Sunday, January 16, 2005

The way I remembered it, this hill kicked my butt last time. That was nine months (and eight percent body fat) ago. I had decided to bike the scenic route home from work - through Mountain View, to Foothill Expressway, to Alameda de las Pulgas, through San Carlos. The hill in the middle was a surprise, and it felt like it stretched on for miles. It took me two hours to get home that night, even though it's maybe fifteen miles, and it completely wore me out.

Today, after hooking up my new odometer (thanks, Andrew) and replacing yet another flat (thanks, bike shop dude), I figured it was time to take on some hills and put the new gadget to some use. We decided to take that route to Palo Alto, on the theory that at least Palo Alto has good food and a bookstore.

Going up San Carlos Ave., the route starts out flat and gradually builds up to a hill. We kept up a 15 mph clip up until turning on to Alameda, where the hill asserted its presence. I downshifted until I was comfortable spinning and slowly made progress upwards. We crested the top of a hill at the mile 3 point, and I was feeling pretty good - hadn't even broken a sweat, and the new gadget said we had kept up a 7mph pace up the hill. By mile 3.5, there was another leg of the hill, and my legs were starting to feel it. Fortunately, I was distracted by the view of the smog rolling in over the bay, and made it to the top at mile 4. If the faded "Welcome to Atherton" sign is right, that's a 500 foot climb. The rest of the way was mostly downhill; we hit 30mph in a few places, and just coasted in others. We covered the total of ten miles in a little over fifty minutes - about 12 mph. (Lucas has a record of hill grades for other rides in the area.)

After a stop at the Cheesecake Factory (where we ate dinner plus a whole piece of cheesecake) and the bookstore (where we sat and read poker books for a few hours), we headed home via Middlefield. It was dark already, and a little chilly. Sadly, I've now lived in California long enough that "chilly" was probably hovering around 50F. My headlight really needs new batteries, so I was navigating partly on instinct through the darkness of Menlo Park. The fading light was just enough to catch the reflection of the stripe on the road (where it existed) or the litter off the side of the road (elsewhere), but not enough to pick out the dead squirrels in the road. I set a pace at a sprint as we left Palo Alto, and started counting in my head to keep myself on pace. (The new gadget had lost its connection to the sensors when I parked the bike roughly, so I didn't get good readings from it on the way home.) The cold air was invigorating, and I quickly found a comfortable cadence, listening to the hum of my new tire on the pavement, breathing evenly in and out, in and out.

We made excellent time, through cooperative streetlights, until the boundary of Redwood City. Redwood City is designed to be an exercise in memory for bicyclists. The only way to go through Redwood City directly is El Camino, which has stoplights every hundred feet, lots of traffic, and no bike lane. So we stayed on Middlefield, which has stoplights every hundred feet, not much traffic, and no bike lane. Middlefield goes through the barrio of Redwood City, so in contrast to the empty road through gated communities we had just left, there was now snatches of Latin music coming from bars with their doors open, the smell of lard-and-tortilla concoctions wafting from restaurants, and little punk kids yelling at us. Then, Middlefield turns in to the center of Redwood City, whose map looks like the city founders turned a perfectly good grid of streets to a 45 degree angle, added some dead ends and traffic calming measures, and made some streets that turn back on themselves. But, the secret to escaping Redwood City is this: from Middlefield, turn right on Main, turn left on Brentwood(?), then ignore that this street dead-ends into city hall, go through the county court's courtyard and pick up Brentwood at the other side, then slight right onto Allerton, which eventually lets out at Whipple.

By the time we got home, another forty minutes had elapsed (most spent in Redwood City waiting at stoplights). This is about seven miles, so we averaged about 10 mph. I think this makes sense now, because our speed on the hills was better than I'd predicted, and the stoplights on the flat route really cut down on the average speed. We got back home and I was already hungry again.

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