Wheeling images

This was my best day ever on a bike: The Mount Tam Double Century in 2013. The day was cool as we went up and down some great hills from San Rafael to near the Russian River and back.

This was my best day ever on a bike: The Mount Tam Double Century in 2013. The day was cool as we went up and down some great hills from San Rafael to near the Russian River and back.

I met Jacquie Phelan, a very fun woman who was the three-time winner of women's mountain bike racing in the mid-1980s, at a 2012 Fondo in the Davis area where some of the greatest U.S. Cycling legends rode with mere mortals. Oh, and Jacquie finished ahead of me.
I met Jacquie Phelan, a very fun woman who was the three-time winner of women’s mountain bike racing in the mid-1980s, at a 2012 Fondo in the Davis area where some of the greatest U.S. Cycling legends rode with mere mortals. Oh, and Jacquie finished ahead of me.

Michael stands outside a hotel in Los Alamos (Santa Barbara County) on the eve of the Spring 2012 Solvang Double Century. Ride capsule: I got miles off course in the pre-dawn fog, broke the rear derailleur cable 90 miles into the ride and struggled against fierce and chilly headwinds. I had to quit 25 mikes from the finish.

Michael stands outside a hotel in Los Alamos (Santa Barbara County) on the eve of the Spring 2012 Solvang Double Century. Ride capsule: I got miles off course in the pre-dawn fog, broke the rear derailleur cable 90 miles into the ride and struggled against fierce and chilly headwinds. I had to quit 25 miles from the finish.

Here is Michael at the top of Salsbury Pass, the highest point in the Spring 2012 Death Valley Double Century. That day in March, with temps in the mid-70s, I twice rode through the lowest spot in North America -- 280 feet below sea level. I finished under a brilliant starry sky.

Here is Michael at the top of Salsbury Pass, the highest point in the Spring 2012 Death Valley Double Century. That day in March, with temps in the mid-70s, I twice rode through the lowest spot in North America — 280 feet below sea level. I finished under a brilliant starry sky.

Here I am at the lunch stop on the 2013 Chico Wildcat 100, a beautiful century with some good climbs. Capsule: My riding buddy struggled after 80 miles and I carried him to the finish at mile 110 against steady headwinds.

Here I am at the lunch stop on the 2013 Chico Wildcat 100, a beautiful century with some good climbs. Capsule: My riding buddy struggled after 80 miles and I pulled him to the finish line at mile 110 against steady headwinds.

Do I look relaxed? At the same point in the Knoxville Double in 2012 I was ready for the support wagon. In 2013, I nailed it, thanks to strength training to my core muscles. No leg cramps as I reveled at the beauty of Lake County the upper Napa Valley.

Do I look relaxed? At the same point in the Knoxville Double in 2012 I was ready for the support wagon. In 2013, I nailed it, thanks to strength training to my core muscles. No leg cramps as I reveled at the beauty of Lake County the upper Napa Valley.

How can this blog improve?

Dear readers,

Please help in the evolution of an idea by completing the survey above.

It has been a month since SpinAdventures was created and we would like to know what you think of the site as it evolves.

You have responded to a new type of bike blog on the landscape, one that is on the cusp of reaching 1,000 views.

The idea for the blog, created by journalist and adventure cyclist Michael Collier, has been to reach diverse audiences in the vast community of cyclists in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond with blog posts exploring the crossroads of nature and our inner selves.

In short, something like the Zen of long-distance cycling.

The posts to date have covered the issues of life transitions (Bridges, past and present), death (Rise up!), new life (Racing to renewal) and the subconscious state of near bliss (In the flow).

Besides those blogs, we have posted pieces with different themes — a review of  the new documentary film about Lance Armstrong (The Armstrong Lie) and a quote from Chris Horner after he became the oldest person to win the Vuelta race in Spain.

Thanks for reading and for your suggestions for how this blog can improve.

In the flow

Do I look relaxed? At the same point in the Knoxville Double in 2012 I was ready for the support wagon.

Do I look relaxed? At the same point in the Knoxville Double Century in 2012 I was ready for the support wagon.

By Michael Collier

One of my favorite outdoor experiences is to run a few hundred yards ahead of our dog on a trail in the Berkeley hills as my wife holds her back. Then I wave my hands and call for our terrier to come to me.

