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Tuesday, Venice Beach, Final Ride

| August 3, 2021 | 0 Comments

Now that I’m in the groove, got my bike legs, rides are shorter and flatter, the weather has been spectacular (except for a lot of fog near the beach) and even my gear shifter is working better.

So, time to quit.

Actually, I have to be on Cape Cod for the celebration of life for my sister-in-law, so I had to leave at this point. But it is a nice way to end the ride.

Here’s the trip from Oxnard to Venice Beach.

We stayed at St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Venice. It was not quite what I expected. I used to work for the congresswoman from Venice and I remember it as a funky place with interesting people. I never thought of it as unsafe. But, St. Mark’s is like a fortress. Heavy fencing all around. The very nice pastor greeted us warmly. He’s a Dutch man of about 55 years old or so, ordained only a few years ago. He was named pastor two weeks ago. He told me that his previous post was in South Central LA, often considered among the most dangerous neighborhoods in America. He said he never felt threatened there.

“If you’re a white man in South Central,” he said, “You’re either a cop or a priest and they leave you alone. Here, on the other hand, they’re crazy. Nobody’s safe.”


As I prepared to snuggle into my sleeping bag for the night in preparation for an early departure at LAX, the team leader invited me to a “circular up” with the other riders for a good by. I got my sticker for this ride, but was also presented with a sticker reflecting my lifetime fundraising achievement of $20,000. That was unexpected. I didn’t know they kept track. A testament more to my generous donors than to me.

And that was that.


Monday – In the Groove

| August 2, 2021 | 0 Comments

It usually takes about a week to fully integrate into the rhythm of a Fuller ride. And today, that’s how it feels. I’ve finally got my bike legs. That, combined with a relatively short (50 miles) flat ride made today a breeze.

Here’s the ride from Santa Barbara to Oxnard.

One problem that persisted on the ride was my gear shifting. I often found myself in the wrong gear with no way to get out of it. Not a big deal when you’re going downhill but sucks when you’re going up.

This ride also afforded me the opportunity of riding with the pack, at least for a while. I can keep up on the flats.

This is my usual view of my fellow riders

We stayed at All Saints Episcopal Church in Oxnard and I snared the perfect sleeping area. In a corner next to an electrical outlet. Heaven.

Sunday – Rock and Roll Pastor, Plumbing Problems and a Photo Excursion

| August 1, 2021 | 0 Comments

The Sunday service at St. Michael’s Church outside Santa Barbara could not have been a greater contrast from the previous Sunday’s service at St. John’s Armenian Church in San Francisco. Frankly, it’s one of the coolest aspects of Fuller Center rides is experiencing the variety of ways Americans worship. That said, what struck me most is that the two pastors we actually so much alike. Both handsome young men in their 30’s. Both avid bikers. Both very much men of the 21st century in their private lives. But they were very different when they took to their respective altars.

The priest at St. John’s wore ancient vestments and conducted the service in Armenian. As noted before, it was an extremely formal ceremony, probably conducted the same way it was in the 15th century. It was so formal that I don’t have a picture. I tried to sneak a picture, but it didn’t come out.

Thing were different at St. Mike’s.

At St. Mike’s we had access to two toilets and one shower for 20 people. We were warned when we arrived that drainage was a problem, so showers had to be spaced 15 minutes apart. Notwithstanding our compliance with that rule, one of the toilets backed up. Fortunately, our team leader, Tim, stepped into the breach and spent the whole day dealing with the crisis. Either up to his elbows in toilet water or on the phone with various plumbing companies. He was promised a service call in 30 minutes, three hours later, nothing. Finally, one of the riders, a tough talking 80 year old commercial real estate agent (that’s right, 80 years old!) called a buddy in New Jersey who “knew a guy.” A plumber finally showed up, snaked the pipes and fixed it.

I spent the afternoon on a photo excursion to Devereaux Slough, a marshy area about a mile from the church. Got some good pictures of egrets and the seashore. Still trying to process the photos so will post later.

