Butterfly Effect Part 2…

Gentlemen, Stoker and I Thank You!

The Federal Government is shut down this weekend.  People are wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth. The alleged reasons are DACA and a big wall, but perhaps the Cosmic Cause is Karma for a lucky couple. Consider the case of Stoker and me: if not for a similar shutdown in 1978 we would have never met.

Shutdown #5: Jimmy Carter vs. the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier

When did it take place? Sept. 30 to Oct.18, 1978
How long did it last? 18 days
Who was president? Jimmy Carter
Who controlled the Senate? Democrats, 59-41; Robert Byrd was majority leader
Who controlled the House? Democrats, 292-143; Tip O’Neill was speaker

The details of why this particular shutdown completely changed the course of our lives are far too complicated to relate here. Back in 1978 I had just graduated UC Davis, and a federal “agency” was very interested in hiring me. So interested, that after some preliminary interviews and tests in California, they were willing to spend money to fly me to the DC Area for final interviews and tests. The scheduled date was in early October, 1978. After the shutdown my interview was deemed ‘non essential’, which it obviously was, at least for them. For me, getting a job was pretty ‘essential’ at the time. The “agency” called to postpone and said to be patient.

Eventually the shutdown ended and I finally flew back east in mid November. The delay allowed me to make some contacts for other job leads. The interviews at the “agency” went very well and I went home 98% sure that my first office would be in Langley sometime in 1979.

Surprisingly, one of the leads, the president of a 7 person private (i.e. non government) agricultural consulting firm, called me a week later and offered me a job. I was stunned. I had really enjoyed meeting him but was pretty sure that my skills and inexperience were not a good fit. I thought about it for a day or two, then decided I would rather work with a small company instead of at a huge “agency”. So my first office turned out to be on the second floor of a bank in Georgetown. Stoker was one of the 7 employees there.

No government shutdown, and I would have ended up in Langley. Stoker and I would never have met. I almost certainly would not have returned to California. I would probably have gotten married, had kids, gotten a divorce (odds are about 40% for first marriages) and stayed in the white collar bureaucracy work world. No return to the farm, no pet goats, no tandem cycling. No 35 years of very happy marriage. A prospect too dismal to dwell on.

So while the politicians argue consider that Fate may be arranging some surprising consequences for some lucky couple.

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Happy Anniversary Stoker!

Tomorrow Diane and I are going to celebrate the 35th anniversary of our wedding. We are planning an enjoyable day: we’re going to a movie and then out for the great burgers and fries at the Lodi Brewing Company.

But before that, we are planning to ride our tandem CoMotion from Ione to Plymouth with the ‘B’ Group of the Stockton Bicycle Club. We might be the only ‘B’ Group bicycle, but that will not bother us. When we are riding together we are never alone. Just like in our marriage.

Smiles at the Summit: Headwind to Follow

Diane wasn’t always known as ‘Stoker’. For the first 23 years of married life we didn’t ride a tandem. We had bikes and did casual rides around the flat rural roads east of Stockton. In 1999 I got serious about cycling, and although we still rode together Diane kind of lost interest. I would do the Club ride, and afterwards go out with her for 12 easy miles. Diane likes to tell the story about how she looked back once and saw that I was pedaling with one leg, which I was doing to try to get some training benefit from rolling at 10 mph on flat pavement. She says was the end of cycling for her.

In 2005, we borrowed a tandem that our friend Bennie wasn’t using and gave it a try. Our first ride was about 10 miles, took almost an hour, and made me a nervous wreck. The bike felt wobbly and cumbersome, and we didn’t know how to start or stop. But we finished without crashing, and I hoped that some day we might be able to ride the 30 mile round trip from our house to Clements in under 3 hours. Today it takes us less than 2.

Neither one of us knew that the first ride would lead to tandem cycling becoming a major part of our lives. We kept at it, and we got better and more comfortable on the bike. Our first ride in the hills was an adventure for us both. We rode from Ione to Plymouth, and I was worried about the steep parts of  Irish Hill Road, but we made it up without stopping or falling over because our speed fell below the critical minimum for steering. And on the descent of Carbondale Road, I was really enjoying myself, because the tandem is more stable at speed than a single bike. But Stoker told me afterwards that as we sailed through the gentle sweeping turns at well over 30 mph, she had her eyes closed.

