Cycling for Life

Diane and I are fortunate to have been seeing the same family physician since we moved back to Stockton 35 years ago. And he is a Linden Local: he grew up on a farm just down the road from ours. He is a really good doctor and it is nice to have someone we know and trust to help us navigate through the complexities of health issues. Diane has Medicare and excellent supplemental insurance, but I am too young for that, so I am purchasing health coverage on my own. Thanks to the wonders of the Affordable Care Act, this doctor I like so much no longer takes my insurance, although he does take credit cards. So I am a ‘cash customer’.

Riding is the Best Medicine

I had my annual physical last week, and as we were tidying ourselves up after the last part of the examination (yes, that part) he remarked that I was the healthiest person in his practice of 2000 patients.

That may be a slight exaggeration, but it is true that compared to many people he sees I am unusual. I’m not overweight. My cholesterol profile is very nice and I have no need for any drugs to modify it. My cardiac fitness is off the charts compared to his typical patient, although it is nothing special compared to the typical Stockton Bike Club cyclist. I did a stress test on a treadmill in his office a couple of years ago, when I had better insurance that would pay for it. The test starts easy and gets progressively harder. Most people reach their high heart rate after 10 minutes and stop. I did 23 minutes, and since the doctor is required to be present throughout the test in case someone passes out or has a cardiac arrest, I could see him looking at his watch and fretting about getting a quarter hour off schedule. He told me that was the second longest test he had ever seen. He hasn’t done many SBC riders though.

I have a few health issues of course. I take pills for high blood pressure and low thyroid. I also have a condition/disease that has no effect on how I feel or require any medication to treat, at least so far. But prudence mandates that I have periodic tests, which I have and pay for out of pocket. High deductible, remember?

Overall I feel great and have few health problems. This is largely due to good genetics and dumb luck, but lifestyle choices play a role too. Back in 1999 my weight had risen to 190 lbs. That year I started cycling with the Stockton Bike Club and was slower than almost everybody. I got faster and lost weight: today I hit the scale around 168 lbs. Since I retired I’m on my bike around 500 hours each year, which helps keep my weight and cholesterol counts down. I am no diet fanatic; I eat foods that I like. Put an El Grullense burrito on my plate and I will devour it. But I try to balance that with foods that are very good for me. So far the diet and cycling combination has really lowered my risk of heart disease. My labs include a ratio that is supposed to evaluate risk of heart disease, and if the number is below 2.8 the risk is supposed to be ‘below average’. My ratio is 0.5. That is one test I hope is accurate!

One last tidbit from the lab results. My hematocrit level is 37.8. This is a measure of red blood cells. Normal for a male is 38 to 50, and cheating cyclists use EPO to raise their number up the the UCI limit of 50. So no one can accuse me of not riding clean! Not fast, but legal.


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Winter of Our Discontent Part 2

California had gone from worrying about drought and water shortages to worrying about flooding. In a way that is good news as long as your property is on high ground. Casa Brumby is elevated a bit above the surrounding land and should stay dry. The end of the drought and our personal lack of flood worries is our good news.

Do Not Put This in Your Bidon

Because of the weather Stoker and I haven’t exactly been racking up the miles. But last weekend we did something we haven’t done since May 2016: we rode on back to back days. A very hilly (for the tandem) 37 mile ride on Saturday, and 42 miles for breakfast in Jenny Lind on Sunday, both with the Stockton Bicycle Club. We did fine and are starting to think we are going to be fit for France.

In Part 1 of ‘Discontent’ I gave a peek into Stoker’s medical issue. Here is another peek:  next week we are going back to UCSF for a lumpectomy.  It is outpatient, non invasive, and should result in a very small amount of suspicious tissue being removed. Of course we don’t know for certain what the surgeon will find, but we are hopefully confident that it will be a minor incision with a quick and complete healing.

I hope Stoker’s interaction with the medical community goes better than it did for me the past two days. I had a colonoscopy 13 years ago and it was time for another one. My appointment was Friday at 1:30. Anyone who has had one of these knows that the procedure is easy and pain free, but the prep is horrible. You start by going on a clear liquid diet the day before: water, black coffee or tea, sports drinks or pulp free fruit juices (no red or purple). So you are hungry all day.  And if you think that vodka, champagne or white wine are ‘clear liquids’, forget it: no alcohol either.

