The Rural Rider

Contemplations on cycling

Two Rides

Early on Friday morning as I turned west onto Road 29 I found myself behind a trio of massive farm machines making their way to the next field for whatever task they were designed to perform. Making about 15 MPH, they were going slower than I wanted to go but would take a bit of effort to pass. Also, at 8:30, there was a lot of traffic on the road, mostly on-coming but sometimes passing. So I hung back until I crossed Road 98 and then carefully passed each of the behemoths in turn, making sure someone in a hurry wasn’t about to run me down from behind. Then, chased by the evil blades and clashing gears, I fled westward, speed up to 18, then 19 for a while, heart rate rising to 145 then 150.

I know these things because I can pull up that ride on my Garmin Train Center and follow my progress, remembering the vividness of the morning as the graph across the bottom tells its tale of heart rate, cadence and speed: a check that yes, the feeling my body remembers was real and so I can connect the emotional reality I take with me from the ride with the concrete data and so cement the two together.

Turning south at Road 95, Yolo County Airport to my left, but no P-51 running up its engine this morning, taxing rapidly up and down the tarmac as it has on other mornings, I make the gentle micro-climb, rising as I flee southward through the glowing morning. Ahead, on the horizon over the delta, low clouds are blowing in from the Bay and beyond the Bay the Pacific the great reach of the vast ocean pushing inward with its blessing of cooler moist air. But there is little breeze on this ride. A stop at Road 31 for several large tomato trucks heading eastward a trail of cars behind, then darting across and down my most favorite few miles of road, between two different sets of fields. Earlier in the year wheat had been in the eastern fields and alfalfa to the west. Now there are sunflowers to the west and tomatoes to the east. The tomatoes has been picked perhaps a week earlier, the roadside is littered with rotting fruit that have rolled off the open tandem trucks. The sunflowers are being harvested. Only last week my riding startled a flock of hundreds of blackbirds that were picking seeds from the drooping, blackened heads, erupting like a huge cloud of enormous insects, climbing high over the road and landing in the open field to the east and squawking in protest as I passed, then just as quickly returning to their plundering.

Then I’m briefly on Russell before I catch Stevens Creek Bridge Road and continue southward again. Only a couple of fellow cyclists this morning headed back to Davis before I cross the narrow graffiti-scared concrete bridge, pass Putah Creek Road and its route to Winters, and continue southward to Phillips Road where I turn briefly east to Curry Road at the new vineyard, its winery, unvisited yet, behind and off along the the corn field, the leaves rustling in the delta breeze, a river seems hidden deep inside the field, a rushing torrent plunging downhill. Perhaps that is where the baseball players in “Field of Dreams” go, along side and across that river, as they rise up.

Curry Road gives into Sievers Road where I turn east and join a bit more ag traffic, most empty tandem trucks passing me headed west. I pick up my speed again, working hard, making an interval of the space between the stop sign and the bend before climbing up our local equivalent of a small hill: the Pedrick Road overcrossing of I-80. That crossing can be perilous if a big rig driver decides he wants to pass while I’m crossing. The walkway is a foot or more above the pavement and pushed over against it I’m always acutely aware of what might happen if I catch a pedal against the edge and am thrown back out against a passing truck. Or, worse, beneath its wheels. I’ve only been passed up there a few times but each time it’s a bit scary.

Then north-east along the frontage road that turns right and eastward. I’m feeling so good. Strong. My cadence is running in the high 90s to above 100, my Seven flows across the asphalt chip surface, so much better than the aluminum frame of the Felt. Earlier, after I passed the farm machinery, I plotted the rest of the ride and began even to think of Saturday’s ride. I would do a circum-Davis ride this morning, I knew, but not the full version past the dump but, instead, along Mace and then climbing the railroad overcrossing before turning home on F Street.

Riding north on Mace I still felt strong and my speed stayed above 17 for most of the distance only dropping as I entered Davis proper adapted to the flow of traffic and the gating of the traffic signals.

When I arrived home I was looking forward to the next day’s ride, a long one, as I envisioned it, with a challenge in the middle. Maybe 50 or 60 miles.

So I plotted that ride in the afternoon. One version took me north to Knight’s Landing, riding up 113 past Woodland, then turning westward toward the Dunnigan Hills, then south to Esparto. But I didn’t know the roads and didn’t want to plan a trip and then discover I was traveling on shoulderless or (worse) unpaved roads.

I elected, instead, to ride the Cantelow Hills road, but leaving from Davis instead of Winters as I had the other time I road. This would be a ride for distance, not for speed, so I’d work to rein myself in, shooting to average about 15.5 MPH for the flat part of the ride.

