February 18, 2017

Water Finds a Way

With a respite between storms, I could have completed my errands by cycling around town. That would have been quicker, but I wanted more exercise. More time outdoors.

Water spills from a side channel into the muddy waters of Los Gatos Creek, Los Gatos, California
I laced up some hiking shoes and set off on foot. I first crossed the creek on my way to the dry cleaner's. Fast-moving water, the color of caramel.

Backtracking to the creek trail would likely save time: no traffic lights or crosswalks, just a direct (and scenic) route to downtown. The acacia trees are in bloom.

Yellow acacia blooms on the bank above the muddy waters of Los Gatos Creek, Los Gatos, California
I was lucky to score some Girl Scout cookies after I left the Post Office, just as they finished packing up and started to roll their cart back home.

That was a genius move, as I had brought along a bottle of water—but no snack. My plan was to continue following the trail upstream, to see how much water was flowing over the spillway at the dam. Lunch could wait.

Agitated, muddy waters of Los Gatos Creek, Los Gatos, California
So much water, raging urgently down the creek.

Splashing and tumbling, surging and swirling.

Muddy waters of Los Gatos Creek heading toward town, Los Gatos, California
It seemed almost angry when it sprayed up and around any obstacle in its path.

It picked up speed as it flowed from one level to the next.

It slowed in apparent confusion, losing direction when the banks widened enough for the water to pool.

Lexington Dam with water streaming down the spillway above the muddy waters of Los Gatos Creek, Los Gatos, California
Once the spillway was in sight, I couldn't resist continuing across the face of the dam to behold the sights from above.

Top of the spillway with smooth water above, Lexington Reservoir, Los Gatos, California
So much water, and more on the way.

Logs washed to the shore of the Lexington Reservoir, brown water under a gray sky, Los Gatos, California
Raindrops sprinkled now and then, which kept many people at home. There were joggers and dog walkers, mountain bikers and road cyclists, parents and children.

Plenty of mud, along with puddles and rivulets, on the trail.

And one lone lupine.

Single purple lupine near Lexington Dam, Los Gatos, California

February 11, 2017


Dried mud coats the seat tube, rear brake, and chainstays.
No, I wasn't off-roading on my skinny tires.

A friend recently asked if I'd stopped riding, or stopped blogging. Not exactly.

The thing is, we've been having a bit of weather this winter. Wet weather. Wet, windy weather. Trees topple. Hills slide. Roads crumble.

Highway 9, closed. Highway 84, closed. Highway 35 (Skyline) will need to straddle a small new ravine that washed away the roadway (needless to say, closed). A section of Skyland Road was similarly torn away. I can't imagine what Highland Way must look like, given that the hillside had already taken its toll on a stretch that had been under reconstruction for years. Trails, which typically run alongside creeks, flooded and closed; some will need repair, like a section where Stevens Creek eroded and widened its banks.

Clouds touch the foothills of Mt. Hamilton, San Jose, CaliforniaThe lower portion of Mt. Hamilton seemed like it would be a reasonable place to bike—and it was ... mostly. The asphalt was patched where a falling eucalyptus had torn out a chunk. The remains of the enormous tree were cut and left on both sides of the road. Culverts did their job, channeling much water safely beneath the surface. The road was in much better shape than I'd expected, though one section had some ominous cracks.

White fence and green fields at Joseph D. Grant County Park, San Jose, California
The road was also in much better shape than I was; I had no intention of trying to reach the summit today. In fact, I was never so happy to reach the intersection at Alum Rock Road, after descending cautiously through mud-caked and wet curves, on slick, sandy tires.

I felt victorious after covering 17 miles—not to mention climbing (and descending) 1,985 feet. After six long weeks without a “real” bike ride, it required a serious effort to pull my routine together. Luckily it was, well, just like ... riding a bike!

January 14, 2017

St. Joseph's Hill

So much rain, so many roads closed for repair or clean-up. I was apprehensive about venturing into the hills today, even though it would be sunny and clear. Rocks, mud, and trees continue to tumble down the unstable slopes.

So much water that it was still flowing down the spillway at the now-filled Lexington Reservoir!

