This section of my website used to be dedicated to triathlon training, personal race results and certification reviews, like Turbo Kick. I am expanding it to include more generic health & fitness topics. Also, I talk a lot about "D" -- he's my husband (Dave Liu)!

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

It was the best of rides, it was the worst of rides...

On Sunday, 8/31/03, I participated in the Bay Area Velo Girls' regular Sunday ride. The good news is, I'm cycling much better than I was two weeks ago. The bad news is, I fell twice on the same side, resulting in a sore right palm and two numb fingers.

The day didn't have an auspicious start. I had bought a new floor pump and used it for the first time to inflate my tires. For 15 minutes, the only thing I accomplished was to let out all the air in my rear tire. After tinkering some more, I managed to inflate it, but less than 120 psi which is what was recommended. I only got it to about 90-100 psi.

The Velo Girls met in front of Summit Bicycles. Being geographically challenged, I got all the way to Redwood City before realizing that I had completely missed Burlingame, adding an unnecessary 25 minute to my trip. I got there with only 5 minutes before we ride time. There were three to choose from: 30 miles, 55 miles or 85 miles. We all took a turn sheet with directions, with Lorri's cell phone number printed at the bottom, in case we got lost. Lorri gave an introductory speech and reminded us of the rules of the road. And then they were off.

I say "they" because I had a momentary panic attack when everybody leaped onto their bikes and pedaled down Burlingame Ave. I chased after them on foot, realized that I was never going to catch up, and then finally got on my bike, correct way or not.

All the ladies were blocks and blocks ahead of me. Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for me, some of them got stuck at the intersection at El Camino Real when the lights changed. That's where I caught up with them (barely) and cycled at the back of this pack of 5-6 women.

Melissa was among this group. She was the sweeper for the 30-mile ride, and she rode with me for most of the way, giving me invaluable hints & tips, e.g., how to deal with downhill cycling. Whenever I go downhill, I coast and ride my brakes which is probably the worst thing I can do because I can end up locking my brakes and/or melting them (if it's a super hot day). Instead, Melissa advised me to switch to my lowest gear and keep peddling. If I really needed to slow down, I was told to "feather" (pump my brakes). It's counterintuitive, but supposedly, I'll have more control over my bike this way. I know what she's talking about - because I cycled down hills for the Tri for Fun triathlon when I was using Laura's mountain bike. Surprisingly, I felt very much in control. However, I have a HUGE conceptual problem accelerating down hills on my road bike. My instinct is to brake, BRAKE, BRAKE ALREADY! I guess it all comes with practice.

After weaving aimlessly through the neighborhood, we agreed that we were lost. The ladies I was with were all incredibly empathetic to my fear of cycling. As soon as I told them about my reluctance to stop (because it meant I would have to unclip and then get on my bike again) they all nodded and said, "You just got clipless pedals, didn't you?" YES! People who understood me! And lots of them! It was so nice to be around skilled cyclists who remembered what it was like to be a newbie.

I told them that I didn't know how to get on my bike via the generally acceptable "correct way", which is to clip in with one foot, push off with that foot from the 2 o'clock position, start cycling (standing up), and then sit down only after you're balanced. Melissa told me not to worry about getting on a specific way: she said I should get on my bike using whatever method I felt comfortable. In fact, I didn't even have to clip in right away if I didn't want to. I was relieved after hearing that.

The initial parts of the course were flat (yay) with some stop signs (ick) and not to many cars (always a bonus). At one point, I started going uphill on Crystal Springs Road. The slope looked gentle enough in the beginning, but I kept on switching to higher and higher gears until I had none left - I was already in "hamster gear". I finally made it to the top and rejoined the group who were waiting patiently.

The next part consisted of a brief downhill portion followed by another uphill section. I lost everybody on the downhill but made good time on the uphill portion. Unlike most people, I like going up hills because I can climb hills half decently - it's all about leg power and cardio capacity, both of which I have reasonable amounts. When we got to Skyline Boulevard and Route 92 (Ralston Road) - I turned white - we were going to turn left and cross a HIGHWAY.

Yes, it was a bona fide highway. There were cars. A lot of them. There was an intersection, traffic lights and everything. It was a BUSY intersection. Did I mention there were a lot of vehicles in the road? I reluctantly got off the bike and waited for the light to change. Everybody else started cycling and turned left when it did, but I made the fateful decision to get off my bike and walk it across the road instead.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I knew I had made a mistake as soon as I had done it. Because after crossing the road, I had to get on my bike on an incline. I had a really bad feeling about it, but I had no choice. I straddled my bike, pushed down with my right foot from the 2 o'clock position, accidentally clipped in (I knew I was screwed as soon as it happened), didn't have enough momentum to keep cycling, and toppled over on my right side.

