February 22, 2014

Achy Brakey Bike Ride

View of Los Gatos Creek from the bridge at Wrights Station
I warned the group that I would be even slower than usual, since I had been off the bike for four weeks. As it happens, I miscounted: it had been five weeks.

First, a seasonal cold virus took me down (for two weeks). Next, I staffed registration and the finish line for the annual Mega-Monster Enduro; the following day, it rained. Then I made a quick trip to the other coast for a family celebration over the long holiday weekend. After packing eight bicycle commutes into the first half of January, wet weather and fog dissuaded me in February.

Which brings me to today, warm and dry and sunny: a taste of spring before the month ends. My cranky legs complained within the first fifty yards, and I wondered if I would cut the ride short. Maybe skip the last, most challenging hill?

Of course, that didn't happen. I plodded along, last to roll up at every regroup (except the finish, despite being a bit more conservative with the brakes than usual). Technically, those five weeks did include some time on a bike (33 flat miles or so)—mostly trips to and from the shuttle bus. Three to five miles a day? Rounding error, essentially.

We racked up some 2,820 feet of climbing along our 24-mile route. The end of Aldercroft Heights Road is about a mile from the base of Wrights Station Road, but the connecting dirt road is strictly off-limits (razor wire courtesy of the San Jose Water Company). With so much of the rest of the watershed fully accessible, one can only wonder what makes that one mile so special. We peered down at Los Gatos Creek from the bridge at Wrights Station; one rider remarked “That little thing fills the Lexington Reservoir?” Yes; but this year, not so much.

The forecasters tell us more rain is on the way, and that is a very good thing. Though for biking, not so much.

February 19, 2014

Land of Ice and Snow

Newark Airport runway 4 bracketed by snow-covered ground.
Between storms, I managed to slip in a quick visit to the east coast for a family celebration.

The gold medal goes to Virgin America, a class act from start (clever safety video) to finish (AC power and USB charging outlets at every seat), including a pre-flight plug for the upcoming Best Buddies Hearst Castle Challenge on every seat-back entertainment system. Not to mention the email they sent a few days before the trip, warning of possible weather problems and offering the opportunity to re-book without penalty. Get out in front of the problem, before it snowballs (so to speak)—unlike the travel nightmare mismanaged by Continental a few years back.

In contrast, NJ Transit was not only off the podium—they barely managed to finish in last place. My experience pales in comparison to the recent Super Bowl debacle, but I am gratified to learn that the executive director resigned this week.

I have taken trains in Italy and France without difficulty, despite my fluency in one language (English). I have taken the train in Alaska, where it snows (a lot). On the day after yet-another-snowstorm in a modern civilized nation, the train seemed like an ideal way to transport myself from Newark Airport to the Jersey Shore.

A trip that should have taken a little over two hours stretched well over four.

The train for the first leg of my journey was canceled, a fact not reflected on the large color flat-panel display. 5:55 P.M., the schedule read. Luckily I caught the audio announcement. Now, what?

I pulled up the njtransit.com trip planner on my smartphone, which sent me to a different platform to head for Newark Penn Station. Many trains were running late; we arrived at 6:09 P.M. I dashed down and up the stairs to the next platform for my connecting train. It had departed on time, at 6:08 P.M. Now, what?

Catch the 6:40 P.M. train from yet-another-platform? Or catch an earlier connecting train at 6:18 P.M., from this very platform? The overhead schedule listed that as Train 3273, and the number glowed on the engine as it pulled up. I boarded; the LED banner in my car displayed Train 3510. [Have I entered the Twilight Zone?] Another passenger confirmed that the train would indeed stop in Long Branch, where I would wait for that 6:40 P.M train to catch up.

Except that the 6:40 P.M. train developed a mechanical problem and was canceled. We would have to wait for the next train, scheduled to arrive an hour later. Which turned into an hour and a half, due to some other delay.

De-icing the wing of our Virgin America AIrbus.
There is a word that succinctly captures this public sector fiasco. [I'll leave that to your imagination.]

The party was wonderful, and the next snowstorm failed to thwart my escape back to the west coast.

I took advantage of a single sunny day to re-visit a post-Sandy reconstruction site. The pilings are in, the cranes are gone, and the massive building has been shifted to its new perch at the water's edge: modern engineering finesse in the private sector.

Bay Head Yacht Club building atop new pilings.