It took us several years to even try, but now we can stand up together and pedal out of the saddle on hills. Some tandem couples never manage this. I warn her to ‘be ready’, and when the gradient and the gearing seem right I rise out of the saddle and somehow she knows how to stand with me, smooth and secure. I don’t know how she does it.

We have ridden together in Death Valley, the entire Oregon Coast, the Canadian Rockies from Glacier (Montana) to Jasper, in Southern Arizona and in the South of France . We exceeded 3,000 tandem miles in two different years. And there have been some moments when I have been so proud of what Stoker did on our bicycle that my eyes get teary.

35 Years of Marriage: 12 Years in Tandem

The day I remember most was the ride over Logan Pass on the famous ‘Going to the Sun Road’ in Glacier National park. This is a 10 mile climb that averages 6%. It is the longest continuous stretch of uphill road we had even done, and we made it to the top without needing a sag. I had been very concerned about this climb, but Stoker rode strong and we were all smiles at the summit.

I thought the rest of the ride would be easy, a long descent followed by an nearly flat 10 miles from the highway to the Many Glaciers Lodge where we were spending the night. What I did not count on was that the last 10 miles would be into a 40 mph headwind. It got so bad that I had to use the granny gear on a flat road as our speed dropped to 6 mph. We found out later that one of the guides who was riding with us got blown off of the road. Twice. And he had been a professional track rider in Europe and could do one wheeled track stands and bike hops! If the wind was too much for him, imagine how Stoker and I felt.

But Diane kept pedaling and never complained once. After 72 miles and 5,500 feet of climbing and almost 1 1/2 hours of battering headwind, she was smiling. And deservedly proud of finishing a very tough ride. That night in our room I massaged her legs and told her how well she did and how proud I was of her. I still am.

Starting a marriage is like starting to ride a tandem: you have to work together and think about your partner to make it work. It can be awkward at first, but with practice it can become something really special. For 35 years, Stoker and I have been trying to do that, and we think we have something really special. On the bike, and off of it too. Happy Anniversary Stoker!


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Assassins and Tour Guides…

July 27, 1910 was a very hot day in the south of France and race officials anxiously waiting at the top of the Aubisque watched to see if any rider could make it over both the Tourmalet and the Aubisque. The second rider, Octave Lapize, appeared in great distress and pushing his bike. Upon reaching the top Lapize angrily shouted “ASSASSINS…” at the race officials as he passed…

Since 1910, when high mountain passes first became part of the Tour de France, the term ‘Circle of Death’ has been used for the most difficult race stage in the Pyrenees. The 1910 version included 4 huge Cols, including the 3 I took on doing my own ‘Circle of Death’: The Col du Peyresourde, the Col d ‘Aspin, and the giant Col du Tourmalet.

Three Summit Selfies on the Circle of Death

I was in the Pyrenees on the 2nd day of 44|5′s week long tour from Toulouse to the Atlantic Ocean. This tour provided the hardest 6 consecutive days of riding I have ever done: 350 miles and 47,000 feet of climbing. Over 7,800 feet a day! This ride alone featured 10,900 feet over 70 miles. Perhaps not as long or hard as a Tour Stage, but at the very least a ‘semi circle of near death’ for a 61 year old cyclotourist. It was also the most climbing I have ever done on a single day’s ride.

44|5′s Pyrenees Adventure Tour was sold out, and 7 of the 10 riders were friends I had toured with before. Only one person in the group had no connection to at least one other guest. This familiarity made for lively conversation at dinner, but on the road this day silence was pretty much the norm: these mountain passes require all the oxygen you take in go towards propulsion and not to your vocal cords.