At the time, there were two cyclists behind me fixing a bike. After my fall, they both looked up and said, "Are you okay?" I nodded. They smiled and said, "Just a little embarrassed, huh?" I explained to them about my issue with getting on bikes on an uphill and they came over to help. I was on the small ring in the front (good), but also a small ring in the back (not so good), so they put me into the highest gear. One of them even offered to hold my bike still as I got on and start peddling! I didn't want to inconvenience them, however, and told them that I would just walk my bike up the hill.

Partway up, I saw Melissa cycle towards me to rescue me. I told her about my tumble, and she gave me hints on how to deal with starting to cycle on an incline, e.g., get into hamster gear, initially cycle horizontally across the road (although not on the busy stretch we were on), etc. Fortunately, there was a clearing not far up the hill where I was able to get back on and start cycling again.

Before long, we reached Canada Road, which was closed to traffic for pedestrians, roller bladers and cyclists. I felt much better cycling along there because there were no cars (if it's not completely obvious by now, I am completely terrified of cycling in their general vicinity). I was much faster traversing Canada compared to my first time riding that same stretch with hubby a few weeks ago. In fact, when I rode with him, I didn't even make it all the way. It took me half an hour just to cover a third of the distance.

Unfortunately, the carless section was far too short (boo hoo), and I was back cycling in CarLand again. At least there was a separate bike lane for which I was very grateful. I had trouble staying in the lane because I get nervous cycling too close to the right side because there's no curb, just a drop. I worry that if I cycle too close to the right, I'm going to go over the edge if I accidentally swerve. I ended up cycling close to the line demarking the bike lane from regular traffic. At one point, I even wandered into the car lane, and a helpful cyclist warned me to avoid doing that as he flew past me.

The stretch ended in Woodside Road at a freaky looking intersection with cars going in all four directions. You're supposed to stop there because cops will ticket cyclists ($250 - the same as a car driver). Again, not wanting to stop, I slowed down, veered right and ended in a very familiar looking parking lot. I was at Buck's Restaurant! I'm lucky I didn't get ticketed. Cops may have turned a blind eye to my rolling stop at the intersection, if only because they pitied me. I met up with the primary Velo Girls groups and was quite proud of myself for making it that far.

Most of them headed back soon afterwards, and I took off after them 10-15 minutes later. I didn't have anybody to follow this time, so I kinda made it up as I went along, following random cyclists that I assumed were headed in the same general direction. I made it as far as the downhill part of Crystal Springs when Melissa came by, reminding me to stop braking. I tried. I really did. But I had to brake on the hairier parts, especially as cars honked me as they passed me.

Instead of winding through the backrounds, we took California Ave. on the way back. Per my usual operating procedure, I walked my bike across intersections and said a prayer each time I stopped or started riding again. I was slow but successful... all the way up to the end when we reached Burlingame Ave. I unclipped my left foot, got ready to step down, leaned to the right, on the side I was still clipped in, and wiped out. Again.

I don't think I fell any harder than I did the first time, but it hurt a lot more, probably because I landed on the same side as before and reinjured the same part of my hand. Melissa went over to a cafe opposite Summit to join some other Velo Girls, while I went to the parking lot, locked my bike in the back of my car and looked for somewhere to detox.

I went to Copenhagen Bakery & Cafe for some brunch (I highly recommend it) and examined my hand. The palm of my right hand had some red spots on it and felt sore and bruised. What really concerned me, was the fact that three of the fingers on my right hand were numb. It hurt even to pick up a fork. I ate with my left hand all the while contemplating what to do for upcoming events. I still wanted to do Tri for Real, only because I was familiar with the course, but Windman was completely out of the question. Treasure Island looked dubious too, but I decided to wait a while before making any decisions on it.

I wanted to call D but he was at his bachelor party in Yosemite. I missed him a lot that day.

After brunch, I went to Freewheel to get my bike repaired because I couldn't shift properly. The mechanic asked whether I had crashed because it looked like I had knocked my derailleurout of place. "Yes," I admitted, "Twice." He nodded and told me that derailleurs can become damaged that way. "So is what you're telling me," I asked while smiling weakly, "is that I should stop falling off my bike?" He laughed.

I then showed him my damaged paw, and asked whether my hand would recover. He asked whether I could move my fingers (I could), and he replied, "Then you'll be okay. You should regain feeling in a couple of hours. If not today, then probably tomorrow." He says he bangs up his hands all the time when he mountain bikes. My mood picked up considerably at that point once I knew that I had not instantly given myself carpal tunnel syndrome and was probably not crippled for life. I did, however, look into buying gloves with considerably more padding in the palm. I bought a pair of hard core Axo gloves used by BMX and mountain bikers. It's probably overkill for most road bikers, but I was willing to buy full body armor if I thought it would help.

So there you have it. It took me a while to write this post, only because it hurt to type before today. I am pleased to report that I have regained 99% of feeling in my fingers and my palm isn't as sore anymore. I am undeterred by my accident and am even more determined than ever to learn how to ride my bike, even if it kills me (only figuratively of course *touch wood*).

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