Once Upon A Time, I Used To Bike…A Lot

Maya as a toddler in the bike seat attached to my Schwinn Varsity

I started bicycling a long time ago.  Around the time Maya was almost 2-years-old, I used to put her in a baby seat on my handy Schwinn Varsity, and shuttle her to daycare on some mornings. When we bought our condo, I would still take her riding on the back of my bike, but I also started riding longer solo trips.

When you first start anything that involved physical activity, it takes time to build up your muscles, and that was the case with me and bike riding. I didn’t go very far at first, and it was all just casual riding.  But a few years later, I read Neil Peart’s first published book, The Masked Rider:  Cycling in West Africa, where he really advocated getting out and seeing the world — even if it was only a small slice of it.  In that book, he chronicled a very long adventure vacation he took where, as the book title states, he cycled with a small group of people through three countries in west Africa. It was a grueling trip at times, but he loved it.

Neil Peart on one of his adventure vacations in west Africa

After reading about how you really get to appreciate the landscape and geography of a place when you cycle through it, I thought, “Well, why don’t I do that here — where I live.”  So, I started to build up my endurance and started exploring parts of Contra Costa County on my bike.  Peart’s books suggests that you just take it easy and enjoy the ride — and that’s pretty much what I did.  My buddy Matt gave me one of those CamelBak hydration packs you can wear on long bike rides, so I didn’t have to worry about running out of water. camelbak

I’d go out for 3-4 hours just causally riding a loop from Walnut Creek to Concord and back — going through areas I’ve never traveled by car. I did that a few times until my neighbor Grant (who was a serious road biker) asked me if I wanted to ride his bike around to see what a lighter bike feels like.  I did, and really liked it.  I couldn’t believe how fast I was riding.  When I got back, I asked if I could buy the bike.  He said “no,” but the seed was planted.  I needed to upgrade!

My birthday was coming up, so my mom (being the nice person she is) offered to help pay for a new, better, road bike.  I bought a Fuji aluminium frame bike for about $700:

img_0601I rode it every few days, but still wasn’t hardcore.  However, I did go on some rides that were challenging — like this 20 miler with my friend Paul back in 2008 that took us from Martinez to through Crockett and back again:

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I was like fat Elvis during this ride. Just huffing and puffing and totally out of shape.  Still, it was a very memorable ride.
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Paul, however, was in great shape as he was riding about 100 miles a week.

In June of 2008, I was laid off from my job at KKIQ/KKDV.  The Great Recession was just starting and I was one of the first casualties.  So, to keep busy, I was riding my bike for health (both mental and physical) while carving out a routine at home ( i.e., take Maya to school, ride my bike, look for work, make dinner).  Some rides were long, some were short, but I often rode to Castle Rock Park in Walnut Creek.  It’s a nice ride through rolling hills and horse ranches to the last climb to the end of the paved road.  Oh, and back then, some days it rained…

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Hit by a minor downpour…so I selfied it.
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And some days it was sunny…
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My trusty bike (I still have it!)

I’m not sure when, but I got my brother Steve into biking. His neighbor, James, was really into road biking to the point that he was competing in races almost weekly.  Since Steve lives next door to James, the two of them would go on long rides and James would act as a kind of coach for Steve.  Well, it worked.  Steve is a really strong rider these days — but it’s not all coaching. He puts in quite a few miles each week.  These pictures are from 2011 when I was back working again (got rehired in 2009), but not riding as much I did when I was out of work.

Steve and James take a break after a long ride
Steve and James take a break after a long ride to St. Mary’s College in Moraga (they started in Danville).
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At Benicia State Park
Future looking bright!
Future looking bright for Steve!

What is it about me and jobs?  Maybe it’s me and the company I worked for.  Because in 2012, just days after my birthday, I was laid off from the same company that laid me off in 2008. Double whammy! Well, at least I had more time for riding — which, for a year, I did on a regular basis. I got a new bike, too!  I still held on to my Fuji, but through a handshake deal, I was able to get a Trek Madone 3.0 for very little money — which is a good thing because I had very little money at the time.

Trek Madone 3.0 2012

My friend Paul suffered the same job fate as me in 2012, so I thought, “Since we’re both between jobs, we should get together and ride a couple of times a week.”  Well, that exactly what happened!

Birthday ride in 2012 with Paul. A few days later, I got laid off from my job.
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Ride through Brentwood with Paul…out to Big Break in 2012
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Paul hangin’ loose before the the ride out to Big Break.

Later that year, I started getting serious about climbing.  Lucky for me, there’s a 3800 foot mountain close to my house.  When I started climbing Mt. Diablo, I was only going to 1000 foot marker.  But as my legs got stronger, I started going a bit farther each time.  Pretty soon I made it to the junction, and that was a pretty big accomplishment for me because I’m not much of a climber…

Not all taken on the same day, but all from the Northgate side of Mt. Diablo
Not all taken on the same day, but all from the Northgate side of Mt. Diablo

Eventually I got to the summit, but only did that climb 1 1/2 times.  The first time was in 2012 with the Alamo Crazies — which you can read about here. And the second time was about a year after that when, after doing a stress test on my heart, my doctor gave me the a-ok to ride to the summit.

Sometimes you gotta stop and take in the view. This is right before the last climb to the summit on Mt. Diablo.
Sometimes you gotta stop and take in the view. This is right before the last climb to the summit on Mt. Diablo.

I think between 2012-2013…and part of 2014, cycling was an integral part of my life.  I rode a lot (between 4-5 times a week and averaging 25 miles a ride). Some days were better than others when I got on the saddle, but overall, it was just nice to be outdoors.  The weather in California (the Bay Area especially) means there is no riding season. You can ride year round because it’s not too cold.  The rain (when we get it) isn’t torrential, and we get far more sunny days than rainy days (more in the last four years because of the drought).

One thing that’s almost impossible to ignore is that cycling has gotten more and more popular over the years since I started —  not only for exercise, but for commuting as well. I see more bikes on BART, on the streets (especially in San Francisco where I work), and on the bike/pedestrian trials in my neck of the woods.  With the popularity of biking comes conflict with other riders and people driving cars.  Me?  I find that when you don’t practice douchy behavior, people are much nicer to you on the road.  That means doing things we should all do when operating a vehicle on the road — like obeying traffic rules, being courteous, using hand signals and the like.  I do these things and other drivers are pretty respectful on the road — and generally obey the 3 feet rule.

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Over the years riding, one thing I rarely get video of is me or my riding companions — except for that one time when Steve and I rode to Rock City on Mt. Diablo.  We stopped at the Ranger station to fill up our water bottles and then I thought, “Well, why don’t I grab my Android phone and follow Steve for a bit down the mountain.”  I’m glad I did because the video turned out pretty good.  Have a look for yourself:

Finally, I’ll close this post by saying that sometime it’s important to give things a rest.  I kind of burned out on biking last year and part of this year.  Hardly rode at all.  Instead, I started jogging, doing yoga and swimming because biking was boring to me. However, today I jumped on my bike and rode up to Castle Rock Park. I thought it was going to be difficult considering how little I’ve ridden this year.  I’m glad I did it, though.  It was a comfortable ride, and I guess the other exercise I’ve done has kept my lungs in good shape because I really wasn’t winded.  So who knows, maybe I’ll be back on the road more regularly due to a reason I got into it in the first place:  as a way to explore my little slice of the world.

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