Bay Area Ride The Lobster qualifying rides, Thanksgiving weekend

Day 1


Our plan was to start with a long day with relatively little climbing. We had a highly varied group: Mike Scalisi at one end of the scale with extensive big-wheel riding experience (including two major tours and a 100-mile ride), me with extensive biking and MUni experience but a limited amount of distance unicycling, Ashley Foster with several years of small-wheel unicycling experience but very little distance unicycling, Rachel Kalmar who had learned to ride only a few months ago, and was doing her third or fourth big-wheel ride, and Cindy Keeler who was on her second big-wheel ride. Mike was on his geared Coker, I was on a borrowed Schlumpf 29er, and everyone else was on ungeared 29ers. We also were joined by Sandra Cheng on her single-speed bike.

I planned out a route along the path of a bike route I’ve developed called the East Bay Dead End Tour, which features a couple of out-and-back rides along quiet canyon roads. Rachel was worried about slowing down the group, so she got a ridiculously early start; the rest of us took BART to the ride start and got on the road around 10:00. Cindy wasn’t planning to qualify this weekend, so decided to skip the first out-and-back so we’d catch up with her later; the rest of us headed up the dead end road.

We got some bonus RTL qualifying points due to strong winds; right out of the BART station they were challenging, and they got worse as we climbed up the canyon right into the teeth of the headwind. At a few points I came close to being knocked off the unicycle, and I don’t think anyone else made it up without coming off (including Sandra on the bike). On the way back down, Mike and I used the downslope and tailwind to explore the limits of speed on our geared unis; we could relatively easily handle 17-18mph, and get over 20mph when we were pushing it. I made the mistake of telling Mike I was feeling pretty comfortable on the geared uni; a couple of minutes later I took my first high-speed fall, at about 16mph, caused by nothing other than my own hubris. Unicycling has a way of keeping you humble. I managed to do a good job of rolling to absorb the impact, and actually finished the roll up on my feet and with only minor scrapes.

After finishing the first road, we dealt with some traffic and then shunted off on a side road where we had the most significant climb of the day; I successfully downshifted, which is still a challenge for me. A fun descent later we were at our second canyon dead end road; we turned up and started up the hill. About halfway up, we caught up with Cindy on the way up and Rachel on the way down, along with Marc Hertlein, who’d gotten a late start and driven out to meet us and ride the last bit on his 29er. Shortly after the big meet-up, we came upon an ostrich farm, got to see the birds up close, and even watched one lay an egg! (The eggs sound like bocce balls knocking together.) The winds weren’t quite as intense on the climb, so we did the out-and-back more quickly and continued on back towards civilization.

Pubs and cafes are great resources for keeping diverse group rides together. The strong riders get there first and order food and beer, and it’s a lot more fun than waiting on the side of the road. We stopped at The Crown and got brews and munchies as we waited for everyone to catch up. Nancy met us there for lunch and moral support. From the pub it was just a straight, slightly downhill fast run into Walnut Creek and the BART station; we got in just before dusk.

The ride score wound up at 165 due to the winds (I’d projected it at 126 originally).

Day 2


Our plan for the second day was a shorter ride with more hills, featuring the classic Three Bears climbs, one of the best cycling features of the Bay Area. We had an even more diverse group this time, with Nathan and Beau Hoover joining us on their Cokers, and Geoff Faraghan on his rollerblades. Cindy’s knee wasn’t up for the ride, and Sandra was back riding with her hubby in the South Bay, but other than that the crew was the same. Mike had brought his ungeared Coker for the hills, I was still on the Schlumpf, and Ashley was still on the 29er. Rachel got another early start, and between her improving skills and our own relaxed pace, we never caught up with her. We had really pleasant riding conditions, and mostly kept a mellow but steady pace. Geoff found a driver willing to take him down the big descent on Pig Farm Hill (he’s a serious distance rollerblader, but he ain’t crazy). We added emus, llamas, and a goat trials course to the collection of strange farm sightings.

I was practicing shifting on the climb, and still struggling with it a bit, taking one low-speed fall on my butt due to a missed shift. On the Mama Bear climb I decided to try to push the big gear all the way up the hill; I managed to do it, but it was pretty strenuous and I’m not sure it was faster than spinning on my 29er with 110s. (If I wind up with a Schlumpf, one of my training goals will be to be able to spin it up that hill.) I was at least glad to be able to pass Beau Hoover; granted, he was doing Coker trials on the way up the hill, but I’ll accept a hollow victory.

After the descent of the other side of Mama Bear, we set up a meeting spot; Bear Creek road is quite remote, with no pubs in sight, but Nancy agreed to drive out and set up a picnic for us. We had sandwiches, chips and beer while we waited for NeilFred Piccoloto. He joined us there Beau was trying to figure out how to shift the Schlumpf while riding backwards and the rest of us were chillaxin’.

I swapped unis with Beau for the Papa Bear climb, and found that on Coker, I was probably about the same speed on a steady climb as I was in the high gear on the Schlumpf 29er, but I wasn’t having to work as hard on the Coker. Score one for the Coker, although I should note that the Schlumpf won out earlier on Mount Diablo, where the road is steep enough to be worth climbing in the low gear.

Nancy drove Geoff down the Pumphouse Hill descent and home, where the two of them set to working on a great spread for us when we were done. The rest of us flew down the hill and climbed Baby Bear (successful shift into low gear for me), then climbed Wildcat Canyon up to Inspiration Point. There, Neilfred decided he would take an easier route home, although it turned out he failed to do that; he took a wrong turn and wound up climbing as much as the rest of us. The rest of us took South Park Drive, a road that’s closed to auto traffic in the wet months for newt migration. South Park is a brutal climb, definitely easier in 29er mode than on Coker (not that that stopped Beau from being first up the hill). We crested the hill, got great views of the bay and San Francisco, and descended some sketchily-steep roads down into Oakland and home. It was all over except the party! The ride score was 162 due to the significant climbing, even though the total distance was just over 50km. Me, Mike, Rachel and Ashley all qualified over these two days.

Photos from the rides:

Congratulations one and all!

Yes it was a great time and excellent to see more riders qualifying for Ride The Lobster (now up to 36 riders world-wide).

Here are my photos from the Sunday ride: