November 30, 2013

Welcome to Our World

Hills on the back side of Sierra Road, with Santa Cruz mountains rising above the mist in the valley
It was a day to escape the bustle of civilization, to climb out of the valley and connect with the natural world. Below the mist, downtown San Jose was less than 10 miles away. I spend my weekdays overconnecting with technology; this is how I spend my weekends.

We headed straight up Old Calaveras Road. [And I do mean straight up.] The chilly air burned our lungs and our hearts pumped hard to warm up our muscles. Instead of the traditional right turn at the road's end, we took a left to explore some new terrain. Everyone agreed that Sandy Wool Lake was a scenic reward for that tough climb, and a much nicer place to regroup. Alison taught us about the origin of hang gliders as we watched fliers hauling their wings up the slope. Challenge: find a paraglider in that photo.

There were three courses on today's menu, 4,400 feet of climbing (and descending) densely packed into 28 miles. One rider's appetite was sated by the appetizer, Old Calaveras. Four riders had their fill after the soup course, Felter. The rest completed the main course, Sierra; a few had time for salad (assorted sections of Calaveras). Still hungry, two riders tackled Welch Creek for dessert.

Assembling at the start, one rider remarked that there were no flat sections on today's ride. True, I admitted; but there are downhills. One rider was apprehensive about descending Sierra, and thought it was silly to turn right around and climb back up. Well, there you are, right in the neighborhood, I replied. How could you not climb Sierra?

As it happened, a few of us were in the right place at the right moment on Sierra. However compelling the view, it is rare [exceedingly rare] for me to stop on a descent. At 22 mph, something very special came into view with enough space for me to come safely to a stop.

The smallest calf I had ever seen was right next to the fence. Mom watched me, but was unconcerned. The newborn was as fascinated with me as I was with him. Mom had already cleaned him up, but he was clearly hours old—unsteady on his feet, with a trace of umbilical cord still dangling. Welcome to our world, little one.

November 22, 2013

Take a Peak

Anderson Lake, Morgan Hill, CA
On the long climb, I was passed by a cyclist with a catchy phrase on the back of his jersey. Emblazoned with the symbol for California State Route 89, the encouraging words were “Take a Peak.” That would make a fine slogan for next year's Low-Key Hillclimbs, I thought. Clear skies gave us clear views of three regional peaks: west to Mt. Umunhum, northwest to Mt. Hamilton, and south to Fremont Peak. Today's destination was Henry Coe State Park, a ridgetop undistinguished by name, near the Calaveras Fault. This is California's largest state park, but exploring it takes commitment: the Visitor Center is at the western edge. The rest is wild land.

The road to the park is wild enough. I spotted an acorn woodpecker inexplicably tapping at a cable splice case, a small covey of California quail, and a bevy of peafowl encircling a pickup truck in someone's driveway. Deer scampered away as I approached, but I nearly overlooked the sly young coyote trotting alongside the roadway. He rounded a bend ahead of me and vanished.

Bear balancing gifts on a ball, Fantasy of Lights
My evening was devoted to a different sort of peek: for the first time, the local Fantasy of Lights was opened for a one-night-only walking tour. People have requested this access for years, and the county parks department decided to give it a try. As a volunteer, my role was to keep people safe: on the paved road, off the dark trails, and away from the lighting displays. Bundled up for the chilly five-and-a-half hour shift, I began to regret my decision to help.

The parks department had no idea what to expect, though some 500 people had purchased tickets in advance.

There were couples strolling hand-in-hand. Multi-generational families. Children in strollers and wagons, including one three-car Choo Choo Wagon, complete with lights. A couple spontaneously waltzing to a Christmas song.

“Hi, sweetie. I know it's really hard, the lights are so pretty, but please don't touch them, okay?” That line worked well. The dad looked at his toddler and laughed. “Busted!” he told her. “She's going to tell you that you can't go that way,” another dad told his son. I smiled, “Right, you can't take the trail tonight.” [Parenting by proxy is popular.]

I chose one of the less glamorous zones; only two of us volunteered to staff it. One hour in, I thought “this is going to be a lo-o-ong night.”

Fantasy of Lights, American flag display
The bridge was a busy spot for photos. It reminded some of fireworks; others, of a counter filled with colorful bins of candy. What surprised me most was the popularity of another display: The American Flag. Here I am, stationed next to a symbol unrelated to the holidays. There are tunnels of light, trains and snowmen, animated gingerbread cookies jumping rope, toy soldiers and elves and penguins, even dinosaurs. The flag seemed out of place.

I was wrong.

“The American flag!” kids squealed as they ran toward it. At least two of them put their hands over their hearts and launched into the Pledge of Allegiance. “Take a picture of the flag with grandpa!”

We are a nation of immigrants. Tonight I was reminded that this symbol has a deep significance to many. Five and a half hours well-spent.

November 2, 2013

The Old Stage Road

Five minutes. Five minutes till the next loaf of Artichoke Garlic Herb bread comes out of Arcangeli's oven. My fellow rider and I finished our PB&J sandwiches. He looked at me. “I think it's been five minutes, now?” and returned with a steaming loaf for all of us to share.


Several riders were tentative. They had ordered big sandwiches. “Try some,” we insisted. [I was not disappointed to eat more than my fair share.]

Among the notices posted in the picnic area behind the market was a thank-you to their customers: bicyclists, motorcyclists, and whale watchers—all are welcome.

The San Gregorio House
The ride had been colder than I expected, and the marine layer seemed too stubborn to burn off. For the first time, I had noticed the historic plaque (courtesy of the Clampers) next to a ramshackle building across from the General Store in San Gregorio. As we were traveling along a portion of the old Stage Road, it was not surprising to find that this had been a stage coach stop. Formerly an inn, built in 1865 and rebuilt in 1902, it is now private.

The marine layer finally retreated as we headed for Haskins Hill. Earlier, a rider had asked whether the climb would be steep. “No,” I said. Then I thought to ask what she considered steep. Some shot ahead on the flats, later to dismount and walk up the last stretch of Haskins (average grade of 7% over 2 1/4 miles). I thought back to the first time I had climbed this hill, with a different club. Abandoned by the leaders, a few of us had retraced our path to the start when we learned that the planned route was blocked by downed wires. The climb was a struggle for me, that day.

It was easier than I remembered. Thirty-one miles with some 2,300 feet of climbing. I should ride this loop more often—for the bread, alone.