I started the day thinking I would do the first two Cols and evaluate whether I should attempt the Tourmalet or not. Since the day was cool (unlike our first ride which was pretty warm) I actually felt pretty good at the lunch break, so I started up the Tourmalet thinking I would probably make it. And I did. 4 Km from the top in the ski resort town of La Monge I decided to stop for a Coke. Unfortunately I forgot that my money was in the car, and I would have to ride about 200 meters back down to retrieve it. There was no chance I would do that, so I drank some water and took a few Endurolytes and headed up to the summit. And I made it. At 2115 meters it was the ‘Cima Coppi’ of our tour.

The rest of the day’s ride was pretty much downhill to our lovely Art Deco hotel in Argeles.  Cycling is really embedded deep in the cultural fabric of France. There were three signed jerseys in the fitness room of the hotel. Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, and Bernard Thevenet. I felt like I was in a cycling museum. Two of the greatest cycling champions and another rider who ‘only’ won 2 Tours. I wonder if the jerseys were protected by an alarm system. Some unscrupulous cycling fan might want an incredible souvenir.

The next day we did a ‘recovery ride’ up Hautacam. 30 miles and 5,100 feet constitutes ‘recovery’ on a 44|5 Tour. I could have shouted “Assassins!”  at our guides John and Gerry, but over the years and multiple tours they have become good friends and I would never do such a thing. Hautacam is a 15 Km climb averaging 7.6%. And do not be deceived by the Kilometer signs counting down to the summit. ‘Kilometer 0′ ends in a parking lot, where you still have another 1.5 Km to reach the cafe at the very top. I thought I was finished when it turned out I had another 100 meters to climb!

These two were in stock. The Peyresourde is on the way.

While the ride wasn’t exactly recovery, we did finish early enough for lunch in a restaurant and an afternoon siesta. About 5 pm I went for a walk into the village for some gelato and souvenir shopping. I wanted to purchase the three road markers for the three Cols I had climbed the previous day. The shop had plenty of ‘Tourmalet’ stones, but I got the last ‘Aspin’ and the ‘Peyresourde’ was out of stock. Google to the rescue! When I got home I ordered one from England to complete my set. Mementos of a monumental day.


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As Old As You Feel…

The Fruit Bowl is a Stockton Institution. From its beginnings in 1947 as a small fruit stand on Waterloo Road selling seasonal fresh fruit (mostly peaches) it has evolved into a large shop with a wide variety of  fruits, nuts and vegetables, all grown locally. They also have a bake shop with wonderful pies, cookies, pastries, calzones, focaccia, and sandwiches for a light lunch. Coffee and  gelato too! It is a favorite rest stop for cyclists pedaling the quiet and completely flat roads east of Stockton. Stockton Bicycle Club Rides stop there at least once a month from April through November.

That 70's Show: SBC Members and the Fruit Bowl Owners Ralph and Denene Lucchetti

This is the Fruit Bowl’s 70th season, and it is also the 70th season for some of the Stockton Bicycle Club’s finest. So a group of the Club’s new septuagenarians got together with the owners Ralph and Denene Lucchetti for a commemorative photo under the celebratory banner.

The photo got me thinking about the demographics of our bike club. Virtually all of our regular riders are over 50, quite a few (me included) are over 60, and a growing number have reached their 70′s, including the 6 stalwarts shown here. Most of us have been riding together regularly for a decade or more, growing ‘less young’ together. Occasionally a new younger rider like Keith or Adam (both early 40′s) joins our group, and we can certainly use the new blood. After a brief adaptation period, Keith now rides rings around his elders, but not all 40 somethings can say the same. These old motors still put out the power. No wonder Social Security is in trouble!

G Man, on the left, is newly 70, and he has adopted a new motto: “Ride until you are 90, then ride some more!” I hope he makes it, and I hope I will still be cycling with him 20 years hence. 90 is the new 70, perhaps?


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Tripped by the GFI

Last Friday and Sunday I pressure washed the exterior of our house. The vinyl siding cleaned up nicely. Diane was very happy and kept saying how great the house looked. And if Stoker is happy everybody is happy.

Tripped Me Up

But no good deed goes unpunished. On Monday, I got out our electric lawn mower to cut our tiny piece of lawn. It is the old fashioned kind with a cord that plugs into an outlet. Not a good tool for a huge lawn, but our token lawn is so small that it does the job with a minimum of fuss.

