Archive for the ‘Cycling’ Category

What did I do?

July 12, 2013

I’m rounding a turn on a road in a residential neighborhood in the Oakland hills, alone on my bike, when suddenly, I spy a Mini-Cooper pulling out in front of me. I’m not going too fast, so it’s easy to stop right before the Mini. The Mini stops moving… and a few awkward seconds pass in which I don’t know what to do… I guess she’s going to wait for me? Well, she isn’t going to finish backing out at any rate. So, I ride around her.

Her male accompaniment (whom I in fact couldn’t see from behind the Mini) is apparently sitting by his van in their (multi-million dollar home) driveway.

“It’s not like ya didn’t see her there, ya red-headed FREAK!” he hollers at me as I ride by.

“Hey, it was OK, I stopped!” I yell back over my shoulder, but he probably didn’t hear me.

Now, as a woman who spends a good deal of time in spandex on a bike in very public places (roads), occasional harassment is nothing new (A cheerful greeting from a bro in the passenger seat of a sedan just outside of Danville a few weeks ago: “F*** you, you slut!!!” ). Nor am I unfamiliar with being publicly harassed by complete strangers for being a ginger (A cheerful greeting from a bro in the passenger seat of a suburban in Berkeley: “Hey red, you’re a fox!”). But there’s something particularly upsetting about this one. First of all, I really try to be a good cyclist. It’s mostly because I don’t want to die, but I actually stop at stop signs and stop lights and try to play nicely with cars. I really try, you guys. And second: Red-headed freak? That insult felt far more personal than any number of meaningless obscenities that could’ve been flung in that moment. It landed me back in sixth-ish grade, at the time in all of our lives when the other girls are the most vicious about how fat and how ugly and how much of a FREAK they think you are. God I hate that time in all of our lives.

Uncharacteristically, I can’t stop pouting about it for the rest of the ride. Hmph. Dis never ‘appened to moi en SwitzaFrance or Sveeeeden. Jamais.

Ride Report: Gran Combin

August 26, 2012

Needless to say, I’ve been dragging my feet on writing this report. Le Blog has come otherwise to a standstill and this post blocking the floodgates. So here it comes, an incomplete sketch as it is.

Lessons Learned:

1. Alpine mountain biking demands total corporeal focus: You must simultaneously hold your bursting lungs inside of your chest, stalwart your legs against collapse, and be sure of your step. Your eyes will be bright in the beaming reflection of all that surrounds you, and, you will be carrying your bike.

2. Alpine mountain biking is subject to the whims of that capricious clime: Be prepared for everything. As this, this is the stuff of myth, expect nothing less. You will discover that your pride is nothing compared to the mountain.

3. Alpine mountain biking is not for the faint of legs, arms, mind, or heart.

…………..Day 1……………….

Fionnay, Switzerland.

Around each switchback on the drive into Fionnay, I prayed like mad for sun. Just around this turn, it will be sunny. Just around this turn the rain will stop. It didn’t.  A quarter of an hour later we found ourselves circled round a wooden table in an empty café, a map splayed out before us. Seven clean faces stared back at me over espressos,  excitement painted with the anxiety of venturing into some deep unknown. Rain, rain. A thunderclap, des tonnere et eclair. Allons y!


I watched the back wheel in front of me roll into the puddle, splash, roll out. I followed, but not closely enough. In an instant my own front wheel vanished before me. In concussive hues I saw myself from above, projected in slow motion. I saw it all: the bike flipping, the mud splashing up, my back and the bike on top of me, submerged five centimeters in mud, and then, darkness.

Can someone pull my bike off me, please?

I was covered in mud and hence jumped in the next alpine lake we came across. It was, predictably, very cold.

Col de Mille

Soon enough it became too steep to ride; the altitude and the rock strewn, treacherously slippery trail did not make it easier. We walked, we climbed, we forded streams and relayed the heavy bike up the mountain. Everything was wet and everything was happening in slow motion.

At the refuge there is woodstove, a woman, and a girl. In the pasture outside a donkey grazes happily; callous to the chaotic weather. As we remount our bikes to descend down the sodden mountainside, I’m left wondering if they rode the donkey up.

