April 23, 2006

After breakfast we all get going, heading back whence we came, well at least part way. We are going to climb up the last steep descent from the day before, eat an early lunch at “The Junction” and head over to Livermore and Pleasanton and then catch the Bart (Bay Area Rapid Transit) back to San Francisco.

This ascent will be the steepest and the hardest, and some of us have achy bottoms, but surprisingly the stretch towards our climb that seemed so long and painful yesterday was relatively easy and comfortable.

Another farm in the beautiful rolling hills.

About 13 miles into the ride I stop to take a photo and noticed a spoke in the rear tire had broken… shit! shit! shit!

Two riders, Manish and Shirley stop and they ride down the road to a farmhouse (one of the only ones for many, many miles), and say the guy was very friendly and will let me use his phone.

I walk down to the farm and Shirley stayed with me to make sure I was all set. I try to use the man’s phone but it is restricted to most long-distance phone numbers and most places I needed to call were long distance, including the Best Western which is only 13 miles back!

So I tell Shirley I will walk back to the hotel and the guy says, “I would offer to drive you back but I just drove into town this morning, but flag someone down, people here are very friendly and helpful”, ya, o.k… just drove into town.

It is now about 10:30 am and I decided to try and ride my bike instead of walk and it ended up being fine. My rear tire was wobbling (I would look down as I rode) but I didn’t feel it and believe it or not, I made it back to the hotel by 12:00 noon.

The hotel tells me there is no kind of taxi service in Patterson, I’m loving this town more and more by the minute, but this teenager person hands me the yellow pages and I quickly find services under limousines (she’s a kid). The first guy I contact has a stretch limousine but couldn’t pick me up for a few hours but he gave me another number and I called and they could pick me up at 1:00 pm. So I went over to Denny's for a lunch (I had breakfast) and then waited for my ride.

They pick me up in a cargo van so I can just put my bike in and sit up front with the driver, who ended up being a very nice guy, around 25, who had a difficult childhood but was working hard and planning on buying a home and marrying his sweetheart in the next few years. We talked and debated about life and the power of one’s own will and before I knew it, I was home, which was around 3:00 pm.

So I didn’t do the entire 137 miles, but I did the first day, about 69 miles, and 26 miles the next day, so I did almost 100 miles in two days and I am a little saddle sore, but overall, not worse for the ware. And I experienced an amazingly beautiful part of California and I did something I had never done before and I met 9 very interesting and gentle-hearted individuals.

A very BIG thank you to Tim and Duncan, Shirley, Manish, David, Mike, Kurt, and Brad and Megan.

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