Exploring new areas

Photo via VirtualErn

I hadn’t really realized how much I had become used to riding on the same ol’ roads and paths around my family’s home in Sacramento.  I had several routes I already knew of, and was familiar enough with them to match them to whatever my particular goal was for the ride.  If I wanted to grind hills, I knew where to go.  Looking for a flat TT type ride?  That would be repeats on Captain’s Table road.  Long endurance ride?  Ride through Old Sacramento to the American River Bike Trail and just keep going.

However, now that I’ve got my self a new hometown (well, part time hometown at least) in San Mateo I’m kinda at a loss for where to ride.

I’d made a couple of cursory forays from my temporary hotel housing to scout around the immediate area, but nothing inspiring had been revealed.  However, walking the streets of San Mateo I can just make out some tantalizing wooded hills to the west.  I know from staring at google maps for way too long that there is an ocean not too far in that direction too.

So this morning I decided to give my self 30 minutes, pick a direction and go.  I had a tentative idea of where I was trying to get (again from staring at those maps too much) and a speculative route in mind.  The trouble was, I had absolutely no concept of what the streets I’d chosen would be like.  Would they be bike friendly routes, or roads full of semi-trucks carrying cargo and trying to run me over.  There were resources I could have used to help me figure some of this out, but I just needed to get out and ride.  I needed to start building that area familiarity that I had so taken for granted while riding around the Sacramento / Folsom area.

However, something funny happened.  I either was extremely lucky, or I’ve got some sort of city planners cycling route sixth sense.  I navigated my way through a couple of neighborhood streets until I came to my first “waypoint” street – Alameda De Las Pulgas.  It was a split boulevard (and I wanted to turn left) so I had to do a U-Turn, but I quickly discovered something.  This was a designated bike route.  I had somehow found myself on a pretty damn nice road to ride on my first time out.   I wasn’t the only guy pedaling that road either – always an encouraging sign.

My next waypoint was something called Tenderfoot Trail – and I was a little apprehensive about this one.  I had no idea if trail meant dirt or pavement.  After some initial wrong turns (and some damn steep – but short – climbs) I found my way to the trail entrance.  It was paved.  Dirty, but paved.  The entire area was kind of a canyon, and there was evidence of the hillsides being washed out in the recent rains.  However, as I made my way through the short trail I was distracted looking around.  It was actually quite beautiful.

The trail opened up into a park which I rolled on through to another street on the other side.  I was “off the map” now so to speak.  I had no idea where I was or exactly where I was going any longer, but I had more time so I decided to keep going.  I arbitrarily picked left and around the corner I went.

The road I was on started to pick up in incline, and I just kept spinning.  I could see the hill continuing to the next bend in the road, and it looked like it flattened out there.  Around the corner, more climbing to the next turn.  Repeat…  (Incidentally, why does every turn on a climb look like the top of the hill?)  That brought me back to the point I made earlier – I was riding completely unfamiliar territory.  I didn’t realize how much I relied on the fact that I knew my regular hills very well.  I knew every turn, every change in grade.  I knew where to save energy, and where to get up out of the saddle and just grind through.  Here, however, I had no idea how long the hill went on for.

I decided to turn back around without making it to the top.  Time was running out and I wanted to give myself some flexibility to try out some different roads on the return.  I still had to shower and get to work, after all.

The whole thing left me feeling pretty good about riding in this area, though.  The fact that I saw others out there spinning their pedals – some looking like commuters, some in full kit – inspired me as well.  I’m already looking over the maps, deciding where I’ll go tomorrow.  Pretty sure I’m gonna figure out how long that climb actually goes on for, and what’s on the other side.