Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bikepacking to Big Basin: Part II

In Part I Stephanie and I enjoyed a leisurely and scenic ride from San Mateo on our way to camp at Big Basin. On Gazos Creek Road, a few miles short of our destination, a catastrophic rear hub failure brought us to a halt.

I was profoundly bummed. We were 55 miles from home, up a deserted dirt road. Darkness was approaching, and there were plenty of mosquitoes. We had two options: limp back towards the coast or push the bike the last few steep miles to camp, maybe stopping earlier to pitch the tent illicitly if we saw a good spot. Although this would put us further from help, being a stubborn bastard I felt it was the best course of action.

This is when I realized some of the drawbacks of a tandem: with two solo bikes one person can ride to fetch help or spare parts. If someone comes to bail you out, a solo bike can fit in most passenger cars, while a tandem requires a large vehicle or a special rack. And spare parts? Any shop anywhere would have been able to sell us a 700c rear wheel to get moving again, but good luck finding a tandem wheel, much less at a reasonable price.

Postscript on the hub failure: At the time I thought we had stripped the freewheel threads on the hub, and I cursed Phil Wood's name. I discovered later that the failure was even more spectacular: the hub core had separated from the flanges. I contacted Phil Wood about it, and they said "oh yeah, we see a few of those older hubs do that each year", but made no offer to repair or replace it.

So there we were, pushing the tandem up the dirt road, when a large flatbed pickup pulled up. The back was filled with water tanks, gas containers and power tools, while the cab was carrying a rancher and several day laborers. The rancher, Erik, was driving down from building fence on a piece of property on the ridge near Big Basin, heading back to his ranch near San Gregorio. After a little discussion we accepted his offer of a ride. We squeezed into the cab, as Erik shoved aside handfuls of this and that, including the little rubber bands used to castrate lambs.

Erik joked, told stories and teased us with boundless energy, in spite of the fact that he had been building fence since six in the morning. It turned out he and his wife run a grass-fed livestock operation, something of a nexus between traditional ranching and new-age permaculture. The truck we were riding in was a biodiesel conversion they had done themselves, but it also carried the obligatory deer rifle.

Erik suggested we camp at a private beach near San Gregorio that he owned a share in, and was even kind enough to offer his barn for storing the tandem. While riding in the truck we heard a cow bellowing, which turned out to be his ringtone: we were making him late for dinner. When we arrived at the ranch, we discovered that the barn contained Erik's motorized hang glider, and he was talking on the radio with someone in a helicopter that we could see flying overhead. Erik is a study in leading an unusual and ambitious life.

We had a nice evening on the beach, and ended up pitching our tent just below the condemned mansion of singer Chris Isaak. Who knew? The next morning Stephanie's brother and his wife drove out to rescue us, which turned out to be a fortuitous excuse for us all to have brunch in Half Moon Bay.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Bikepacking to Big Basin: Part I

Stephanie and Krishna ride their tandem from San Mateo to Big Basin, whereupon disaster strikes.

Sheila Moon fields a strong presence at races, but we also pursue the many non-competitive facets of cycling, from tweed rides to mountain bike tours. The following story was my first and so far only foray into bikepacking. It took place a year and a half ago, but I'm only now getting around to posting it up. Hopefully I'll do another trip soon.

I had always been dismissive of the idea of loaded touring/bikepacking, since I figured it would entail lots of riding on unpleasant, dangerous roads. However, I recently discovered that we could reach Big Basin Redwoods State Park from our house by following scenic back roads that I would actually want to ride on. Thus the plan was hatched.

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Our tandem is a fillet-brazed Jack Taylor from around 1969, which has been in the family since it was new. It was built as a touring tandem, with beautiful front and rear racks painted to match the frame. In preparation for the trip I stripped all the parts, cleaning and lubricating everything. The only exception was the bottom brackets, as the old TA cranks require a different puller than standard cranks. After I was done I double-checked the torque on every bolt, and we took the bike for a 12-mile shake-down ride the Thursday before our trip. We only had one real pannier, so we also used Stephanie's rack-compatible Basil handbag.

