April 17, 2014

Scenes from a Commute

Bright yellow flowers on a California flannel bush (Fremontodendron californicum) along the Stevens Creek Trail
Some California flannel bushes are in full bloom along the Stevens Creek Trail, others have already peaked.

“You got it! You can take him!” Stopped at a traffic light, a motorist made me laugh. He was referring to the shirt-less, helmet-less dude in front of me.

It was a hectic week, jam-packed with meetings and a couple of way-too-early days. Energized by one productive-but-intense review, I remarked “That was fun!” One of the engineers deadpanned “You like to ride a bicycle up steep hills.”

Biking home is a great way to unwind. I squeezed in two bicycle commutes and was tempted to make it a three-fer, but decided to save my legs for Saturday.

The trail is not uniformly scenic.

High voltage towers and lines along the Stevens Creek Trail (Narrative Clip)
The first of five bridges on the way home.

Bike-ped bridge over Moffett Blvd. (Narrative Clip)
I have been playing with a new gadget that automatically captures a photo every 30 seconds. Needless to say, most of the shots are utterly worthless. Here is a selfie as I cross the last bridge before leaving the trail.

Shadow of pep crossing a bike-ped bridge over Hwy 85. (Narrative Clip)
As I browsed through the collection (more than 2,000 photos for the round trip), I was surprised to see things I have otherwise never noticed. Here I am signaling a right turn, somewhere. (I'm not exactly sure where.)

Shadow of bicycle and pep signaling a right turn. (Narrative Clip)
Like many digital cameras, this one is challenged by the sky.

Shadow of pep and bicycle in late-day light next to a retaining wall. (Narrative Clip)
In principle, the little camera seemed ideal for biking. In reality, not so much.

April 13, 2014

The Morning Wacko

View to the east from Ridge Winery: Montebello Road, hazy valley, and distant hills.
How many random factors came together to stop me at a particular intersection at a particular moment in time? [More than I can count.] The vagaries of getting up, getting dressed, assembling lunch and my gear, setting up the bike, pedaling on my way. Pausing for cross traffic, and another stoplight. Flying downhill, slowing to check for traffic merging from the freeway, and then rolling to a stop at a red light at a particular intersection at a particular moment in time.

I glanced to my left. The walk signal was flashing; this would be a long light. An old man in a light blue jacket, tall and robust, was crossing the street, staring at me. He veered out of the crosswalk to confront me, gruffly asking if I paid $3,000—or $4,000—for my bike.

There is no satisfactory answer to his question. He knows it's not a cheap bicycle. “Maybe,” I said; “it's old, I've had it a long time.”

It was 9:00 a.m. on Sunday morning and there was no one else in sight.

Nothing prepared me for the ugly question that next spewed from his mouth. A question with centuries-deep roots in ignorance and hatred.

“Are you a member of the Jewish clan?”

My blood froze. A storm of profanities raged in my brain. More furious than frightened, I summoned a reply. “No, I am not,” I said curtly. He continued on his way, rambling about the bike he got from Goodwill and suggesting that I should go spend more of my money on a new one.

How many random factors came together to stop me at that particular intersection at that particular moment in time? Thirty seconds, either way, would have spared me this encounter with the scum of the earth and this reminder that bigotry is alive right here in my own town, in the liberal Bay Area, in the twenty-first century.

Poppy-covered hillside with old grape vines and trees at Ridge Winery.
Following this rude wake-up call, it is not hard to imagine that the rest of my day was considerably more pleasant. I biked to the start of our club ride, meeting up with friends old and new, with diverse national heritages and beliefs, from all walks of life. The morning gloom burned off sooner than my thoughts about the morning's sickening start.

Our ride leader insisted that we were welcome to picnic at Ridge Winery. After climbing to the top of Montebello we headed a mile or so back down and turned into their driveway. It was an unexpectedly lovely spot, but it is reserved for customers only. [That, I expected.]

A day of stark contrasts: 39 miles and 3,500 feet of climbing with scenic views, and one chance encounter with abhorrent views.

April 12, 2014


I never tire of visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium. A new exhibit (Tentacles) has just opened. With some help from MBARI, they can share some uncommon finds. If you stop by soon, you might see some deep sea visitors—a pair of Flapjack Octopuses.

I never tire of looking out onto Monterey Bay, either. To our delight, a mother otter and her pup floated past the building, not far offshore.

Cephalopoda include cuttlesfishes as well as squid and octopuses. I didn't realize they were mollusks, minus the shell.

Nor did I realize that the chambered nautilus is a Cephalopod.

Chambered nautilus
We don't often see much of an octopus; the creature will habitually draw tightly into a corner, maybe exposing a few suction cups on the glass. The resident Giant Pacific Octopuses, not to be outdone by the splashy new exhibit on the opposite side of the building, decided to put on a show. I have seen them unfurl and slide along the glass before, but tonight—they swam!

Giant Pacific Octopus
Every tank is worth a closer look. This fish was annoyed at being found, despite some impressive camouflage.

Fish hiding in pink coral
Well worth the trip, again and again.

April 6, 2014

Poppy Rocks

California poppies blooming on a rocky hillside
Ride 100 km on a warm spring day? It's a job. Someone's got to do it.

Next week is one of our club's main events, when approximately 1800 cyclists will visit to ride on some of our favorite roads. Supporting all those folks would not be possible without the volunteer labor of hundreds of club members (before, during, and after the event). Some volunteers can ride that day, but most of us will be busy at our stations.