Saturday Service Project Near Santa Barbara

| July 31, 2021 | 0 Comments

In addition to biking, the Fuller Center ride seeks opportunities for service projects along the ride. For the weekend in Santa Barbara we did some landscaping work for a camp in the mountains that serves at-risk foster kids. We cleared leaves at the entrance of the camp using rakes and blowers. It was a welcome break from cycling, though I have to admit, I hate yard work.

Raking Leaves in the Mountains, One of My Favorite Jobs…NOT

Lunch on Saturday was memorable. We went to a funky barbecue place near the camp on the side of the mountain. It was a former stagecoach stop with a tavern and looked it. The road was steep and winding. We marveled at the ability of a team of horses to make it over the mountain. Then we marveled even more with the ability of a drunken stagecoach driver to get down the hill after a stop at the tavern.

Our team leader used the occasion to say goodby to one of extraordinary support people. Her departure was particularly tragic for us beer drinkers as she was the one mentioned in an earlier post who would do periodic beer runs.

Friday, Another 70 Miler to Santa Barbara

| July 31, 2021 | 0 Comments

For each day’s ride, two bikers volunteer to be “sweeps,” which means they always stay behind the last rider to make sure he or she has help if they have a problem. For me, I’ve always been a bit annoyed by the sweeps, whoever the are. I’m often that last rider and I always feel pressure when I see the sweeps in my rear view mirror. It reminds me how slow I am and discourages me from stopping to take a picture. The best sweeps try to stay out of sight, but, when you’re the last rider, you always know they are there, even if I you can’t see them.

On the other hand, and in reality, the sweeps are the most self-less riders on any given day. They have offered to give up a part of their enjoyment of the ride in support of the team. They help riders with flats and other mechanical problems. Since they are prohibited from getting in front of any rider, they will wait (mostly patiently) until a riders problem is resolved and they are on their way before they proceed. And, even then, they wait a while longer so as not to pressure the rider. Finally, and maybe most significantly, they are, by definition, the last riders into the church, so their sleeping spot is whatever is leftover after ALL the riders have chosen theirs. In a big church, that may not be a problem, but in the smaller church, they could end up sleeping the middle of the floor with no access to electricity (my nightmare scenario).

That is why, when the ride leaders calls for volunteers to be sweeps when we gather in the morning, there is ALWAYS a long silent pause. Eventually, someone will say dejectedly “Aw well, I’ll sweep.”

I have managed to avoid being the sweep for the five Fuller rides I’ve been on, generally because I always feel like a relative rookie and because I like to at least have the option to jump off the ride and ride the van, if I choose. Something you can’t do as a sweep. But my streak ended today and I was recruited to be a sweep. It was considered a modest ride, 70 miles, 3,000 feet of climb. Same mileage and only a little more climbing than yesterday, so no physical excuse to decline. Fortunately, the other sweeper, who actually volunteered, is the best conversationalist on the ride. A true wit. So, I knew I would be entertained.

The ride itself had its challenges. Chief among them was mechanical. My gear shifting mechanism was misbehaving. At the end of yesterday’s ride, I was unable to get into the lowest gear. That’s a problem because low gear is my favorite gear. I have enough trouble getting up these damned hills. Having to do so in a higher than necessary gear is not fun, to say the least. The ride’s unofficial mechanic tried to help and he did improve the situation. The gear would shift eventually. But I still had to struggle to get into low gear. It was hit or miss. Most of the time it would eventually work with a lot of fiddling and diddling with the gear shift levers. At one point while I was fiddling, I drifted over the rumble strip on a highway. Not ideal, but there was little traffic. When you’re in a car, driving over a rumble strip creates a slight jostle and a buzzing sound. When you drive over a rumble strip on a bike, it rattles your teeth and it’s all you can do to remain upright. What it also does is jangle the chain and sprocket so it can help you get to low gear. It worked once. As the ride progressed, when all else failed, I tried deliberately driving over the rumble strip to switch gears. It never worked again.