Col du Grand Saint Bernard

It is truly a pity to have gone over the Grand St Bernard pass and not to have seen any of it; Once we were forced to abandon the trail and take the road up the on the Swiss side, the rain came in from everywhere. Visibility was at best a couple of meters, and I didn’t even realize I was at the Col until buildings appeared beside us: Shops, restaurants, and the hospice, the fabled hospice! I can imagine it was all very beautiful, but I cannot say for certain.

Once over the Italian border the road curved gently down the mountainside and the sun shone onto undiscovered country. My brain, in its predictably campy fashion, was busy dancing about the Roman Empire. For a moment I managed to forget that everything, everything, is wet; all that matters is the road, the road, the flowing road! And, where, oh where, are the elephants?


Allora, allora. the waitress said. She pressed her hands together, smiled hugely,and took our orders. I’m outed as a vegetarian, but it hardly matters: there’s food I can eat, here it is dry, and the hotel has enormous wool blankets. Heaven.

……………………..Day 2…………………..

We awoke the next day to find the sun, as promised by the Italian Optimists. Oh the first climb was glorious and long, a nameless browngold road winding 14 kilmeters through Italian suburbs with names I cannot remember before spilling out into the mountains. Even from the first kilometer I wanted to go hard. I was in the climbing place, a place I personally have only recently discovered exists within myself: Yes, I now can say, in complete and utter honestly, that I love to climb. And so I climbed.

It wasn’t long before Stefano caught up with me and asked me what I had eaten for breakfast. Muesli, I said. What I did not say was that, really, my pace (admittedly far from blistering) was not sustained by the solely by the muesli. Instead, I was really propelled by some locomotive of imagination, generated by the scenery, by taking off my helmet, and by secretly pretending for the entire climb that I was one of these guys:

Bartali, Coppi. Coppi, Bartali.

Ride the bike!

Frenêtre du Dunand

A near vertical ascent, a climb, the bike across the back. At the pass (2797m) you could look down on the glacier and hear the ice cracking through the millennia.

Downhill, downhill: Across the Swiss border again and into rocks bigger than my fork can handle, a few sections of flow, and a trail hugging the edge of the glacier. We rolled over the tops of waterfalls and through lantern lit caverns. We ended up at a dam at the edge of a slender turquoise lake. Our descent to from there was warm and brief Fionnay, back to the car, a piece of tart at Relais du Grand Saint Bernard, which I didn’t know I needed until I took the first bite, and a ride back to Geneva.

Vive les alpes!


How lucky am I, to have friends who dream up such insanity?!

andare in bicicletta: a preview of Gran Combin

August 4, 2012

“On a bike your conciousness is small. The harder you work, the smaller it gets. Every thought that arises is imediately and utterly true, every unexpected event is something you’d known all along but had only forgotten for a moment. A pounding riff from a song, a bit of long division that starts over and over, a magnified anger at someone, is enough to fill your thoughts”

…..Tim Krabbé, The Rider

In the Alps the mind of the rider can expand, I find, to fill whole valleys; It leaps out of the body and alights tauntingly on distant peaks, it races devilishly up the pass ahead, it plunges into frigid turquoise ponds and goes crashing, whirling down waterfalls, daring the rider to follow. On the grade, it contracts again and is contained simply by the slow measure of hapless panting, by the sound of the crank turning over, by the number of stones in the road. Looking down, the legs are moving in slow motion, but the lungs and heart are working double time. Everything and nothing matters. Oh, but the world does not exist beyond this moment! A click and a latch, up and out of the saddle, a brief acceleration, a phase lock, a resonance: the sweet spot. Ride the Bike, Ride the Bike, Ride the Bike.


Coming soon: A ride report from Le Tour de Gran Combin, a two-day, two-country mountain bike traversal of the local Alps.

Le tour et la vie Genev/CERNois

July 21, 2012

Short stories, three posts in one, because it has been a while and because, porqoui pas?


