May 17, 2015

Remembering Mom

Mom and me at a London Pub, 1995
The inevitable day comes, when mother and child must part forever.

Two months ago, Mom was tottering about independently at home. Her memory was spotty and the family was wary, but she was determined to live her life on her terms (and frightened of the alternatives).

None of us had a clue that really, she was terribly ill.

One month ago, she was in sub-acute care and we were exploring those alternatives. Assisted living ... with memory care now, or in the future?

Two weeks ago, she was in the hospital and we were preparing to move her to a nursing home (her worst nightmare). She was upset that her fingernails were a mess—she loved her manicures. I did my best to trim and file them.

Four days ago, we placed her in hospice care. I did my best to hold her when she cried, and not to break down at the same time. Once, she managed to lift an arm, reaching to comfort me back. How not to break down, then?

This afternoon, I was standing over her when she suddenly opened her blue eyes wide. Could she know, then, that she wasn't alone?

Tonight, I was stroking her hair when she took her last breath.

I regret not having more photos of the two of us, sharing good times.

Mom at Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, 1992
Of carefree days at the beach: Dad would meet us there, after work. He'd wear his bathing trunks under his suit and pick up a barbecued chicken for a picnic supper.

Of Scrabble games: Mom couldn't keep score last December and tired after two games, but she still played some darned good words. The words—not the numbers—were the challenge, for us. How many hundreds of boards did we fill, over all these years of my life? She never minded that I outscored her virtually every time.

Mom in Monterey, 1989
Of trips we took together: Florida. California. Thanksgiving weekend in Manhattan. England. There was such joy in her smile.

If you don't have an advance directive or a living will—or whatever it's called where you live—you should. (Mom did.) She didn't want to live with dementia, or to linger in a nursing home for years. Her last days were not without suffering, but that time was mercifully short.

Now, there are only memories.

April 19, 2015

In the Moment

A day of reflection was needed, and at such times I'm drawn to the sea.

California gull on a fencepost along Monterey Bay, Pacific Grove, California
The overcast sky suited my frame of mind. I would spend much of the day outdoors, but first headed to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I normally visit for member events, when the crowds will be sparse. On this Sunday morning, the place was bustling with families and I enjoyed that more than I expected. The kids put every interactive exhibit through its paces, and then some. I pointed out some of the well-camouflaged creatures tucked away in tanks that jaded adults concluded were empty. I learned that the residents of the aviary are all rescued and rehabilitated shore birds that can no longer survive in the wild.

Bright blue fish in the Kelp Forest, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, California
I noticed a panel featuring a quote attributed to Francis Bacon:
We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand—and melting like a snowflake.
Harbor seals with pups on a beach, Pacifc Grove, California
I ambled slowly southward through Pacific Grove, along the promenade. Harbor seals lounged on a beach, some nursing their pups. One hapless little one would advance a few feet from the water's edge, only to be rolled and pulled back by the next wave's advance.

Drosoanthemum floribundum blooming along the coastal trail, Pacific Grove, California
I read about the signature “magic carpet,” Drosoanthemum floribundum, in glorious trailside bloom. It's an ice plant native to South Africa, tended here by volunteers, and a legacy of the first volunteer, a curious adventurer named Hayes Perkins, who planted it. The promenade passes through the eponymous Perkins Park, dotted with benches dedicated to others who found solace in this place.

Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans) blooming along the coastal trail, Pacific Grove, California
Later, I would find the preamble to Bacon's quote.
Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity.

April 4, 2015


Turkey vulture with carrion in a field, Morgan Hill, California
Last year was The Year of the Dog; this, The Year of the Turkey Vulture. The bird was occupied with some delectable piece of carrion and none too concerned with us. It was pure chance that my ride buddies and I had stopped nearby.

