Tuesday, 29 Apr 2003

LIVERMORE, Calif.

The third day of the ride — usually my favorite day — has been a cycling event I will not soon forget, for many reasons. This morning, most people were dressed in their street clothes, milling around asking each other, “What are we doing?” — to which the common reply was, “I don’t know, no one is talking.” The “no ones” were Steve, the development director of Greenbelt; Derrick, this year’s ride coordinator; and Phil, one of the riders who has a friend we were counting on to give us the inside scoop on the weather at the top of Mt. Hamilton, where he lives.

Derrick, the fearless ride coordinator.

Photo: Mike Kahn.

In the meantime, riders were coming and going from outside and gazing at the clouds, some saying, “it doesn’t look so bad,” while others were pointing to the gray mass of at the top of the mountain and shaking their heads. We were promised a decision by eight o’clock.

The announcement came right on schedule. We were told that the ride was on: We would make the climb to the top of Mt. Hamilton, 4,100 feet in elevation. We were also told that the temperature at the top would likely be in the low 30s and that rain showers would be moving through. A nervous laugh broke out in the room. It seemed a little absurd, and yet everyone began to shuffle through his or her bags, trying to decide what to wear and what to take in whatever available pocket space they had. You didn’t have to ride if you didn’t want to — you could catch a lift with your bike up over the summit to the other side — but no one jumped at this chance. In fact, everyone left on their bikes. I reflected that if I were stranded on a desert island, these were the people I would want to be with: a hardy group with a lot of heart.

Our exit out of East San Jose was a continuation of more of the same housing developments. It’s odd how they all look so much alike, and how they are being built on every square inch of available land.

Rain came quickly and at a bad time, just as we began our ascent up the steepest part of the mountain. People scrambled to put on their rain gear and continued the climb.

Our first stop was 16 miles later, at Grant Park. When I arrived, Steve was once again planning to give people a ride over the summit, now covered in dark clouds. We could ride if we wanted, but if the weather turned bad, we could expect a vehicle to come by and pick us up. Most of the riders preferred to continue their ascent. I had the pleasure of covering those next 12 miles with Kim, who was on her first ride. Her friend Cyd had convinced her that the cause was worth the effort and talked her into the adventure. Kim is a personal trainer in Concord. We talked about cycling, what we do in our jobs, and our interest in organic foods. Kim tries to combine her athletic training with educating her clients about the importance of a healthy diet.

About a half-mile from the summit, my friend Steve, providing support for the day, was positioned on the side of the road. He had his car stereo cranked up and Tina Tuner was singing “Simply the Best.” Steve was clapping his hands and swinging his hips. It was a great boost at just the right time.

Pedals and petals.

Photo: Mike Kahn.

The summit was indeed very cold. No one lingered very long, and a few people did take Steve up on the offer of a lift. I bundled up in some dry clothes and started my way down, slowly. The backside of Mt. Hamilton is like no other place on Earth. Because Mother Nature seems to have confused the months of January and April here in California this year (January being the warmest on record since the 1930s, and April the wettest in over 30 years), the San Antonio Valley provided us with a display of wildflowers like we have never seen before. The meadows were full of purple lupine and violet owl’s clover, to name just a few. It definitely helped me get the 20 miles down the road to the lunch stop.

After lunch, we still had another 40 miles to go to our final destination in Livermore, 76 miles from where we began. It was cold and often rainy for the duration of the ride, both of which contributed to an increasing feeling of complete exhaustion. Even the strongest riders seemed beat today.

Here in Livermore, there is some good news. The city has a new mayor, Marshall Kamena, who got himself elected for the sole purpose of introducing legislation to curtail growth in his city. The Greenbelt Alliance delivered a plaque to him tonight at a dinner to commend and congratulate him for his effort.