A (Mr.) Frog Jumping Good Time

Grasshoppa Tops Out on Red Hill Road

There is a plethora of organized rides in Northern California, most designed to raise money for charities of all kinds. But I rarely do any of them. I ride with the Stockton Bicycle Club 3-4 times a week, and supplement this with a few local trips to the Sierras or the Bay Area. Stoker and I do tandem rides, sometimes with the club, and sometimes with a slightly less fast and smaller group, or on our own. And I take at least two cycling vacations a year away from home. Sometimes far away; France is coming up this summer.

But on Saturday I decided to join some SBC friends and do ‘Mr. Frog’s Wild Ride’; a hilly metric century (there is also a 30 mile option) on mostly quiet roads between Murphys and Angels Camp. I was joined by the Chief (Don H), Grasshoppa (Roberta) and Paul G, who like me was doing the event for the first time. The ride raises funds to support Feeney Park in Murphys, and the organizers did a really nice job.

Club Kit at Melones; Mostly Uphill from Here!

You can suffer a calorie deficit on this ride, but you certainly do not have to. Four well stocked rest stops (bagels, muffins, fruit, Fig Newtons, chips and delicious small sandwiches in Vallecito) meant that riders were never far from refreshment. And the post ride meal of barbequed chicken, pasta salad, green salad, chili beans, and cookies really hit the spot after the final climb from Angels Camp back to Murphys.

The route featured about a mile of gravel on Red Hill Road that the route description assured us was ‘perfectly rideable’. I would leave out the work ‘perfectly’.  It was steep up and steep down and covered with some fine dirt and sand that made traction highly uncertain. That meant make sure you stay seated while climbing and brake very carefully descending. It also meant I left my nicest bike at home and brought along my least favorite frameset. So I had an extra 2 lbs. of bike to push up the hills.

Speaking of hills, the ride was claimed to have about 4,500 feet of climbing in 60 miles. Some truth in advertising law was violated; my device measured 5,600 feet and it is usually very consistent with mapping web sites. I would describe the route as hilly without any really long climbs, but with some very steep pitches. There is almost no completely flat road on any on the route, which made for an entertaining day of up and down.

In fact, I had such a great time on a perfect day (shorts and short sleeves, with all the vests, jackets, arm warmers, skull caps, etc. left behind in the car) that I’m planning to return next year. Maybe I will do a few more rides like this in the next few months and see what I’ve been missing.

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The Oldest Member

The 'Oldest Member' celebrates another Birthday

Saturday’s club ride was another delightful romp in the hills, from Ione to Volcano and up the fearsome sounding Ram’s Horn Grade, whose slopes, while significant, are far from fearful. Then down Shake Ridge Road, an easy descent make difficult by irritated pickup drivers irked that cyclists are allowed to use their roads and delay them for 20-30 seconds.

One such pickup roared past a group of riders, including yours truly, then pulled onto the shoulder and spun his wheels in the gravel, raising a cloud of dust for us to inhale before he hopped back onto the pavement and sped down the hill ahead of us. Just another friendly encounter with a foothill local, a deliberate and pre meditated attempt to show cyclists who is boss.

Still the perfect weather had the large group of SBC riders (24 took the start) in a fine mood, and the conversation and kidding were lively all day. And the star of the day was Don H, aka ‘Chief’ or ExTrez’, husband of ‘Grasshoppa’, and our Oldest Member.

P.G. Wodehouse is one of my favorite writers, and some of his Golf Stories are introduced and narrated by the cantankerous clubhouse denizen known as the Oldest Member.  Don H is the Stockton Bicycle Club version of that literary creation, possessing a cutting wit  and high intelligence with a cranky streak and no intention to suffer foolishness quietly. He is the ‘Oldest Member’ that regularly does club rides, and he is a very strong rider period, not just very strong for his age.

Saturday was ExTrez’s birthday and since he is such an entertaining figure we sang Happy Birthday to him not once, but twice! Once in Volcano at the mid ride break, and once at the end of the ride. The second performance was aided by some cold libations that appeared from various ice chests fully stocked for this special occasion.