Col de la Faucille, down the valley of the Valeserine through limestone tunnels and slender tree forests with curling roots, buttressing a verdant and invisible canyon before dropping at last down into Bellegarde. Bellegarde, industrial blocked Bellegarde, on the other side of the pass, Stage Finish, le arriveé. When I saw the tour in the mountains last year, the whole experience seemed larger than life itself: So much so that it warranted three gushing and fangirlish blog posts on the matter. Before then I had watched the tour on television every summer for almost as long as I could remember, and being there for the first time and in fact, being in the Alps for the first time was nothing short of, well, magic. But this year in Bellegarde, the scene was flooded with fans and everything happens faster that I can really parse. I did manage to cheer for my favorites: Allez pour Voeckler, the Frenchman with the German name, Hopp hopp for Jensie, who came in third, venga venga para Valverde, and Go Go for Cadel Evans, who, for the record, looked absolutely pissed. But the highligt of the day was that I mananged to scream HEEEEJA HEJA at the Sweeeede in the polkdot jersey, which is not something one gets to do often at the tour.

Afterward, I drug myself home through rural France, up and over the pass into Pays de Gex, because as I have learned the hard way a few times: One Does Not Simply Roll Out of Bellegarde. I’m not sure how I got tricked into doing over 100k on my mountain bike on the road, but somehow it happened. It often does.


I’m uncertain as to what kind of parallel universe I am in, now that I am apparently chic enough to stand on street corners in Genève in the company of three Parisians and a horde of friendly Polonaise. But despite all odds, this seems to be my current reality. Nevertheless, I accept it and stand on the corner on this warm but rainy Swiss evening, trying to engross myself in the mental exercise of pretending I can speak French. It’s not easy, because truth be told I don’t speak French and even just the Europe-south-of-Copenhagen mindset is still not something that comes to me completely naturally. One of the smiling Poles is distractedly swirling her glass around this cobbled street in Medieval Geneva, flooded in golden lamplight; it’s the kind of place that apparently bores Parisians and Poles but makes Americans swoon. It is booooring here, she whines. We will go to the party of the summer students, yes? Ve ‘ave a car, so porqoui pas?

Once at CERN, le soireé de summerstudent resurrects vivid memories of the only middle school dance I ever attended before I promptly decided that wasn’t my scene. At the very least, it smells a bit like it: socks and vodka. We appear to be in something like a gym (at least it smells like it) located behind one of the hostel buildings and soon enough, my friend whispers in my ear. She says: See, there are the boys with big hair and bad tshirts who’ve never danced before in their lives. Surely, they are failing about, maybe some of them are or soon will be a bit sick with alcohol. If the party has any redeeming feature, it is that watching budding physicists dance is somewhat amusing. What this scene mostly glaringly lacks in comparison with my horrid middle school memories is the presence of the coiffed Orange County elite; the ones who arrived in limousines while my friends and I arrived (or didn’t arrive at all) by bike, bus, or minivan. But seeing as this is not Orange County and is instead an empty building in a particle physics lab in semirural SwitzaFrance*, it should come as no surprise, and really, I don’t miss them. As the music achieves a level terrible I have never experienced prior, I notice that above the ‘bar’ there is a whiteboard that lists the prices of drinks as ‘uncertain’ and quotes Heisenberg. CERN: It is a special place.

Le Soireé de summerstudent, I don’t think I will be back.


I’m standing at the computer when hear a loud noise. Never a good situation. My colleague, who is arranging water cooling lines, looks over at me. What was that? I ask, as his eyes inflate to the size of M12 washers. It was a splash. I toss him some paper towels and quickly negotiate my way around the experiment to check on the bakeout controllers. I curse out loud: An entire controller had shorted out. I guess the breaker tripping must have been audible , because the powers that be run down from upstairs and after a few minutes with the multimeter deduce that, while it’s not clear exactly what happened, something shorted to ground. We, the two of us who know exactly what happened, just stand there exchanging nervous glances. I can’t take it. Well, I say, slowly, there was water.


*I am coining this term.

I fill the year

June 30, 2012

three past birthdays, in prospective.


Befann mig i Stockholm hos en kompis och hennes familj…vi cyklade till stan och gick på Skansen i hela dagn. En tidresa genom århundraden samt genom barndom, kan man säga. På kvällen, lagade jag mexikansk mat åt familijen. Det blev inte helt rätt, men gott ändå. Svenskarna var förstårligt nyfikna: Vad gör man med pannkakan? frågade pappan medans han tog en tortilla. Det var ingen pannkaka, ju! Och två dagar senare blev det midsommar på härtzö… bärplockning, svampplockning, sjunging matlagning. Solsken, märkligt. Bada, åka kayak, fika, spela kort. Och om igen. Solen gick liksom aldrig ner och jag kunde inte sluta le.


