June 28, 2013

Duke Farms

Meadow with trees and looming gray clouds in the background.During the last gubernatorial race, I could not help but compare the legacy of a 21st century billionaire (Meg Whitman) with that of a 20th century multi-millionaire (Andrew Carnegie). Ms. Whitman spent some $144 million of her own money on her (unsuccessful) campaign to become the governor of California. Andrew Carnegie spent, for example, $56 million establishing more than 2,500 free public libraries around the world (~$706 million in Meg's 2010 dollars). Of course, Ms. Whitman and Mr. Carnegie were free to spend their wealth however they saw fit; the entirety of Mr. Carnegie's legacy inspires awe to this day.

If you owned one of the largest private parcels of land (2,700 acres) in our most densely populated state (New Jersey), what would you do with it?

Algae-covered pond, reeds in the foreground and trees in the background.There are many municipalities in the state that are smaller than Duke Farms. It is hard to imagine the value of this land, were it to be sold off and subdivided into plots for several thousand McMansions. I lived, for a time, in a townhome built on what once was farmland. I used to fantasize about what it would take to buy back the farm, to raze the garden apartments and townhomes, the condominiums and single-family homes, to grow tomatoes and corn and potatoes again.

Doris Duke had no need for greater wealth; she did not sell her land. She bequeathed it to all of us.

Breezer bicycle on a paved path with tall wildflowers and trees in the background.The price of admission? $0. Spend the day hiking, or hop on a Breezer and pedal along more than 13 miles of paved and gravel paths. $0.

As I passed through the first gate, an indignant wild turkey flapped and clambered over a high fence. They can fly, when they're motivated.

Rows of headstones in a well-shaded pet cemetery.
Keeping an eye on the threatening skies, I spent most of the afternoon exploring the larger, northern section of the grounds. The paths are essentially flat, but I appreciated the Breezer's fat tires (and gears!) when I followed a gravel path uphill. At the top? A pet cemetery?!

Lakes and meadows, woodlands and marshes, a community garden. The sound of wind in the trees, water tumbling over rocks, the chattering of birds. I did not have to travel far to escape the bustle of neighboring suburbs and highways.

Dirt road leading through the trees, under a blue sky with puffy white clouds.I expected to leave at 3 p.m. (I stayed till 5.)

Thank you, Ms. Duke, for preserving this land and opening it for all to share.

June 22, 2013

Freeway Freewheeling

Dutch windmill, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA
How many more surprises are tucked away in Golden Gate Park? I have seen the bison. Windmills? In 1902 they had the good sense to take advantage of the wind to pump water for the park. Later, they adopted a more modern solution (electric pumps). Perhaps they should reconsider?

Our club runs an annual week-long tour, Sierra to the Sea, which finishes in the park. Three of my friends (and fellow European travelers) were riding in the tour this year, so I joined a small group for the trek to San Francisco to surprise them.

About one-fourth of the freeway miles in California are bicycle-legal. For example, we are granted access for a short distance on Interstate 280 in Millbrae (between two exits), as there is no alternate route through that area. [Technically, I see a detour through the local neighborhood that looks eminently reasonable. Next time ...]

As they fly past at 65+ mph, what do the motorists think of us? Most probably imagine that we are confused, at best; flagrantly disobedient, at worst. Sharing the on- and off-ramps with accelerating vehicles provided the most stressful moments, but in general the freeway is not a place for novices or Nervous Nellies.

Things get tricky for cyclists again around Daly City, where our route on Highway 35 (aka Skyline Blvd) intersects Highway 1 and you must merge left across the multiple lanes that feed onto Highway 1. Wherever you see a “Freeway Begins” sign, look for the accompanying “Prohibited” sign to confirm that bicycles are not listed.

pep's bicycle overlooking a Pacific Ocean beach along the Great Highway, San Francisco, CA
My friends were suitably surprised to see me, and joked that our European visitor was looking for more climbing and should ride back with me. Common sense prevailed, however, and I set out on a solo return trip. At a busy intersection, barriers blocked the route forward on the Great Highway; all vehicles were forced to head east. There were no signs posted. I biked on through, and quickly encountered the deep sand that had drifted across the roadway. After walking that stretch, I had the rest of the Great Highway (and its glorious view!) to myself.

For the day, 64 miles with some 3,845 feet of climbing. Good thing I chose not to follow my “Plan B” for the return trip (via Caltrain); a fire near the tracks had shut down service for much of the afternoon.