As the trip approached, I was beset by doubt. My wife hadn't done any serious riding for several months, and a 60 mile day with more than 4,000 feet of climbing was sounding rather ambitious. The tandem's frame flexes too much for standing to be practical on climbs, and I was worried our gearing wouldn't be low enough to haul a full load of camping gear up the longer grades. Then there was the final section on steep dirt roads, which I had never seen before.

We left San Mateo around 10 on Saturday, making a leisurely ascent of Crystal Springs and Polhemus, then taking the bike path to CaƱada Road. We stopped for a snack at Woodside, watching the usual mix of kitted-up roadies, motorcyclists, and stuffy-looking shoppers. From There it was Mountain Home, to Sand Hill and the base of Old La Honda. This was my wife's first time up this climb. I had to work a bit on the steeper parts, but managed to keep my heart rate below 170. We arrived at the top feeling strong, having climbed it in 37 minutes, which we were quite happy with.

Descending Old La Honda on the other side was spectacular as always, and we were soon flying down 84 towards the coast, with a top speed of almost 40 mph. The bike handled fine, though the frame flexed a lot under hard cornering. I was feeling parched and hungry by the time we reached San Gregorio, where I quickly demolished a chocolate milk, a fruit smoothie, a muffin, a hard boiled egg, some chips and a few other things I ate too fast to remember what they were. After a pleasant rest we headed south on scenic Stage Road.

In Pescadero we bought more snacks and a fresh bell pepper for dinner. At the end of Cloverdale we turned right to detour to the beach. It was stunning: bright sun, blue water, dozens of kite surfers. After a quick nap in the sand we turned and headed back up Gazos Creek, for the final climb of the day. We were both feeling great: strong and well rested, with plenty of fuel in the tank. The grade was gradual as we wound through redwoods next to the creek. Then the pavement ended and the dirt road climbed abruptly.

I could tell this would be a moment of truth. Would our smooth 32 mm tires have enough traction on the steep, loose dirt? I felt the bike surge forward as Stephanie began digging in. No problem. Our speed was holding. We weren't losing traction. This steep section was almost over. And then my heart sank as the cranks suddenly spun forward without moving the bike. I hoped desperately that the rear tire had slipped on the dirt, but we tried pedaling again, and this time it was unmistakable: the cogs in the back were turning, but the wheel was not.

To be continued.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Moonies in the news

Our fearless leader Murphy was in Bicycle Retailer and Industry News (see lower left), leading Gold Sprints at Sea Otter.

And Caitlin was featured with her sister in the Women Who Bike web series.

Finally, Arena, Murphy and Jason snuck into a Bike Magazine photo on the Soil Saloon series.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Lake Sonoma #1

photo by Nick Gaetano

After a cold and miserable Boggs V, I got sick. And stayed sick. I was sick for the Napa Valley Dirt Classic. I was sick for Sea Otter. Three weeks later I was finally well enough to get back on the bike, and I've been slowly rebuilding my fitness.

Having missed every XC race of the season thus far, I was quite excited about the fun singletrack of a Lake Sonoma race. And it looked to be a real race, with some intimidating competition. There were 6 of us in the Pro category, including Jason Moeschler, Brian Astell, Glenn Fant and Shane Bresnyan. We started up the paved climb at a relatively controlled pace, and an amusing dynamic emerged. No one seemed to really want the hole shot, but no one wanted to be last either. I apparently wanted point position less than anyone, so I entered the singletrack dead last. Probably not the best plan. I was surprised to see Shane (winner of the first Grasshopper this year) right in front of me, and passed him halfway through the first lap. A little while later only Brian and Jason were ahead of me, but they continued to extend their sizable lead for the rest of the race. And that's how it ended up: Brian won with Jason second, and I came in a distant third, with Glenn chasing close enough to make me nervous. Congratulations to Brian on the win!

The Lake Sonoma course was fun as always, with the trailwork put in by Carlos & volunteers making a big difference. I chatted a little with Brian, Shane and Glenn, and have to say I feel lucky to race against these guys. Of course we try to rip each others' legs off while racing, but everyone I rode with was friendly and courteous on the trail.

To end this post on an even sappier note, my 9-month-old son has reached an age where he's overjoyed to see me at the end of a race, which makes me feel like a superstar no matter how I'm riding.