Photo by Jason DeVarennes



Thursday, March 29, 2012

Occidental, I think that I just fell in love with you

After spending several days doing some climbs around Napa, we finally checked out of our motel in downtown Napa, loaded up our panniers, and headed west, aiming for the tiny community of Occidental. We only discovered after returning to Boston that Tom Waits now calls Occidental home.

I'm not ashamed to admit that John is much stronger than I am. So as a way of evening things out when touring on single bikes, he gets to carry the panniers, as well as being the prime photographer. So he gets to take loads of photos, then hammer up to catch me, take loads of photos, the hammer up to catch me. I am kind and still pack minimally - and I do carry my own jacket and tools and such.

We minimized transit days on this trip to three - the first day from Rohnert Park out to Napa, the middle day to Occidental and the last day back to Rohnert Park. We like to tour this way - a transit day followed by a couple of unencumbered loop rides, then a transit day. We get to thoroughly explore and area, and become regulars at the local coffee shops and pubs! 

Leaving Napa, we eased into the day by heading out Dry Creek, before climbing up Trinity Grade and then Cavedale. We met a couple of guys at the top of Cavedale, who said it was better in the other direction. I don't know what they were talking about! The views were phenomenal. The pavement was a bit rough, but we were enjoying the views and stopping to take photos so often that we didn't notice. And likely thanks to the rough pavement it was almost traffic free!

We found the cave on Cavedale.

We had a great burrito lunch on the edge of town in Glen Ellen. We should have just ordered one to share. I think they each weighed about 5 pounds. We each managed to get through half! And this was in the middle of a tour where we eat like crazy. We did have another good climb straight after lunch, so we showed good judgement in only having half. It was followed by some ickiness getting through Cotati but then we then hit some spectacular scenery approaching Occidental.

We celebrated another great day on bikes at the Barley and Hops Tavern, where we quickly became regulars.

We had a dramatic change of scenery, as we headed into the redwoods.

I had ridden out here with my friend Susan many years ago, and had brought back great pictures from King Ridge Road. John had heard about this road for many years and now it's even more well known for the Gran Fondo. It absolutely lived up to all his expectations. We took a tiny little road that we found on our old Krebs Maps to get us to the base of the climb in Cazedero. As usual for touring, we use traditional paper maps for the planning and big picture, but we plan out our routes with RideWithGPS and navigate with our GPS devices.

The toll-taker on King Ridge Road.

This sign was someone's warped sense of humor. The descent started about 2 miles down the road.

Reaching the coast, we were  amazed by the views, lack of traffic and tailwind! We stopped in Jenner for coffee and snacks, and then put up the sail as we flew down toward Coleman Valley.  

Coleman Valley indeed. Californians are confused. If the road has valley in the name that means it climbs up some steep mountain pass to get from one valley to the next!

The next day, we did a big loop to the south, featuring the bakery in Tomales.

John was thrilled to hear familiar accents from the Irish gals we met at the Tomales Bakery. They were out doing a century to celebrate a birthday. They were facing a tough slog home into a headwind, a wind that had amazingly been at our backs for a while. I said I would wish for the wind to change for them, but it just wouldn't be in my own self-interest! 

When we booked this trip, we were expecting cool temperatures. In the week before we headed out, the forecast looked grim, rain and 50F. But we were so lucky. As you can see from the photos, it was cool, but we had lots of sunshine. And we had a couple of amazing tailwinds in opposite directions on the coast. But luck had to run out, and on Saturday we awoke to rain. It was light at first, but got heavier and I believe it got cooler throughout the day. It would have seemed great had it not been summer back in Boston for the whole week!

But the bakery in Tomales was so good the day before, that we took the long way home and made another visit, before heading back through Petaluma.