Water coursing down the spillway at Lexington Reservoir, Los Gatos, California
Could we find a place to hike that was not only safe and accessible, but interesting?

We could walk up the Los Gatos Creek Trail to Lexington Reservoir; the trail is high enough above the creek. Not a serious hike, though.

Flooded trees and muddy water, Lexington Reservoir, Los Gatos, California
Then it dawned on me: continue on to St. Joseph's Hill Open Space Preserve. Small, but with mostly-exposed trails and mostly-gentle grades on high, rolling hills.

Perfect. Especially at this time of year, before the baking-hot sun of summer (or spring or fall, for that matter). You can't really get lost up there, either; little need for advanced planning.

And so we set off along the trail, busy with runners and cyclists and dog-walkers and people like us, out for a stroll on a precious sunny day between the “atmospheric rivers” of rain that have been battering us this month.

Lovely manzanita tree, St. Joseph's Hill Open Space Preserve, Los Gatos, California
From the summit, we had clear views in all directions: The cube atop Mt. Umunhum, across the valley to the domes of Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton. Mt. Diablo to the north east, and the city of Oakland. Even San Francisco was visible, and Mt. Tamalpais beyond that. A thin line of smog hovered over it all, having risen quickly after the rains subsided.

Wooden bridge along the narrow Flume Trail, St. Joseph's Hill Open Space Preserve, Los Gatos, California
We returned on the hikers-only Flume Trail, having hiked almost seven miles. (Not to mention the three miles we covered, walking to and from the trailheads.)

Nearly ten miles. Not bad for a walk-out-your-front-door-and-take-a-hike kind of day.

January 1, 2017

Rancho Cañada del Oro

My New Year's tradition is to eschew New Year's resolutions. As this year begins, though, I could use some inspiration. Motivation. Something.

Manzanita along the Mayfair Ranch Trail, Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve, San Jose, California
And so I resolved that I should hike more often. In fact, why not start today?

Lichen-covered branches and manzanita branch, Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve, San Jose, California
We are blessed to have so many unspoiled places to visit, just a short drive outside the sprawling, heavily-developed valley. County parks, open space preserves, state parks—even national parks.

Sunlit leaves and rolling olive-green hills, Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve, San Jose, California
My chief biking/hiking buddy suggested Rancho Cañada del Oro, an open space preserve.

After taking a wrong turn and circling round on the Llagas Creek Loop Trail, we headed onto the trail we'd planned: Mayfair Ranch.

Mostly-bare trees along the trail, Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve, San Jose, California
We crossed paths with a few hikers as we surveyed some of the hillsides that the Loma fire consumed last fall. Hay bales and signs have been placed to keep people from straying off the trail onto the fire roads and into the burn zone.

Hay bales and "do not enter" sign at fire trail intersection, Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve, San Jose, California
We also met a family on mountain bikes, but for the most part we had the serenity of the preserve to ourselves.

Small creamy mushrooms popping up through fallen oak leaves, Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve, San Jose, California
There were trailside mushrooms and a few flowers in bloom, and plenty of birds twittering about. Our fellow hikers had asked if we were participating in the annual Audubon Society bird count (no), but then I did spot a few small birds with yellow patches exposed above their tail feathers as they flew (Audubon's warblers?). Not to mention the turkeys we saw on the way to the park, and the ubiquitous turkey vultures circling overhead.

And so, with a five-mile hike, 2017 begins.

December 30, 2016

On a Winter's Day

One way to overcome the winter funk that's been keeping me off the bike is to persuade a friend to join me. My chief biking buddy has been in a similar funk.

Yellow wildflowers in a field leading to olive green, oak-studded hills, San Jose, California
My strategy worked: we wouldn't let each other down, so we both showed up. (I admit that I checked my email a few times before leaving the house, just in case she backed out.)

Cloudy skies and hills reflected on the surface of the Chesbro Reservoir, Morgan Hill, California
We did an abbreviated version of a club ride; I wasn't sure how well I'd get up the hills, and she's still coughing from a lingering cold.

Oak trees and a rocky hill, Morgan Hill, California
On such a gloomy day I feared there would be no photo-worthy scenes; I snapped the first photo early and expected it to be the last. (Silly me.)