I plugged it in, pulled on the safety handle to start the mower, and nothing happened. I tried the other socket, and still nothing. I tried the lawn mower by plugging it into an outlet in the garage and it worked fine. I went to the fuse box and saw the GFI fuse marked ‘outside’ was tripped.

I am not a real handyman type, but I do know that Ground Fault Interrupter Fuses (GFI ) are deliberately built so that they trip easily, for safety. I also know how to reset them. Pull the lever all the way to ‘off’, then push it hard to the ‘on’ position. It will click in if you do it correctly. To make sure, press the button that says ‘test’. If the fuse is working it will click off. Then use the reset method again and you are good to go.

I tried. I tried several times. The fuse would not click into the ‘on’ position, and the ‘test’ button did nothing. I checked the other backyard outlet on the ‘outside’ circuit and verified there was no power there either. So I assumed the fuse had failed and called our trusted electrical company. It was Fourth of July Week and they said no one could come until Thursday afternoon. I said that was fine, this certainly was not an emergency. The grass wasn’t going to get out of hand in a couple of days.

I figured that the pressure washing had gotten some water into the outlets and tripped the fuse. And that there might still be some water in the outlet which was causing the hypersensitive GFI’s to keep tripping and fail to reset.  I did think maybe if I waited a couple of days, they might dry out and I could reset the fuse. I resolved to try this Wednesday afternoon.

At 2 pm on Wednesday I got a call from the electrician; he was turning into my driveway! He was right on time for the promised 2 to 4 pm time slot, but he was a day early. There was some confusion, probably caused by the holiday week. He listened to me describe the problem, went to the fuse box, did exactly what I had done on Monday, and the fuse clicked into the ‘on’ position.

I told him I had done the same thing he did, and he said these fuses can be tricky. He was probably trying not to laugh at a clueless homeowner who can’t even reset a fuse. He agreed that the pressure washing might have gotten some water where it shouldn’t be, and could have been the problem. He left after about 5 minutes total, which will probably yield the highest return per minute of all his calls that day. If he hadn’t come a day early I might have been able to reset the fuse myself now that it had dried out, and I could have cancelled the service call and saved some money.

The same kind of thing happens with my bikes. I hear an irritating noise. I do everything I can think of to get rid of it but nothing works. Finally I give up and take it to the bike shop, where no matter how hard I try I cannot reproduce the noise. It is almost as if the bike is doing it on purpose, making its owner look silly. Just like the GFI did.



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Scaring Stoker

Poor Stoker. After the Gorge de la Nesque ride we were sitting at lunch. I enjoyed my entree, a goat cheese tart. But during the plat I started to feel pressure on my temples, and my vision was obscured by shimmering lights

George de la Nesque Summit: A Long but Tandem Friendly Climb

I wasn’t  dizzy or nauseous. I thought I might have gotten a bit dehydrated and would recover before anyone would notice.

That didn’t happen. Diane went to the WC, and John started asking if I was ok. I wasn’t. The light was even brighter. It was as if I was looking directly into the sun, except I was sitting in the shade. I couldn’t really see and I felt extremely lightheaded. As if I could faint at any moment.

Stoker came back and was shocked by how I looked, which I guess was awful. I wasn’t really worried. This very thing has happened to me before, either during or just after a hot ride. But people around me were extremely concerned. The cafe owner provided ice which Stoker used to cool me. That felt good. A cold coke showed up and I took a sip. It tasted good.

I looked so bad that a French woman, a nurse or doctor I guess, left her lunch and started taking my blood pressure. She spoke to John in French. She said my BP was 80 / 50. No wonder I was lightheaded.

They walked me into the cafe and had me lay down on a bench in a booth. A man came in with a BP meter and a stethoscope. He seemed like a doctor. He took my pressure and shook his head, saying it was too low in French to John.  But I was already feeling better.

10 Minutes Later I Couldn't See: I Missed Dessert!

And I kept feeling better. I was still lightheaded but my vision had cleared. I asked John to drive us back to our house. He found out how I should go about seeing a doctor, but I was already recovered enough to think that wasn’t necessary.

