March 30, 2014

Picturing Panoche

“Don't Frack San Benito,” the sign read. I couldn't agree more.

Roses and grapevines, with a sunlit hill in the background, Paicines.
Our well-timed ride was slotted between a pair of storms, giving us dramatic lighting and clean air.

Cloud bank in the distance, Panoche Road.
The Aermotor was spinning fast at the Summit Ranch. With a dual assist from gravity and the wind, I plummeted down the backside toward the Inn.

Aeromotor, Summit Ranch, Panoche Road.
Another rider thought the road had more patches. “How could you tell?” I asked. It's best to ride that stretch with a light grip on the handlebars—or wind up with an aching head and some loose fillings.

Look at that view! Look at it again. Picture it paved with solar panels, because that is the future for this land—some 4,000 acres of solar panels and power lines.

Open fields, distant hills near the Panoche Inn.
More than 20 miles out on Panoche Road, an approaching car slowed to a stop. A wayward European visitor was looking for the National Park (Pinnacles). I set him straight.

Field with yellow flowers near low cliff, Panoche Road.
The wind is a constant. You can count on a headwind for the return; on unlucky days, there can be a headwind in both directions. Which means more time to admire the scenery.

Distant hills under gray clouds, Panoche Road.
A mere 2,750 feet of climbing, with 54 miles of scenery.

Enjoy it now.

March 22, 2014

Springtime for Hollister

When the Bay Area forecast reads “Partly Cloudy,” the morning will be gray and gloomy.

Low clouds mix with the hills along Lone Tree Road.
That's the cloudy part. The rest of the day will be glorious.

Blue sky is breaking through along Lone Tree Road.
After a poor night's sleep, I was semi-conscious when the alarm went off. I desperately wanted more sleep. If I bailed now, would my ride partner see the email? The ride start was not local. Drive an hour, bike 50 hilly miles, drive an hour back. I needed more sleep.

It is a perfect day for this route. It will still be (somewhat) green. Soon it will be too hot to bike down there.

View from the top, end of the public portion of Lone Tree Road.
I pulled myself together. I could further shorten the route, maybe just tackle the first (and longest) hill.

Quien Sabe Road winding through an open valley.
But the second hill is one of my favorites.

Cliff at the end of the public portion of Quien Sabe Road.
With so many back roads to explore, I saw no merit in returning on busy Highway 25. Having pored over the map, I had a better idea.

Lone tree on the russet-colored hills along Santa Ana Valley Road.
Instead of being buzzed by speeding SUVs and pickup trucks, I had John Smith Road to myself. (Two vehicles passed me, heading in opposite directions.) The birds told me how little traffic uses this road. I startled a hawk into seeking a higher perch; moments later, it comfortably swooped to my left along the road before veering over the rolling hills. To the right a small flock of birds escorted me, rising and falling to match my slow pace.

I turned into a residential neighborhood. “Not a Through Street,” warned a sign. It had looked so enticing on the map.

Strategically-placed barricades blocked vehicles from passing through ... but not bicycles!

For the day, 54 miles with some 4,830 feet of climbing. I'll sleep in tomorrow.

March 21, 2014

Side by Side

Two folded Stridas, one white, one black.
Tucked into the belly of the bus, a study in black and white.

This morning I needed to catch the first shuttle to arrive at the office in time for my earliest meeting. This is not my routine, and I hardly expected to find another bike already loaded when I lifted the door to the first compartment (before sunrise).

I definitely did not expect to see another Strida. Now I understand why I have only seen the black bike when I catch an early shuttle home.

These folding bikes are ideal for our short (flat) little trips to and from the shuttle stop. For me, the distance is a little more than a mile (studded with five traffic signals). Driving that distance would be, in a word, ridiculous. It would also take as much time, if not more. Having the bike for quick trips on campus is mighty convenient, too.

With enough daylight remaining, I opt for a longer route home. Each trip seems insignificant, but the miles add up: about 43 miles this month, alone.

Best time? Door-to-door, with no red lights: 6 minutes, 33 seconds.

March 19, 2014

Make It a Double

Vasona Park Bridge, near dusk.
Today was the day.

Daylight Savings Time took effect a couple of weeks ago, but my first attempt to enjoy a round-trip commute had been thwarted by a late meeting.

I am not a big fan of DST; waking up in the dark is a struggle. I wish we could just leave the clocks alone. But now that we have sprung forward, there is ample daylight for my long ride home. My headlight and its battery pack have been stowed away for the season, and I treated the oft-neglected commute bike to a thorough cleaning and fresh lube over the weekend.

In celebration, I climbed a familiar gratuitous hill this evening and spotted a doe trotting down the middle of the street, heading for the open area at the end.

This morning, my ears were cold and my legs were leaden; even though I rode home at a slower pace, I felt stronger. For the day, the usual 39 miles and 980 feet of climbing.

Just the way I like it.

March 15, 2014

Diablo Seco

Notices were posted: no water available until you reach the summit. Was there a contamination problem? A broken pipe?

Chalk it up to the drought. We learned that most of the water on Mt. Diablo is supplied by local springs, and they're dry.

“Thank you for stopping.” Despite his transaction with a car at the South Gate, the Ranger noticed and addressed me. As I pedaled forward, I was summarily passed by three cyclists who did not trouble themselves to stop. At the stop sign. Really, guys? It's not hard.

Charred trees and bare hillside near the top of Mt. Diablo
I had been looking forward to climbing Mt. Diablo one weekend last fall ... and then, it burned. A target shooter's stray bullet hit a rock on a hot day in a dry year. Six days, $4.5 million, and 3,100 charred acres later, the fire was contained. The enormous plume of smoke taught me that I could see Mt. Diablo across the bay, 28 miles away (in a straight line).