Then at 5 pm you start drinking the ‘prep’. This consists of a gallon of solution that tastes like a cross between salt water and rubbing alcohol. You drink 8 ounces every 10 minutes, all at once as quickly as you can. For the first hour nothing happens, except your stomach feels terribly bloated and you are nauseous from the awful taste. Then the ‘prep’ gets down to business and you spend the next several hours alternatively ‘cleansing’ and getting sick to your stomach continuing to drink the fluid until is is gone. The last three glasses made me gag and nearly vomit.

After this you are weak and ill. But more fun is to come: From midnight on no food or liquid of any kind! Your mouth will get dry and you will be hungry for a while, especially in the morning. But that passes: all that is left is that you are tired and thirsty.

So I did all this, and reported to the clinic at the appointed hour of 1:30 on Friday. I was processed, got my wrist band and sat down to wait. Stoker was with me since she was going to have to drive me home because of the anesthesia. I was the last patient of the day and we were alone in the waiting room.

Then the power went out. Emergency lights came on, and I heard whispers from the staff about generators and procedures manuals and cell phones and where was the doctor and reschedules. I started to get a little more nervous, if that is possible for someone prepped and waiting for a colonoscopy.

About 45 minutes went by. Finally the doctor came out and said he was cancelling his procedures. The generator was working but it was supposed to be a backup and if it failed there could be real trouble. I understood but I pointed out that I had done the prep and asked about waiting for a bit in case the power might come back on. He said no. I asked about doing the procedure in the adjacent hospital. He said my insurance wouldn’t cover it and it would cost tens of thousands of dollars. He was completely unsympathetic. He kept pointing out that ‘I am here’ as if I should be grateful for His Presence. He did not make any effort to help me. There had to be some way to get the procedure done after what I had gone through to get ready. But it was Friday and I was his last patient and I suspect he didn’t want to extend himself or waste any of his oh so valuable time.

I left in a state of extreme anger; at my bad luck and at the indifferent, unsympathetic physician. I might have even gone a little bit crazy. Dehydration and low blood sugar can do that to you. I know I should reschedule the procedure but it won’t be anytime soon. And not with this doctor either. A day later and I’m still mad, and my digestive tract is still far from restored to normal. I thought the Hippocratic Oath had something in it about doing no harm. I guess being miserable for no purpose does not constitute ‘harm.’


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G Man saves the Goat

Stoker and I noticed the goat with his/her head and horns poking through the wire fence. And we heard the bleating, which might have meant ‘Hi there’ or ‘ The grass really IS better on this side’. But it also could have meant ‘I’m stuck, you dumb human. Help me get out!’

G Man and His Benefactor with His Pasture Mates

Stoker wanted to go back, but stopping and turning a tandem around is not a simple matter. We were at cruising speed and already behind the others, as is usual when the CoMotion goes on a Stockton Bike Club ride. I assured her the goat probably wasn’t stuck and even if it was it would get out eventually. I also told her that if the goat was still there on our return trip we would stop.

G Man was just behind us, and he decided to pause and see if the goat needed assistance. The answer was yes, the goat was well and truly stymied. G Man was able to get some slack in the wire and maneuver the creature’s head and horns back inside the fence.  When he told us what happened at the regroup just up the road he became the hero of the day, especially for Stoker, who has a soft spot for goats because we used to have 5 of them as pets. At one time! I made sure I treated G Man to breakfast in gratitude for easing Stoker’s mind from worry about the goat, which could distract her from pedaling with enthusiasm, to the detriment of the tandem’s progress.

Rescuing goats on our Club rides is rare, but not unprecedented. I have done it twice myself. The first time was back in 2007. We were returning to Ione from Plymouth, and at the east end of Five Mile Road my friend Karen H. noticed a goat in the fence that she remembered seeing in the same spot 4 hours earlier. So the goat was really stuck and probably not very happy. Karen tried, no luck. Gary J. tried, also no luck. Karen went to look for the owner, and then I went into action.