This is a small sampling of our photos. John has about 1000+ to go through, and in a few weeks, we'll get a slide show and more detailed report up on the website. We had a fabulous time. We will definitely be back.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ice Whine in Napa

So just a few days after I post a picture of a 100 ml tube of sunscreen that was being rapidly used up in New England, I head off to the airport to fly to California where TSA threatened to take it away from me! In some wicked twist of fate, John had some vacation time to use up before April 1st, and we decided to head off the Northern California to do some early season hill climbing in nice weather. We booked our trip long before realizing that the world had flipped and Boston was now in the tropics. In the week before our departure, we starting crying over the forecasts, as Boston was to be 80F and sunny while Napa and Sonoma were to be 50s and rainy, as it should be in Boston at this time of year. We packed up warm clothes, but optimistically threw the sunscreen in anyway.

For some reason, most airlines have decided to make TSA's job harder by charging for checked bags, thereby encouraging folks to bring everything as carry on. The claim is that checked luggage uses more jet fuel that carry-on or some twisted logic like that. Personally I would like to just get a weight allowance for me and my luggage, so Kevin Smith gets to bring no luggage and is still charged for two seats, while I can bring my bike and some nice warm clothes, and get some money back! But that would be discrimination, so instead, some airlines charge for checked bags. For our trip to California, we had a choice of Southwest (my favorite airline for caring about the person squished into the seat next to Kevin Smith) with a change of planes and long layover and 2 free checked bags or a direct flight with Jet Blue and 1 free checked bag. So while I'd like to reward Southwest, the direct flight won out. We figured we could each check an S&S case with bike for free, and pack clothes in a carry on. But this would also mean TSA size bottles of liquid. Which brings me back to the subject of my sunscreen. 

So I'm at the airport, barefoot and beltless, with my pants around my ankles as I hold my hands over my head in the fancy scanner, and I see them pull my toiletries bag out of the x-ray, and start to carefully read the sizing on my tube of sunscreen. Yes, they are checking to make sure that I don't have enough sunscreen to blow up an airplane. In the meantime, the bag with 8 cables for the different USB standards for my phone, camera, gps and other assorted electronics, along with the assorted electronics has made it through just fine. 

I'm getting ready to show off the scar from my skin cancer surgery and beg them to let me keep my sunscreen, when they find 100 ml on the back of the tube and decide I am not a terrorist. So I pull up my pants, put my belt back on and vow to buy some better fitting pants. Then put my shoes back on and repack my laptop and toiletries and head for the gate! 

Yippee we are finally on our way from hot sunny Boston, to cold dreary San Francisco.


We've actually been pretty lucky with the weather, as evidenced by the shadow in the photo above. It's chilly, but we have had some sunshine, and I've been slathering the sunscreen all over my face, the only exposed flesh!

We are finding some great hills to climb...

And descend...

And some nice ridge-top views...

John's on the trip too!

John has a new camera, so we brought single bikes so we can get action shots, rather than just photos of Pamela holding the tandem up. We've had a great time exploring around Napa, and are now heading west to explore the hills closer to the coast. Look for a full report once we are back and John is able to sort through the thousands of photos!

Oh and I will be packing the sunscreen in the bike case on the return leg!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Signs of Spring

It's about 40 F and raining here today, a pretty typical spring day in the greater Boston area. Fear Rothar calls March the cruelest month. We start to see signs of spring. We get warm days with sunshine, and then, it seems on our days off, we get the dreary rainy days! Well I can't really complain. It's been a mild winter, although with some pretty good swings in temperature. But we are seeing lots of indications now of spring...

Emily and I were having a mid-ride lunch at Verrill Farm recently where they are starting to sell some seedlings.

The salamander crossing signs have appeared in Lincoln.

The crocuses have popped up in my garden.

And one day this week, I arrived home with my pockets stuffed full with arm and leg warmers, gloves, and headband.

This was followed by the pinking of the skin and the renewed morning ritual of covering up with sunscreen. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Mud in yer eye!