Saturday morning I’m awake at 7:00. I make an omelet have a bowl of fruit, pack my water bottles, stuff a few Clif bars in the back of my jersey, and ride rapidly southward out of town, down Old Davis Road to Tremont, turning west and riding part of the previous day’s ride in the opposite direction. This morning they are harvesting tomatoes along Tremont and there are many trucks speeding in both directions. But they share the road wisely, always giving me plenty of room and getting a wave of thanks from me as they pass. Do they know that’s why I wave? That it’s a thank you and good karma to you? There is no knowing but I hope they do.

Then west along Sievers until I turn south along the orchard then west again, a jog south then west on Allendale that leads me under I-505 and onto a frontage road I follow until Midway Rd where I’m going west again. It’s easy riding. There is no wind. I have to work not to go fast, the memory of clmbing Cantelow making it much easier to keep in control. I note distances, saddle time, think about riding the upcoming Foxys Fall Century in October with 1200 other riders. I’m thoroughly intimidated by the prospect: by sharing the road with so many others, by the need to stay inside myself and ride to my own expectations, the daunting unknown of climbing Cardiac at the 3/4 mark of the ride. Then I’m on Cantelow Road which has narrowed and headed up a small canyon, trees overhanging. I pause and munch an oatmeal raisin walnut Clif bar. A favorite. A red pickup passes me and stops in the same pullout. The dust settles. Then a man gets out and I see there’s a bike in the bed of the truck. I kick myself into action an wave as I pass him. He’s in his 30′s or 40′s, fit, I figure I’ll see him again and I do: twice.

The thing about Cantelow is that the hill gets steeper as you climb. I chain down to my smallest front sprocket — I ride a Campy triple in the front — but I’m using the smaller gears in the back — the climbing feels good, there’s shade, the road is good. I pass a few cyclists who are either descending toward me or who are stopped in the shade drinking and girding themselves for the final climb to the summit.

The road seems shorter than it did the last time. Maybe I know what to expect. Maybe my thoughts are drifting? However it is I feel amazingly connected with the land as it flows by. This is my favorite season in California. The hills are golden. The oaks are deep green, bark almost black, shadows beneath them revealing the terrain undulations, the micro-undulations of the hillsides. A few places I stand and climb faster than I normally do, enjoying how my legs feel as I do, the effort and the sweat flowing from my face. I pull a bandana from my back pocket and briefly wipe the salty sweat from my eyes. And then there’s that last half mile that leads to the top and its work. With the hairpin in sight I get a warning call and the man who had unloaded his bike slowly passes me on his Canondale. I’m thrilled that he’s not passing me like I’m standing still, that he’s having to visibly work and is geared all the way down. I take pleasure in watching the muscles of his legs as he passes and am envious of how slender they are, of the definition that I will never have. He is maybe 10 yards ahead as I reach the hairpin and the last phase of the climb. I’m sweating hard and breathing hard. Not out of breath but on the verge. Heart rate is at 160 or so. Then I turn west and I’m at the summit. Just beyond there’s a shady place and I pull over and drain my 2nd water bottle, watching two women come from the west, the harder climb because it’s shorter. We greet, they pass, then I descend, modulating brakes to control my speed that peaks at 30 during the last straight-line portion where I meet the rider from the truck again, he has turned around and is climbing back toward the summit again. We greet each other in brief passing. How many times will he make that round trip, I wonder?

And then it’s Pleasants Valley Road and a beautiful downhill ride through a small valley, the Vaca Range rising to the west, up to better than 2,000 feet, the Cantelow Hills to the right rising up 1,000 feet or so and between them horses, a stream, and the highway I’m riding. There’s no riding 15 here. I find my legs feel fresh again and somehow 17 and 18 feel like the right speed. I pass a couple without thinking about it, a word to tell them I’m behind and passing, checking traffic: no cars, no motorcycles, then past them and they are gone in the distance. The joy!

Then I’m at Lake Solano and I discover that the hill is much easier when approached from the south than from Putah Creek Road. Or maybe I’m comparing it Cantelow? I don’t chain down to the granny but instead climb the hill standing, keeping my speed at 10 MPH or so, then easing off near the top of the hill and being grumpy afterwards for doing that and not riding it hard for the entire climb — next time!

Then it’s Hwy 128 back to Winters and after a stop at Steady Eddy’s to rest my legs, it’s the last bit of ride home.

Two rides, 86 miles. And then a week with little riding at all as travel takes me east without a bike and baseball takes out my Sunday.

So I’ll be rested for next weekend. We’ll see what sort of ride I can plot then!

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