Back at home I used my Kardia to do an EKG. Normal. Amazing device, that Kardia. It can ease your mind and save you a trip to the emergency room. John and Diane went to the Malaucene pharmacy and bought a blood pressure monitor. I was 106/60, still low but recovering. Later I called my doctor back in California, and he actually took my call. I told him what happened and he said I was almost certainly just dehydrated.  He told me to stop my blood pressure medication, at least temporarily.

By evening I was back to 117/70 and by the next morning I was back to normal.

As I said, this has happened to me before. At least three times that I remember. The first time was back in 2008, on a very hot day doing a 75 mile tandem ride. It happened to me in France 3 years ago. I recovered from those incidents within a few hours, so I wasn’t panicking.  But John and Stoker were understandably concerned.

I know I didn’t drink enough. Drinking while riding is difficult on the tandem, especially at slow climbing speed. I was riding pretty hard up the Gorge. It was also the first warm, bordering on hot day I’ve ridden since last summer. But I had plenty of time to cool down on the descent and I arrived at the cafe a little tired but hungry and ready for lunch. I was actually kind of embarrassed at having the problem,  which is silly of course.

My problem stayed away for the rest of the trip, even when I was climbing Alpe d’ Huez in temperatures approaching 100 degrees. This was the first time I scared Stoker in France this year. The incident with the moto was the second, since for all she knew I might have been on the pavement with serious injuries instead of standing by my broken bike wondering where to get a SRAM derailleur in France. The prayer candles may have tested our faith a bit, but they came through in the end.

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Testing the Prayer Candles: The Incident

The 5th day of the Cevennes Tour is the ‘Queen Stage’, the longest and hardest day of the tour. 75 miles and 7600 feet of up and down.

Chain Off, Derailleur Broke and Hanger Bent: DNF for the Queen Stage

I was worried about my legs and the weather.  But the winds of the previous 3 days finally died down, and it was sunny and dry with comfortable temperatures. And my legs were ok. Not great, not snappy, but ok.

This ride has 6 cols to cross, but two are pretty small ones. The other 4 are all significant ascents. The last one is the Col de Perjuret. After a long gentle rise the grade gets much steeper for several kilometers,  then eases just a bit the rest of the way to the top.

I finished the steep stuff and stopped at our van for some water before finishing the climb. I was feeling good and was sure I was going to make it to the summit, and then enjoy the 12 kilometer descent to our hotel. I was doing about 6 mph on a 7% grade when the ‘incident’ took place.

I heard a swarm of motorcycles whiz past me. I ignored them. The roads in the Cevennes are largely deserted,  but the Perjuret is closer to civilization and gets a bit more traffic. I expected the motos to be past in a flash and I would again have the climb to myself. I was riding close to the edge of the pavement and well out of the way of the wasp-like buzzing bikes.

I felt a bump from my rear wheel as if I had hit something. Then my chain came off the front sprocket. Since I was going so slowly my velocity went to zero before I knew what had happened, so I unclipped and stopped without falling. I looked back and there was a motorcycle rider on his feet, trying to pick up his bike which was laying on the pavement.

Cars and motos backed up behind where we were blocking the narrow road. The motorcycle rider came up to me looking very concerned. He pointed at my rear derailleur, which I saw for the first time. The cage was destroyed, the hanger bent 180 degrees leaving what what was left of the derailleur above the cassette pointing skyward. The pulleys were on the ground. No wonder the chain came off.

I got 5 cols out of 6, including this one, before the 'incident'

He was speaking French, but when I said I didn’t speak French he switched to English. “It is my fault” he said, several times. Which it clearly was.

Meanwhile, tour leader John and Diane are in the support van in the queue of backed up cars and bikes. Diane is in a state of near panic. She sees the stopped cars and can’t see me but knows I am just in front. I’m certain John was none too calm either.

I see the van in the queue and wave them forward. John somehow pulls past the stopped cars in front of him and reaches the ‘crash’ site. I suppose a motorcycle on its side is a crash, but the Tarmac stayed upright. Diane sees me standing up and her heart rate calms a bit.

