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Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

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Old 05-02-12, 01:37 PM   #1
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Meditations on A Century at 64



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.
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Old 05-02-12, 02:48 PM   #2
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Ten more meditaions:



Five miles up the canyon, its walls layered on each side by ancient lava flows, we reached the Honey Run Road Covered Bridge. A few times long ago - not quite as long as those lava flows – on quiet evenings when the only sound was the water running in Butte Creek, I kissed a few young women underneath the rafters of that bridge.



Beyond the bridge, the road sign seemed so apropos: Paradise above, with a more centered existence for those below. We chose Paradise, the little town hidden in the pines, five miles away and a thousand+ feet above us.



The road was twisting, narrow and in places steep. Since we were almost always in the shade, the climb was cool. Here, though, we saw cyclists resting on the side of the road, or walking their bikes. Last year, six weeks out from my heart attack, I suffered some on the climb to Paradise. Should gaining the heavens be any other way? This year, with many more miles under my wheels, I wouldn't say the climb was a breeze; it was, though, far easier, and we found ourselves mostly passing other riders as we pedaled steadily to the top of the volcanic ridge.



Near the top of the climb, I had to stop to make a few photographs of an old mountain man who played, he told us, an Appalachian dulcimer. He made beautiful music as we reached Paradise. Last year, after reaching the first rest stop, I'd essentially collapsed after my hard ride, only 25 miles into the century; it took me a good 20 minutes to recover. This year, I didn't need any recovery time.



A series of screaming, 40+ mph descents and another 25 miles brought us to the outskirts of the old Gold Rush town, Oroville, and another rest stop, where I made a self-portrait in Richard's sunglasses.



We passed some riders and an arm of the mighty Oroville Lake, part of the complex series of dams and canals that both stop flooding and bring water from the usually wet north to the nominally parched southern half of the state.



The route now turned seriously steep, taking us up to the top of a vast plateau, Table Mountain. The sun cooked the south-facing road and cyclists alike. My brother had pedaled on ahead of Richard and me. When I chased him down, I found he'd made some new friends, three women from the Bodealicious Babes bike club. What were they doing talking to that old guy?



This was the crux of the entire ride. Surmount Table Mountain and finishing the rest of the ride, while not exactly a piece of cake, was a lock.



Last year - and all the previous eight times I'd made the climb up Table Mountain – had been a struggle, a hard effort to keep some tempo going. This year, nearing 60 miles into the ride, it was as if I was riding a few miles north of my home in the Santa Monica Mountains. All those extra miles of preparation this year were paying off.



I wasn't the only one to feel the relief at gaining the heights.

While this would be a good place to stop, I'll add some photos to finish - thanks for riding this far with me.
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Old 05-02-12, 03:01 PM   #3
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I just got done with an MS 150 two weekends ago. I trained really hard for the century ride but we were cheated out of it by a severe thunderstorm that never happened. We ended up doing the 50 mile rides each day. Congratulations on your century. For me, it will happen soon or at next years MS 150.
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Old 05-02-12, 03:03 PM   #4
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You talk like 64 is old or something. You've got plenty of those left in you, I'm sure.
That looked like a fun ride with some good people!
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Old 05-02-12, 03:14 PM   #5
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Cool!

I'm glad you were able to fire the cardiologist.

Pessimists are such a drag...
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Old 05-02-12, 03:22 PM   #6
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Looking good -- and those babes were totally bodalicious!
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Old 05-02-12, 03:25 PM   #7
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I see so many crap photos on BF. What a breath (or eyeful) of freshness. Thanks. You actually worked pretty hard during a ride to make good photos. I find that really hard to do. Heck, you even got off the bike (which is a little weird, but the results good, do i guess it's ok, this time.)

I've done Wildflower, and you've captured it delightfully.
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Old 05-02-12, 03:34 PM   #8
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Hope your former Doc sees some of these pictures. I'm happy you didn't let someone tell you "you can't". You proved "you can!!"



sweet!!
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Old 05-02-12, 03:41 PM   #9
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Old 05-02-12, 03:46 PM   #10
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Inspirational. Thanks for the post. I was recently put in the Hospital for Acute DVT, and wasn't able to ride for a month. I have two rides under my belt since this all began and I'm still a little apprehensive. Reading your story really helped. Great pictures BTW.
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Old 05-02-12, 04:02 PM   #11
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Well done icyclist, both the ride and the post.
Thanks.
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Old 05-02-12, 04:10 PM   #12
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Another A+ for you!
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Old 05-02-12, 04:21 PM   #13
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And a few more....



"Before the gates of excellence the high gods have placed sweat; long is the road thereto and rough and steep at first; but when the heights are reached, then there is ease, then there is ease, though grievously hard in the winning." - Hesiod



There were beautiful views out over the plateau in all directions.