The Birthday Chorale in Full Voice

The Stockton Bicycle Club has a fair number of characters, some of whom possess character. Don H is among that group. Happy Birthday Chief!

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Diablo Debutantes

A Welcome Sight: You've Reached the Top!

There were a couple of Diablo neophytes making their first attempt at riding  up the mountain, and I am happy to report that they both make it without having to stop and walk. Both of these riders are long time Stockton Bicycle Club members, and I was surprised to learn that neither had done the climb before.

‘Good Doctor Carl’ was one of the first timers. We call him that because he is a (medical) doctor, and a really nice guy. This is to contrast him with ‘The Evil Doctor’, who is named Karl and used to ride with SBC when he lived here. Evil Doctor was a dentist and a relatively nice guy, but not above some gamesmanship to finish ahead of you in some mythical race. He would draft for miles without taking any pulls, then unleash his sprint (and he was fast) to get to the county line sign first. But ‘Good Doctor Carl’ is a fine fellow with no such devious tendencies, and we were all happy for him to achieve this climb for the first time.

The other Diablo Rookie was my longtime friend Fearless Frank. Fearless got that nickname because he goes downhill so quickly. And he is a very strong sprinter. I’ve contested perhaps a hundred mythical finish line sprints with him over a decade, and I’ve won exactly once.

But Fearless can’t climb. Actually that is misleading; Fearless can indeed climb. He did all the 3,500 feet of climbing in 10 miles on Mount Diablo Saturday, and his total ascent for 50 miles was 6,300 feet, so he can ride uphill. He just can’t do it very fast.

Why this is the case is a mystery. Fearless appears fit and trim, so body weight is not a factor. He is very fast on flat or rolling terrain, and he can hold my wheel on a hill that lasts a minute or less no matter how hard I ride. Very few people in our club can best him in a sprint. But if the climb takes more than five minutes, forget it. Last time we did Sierra Road (3.7 miles averaging 9.5%)  I did it in 34 minutes, and Fearless got there at least 15 minutes behind me.

It has become something of a joke between us; Fearless usually gets a head start at the beginning of climbs while I wait and regroup with others, and then somewhere before the top I catch him and pass him. He usually says something clever about  me getting a trailer hitch or throwing out a tow rope to help him out.

But on Saturday Fearless took on the mountain and made it to that sign in the photo for the first time. Well done, Fearless!

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Delightful Diablo Day

Smiling on the Summit

If you live in San Joaquin County, you have seen Mount Diablo towering over our valley. On Saturday’s club ride a small group of Stockton Bicycle Club riders got to see it up close and personal.

Most of our club rides are in the rolling hills east of Stockton, or on flat roads north of the city out towards Thornton and Walnut Grove. But occasionally we will travel out of the area to find some new hills to climb, and Mount Diablo is a favorite.

The ride can be hot and dry in the summer, or cold and foggy in the winter, and over the 10 or so times I’ve done this climb I have experienced both. So Saturday’s perfect conditions were a real treat; bright sunshine, comfortably cool temperatures for climbing and not too much wind to blow cyclists around on the descent. The dozen Stockton Bicycle Club riders had lots of company on the mountain; the delightful weather attracted a large number of East Bay riders to the climb. Cyclists outnumbered automobiles by at least 3 to 1.

The climb looks imposing from a distance, and it is pretty intimidating up close too. You can see the radio tower and visitor center far, far above you, and you know that there is a lot of climbing to do before you get there. The approach from the Danville side isn’t too bad, and while the Walnut Creek side is a little harder it is manageable. But from either side you must do the same last 4.5 miles average to the summit, and those miles average  7.3%. The last 100 yards up to the summit are very steep; some estimates put the maximum grade at 20%. This really gets your attention after ascending 3,500 feet over 10 miles.

Poppies and Paul G

On Saturday the mountain really put on quite a show for everyone puffing their way up its slopes. The grass was green and golden poppies were everywhere. Blue skies with a few puffy white clouds completed picture. Diablo has never looked better.

