February 19, 2005: Frog and Toad's wild ride
Today's ride was a non-stop white-knuckle roller-coaster thrillride. To whit:
Romulus has scoped out several East Bay rides and was very excited to do one of the road routes this President's Day weekend. Unfortunately, Mother Nature was not amused. The forecast for the weekend was rain, more rain, and even more rain. We had tentatively planned the ride for Saturday morning, supposedly our best opportunity to beat the weather. Last night, I watched the Weather Channel as I prepped the Blade for duty. I figured it was just a precaution -- there was no way we'd ride today, at least not on road bikes.
My alarm went off at 7:30 and I immediately listened for the pitter-patter of rain. And there it was. I looked out the window, everything was wet and it was sprinkling. I called Romulus and got his read on the sitch'. He reported dry conditions in the City and across the Bay, so we decided to stick with the plan and go ahead with the ride.
The adventure was just beginning. I loaded everything into the Bronco and started it up. Ahem, and started it up. Nuh-uh. Nothin'. Wah wah wah, waaaah. Even I could recognize the tell-tale signs of electrical distress. The starter motor was moaning like a Democrat on election day (ANY election day) and I barely got the rear window closed before it started to pour. It seemed like a dead battery, but must actually be a bad alternator because the wipers worked and the headlights worked, but there was absolutely no crank when I turned the key.
Back to the phone. (Paraphrased)
"Romulus, dude, my car won't start. What do you want to do?"
"Let's ride. I'll come get you."
"Let's do it."
"I'm leaving right now."
So Romulus came and got me and we rolled back to his house to prepare ourselves for what looked like a pretty tough day of riding. It was sprinkling as we left his house. The streets glistened menacingly, challenging us to our best.
I can tell you right now that until today I had never ridden a road bike on completely wet pavement, let alone in the rain. I was pretty anxious. I had recurring visions of Jan Ulrich sliding across the wet pavement into the barricade during that 2003 late-stage time trial. Add to that the fact that the first 15 miles of our journey today was hard-core urban assault riding in San Francisco and West Oakland. Messenger style: taking the inside line between the curb and a large bus; crossing multiple sets of train tracks at less than 90-degree angles in heavy traffic; running red lights; riding sidewalks; dodging pedestrians, cars, and Munis. All on skinnies in the rain. I shudder just thinking about it.
From Rom's house, we worked our way east to Third Street, then north to Pac Bell Park, where we paused for safety considerations. Coming out of the break, conditions continued to be challenging. We headed up the Embarcadero past the Ferry Building. It was right about here that I got major wake-up call #1 on the day. Romulus and I had been hugging the curb on Embarcadero and running the reds ('cause, you know, they don't apply to the bike lane, right?). Rom was ahead of me and had just passed through the intersection as I entered it. The light was red to us, so I caught traffic turning left onto Embarcadero out of the corner of my eye as I had done for the last five similar intersections. But this time, just as I was about to kick up a gear and really start hammering, I noticed that a white Toyota truck was not turning, it was continuing straight through the intersection and directly into my path. The driver saw our dilemma as well and came to a complete stop directly in front of me. Instantly, I locked both brakes, skidded about 20 feet, and came to a stop with my front wheel about one foot from the truck. Holy fucking crap! On the plus side, I executed a perfect skid; no fishtailing and no wipeout. I did a three-second track stand right there a foot off the guy's bumper as we looked at each and pondered what might have been, and then headed off (still on a red light to me) to catch up with Romulus. Never even clicked out of the pedals.
More challenges as we negotiated the white mosaic tile sidewalks of the Embarcaderos and the downtown trolley tracks. From there, we hopped on BART across the Bay to the West Oakland stop.
In Oakland, it was more wheel-to-wheel combat through the mean streets of the waterfront, past Jack London Square, the Coliseum, and the airport. Near Alameda, we almost met our Waterloo when we came across a green steel drawbridge spanning the Lake Merritt Channel. As most drawbridges are (such as the Lefty O'Doul bridge in SF), its roadway is a metal grating through which you can see the water below. Unfortunately, these grated surfaces are hell for motorcycles and bicycles. Something about the grating makes two-wheeled vehicles fishtail like there's no tomorrow.