A combination of too much work and fine weather have kept me away from the (non-work) computer this week. However, last weekend's weather led me to write the following:

The unusually mild and dry winter we have experienced in New England this year was book-ended (although it may be a little early to use that term yet!) by snow storms in October and on Leap Year Day. The latter was followed by a day of rain and, for some reason, that seemed to suggest a spin on dirt roads to your truly. The idea must have had some merit, as David Lafferty was happy to accompany me into southern New Hampshire. Perhaps, though, he was just trying to maximise culture shock, as he and wife Emily were planning to fly to Mallorca the following weekend. Have fun, you two!

But I digress, we tried to establish the theme of our ride early on.

Even when the roads were paved, though, they had their challenges.

We were only a few years late for this one:

but we eventually made it to Brookline for vittles.

This is where, in the excess heat of day, things started to get a little sloppy and I was reminded why those things over the wheels are called "mudguards" in the auld country.

As a avid fan of murder mysteries, I am keenly aware of the need to have an alibi at all times. David was kind enough to oblige, just in case I was accused of robbing a bank in the Boston area, although the jury might have a little trouble identifying me in this shot. How many other loons would pose for this photo though?

I managed to save enough energy to clean the bike when I got home. My front tyre also had the decency to stay inflated until I had cleaned the rim. If only it was always so!

The extended drivetrain section on the Crud Road Racer mudguard did its job nicely though.

Now to see what the weather gods throw at us this coming weekend...

Saturday, March 3, 2012


We have had very strange weather in New England this winter. For the most part, it has been relatively mild. But we've had a few bitter cold days as well as some balmy ones. The problem is that the two extremes have come one right after the other. The high temperature can vary by 40F from one day to the next, making getting the right clothing choices a bit of a challenge. A little layering and judicious use of zippers usually are enough for me to adjust to changing conditions.  Normally if I am under-dressed or over-dressed on one day, I can tweak my clothing choice slightly the next day and be comfortable. But since conditions have varied so much day to day, this hasn't really been the case this year.  Most of the time when I have misjudged, the issue has been my hands, and so far I haven't inflicted permanent damage, but I do find I am now carrying extra gloves a lot!

Looking back through my photos for the last few months, I can clearly see that my Rapha Women's Softshell Jacket has proven to be incredibly versatile. I've used various different leg coverings, from leg warmers to tights to insulated pants, and various different types of headgear from headband to woolie hat to windstopper skullcap, and a dozen different gloves - which is ultimately what I'm trying to write about.  

And I will. Right after I finish raving about that Rapha jacket. I got this jacket last fall from my local Rapha retailer, Ride Studio Cafe, and literally have worn it almost every day since - with notable exceptions being my trips to warm, sunny NC. The softshell fabric is windproof and water resistant, making it great in cold and damp conditions. The pit vents allow for nice temperature regulation when it gets warmer. My old cold weather standby is an awesome jacket from MEC that is no longer made. It is a fleecy jacket with wind-proofing on the front, shoulders and front of arms. It is so warm that I really only use it for temperatures well below freezing. It has seen many years of use for winter commuting, and the occasional all day bitter cold weekend ride. But if it gets too much above freezing during the day, the MEC jacket can get too hot. 

So I was surprised after using the Rapha jacket lots this year, when I wore the MEC one day and really noticed the lack of windproofing on the underside of the arms. The nice thing about having the windproofing all around the arms, combined with pit vents, is that you can open the vents to get the draft or close them to keep it out. With the windproofing just on the front of the arms, I actually felt a bit of draft in a jacket I had always considered quite warm! What this ultimately means is the Rapha softshell could handle the bitter cold conditions as well or better than the fleecy jacket, and it also works well if the temperatures rises, whereas the MEC would cook me alive.  

Both jackets have external rear pockets, providing a nice place to keep my phone and camera at hand, as well as extra gloves. Both have a zippered pocket to keep my wallet secure. The MEC has lots of reflective stuff all over. The Rapha has more subtle reflective piping, but I keep a lightweight reflective hi-visibility vest in the center pocket for those after dark rides home. The drop down bum flap has a reflective Rapha logo - good for spray protection should I somehow find myself without fenders, as well as nighttime visibility. I have the grey/black version. The men's version also comes in red.