Six months later, we were riding through the burn zone. There were bare blackened trees next to the stone walls at the summit—the buildings had nearly been lost.

Thinking of the tower at the top of the mountain, this morning I donned a bike jersey featuring the tower on a far-away summit: Mont Ventoux. Not only was this a good conversation starter, it earned me some respect: not one patronizing comment about being “almost there” as I slowly made my way to the top.

My bicycle at Mt. Diablo State Park North Gate entrance sign
I felt so good at the summit, I decided to descend the mountain to the North Gate and climb back up to the junction before returning through the South Gate. The rest of the group had made a longer loop, to Morgan Territory; I didn't have the stamina for that distance.

The north side was more exposed. The day was warm, and the sun higher in the sky. Long before I reached the gate, I began to wonder ... what had I been thinking? What might have been, simply, a lovely day would now be a suffer-fest. I should have topped off my water bottles at the summit.

I peeled off my knee warmers, slathered on another layer of sunscreen, and started climbing. Forty-four miles, some 5,600 feet of climbing. It was worth it.

Field of California poppies overlooking distant hills

March 8, 2014

How Green is the Valley?

Cattle grazing in the bright green foothills.
You might think that there could be nothing new for me to discover on Mt. Hamilton (and you would be wrong). I have bicycled to the top more than two dozen times, and in all seasons. As the group prepared to depart, one rider remarked that he had no intention of including Kincaid today. He might do that once a year; he just didn't see the point. [Oh, what he's missing!]

New leaves emerging on gnarled trees along Mt. Hamilton Road.
I would not include Kincaid today, either; I am in no shape for that. I crawled my way to the top, where I was most grateful to put my feet up on the Reverend's patio and savor my luscious peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich.

View of San Francisco Bay in the distance.
On the climb, it is natural to focus on the road ahead and neglect the view behind. White clouds smudged the sky. Old trees were popping out the first leaves of another spring. San Francisco Bay glistened in the distance. From the summit, the snowy peaks of the Sierras were evident.

Ironwork detail, Lick Observatory.
The buildings have seen a new coat of paint in the past year or so, and from my vantage point the detail on an external stairway caught my eye. How had I never noticed the curled ironwork, the stars in the railing?

The uphill interludes on the descent afford more leisurely sightseeing. A raucous pair of Steller's Jays caught my attention, and as I slowed to listen I noticed a proud wild turkey strutting his stuff. It's mating season! I was a few feet away from his flock of hens; some were foraging, others were taking dirt baths and possibly nesting. The dominant sound in the video clip is that of the noisy Jays. Listen for the turkeys; they made a sound like the resonant plink of a large drip of water hitting a pool.

Always something new to see, and to learn, on Mt. Hamilton.

March 7, 2014

Winter Break

Off to the Sierras with my colleagues for a two-day refresher course, Winter Fun 101.

Towering trees in the Sierras, near Fish Camp
After a whirlwind of spa mini-treatments, I set off on a short hike before dinner. Engineers had scattered, eager to check in (and log in). Equipped with a rudimentary paper map, I trudged down an old logging road and found the trail. Some landmarks were clear; others, not so much. When the U-shaped route returned to the road, I opted to retrace my path through the forest instead. The moon was high overhead, but there was enough daylight remaining.

Badger Pass Ranger Station
With none of the white stuff at the lodge (elevation: 5300 feet), Friday's snowshoe hike was relocated to Yosemite. There was snow, albeit slushy, at the 7200-foot elevation of Badger Pass, one of California's earliest recreational ski areas.

Primitive snowshoe show-and-tell with Ranger Christine
Ranger Christine was our enthusiastic guide. Crunching uphill at altitude wasn't challenging enough for a couple of guys in our group: they took off at a run, racing each other to the top of the steepest hill we climbed.

The reward? A view across Yosemite to the snow-dusted highlights of the Clark Range.

My feet strapped into snowshoes.
The ranger invited me to join her in running down the hill, but with clumps of ice caked on my crampons, that would have ended badly.

Winter. Fun. Exercise. Education.

And then, back to work.

March 1, 2014

Beautiful Noise

A slippery rainy day is not the sort of day to trot out the exotic automotive plumage.

But this was not an ordinary rainy day. It was a rainy day during a Bay Area visit by the legendary Valentino Balboni.

Valentino Balboni, eight Lamborghinis, and drivers
Signore Balboni led the train up the rain-slicked roads, down to the coast and into the city. Navigating through San Francisco, with its hills, potholes, and close-packed traffic, was less nerve-wracking than I had feared.

Early in the drive, a muddy hillside released a soccer-ball-sized rock that oh-so-luckily came to rest at the edge of the road. It was still settling into place as I passed. Most drivers skillfully dodged the debris that the latest storm had thrown our way. One vehicle flatted a rear tire, providing a useful demonstration for a few of us on how not to use a tire repair kit.

On the road, the train was interrupted by the occasional minivan or compact. Most had the courtesy to pull aside, with the notable exception of a seemingly clueless motorhome from Arizona. Leaving our lunch stop, I yielded (not without a sigh) to a Tesla sedan. To his credit, he moved to the shoulder when he had the chance.

“Your car is beautiful.” High praise indeed, in this rarefied atmosphere of Diablos and Murcielagos, Gallardos and Aventadors. There were a couple of fast red cars in our midst, too.

One by one, we filed into the garage at our endpoint. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was a sound to behold.

Packing a garage with Lambos