November 25, 2010


With snow at the summit of Mt. Hamilton, this year I broke with tradition. In each of the preceding four years, I have finished off the Low-Key Hillclimb season with a hundred or so kindred spirits by charging up the mountain on Thanksgiving morning. Expecting to be slower this year, I was not eager to push myself to the max for more than two hours; instead, I planned to get an earlier start and then to assist at the top.

Regrettably, common sense took hold when I saw that the high temperature at the summit on Wednesday was 28F. Sure, I could send extra layers to the top to stay warm after the climb, but it would be impractical to carry all that gear back down on the bike.

Honestly, I can climb Mt. Hamilton whenever I want.

It was one of those rare days when the view extends from San Francisco to the north, clear to the snow-capped peaks of the Sierras in the east. Having spent most of my life in colder climes, it was easy for me to dress for success. With the thermometer climbing slightly above the freezing mark, I didn't even need to tap into my bottle of hot chocolate.

As a volunteer, I stood in the enviable position to witness the first guys crossing the line: Irish hillclimb champion Ryan Sherlock, with three-time Olympian and former Mt. Hamilton champion Eric Wohlberg close on his wheel.

All of this may sound like a strange approach to Thanksgiving, what with most of the country traveling far and wide to celebrate with family; my tradition is to be less traditional. [Although, my all-time favorite was watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, eye-level with the giant balloons, from a hotel balcony on Broadway. It was cold that day, too.]

Envying all the jubilant cyclists at the top of the mountain, I longed to fit some physical activity into my day. In this crowd, one need not look far to find a co-conspirator; a friend was eager to hike after our volunteer duties were done. Some passing hikers alerted us to a bobcat and a mountain lion in the vicinity; birds were abundant, but the only traces of the cats we saw were their tracks.

I finished the day happily tired and sore, though also sad not to have tackled the climb. But another Bay Area tradition is little more than a month away: Mt. Hamilton on New Year's Day. At my own comfortable pace.

November 20, 2010

Preserve and Protect

When the Ranger pulled out her digital camera and started snapping photos, well, a certain song came to mind. It is, after all, nearly Thanksgiving.

I mean, with the rare sight of all those colorful Lycra-clad bodies on such a gloomy day, maybe our ranger just wanted an image she could admire forever?

But there was another possibility, one much closer to those immortal twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us. Preserved in some file somewhere will be a photo of a volunteer shivering behind a video tripod, sleet bouncing off her rain jacket as she recorded the finishing time of each rider.

The third Ranger truck arrived with lights flashing and siren wailing. As it turns out, a fourth Ranger truck waited at the base of the hill.

I mean, what better way to spend a cold, wet morning than haranguing a bunch of cyclists who harmed no one as they climbed up a (paved) road to nowhere in the rain? We are not the vandals they normally chase away; those prefer the cover of night and have the sense to stay warm and dry on a day like this.

Every hiker, every cyclist, in the Bay Area looks forward to the day when the top of Mt. Umunhum is reopened to the public.

Perhaps the organization should consider a new name at the same time: Midpeninsula Regional Closed Space District.

November 13, 2010

A Peak Experience

Saturday morning found me in an unusual position, test driving a strangely familiar vehicle on a route I planned to bike in the afternoon. With too much traffic on the highway, I checked with my official escort: Would a spin around the reservoir be okay? Sure, wherever you want to go.

Now here is one interesting, potentially scary, job: sit in the passenger seat of a fabulously powerful car with some random driver at the wheel. Prerequisite? Nerves of steel.

While most people I know would do almost anything for the opportunity to get behind the wheel, this random driver hesitated. It would be intimidating enough just to drive the beast. Add to that, being accompanied by a guy who really knows how to drive it. And did I mention the videocam?

See what I mean? No pressure.

As I stepped out of the car, someone asked “So, how was it?” One of the guys laughed: “She's smiling.”

The afternoon involved carbon fiber too, but of the two-wheeled variety and propelled by my rather pathetic human engine. A colleague visiting from the east coast was eager for a local bike ride, so long as I promised not to beat him up “too badly.” With limited time, I led him to the reservoir and beyond, through the redwoods to the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

I am not sure he will forgive my legendary ability to underestimate distance. [We're almost there, probably two miles to the top.] But after gliding back down through the redwoods, I can tell you this: He was smiling.

Which brings to mind a morning conversation in the car, about passion. Driving. Cycling. Life well-lived.

November 7, 2010

It's All Relative

Some family members came out for a few days, and I packed as much fun as I could into their brief visit.
We toured the Monterey Bay Aquarium and took in the sunset at Carmel Beach.
We sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and then hiked above it in the Marin Headlands.
We toured the Jelly Belly factory and sampled beans in various stages of production, starting with a most unexpected flavor (sweet potato).

On a handsome and assertive Arabian, I did my best to follow our guide along a hilly trail.
We clambered over shoreline rocks to explore the natural tide pools.
I had a blast. Maybe the family did, too.