August 22, 2015


Paraglider near Sandy Wool Lake, Ed Levin County Park, Santa Clara County, California
The first wildlife sighting was the guy sitting in his car, windows down, at the summit of Old Calaveras Road. Smoking pot. I guess he thought he was in the middle of nowhere. But at 9:15 a.m., really? I was glad he was pointed downhill, as I hoped we would not cross paths with him later.

The paragliders and hang gliders were setting up on the hillside above Sandy Wool lake, as usual; some were already in flight.

Heading up Calaveras toward Felter, a couple of turkeys made an appearance. I've seen them here, before.

The usual turkey vultures, and a hawk, soared overhead on Felter.

California Red-Sided Gartersnake on the double yellow line, Felter Road, Santa Clara County, CaliforniaThen there was this snake hanging out in the middle of the road (California Red-Sided Gartersnake, Thamnophis sirtalis infernalis). There's not much traffic on this road, but after I was passed later by a huge flatbed truck hauling fancy barbecues, I'm not convinced the snake's day ended well. Even if it stayed right there on the center line.

I caught a glimpse of a Western bluebird as it darted above the road.

The biggest moment of uncertainty was yet to come. Sierra Road is steep, which makes for a fast descent. A coyote popped off the hillside and started running along the road in front of me. (Yikes.) Did it see me? If I pass it, will it give chase? Can I pass it safely, at all?

I pressed the brakes, hoping the right choice would become more clear. Lucky for me, the coyote decided to turn right up the hillside before I got too close. (Whew.) They normally don't attack people, and this one looked adequately fed, but ... who knows?

I had wanted to climb a third hill today, but my legs just weren't up for it. Felter seemed longer and harder than I remembered; the third hill seemed like a bad idea. Each time the road would descend a bit, giving me a break, I'd think “That third hill is only 1.3 miles, how bad can that be?” Then the road would climb a bit and my legs answered No!

I kept it short, 19 miles with 2,500 feet of climbing. With 100 miles of commuting in my legs this week, that was enough.

August 17, 2015

Happy Trails to You

Farewell to cyclists passing me on blind curves.

Goodbye to the graffiti tags and homeless encampment.

Arrivederci to groups who block the entire trail, walking three abreast.

Toodle-oo to the joggers who abruptly stop, mid-trail, and flip a u-turn with no regard for people behind them.

AdiĆ³s to the iDiots, white wires dangling from their ears, oblivious to the world around them.

Auf wiedersehen to cyclists turning onto the trail without a glance for oncoming traffic.

To the dog-walkers with their leashes strung across the trail ... bye-bye.

Three cyclists and a pedestrian at the south end of the bridge over Evelyn, Central, and the railroad tracks, Mountain View, California

When the Stevens Creek Trail was extended across a freeway a few years ago, taking it seemed like a game changer. More than four car-free miles without stoplights!

Armchair cyclists, fearful of sharing the road with cars and trucks, long for trails like this to ride. If only ... if only there were trails connecting home to office, they just might make the trip by bike instead of car—they're sure of it.

Whenever I would tell a non-cyclist that the trail was the most treacherous part of my commute, they stared at me in disbelief.

I've had more close calls on the trail than on the street. Generally, motorists are predictable and follow the rules of the road. Trails, on the other hand, are a free-for-all.

Recently the city announced some changes for the Stevens Creek Trail. A speed limit of 15 mph (which, actually, was already the case). Electric bicycles and skateboards would now be permitted.

Just what we need. Commuters on heavy motorized bikes who know nothing about cycling etiquette. Skateboarders who fly down any incline they can find, over and over again.

The speed-limit announcement implied there would be enforcement. An electronic sign, registering and recording speeds, appeared along the trail for a week or so.

Surely that wouldn't affect me? On the heavy hybrid I use for commuting, cyclists are constantly zipping past me. And I'm a courteous trail user, slowing as I approach others, ringing my bell. People wave, and smile, and thank me.

Then I looked at the data. [Uh oh.]

I'd been routinely cruising along the straights at 16-17 mph. If the trail is clear, I'm much faster coming down the bridges. The last thing I want is a slower commute. [Or a citation.]

I shuttled to work this morning, but biked home in the evening. It's been a few years since I adapted my route to take full advantage of the trail, but I can do well without most of it. In the morning, I can bypass it entirely. In the evening, the trail is the safest way to cross the freeway, expressway, and railroad tracks. Then, exit, stage right.

