February 4, 2007: Super Bowl Spinday


No longer about the football, Super Bowl Sunday has come to symbolize excess. In the spirit of the day, Romulus and I hit the slopes of the coastal range for a Beyond Category ascent of the massive col d'Alpine Road.

This was our third consecutive Super Bowl Spinday, and we done ourselves proud again. The climb from Pescadero to Skyline Road at the top of the cordillera alone was 31 kilometers (as measured from Pescadero to 291 Alpine Road using Google Maps), which took us a solid two hours.

Pescadero Romulus climbs Alpine
Downtown Pescadero
Romulus climbs Alpine

Yeah! That's two straight hours of climbing! Oh bring it on and on. I was loving it. I could climb for four hours straight. As an added bonus, Romulus hooked me up with some SportLegs tablets and they really helped make the climb a lot less painful.

Active ingredients Vitamin D, Magnesium, and Calcium, help SportLegs eliminate the heavy, locked-up feeling in your legs caused by lactic acid buildup. It doesn't keep your legs from getting tired, just from getting that lactic burn. I don't know whether the Legs just mask the pain associated with the buildup or actually prevent or dissipate the buildup. What I do know is that my legs felt incredible for the whole way up, the whole ride, and the next day too for that matter. My only concern is getting hooked on them.

Once again, we were visited by a striking red-tailed hawk just as we began our ride on the first climb up Stage Road heading south out of San Gregorio. Later, as we toiled up Alpine Road, another red-tailed spirit guide swept in close to give us strength.

I'm not really superstitious, but I took the early hawk sighting as a good sign. Hawks have been very prominent on my rides lately. And I'm not talking about normal sightings -- I see, literally, five hawks a day just walking around the neighborhood -- these have been close, deep, spiritual encounters. Along with the owl and the bobcat, I have long considered the red-tailed hawk as one of my essential spirit guides. Good to have you along for the ride old man.

Actually, today's ride almost didn't happen because I hurt my back on a night ride three days ago. Though it was hard, I forced myself to suspend training the last couple of days, and kept a heating pad pretty much glued to my lower back. It seemed to only be getting worse going into Saturday night. Oh, I was doing the ride no matter what, but as of Saturday night, it was going to a painful, joyless ride with possible long-term negative ramifications.

But as I lay on a yoga mat on the living room floor at 3:30 a.m., my legs propped up on a wedge of foam, a heating pad cooking my L5 through L7, and groggy from self-medicating, I felt the knot of muscles in my lower back release just a bit, then a bit more, and then a lot more. In the morning, I awoke thinking it had all been a dream, but as I swung my legs around to the floor, I discovered it was real, my back felt about 80 percent, up from 10 percent the day before. Red-tailed hawks work in mysterious ways.

Still and all, I knew my back wasn't miraculously healed overnight, so I wanted to avoid putting any stress on it during the ride. How exactly do you do that on a 85-km ride that includes a 30-km climb and it's reverse-image descent? You don't.

The back felt great up until the last 5 km before we topped out at Skyline Road. By that time, the towering climb, the steady pressure from Romulus and the imaginary peloton, and reality had really started to take it's toll. For the rest of the ride, the back progressively deteriorated.

Romulus was feeling good today and was a metronome on the climb. We did a good job of sharing the pacemaking, and for the most part, the hill seemed to vanish beneath our wheels. As if gravity was irked at our disregard for altitude gain, it seemed that the higher we climbed, the closer we got to the top, the quicker we flagged. By the top of the climb, we were both starting to feel the effects.

The View from Alpine Road
The view from the top (almost)

We rallied in the same roadside drainage bunker in which we bivouacked a couple of weeks ago after bravely conquering the Page Mill Road climb from the Bay side of the coastal range. Some snacks, some liquids, some band-aids, a pinch of pollen sprinkled to the four winds, and we were ready for the fast part.

Downhill. For 30 kilometers! Oh yeah. Push the sunglasses up on the bridge of the nose, get settled down in the drops, and apply a shit-eating grin. If climbing is my forte, descending is Romulus'. He immediately pulled away from me on long straightaways and seemed to effortlessly take aggressive lines through the turns. I've been doing better this year, but for the most part, I was just trying to keep him in view.

Ironically, the only time I took the lead on the downhill almost proved disastrous for both of us. We were swirling some tight switchbacks in the lower part of Alpine Road near where it connects to Pescadero Creek Road, and I was feeling frisky. I passed Romulus in a tight corner and held the position for a couple more switchbacks. But Rom wasn't going to take that sitting down, so as we dropped into a really tight corner, I felt him coming around on the inside.

Just as we hit the apex of the turn, we both saw it as the same time: a wide swath of shiny, smooth, slippery asphalt directly in our paths. Before we could do anything, we were in the swath, which felt like it was coated in oil. Both rear wheels slid out to the left and we were suddenly riding sidesaddle to our handlebars. We probably looked like a couple of dirt-track motorcycle racers sliding around the corner.

I wish I had video of us handling that corner; I bet it looked cool. We both slid out, pretty much in parallel lines, both rode out the slide by turning into it and not panicking, and both escaped without a scratch. Did I mention we had just been visited by a red-tailed hawk?

It was weird. I'm a huge weenie on the road bike, especially going downhill. This is the kind of thing that rattles the shit out of me for weeks. Today, it didn't even get my heart rate going. It was almost like it happened too fast. My brain didn't even have time to register how close I came to going Joseba Beloki all over that corner. Romulus, almost always of like mind, told me later that when he saw me sliding out in front of him, he thought of Beloki and vowed he was going to Lance it out of there offroad-style rather than go down on the pavement.

The rest of the downhill was uneventful. About 10 km out of Pescadero, we hit the wall. The terrain had mostly leveled out, the wind was hitting us dead on, and the 30-km climb was taking its toll. It was a death march from there back to San Gregorio. My back was killing me. Romulus was sapped. Time was drawing near to kickoff. Death march.

With one exception. On the last hill before we got to San Gregorio, a female roadie in some Liquigas kit, zipped past. Now, you know my feelings about getting passed on hills, so you know, I couldn't let it go. Forget the stabbing back pain, the 80-km legs, and the empty tank, this was a direct challenge to my hillhood. I jumped on and rode her wheel with relative ease for about a mile to the top of the ridge, where she turned off onto a private paved road. She never acknowledged me, but when I first caught her wheel, I saw her flinch a little, so I know she knew I was there. My sense is that she was annoyed that I was riding her wheel. I can understand that, but I guess my feeling is, if you don't like me there, ride me off. Go for it, I want you to try.

Completely sapped, we piled into the team car and headed back to my house. Romulus was intent on getting home to see the opening kickoff, which he felt would be the determining play of the game. Unfortunately, the ride took a couple of hours longer than we expected, and we didn't get to my house until about 3:00 p.m. I haven't checked in with him yet, but sadly, I think he missed the kickoff return, which may not have been the determining play of the game, but was the most exciting one. Sorry Romulus.

The Route: From San Gregorio General Store, south on Stage Road to Pescadero. East on Pescadero Creek Road. South on Alpine Road to Skyline Road. Reverse back to San Gregorio.


Dist: 85.3 km Time: 4:23:42 Avg:19.4 Max: 64.0 Wgt: 164.0

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