I learned  from dealing with Stoker’s ‘pets’ that the trick to handling a goat is to realize that you are not going to break its neck if you really manhandle him/her. Goats are tough critters not easily damaged. You simply have to show the goat who is boss, and then they cooperate. So I pushed and pulled and prodded and suddenly the goat was freed and cavorted off as if nothing had happened. The only casualty was my very nice and nearly new Castelli jersey, which I snagged on the barbed wire.

Where are the Cyclists When I Need Them?

The second time was a year or so later, in exactly the same spot. It might have even been the same goat. This time we stopped and I had help from Jack B. Good thing, either this goat had longer horns or had become jammed inside a smaller opening. It was all we could do for one of us to pull the wire while the other manipulated the goat’s head and horns. Somehow we did it and the goat went trotting off with not even a glance back.

So G Man’s rescue was not the first for the Stockton Bicycle Club, but it was certainly appreciated by the goat and by Stoker.


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Pothole Problems

Hazardous to Wheels and Bones

The winter rains have come to California, and they have stayed. This is very good news. The drought is over, reservoirs are full or filling and many are releasing water to free up storage and prevent spring flooding.

However, what is great for the state’s water supply isn’t so wonderful for the roads. Potholes are popping up everywhere. On second thought, potholes don’t actually ‘pop up’, do they? They cave in, or collapse, or subside. Whatever they do, potholes are a major irritant for motorists and a potential disaster for cyclists.

I have two friends who hit potholes while riding and crashed. The holes were hiding in the shade of trees on a bright sunny day and were difficult to see, especially wearing cycling sunglasses. Both of them broke their collarbone. I have managed to avoid any crashes, but I did put a dent in a rim when I smashed into one.

I’ve also suffered the common ‘pinch flat’. This type of flat tire occurs when you hit a bump, or a small stone, or a pothole hard. The tire bead separates from the rim enough to allow the tube to push into the gap, usually on both sides of the rim. As the tire snaps back it punctures the tube,  usually in two places, producing the telltale ‘snakebite’ puncture pattern.

And Counting...

So potholes are no fun, and there are going to be a lot of them to avoid this cycling season.When I’ve been out riding between downpours this winter I’ve noticed lots of fresh openings.  I’m not alone: the pothole problem was a headline story in Calaveras County. And the 3,000 holes are going to have lots of company.

Riding around at cycling speeds, I see signs of pavement deterioration everywhere. The asphalt is saturated in low spots and water is weeping onto the surface. There are small spider web cracks in the pavement, and eventually a small section of road will break loose and leave a tiny hole, which will quickly become a big hole. There are going to be lots of big holes opening in the next few months.

County Public Works Departments will do what they can, and many holes will get patched, but our favorite cycling roads are mostly low traffic byways, and they will be far down the list of priorities for fixing. So cyclists should keep their eyes open and their hands securely on the handlebars. No one likes a trip to the orthopedist.

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Winter of Our Discontent

2017 has been a wonderful year for rain and snow. Storms have found their way to California and dropped badly needed and much welcomed precipitation. Reservoirs are full or filling, snow is so deep in places that it covers the chair lifts at ski areas, and for at least one season the drought is no longer a concern.

Other than the weather, 2017 has not been the greatest year for Stoker and me. Stoker has a health issue. It is significant and serious but far from life threatening. The issue is likely to cause her some short term discomfort. It also has a high probability of being completely resolved with no long term consequences to her health. But both of us are stressed. We have appointments and are gathering information and weighing options.

2017: So Far Not So Happy

This health issue is always in the back of our minds and affects our mood. We are utterly lacking in joie de vivre. And no ’joie de velo tandem’ either. We rode on New Year’s Day for a frigid forty miles, but that is all for 2017. Between the weather and the stress and uncertainty Stoker is in hibernation, and I can’t blame her. She didn’t ride at all in December because it was cold and wet, so we are about as out of shape of a tandem team as we have ever been. And we are supposed to go to France to ride this May!