To my surprise, my old route was actually faster—despite getting caught by two red lights. Without having to slow down to pass every meandering body on the multi-use trail, I was able to sustain a more constant speed.

Sayonara, Stevens Creek Trail.

August 8, 2015

All Quiet on the Mountain

More than halfway through the year, and I hadn't climbed Mt. Hamilton ... unthinkable. Today was the day to fix that.

Three deer running in a field at Joseph Grant Ranch County Park, San Jose, California
The temperature was perfect, and for some reason there was little traffic; motorcycles, mostly.

Layer of gray smoke hangs over the valley, view from summit of Mt. Hamilton, San Jose, California
Along with little traffic, there was little breeze and little view. There is likely a relationship among those three elements. The sky was layered with smoke from distant wildfires.

I paused to watch some deer munching on the still-green leaves of a large branch that had snapped off an oak tree. Flora and fauna, stressed by the drought.

Three deer dining on oak leaves alongside Mt. Hamilton Road, San Jose, California
There were, of course, other cyclists. I chatted with a couple of first timers, and passed an over-dressed guy who was struggling. He hadn't gotten much farther when I passed him again on the way down, despite the additional time I'd taken for lunch at the top.

I'd heard they'd done some work on the upper section of the road; notably, they re-graded a gnarly switchback near the top, making the steep inside curve more gentle. On one trip up the mountain, I had witnessed a motorcyclist stall and tip over on that curve. With its wheels uphill and weighty body downhill, he needed help to stand the bike back up.

I was surprised (and mystified) to see Cipollini's name freshly stenciled on the road in multiple spots, as he retired some time ago. And he's not exactly local.

For the day, the usual 39 miles and 4,860 feet of climbing. My favorite.

August 3, 2015

Lake Shasta Caverns

We're heading back to the Bay Area today, but that doesn't mean we can't find some more fun.

View of Lake Shasta from the hillside above, near entrance to Lake Shasta Caverns, California
My ride buddy had done her research and found an attraction that wouldn't have been on my radar screen: Lake Shasta Caverns. It's even a National Natural Landmark, like Burney Falls (which we visited last year) and Mt. Shasta itself.

Our timing couldn't have been better. We arrived early, but missed the first tour of the day (a busload of tourists). For our small group, it felt like a private tour.

Catamaran waiting to ferry us across Lake Shasta to the caverns, California
We hiked down to the water's edge to catch a boat across Lake Shasta, which is fed in part by a river we visited two days ago. With the drought, the water level is down by some 150 feet. Over such a huge surface area, that's a lot of missing water.

On the other side, a small bus carried us up to the door where we would enter the cavern. Our guide filled us in on some history and interesting facts along the way. She claimed that poison oak will mimic the plants around it, which is something I'd not heard before (and, have not been able to substantiate). She also told us about treating the rash with Manzanita, which has indeed been recommended elsewhere. My strategy is to avoid the devilish vines in the first place, but I'm filing that remedy away in the “good-to-know” category.

California Sister butterfly near Lake Shasta Caverns, Lake Shasta, California
Along the way, a friendly California Sister (Adelpha californica) posed nicely on the fence rail.

I haven't visited many caves; my family just wasn't into that. The caverns were unexpectedly fascinating, with a great variety of formations—not just the stalactites and stalagmites you'd expect. Flowstone, for example. The floor could be pretty slippery; there were handrails, but shoes with stickier soles would have been better than my hiking boots.

Stalactites, Lake Shasta Caverns, Lake Shasta, California
Most of the formations are “alive” (still growing). Our guide's flashlight illuminated the difference. Only the living formations had a translucent glow. We were cautioned not to touch, as the oils from our hands disrupt the chemistry and “kill” future growth. One room was an exception to this rule, including a formation that invited us to crawl inside.

pep inside a formation in the Lake Shasta Caverns, Lake Shasta, California
A natural entrance to the cave was high above us in the last “room,” which was enormous. Bats swooped overhead as we stood there, admiring the spectacle.

I'm a curious sort of person, but I have to admit that, had I stumbled across the entrance to these caverns I would not have ventured inside. Especially with the primitive tools and lighting available in 1878. Thank you, Mr. Richardson.

August 2, 2015

A Social Century

The Mount Shasta Summit Century is the reason my biking buddy and I drove up to Siskiyou County. “Summit” is a bit of a misnomer; the ride ends, along with the paved road, at an altitude of 7,780 feet. There's quite a bit of mountain above that point, as the peak tops out at 14,179 feet.

