July 13, 2019


The adventure begins by train ... three trains, to be exact: Zürich, Switzerland to Baveno, Italy.

I started my journey early, knowing I could catch a later connection if I missed the third train—I would have only four minutes to exit the Swiss train on Platform 8 and transfer to the Italian train on Platform 3 in Domodossola.

No ramp. Down the stairs I went, with my baggage. One backpack. One rolling suitcase. And one bike bag. [Yes, I am quite the sight.]

Along the tunnel to Platform 3, where I could see the train above me. Up ... the ... “Signora!” a voice called out. A chivalrous Italian gentleman reached for my bike bag and carried it up ... the stairs! “Grazie, grazie!” I said as fellow passengers helped me (and my baggage) aboard.

On these trips, our group is accustomed to modest accommodations in small inns. This time, our group was large (27 people, not all of whom would cycle). The lobby of our hotel on Lake Maggiore was a clue that this trip would be different.

As well as the lovely mosaic in my shower.

And, of course, my view of the lake.

Notice the bride walking up the red carpet?

After settling in, I set off to explore the town, starting with the Church of Santi Gervasio and Protasio, parts of which may date back to the 11th century.

One side of the plaza features a 19th century colonnade depicting the stations of the cross.

Another advantage of our hotel became evident in the capacious dining hall: They cater to large groups (bus tours, mostly).

Our Grand Jubilee Tour has begun!

July 7, 2019

Züri Fäscht

My taxi driver explained the circuitous route to my hotel—major streets in the center of town were closed to traffic for a festival.

Not just any festival, but one that comes to town only every three years: Züri Fäscht.

Having grown up with easy access to beach boardwalks on the east coast, I was at home with the rides and the games and the prizes, and with the smiles on children's faces. Push-bikes on an obstacle course ... I don't think this would be possible, back home. [What if a child got hurt?!]

Less familiar were the foods: everything from Argentinian to Yemeni.

There was an airshow, formation flying, daredevil pilots, and helicopters doing things I never imagined a helicopter could do.

I walked and walked. [Daylight is good for combating jet lag.]

I scored a prime fireworks-viewing spot on the lakeside wall. I was starting to feel tired, but .. hey, I can sit. That's not much to ask. The sun sets late at this latitude, but the pyrotechnics were worth the wait. Several paragliders dropped from above to the theme from Skyfall, landing on the platform to get the the show started.

I'd seen something about a drone show that would follow the fireworks, but with no apparent activity I headed back to the hotel.

They launched more fireworks at 1 a.m. (sadly, not visible from my room). And the drone show? I heard it started around 5 a.m.

I headed back on Sunday morning, determined to explore the full extent of Züri Fäscht (and, evidently, a second celebration that happens every year: Caliente).

The site was ... a colossal mess. [How un-Swiss!] The cleanup crew corralled the debris with leaf blowers and rakes. A street sweeper averted catastrophe by climbing out of his machine to set aside two giant rolls of toilet paper before they spun into his brushes.

There was a woman in a red dress walking a very long tightrope spanning the river, strung between buildings.

There were high-divers—some serious, some clowning around.

There were amphibious convertibles (!).

I walked and walked. And then I walked some more. [30,000+ steps for the day.]

There was music. Kids playing what looked like kayak-polo. A tank where you could try scuba-diving.

A giant water slide that launched riders into the river.

And chocolate-dipped strawberries on skewers. [Mmm. And again, mmm.]

The random selection of old books in my hotel room included a copy of In Bicicletta a Beverly Hills (yes, in Italian). They didn't know that, after this week in Zürich, I would start my cycling holiday. Not in Beverly Hills, but in Baveno. Italy.

Or, did they?!

June 30, 2019

Faster than Some

Slower than most.

The Best Buddies Sonoma training ride has become one of my favorites. I was looking forward to visiting the same Airbnb hosts again, but maybe they're working on the renovation they mentioned last year—their listing wasn't available to book.

I was stunned when I realized that the place I did find, this year, was right on the edge of the burn zone in Santa Rosa. As in, one or two blocks away. This was a direct connection to a dramatic video I'd seen in the aftermath of that fire, when firefighters from Berkeley rolled into town and found a neighborhood to defend after realizing that their assigned rendezvous point had already been lost. This was that neighborhood.

Our ride would be less hot than last year (hurray!). Our Ringleader Richard sorted the 40-milers into three groups after we'd covered a few miles. Not surprisingly, I landed in the middle group ... after hanging on at 16.4 mph (!) for the first 30 minutes (climbing 270 feet in the process).

Eventually I would slip off the back. Despite Richard's colorful admonitions not to be a “martyr” and ride alone, I am content to do exactly that. The slow group would be too pokey for me, and I'd be disappointed not to collect a good photo or two.

The middle group left the rest stop first; the fast riders waited for the slow riders to arrive, allowing for a somewhat tighter finish. [A less spread-out finish, anyway.] Along the way another rider fell in with me; his buddy was with the fast pack. A mile or two later, he said “I'd ride anywhere with you, you're very consistent!” [Well, I have that going for me. That, and descending.]

The fast group would pass us, of course. Back at the ranch, Richard's closing remarks were poignant. “I know how some of you felt this morning, wondering whether you could keep up, whether you could do this ride. Remember that feeling? That's what our Buddies feel, every single day.”

And that is why I keep supporting this organization.

I did push myself hard today, 835 feet of climbing over 38 miles, averaging 14.7 mph. [Unnaturally fast, for me. But, evidently, possible.]