This was the coldest Tierra Bella pre-ride I can remember. I regretted not having insulated my head and toes. “If the Tierra Bella is next week, why are you all riding today?“ asked a cyclist on the opposite side of the road. When we explained that we ride the course to check the markings and look for any problems, he thanked us. With any luck, we'll get that spray of broken glass and pulverized bits of car on the shoulder of Highway 152 cleaned up.

Lupine in bloom at the Chesbro Reservoir, Morgan Hill, California
Given our extended drought, I have been surprised at the abundant wildflowers this spring. It was a banner year for the oaks to produce acorns, too.

Canada Road offers a swift descent to the valley, with some care. One sweeping arc, in particular, tends to catch some cyclists unprepared. I tapped the brakes to keep the new bike from getting carried away. My rear-view mirror allowed me to keep an eye on a wide SUV that was trailing me at a distance. The gap would shrink whenever the road tilted up or straightened out, but once we hit the curves I had the advantage. Reaching a long straight stretch, I sat up and slowed to let it pass.

Owl's clover blooming near Chesbro Reservoir, Morgan Hill, California
The driver pulled even with me and matched my speed. Mountain bikes on the rear rack, windows down. “You were movin'!” the passenger exclaimed. “Yes,” I smiled. “It's fast.” Curious about where we were headed, I told them about the upcoming Tierra Bella.

Starting and finishing at the site of our post-ride barbecue, we cut the 100k route a bit short: 55 miles, with 2,260 feet of climbing.

Flat, essentially.

March 28, 2015

Coe Coasting

White and purple lupine blooming along the road to Henry Coe State Park, Morgan Hill, California
Not too hot. Not too cold. Not too windy. Green hills and wildflowers in abundance. Thomas Grade seemed steeper, and the steep grade on East Dunne seemed shorter.

My ride buddy turned back at some point on the hill below me, so I talked to the deer and cattle along the way. Hawks soared overhead and a lone turkey ambled across the road, in no particular hurry.
Purple vetch carpeting a hillside along the road to Henry Coe State Park, Morgan Hill, California
Other riders from the group were enjoying Henry Coe's picnic tables by the time I got there. Our club members are phenomenal. One guy pulled a full sack of fresh oranges from his pack. He'd stopped at a roadside stand and hauled them up the hill to share with all of us! He was out for an epic 100-mile day (or more), whereas I  had shortened the ride a bit (29 miles with 3,500 feet of climbing).

Poppies and green hills along the winding road heading away from Henry Coe State Park, Morgan Hill, California
I was looking forward to the descent. With its wide, smooth pavement and no cross streets, I would be able to let the new bike roll in the final stretch. My peak speed there has been constant over the years.

Until today, when I was 10% faster.

March 26, 2015

Drive the Track

Strolling back to the car, past the trailers and canopies and motorheads in the paddock, I overheard a couple of guys remarking about the “gray-haired old lady at track day.”

The paddock on a track day at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Salinas, California
There were quite a few groups at the racetrack; in our group, I was the only woman. [Whatever.] I work in high-tech, I'm used to it. The assumptions that greet gray hair are less familiar. The local grocery store started giving me the senior discount almost six years ago—which I found highly amusing, that being the year I completed all five passes in the Death Ride. (And I still don't qualify for that discount.)

The ‘A’ group (beginners) started the day with an orientation about flags and protocols, then moved to the parking lot and executed some drills. Accelerate and brake hard. Really hard. Accelerate, brake hard, and turn. Trace a tight figure-eight through a course marked by cones. Pretty impressive what the car can do, when pushed. Hard.

Our coaches drove the first two laps around the track, pointing out the flag stations and other highlights. Then we traded seats. I had made the right call two weeks ago, to bike Laguna Seca first.

At the end of the day, I told my coach I couldn't do what he did—be a passenger in a car being driven (fast) by a complete stranger who has no prior track experience.

Cars at the corkscrew, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Salinas, California
Photo credit: Dito Milian,
Whenever you drive, there's a lot going on, and you cope without conscious thought much of the time. On the track, little is familiar: flags to understand (and watch for), passing zones and protocols, tricky curves—all that, plus the concentration needed to snake your way around the course. At whatever speed you find comfortable.

