January 10, 2015

Ramp It Up

Number of miles biked last week: Zero.

Number of miles biked the week before that: Zero.

And the week before that? Zero.

During the first two weeks of December, I managed to bike a whopping 31 miles. [That's just not normal.]

Having been off the bike for three weeks, it would seem prudent to increase my activity level gradually.

Biking to work on Monday felt good.

So did Tuesday.

Lake Vasona just after sunrise.

Why not Wednesday?

Moon reflected in Lake Vasona at sunrise.
Short on sleep, Thursday seemed unlikely. But then, I woke up at the usual time and felt adequately rested.

Friday was fine. A new co-worker was impressed; even more so when he heard how long my trip is. “You look normal,” he said. “Not like one of those emaciated 0%-body-fat types.”

[Chocolate. Dessert. Chocolate desserts.]

Which brings us to Saturday, a sixth consecutive cycling day. The perfect day for a loosely-organized club ride with a late morning start.

The first hill hit me hard. [Payback.] The rest? Not so much.

Chesbro Reservoir near Morgan Hill, California
The sun broke through the clouds, there was enough water in the Chesbro Reservoir for a lone pelican, acorn woodpeckers flitted from tree to utility pole to tree, and a couple of hawks made an appearance.

For the day, 38 miles with 1,720 feet of climbing.

For the week? 3,740 feet of climbing over 148 miles.

Sunday is a day for rest.

January 5, 2015

Back to Work

Map showing eleven traffic accidents during the evening commute near San Jose, CA.
Why bike to work?

My first commute of the year was chilly: 34°F when I rolled out this morning. On dark winter evenings, I close my eyes and escape with a podcast on a commuter shuttle—preferably an episode that will make me laugh and forgive the ridiculous amount of time it takes to get home. Tonight, there were a stunning 11 traffic accidents (and attendant backups) in the local area. Eleven. No mitigating circumstances, like rain or fog. Just the usual: A plague of bad drivers.

Rhinoviruses and rainy weather conspired to keep me off the bike for most of December, but 2014 was nonetheless a record year for commuting by bicycle. It was the year I found fewer and fewer excuses not to bike.

In all, I pedaled about 5,720 miles—over 3,600 miles biking to (and usually, from) the office. More than 300 incidental miles, mostly on my folding bike, traveling to and from the shuttle and between buildings on the campus. The rest? Recreational miles.

Oh, and I climbed up a few hills along the way. (241,000 feet, give or take.)

December 27, 2014

Piled High and Deep

West end of the Bay Head Yacht Club building, Bay Head, New Jersey
Back in the old neighborhood for the holidays, I had a chance to check out the status of the post-Sandy work on a local institution, the Bay Head Yacht Club.

Underside view of the pilings supporting the Bay Head Yacht Club building, Bay Head, New Jersey
Last year, the main building had been lifted and shifted away from its foundation; pilings were slowly being pummeled down to bedrock, some 60 feet below the shallow waters of Barnegat Bay. One year later, it's open (for members) and grander than ever.

Full length view of the Bay Head Yacht Club building from the south, Bay Head, New Jersey.
Seizing the opportunity to expand, the core of the original building was preserved and extended at both ends. An elevator supplements the staircases to ferry people between the dock level and the first floor.

The bay side has more window panes than I would want to count, which must ensure a spectacular view on days better suited to the cozy warmth of the hearth than the breezy porches.

Pair of swans in the late afternoon sunlight, Barnegat Bay, Bay Head, New Jersey
Too bad I missed the open house, which preceded my visit. Poor planning on their part, don't you think?

December 18, 2014

Birds on the Wire

Pair of crows perched on a wire, grooming.
Crows are a common sight, but this pair put on an uncommon show this morning.

The crow on the right must be afflicted with something. (Mites, most likely.) The crow on the left was grooming the infested one, picking away at the back of the other bird's head.

When the helper bird turned and inched away, the itchy bird followed. Edging close, the crow bowed its head to ask for more. The helper was indulgent, for a little while longer, before winging to a higher perch.

The afflicted bird cawed noisily, in protest, before scratching and pecking under an extended wing.

We all try, in our way, to be free. But sometimes, we need a little help from our friends.

November 28, 2014

Eleven at Eleven

Do I know my fellow cyclists, or what?

Dry bed of the Guadaupe Reservoir, San Jose, California
The day after Thanksgiving is not for shopping; it's for burning off some of yesterday's calories. (Turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, veggies, pie.)

Six riders joined me for a little trip up Mt. Umunhum. We took the direct approach on Hicks Road from the west. The painful approach.

Surprisingly, it was a vest-and-arm-warmers kind of day; we're having a late (very late) November spell of warm weather. I expected little traffic on the back roads, but I was surprised to see no wildlife—especially after seeing so many deer just two weeks ago. Maybe they had the day off, too?

We reached mile 11 at 11:00 a.m., having already climbed some 1500 feet. I was especially proud at how well I'd climbed Hicks after two guys reported that they'd needed to stop on the way up. I remember trips up Hicks that required multiple stops. I remember weaving up the hill like a paperboy. I remember the first time I climbed it, when I asked a passing rider how much farther it was to the top and told him it was okay to lie to me. None of that, today; I pedaled right on up, keeping my heart rate in check. (Peaked at 178 bpm.)