I’m dealing with a health issue of my own, though not nearly as dramatic. I have been taking medication for high blood pressure for almost 30 years. I started on an ACE inhibitor back in 1990 at a dose of 40 mg. This was before I was a cyclist. In 2001 I started riding seriously and lost weight (25 lbs.!) and was having dizziness from LOW blood pressure. I was able to cut the dose to 10 mg. And everything was fine until this November. I started getting blood pressure readings at home that were higher than they should be. My doctor advised increasing the dose to 20 mg, and then 40 mg. This didn’t help much, so he prescribed a very low dose of a beta blocker to add to my other medication.

I’ve been on the beta blocker 10 days, and it seems to be working. Unfortunately it also seems to be affecting my cycling. Beta Blockers can slow the heart, and on Tuesday’s ride I noticed that my heart rate was about 10 beats below where it usually is at every level of exertion. I don’t know what the long term consequences of this medication are going to be, but I suspect my cycling performance will suffer. I’m not thrilled about that.  More discontent.

I have a cold. It started last Sunday, got worse through Thursday, and seems like it might finally be through with me soon. But yesterday I got out on the bike, and I was awful. I didn’t come close to hitting my planned workout, and I felt dreadfully weak. Beta blockers? Effects of the cold? Stress? Out of shape? It was a very discouraging performance, or lack thereof. The cold is certainly contributing to the discontent level.

And what would an already dismal month be without a  major plumbing problem? On January 12 our septic system backed up. A call to RotoRooter brought a technician who used a ‘snake’ to clear the clog. Unfortunately the ‘snake’ also cracked the drain pipe in several places, which we discovered a few days later. We were able to get RotoRooter to do some emergency patches, but the entire line is going to have to be replaced. This is going to run to several thousands of dollars. And we are having trouble getting a plumber to even look at the job. We have one recommended to us, but he is busy and I am trying to balance calling and reminding him we can use his help with calling too often and being a pest.

The first 3 weeks of 2017 have not been the best for us. But at least there has been plenty of rain.


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‘Dyeing’ on Credit…

I’m retired and for most of the year I can ride whenever I want with no pesky employment obligations getting in the way. But every fall I accept a seasonal job working for a walnut processor. When asked what I do, I could say that I create and manage the grower database, weigh trucks, draw samples, do moisture tests, and build a pricing model for the crop. My friends shorten this to ‘he counts nuts’, and they are not far off.

Fall Foliage in the Lodi Appellation

There are lots of nuts to count, more each year for the 10 years I have been at this. I really like doing the job, but while it only lasts for a month and a half, it does require 6 to 7 days each week and 9 to 11 hours a day for much of the season. So I don’t really have a chance to do club rides, or ride with Stoker on our tandem either. The best I can do is an occasional 60 to 90 minute flat ride right from my house after work. When things really get busy I have to resort to an indoor trainer at 5 am. I do 30 minutes and think of it as cycling purgatory; it is something I have to do to retain at least some of my cycling fitness before I am admitted to the Paradise of the road again.

Today was my first day completely off work in a good long while, and Stoker and I spent a large part of it on a ride together. We haven’t done much tandem riding since mid August. We were apart for 26 days on separate European trips, mine cycling and hers not. As soon as I got back I started counting nuts, and being busy with that made tandem timing difficult. But today we got back on, and we had a delightful 40 mile spin. We looped around Lodi admiring the fall foliage in the vineyards. The colors aren’t up to New England or the aspens in the Sierras and Rockies, but you can’t make wine from birch or maple or oak trees either.

The weather was perfect; sunny and cool with almost no wind. We rode 30 miles and stopped to split a turkey sandwich and a Pelligrino at Panera in Lodi. We were feeling good and enjoying the day. At West Lane and Harney we rode past a small shopping center, and two of the tenants are a ‘vape’ store and a tattoo parlor.  Neither of these establishments is likely to see Stoker or me pass through their entrance doors.