June 15, 2013

To the Junction

Sign: The Junction Cafe. Road sign: San Jose 38, Patterson 25, Interstate 5 25.
The first time I biked out here, I was not convinced I would do it again. The Junction (where Mines Road meets San Antonio Valley Road at Del Puerto Canyon Road) is a long way from anywhere. Twenty-five miles from Livermore. Twenty-five miles from Patterson. Thirty-eight miles from San Jose (up and over Mt. Hamilton).

This time of year, the stream bed is dry and the hillsides are golden. The road curves and rolls through the canyon; miles and miles of solitude.

Oak tree in a golden field, tree-studded hillside in the distance.
Past three horses inexplicably packed side-by-side in a field, the outer two flanking the one in the middle, shoulder-to-haunch. I would have stopped for a photo, but figured that would only spook them into moving. Like the young bull resting in the shade next to the road, who stood up and pointed his hind quarters at me, all the while eying me with suspicion.

Small blue lake near the summit.
There are a few roadside call boxes; don't even think about cell phone coverage out here. I recently learned that the huge numbers on the road surface (mile markers) are painted so the helicopter crew will know where to find you. My ride buddy and I kept each other (mostly) in sight.

I rounded a bend to find a deer staring me down, some 50 feet ahead in my lane. A red Corvette had been holding back for a safe place to pass me; the driver was rewarded for his good judgment when that deer scampered away.

Not too hot, not too windy: a just-about-perfect day to enjoy 58 miles with a mere 3,615 feet of climbing. I will do this again.

June 8, 2013

The Oberbürgermeister of Tunitas

It must be the flower. Evidently the little yellow splash of whimsy on my saddlebag is misleading.

“Are you okay?” asked one guy who passed me on Tunitas Creek. “Yes, I'm just slow,” I replied. If I had been stopped at the side of the road, that question would be most welcome. But I was moving. Uphill. Albeit slowly.

Then there was the Enforcer, Der Oberbürgermeister von Tunitas. It was his self-appointed duty to tell me where to ride on the road (viz., farther to the right). He had been hit by cars twice on this road, he shouted. [Twice? And I should take advice from you?]

If a cyclist rides through the forest and no one passes her ...

Seriously, dude, I am not an idiot. I stay on the right side of the (imaginary) center line. On a quiet backroad like this, I am not going to teeter on the edge of the pavement or pick my way through the debris fields left by mini-rockslides. If there is a car approaching, I want the driver to see me and slow down before passing. Hang too far to the right, and you invite cars to squeeze past, at full speed, when they shouldn't. I readily share the lane when it is safe to do so. And if I hear someone driving aggressively, I will stop and step off the road entirely.

The forecast called for an inland heat wave; I gambled that a ride over the hill toward the coast would be cool. Descending Tunitas was beyond cool—it was downright chilly. The distance to the Bike Hut seemed longer than I remembered.

I was reprimanded on Tunitas by Der Oberbürgermeister not once, but twice: he started his descent while I was still on the climb. Good thing he wasn't out this morning, mixing it up with clumps of cyclists (all over the road) from the Sequoia Century's workers' ride. He would have been positively apoplectic.

My estimate for the elevation gain was spot on: Thirty-three miles, with 4,205 feet of climbing. Next ride, the flower stays. But instead of a club jersey, I think I will wear this one.

June 1, 2013

Shade, or Grade?

The Plan: One friend would meet me at my place (arriving by bicycle, of course), and together we would bike to meet the rest of the group. Had I not incited three friends to turn out for today's ride, I would have stayed home—I was decidedly under the weather. I could ride to the starting point and back home. Probably. Maybe farther.

Even with a generous head start, the hardbodies caught us before the first big climb. The day would get hotter and I was already drenched with sweat. I was fully off the back by the time I reached the Almaden Reservoir, which was startlingly blue in the morning light.

I paced myself slowly up Hicks Road, my heart pumping at a moderate rate. Choices, choices: Take the shallower line [in the blazing sun] around a steep bend, or suffer the grade in the shade? This is a tough climb to the summit in either direction; heat doesn't help. I talked myself through every uptick: It's short. It levels off. It's not as steep as Bear Gulch. I'm almost there. I made it without stopping!

And I know when to fold. Much as I wanted head up Mt. Umunhum, I would not push my luck today. Another cyclist joined me for the ride back to town; when we crested the final hill, we smiled and congratulated ourselves on making the right choice. Then, the ultra-hardbodies caught us. [Yes, we did linger to chat. But, still ...]

Twenty-eight miles with some 2,550 feet of climbing. As the rest of the group straggled in to lunch, they were surprised to find me already there. “She led the whole way,” the ultra-hardbodies deadpanned. [In my dreams.]