December 30, 2019

Turning Twenty

My last ride of 2019. Last ride before that third digit flips from one to two. It's a turning point whether you declare that the new decade starts two days from now, or a year and two days from now.

It had rained overnight, but I wanted to fit in one more ride this year. Be mindful of slick painted lines and slippery metal rails and grates and shards of glass that adhere to your tires ... The ride would make a mess of the bike, but I so look forward to indulging in a few winter round-trip bike commutes during this quiet time between holidays, when I can duck out of the office early enough to get home before dark.

One year, someone had adorned the bronze quail near the Mary Avenue bridge with handmade red scarves. This year, I found them pressed into service pulling Santa's sleigh.

I clocked more than 2,590 biking miles this year (more than last year), but did less climbing (some 103,000 feet).

But, what about the last ten years? Well. Let's add it up.

I don't track the short utility rides on my folding bike (generally 15 miles per week), but I did wear out its rear tire. On my full-sized bikes, I spent ...
  • in excess of 2,513 hours
  • pedaling more than 28,259 miles and
  • climbing over 1,493,389 feet
  • in a dozen different countries.
That's once around the earth (and then some). Akin to more than 51 ascents of Mt. Everest (but without being challenged by high altitude). And equivalent to spending over 104 days on a bicycle.

One pedal stroke at a time.

December 28, 2019

Me & Squirrel

A flash of gray fur, a rustling in the leaves next to the bike path. Catastrophe, miraculously, averted. It played out in less than the blink of an eye: the rascally rodent streaked across the path so close to my front wheel that the riders behind me thought it jumped through the spokes. (Luckily for the squirrel, and especially for me, it did not.)

I wasn't looking for squirrels. I wasn't thinking about squirrels. That was my mistake. Had I seen the creature nearby, I would have hissed loudly (that works!) and it would have turned tail to run away, fast.

I'd been off the bike for too long (a full month), recovering from my east coast cold. I didn't set the alarm last night; if I wake up early enough, I told myself, I will go for a ride. I thought it might be warmer than yesterday. [It was not.]

Thirty-five degrees Fahrenheit. (Less than two degrees Celsius.) That seemed like a good reason not to go for a bike ride, so of course ... I bundled up and went for a bike ride.

This ride leader's style might best be described as eclectic. She has a comprehensive understanding of back roads through San José neighborhoods, and without route sheets the group sticks together. To be honest, I'm not sure she necessarily has a route in mind when we set off.

I was surprised when she pulled over to stop at a seemingly random spot along the Coyote Creek Trail. On the opposite side of the creek, perched on a tree branch, was a bald eagle. I wasn't looking for bald eagles. [Our leader was.] I wasn't thinking about bald eagles. [Our leader knew to keep an eye out here, and now I do, too.]

It was a day for surprises. The next revelation was Malech Road. When we turned on Metcalf Road, I thought she was heading for the gate to Basking Ridge; but no, we turned ... right. I had no idea that road went anywhere. We regrouped at the top of the hill before heading down to Bailey for the return trip. [And away from the gunfire reverberating in the foothills.]

The last surprise, as I rode back home, was to be caught by another club member out for his own ride. He'd waited until the day warmed up before venturing out. [Smart, that.] We agreed that it was too cold for the club's hilly rides today; he had started up a challenging climb before thinking it through ... the descent ... would be so cold ... he turned back. And thus met me, along the way.

I managed 40 miles (with a mere) 695 feet of climbing. It felt good.

December 8, 2019

The Big Apple

The big apple took a bite out of me.

I'd traveled to the east coast to work with colleagues in the New York office, with a little extra time to indulge in some cultural treats. Plays! Concerts! Museums!

It seemed there was a big fuss over a little bit of weather, but apparently it was the first snowfall of the season.

Alas, after just three days a winter virus had thoroughly colonized my body. I lost my voice (which, in some minds, was a net positive). I kept working, because ... that's why I was there.

I did enjoy New York City Ballet's Nutcracker, which I had never seen. Unlike San Francisco Ballet's version, the part of Marie was danced by one young girl throughout the performance. The theatre was unfamiliar to me, even though the first ballet I'd seen was in New York (more than 30 years ago).

Working from another office generally means the day stretches long as I follow much of my normal schedule with a now-shifted timezone. Most evenings I only had the energy to drag myself back to my hotel room, but I did manage to connect with one good friend for dinner.

I scaled back my dream of seeing two plays on Saturday, deciding that I had just about enough stamina for a matinee and a pilgrimage to Rockefeller Center.

Note to self: Check out the tree on a weeknight, not on the first Saturday after they've lit it up. Bodies were packed so tightly that you had no choice but to swim with the crowd, kind of like body-surfing an ocean wave.

