Home Again

The week after Redlands, I savored my time at home with some long group rides through the dense redwoods of the Santa Cruz mountains and up the open rugged Pacific coast, paying homage to my favorite coffee shops along the way. The local cycling folk know all of the best pastries at each of these cafes, so you've got to be wily about getting your hands on the good ones before they're gone.

We usually start with a fresh-brewed cup of Peet's coffee (the kind that doesn't change color no matter how much milk is added) in Los Altos. From there we might head to Pescadero, where Archangeli's bakery offers freshly-baked artichoke bread, perfect for pulling apart to share; or into Boulder Creek where a ham and cheese scone feeds two at the Blue Sun Café; or into Half Moon Bay, wrestling for position to get the last pumpkin muffin at the Moonside Bakery and Cafe. If you're really feeling adventurous, you can head into Cameron's Pub on Highway 1 for a Mudball (a pint of Guinness with a scoop of chocolate ice cream on top), but that's another story.

Team Training Camp

The following weekend on Saturday morning, the team sallied forth to San Luis Obispo, CA (SLO) for our team training camp, sponsored by Voler, located in Grover Beach on the coast just south of SLO.

Our friends John and Linda Elgart – reps for Voler – organized a mercifully expeditious photo shoot just around the corner from our hotel. (Last year, our photo shoot lasted 4 hours, from which we began a 5 hour training ride; 4 + 5 = 9 hours of chamois time = very, very bad.) This year, we found a cul-de-sac surrounded with lush foliage and a mild false flat, which we rode over and over. Thank goodness for the gentle slope.

After a decidedly American-sized BBQ lunch (we each took ½ a portion, which amounted to ½ a large chicken, a fist-sized scoop of potato salad and a giant pool of baked beans), we embarked on a rolling tour of the surrounding countryside: pastoral green knolls, undulating vineyards, and many, many cows. The route was described as "flat to rolling," though as we turned onto See Canyon Road, the word "Canyon" worried me slightly.

"I keep expecting an enormous climb around every turn," I confided to my teammate, Bev, as we pedaled along the twisty road, past rustic orchards and some very loud peacocks. Then an oncoming car passed us, and I could smell burning brake pads. Uh oh.

Sure enough, the road kicked up. And up some more. A fun dirt section allowed some reprieve, but we soon found ourselves on the steepest pitch, yet. As we wrestled our handlebars up the wall before us, Bev said, "Amber, in the future would you keep quiet and try not to jinx us like this?" Hell yes I'll keep quiet, I thought as I strained over the grade cursing my 25t, I'll be thinking flat thoughts the rest of the weekend!

The road opened up into a sweeping view of the bucolic landscape below, and as the fog rolled in behind us, we flew down the smooth, winding descent through oaks and wildflowers. Not too shabby a reward for the effort.

That night, we went to Sushi with Jim Helser from Voler, and by "went to Sushi," I mean "brought down the Sushi house." We rocked that place. By the time we left, both our table and the open table next to us were stacked with empty platters and the carnage of a serious feeding frenzy. They never knew what hit them.

Easter Sunday, my "flat thoughts" accomplished nothing; we started the ride on an epic dirt climb along an old stagecoach road over La Cuesta pass. Back on pavement, Christine went for an early town line sprint, catching us off-guard. Laura and I were too busy exchanging movie quotes to notice the very large and very obvious ‘1 Mile to Santa Margarita' sign. Christine now led the points-race.

Whether anyone else knew that this was a points-race remained unknown and immaterial; Laura and I plotted to get the jump on the next town line sprint. Two hours later, and no city limit signs in sight, the whole crew got antsy, and it became clear that everyone was aware of the points-race. Further, the points-race apparently included sprints to 25mph signs, bollards, sticks, trees, rocks, and a large sign that said, "The Wood." Rachel got the wood. We lost count of the points, but I'm pretty sure Rachel's sprint counted for double.