Top of the Hill is the Best Place

One of the ways we stay on our route is that the front drivers and the support vehicles will stop and use chalk to write directions on the pavement in advance of turns. They will write an arrow to indicate which way you should go. After a very long 30 mile climb this morning, we reach the top of a hill and began our rapid descent. After a mile or so speeding down a winding road on the side of the mountain, I came around a curve with about a thousand foot drop on the right. I noticed a chalk mark with the Fuller Center initials pointing to the right….over the cliff. There’s a lot of joking around on this ride and occasionally funny messages chalked on the road. But I thought this was unfunny and possibly the most dangerous joke I’d ever seen. It wasn’t until I came around the bend that I saw the rest stop in a little clearing on the right side of the road. OK, so it was pointing to a rest stop, but still…

We’re staying at St. Michael’s Church in Santa Barbara, right next to the UC Santa Barbara campus. Clearly a totally “woke” church. Big rainbow flag and Black Lives Matter banner outside. Coolest pastor ever. More later.

Almost a Caricature of Itself, But I Love It

Thursday’s Ride – 70 miles to Santa Maria

| July 30, 2021 | 0 Comments

I’m starting to get my bike legs and into the long distance bike ride mindset, so 70 miles seems like a moderate length ride. And after yesterday’s ball buster, 2,600 feet of climbing sounds like a bump in the road. There a big hill at the beginning and one at the end. We started along the coast and then went inland through farmland. Here’s a video of the ride.

Two interesting sights along the way. I spied a flock of turkey vultures circling overhead and landing periodical on fence posts. Everyone I told this to, on the ride and off, commenting that they probably saw me as a tasty future meal. Such is the confidence people have in my riding stamina.

Just waiting for me to falter…

We also passed a vast cilantro field. The scent was intense. I stopped briefly for a video of the farmworker picking the cilantro with Mexican music blaring from a car.

This is where your cilantro comes from.

The “church” was a reconditioned motel in Santa Maria, CA. The church provided us with a nice meal.

A rump group of beer drinkers gathered behind some bushes just off the property for some libations. Fuller Center rules prohibit alcohol on the church properties where we stay, so there are occasionally some creative efforts to celebrate the day’s accomplishments while complying with this rule. Sometimes there’s a bar walking distance from the church, which makes it easy. Sometimes not, which is where the creativity comes in. One our favorite support volunteers is willing to indulge the party animals and buy beer for us. I felt like a mischievous school kid.

Wednesday’s Ride – The Big One

| July 30, 2021 | 0 Comments

Wednesday’s ride was the toughest day of the whole Seattle to San Diego ride. It was from Carmel to Cambria, 100 miles with 8,000 feet of climbing over Big Sur. Full disclosure: I didn’t ride the whole way. I rode the beginning and the end, skipping the middle part involving riding over multiple huge hills with literally no shoulder on the road. As they say in New Jersey, “fuggedaboudit!”

In the vernacular of cycling, this was a ball buster. The night before, even very experienced riders were anxious. I thought about the famous picture of Eisenhower visiting the troops on the eve of D-Day. I wondered what those troops were thinking. What did they talk about? Our crew taking in quiet tones about climbs, elevation, road grade, wind speed and the weather forecast. Knowing I was going to forgo the hard part, I felt like one of the guys who got to stay on the ship off the coast of Normandy. The guilt of not joining the poor bastards in the LVs who would hit the beaches was offset by the knowledge they would likely be alive at the end of the day.

Because of the long day, we started early, lights on at 4:30 am and on the road by 6:00 am. The first 25 miles, which I rode, had a few hills, was pretty pleasant. The weather was very foggy, which persisted until the last leg after Big Sur. So, there was not a lot of sightseeing. I did try to get some landscape shots at the second rest top, which was by the ocean (picture below).

