October 10, 2020

The Aftermath

All sensors green, the air throughout the Bay Area was clean! A day, finally, for the ride I'd hoped would be the finale of my Best Buddies 2020 Challenge: Mt. Hamilton. The ride I'd planned before the Fires.

I was anxious to survey the post-fire landscape. Lick Observatory, I knew, had been successfully defended.

The first sighting of scorched terrain was at the edge of the foothills, approaching Grant Ranch Park. The demarcation line was clear: the pinkish stain left by the fire retardant separated the blackened earth from the golden grasses.

At the Twin Gates trailhead, the hillside had burned right down to the parking lot. The next stark containment line emerged at Smith Creek, past the CalFire station. To the right, uphill: burned. To the left, a field: spared. A few wild turkeys poked around in the brush.

Where they had not been totally incinerated, charred stubs of wooden fence posts hung suspended in the barbed wire. There were wide-open vistas that I don't recall.

The heat had been enough to melt at least one metal marker.

I was mystified by the occasional tangle of white material that looked almost like the hide of some unfortunate animal. That made no sense, fur would have burned . . . Then it came to me: Fiberglass. The flat, plastic reflector posts that line the edge of the road are made (in part) of fiberglass. When the rest was vaporized, the fiberglass was left behind.

Nearly all the pines that once dropped their enormous cones onto the roadway were gone. The cleanup has been underway for some time. Many of the dead trees have been removed, the sides of the road now dotted with their stumps.

The fire had burned the top of the mountain, encircling the observatory. Exposed animal trails criss-cross the slopes. 

I'd heard that one (unused) building had been lost, but didn't expect to see it. 

On my last visit, I had (uncharacteristically) continued a short distance on San Antonio Road to admire the vista. What a lucky choice that was, to have taken it in just a couple of months before the backcountry burned right up to the summit.

That was then.

This is now.

Then . . .

. . . now.

Despite all my lollygagging, I covered the 39 miles and climbed 4,890 feet at a faster pace (8.7 mph) than in June (7.9 mph).

Winter rains will bring mudslides and green grasses. But it will take decades, for the trees.

October 4, 2020

Best Buddies 2020 Challenge: Stage 15

There are many advantages to riding in an organized event: rest stops with food, water, and portable toilets, and SAG (support-and-gear) vehicles that can save your day. As I thought about designing a suitable ride of my own for this year's Best Buddies Hearst Castle Challenge, I regrettably decided against attemping a 100-mile ride. Restrooms, food, and water are not reliably available; facilities in public parks, for example, are often shuttered. The possibility of being stranded far from home was intimidating in this era of social distancing.

I considered four 25-mile loops; my home would, of course, be a fine rest stop. But that wasn't very exciting. A friend thought I might Everest and offered to support me. That was flattering, but . . . no.  And so I hatched this idea to bike on 15 consecutive days, which would beat my previous personal best (9 days).

Hazardous air quality interrupted my ride series; I managed three stretches of consecutive days: 5-4-5. I had reached out to former teammates to join me for some rides, but unpredictable conditions made planning infeasible. I wanted the final stage to be significant, but not wanting to delay it indefinitely I settled for a modest route through a part of the Bay Area blessed today with a temporary respite from wildfire smoke.

On a Sunday morning, this route was particularly traffic-free. The cycling infrastructure has been improved, including a lovely bit of green bike lane at an intersection I generally avoided after being bumped by an inattentive driver. Good to know, but it will be quite some time before I might bike to the office again.

I'd brought some snacks to refuel, but as I puttered along I had a better idea. Sugar. Butter. Flour. Might that bakery be open? [Yes!] After all, completing my Challenge called for some celebration. A too-rich, decadent chocolate truffle cake was my lunch.

By adding a few hills, I climbed 1,225 feet over 42 miles. On my road bike, there was no excuse not to tackle the climb to the water treatment plant. I felt strong heading up the hill, why did I think this would be so hard? Then the final punishing stretch came into view. Photos never quite convey steepness, but in this view from the top notice how the road seems to disappear.

I had saved one more special treat for this day: my last Mango Tango.

And thus concludes my Best Buddies 2020 Challenge: 15 stages, 370 miles, and 13,272 feet of climbing.