So the next time you look out across the Delta to the west of Stockton and see Diablo, remember that not everyone gets to the summit in a car.

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Belize Wrap Up

Campy Certified?

Flats Fixed While You Wait

Stoker Navigates the Course

Belize Route Arrows

I’ve got a few nice random pictures from our Belize trip involving bicycles. Everyone on the island seems to get around by bicycle. Since the distances are short, and the island is completely flat and pavement almost non existent, this is a very practical and inexpensive means of transportation. And fun, at least for Diane and me as tourists. As far as I could tell there were no private cars on the island. Lots of golf carts, and a few small pickups to move supplies (like Belikan Beer) around were the only vehicles cyclists had to deal with.

Here is the local bike shop. It looked busy. No one carries tools to fix flats so if you get one you take it to the shop. I think they might even be Campy Certified.

The road headed north from the ferry took a couple of turns toward, and then away from the coast. People owning property along the water wanted to make sure you knew where the road was so traffic didn’t make a detour through their front yard. The course marking was first rate and much more detailed that most organized rides here.

Diane and I loved our time in Belize. The snorkeling was amazing, the food was great, the weather perfect and we met some very nice people, both locals and fellow tourists. And while the cycling didn’t do much for our fitness level, it was great fun!

 

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Belizean Donkey Part 3

My Beast of Burden

The Fish Table's new home

I called the balloon tire single speed bike I rented in Belize my ‘donkey’ because I used it to carry stuff all over the place. Bottled water, take out fish tacos, tortilla chips and salsa, snorkeling gear, and of course Belikan Beer all transported  to our hotel with my beast of burden. But the biggest load my donkey and I had to haul around was the fish table.

Diane and I were not intending to buy anything, but we found this
really cool hand carved and painted fish table. We met the artist and asked how much? When he said “300” I thought that was not too bad, but when he added “Belize” that made the US price $150. That seemed like a bargain for such a unique piece of furniture. So the fish table found a buyer.

One minor problem: how to get it home. The artist packed it for the airline, but there was a complication. Belize did not at that time have any machines to x ray checked bags. So all checked luggage, including the neatly disassembled and packed table, had to be unwrapped and examined by a security person, and then repacked on the spot. We decided that this would be a major problem at the airport, not to mention US customs on the other end. So we decided to ship it through the Belizean Post office.

Belize used to be British Honduras, a part of the British Empire, and like many former colonies they retained a very solid postal system. So we used our bikes to buy packing and addressing supplies, returned to hotel to pack and wrap it and then set out on the bikes for the 3 mile ride to the Post office. I had the 10 Kilo packaged balanced on my handlebars and was able to wrap two fingers on the bar. Going very slowly I made it to the Post Office without dropping the package or getting into an accident.

We handed the package and $50 for postage to a very friendly clerk. He said we could expect it delivered in 4-6 weeks. We thought we might never see the box again, but sure enough a month later our regular letter carrier delivered the box, covered with Belizean stamps, to our front doorstep. All made possible by my donkey!

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Belizean Donkey Part 2

Living Word Church Marital Counseling

Anyone who does Stockton Bicycle Club rides knows that there are occasional regrouping issues. Where to regroup, how long to wait for riders who are behind, impromptu route changes during the ride and the like have all been topics for discussion and occasional irritation. This experience, along with the Living Word Church marital counseling sermon, came in handy during one of our Bicycle Belize rides.

Diane and I were watching television in our room at the Banana Beach Resort on Ambergis Caye one evening, and we stumbled across a local access channel showing a Belizean pastor presenting Part 4 of his series about how to have a happy marriage.

Being married 22 years at the time (currently 31 and counting)  and slightly giddy on rum punch, we kept watching.  The pastor’s homily was blunt, hilarious and contained a good bit of truth. We were laughing at what he said while recognizing that it was actually pretty good advice. He told the women: “The man is gonna drink water. If he don’t drink water on the property, then he is gonna drink water off of the property!” We were pretty sure he wasn’t referring to hydration.