Installing Labview on my boss’s computer. Making a cake and failing. Absorbing the capricious central European summer. Blogging cryptically about it.


As the air thinned around us it seemed all the more that the world would rift open. Surely it did, at some point, or else none of this would be here. We kept going, bikes on our backs, until there was nowhere higher to climb. At the Col I looked back into the valley we crawled first up into and then out of–the waterfall, the place where the pines stopped, all the impossible little blossoms–and for a minute there was no sound. What I’ve been taught for years was suddenly made breathlessly real: these peaks haven’t changed much over some number of minutes beyond the scale of our imaginations. In the face of the Col, the time we keep on our watches, in our calenders, in our bodies, in our buildings and books and birthdays, ceases to be of consequence.

Some amount of seconds later, the wind again was making sound. It was time to descend.

Photo credit, route credit, and insanity credit: S.B.

Switzerland, it’s pretty great.

Ride Report: Col du Grand Colombier

June 16, 2012

It turns out that getting 6 or fewer hours of sleep for two consecutive weeks does not come without consequence. And so today, a day off, I am regulated from actually riding my bike, to simply writing about it. It’s maddening, sitting inside when the Central European Climate just decided to agree with the calendar and make it summer.  So, outside it’s pushing 30 (a bit too hot, admittedly) and I’m inside recovering from some strange illness which has taken my voice and, apparently, my will to stay awake past 7PM in the evening. On the plus side, you all finally get to hear about the trip up Colombier with three women from CERN Velo Club.


“How, how in holy heck, are we going to get up there?” I remember thinking while riding through the forested part of the Colombier, the Jura’s most infamous mountain for cycling. Every few minutes a gap of sky would emerge between the pines and the Col itself would become visible: with sheer granite walls, it appeared a route more suited for rock climbers than for cyclists.

Suddenly, there was a switchback and the forest stopped and everything opened up into a grassy expanse. For the first time, the road ahead became visible and we knew what we were in for.

Oh. I see. Yes, that is indeed how in holy heck we are going to get up there. We are going to climb.

I traced the road for you

We had been climbing for 12 km already, not counting the (x km) ascent to Col du Richmonde we bagged en route. I’m not going to pretend that some ziggzagging did not take place* on that last bit of road, which makes the rest of the Colombier seem like child’s play. It is this stretch of road that makes the Col infamous: there are four ways up, but all of them end with the killer grade. And on July 10th, the tour de France will ascend it for the first time in history, at a markedly faster pace than my own.

But oh, the view from the top! Not other worldly like summits in the Alps, rather quite the opposite! Colombier is airy but green and the view below is is lush and so wonderfully earthy. From the ridge of the Jura the Rhône valley opens up below in a turquoise flume between legions of verdant hillsides, dotted with toylike villages. And in the distance, the Alps, as always, white and violet. You look out over the whole region and be more present in your own skin solely because you are so aware of the geography and your singular place in it.**

Descending was marvelous: woody, winding, reminding you you’re alive. It was only after passing Sessyel, a town at the base of the mountain, that the heat really set in. As we climbed out of the Rhône valley, with still 85 km left until home, Jenny’s rear innertube exploded. At first we thought it was a heat pop, but then we noticed her tire was shredded. We booted it the best we could, and she rolled back to the train in Sessyel. And then there were two.

Next came 40 or so km, a blur of rolling hills, of vast and breathless farmland, agrarian raptures. We were, however, chased by the knowledge that we were running low on water. It’s funny how the senses heighten for survival: On the backside of a roller, I thought I heard the sound of water flowing. I brushed it off as a hallucination until Sue called out: Did you hear that? We pulled the brakes immediately and backtracked. Water, indeed, gushing out of one of the small roadside fountains, made explicitly for this purpose. We would make it home alive.

It is worth noting, that the climb out of Bellegarde and over the pass into Pays de Gex is not insignificant.

40 km later, I saw the CERN water tower in the distance, and I was not, by any means going to get on any road that led me in the opposite direction. Soon enough I was back at work, and my colleague in the office next door was confused as to why I could barely walk. I sat in the CERN cafeteria for almost an hour before I could muster the courage to ride home.

Voilà: first ride more than a century (170 km) ride with over 2000m of climbing. Here’s to many more!