On a bike you notice things that fly past in an automobile. I noticed the tattoo establishment sported a sign offering “No Money Down Tattoos!”, with “Financing Available”. For some reason I found the idea that someone would go into debt to have needles coated with dye stuck into their skin to be very entertaining. When I told Stoker what the sign said she laughed out loud. We paid cash for our cars (some of which were nothing special), borrowed as little as possible to build our house and paid it off asap, and NEVER paid any interest on credit cards or consumer loans.  Our motto was if we couldn’t pay cash we couldn’t afford it. So the idea of a tattoo on credit is going to give us the giggles.

I cannot help but wonder; what is the interest rate on tattoo loans? Do tattoos depreciate like cars or hold value like houses (2009 to 2012 excepted)? Are there short-term loans for a long-term body modification? What about collateral? Like Shylock, could the lender ask the borrower to put up ‘ a pound of flesh’ ? Can tattoos be repossessed?

And I never would have seen the sign if we hadn’t been cycling. A two-wheeled world view can give an entirely different perspective.


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Menu Cycliste

The English language, according to ‘Global Language Monitor’, has over 1 million words. And yet we need to borrow words from French, and sometimes change their meaning in the process.

Goat Cheese Salad: an Entree

One example: in France an ‘entree‘ is a first course of a meal. In the US, it refers to the main course. And we use the term ‘menu’ for the printed list of choices at a restaurant. In France this is called a ‘carte‘. Menu means something much different.  On the carte at most French restaurants, you will find a fixed price meal that is called a menu. This consists of a first course (entree), a main course (plat) and dessert (dessert). There are usually choices for each course, and the price is the same regardless of what you select. Some restaurants have 2, or sometimes even 3, different menus at different prices.

Here is an example: A 25 Euro menu might offer 3 entree choices: goat cheese salad, escargot, or pate. The main course choices could be duck breast, chicken in wine sauce, or grilled salmon. And dessert might offer a tart, a cake, ice cream, chocolate mousse, or a fruit plate. Dinner is usually three courses, sometimes 4 with the addition of a cheese course after the plat. Coffee usually is ordered after the dessert course, not with it. If 25 Euros ($29) seems pricey, remember that prices on the carte in France include tax and tip.

My Plat Choice: Duck Breast

Ordering a menu from the carte is usually a good value, and the multiple courses insure a relaxed pace to the meal. Coming from the US we might call this ‘slow service’ and get irritated that dinner is taking 90 minutes or more. But in France slow paced meals are the norm, and once one gets used to the tempo it is delightful. You learn to sip wine and eat slowly and savor. With luck you have some amiable companions to chat with or a lovely Stoker to stare at, or both.

After climbing the giant Col du Galibier via the not insignificant Col de Telegraphe, our hungry tour group descended to the Col du Lautaret for lunch. The restaurant there is patronized by many cyclists, so much so that the carte features a menu cycliste!  This was a two course affair; the entree was an excellent tomato soup, and the plat was a huge portion of spaghetti bolognese.  So huge that  only one of the five of us who ordered it could finish the pasta completely. Talk about carbo loading! Dessert wasn’t part of the menu cycliste but could be ordered a la carte, which none of us did since the pasta had more than refueled us.

If spaghetti bolognese seems to be strange fare for a French cafe, bear in mind that we were only a couple of clicks away from Italy: we actually rode our bikes across the border twice the previous day. No passport control necessary.

Menus and entrees and plats and even desserts (which I very rarely consume at home) are a delightful part of cycling in France. I’m not sure if I enjoy the cycling or the eating more, and I’m glad I get to do both. Pretty much guilt free too: climbing those big Cols really burns the off the menu.

Dessert in Both Languages



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Tires and Tubes and Trouble

In my last post I alluded to a series of unfortunate events that resulted in me sagging twice in the van; first on a long descent and later for nearly an entire day. Here is the tale.

On our 3rd day of riding, we started out by climbing the Col d’ Izoard, and on the descent I heard a ‘pop’ and a ‘hiss’ and my rear tire went completely flat. Quickly. Since I was going about 35 mph and the road was pointing downhill at about 10%, this was a revolting development. But I was able to slow and stop safely. Thank the prayer candles.