In the next minute or so I watch in awe as the dog burns up the trail, her front and back legs galloping in perfect rhythm until she gets to me.

We humans have such moments, too.

Such a state is like a dance, where we are in a world absent the mind’s endless interruptions. It is known in popular psychology today as being “in the flow.” The subconscious mind leads us and we seem to float above the normal fray of life.

I have been in the flow, usually when riding my bike. At such times, my body is completely in sync with itself. It is something like bliss.

Focus in action

A few days ago, I went to UC Berkeley to listen to best-selling author Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and former New York Times science writer, talk about his new book, “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence.”

Goleman and others are taking their message about the importance of “flow” to workplaces to help create the conditions for workers to experience those states more often.

These states are marked by little or no anxiety, and acute attention to the task at hand. Goleman gave the example of a mathematician who spent considerable time trying to solve a particularly difficult problem. He tried and tried again but he couldn’t crack it.  But when he let go of his quest for a while, the answer came to him — as he boarded a bus.

Information overload in our data-rich world today conspires regularly to interrupt our attention, Goleman writes, making excellence in our most important pursuits feel fleeting. Most of us have had a grand vision that we could not make real.

One of my most precious goals was to complete three 200-mile, one-day rides in a calendar year — an accomplishment known as the California Triple Crown in cycling circles. I began my pursuit in 2006 but never finished more than two of the long rides.

Excellence attained

This year I not only finished three rides, but four. Next year I aim to finish even more.

The difference for me this year? The right kind of practice.

I consistently rode lots of miles, as I have done almost every year. But I left out one very important element: Conditioning more than just my legs.  Cycling is a whole-body exercise, which includes the core, from the pelvis to the shoulders. Strong legs are great, but they will wither in a long-distance ride with lots of climbing if the core is weak.

My Pilates workouts this year were the game-changer, not the miles or the legs. While my legs got kinky at about 100 miles in my first two doubles this year, they did better in the last two events — after I started the core training.

Without the recurring distraction of sore body parts for the better part of 12-16 hours on the bike, I cruised to the finish. And the best times were when I was riding in the flow.

Movie review: The Armstrong Lie

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Lance Armstrong/Getty

By Michael Collier

Lance Armstrong appears more circumspect than combative as director Alex Gibney talks to the athlete about his dramatic rise and speedy fall in “The Armstrong Lie,” a documentary film that opened recently in selected theaters.

In January, Armstrong tried to come clean with Oprah Winfrey when he admitted to doping  throughout his career but said he was only one of many professional cyclists who used performance enhancing drugs.

Now, more than a year after the International Cycling Union formally stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France victories, comes the film and a new book, “Wheelmen,” by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell, which digs deeper into the saga.

While many people may have written off Armstrong as a cheater, which he has acknowledged, his ability to constantly spin his own story through lows and highs — from cancer victim to cancer survivor, from his 2009 comeback to his lifetime banishment — is hard to resist.

It certainly was for Gibney, who won an Oscar for his 2007 documentary about U.S. torture practices. He set out in 2009 to make a film about Armstrong’s comeback. Gibney acknowledges in the film that during the cyclist’s training and performance in Le Tour that year that he was rooting for the champ, who said he was riding clean.

Armstrong secured a third-place spot on the podium after fending off Bradley Wiggins on a difficult late-stage climb up Mont Ventoux. Then the sky began to fall.

In its case against Armstrong in October 2012, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said an analysis of his blood tests from 2008-2011 showed evidence of transfusions that would have boosted his performance in the 2009 Tour. In the movie, Armstrong disputes the claim.

For viewers who haven’t read everything about Armstrong’s life, there are some gems in the film, including:

— Armstrong’s insistence in 2009 that Frankie Andreu, a former Postal teammate who three years earlier had admitted to doping and who was covering the event for TV, be the only reporter to interview him after stages of the race. The awkwardness between the two was palpable.

— The Postal team’s decision to stop its bus on the side of a road late in the 2004 Tour, feigning a mechanical problem with the bus. Cones were placed outside the bus while inside the team members received transfusions of their own oxygen-rich blood that had been delivered by motorcycle.

It’s hard to know how much box office mojo “The Armstrong Lie” will get. There were only a half-dozen viewers when I saw the film in Berkeley on a Monday afternoon. But for anyone who is hooked into the story, it’s hard to resist the price of admission.