The ride is put on by the local chamber of commerce, so we were surprised to see no hint of the event as we walked around town. No flyers. No posters. No signs. When we hiked at Castle Lake, we saw a notice that the parking lot would be closed on Sunday [rest stop], so we felt reassured that they hadn't called it off and forgotten to let us know.

We had registered for the full century, but as we did last year with the Fall River Century, we concocted our own route. We're the Goldilocks of cycling: 100 miles with 10,500 feet of climbing is too big, and 59 miles with 4,000 feet of climbing is too small. And of course we wanted to bike up Mt. Shasta. Shorten a loop here, skip a climb there, and go up the mountain. Just right.

Imagine our surprise when the first cyclists we met en route were a couple from our own bike club, on their tandem.

This event was the most social century of any bike event I've ridden. Normally, the hard core cyclists zip past without a word, intent on making good time. Not today. I had so many nice conversations with cyclists who slowed to chat. I called out to a couple of guys wearing a jersey from my home state—that's something I've never seen before, as it's hardly a nexus of cycling. One lives in California now, and his brother flew out to do this ride and spend a couple of weeks touring the Pacific Northwest.

There were also more women riding than I have ever seen at a cycling event (with the exception, of course, of the Cinderella). And they, too, were friendly. I was wearing a jersey from one of our club events, and some women admired it as they passed. One recognized the club and raised a fist in triumph, shouting “Sierra to the Sea!” She'd had the chance to do that ride.

Another first was the woman riding up the first climb on a mountain bike ... with three sled-dogs-in-training yoked together.

Raindrops started falling just as we finished lunch. We kept going. Sprinkles are fine; a downpour and slick roads, not so much. When I'd heard a thunderclap on the morning climb, I wondered just how we would find shelter in a lightning storm (surrounded, as we were, by really tall trees). A cyclist who was cutting his ride short offered me his jacket, asking only that I return it later to his hotel. But it was a warm day, and here's the thing: Once you're wet, you're wet. The raindrops actually felt good.

Early on the slopes of Mt. Shasta, something caught my eye just off to the side of the road. How silly, I thought; why would someone put a statue of a deer out there in the forest? [Duh.] It was a live doe, standing so still and with a coat so perfect she didn't look real. She was watching me. “Hi there,” I said. “Be careful if you're going to cross the road.” As soon as I passed, that's exactly what she did. Luckily the woman driving an oncoming car saw her, and slowed.

I was a bit apprehensive whenever I passed someone walking along the road. What are they doing, basically in the middle of nowhere? Are they going to harass me? The guy in the green t-shirt, carrying a paper grocery bag, cheered me on. “Great job!” he called out. The scruffy mountain man, with his long hair and longer beard, greeted me with a friendly hello.

The climb itself, 15 miles at a gentle 5.6% grade, didn't even require my granny gear. Nonetheless, being unfamiliar, it seemed everlasting. “You did the Death Ride,” I reminded myself: twice the climbing. Keep turning the pedals. I noticed the thinner air around 7,000 feet. “You climbed above 10,000 feet last year,” I told myself. No excuses.

By the time I made it to the top, I was more than ready to be done. And looking forward to the descent, with its smooth pavement and wide sweeping turns. Three of us took off at the same time, and I was finding it a challenge to keep a respectable distance. When I reached a comfortable place to pass them, I did. Later, when they arrived at the finish, the woman saw me. “You're a great descender!” she said. Thanks, I smiled. “I followed her all the way down!” she announced.

Two fast guys had flown past me; I know better than to give chase. A woman passed me, too, and gained some distance but stayed within sight. I could play with that. Just by tweaking my aerodynamics, and with greater comfort in the curves, I started gaining on her. She was surprised when I passed her. “It's a great descent!” she shared, when she pulled even with me again.

For the day, 79 miles, 7480 feet of climbing. My legs hurt. Just right.

August 1, 2015

McCloud Falls

Mt. Shasta is a curious town. As we waited in line for a sandwich at the local natural foods market, it was hard to watch the inefficiencies behind the deli counter (and not intervene). I will say that the food was worth the wait.

There were lots of shops selling crystals. Our hiking buddies from Heart Lake had shared an amusing encounter: They had been in one of the shops when a guy wandered in, claimed he was the 16th incarnation of Buddha (or some such), and demanded a particular crystal of significance that was on display. Or else he would blow up the shop. [Which, of course, is just what Buddha would do.]