Col d' Izoard Summit, Just Before My Tire Troubles Began

Now to understand what happens next, you need to know that I was using ‘road tubeless’ wheels and tires. This system works just like a car tire. There is no inner tube. The beads of the tire snap into the rim as the tire inflates, producing a virtually air tight seal. Then a small amount of liquid sealant is added inside the tire, which completely seals the rim and offers protection against small punctures. The system works really well. In 5 years and about 10,000 miles of riding road tubeless, I have never had to fix a flat during a ride. In fact, one time I did get a small puncture and sealant came shooting out of the hole, but after a couple of rotations it stopped and I had plenty of pressure to complete the ride.

I examined the tire and expected to see a major puncture, but the tread was perfect and there was no hint of a hole. The bead also appeared intact. I couldn’t figure out what had happened.

So for the first time on the road, I executed the tubeless fix: I put a tube inside, pumped up the tire and heard the satisfying ‘pop’ as the pressure seated the bead into the rim, reinstalled the wheel and went on my merry way. Actually not so merry; the next climb was the Col de Vars, just as hard as the more famous Izoard. But I made it up and down and then up the ‘Col de Hotel’ to our accommodations in Barcelonnette. This latter Col deserves some mention; it was advertised by our guides as being about 4% and about a mile long. It turned out to be 2 miles and averaging 8%, and for most of it my Garmin showed 9%-11%. At the end of a long day (64 miles, 8,400 feet) there were a few good natured grumbles at the lack of accurate information about how we getting to our showers. But we finally arrived without falling over.

The next day we climbed the Cime de la Bonnette, 9,200 feet at the top and the highest through road in France. The climb is 15 miles long and ascends over 5,000 feet. And on the descent my rear tire blew out AGAIN! This time I was going a little slower because the road was twisty, but it was still nerve wracking. And this time I simply couldn’t remove the tire, probably because there was a tube inside taking up space I needed to work the bead off of the rim. The van had already passed me, but our guide  Gerry was on his bike trailing the group. He stopped we ascertained that we weren’t going to be able to fix the problem on the road. There was no cell phone coverage to contact the van, so Gerry rode down to the next regroup point and then sent the van back to pick me up.

It turned out that my friend Russ also had some tire issues on the descent, so he ended up in the van with me and neither of us got to do the Col de Hotel on the return trip, We took some ribbing from the others about that.

After lunch, I actually had to use a knife to cut the tire off of the rim. I assumed that there had to be a small cut I couldn’t see, and the tube eventually worked its way into the cut and then popped. I have had this problem before with a standard tire/tube set up, and only discovered the cut under good light wearing my good glasses. I purchased a spare tire from my guides, put in a tube, pumped it up and put the bike into the storage room.

That night, before we went to dinner, the tire was FLAT! This was becoming a fiasco. I assumed that I had pulled the bonehead move of pinching the tube between the tire and the rim. After dinner we fixed it again. The next morning the tire seemed fine, and of course as I descended the Col de Hotel, I had ANOTHER BLOW OUT. That makes 3, all downhill.

Tires and tubes do not fail this way unless something is wrong, and I finally determined the culprit; the rim tape had failed. Tubeless wheels use special tape that creates an airtight seal between the tire and the spoke holes. Failed tape would explain the initial tubeless blowout as well as the subsequent flats, as the tube worked its way under pressure into the spoke holes and eventually went pop.

Even though we identified the cause, the solution was not so simple. We didn’t have any spare rim tape. We tried black electrical tape, which worked for the rest of that day, so I got to do the lovely Col de la Cayolle and the less lovely Col du Valberg. My Garmin displayed a temperature of 102 degrees on this one, and I literally crawled up well behind the others. I even stopped twice, and not because of cramps. I almost never do that, but I was really suffering.

The next day heading down from Valberg, I hit a small invisible stone, and when we stopped and I looked at my tire I saw the tube bulging out of a small hole. So I almost had another blowout. This was terrible luck. I finally had a tire/tube/tape combination that seemed to be working and now I have to disturb the equilibrium because of a cut in the sidewall.  I changed the tire with another spare from the van, but it the process I must have shifted the tape, because after descending another 2 miles I got yet another flat.  John and I tried to fix it, but we were in a hurry and we pinched the tube. That was it, I gave up and got into the van.

