The sound my blood made, 42 times a minute, was a dull thud, thud, thud. I could hear it with my ear pressed against a pillow, as I lay in the dark waiting for my alarm to go off. The beat of my heart increased as I rose from my bed, a little stiff in bones, joints and elsewhere, to take a leak. Then I went through the familiar, decades-old motions, pulling on my bike clothes, and walked in my socks to the kitchen for a breakfast fit for a 100 mile ride.
My brother, Dan, met me in the kitchen. We were in a friend's home, in my college town, Chico, in northern California. We were about to join a few thousand other cyclists who would ride the Wildflower Century.
On this beautiful Wildflower morning, I reflected over the last year. A year ago in mid-March, a tiny clot of blood formed inside a little metal tube – a stent – that held open one of my coronary arteries. The resulting heart attack almost did me in. I might need a pacemaker, one doctor explained as I lay in my hospital bed the next morning. My ex-cardiologist said I'd never ride hills as hard and and fast up as I had before my heart attack. He was wrong, and that's why he's my ex-cardiologist.
I thought about my easy recovery – I climbed back on my bike several days after my heart attack – and my many subsequent rides up the steepest hills around my home in Los Angeles, including the one that I cycled up a few minutes before my heart attack. I knew I was in good shape. I knew, too, that I'm a year older, and presumably a year slower, and I wondered what it would be like and what it would mean this year to ride a 100 miles on my own. And I thought back all those years to my days in college, and of the events there that had such an influence on my life now. This would be a special ride. Note: That's my brother, below.
For my age, 64, I think I look relatively good. My brother, pictured above, who is a few years younger than me, positively looks and rides like he should be in this year's Tour de France. Dan is living proof of the benefits of good living, which includes healthy eating and plenty of exercise.
We met a friend, Richard, who'd traveled from the city of Santa Cruz, on the coast, to join us this morning, and we rolled out of the start of the ride, at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds, a little before 7 a.m. While I may not have been in Kansas, I certainly wasn't in Los Angeles.We rolled through older neighborhoods, where the tree-lined streets are also lined with lovely craftsman-style homes. Chico, in the northern half of the Great Central Valley of California, sits at the base of the place where the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains join together. The town is a pleasant place to live and sometimes I'm sorry I left, although I did linger for a couple of years after I graduated from college.
The first challenge is the ascent of Humboldt Road, rising several hundred feet along a very rough road. We caught up with one of the many tandems on the ride that day, and spent a few minutes in conversation – "Where are you from?" "What a beautiful day! – before we rolled up to the top of the climb.
For me it's usually one or the other, cycling or photography. We weren't in a hurry this day, though. As Richard was a little behind us, I had time to get off my bike to photograph some riders as they pedaled past some colorful lupines and reached the top of Humboldt Road.
An unsung hero of the day sat at the top of the hill, one of the many volunteer monitors for the sponsoring Chico Velo bike club (motto: "Eat, Breath, Drink, Pedal.")
There was a 40+ mph descent from the top of the road back down Highway 32, which plunged for a few miles straight back onto the flat floor valley floor. Far across the plain, on the west side of the valley, there was a hazy view of the snow-capped Central Coast Mountains.
The way now led under a fantastic chainring arch – a memorial to favorite Chico cyclist – toward Butte Creek Canyon, and the first serious climb of the day.
More to come.