Oklahoma! was my first choice, and the cast was good even though several key roles were not played by the primary cast members. [So, no, I did not get to see the Tony winner sing the part of Ado Annie.] The music is so stunningly beautiful that I fought back tears as soon as it began. I didn't find Ado Annie or the peddler convincing, but the other leads were: Cocky, conceited Curly; conflicted Laurie; and a truly menacing, sociopathic Jud. This production struck deeper for me, emotionally, than the sunny movie version.

Sunday's journey home would begin with a subway ride, to catch a train, then a monorail, to the airport. With completely random timing, I hurried down the steps when I saw a subway train still boarding. And ... what to my wondering eyes did appear, but a vintage historical train—something that they roll a few times during the holidays. I slipped into car 484, built in 1932 and restored to period glory (the year 1946), complete with advertisements of the time. A memorable finale for this visit!

November 24, 2019

Birthday Boy

What better way to celebrate a popular member's milestone birthday than to ride our bikes? [And so we did!]

Biking to the start constrained my viable contributions for the picnic lunch. I settled on veggies and hummus, food that wouldn't spoil while we were out riding (and, easy to transport).

I opted for the harder of two routes, up the east side of Hicks Road (and down the west side). I've long regarded that ascent as the “easier” of the two, but the steepest stretch was more than I wanted today (walking kept my heart pumping a-plenty).

The park had a lovely (and empty, this being late November) picnic area where we laid out our spread—there was no chance anyone would go away hungry! Candles were lit, and the birthday boy had no trouble blowing them out.

1,560 feet of climbing over 34 miles doesn't sound like much, but trust me ... it was.

November 23, 2019

The Big Bike Build

Turning Wheels for Kids is a local non-profit, 15 years strong. I have been a donor since it was founded. Writing a check is easy; this year I decided to do more—to donate my time, as well.

The charity is active year-round, but many hands are needed for the annual Big Bike Build leading into the holiday season. Our bike club has been deeply involved for many years, and volunteer slots are highly coveted (I got lucky!). Being “skilled labor” [it's all relative ...], we were tasked with assembling the “big” bikes: the bikes with derailleurs and rim or disc brakes.

We worked in pairs, and it was less daunting than I had expected: the bikes were mostly assembled. We needed to unpack them, attach the handlebars, install the pedals and saddles, add the wheels and reflectors, adjust the brakes (and sometimes the derailleurs), and pump up the tires. Then we'd hand off the bike to our quality control sub-team to check our work (and give us any needed feedback).

When we faced a problem we couldn't solve, we'd tap one of our real experts for help. One bike was almost done—just needed to pump up those tires!—when we discovered that its headset needed some major adjusting. Deemed a “Franken-bike,” it was intercepted and whisked away to the master mechanics.

The logistics were impressive: from the boxes carefully arranged by model down the center of the hall, to the aggressive clean-up crew that hauled the empties out to truck-sized containers for recycling.

How did we do? My buddy and I built five of the 53 (or more) that our club assembled. By the end of the day, an army of volunteers had completed some 2,330 bicycles. I will smile on Christmas morning, thinking of all those happy, soon-to-be healthier kids!

November 16, 2019

Scorched Earth

After two weeks of poor air quality, I was excited to get out on the bike. The fog, I knew, would burn off.

And so it did, just as I approached The Wall on Calaveras. (Which is not as daunting as it once was.) It was a glorious fall day, warm and sunny.

Along the way I'd chided a bunch of wild turkeys that were spilling out onto the road, into the path of an oncoming car. Despite their apparent cluelessness, however, I've never seen one as roadkill.

It seemed that there was more litter than usual on our beautiful twisting road above the reservoir; the usual bottles and cans, but also fast-food wrappers and many empty packs of cigarettes (Marlboro Lights, in particular). Why don't people keep their trash inside their vehicles?

I was surprised to pass a disposable lighter. (Disposable doesn't mean dispose of it wherever you please.) Only later did I wonder whether it had been tossed by the arsonist who set a bunch of fires there in late September.

Some of the rolling hills to the west of the reservoir were blackened; the road, and what remained of the golden grasses, had a pinkish tinge from the chemical retardant that had been dropped to contain the flames.

My ride buddy and I turned off to enjoy our snacks in the Sunol-Ohlone Regional Park. As in the past, the rangers were welcoming—offering us water and impressed that we'd taken the steep route from Milpitas.

Visiting the park entails more climbing (in, as well as out), but it's worth it. Another 29 miles and 2,675 feet of climbing for the year.

I regret not picking up that lighter to dispose of it properly.

October 31, 2019

Last Light

How many round-trip bike commutes could I squeeze in this week, the final week of daylight savings time? My work schedule would allow three.

The air quality, however, allowed two. See that orange haze in the distance? (Luckily I stopped for some photos on Thursday before heading home to greet the trick-or-treaters.)

Because, while the official forecast was unremarkable ... I woke up with a sore throat on Friday.

Maybe, maybe ... there can be a few more round trips before the year is over? (Just have to leave the office a bit on the, um, early side.)