Climbing Mt. Umunhum ... well, that's another story. I remembered not to be tricked by the first steep bit. There, anticipating more of the same around a sharp bend, I have often paused (prematurely). Just stay with it, the grade relents on the other side.

The next steep bit is longer—almost half a mile. I wimped out, pausing to get my heart rate back into a more comfortable zone. A passing rider encouraged me: “Good job!” he called out.

A couple of riders had been chided by a ranger for riding up to the White Line of Death. [Pshaw!] Really, there is nothing wrong with going that far—even more so now that we know that the true boundary is above it. I had expected to stop at the new boundary line today, but decided not to risk a contentious exchange with The Authorities.

View from the White Line of Death, Mt. Umunhum Road, Santa Clara County, California
I paid my respects at the line before dropping the short distance to the downhill side of the lower pair of “No trespassing” signs—shortly before said ranger reappeared. She couldn't fault us, but still felt compelled to warn us about respecting private property, the “rough” nature of the locals, etc., etc. She continued down the hill and stopped again, out of sight, evidently waiting to confirm that we were heading down (not up). She continued to hover, shadowing us to the gate and watching us leave.

We're not the vandals who spray graffiti on the pavement. We're not the criminals who cultivate weed in the hills. Hooligans in spandex, we are; riding our bikes up the crumbling pavement because ... we can.

Used about 1400 Calories climbing some 3,695 feet over thirty miles. There's another piece of apple pie with my name on it.

November 23, 2014

Urban Wilderness

Looking at this dreamscape, you wouldn't guess the view at your back: San Jose, the bay, all the way to San Francisco (and beyond). Following a rainy day, I expected the skies to be crystal clear—not magically misty.

Sierra Road ramps steeply at the start. Whose idea was this? [Oh, wait ... it was my idea.] It would be difficult enough without the visual intimidation factor.

We seemed to be the only cyclists climbing Sierra today; that's a first. Birds were chirping, cattle were lowing, sirens were wailing. Sirens? Evidently some emergency was unfolding in the urbanized world below us. I began to wonder if they were heading up the hill after us, they blared for such a long time.

Until you pass the summit, you don't really leave civilization behind. Roadside litter is ever present, and the scourge of graffiti is a vivid reminder: the vandals' marks have been blacked out on the pavement, so they tag the fenceposts. It was most disheartening to see the huge tree they scarred with paint.

Trails are marked at the top, now that there is a parking lot for the Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve. I snagged a brochure for a future hike. With names like “Upper Calaveras Fault Trail” and “Lower Calaveras Fault Trail,” it is easy to understand why the land is so rugged.

More than 2,100 feet of climbing over 17 miles: a tidy sum.

November 20, 2014

Stayin' Alive, Take Two

Wet Strida illuminated by my headlight (400 lumens).
The first thing I noted about riding my trusty little Strida in the rain was that the fenders were less than effective. The rear fender's mud flap was lost some time ago, but tonight I was getting sprayed from the front. [Upon later inspection, it appears that the pliable plastic fender is somewhat warped to one side.]

I regretted not biking to work yesterday, when the threatened rain never quite made it over the coastal hills. Given that the roads were wet this morning, I opted to ride the commuter shuttle instead of making a mess of the commute bike. With a 50% chance of evening rain, I took a chance and chose the Strida over striding to the bus stop.

I lost the bet. [Ah, well. Once you're wet, you're wet.] It's only 1.6 miles.

I could shave the trip to 1.2 miles, but that requires biking on a busy local thoroughfare: mostly two lanes in each direction, separated by a median. The problem with that route are all the distractions. My bike is well-lit, but I'm a small fish swimming in a sea of bright lights: signs for businesses, traffic signals, pedestrian signals, street lights, vehicle lights.

The longer route is safer: it passes mostly through residential neighborhoods. In the darkness, I stand out: reflectors on wheels, pedals, and rear rack, reflective sidewalls on my tires, a reflective stripe down the front of the bike, reflective stripes on my messenger bag. Of course, none of that counts until some light source bounces back. So, I have a blinking white light on my handlebar. Two more blazing lights will encourage you to avert your gaze: a blinking red taillight (35 lumens) mounted on the rear rack, and a powerful headlight mounted on my helmet. Motorists give me a lot of space, at night. If they see me.

I watched the car heading through the church's parking lot, toward the exit. In self-defense, I slowed my pace and focused. I was the only moving thing on the street. In the bike lane.

She's not looking.

She's not looking.

She's not going to stop.

This is how cyclists die.

The driver pulled out directly across my path, making a left turn while staring exclusively to her right. She didn't even glance to her left until she was into the street, shocked [I can only imagine] by 400 lumens in her face. At close range.

Disc brakes, in the rain, for the win. They stopped the bike.

After I took a deep breath and resumed pedaling, I heard:
I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry.
She had stopped her car down the street and lowered the window to call out an apology.

I'm sorry, too. I'm sorry that the State of California saw fit to award you a driver's license.