March 18, 2017

Up a Random Hill

Out of shape, I am.

View of green hills and the Diablo Range from Bernal Road, San Jose, California
I did manage to commute to (and from!) work one day last week, after daylight savings time kicked in. Getting up took some convincing, it did.

Today wasn't pretty, a bit chilly thanks to overcast skies and more wind than I expected.

My ride buddy and I kept it short—just one hill. Most of the group skips the climb we chose; instead, we skipped the rest. It's quiet and wide, affording us ample time to chat. (My buddy pedaled up twice, having arrived an hour too early.)

It's been awhile since I last visited this area; there's quite a bit of development in progress.

We met at Random Access Method of Accounting and Control Park. (RAMAC Park, that is.) Named for the first computer to use a hard disk drive, which was invented nearby at IBM. Fittingly, our climb up Bernal Road ends at the Almaden Research Center's gate.

The club has been starting rides from this park after a favored bike shop shut down. Something didn't feel right with this place. Men in aggressive cars were loitering in the parking lot, or circling the neighborhood. I picked up (and recycled) an empty 32 oz. beer bottle that had been discarded. At least it hadn't shattered.

After finishing the ride, the dead-end street next to the park was blocked by adjacent patrol cars; the officers were conferring. That seemed all the more curious after I reached the main road, where the traffic signals were out at two busy intersections. Motorists were left to negotiate the multiple straight-through and turn lanes on their own.

One mile of climbing, 12 miles of flat: 575 feet, in all. In a word, enough.

March 3, 2017

Ah, Altitude

It has been an spectacularly snowy winter in the Sierras. We arrived on a perfect high-altitude-blue sky day,

which became a perfect clear black night.

In a few days, skiers from around the world will compete in the World Cup races at Squaw Valley.

They will be well-prepared. Unlike yours truly, who committed a regrettable tactical error ten days ago by donating a unit of blood. I did consider postponing till after this trip, but then made the wrong choice.

You see, at altitude, you really need those red blood cells.

My heart rate was elevated (normal) and my body was busy shedding plasma (normal) to raise the concentration of those oxygen-carrying warriors. There just weren't enough of them.

I felt tired ... was it only 8:30 p.m.? Maybe I'd feel better in the morning.

I woke up groggy. Maybe I'd feel better after lunch.

Sliding around on a pair of skis while lightheaded would not count as a good idea. The sled dogs were fully booked.

The skies had clouded over as the next storm approached.

I boarded the tram to visit the mountain-top High Camp.

Lake Tahoe was just visible in the distance, through the rings that remain from the 1960 Winter Olympic games.

I wandered through the Olympic Museum. I would not have fared well on those skis, not at all.

Graceful skiers carved their tracks down the slope as I watched with wistful envy.

Next time.

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.