*For the record, I still believe Galibier is a tougher climb. Not as steep on average, maybe, but longer, higher, and in thinner air. Up next Colombière (the Alpine one) and Col de Cou. Stay tuned, as I continue to avoid the whole Planning For My Future ordeal by climbing as many mountains as I conceivably can during my limited free time in this strange place, which just may as well be called “Heaven for Cyclists.”

**Parts of this description are borrowed from a letter, apologies to the one person reading them twice.

Ride Report: Genevarundan, Doing it Better

May 24, 2012

Swapping stories about about climbing Old La Honda road in Palo Alto, CA in good ol’ American English with someone you just met while riding your boss’s road bike* through Switzerland is not something one usually deems highly probable.

Swapping stories about Vätternrundan in good ol’ Scanian Swedish with someone you just met while riding your boss’s road bike through rural Switzerland is likewise not something that seems highly probable.

Accomplishing both on the same ride, as I managed to do last Sunday while riding the 190 km around Lake Geneva (a ride I did alone last summer) with CERN Velo Club, surely is a sign that some constellation, somewhere is aligning in my favor.

Genevarundan, as I call it on this blog and in my head, was this time around, infinitely easier. Possibly due to a) Well, I’ve actually been waking up early and riding intervals lately and b) Generally company makes such ventures better if not for the conversation, then for the draft. I felt strong, even if the pace was admittedly low and the road admittedly flat. All was well until the Fillet du Pêrche et pommes frites, a semi-forced lunch at restaurant outside of Montreaux, sank down like a greasy weight at the bottom of my stomach. But the cramps stopped after Evian and slowly but surely Geneva, the Saleve, the Jura, all the things familiar curled up around us. When it was over, we all ate ice cream in front of Jet D’Eau and later I successfully sneaked my professor’s carbon road bike past my landlady and into my room.

What’s more: Women cyclists, against all of my previous notions, do exist here! We were three girls in the pack on Sunday, and I’m happy to say we were easily the three strongest riders (Physicists don’t get to train much, I guess). In fact, a girls trip up Colombière, that road that is the stuff of legend, is in the works. We’ll see what the whirlwind brings.**


*And this time, I had the guts to ask him myself if I could ride it. He agreed, less grudgingly than before, but on the condition that I replace the rear derailleur cable. Done and done.

**On the CERN front: Many hours on vacuum systems, control systems, rewelded joints, etc. Apologies for only writing about fun. More on less important things later.

Cyrogenic, and Salève

April 13, 2012

My blood has thinned, and I’m sure of it.

Coming to California from Sweden, I thought I had conquered being cold. In California yes, it rains, but you can be assured of sun within in a matter of days (or hours). Not just patchwork sun, either, no. In California, you expect it to come on full power, explosive, rapturous, unyielding. It’s the kind of sun that makes budded trees pop before March and makes them wilt by June. In California, I shunned jackets, I slept with the windows open, I rode my bike while wearing short sleeves and short fingered gloves.

In Switzerland, a pause in the rain finds our team enjoying the daily espresso out of doors.  Sitting at that table in the middle of sodden Europe, I begin to sense that either my blood or my jacket is too thin. It’s not even the kind of cold you feel in your bones, I think, it’s just normal cold. Someone remarks that I look like I am freezing. I most certainly am, but of course I grit my teeth and reply:

“I am not cold.” I don’t know what it is that’s in me that has always made me feel I need to prove that I can endure low temperatures. Possibly it’s the uncomfortable truth that really, I can’t. But I won’t swallow that, no: I will freeze until my blood rethickens.

In my defense, it really isn’t warm: On these last few mornings as I ride to CERN, I’ve taken a look back at our local massif. Le Salève is a marvelous color-changing upheaval of glacially carved sediment, but these few mornings, it has been graced by a delicate layer of snow. Something I’ve never before seen on Le Salève. By my evening commute, if enough light is left to see the Salève, the snow is gone, to be regenerated, by this  sorcery called ‘weather’ come dawn.