Going over Big Sur I had no regrets about riding the van. The hills were long and steep and the riding treacherous. The downhills are especially scary with no shoulder because the rider has to “take the road.” Cars are bound by law to give way to bikers. Some crazy bikers do down at speed of up to 45 mph. I’m on the brakes all the way down. And, if a car pulls up behind you, all you can think of is road rage and what he might do to get around you. And what he might do on the way by. In a previous ride, a guy actually pulled into our rest stop to berate me for not getting far enough to the right, where there was sand and a steep cliff. Nope! Not doin’ that!

I also road the last 20 miles, which were a delight. Mostly by the beach, mostly flat and the fog had lifted. I went by San Simeon, the Hearst mansion and some elephant seals.

The people who road the whole way all said it wasn’t as bad as they expected. Yeah, right. But they all made it to the church. And I didn’t feel guilty at all.

Tomorrow, 70 miles to Santa Maria.

Iconic Bixby Bridge Leading into Big Sur
I was told these elephant seals are exhausted from swimming from Alaska

Second Day – Much Better

| July 29, 2021 | 0 Comments

Day 2 was a much better day. It was 55 miles from Santa Cruz to Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Very few of the villains of day one appeared. A big chunk of the ride was through a commercial agriculture area. Vast expanses of various crops, including strawberries, avocados, lettuce and other vegetables I couldn’t recognize. The best thing about this stretch is that it was totally flat, a biker’s dream.

That said, seeing the agricultural workers in the fields bent over picking strawberries put my complaints about my aches and pains from the ride in perspective.

I’ve equipped my bike with a Bluetooth speaker that connects to my IPhone. Allows me to listen to music, as well as podcasts and audiobooks. In practice, I mostly listen to music, for motivation. One thing I learned on this ride is if you want to boost your speed, listen to Hollywood Nights by Bob Segel. When that song came on my Spotify playlist, my legs started pumping uncontrollably. Probably hit 30 mph.

Sadly, things changed for the last 2 miles. The hills returned and got even steeper than SF. I use an IPhone app that gives me turn by turn directions and, if you go off course, it emits an annoying discordant sound that causes anxiety in the rider. I was stopped at an intersection with ambiguous directions. To my left, was a very, very steep hill. Straight ahead was flat road. I said a little prayer, “Please God, don’t let it be left. Let me go straight.” I went straight, after about 50 feet, the sound came and I slumped on the bike. God does not hear the prayers of bikers, even bikers riding to provide housing for the poor. Sigh.

That was only the beginning. Twice, I had to get off the bike and walk it about 30 yards to the top of the hill. I’ve only had to do that once before on my first of five Fuller rides. It was a tough ending to a really great day. And the thing about hills is that there’s no better feeling when you clear it.

Church accommodations were nice. We had to fee ourselves and got some great local pizza.

Leaving San Francisco, First Ride Day, Brutal

| July 27, 2021 | 0 Comments
A Quick Stop at Pebble Beach. No Time for Golf

If this was my first ride with the Fuller Center, it would also have been my last. It was the most raggedy start to a ride I’ve had in the five rides I’ve done. The thing about the Fuller Ride is that when it’s good (which is the vast majority of the time), it’s the best thing you’ve ever done. But when it’s bad, it’s really bad. And today was really, really bad. But having ridden before, I know tomorrow will be better and there will be many magical moments in the week ahead.

So, either settle in or bail out now. This is a long story.

Everything started OK. I’m on the breakfast team who’s job it is to make sure food is out for the riders by 6 am. ‘Lights on” is at 5;30 am and by 6 am all the riders are expected to have packed up their mattresses, sleeping bags and luggage and deposit them at the trailer by 6 am. First day is always a scramble for me. Fortunately, with my wife Rita’s help, my luggage is pretty organized, at least at the beginning of the ride. So, I was able to pack and fulfill my breakfast duties. We circled up at 7 am, discussed the days ride, a short “devotional,” and off we went. That’s when things began to go south. It would be a seventy mile ride from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. We were told there would be some hills at the beginning but would flatten out after we left San Francisco. Which was sorta true.