So the next day we were on a training ride on our balloon tired beach cruisers, and Diane was out front as usual, and she decided to modify the route and turned into the driveway leading to the Living Word Church. She claimed she waved at me to indicate the change, but I missed it and rode right past the ‘regroup’. Diane got to meet the pastor who seemed surprised his program had been viewed by a tourist.

We then spent the next 1-2 hours riding  past each other on the ‘streets’ of San Pedro. Having SBC regrouping experience I was perfectly calm, but feeling irked at the delay in getting another rum punch. Finally we ran into each other and went off to a coffee stop followed by lunch stop followed by rum punch/Belikan stop. I can’t remember if we took the pastor’s advice or not.

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Belizean Donkey: Part 1

Land's End, Ambergis Caye

Diane and I have done some ambitious, high mileage bicycle trips on our tandem, from Death Valley to the Canadian Rockies. I’ve ridden my single bike up mountains from Oregon to Colorado, and made pilgrimages to the French Alps and the Dolomites in Italy to ride some of the classic climbs of professional cycling. But we’ve never had more fun cycling away from home than we did in Belize back in 2005.

Biking Belize is a little different from most bicycle tours. No climbing other than a few 6 inch speed bumps; the islands are completely flat. No pavement either. Other that a few hundred yards of paving stones next to the airport, all the roads are hard packed sand. We stayed on two different islands; Caye Caulker was ‘rustic’ and the hot water and electricity worked most of the time. San Pedro Town on Ambergis Caye is a bigger place with more luxurious accommodations.

Neither island has cars for rent; most tourists hire a golf cart for the week. But we decided to rent bicycles, which is how the locals mostly get around. Single speed, wide tire beach cruisers with coaster brakes, just like you had when you were a kid. A basket on the front for bringing purchases of Belikan Beer back to the hotel. Belikan is the only beer sold on the island, but it tastes so good you don’t care.

Rush Hour, San Pedro Town

Belize Biking adventure #1:  We headed north from Banana Beach Hotel through the rush of San Pedro town to the ferry crossing. You have to see the ‘ferry’ to believe it. It is just a small floating barge big enough for one golf cart and about 10 bicycles, and it is pulled by hand across a 30 foot channel using a hemp rope! The fare to cross is $1 Belize (50 cents US) round trip.

Once across we headed north on the “road”, none of which is paved but parts were good, other parts wet, slick and rutted.

Main Road, Belize

After two hours and 10 miles (that is right, a 5 mph average speed!),  we turned around and rode back to town. We enjoyed an iced cappuccino and decided to look around on foot a bit instead of heading for cover at the hotel. MISTAKE! The sky over the ocean got really dark. As the first big drops fell, we ducked into the Reef Restaurant and ordered a Belikan to wait for the rain to stop. Then another. Then fish tacos. Finally gave up and got back on the bikes and rode through the warm rain and mud and puddles, some of which were deeper than expected. Arrived back at the hotel soaked, muddy and giggling.

Ride stats: 3.5 hours; 20 miles; 10 feet elevation gain ( those 6 inch speed bumps I mentioned). Smiles too numerous to count.

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Minor Mechanical

This is not Sunday's ride to Thornton!

After staying out later than usual Saturday night  enjoying Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers at the Fox Theater, Diane and I decided that the 9 am start to the club ride on Sunday was too early. No problem; we decided to ride a 55 mile loop from our house out to Thornton on what turned out to be a beautiful  Sunday afternoon.

The ride was uneventful and delightful. We rolled along at our own pace with no one to chase or keep up with or keep in front of. Almost no wind, and no hills to climb either (unlike the Canadian Rockies we are dealing with in the photo back in 2012). I rode pretty hard the previous day and was happy to keep the pedals turning with just enough effort to elevate my heart rate slightly above walking pace.

We even had a bit of luck the day before Saint Patrick’s Day, and neither one of us is Irish. We had a ‘mechanical’ of the most benign type.

