Many times the night before I've promised myself I'd ride the long way to work in the morning, and when morning comes I either reset the clock for 30 minutes more of sleep, or I linger way too long over the Sudoku puzzle, and I blow my chance to get to work on schedule and also get the extra miles in. When I don't cave into the excuses or the delaying behavior, I always enjoy the trip and always feel pretty good all day. Today was one of those days where I felt good all day long because of taking 'the long way'. Today was the first time this year I took the long way as well. I keep a record of when I've done that ride, and how long it takes me to get from my home, at about 65' above sea level, to the entrance to the Redwood Railway, which is just down hill from the highest point (~1600') on the route. I record the times from home to the Redwood Railway lot (about 9 miles), but I never race the route. My self imposed rule is that I have to ride a pace that I could maintain for more than twice as long as I'm riding that day. It would be a pace for which I could still carry on a conversation if I were to be riding with someone. And yet, it needs to be a purposeful pace. No dawdling, therefore.
Today I left the house in the dark, with clear skies above, and no wind. I caught all the traffic lights on red that I pass, but I only had to wait through a short red phase and never had to unclip. Above Marin Circle, on Los Angeles Ave. I always begin to slow down, it's just one of those inclines that always gets the better of me. Way back behind me I could see the headlight of another bike, but I managed to make the turn on to Spruce and climb all the way to the big loop around Michigan Park before the rider that was really two riders caught me. We exchanged hellos as they passed, and the rider with the lights seemed to lose his form just a little to match his riding partner, the latter rider being much smoother. On the longer straight sections of Grizzly Peak I could still see their tail lights for a while, and my guess was that by the time they reached the top of the climb I was almost a mile behind.
In 2009, my first half dozen trips on the long way would take me around 54 to 56 minutes to get to the Steam Trains lot. By early spring I was pretty regularly taking just under 53 minutes, with only one time over 55 minutes. At the end of April I nearly broke 50 minutes and finally in early May I clocked in at 49:59. I had a slow start to the year in 2009 all around, not just on the 'long way' climb, and my times on this route pretty much matched how I felt I improved on my riding overall. In short the climb on the 'long way' was a pretty good barometer of my riding fitness. Except for one trip with a flat tire both before and after reaching the Steam Trains lot, my times were no higher than 51:37 through June, with the lowest time being 48:19.
I took a bit of a break in July, and picked up in August right where I left off. I can see the slow down in times in September right after my crash and the separate, unrelated trip to the ER. Even with the return to standard time in November, the sun just didn't rise early enough to give me daylight on the last part of the route and I sort of struggled to get my butt on the bike and ride uphill in the dark.
Today, though, I refused to cave into excuses to take the flat route to work. By the time I reached the more serpentine portion of the route where the roadway circumnavigates the many peaks on the ridge, those two riders were probably racing downhill well ahead of me. Once clear of the residential section of Grizzly Peak Blvd. I could see out over the flat lands. In the time it took me to climb up to the ridge, the fog had begun to come in and cover a large portion of Berkeley. I love this when that happens because I can do the climb and get up above the fog which then forms a white blanket that only lets the tallest peaks pop up to be seen. It's still not yet after sunrise, but there is enough light to see my cycle computer and as I cross past the turn into the Steam Train lot the clock turns to 51:00 flat. In the increasing daylight I started downhill. A lot of the visual drama had yet to happen and I had to miss that. Grizzly Peak Blvd. intersects with Fish Ranch Road and Claremont, with Claremont being the route down to work. Claremont has a couple of tight turns up nearer to the top of the hill, and then straightens out a lot for most of it's run down hill. I can easily reach 40mph here and I know there are a number of rough spots, divots in the pavement and uneven patching so I try to focus on the roadway and also spot any cars pulling out. Down at the bottom after a snarl of intersections I pass by the Semifreddis outlet at The Uplands and I check and see that Owen is working there so I stop and say hello. I hadn't seen him for a few months since the Emeryville cafe had to close. Owen is as friendly as ever, and because it's always good to be around friendly people, I make a mental note to take this route a lot more often and to stop in again.
Morning traffic is picking up but the rest of the trip is just fine. Riding predictably, motorists let me blend in with them and we all get where we are going with little hassle or delay. By the time I turn on to 45th, the fog has gotten lower but it isn't at all like the weather on the 'long route' ride the last week of last year three weeks ago. That was pea soup.
It's a good feeling to know that I am not as far into a hole to start the new cycling year as I was last year. I'm five and a half minutes better off. I'm no lighter than last year, but at least I have my riding legs already, and it feels good to know that I could have pushed a wee bit more today and gone faster and yet still stay within the 'no racing' guideline for this test. Cool beans, eh?