September 26, 2020

Best Buddies 2020 Challenge: Stage 14

This is the view I was aiming for last night: Stevens Creek Reservoir. But it was not my first choice for today's destination.

I very much wanted to bike up Mt. Hamilton. Blue skies to the west and smoky skies to the east meant a change in direction was advised.

It looks like my hair was slicked back in 2019, but that was the work of the wind. The views last year were spectacular; will we have a chance to ride down the coast together, again? I do hope so.

I wanted to push myself, today. My chief ride buddy was game for some climbing, after enjoying the cool shade of Stevens Canyon. We chatted with a friendly solo cyclist, who decided to tackle the additional climbing we planned. Riding alongside me, I was momentarily puzzled when he asked if I liked Keith Haring. Ah, I explained, he designed the Best Buddies logo (featured on the back of my jersey).

Waiting for my bike buddy before making a turn, a Tesla blinked its headlights at me, a signal (I'm guessing) that I was standing too close. [Whatever.] A passing car was driving sooooo slowly that I turned to look at the driver, wondering if he was unsure whether I might move into his lane. [Ha. No.] He wasn't looking at me. Nor was he looking at the road. His head was tilted down, his attention focused entirely on his cellphone with the backs of both hands resting on the center of the steering wheel. He was texting. At least five cars were stacked up behind him, and no one honked.

Behold, sadly, my last Strawberry C Monster. [Odwalla is no more, at the whim of its corporate overlords.] After refueling, I set out again. I had a pair of climbs in mind, but ... on a full stomach? [Not usually a good idea.] The day was heating up; if I started out flat, I would bake in the sun on a long flat finish during the hottest part of the day. I decided to climb slowly, and that turned out just fine.

My most ambitious stage of this Challenge: 52 miles, 3,280 feet of climbing. Just one more stage to wrap up this series: Stage 15, for 2020.

September 25, 2020

Best Buddies 2020 Challenge: Stage 13

The Best Buddies Hearst Castle Challenge celebrated its 15th year in 2018, and it was the only year I opted for the 60-mile route instead of 100. It was another year for the alternate route, as Highway 1 remained closed throughout the planning process. It was just too hot that day for me to complete a century on that route (at my pathetic pace), but I enjoyed the chance to explore some different roads anyway.

I had a destination in mind for tonight's stage, but had I done the math I would have realized there wouldn't be enough daylight. When I turned back, I decided to follow a different route—no overlap with my outbound route.

The local sensors were reporting clean air, but the hills were hazy and I started out coughing. I could see smoke beginning to filter in; I opted to keep the ride flat to minimize exertion (despite averaging 12.8 mph—road bike vs. commute bike).

Somehow, I managed the same elevation gain as last night: 460 feet, over 20 miles. I couldn't have pulled that off if I'd tried to plan it!

September 24, 2020

Best Buddies 2020 Challenge: Stage 12

Late afternoon meetings meant a late start for tonight's stage. I also came up short on ideas for where I might ride. I decided to head toward a park I'd never visited, in a neighborhood where I could meander randomly through the streets. Most of which, as it turned out, had names starting with “Bel.” The park was more suited to hiking than biking, so I found myself racing the sunset to a suitable scenic location for my Stage 12 photo.

At bicycle speed, you notice things. Neighborhoods where the theme is women's names, or poets, or colleges. Sometimes they progress, helpfully, in alphabetical order. When a subdivision is laid out, who gets to name the streets? It can be pretty informal, as it turns out. My mom worked for a civil engineering firm for many years; one day the boss asked “What is your granddaughter's name?” And thus a new street found its name.

Road damage from winter's heavy rains had closed Highway 1 when I earned this jersey in 2017. I missed riding south along the coast, but the alternate route gave us the opportunity to explore unfamiliar territory (and, a very steep climb).

Tonight I climbed rather higher than I'd expected and was surprised to pop out partway up a hill that I know is quite steep. I was briefly tempted to turn onto the upper climb—the next block or so would have been doable (on my heavy commute bike). [But, I didn't.]