The ladies cut is both flattering and functional, because it fits close. The thumb loops at the end of the sleeves are also very nice for keeping wind from coming up the arms without being a super-snug elastic band, as found on many jackets.

But wait, this post was titled GLOVES. So let me get back to gloves. Apparently I channel Imelda Marcos spirit through my glove collection.

When most folks talk about cycling gloves, they are thinking about the nice cool fingerless padded gloves that keep your hands from going numb on longer rides!

But sometimes, it gets cold, and you need more than just shock absorption.

Disclaimer: I mostly ride fixed gear bikes in the winter, so I have no worries about jamming fiddly shift levers when using bulky gloves or mittens. And my bikes with gears have bar-end shifters which also are no problem with even the bulkiest of gloves or mittens.  

Below are my mittens for the coldest cycling conditions. I got them a few years ago when I bought my Lake Winter cycling boots, which I talked about here. These have a nice warm fleecy lining, and a heavy canvas outer. They are roomy enough to use with a moderately thick glove liner. And they have a little zippered pocket for a hand warmer - if it's really bad. They have some reflective material on the sides, which faces back with hands on the bike. These are good for temps below 25F.

My 25F-35F gloves are a pair of ski gloves to which I've added some reflective tape from lightweights.  These have enough room to supplement with a light glove liner, should I misjudge. I'll also point out the security cords on these - very handy when I pull the gloves off on the move to take Panda shots and other photos!

The Chiba gloves are for 35F-45F. These are waterproof. I have used these commuting in 40F rainy conditions. They have cycling specific padding and grips, and the very important terry cloth thumb for wiping runny noses. They have a warm fleecy interior, but are not so bulky that they would cause issues with integrated shifters. If you just want one pair of winter cycling gloves, these are the ones to get! I added the lightweights reflective dots. I used the fabric specific product and ironed it on. The dots have survived many washings.

The Louis Garneau gloves are for 45F-55F.  I bought these a couple of years ago after a cold spring-time brevet, to encourage the arrival of warm weather. It didn't work. I used them several times that spring. These are also a cycling specific glove with terry cloth thumb and minimal bulk. Again, reflective dots were added later.

The Seirus gloves are waterproof. Since my other waterproof gloves are for very cold conditions, I wanted something for warmer rain.  These are very form fitting and claim to be warm without bulk. I didn't buy them for cold weather, so I can't criticize them for not working well in freezing conditions. I have them for 55+ and rain.

Glove liners are essential for me. I always have liners with me. They can add several degrees of comfort to any glove. They are also great with bulky gloves for when you need to take them off, to operate a camera or open an energy bar, since you still have some covering. These are lightweight wool liners from Ibex.

A couple of years ago, John and I were out riding on Christmas Day, when I found this brand new pair of gloves in the middle of the road, clearly someone else's Christmas gift, lost out of a pocket on their first outing.  These have been great for borderline warm conditions - and the price couldn't be beat!

The above selection are the gloves I keep by the door! John has a similar collection with a few other brands and models thrown in the mix.

I guess the real point is that if you are riding in real winter conditions, you likely need more than one pair of gloves, and will find yourself with a similar ranking of gloves and temperature. A little layering can be done using a glove liner, but beyond that, different gloves are needed for different conditions.

Before I head out for a ride, I check the current  temperature and forecast, and grab gloves accordingly. Given the wild variations of late, I should probably just carry all of them all the time!

I should also mention handlebar mitts like Pogies, Moose Mitts and Bar-Mitts. These are oversize mitts that attach to the handlebars at the brake levers. There are models for both road style drop bars and flat bars. The idea is you wear a light glove and place your gloved hand inside a giant outer glove, providing ample insulation and windproofing while leaving you with fine control for brakes and shifting.