The road led past a series of ranches, where we spent a few moment chatting with a young cowboy. After a couple of hills and some rollers came my favorite part of the ride. It was a fast, twisting descent. I'm not the greatest descender. I was lucky, though, to follow two terrific cyclists who passed me just as the road dipped down. I had the ride of my life as I stuck with them, through the pines and oaks and past Cherokee, an old Gold Rush ghost town, to reach the lunch stop.



The Chico Velo bike club prides itself on it's rest stop food, particularly the lunch, where there's a choice of veggie, roast beef, two kinds of turkey and cheese, and pate sandwiches, as well as fresh strawberries and assorted fruits, chips, giant cookies, fresh-brewed coffee, recovery drinks, any lots more.



There were forty more miles to complete after lunch. A mile or so dropped quickly downhill, and most of the rest of the distance was nearly flat. We lucked out this year, as the winds that typically blow up by early afternoon were absent. We followed and passed riders, some struggling, some barely breaking a sweat, into the little town of Durham and a final rest stop.



You might think 40 miles without a significant hill would make for an easy ride. You'd be wrong. Forty miles without a hill puts a lot of pressure on your ass and on your hands and arms. So much so that a lot of cyclists bail out near the final rest stop, to cut 20 miles off the ride with shortcut back to the fairgrounds. Dan and I though, were out for the full 100 miles, and after saying goodbye to Richard, the two of us pushed on.



We paused for a few moments to discover the cows were probable more curious about us than we were of them.



A century ride is an epic that's about, but not necessarily exactly 100 miles in length. The Wildflower Century ends at 96+ miles, which led Dan and me to take a detour for some extra distance into the insanely beautiful Bidwell Park. As my brother put it, "This looks like something out of Tom Sawyer."



Bidwell Park, one of the largest municipal parks in the U.S., runs for miles and miles along Bidwell Creek, flat on the valley floor, then turning upward to encompass a chunk of geography in the mountains to the east. At the lower end of the park, the creek turns into a massive swimming pool; it's a fantastic gathering spot for the lucky people who live in Chico.

After rejoining the official route, we still ended up .4 miles short of the full century as we entered the fairgrounds, where a sumptuous dinner – included with the cost of the ride ride – awaited us. We pedaled around the parking lot until we achieved our goal. A long day in the saddle was over for us. A year's worth of doubts about how much I'd recovered was over, too.
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Old 05-02-12, 04:32 PM   #14
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I see so many crap photos on BF. What a breath (or eyeful) of freshness. Thanks. You actually worked pretty hard during a ride to make good photos. I find that really hard to do. Heck, you even got off the bike (which is a little weird, but the results good, do i guess it's ok, this time.)

I've done Wildflower, and you've captured it delightfully.
Thanks. Although I break my own rule once in a while, I try to make every picture – except at rest stops or the start or finish of a ride – from astride my bike. I'm always perplexed about how to carry a camera. This time, I stored it in a fanny pack, which I rotated to the front when I wanted to make a photo; it was awkward while moving, but preferable to wearing a camera around my neck or in a jersey pocket.
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Old 05-02-12, 04:35 PM   #15
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What a truly great description of your experience. It was a beautiful day to ride, in our case, the 100K on the tandem. Agree that the last bit with a small headwind and no change of position gets a bit painful rear end-wise.

I believe you've set a new standard for photograph-laden, articulate posts. The bar having been set we'll settle for nothing less in the future!
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Old 05-02-12, 06:09 PM   #16
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Cool!

And thanks for sharing.
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Old 05-02-12, 06:55 PM   #17
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Nicely done. Thank God there is somebody older than me here.
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Old 05-02-12, 07:18 PM   #18
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I enjoyed the pictures, and saw a few recognizable features--including that beautiful green Klein.

At 23, I still find Table Mountain challenging...you have my respect. This was my second Wildflower, and I hope I'm in decent enough shape at 64 to do it again.
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Old 05-02-12, 07:22 PM   #19
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You tell a great story. Very powerful considering what happened to you. Thanks for sharing. Also I fully support the photos of the lovely ladies you sprinkle in here and there.
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Old 05-02-12, 08:32 PM   #20
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congrats on being alive, and riding like you are glad to be so.

btw looking at your avatar, not only do you look good in these pics at 64 and one year after heart surgery, but you look a hell of a lot better without the facial hair.
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Old 05-02-12, 08:39 PM   #21
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Thanks for that, Colin - except you're looking at my younger brother. He'll appreciate knowing that.

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congrats on being alive, and riding like you are glad to be so.

btw looking at your avatar, not only do you look good in these pics at 64 and one year after heart surgery, but you look a hell of a lot better without the facial hair.
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Old 05-02-12, 08:54 PM   #22
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sorry about that! is that you in pic #4, blue jersey with arm warmers?
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Old 05-02-12, 09:13 PM   #23
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Good stuff.
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Old 05-02-12, 09:14 PM   #24
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.
I love those moments off the bike, in the middle of a long ride.
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Old 05-02-12, 09:14 PM   #25
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Nicely done. Thank God there is somebody older than me here.
I'll bet he was doping like you too. What is it with you guys?
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