Whatever the distance, whatever the elevation gain, my evening rides seem to be consistently hovering around 90 minutes. Tonight, I climbed 460 feet over 15 miles, at a respectable 11 mph.

September 23, 2020

Best Buddies 2020 Challenge: Stage 11

Wow, look at that view! We can see the hills of the Diablo Range clearly again!

An alternate title for tonight's stage would be “The Hummus Guy.” At the end of last week, I found myself in a serious food funk. After more than six months of my largely repetitive, go-to recipes, I had no idea what to eat. I was tired of it all—even, strawberries. I skipped my visit to the weekly farmers' market.

I got over it. And missed the berries. Then I remembered that my preferred strawberry vendor has a booth at a farmers' market in a nearby town on Wednesday afternoons. Bonus: it's a smaller site, likely to be less crowded; but without a basket on my bike, I couldn't stock up fully. Still, some is better than none.

As I surveyed the rest of the booths, rolling my bike alongside me, the hummus guy called out to me. “Hey, you must eat healthy, you ride your bike!” I smiled, which (of course) he couldn't see behind my bandana-shrouded face. A few minutes later, as I was eyeing some peaches (surely I could fit a bit more in my bike bag, it expands), the hummus guy appeared—holding out a container. “Here,” he insisted. “You probably eat hummus, right?” Well, yes ... “You like red peppers?” Well, yes ... “Enjoy!” [And I did, it was yummy on the sourdough I had with my latest batch of lentil soup tonight.]

A few pounds of produce didn't really slow me down, either. [Tomatoes, strawberries, peaches, hummus.] Given that I've shed a few pounds over the past few months, I supposed it evened out.

2016 was the tenth year I biked 100 miles down the coast in the Best Buddies Hearst Castle Challenge, and my all-time favorite bike kit design. I've had random cyclists admire this kit, on the road. [It's the carbon-fiber pattern, no doubt.]

Today's route was challenging in a different way, though it was a measly 16 miles and 320 feet of climbing. It reminded me of the first trail ride I did, on a stubborn horse that just wanted to go back to the paddock; he only cooperated when we reached the half-way point—he knew the shortest way home, then, was to go forward. And so it was with this old gray mare, tonight—commuting away from home, in the evening, was a struggle.

September 22, 2020

Best Buddies 2020 Challenge: Stage 10

As you've seen by now, I'm not very creative when it comes to posing for photos. At the Best Buddies finish line in San Simeon in 2015, I had some coaching.

When I mentioned last week that I was limited to after-work rides, I know what you were thinking: Morning rides. [Duh.] Sadly, I am not a Morning Person.

Most [un]fortunately, I woke up at some ridiculous hour today (like, 2:45 a.m.) and was Alert. Awake. Tried all the tricks: relax all muscles, take slow deep breaths. Nada. I pretended I was asleep until a more hospitable hour (like, 5:00 a.m.). Plenty of time for a morning ride, once we had some daylight. My first meeting wasn't till 9:30 a.m. And the air was . . . clean?!

It's Bike to Work Week in the Bay Area (re-scheduled from its traditional May date). So I decided to bike to work. But wait, you're thinking: You're still working from home. [Right you are!] I set off on my normal commute route, at the normal time. I pictured where I would make the turn to finish the trip at my current workplace. [Aka, home.]

But then I thought, why not go a bit farther? Make the turn at the 45-minute mark, have enough time for a suitable photo, and still get home in time to get cleaned up before my meeting.

Ah, but wouldn't it be fitting to bike even farther, technically into the town where my lonely desk sits in a deserted office building. After all, I could attend the meeting in my sweaty bike kit; that would make no difference to my remote colleagues. [And, truth be told, in days gone by I have attended a meeting at the office in my cycling attire. At least once.]

Ride highlight #1: A red-shouldered hawk at eye level, perched on a fence! Ride highlight #2: Posing with a cyclist on a penny farthing. [They're already setting up the holiday lights in the local park.] Lowlight: Testing my panic-stop skills when an utterly clueless cyclist cut me off.

At a brisk (for me) pace of 12.9 mph, I covered 25 miles with 680 feet of climbing (rather more than the regular tally for my morning commute). And I had just enough time to enjoy a second cup of tea and a scone before connecting with my colleagues.