What follows took place mostly in French between John and the rider. The rider wanted to pay for damages. He asked how much. It is a SRAM Red rear derailleur. I said 250 euro, knowing that was too low but thinking he would never believe even that. He said he didn’t have that much cash, but he would get it. He handed Diane his ID card and said he would come to our hotel. I was so mad I gave him his card back and said I trust you but if you don’t show up it doesn’t matter, you have damaged my bike and ruined my big ride just before the final summit. Since I was speaking English I doubt he understood me. But he knew I was angry.

Some of his buddies showed up and between them they got 250 euro together and gave it to Diane. I had gotten into the van to keep my anger to myself and let John and Stoker deal with the problem.

John put the bike on the roof rack and we stared up to the summit to support Jack and Katy who were riding ahead. I was furious. I had done nothing wrong, but my bike was broken and I couldn’t finish the ‘Queen Stage’: I came up about 800 feet short of the final summit.

John and Diane pointed out to me that I was lucky I didn’t go down and get hurt. This is true, and my logical brain knows this. But take a cyclist whose heart rate has been pounding in Zone 4 for the last 1/2 hour and who is tired from a long ride and frustrated that his effort has been terminated by factors beyond his control, and his logical brain goes on sabbatical.

Two of the 76 candles we lit during our stay. Moto mojo?

I am not certain what happened, but I have a theory. There was a slower car that the motos were going around. I was in front of the car. This particular motorcycle went around the car and pulled back into the right lane, and didn’t notice the bicycle in front of the car until it was too late. The motorcycle driver braked hard and lost control, but he was able to keep on his feet while laying the bike on its side on the pavement. He hit me hard enough to cause some damage (maybe a lot, I don’t know yet) but not hard enough to knock me off.

Back at the hotel we looked at the damage. Rear derailleur and hanger totaled. Rear wheel knocked out of true, possible damage to the rim or spokes. The right rear dropout is scuffed and pitted on the bottom. This might just be cosmetic but needs evaluation by an expert. The cost will be at least 400 euro for parts and labor, and much more if the frame damage is significant.

Since I am completely uninjured, I am going to give the prayer candles that Diane and I lit daily a pass. All I ask is for them to keep us safe. Broken bikes are not such a big deal. Broken bones or broken skin are. So the candle karma is intact. But I sure wish I could have finished that ride.

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Last Tandem in Provence….

…at least for this year.

Rolling through Provence: Last Tandem Ride 2017

After a month in Malaucene we did our last long guided tandem ride on May 31. The weather was perfect and the ride was wonderful. It was also pretty hilly. Stoker had been getting stronger each day during our trip, and she did really well. There was a long climb up to Blauvac, ascending 1,000 feet in 3 miles, mostly at 6 to 8%. Last year we did this climb, but it was hot and I did not feel well and we struggled.  But this year the day was cool and we both felt great, so we made it up just fine.

The descent following the climb was really fun, not too steep, with sweeping turns instead of switchbacks, no wind and no cars. After that came a long stretch of the most false ‘false flat’ imaginable.  The pavement looks level but the Garmin says 2, 3, 4 or even 5%. Roads like this are really irritating, since it looks like you should be rolling along easily at 17+ mph but find yourself riding hard to keep up a 12 mph pace.

As we came to an intersection we had to wait for a large group from Trek Travel to whiz by, going down the same false flat we were climbing. One of the riders asked his friend if he saw the ‘twin pack’ with orange kit matching their bike. I’ve never heard our tandem called that before. It sounds like something packaged for sale at Costco.

Best Way to Finish a Tandem Tour

We had coffee in Bedoin,  then went to the bike shop that owns Modestine,  the tandem we rented on our first two trips to France. She was there, actually looking pretty good and fast, although I know better. She is still a lumbering, ill fitting, cantankerous shifting beast. This year’s rental, which Diane named ‘Clementine’, is a much better bike. But we were both glad to see Modestine still lives to frustrate another tandem team. She won’t get another chance with us though.