In the morning, for me, that speed was not particularly fast. When I'd get to a straight section, I was so relieved to have negotiated the previous turns without incident that I would just ... relax. I got plenty of practice doing “point-bys”—signaling to drivers behind me that they could pass.

After lunch, I was treated to a demo ride in a coach's car. It could not have been more fitting that it was a red 1990 Mazda Miata. (Until a few years ago, I owned one.) Those three laps were a rip-roaring good time. And then, I got it:

Just because I'm in a designated passing zone doesn't mean I have to surrender.

Accelerating toward the finish line, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Salinas, California
Photo credit: Dito Milian,
On my first lap after lunch, I rounded Turn 11, downshifted, and let the car to do what it was engineered to do. [Go fast. Really fast.] “Where did my ‘A’ driver go?” laughed my coach. It was my turn to do some passing. Keeping my lead on the straights compensated for my imperfect line on the curves; by the time the others were on my tail, we were approaching Turn 11 again ... and they didn't stand a chance.

Jan and Dean, they got it.

March 21, 2015


Purple bush lupine on the slopes of Mt. Diablo, near Danville, California
The slopes of Mount Diablo are lovely this time of year.

While it seems unthinkable not to finish the climb at the summit, my ride buddy and I had other plans. Realizing that we would pay for the full climb by struggling up Morgan Territory later, we stayed low and headed for a picnic in the charming town of Clayton.

Lizard on a fence post along Ygnacio Canal Trail, Walnut Creek, California
The bike trail was a new wrinkle on this route, and a most welcome one for eliminating the first stretch of  busy Ygnacio Valley Road (where traffic streams along well above the posted limit). The shoulder is wide ... but still.

Renegades that we were, I led us off Ygnacio Valley at the earliest possible opportunity: a mellow detour through the Concord campus of Cal State East Bay, where we discovered dozens of trees blooming gloriously. Pine Hollow Road was busier than I had hoped, but still far better than the alternative.

Trees in bloom frame distant green hills, Cal State East Bay campus, Concord, California
Having lingered over lunch, it wasn't long before the fast riders from the group caught (and, of course, passed) us.

Our abbreviated route took us over 55 miles with 4,840 feet of climbing.

California poppies, trees, and green hills along Marsh Creek Road near Clayton, California
And the bike? On the steep (and twisty) descent of Morgan Territory, it dared me to go faster. And faster. It just kept picking up speed.

I blinked. And braked.

March 14, 2015

Big Game Hunting

T-Rex and dinosaur statues in the Skyland community, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Save the poodle! Save the poodle!

Even when you're biking in familiar territory, you just might learn something new. A few independent riders were climbing up the hill at the same pace as our group, and we started comparing our ride plans. “We ride up to see the dinosaurs,” they explained. Their route was similar to ours. What have we been missing?

Not only did we find the fearsome predators, we met their keepers as well. The pterodactyl was temporarily grounded, awaiting a connection to a freshly-installed post to anchor its aerial wire. The owners started their collection with the life-sized Tyrannosaurus rex about three years ago, and talked about how they decorate the creatures for holidays. Let's just say that a Christmas-season visit may be in order (though not until shopper/choppers are done fetching trees up there).

Swirl of clouds over forested hills, Highland Way, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Returning from our extended excursion along Highland Way, a sweeping arc of high clouds caught my eye. From one vantage point, conditions were clear enough for a view of Monterey Bay glistening in the distance.

The first long ride on the new bike felt great: 40 miles with 3,460 feet of climbing. I was moving pretty fast on a familiar downhill straightaway and thought, gee, I'm not even trying. I adjusted my body to a more aerodynamic position and ... the bike jolted forward. Instantaneously. Who put a turbocharger on this thing?

Those engineers at Cervélo? They know what they're doing.