Gold, Guns, Grain, and Silicon. Today I decided to cycle across California.
Well, not quite all of it (I’ll claim ‘most’!) – I made my way from Arnold, up in the mountains, back to Palo Alto, just shy of 150 miles in total.
Part stupid bike ride, part inadvertent geography field trip. I rode through the Sierra Nevada, across the Central Valley, and over into the Bay Area. And unintentionally, a chronological tour of the state’s major industries over the centuries: I cycled through the historic gold mining town of Murphys alongside wooden aqueducts and old sluices; through Copperopolis, whose name derives from its role supplying material for bullets in the Civil War; past millions of fruit trees and abandoned barns and homesteads straight out of the The Grapes of Wrath; and then into Silicon Valley, finally spotting the Facebook campus as I fought my way through the crosswinds on the Dumbarton Bridge.
You see so much more when you’re not hammering along a freeway in a car. What a state.
The bike ride though… well, I actually set out this morning not in the least convinced I’d be able to make it. Google was suggesting a rather pessimistic 13 hours, a route that involved going through fields, and which was almost certain to see me finishing in the dark. I expected to have to bed down in a motel somewhere.
But the first part of the ride comprised two fantastic descents – and despite some ups and downs in the Mother Lode foothills, I got to drop 4,000ft in 40 miles and less than 2½ hours. Good progress! By the time I hit the the first fruit tree, with Jayne cheering me on via Messenger, I decided I’d just go for it.
That, however, was when the weather had other plans. I’d already checked the forecast for the temperature, since I was most worried about being trapped in the Central Valley in 100°F heat. In fact it was less than 90°F all day, and pretty comfortable.
What I had failed to take account of (having only ever driven this route in a car of course!) was what I now learn is called the ‘Delta Breeze’ – a hot 20mph wind, gusting to 30mph, from… true west. I also now know that it starts around 10am and gets stronger during the day, so if you’re curious to know why my speed across the plains gets gradually slower and slower, that’s exactly why. The extra 5mph bursts of every time I briefly turned south on the grid system? Yeah, the same.
By the time I got to Altamont Pass, a long gentle climb before a descent into Livermore, the wind felt insane. The idea with hill cycling is that you work hard to get to the top on the understanding that you’ll get the payback of cruising down the other side. Nature had other ideas, as it tried to cram the entire Pacific onshore weather system through the narrow corridor of the pass – and I had to fight hard in a low gear just to get down again. Not enjoyable after 7 hours on the road already.
Endurance is all about rationing. My constraints were liquid (I only had room on the bike for one water bottle), limited supplies of energy gel, and an iPhone battery GPSing its heart out. No Facebook Live, sorry! The phone was the one I was most worried about, since I also had a vague idea about resorting to Uber if I couldn’t go all the way. But the battery made it, and so did I. Gatorade and Gu go in, miles come out. Pretty simple chemistry in the end.
I missed the Facebook Half Marathon this year, so I reckon this will serve well as my 2016 endurance challenge. The difference this time was that it was extremely impulsive, and I didn’t train at all. We’ll see how that feels tomorrow. I think I know.