Within 100 feet of the church, I realized that I had forgotten to adjust my seat. Not a big deal to fix, but in the five minutes it took, I’d dropped to the back of the pack. That usually takes a few miles riding, because I try to leave early and hang with the cool kids for a little while before they get tired of my pokey pace and ride on. Less then one minute from the church and they had all ridden on.

Then things got worse.

The church we were at was on a hill. So, I imagined that the first part of the ride would be going down hill. NOT! First there was one big steep hill, followed by a turn to another big steep hill. Then there was a slight leveling followed by another big hill. There was a brief, glorious down hill stretch, followed by another big steep hill.

And then it got worse.

i was riding down another brief, glorious down hill stretch when I felt something brush past my legs. Something had clearly dropped off the bike, but a quick scan suggested it was nothing important. In fact, it was. It was the Velcro strap I was using to keep the case holding my supplemental battery pack closed. I bought the best battery pack I could find because I’m a gadget freak and the batteries in my gadget don’t last the day, Even my IPhone can’t last a long ride playing music and using GPS the whole way. This battery would be a game changer. I’d be able to suck all the power I wanted on all my gadgets.

Shortly after I felt the brush against my leg, I heard a clunk below me on the road. I looked down and saw the case had opened and the battery had fallen out. I pulled the bike over and ran back to get the battery. Cars were coming down the road at about 40 miles an hour, heading towards the battery. All I could think was, “Am I going to be luck today?” I wasn’t. Two cars rode right over the batteries, tires mashing them into the road. I still had hope. A battery is a solid block. Maybe it will survive. It didn’t. Now I have to go back into strict power management on my gadgets.

From there, the ride was a brutal slog through thick fog. I could barely see thirty yards in front of me and nothing side to side. A few more hills making my way out of San Francisco. I was exhausted and the ride was only about 2 hours into a likely 7 hour day.

Then it got better, a brief magical moment when I made a turn heading down a hill. The fog had begun to lift and there was the Pacific Ocean in all its glory. I literally yelped out loud and started pumping my fist. What followed was the best part of the ride, flat roads along the beach and the sun began peaking through the clouds.

That went on for a while and a new villain appeared on the scene. Wind. For a good part of the next few hours, I was riding into strong head winds. Sometimes it was so strong that I had to pedal in lower gears on the downhills just to keep moving. So, that sucked. Couldn’t even enjoy the downhills.

This was not the way to start a cross country ride for which your training was three or four 20 milers the previous two weeks. That’ll teach me.

Tomorrow’s ride is only 55 miles with fewer hills, destination Carmel-by-the-sea. Wednesday is 100 miles with 8,000 feet of climbing.

A Lighthouse for Boats Unaware of the California Coast
A Beach on a Foggy Day

Sunday in San Francisco – Free Day, Armenian Mass, Lunch with Dan, Visit to the Wharf

| July 25, 2021 | 0 Comments

Typically, the riders attend the service for the church that hosts us on Sundays. So, I got to attend an Armenian Orthodox service. It was something. Like going to a pre-Vatican II Catholic Mass only more inscrutable.

The pastor of the church visited the riders before the service. He was a gregarious young man, probably in this thirties. We thanked him for the hospitality and he thanked us for our social action. Turns out that Fuller Center has built some houses for the poor in Armenia.

The next time I saw him on the altar decked in full religious regalia, baby blue vestments with a tall cylindrical hat.

Short version:

The service took 2 hours, all but about 10 minutes in Armenian. The altar is old school Catholic in which the priest has his back to the congregation. And to reinforce the secondary role of the congregation as compared to the clergy, there’s a big curtain that goes across the front of the altar hiding the priest and deacons. it was done three times during the service. Who knows what was going on behind the curtain?

After Mass, I had lunch with my old pal, Dan Baxter, from FleishmanHillard. He’s the same as he always was, urbane, smart, funny and very opinionated.

I walked about 2 miles from our lunch spot to San Francisco and it was packed, really packed. Either the pandemic is over, or it’s gonna start up again….big time.