Cyclists us the word ‘mechanical’ as a noun to refer to something that goes wrong with the bike during a ride. Some mechanicals can be fixed, and others force the rider to abandon the route and request help from riding companions to return with a vehicle to pick them up, or phone a friend or spouse for assistance.

Mechanicals I have seen over the years include a broken chain, broken spokes, a broken rim, and a broken frame. Those are all pretty rare. More common is the broken rear derailleur cable. When this happens the bike can still be ridden, but instead of 20 gears to choose from you only have two, and neither of them is low enough to climb hills. I was riding Mount Figueroa with the Chief and Grasshoppa a few years ago, and the Chief had the most fortuitous mechanical ever. He broke his rear derailleur cable exactly 100 yards from a bike shop at the end of the ride! He went inside and twenty minutes later he was on his way; he didn’t even have to walk to his hotel. If it had happened two hours early he would have been stuck; Mount Figueroa is way too steep to ride without low gears.

The most common mechanical is a flat tire, and that is what happened to us Sunday. About one mile from home, I noticed the bumps in the road feeling a little bumpier. We stopped for a look, and sure enough our rear tire was softening, but not completely flat. We got back on and managed to finish the ride. I can fix a flat on the side of the road, but it is much easier to do in my garage, especially on the tandem. Maybe there was a four leaf clover around; we certainly enjoyed some good luck.

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We’re #1!

The male driver in the western hat probably had something else in mind.

Stoker and I were riding our tandem UP the hill to Plymouth yesterday, when a driver in an SUV headed DOWN the hill flashed us the very special ‘we’re #1’ gesture. Since we were going in the opposite direction and not impeding his progress in any way, I assume that our mere existence riding a bicycle (legally, I might add) on HIS road irritated him enough to make his feelings known.

Most drivers accept (or at least tolerate) cyclists, and they try to pass safely and carefully. This is especially true on the tandem; Stoker smiles and waves  at drivers who look friendly and usually gets smiles in return. Many times a friendly driver will (safely) pull beside us and say, kiddingly, “She’s not pedaling!” thinking he is being clever. He is, and it probably seemed clever to me the first time I heard it, but on the 50th repeat I just sigh.

However there are some drivers who do not like us using their roads, because they might have to cross a center line to pass safely and have to listen to those irritating road dots go bump, bump bump. Or they might have to lose 20 seconds waiting for a safe chance to pass. Or they don’t like to see fit people doing something they can’t.

These drivers show their irritation in various ways, and giving us the bird is actually one of the more benign. Occasionally we will be yelled at: “Get off the road!”  or  “Get the ____ off the road!” Other drivers will simply accelerate sharply as they pass, and pass closer than is necessary, asserting that they own all the pavement and I should be riding in the gravel. When a turbo charged pickup hits the gas and blows a cloud of black smoke at your nostrils and roars his engine 18 inches from your ear, it can ruin your day even if you manage to stay on the road.

Other drivers actually commit assault. Some teenagers threw a soda can at me once but they missed. A couple of friends weren’t so fortunate; one got hit by a burrito tossed at him. More seriously, once a car passed too close to GJ, and about 5 minutes later that same car came back in the opposite direction and tossed a bottle of water at him, hitting him right in the face. His lips and cheeks were bloody and bruised and he is lucky he did not crash. We called the sheriff and they took a report, but GJ didn’t have the license number and so the felon got away.

Finally once I was riding alone headed south on a quiet back road. A beat up car headed north came across the center line and directly at me. I saw what was happening and pulled off the road before he could hit me. He sped by doing at least 80 mph, about 2 feet from where I was standing, cowering in the gravel alongside of the pavement.  I don’t think any ‘Share the Road’ signs are going to change this yokel’s behavior.

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    Rich Freggiaro

    Richard Freggiaro is a Stockton area native who grew up on his family’s farm. After an nine year detour to Davis for College, Washington DC for work, and Iowa for graduate school, he returned to San Joaquin County and spent the next quarter century farming with his father. He has been married to Diane for 31 years. He is (mostly) retired which leaves him plenty of time to ride each of his 4 bikes, and he is an enthusiastic and passionate cyclist. Read Full
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