Le Salève. I rode up it, at last. On Easter sunday, after attending an unadorned, French-Language Calvinist mass in St Pierre Cathedral, I got on my bike and rode towards the massif. Eventually found my way up. I climbed forever and then some, but when I reached Col de Les Coisettes I turned around and there were the Alps: a symphonic panorama in ascending indigo shades accented in broad and beaming shields of white yellow snow. Once in the small village of Les Croisettes, I found myself in a familiar setting: the tail end of an amateur road race. A man loading a Cervelo onto a roof rack sized me and my old mountain bike up before uttering a ‘Bonjour.’ I smiled back but was more fascinated by the emaciated young racers, their faces clean-shaven, lean, and strangely apelike; their fiercely luminous eyes peering out of the back windows of small cars. I tailed them down the mountain. On the switchbacks my hands froze to the bars and my mirth froze in my chest to be released in a burst of laughter at the sight of early blooming raps blossoms and a train of thought: Raspar, skåne, vår. Vår! Spring!

I did, in fact, speak Swedish with a physically present, living person today. Well, he spoke Finlandsvenska and I probably spoke a little Skånska, but that hardly matters. It’s wonderful feeling in the mouth, to speak a language that one can still hear the sounds of, a language that is not so disenchanting as the international and purely functional brand of English* that is, for the most part, my default operating mode.

Here’s to hoping that speaking a Nordic language will act as a blood thickener, and we can all get on with our lives.


*My matter-of-fact German flatmate has expressed to me that “English is so simple,” I believe he meant sparse, incomplete, exiguous, limited.  He went on: “You can’t really say everything.” Ahh, yes (such it is with any language) but that is only because you don’t know all of the words!

Le tiocan

March 31, 2012

So, yeah, my camera overexposed the Alps. For shame. If you look hard enough at the second photo, you can just barely see Mont Blanc. All of this is after an approximately 45 minute road climb into the Jura (on a hardtail mountain bike with knobby tires and, ahem, largely in the small ring) from St Genis. Followed by a technical descent down a single track trough the forest, and back into the village of thoiry. Europro, here we go.

Note: I swear I’m doing physics here, too. Just not writing about it.

tout-terrain, tout-puissant

February 20, 2012

He’s your prototypical cycling dude de un certain âge: His head is shaved or balding or more probably both, he’s wearing neon framed sunglasses and if I could see his calves I’m sure they would leave me with no doubts that he could destroy me up a hill on any given day. He is of course, the dude standing behind the table at the Specialized demo I’ve just rolled up to. And, naturally, I’ve just signed my life away for the sake of riding bicycles.

“Bring her back in an hour and try another one,” he smiles and extends a 2012 Specialized Epic 29er in my direction. I’ve never really even ridden a full suspension bike before, let alone a top-of-the-line, brand new, perfectly maintained one. He doesn’t know it, but I’m fighting back tears of joy.


Holy Moses, this bike is eating the trail for breakfast. My internal monologue becomes fixated that phrase: Eating the trail for breakfast. Eating the trail for breakfast. I keep repeating it with each turn of the crank.  I’m climbing a fireroad named BFI. I’m not sure what the letters stand for, but after a few minutes I can hazard a guess: Big F***ing Incline. My heart is exploding, but it hardly matters because this bike climbs like a hardtail and still manages to, yes, eat the trail for breakfast. En breve: it climbs with hardtail efficiency, but, ahem, better.

At (what I thought was) the top of the climb I turn around to greet the Pacific, glimmering and vast, two blues meeting, the horizon. California weather so flawless sometimes, it truly is almost disgusting. A guy on a Santa Cruz downhill bike about to head down the trail finds it in his heart to yell, “You’re outrageous!” as he passes by; Apparently this isn’t the normal way up. But no, it’s not me that’s outrageous, I want to yell back, it’s this bike, you see….the bike climbed it I didn’t climb it at all!

Next up: single track and downhill. I am shocked (that was indeed a pun) to find that I am riding, or more accurately, the bike is riding up and down things that would have knocked me off of my ol’ Marin: Rocks, berms, switchbacks, washboard fireroads. Emboldened by the existence of a rear shock and a functioning set of brakes, I come to the conclusion that yes, a bike like this would be an absolute game changer. Is it really supposed to be this much fun? Really? Are you sure this isn’t cheating?


I ended up trying an Epic and a Safire (read: spending about 2.5 hours test riding bikes waaaaay outside of my price range. Shhh, don’t tell the sales guys.) Survey says: Epic > Safire.