After the ride, we decided to relax with warm beverages at a local tea shop. Our teammate Katheryn – racing in Europe with the national team – could not be with us for camp, except in Easter spirit. She had shared with us that a few years ago she had tried to find bunny ears for her helmet on Easter, and resorted to cutting the ears off a stuffed bunny. She felt terrible committing the cruel act (but not enough to be deterred, you'll notice; cute furry creatures beware).

In her honor, we brought a stuffed bunny with us to the tea shop and created a sequence of digital photos documenting the bunny's eventual ear removal. We got a bit carried away with forks, knives and nooses, and worried many customers with our macabre antics in the otherwise quaint little cafe. The staff, however, thought this was hilarious and gave us a large, flashy butcher knife for further bunny torment. We sent the photos to Katheryn as a Happy Easter greeting and now have new mascot.

Monday morning, Jim Helser and the crew at Voler treated us to a tour of their factory. These folks know their business, and their commitment to employees and to the quality of their product is impressive. They don't shy away from new technology, but refuse to compromise quality as they progress. They've been very good to us, and we're proud to use their clothing line.

On the road home, we stopped for a ride out to Parkfield, CA, the Earthquake Capital of the World. We worked on a few sprints over the infamous San Andreas Fault, but – lucky for California – we held back a little, not wanting to disrupt the delicate tectonic balance with true top-end wattage.

Home Again (Again)

There is nothing quite as satisfying as starting the day with a brisk ride, then curling up in bed with the laptop, some good journal papers, and a cup of tea after a good stretch. I savor this lifestyle and feel grateful every morning to be doing what I am doing.

I'm back up to my ears in spreadsheets and journal articles, catching up on work and research between training rides and recovery naps. Our research group is working on a case study involving economic valuation of environmental services. Using this empirical data, we're constructing a coupled economic and ethical case for the adoption of a new method for national income accounting. I love my work, especially knowing it contributes to the rich and highly relevant environmental policy debate.

I love what I do, but I know it isn't for everyone. What is important, however, is that no matter what you do, you feel a passion for it and at the end of the day, you're proud of what you've accomplished and contributed, even just one small gem of a triumph. There is honor and fulfillment in striving to continually improve; whatever your work or passion may be, I hope that you feel some spark of connection with what you do and that you smile with satisfaction as you reflect on each day and on how far you've come to reach this moment.

Keep turning the pedals, and you'll continue to cover ground, regardless of speed or route.

Or you might end up living in a van down by the river. (For those unfamiliar with this reference to Chris Farley's Saturday Night Live character, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Foley,_Motivational_Speaker)

That's it for now. Stay tuned for Sea Otter stories and our trip to my hometown of Reno, Nevada.

Thanks for reading, Amber

Go Green Tip #5

Give your air conditioner (A/C) and heater a rest. When you leave during the day, head off for vacation, and go to sleep, turn down your thermostat or use a programmable thermostat to control the temperature. They're a lot easier to use than your bike computer. Same for the A/C - utilities recommend setting A/C to 78. (This Go Green Tip is brought to you by my good friend Erin Kassoy, a green energy consultant, fellow Stanford alum, and rockin' cross racer.)

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Rachel Heal

Images by Karen Brems

  • Right about now our smile muscles are starting to cramp. Team photoshoot in San Luis Obispo, CA.
  • Helen enjoys a true American-sized latte in downtown SLO.
  • Linda and John Elgart relax over tea with Laura.
  • The team tours the Voler factory in Grover Beach, CA. (Left to right: Rachel Heal, Beverley Harper, Mara Abbott, and Christine Thorburn)

Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*

Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets

After your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59

Join now for unlimited access

Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Relatively new to the sport, Amber launches into her second season racing at the professional level for Webcor Builders in 2007. A former collegiate swimmer, Rais found her passion in bike racing during graduate school, where she earned a Masters degree in Earth Systems. Throughout the season, Amber will give an up & comer's perspective on racing, as well as some suggestions for becoming more environmentally conscious with her 'Go Green Tips'.