France is cycling crazy and one might think there would be a bike shop with rim tape in Valberg, but there wasn’t. I was completely out of ideas. We had one more day of the tour and I didn’t want to spend it in the van. Our guide John offered to load me his rear wheel. I told him I didn’t think it would work. It was a 10 speed hub and cassette, and my levers and cassette ‘go to 11′, just like the guitar amp in Spinal Tap. But we put his wheel on my bike, and it did shift. Sort of. Sometimes I had to click twice to change the gear, or shift up, then down to get rid of some rattling, or sometimes I would hit the lever and nothing would happen until I hit it again. However, I actually could get into all the gears, so even though it might be a little noisy I could ride the last day.

11 Speed Levers and a 10 Speed Cassette Got Me to the Med!

Ride we did, 82 miles and 5,000 feet of climbing and finishing with a long descent into Nice, through dense and chaotic traffic and roundabouts and along the Promenade beside the blue Mediterranean Sea to our final night’s hotel. After a shower and a very nice dinner and some wine I started to feel relaxed enough to put my tire trouble tension aside. The trip home the next day went smoothly even though it took over 23 hours from the time I left the hotel until I arrived home to my very excited dog Luke.

I can’t blame candle failure for mechanicals, and as long as my skin and bones are intact they are doing their job and keeping me safe. So next time I travel I’m going to include some rim tape in my small kit of handy tools and spare parts, to give the prayer candles some help with the minor stuff.

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Candle Power

I have just returned from a spectacular week of cycling in the French Alps. Six riders, all friends with Stockton Bike Club connections, hooked up with the touring company 44 | 5. The roads, food, accommodations and social ambiance were all first rate; we had a terrific trip. Allow me one shameless plug: if you are considering cycling in France you should check out 44 |5 . 

This is the first blog post about my adventure in the Alps

When I am cycling in Europe, I regularly go into a cathedral to light a prayer candle for safe cycling. I have absolutely no conviction that this habit I have formed contributes anything to keeping me out of harm’s way, but I also can’t prove that it doesn’t. For some reason it makes me feel  awed and reverent to be an a very old and beautiful church, dim and quiet, with art on the walls and light shining through the stained glass windows high above me. I drop a Euro or two into the box, take a candle (sometimes two, one for Stoker and one for me) and light it and put in on the rack next to the other supplications. I don’t ask for good legs or good weather or to be fast up the mountain. I only ask for safe cycling for Stoker and me. To protect us from the dangers of the road.

The Briancon Candle (top): Help Down the Izoard?

So far it has worked. In May Stoker and I fell (our first crash) riding our tandem across some wet tram tracks. Our bodies and the bike were both unharmed; we continued the ride without incident. The day before this Stoker did the lighting honors in a cathedral next to the Mediterranean. We kept the habit throughout the trip. And on the second night of my recent tour I went into a cathedral in Briancon and dropped a 2 Euro coin into the box for a 1 Euro candle in hopes of a little extra mojo.

The next day we climbed the Col du Telegraphe and the Col du Galibier. These famous climbs are used regularly in the Tour de France, and they are quite long and hard. The ride was only 47 miles, but featured over 7,000 feet of climbing. I felt really good and pretty strong on the Telegraphe. But on the Galibier, I got some bad leg cramps, despite drinking plenty of water and taking electrolyte tablets. I often have issues with cramps on longer rides, and I was really struggling. I even had to stop twice in great pain, afraid to move and cause another muscle to seize up. I eventually made it to the top, and on the descent the cramps went away and didn’t return for the rest of the trip. I can’t blame ‘candle failure’. Remember I don’t ask for ‘good legs’, and on this particular climb I had some of the worst legs possible.