June 22, 2019

Challenging Castle Crags

Not one, but two of my cycling buddies were keen to travel up to Mt. Shasta for this year's Castle Crags ride.

Lake Sisikiyou was lovely in the early morning stillness, and snow lingered on the distant ridge.

The mountain dazzled us with its glorious cap, and there were even a couple of snowy patches still melting along the north-facing heights along our route.  And wildflowers.

Curious to understand more about the folks who choose to live up there, I chatted up three volunteers at one of the rest stops: An attorney who practices up and down the state (and owns a hotel in a nearby town), a guy who works remotely for a company in the Bay Area, and an executive for a local conservation organization. Surprising? Or not, because this event is hosted by the Rotary Club.

The last rest stop was packed and gone by the time we reached it. We'd started slightly later than last year, and I'd dawdled a bit more throughout the day. That, and the freight train ...

I flew down a sharp hill to cross the railroad tracks in Dunsmuir ... to find our path forward blocked by a freight train. Which wasn't moving. A train whose end was not in sight. It would be easy enough for me to slip through beneath a car, but not my bike. I walked back up the (steep) hill in time to catch Ms. C before she started the descent. She was a champ at recognizing that we could simply proceed along the main road. I could see why they wanted to route us across the tracks (and back again), but it wasn't strictly necessary.

I had forgotten the long uphill slog out of Dunsmuir; surely it would flatten out around the next bend ... surely it would [not]. A dim memory surfaced, of studying the profile and noticing that last year.

I definitely remembered where that ride ended for me—after walking up an unpaved section, eager to descend and too much at ease given how well-marked the hazards had been ... up till then.

No mechanical snafu for me, this year! My faster ride buddy was waiting at the finish to chauffeur us back to our hotel (rather than bike the last couple of miles). A full 59 miles and 6,360 feet of climbing, this year. More than 100 feet per mile ... very much more so, given that what went up also went down. Ah, but  remember those views!

This year I wondered if that odd “motel” sign at the penultimate rest stop had a history. Those train cars at Railroad Park are the motel! Now I want to return for a stay!

June 16, 2019


It's that time of year again—time to check out the Shoreird Class of 2019.

Having repeated this ride a few times over the past couple of years, I know where to expect the first sightings. Sure enough, there was a Black Crowned Night-heron dozing on a debris-pile perch in the middle of San Tomas Aquino Creek.

The drainage opening nearby must carry some tasty bits into the creek. The standoff between the Snowy Egret and another Black Crowned Night-heron didn't last long (the heron prevailed, and soon thereafter chased the other heron from its perch).

Overcast skies kept us comfortable, and the lack of wind made for good bird-watching.

This hunting pair made for a perfect lesson in distinguishing between a Snowy Egret (left) and a Great Egret (right).

Of course, there was plenty of activity at the rookery; lots of squawking adults and hungry chirping chicks. The surprise for me this year was the number of Black Crowned Night-heron nests—more than the one or two we've seen the past few years. With a healthy supply of suitable branches, the herons and egrets nest in harmony.

This has, unexpectedly, become one of my favorite rides: 51 miles, 1,040 feet of climbing for me.

June 15, 2019

Courting Cormarants

“I should know better than to follow you downhill,” one of today's riders remarked (when he caught up with me). The group was massed at the summit when I arrived, so I waved and immediately started my descent. [Otherwise I'd be on the brakes the whole way down, mixing it up with them and likely making more than a few of them uneasy.]

All that water in the reservoir was a site to behold! I paused to admire a hunting great blue heron and a pair of cormorants who seemed fixated on each other.

I missed the fawn that others saw, but this pair of young deer posed nicely for me. [No, they are not lawn ornaments.] They didn't immediately bolt when I stopped, and seemed curious when I spoke softly to them.

On the return trip I looked up to see a halo ringing the sun; not wanting to point directly at the orb, I captured a lower arc.

It was cool and breezy, the kind of day we needed to reassure us that our recent run of triple-digit heat was a fluke.

A smooth 44 miles, with a scant 1,319 feet of climbing.

June 13, 2019

Engineering Farmers

Although we're always encouraged to support our local communities by volunteering our time, once a year our company works with a local agency to sponsor a broad array of projects over the course of a month—and nudges us out of the office to pitch in during the work week. Projects fill up fast, and I quickly learned that the best way to work on the project of my choice was to sign up to lead it.

We all spend too much time in office buildings, so I gravitate toward the outdoors. This year, the one that aligned well with my schedule was a project to revitalize a small plot near an urban school, run by the California Native Garden Foundation.

Here they mix native plants, to restore the soil's ecosystem, with food crops. During the school year, students learn from the garden. Year-round, produce is sold at a local farmers' market.

Our representative from CNGF shared her passion about “agrihoods;” her dog, having heard all of this before, knew where to settle down in the shade.

Cell phones were stowed in favor of wielding sledgehammers and pry bars. Who doesn't enjoy the chance to do some serious demolition?

When I put out the call for volunteers, many of my teammates signed right up—including my manager. (You're not the boss of me, today!)

Everyone worked hard, and of course they're all quite clever. Count on engineers to figure out the best way to get the job done (and do it well).

At the end of our morning, the folks from CNGF surprised us with a salad of tasty (and unfamiliar) greens from the garden!

We left a big pile of debris and a garden much better than we found it, and no one got hurt in the process. (Whew!)

You, too, can volunteer!