So, we're on this grated bridge before we know what's happening. Romulus was again in the lead, giving my brain time to process the grating and his bike's response to it. Within 10 feet, his rear wheel was dangerously sliding and wriggling back and forth like John Kerry explaining his war voting. Cars are whizzing by us and we're both holding on for dear life. Adding to our challenge, the bridge is bowed, so once we crested the top, we had to hold on for dear life on the way down. With the way the rear wheels were sliding around, the wetness of the grating, and the speed and volume of the vehicular traffic next to us, there was no way we could even think of touching the brakes. As we picked up speed, so too did the fishtailing increase. By the time we touched solid ground once more my nerves were completely frazzled. That was the about the longest 200 yards I've ridden in a long, long time, and it took all our mountain biking skills and technique to stay upright.
Amidst the industrial detritus of lower Oakland and San Leandro, I lost track of our route. For the most part, I was just following Romulus and trying to stay out of trouble. The rain started to pick up as we crossed Hesperian on Davis heading up towards Lake Chabot. This climb was tough, but refreshing because we didn't really have to worry about the slick pavement; instead, we could just put our heads down and crank.
More rain as we crested the ridge and cruised down past the entrance to Anthony Chabot Regional Park. By the time we had summitted Seven Hills Road over to Redwood Road we were completely soaked. As we headed north on Redwood Road, I could feel the water squishing around in my shoes between my toes. We each had installed a rear fender for the ride, and that really helped, but even so, a thin stream of water was coming off Rom's rear wheel and hitting me right in the face whenever I attempted to tuck up behind him.
Redwood is a great road, even in the rain. It's got tight, banked, downhill sections as well as challenging mountain uphills. After a particularly challenging and heart-pounding descent, we turned northwest on Pinehurst and then northwest again on St. Mary's.
By the time we got to Moraga, my nerves were totally shot. Wet, slippery, downhill asphalt with cars whizzing by and rainwater dripping into our eyes; cold feet and hands, skinny tires, and fear, no, for me, terror at every corner, every intersection. No wind, but so very wet.
We had originally intended to climb Wildcat Canyon and pick up the BART again in Berkeley, but bombing down Broadway in Moraga in a steady rain convinced us to abandon at Orinda and call it a day. We had done only about 42 miles at this point, but unlike most dry rides on the coastside, every mile of this ride was an exhausting victory of life or death. As such, I was completely spent as we pulled up to the BART station.
So we're at the BART station in Orinda and there are three ticket machines working. At each is a cluster of at least six people, all in the same party. Romulus and I end up standing there for about 15 minutes, dripping wet, holding our bikes, waiting for these freakin' yahoos to get their shit together and buy their tickets. Finally, finally, one group finishes. Rom gets his ticket and heads up the three flights of stairs to await the train. Just as I'm getting my ticket, I hear somebody yell, "the train is here, hurry!" I wasn't sure whether it was our train or not, but I wasn't taking any chances, so I quick-step it up the three flights of stairs as fast as I can go in my clumsy road shoes and come out on the train platform in time to see Romulus waiving at me to hurry up from inside the closest car. I lunge for the opening just as the doors close, pinning me and the Blade half in and half out of the car. I try to pry the doors open, but can't. Romulus leaps into the fray and it takes both of us to get them open. Whew! Rom said if I had flailed around in the doors for another couple of seconds they would have had to completely stop and reset the train. I'm sure that would have made my fellow commuters quite pleased with me.
Sweet, beautiful warmth and dryness was the BART car. Sure we were still soaked, but the train ride gave us a chance to regroup against the cold that had started to really permeate our layers during that descent of Broadway.
We got off the train in Glen Park to find about 30 people standing under the fringes of the station waiting for the rain to abate. It was raining even harder here than it had been across the Bay. My heart sank. It ended up being only about a mile or so to Rom's house, but I was broken. I was cold. I was ready to get off the bike. All I could think about was getting home safely, having ridden this long and this far in these conditions without a stack. Visions of Ulrich returned.
We made it. This ride seemed to have everything except a major wipeout, for which I am extremely thankful. During the ride, and immediately after, I felt I had broken myself of the fear of road riding in the rain, but like an Absinthe buzz, my anxiety about such rides has actually increased in the hours since I got home. I'm thinking that I dodged a huge bullet today, but there were so many opportunities for injury out there that sooner or later my number is going to come up.
I look forward to doing this ride again in May or September. Props to Romulus for getting my ass out of bed, transporting to and from, and leading one hell of a ride.
|Mileage: 44.70||Time: 3:26:05||Avg: 12.9||Max: 32.5||Weight: 172|
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