Turkey vulture soaring above oak trees, Morgan Hill, California
At the base of the second hill, a pair of turkey vultures swirled as they were lifted by the warming air—the sun finally broke through.

For my 2016 season finale, I managed to bike 23 miles and climb a measly 665 feet.

End of year wrap: I climbed more than 140,000 feet and covered more than 3,725 miles on the bike. How much time did that take? More than 415 hours (not all of that in motion). Evidently I also walked (and hiked) more than 346 miles.

Somehow it all adds up.

December 25, 2016

Christmas Cliffs

It was a moody sort of day as we set off on our Christmas stroll.

Silvery waves and a black cliff under gray, overcast skies, Pacific Ocean, Half Moon Bay, California
I was happy to be spending this day, again, with a good friend.

Dry reeds flanked by bright green hills, with Pacific Ocean waves and a cloud-dappled blue sky, Half Moon Bay, California
Forsaking the tide pools at Pillar Point this year, we headed south along the cliffs. The overcast skies transitioned to blue, and some of the hills had turned emerald green.

Driftwood in the foreground, small waterfall in a stream passing under a bridge at the beach, Half Moon Bay, California
We descended to a few beaches along the way. One revealed a small waterfall that we would cross on the bridge above.

Breaking waves at the foot of golden cliffs, Half Moon Bay, California
With the sun low in the sky, the cliffs begin to glow long before sunset.

Acres of Brussels sprouts near Half Moon Bay, California
If you haven't visited coastal California, you might be surprised by the vast agricultural acres that often stretch to the end of the cliffs. Brussels sprouts were in abundance.

Heron in flight, Ritz-Carlton hotel in the background, Half Moon Bay, California
A rude woman with a small dog flushed a stately heron into flight, not content to admire the bird from a respectable distance.

By the time we returned to our car, guests at the Ritz-Carlton were clustered around their firepits. In one ground-level room, I spied an astonishing mountain of brightly-wrapped presents.

We celebrated an eight-mile hike, and more importantly, the gift of good friendship.

December 19, 2016

Sing Out

A holiday tradition in many communities is a choral “sing along.” In particular, at Christmastime, the popular work is Handel's Messiah.

When a friend learned, a few years back, that I had some ability to sing, he gave me a copy of an acclaimed performance on CD and invited me along.

(Yikes.) Apart from the famed Hallelujah chorus, I had no familiarity with the work. My choral career ended in elementary school; to my untrained ears, this piece was operatic. As an adult, I had once toyed with the idea of joining a chorus—until I found out that an audition would be necessary. Solo.

There is much joy in singing, though; and a chorus makes such a glorious noise together.

No auditions are needed to participate in a public sing-along. With some practice, and the generosity of a choir master leading free rehearsals, I came to appreciate Handel's masterful work.

This year, when I signed up for a local 50th annual Messiah Sing-along, I missed the memo that we would be performing the entire work—not just the usual popular selections. But that was okay, thanks to those free rehearsals over the years. And besides, if you don't feel confident about a particular piece, you could just sit it out and let others carry the weight. Many of the people who show up for these are members of regional choruses, and they know what they're doing.

I strategically settled into a seat in the section where sopranos would naturally congregate, and resonated with a confident and talented voice nearby. There is an orchestra, but there are no soloists: We tackle the solos, as well as the choruses, written for our voices.

There was at least one vocalist who had participated in all 50 events. “Let's make it 60!” he called out. Some seated near me held no scores; one woman spent the evening penning Christmas cards. That seemed odd, until I concluded they were friends and families of the orchestra members.

The lyrics are bits of Biblical scripture, rendered from two of the more poetic translations. When I read some verses at a funeral service earlier this year, the passage was familiar to me through Handel's music (No. 52); I had a firm grasp on those words.

As 2016 draws to a close, I was struck by two questions (Psalms 2:1):
Why do the nations so furiously rage together,
and why do the people imagine a vain thing?
Why, indeed? More than two millennia later, so little has changed.

Can there be any hope that we will work for the good of all in 2017, and beyond?