McCloud River, McCloud, California
Our afternoon plans included a much less strenuous hike than this morning's. We headed for McCloud Falls, which is really a series of three waterfalls along a stretch of the McCloud River.

I envied the families playing in the water, scrambling over the boulders and jumping off the rock walls. [Well, not so much the cliff jumpers. I'm too chicken for that.] It was refreshing to see so much unbridled splashing and sliding, with no signs or officials in uniforms shooing people away “for their own safety.” I wished I'd brought a bathing suit.

Swimmers at the Lower Falls of the McCloud River, McCloud, California
Here, it was a little less hot than on our earlier hike. The distance to the upper falls was not clear; we needed to return to town to pick up our registration packets for tomorrow's ride, so we kept walking with an eye on the clock.

Man jumping off cliff at Middle Falls of the McCloud River, McCloud, California
As we were climbing the uppermost segment, two young women came running down the rocky trail. And one tripped. My ride buddy, walking just ahead of me, caught her. Most importantly, in that brief-but-terrifying moment, both of them stayed upright and neither one tumbled over the cliff.

Upper Falls of the McCloud River, McCloud, California
We made our u-turn at the upper falls with ample time to hike back down. Then we spotted a crowd heading for the narrow trail. Wearing ... costumes? Colorful broad-brimmed hats, South American style. Did they step off a bus in the parking lot, above? It was as though someone had conjured a line of zombies, as they marched along with blank expressions. My ride buddy and I looked at each other. “Let's go!” And let's stay ahead of them.

And so we lived to tell the tale. 4.1 miles, round-trip, with much less climbing than our morning adventure.

Heart Lake

My ride buddy proposed that we head north for a cycling event near Mt. Shasta. We didn't get to see much of the mountain last year, after all. As we did then, we made the most of our short time in the area by adding a couple of hikes.

We planned to skip one of the climbs on tomorrow's route, the better to accommodate our pace. The question was, which one?

After poring over maps and hiking recommendations, we opted to skip climb number two (Castle Lake). Today we would hike there, instead.

Castle Lake, near Mt. Shasta, California
Rather than a trail, at times it felt more like we were hiking in the dry wash from the slopes above—loose rocks always underfoot. We started at Castle Lake, heading for Little Castle Lake, above. It was a steep climb, and the trail was essentially unmarked.

Hiker on rocky trail through a meadow, with Mt. Shasta in the distance, on the way to Heart Lake, Mt. Shasta, California
We found Little Castle Lake, but not a way to get close to the shore. I made three attempts, more or less bushwhacking my way along what appeared to be footpaths, but each fell short.

Little Castle Lake, near Mt. Shasta, California
We also wanted to find Heart Lake, but ... how? We hadn't noticed other trails branching off; had we missed a marker along the way? On our way down, a small path led to some large rocks. If only we had known that was also the way to Heart Lake ...

I scrambled up the rocky outcropping and was rewarded with a sweeping view of Castle Lake, with the top of Mt. Shasta floating above the layer of smoke from this year's distant wildfires.

Mt. Shasta rises above the smoke layer, near Mt. Shasta, California
As we hiked down the hill, a small group passed us, heading up. They were oddly dressed—in street clothes, some carrying babies. A woman in a casual white lacy dress; a guy in a dress shirt, vest, and pants; a woman in a long skirt. Ah, well, that's California for you. I've seen people climbing a trail up the slick, sandy rocks next to a waterfall in leather-soled shoes.

Of course, there were wildflowers along the way.

Swamp knotweed (Persicaria amphibia) near Castle Lake, Mt. Shasta, California
And with a little patience, I got a clean shot of a butterfly (Aphrodite frittillary?) that was flitting alongside the trail.

We made it all the way back to our starting point, still mystified about where we missed the turn to Heart Lake. Our timing was lucky: we got some tips and joined a friendly couple who were also trying to find the lake. Then we turned around and trudged back up the steep slope. [Oh no ... say it isn't so.]

Wedding on the shore of Heart Lake, Mt. Shasta, California
When we reached Heart Lake, well, there were the hikers in their fancy clothes—a wedding party. [Aha!] They knew how to find Heart Lake. We witnessed their vows from across the lake, with Mt. Shasta in the distance, and cheered.

Heart Lake with Mt. Shasta in the distance, near Mt. Shasta, California
My ride buddy had suggested that we tackle this hike in the morning, and she was oh-so-right. It was a hot day, and a hard 4.5-mile hike. Both times up the hill.