Racing to renewal

This pine cone and others will reseed Mount Diablo in the coming years.

This pine cone and others will reseed Mount Diablo in the coming years.

By Michael Collier

The giant pine cone lies suspiciously against the charred stem of what was thriving chaparral near the peak of Mount Diablo.

I saw the cone this week on the first of two bike rides to the top of the mountain, which has become a lunar landscape of dramatic character as a result of a major wildfire in late summer.

This week’s rides were quite moving to me, inspiring reminders of the renewal that often is right behind a death.

It is almost as if a firefighter — or a tourist traveling up the 3,850-foot peak — laid the cone where it is to dramatize the contrasts created as a result of the raging blaze in September that destroyed just about everything growing on 3,100 acres on the south face of the mountain.

The blackened stump symbolizes the death wrought by the fire, while the cone and its seeds are a reminder of the regenerative power of nature. Death begets life, which eventually dies, opening the door to new life.

This cycle has played out repeatedly on the East Bay’s beacon of a peak, which marks a boundary used in surveying Northern California‘s geography. The last big fire there was in 1977.

There is a broader personal meaning to the renewal taking place on the mountain. Just as the seeds from the pine cones are beginning to settle into the golden clay on its hillsides, a regenerative force is moving through me after a year in which my father and a nephew died and I left my newspaper career after three decades.

The power of that force is sweeping me away as I sense a Spring-like transition firing up a new life in me.

My bike computer confirmed this: On my second ascent of Diablo in a week, I rode stronger and faster than ever up the often-steep road to the summit. The Strava app that tracks such rides segment by segment showed that I set personal best times for 48 of 72 segments going up and back down the peak.

How do you like them apples?

Rise up!

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By Michael Collier

I took an awesome bike ride with my Dad this weekend on quiet, winding roads in one of the most inspiring places on the Pacific Coast, a mountaintop that is considered sacred by native cultures and spiritual-seeking people.

He died more than two months ago of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, and most of his ashes were buried in a memorial garden at his church. But I convinced my mother and siblings to let me keep the rest of his cremains and spread them little by little in magical venues on my epic bike rides.

I wanted such experiences, I thought, to help me get through the transition from one relationship with Dad to another — as I knew him in his body and his presence in a spiritual sense.

Before dawn, I packed my biking gear and a small baggie with a few pinches of his ashes inside and tucked it into a pocket in my jersey. Then I drove to my destination in the San Francisco Bay Area to be alone with Dad and the nature around me.

I set out early in the morning on a crisp autumn day, riding through sleepy communities for a few miles before heading up the mountain — a journey of about 41 miles and 5,000 vertical feet of climbing from bottom to top and back down to sea level.

As I wound my way up the hills, the sun began to peek from top the ridge-tops and provide some warmth to counter the chill.  I soon began to have thoughts of Dad, of how he had given me my first bike when I was a lad, and later, when he gave me a 10-speed European model when I was in junior high school.

He lived for such moments, to see his kids beaming with excitement. And while he never was much of a bike rider himself, he seemed to know that I was destined to spend much of my life spinning around on two wheels.

I pedaled up the first big hill, to a summit, when I came upon a young deer, a buck with a nearly full set of antlers. He was standing just off the road and looking straight at me. At that moment, so mindful of Dad, I looked straight back at the wild animal.

“Dad? Is that you?”

I couldn’t help but recall the image of the 18-year-old Charles Collier that my sister pulled from the family photos for a slideshow played at his funeral in August. In the photo, he was detailing his car and looking every bit the part of a young buck, a la James Dean.

I descended into a lush canyon, to a lake, and then up a major climb to the top of a ridge, where the sun had risen high enough to scatter its light among the old growth redwood trees shading me on the road.

On the undulating route to the mountain top, I felt Dad’s spirit rising into the brilliant sky. I usually get leg cramps about that stage of the ride but there was none of it this time.

I reached the summit and found a secluded spot overlooking the coast where I spread some food on a small tree stump. It was a makeshift altar of sorts, where I could lay some offerings to Dad on a day known as the Day of the Dead.

Pulling the bag of ashes from my jersey, I dropped a handful onto the “ofrenda” and said my prayers to Dad.  I was overcome by a sense that he was not only present in that buck in the woods  — but all around me. Then I tossed the ashes toward the sea.