After the visit, it was on to one more climb of the Col de la Madeline. We were rolling very nicely. I didn’t even need the granny gear: we did the climb in our 39×30. To be fair it is not excessively steep, mostly 4 to 5%, but we still did well.

A triumphant descent back to Malaucene, a celebratory kiss at the ride’s end, and our tandem tour was over.

We stayed in our Malaucene rental house for 28 days, and were very happy and relaxed there. Fantastic cycling and great food and a couple of entertaining side trips made the time go quickly. We never got bored or homesick.  We are happy to be back in California with our family and friends and of course our dog Luke. But a month in Malaucene was not too long for us. It is a cycling paradise.

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Not Tandem Friendly: Ventoux and Alpe d’ Huez

If you are a baseball fan,  imagine taking batting practice in Yankee Stadium,  then flying to Boston to do the same thing at Fenway Park on the same day. On May 22 I did the cycling equivalent.

Ventoux Summit at 8:30 AM: On to the Alpe

Two of the most famous climbs that are raced in the Tour de France are Mont Ventoux and Alpe d’ Huez. Ventoux is practically in the back yard of the house we rented in Malaucene for the month of May, but the Alpe is almost 3 hours away by car.

I wanted to do both of these iconic climbs on the same day.  44|5, my favorite touring company,  made it happen. And my legs managed it, though not without some difficulty.

I got up at 4 am for a 6 o’clock pick up. We transferred to Bedoin, since I wanted to do the most famous, and longest, route up Ventoux. John and Gerry were both along. They alternated driving the car and riding with me. And Diane came too. She wanted to see these famous climbs in person after watching them on TV for years.

From Bedoin the road climbs 5,075 feet in 13.2 miles. The first 3.5 miles are gentle (700 feet up). Then there are 6 miles through the forest that average 9.5%. After that comes the famous ‘moonscape’, which isn’t quite as steep until the last two km, which ramp up to 11%.

I felt pretty good all the way up. It was cool and calm at the bottom, but near end of the forest it started to get windy. The wind increased to a mini Mistral on the moonscape. Sometimes it was behind us, but mostly it was a disturbing crosswind that both impeded progress and made controlling the bike difficult.

When I came around the last switchback I got hit by a blast that almost stopped me and blew me over on a 12% slope. My heart rate hit 164 and my power reached 460 watts just to survive the last 50 meters.

Alpe d' Huez Summit: Time for a Beer!

I was planning to descend to Malaucene on the bike, but the wind made me change my mind. So we put the bikes on the roof rack and headed for Alpe d’ Huez.

After a 2 1/2 hour drive with a sandwich stop for lunch, we arrived at the start. Gerry and I got on the bikes and rode a little over 3 miles of flat road to loosen our legs after the drive, and then we started up: over 3,600 feet in a bit over 8 miles.

Alpe d’ Huez has 21 switchbacks: 180 degree turns where the road flattens a bit before hitting you with another 9 to 12% ramp. The switchbacks count down from 21 at the bottom to 1 just before the ski resort at the top.

The first 3 kilometres are really steep. My Garmin showed mostly 10 to 12% and hit 14% for a brief moment. And while wind wasn’t an issue,  heat was. Our Garmin devices were showing temperatures in the mid 90′s. Mine actually got to 100.

I stopped twice on the climb. I didn’t want to, but it was so hot that it seemed prudent to pour some water on my head and down my throat before continuing. I wasn’t feeling really horrible but I was struggling.  I think the second stop was with 6 switchbacks to go. I took off my undershirt  (should have done that earlier) and started up.

Then there was a miracle, a sudden massive drop in temperature. There was much cooler air up just past the village where we had stopped and the temperature dropped almost 20 degrees, just like that. I went from totally wiped out to feeling almost revived, and I was sure I was going to make it. Even the steep ramp after Switchback #1, which I struggled up back in 2007, wasn’t that hard.

A little easy pedaling through the village, a couple of gentle 7% slopes on the edge of town and we got to the very top, a parking lot at the ski lift.

