Mount Diablo springs back

By Michael Collier

Poppies are bursting out on Mount Diablo after the recent rainfall, adding a burst of color to a mountain still charred by a wildfire last year. Photo by Michael Collier

Poppies are bursting out on Mount Diablo after the recent rainfall, adding a burst of color to a mountain still charred by a wildfire last year. Photo by Michael Collier

The East Bay’s tallest peak, scorched in September by its worst wildfire in decades, is coming back to life.

Brilliant clusters of orange poppies cover parts of the 3,850-foot-tall Mount Diablo. Recent rains have turned the dry grass from brown to verdant.

Such an explosion of new life would be visible by Spring, experts said after the 3,000-acre blaze, which was sparked by target-shooting practice on private property. The fire was the mountain’s worst since 1977.

The unfolding show of wildflowers, known as “fire followers,”  are bringing hikers, cyclists and motorists to Mount Diablo State Park.

The palette is very likely to get more colorful in April and May, said Seth Adams of the preservation group Save Mount Diablo. Besides poppies, the post-inferno comeback should include star lillies, golden ear drops and wild cucumbers, he said. The best place to view nature’s art gallery is along Summit Road, which goes to the top.

Still, large swaths just below the peak’s highest regions remain distinctly barren. Watch this video on how the fire changed the mountain. (It was produced by Save Mount Diablo, Mount Diablo Interpretive Association, California State Park Foundation and the Thomas J. Long Foundation in partnership with Joan Hamilton at Audible Guides to the Outdoors.)

Reforestation will take more than a few seasons. But the mountain appears to have dodged, thanks to an unusually dry Winter, the prospect of major erosion in areas of the peak scarred by the fire.

Still, drought conditions have prompted water restrictions in the park, including the shutoff of drinking water and the closure of rest rooms with flushing toilets. Park officials are asking visitors to bring their own water, especially if they plan to go on longer hikes.

For details on wildflower hikes and other information, go to Save Mount Diablo and Mount Diablo State Park.

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. Photo by Michael Collier.

You wanna become a better cyclist? Call Coach Collier

By Michael Collier

You can now call me “Coach Collier.”

A few days ago, I passed the rigorous test to become a cycling coach sanctioned by USA Cycling, the official governing body for all competitive cycling in the United States.

My achievement completes one of my highest goals for my 50s, right up there with finishing 50 double centuries. (I have done nine so far.)

Now I can hang out a shingle for any cyclists who want to improve their performance and raise their goals — such as completing their first endurance event of 100 or 200 miles.

The test was long and difficult, consisting of more than 100 questions and multiple-choice answers. I answered 88 percent of the questions correctly. (Applicants must score 80 percent or better to pass.)

Killer take-home test

And you thought preparing for a century was tough. Prospective coaches have 14 days to finish the online exam, which is like one of those killer take-home tests in college. I finished the test on day 14, just as my eyeballs began to see spots on the computer screen.

The exam was an endurance test of its own, involving nearly a week of reading hundreds of pages of background material, from the coaching manual to detailed rulebooks for road, mountain, track and para-cycling. Those rules are set by USA Cycling and UCI, the international cycling governing body.

Now I know more about the nuances of track racing strategy than I ever thought I’d care to learn. I know the maximum gear ratios for junior racers in competitive racing.

Biology lessons

What else: One gram of protein or carbohydrate has 4 calories, while the same amount of fat has 9 calories. I know the difference between aerobic and anerobic metabolism and that the muscles that Mark Cavendish uses to win sprint finishes are made of short, twitchy fibers while the muscles that the best mountain climbers need are those with long, slow fibers.

I learned how to calculate maximum heart rates in the context of bike riding, and how to measure the amount of oxygen taken in by a cyclist (which translates to greater performance). I know the components of red blood cells that carry that oxygen.

I also know how to measure lactate threshold, the point at which the intensity of riding reaches the body’s maximum effort that can be sustained. Think of it as riding for as long as you can with your legs burning up.

Just as important as these lessons is the life lesson: I have at age 57 dedicated myself to a new pursuit that has reawakened me to the joys of living and learning.

Find me on the USA Cycling website.