The next day, at the top of the Col d’ Izoard (which my fellow rider Scott kept referring to as ‘the lizard’) our guide Gerry warned us that there was a really steep section on the descent and that we should be careful since it went through a village. I’m always careful (and slow) on the downhills, but slow is relative. As I exited the village down a straight road dropping at about a 10% pitch I was probably doing  about 35 mph. I heard a ‘pop’ and the a ‘hiss’ and my rear tire lost pressure. Quickly. Like ‘explosive decompression’ quickly.

This kind of thing can cause a pretty disastrous crash, but I was able to bring the bike to a safe stop and dismount without incident. ‘Candle Power?’ I can’t prove it wasn’t.

The flat set off a chain of unfortunate events that lead to a series of other tire troubles which caused me to have to sag one long descent and miss one entire day riding in the van, but that is a long story for another time. For now I will only say that I finished the trip safe and sound, so the candles haven’t let me down yet.


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Multiple Mechanicals

Perhaps the moon and stars are misaligned. Or maybe our bikes are just getting tired from being ridden so many miles (I just passed 6,000 for the year.) Whatever the cause, recent club rides are being affected by ‘mechanicals’. This is a cyclist’s term for a problem with a bike that occurs during a ride. And my friends are having quite a few lately.

Ten days ago I was doing Mount Hamilton, a very long ride on a very hot day. Sean managed to have 4 flat tires, each causing a delay. 4 flats on a single ride is more than bad luck; it usually means there are underlying issues with the tire or the rim tape or some other gremlin. We finished the ride over 1 1/2 hours later than I expected, and since it was about 102 degrees that afternoon the flats contributed to an excellent day of hot weather training.

A week later on Saturday’s club ride, I’m at the back of the group climbing Sutter Ione Road, riding pretty easily with two friends, when we come up on Jeff, who has stopped by the road with a broken chain. Broken chains are rare, but Jeff is a big strong guy. He didn’t have a chain tool or a master link or connecting pin needed to fix it. Russ gave him the link but didn’t have the tool. Since I did (and the connecting pin too), I stopped to fix the chain. But Don H, thinking nobody had the necessary tool, had already turned around to ride back to Ione, about 8 miles, to get his car and rescue Jeff and his bike. When his bike was fixed Jeff also backtracked to tell Don H no rescue was necessary.

After this there was considerable confusion regarding who was riding where. Cell phone coverage in the foothills is spotty, and various attempts at text messages and phone calls didn’t get through, so 4 of us backtracked from Volcano on the last reported route we expected to see Jeff and Don riding. But they had modified their plan, as we learned when we got to Sutter Creek where my phone did work. No big deal: I did the ride I wanted, it just took an hour more than I expected.

Time for a New Tire

Then yesterday Rider B topped them both. I’m keeping him anonymous.Rider B is a good friend. He is also a very competent bicycle mechanic. So I was surprised that his bike was having shifting issues. But apparently something was really wrong and his chain jammed in the front derailleur and Rider B fell. He was not seriously injured but his knee was scraped. And his rear derailleur hanger was bent, which didn’t help the shifting.

One might think Rider B had enough bad luck for one day. But about 5 miles from the finish he ran over a sharp screw or nail and punctured his tire. The hole was huge, requiring a ‘boot’. This is a thin piece of rubber we place inside the tire to protect the new tube and keep it from bulging out of the hole. Roadside repairs are always a bit tricky. On the first attempt, the boot slipped and the inner tube started to bulge out. So Rider B had to deflate the tube and try again. He was probably in a hurry and a little flustered. He inflated the tire with another CO2 cartridge, but the new tube exploded with a loud bang! Bad tube or bad tire or bad technique? We’ve all done this, and it is incredibly frustrating.

I told Rider B I would ride to the finish and get my car and drive back to pick him up. But as I was riding, Don H was already driving his car back to check on the stragglers. And both our efforts were unnecessary. Gary provided Rider B another CO2 cartridge (#3) and another tube (#2). The third time really was a charm; Rider B was able to ride to the finish. This time the total delay was only about 20 minutes.

I had my own major mechanical back in March when my rear derailleur hanger broke. I was luckier than Rider B: I didn’t fall (pure luck) and I was about 200 yards from my house (even more luck). I’m going to keep lighting those prayer candles.


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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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