We celebrated with a beer and a t shirt purchase, then it was time for the long drive back to Malaucene. Which was made longer by a 20 minute delay for road work on

Post Climb Celebration: T Shirt Purchase to Follow

the way down the Alpe.  Otherwise we would have arrived back exactly on the itinerary’s ETA of 7:30.  Stats: (including 3 flat miles to warm up for the Alpe): 26.5 miles, 8,700 feet climbed, 4:06 riding time.

It might be a little loco to drive 5 hours round trip just to have the satisfaction of riding to two of the most famous cycling summits in France on the same day. But it was a really exciting and memorable day for me, and for Diane too. In one of the switchbacks of Alpe d’ Huez, she ran beside me shouting ‘Allez, allez!’ She said afterwards she had always wanted to do that, so we both got a dose of ‘Cycling Fantasy Camp’. A dose I will never forget.

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Un Jour Sans….

is French, and sort of translates into ‘a day without’ or ’an off day’, or ‘one of those days’. I had all three last Tuesday.

Stoker and I have put all our medical issues behind us and are well into our cycling preparation for a trip to France.  After a 6 week hiatus from tandem riding, we have done 10 rides together since March 16. We started with short and flat rides, then progressed to the typical club ride of 40 miles and around 3,000 feet of up and down. We hope to progress to our upper limit of around 50 to 60 miles and 4,000 feet. Rides longer or hillier than that are likely to put a strain on the tandem team’s partnership. If Stoker isn’t happy…

All Smiles Thursday After Tuesday's Travails

On Tuesday we joined our friends with the Stockton Bike Club for the Tuesday ride from Wallace. This ride has evolved into a group of mostly retired regulars who enjoy each other’s company. Sometimes we are joined by teachers and professors and doctors and others who can get the day off. There are usually at least 10 riders. We ride 20 miles, then take a break for socializing and coffee at Common Grounds, one of our three favorite mid ride stops (Clark’s in Ione and The Fruit Bowl just east of Stockton are the other two). Then we ride back to Wallace; another 20 hilly miles.

Stoker and I are the slowest bike in this group, but we usually are not that far behind. And for the first 20 miles Tuesday we were doing ok, although  I felt like I was really working hard.  As we started up the 1 mile hill just after the coffee break I knew something was off. I was hoping it was the disc brake dragging , as long time readers of this blog will recall has happened before. But I checked it and that wasn’t the problem. I was the problem.

I told the other riders not to wait for us, and I told Stoker to not try to compensate for me by riding harder that she is comfortable with. The ride back had some downhill stretches where I could rest, but there are some hills too. To make the tandem climb I estimate that I need to do a minimum of 230 watts, more if the grade exceeds 6%. Normally this is well within my ability: I’ve done 230 watts for an hour, and none of these climbs take the tandem more than 6 minutes. But on Tuesday those climbs had me panting and wondering if we would get to the top.

Which we did, even the steep one at the end (over 10% for a short pitch) we dub ‘Mount Wallace’. As I got off the bike I sat on the tailgate of my Honda Element to rest for a bit before putting the tandem into the back. I was weary, knackered, worn out and worried. I shouldn’t have been that tired. I rested on Monday, and didn’t ride hard on Sunday. I would expect to be fresh and strong. I wasn’t getting a cold or flu either. Three days later I’m perfectly healthy. I was pretty discouraged driving home, wondering if this trip to France was such a good idea. If all the rides there are going to feel like this one did, the answer is no.

When we got home, I took a shower and then a long nap. I fell asleep almost as soon as I laid down on the couch. When I woke up 90 minutes later Stoker asked me if Luke barking at some dog running through the orchard disturbed me, or if I heard the UPS delivery truck. Nope to both, I was completely out.

It turned out that I simply had an off day; un jour sans. On Thursday Stoker and I did the Club ride from Wallace to Ione and we did fine. My legs felt good and there was no danger we were going to have to stop on any of the hills. I finished the ride feeling much better about our tandem team being ready for our adventure in France. I don’t speak French but I have learned a few phrases, and ‘un jour sans’ is one of them. I hope I don’t need to use it!





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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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