Volunteers, instead, are invited to ride the course a week in advance, and today was that day. A couple of rest stops are set up for us with water and snacks, finishing with a barbecue lunch. [We miss out on the famous nut breads and wraps. Of course, we could make those anytime.]

Field carpeted with wild mustard at the foot of green hills
Back to the job: We're looking for potential problems to fix before next Saturday. For my part, I called attention to a potentially troublesome pothole and a spot where some arrows on the pavement might help.

The biggest problem of the day had four legs and a collar. I saw the loose dog. He was intently watching something on the other side of a fence.

Then he saw me.

How fast can a dog run? [Pretty darned fast.] How fast can I sprint? [Not that fast.] In a matter of seconds, I accelerated from 11 to 21 mph and my heart rate spiked from 145 to 175 bpm. The snarling, barking menace was keeping pace, inches away. I had visions of his fangs shredding my left calf.

That stretch of road was level, with a slight downhill advantage yards ahead. Primarily, I got lucky—I could not out-sprint the little monster.

Uvas Reservoir, nearly run dry
Recent rains have turned the hills green and coaxed out the wildflowers, but not relieved the drought. There was precious little water to see on our “reservoir loop;” by summer's end, there may be none.

For the day, 66 miles with just a little climbing (2,420 feet). I hope our guests will enjoy a day as picture-perfect as today.

March 30, 2014

Picturing Panoche

“Don't Frack San Benito,” the sign read. I couldn't agree more.

Roses and grapevines, with a sunlit hill in the background, Paicines.
Our well-timed ride was slotted between a pair of storms, giving us dramatic lighting and clean air.

Cloud bank in the distance, Panoche Road.
The Aermotor was spinning fast at the Summit Ranch. With a dual assist from gravity and the wind, I plummeted down the backside toward the Inn.

Aeromotor, Summit Ranch, Panoche Road.
Another rider thought the road had more patches. “How could you tell?” I asked. It's best to ride that stretch with a light grip on the handlebars—or wind up with an aching head and some loose fillings.

Look at that view! Look at it again. Picture it paved with solar panels, because that is the future for this land—some 4,000 acres of solar panels and power lines.

Open fields, distant hills near the Panoche Inn.
More than 20 miles out on Panoche Road, an approaching car slowed to a stop. A wayward European visitor was looking for the National Park (Pinnacles). I set him straight.

Field with yellow flowers near low cliff, Panoche Road.
The wind is a constant. You can count on a headwind for the return; on unlucky days, there can be a headwind in both directions. Which means more time to admire the scenery.

Distant hills under gray clouds, Panoche Road.
A mere 2,750 feet of climbing, with 54 miles of scenery.

Enjoy it now.

March 22, 2014

Springtime for Hollister

When the Bay Area forecast reads “Partly Cloudy,” the morning will be gray and gloomy.

Low clouds mix with the hills along Lone Tree Road.
That's the cloudy part. The rest of the day will be glorious.

Blue sky is breaking through along Lone Tree Road.
After a poor night's sleep, I was semi-conscious when the alarm went off. I desperately wanted more sleep. If I bailed now, would my ride partner see the email? The ride start was not local. Drive an hour, bike 50 hilly miles, drive an hour back. I needed more sleep.

It is a perfect day for this route. It will still be (somewhat) green. Soon it will be too hot to bike down there.

View from the top, end of the public portion of Lone Tree Road.
I pulled myself together. I could further shorten the route, maybe just tackle the first (and longest) hill.

Quien Sabe Road winding through an open valley.
But the second hill is one of my favorites.

Cliff at the end of the public portion of Quien Sabe Road.
With so many back roads to explore, I saw no merit in returning on busy Highway 25. Having pored over the map, I had a better idea.

Lone tree on the russet-colored hills along Santa Ana Valley Road.
Instead of being buzzed by speeding SUVs and pickup trucks, I had John Smith Road to myself. (Two vehicles passed me, heading in opposite directions.) The birds told me how little traffic uses this road. I startled a hawk into seeking a higher perch; moments later, it comfortably swooped to my left along the road before veering over the rolling hills. To the right a small flock of birds escorted me, rising and falling to match my slow pace.

I turned into a residential neighborhood. “Not a Through Street,” warned a sign. It had looked so enticing on the map.

Strategically-placed barricades blocked vehicles from passing through ... but not bicycles!

For the day, 54 miles with some 4,830 feet of climbing. I'll sleep in tomorrow.

March 21, 2014

Side by Side

Two folded Stridas, one white, one black.
Tucked into the belly of the bus, a study in black and white.

This morning I needed to catch the first shuttle to arrive at the office in time for my earliest meeting. This is not my routine, and I hardly expected to find another bike already loaded when I lifted the door to the first compartment (before sunrise).

I definitely did not expect to see another Strida. Now I understand why I have only seen the black bike when I catch an early shuttle home.

These folding bikes are ideal for our short (flat) little trips to and from the shuttle stop. For me, the distance is a little more than a mile (studded with five traffic signals). Driving that distance would be, in a word, ridiculous. It would also take as much time, if not more. Having the bike for quick trips on campus is mighty convenient, too.

With enough daylight remaining, I opt for a longer route home. Each trip seems insignificant, but the miles add up: about 43 miles this month, alone.

Best time? Door-to-door, with no red lights: 6 minutes, 33 seconds.