April 26, 2016

That Solar Impulse

What have we here?

Inflatable hangar at Moffett Field, Mountain View, California
A fancy party tent? [No.]

A cocoon of sorts, for a rare winged creature.

One of a kind, in fact.

Wingtip view of the port side of the Solar Impulse 2
Through a stroke of good fortune, I had the privilege of a close encounter with the Solar Impulse 2, which landed at Moffett Field three days ago on the ninth leg of its planned circumnavigation of the globe. Powered by the sun.

The point is not to shift the future of aviation to solar power. Rather, to inspire the world to do more with the sun down here on Earth.

Cockpit and view of the starboard wing of the Solar Impulse 2
That planes fly, at all, is a wonderment to me. That this plane can take off under its own power seems inconceivable. Yes, it's exceedingly lightweight. Four small electric engines, that's all.

Nearly translucent wings, spanning an astonishing 236 feet—longer than the wingspan of a Boeing 777.

Underside detail view of port side wing, Solar Impulse 2
It just looks so ... fragile.

A masterpiece of engineering, a piece of history, and a thing of beauty.

View from cockpit to tail, Solar Impulse 2
When it takes to the air again, later this week perhaps, I may miss the chance to see it fly. It was a thrill, nonetheless, to meet it today.

April 23, 2016

Blowin' in the Wind

Next week is our club's big event, when we host hundreds of cyclists on a tour along some of our favorite roads. We'll be working hard then, so today we ride (and raise an alert if we see any potential problems along the way).

It was a sunny cloudy kind of day. Chilly.

Gray clouds over a sunny field near Gilroy, California
Windy, too. Oh, look! It's another Aermotor.

Aermotor windmill near Gilroy, California
Rolling (still green) hills, ranches, farms, suburban sprawl ... we have it all.

Fields of green and red leaf lettuce, Gilroy, California
The wildflowers peaked a week or two ago, but this year the reservoirs along the loop are nearly full. What a welcome sight!

Uvas Reservoir, Santa Clara County, California
I am now so accustomed to low water levels, sad to say, that I thought I saw a bunch of sticks poking through the surface of Chesbro Reservoir. (Wrong! Waterfowl.)

Waterfowl on Chesbro Reservoir, Santa Clara County, California
I was motoring along with the tailwind I (finally) deserved when I was startled by loud wingbeats at close range. Not one, not two ... five turkey vultures perched near the side of the road. I made no move toward their prize—a carcass in the ditch—so they paid me little mind.

Five turkey vultures with their eyes on their prize, San Martin, California
They are not the most attractive creatures ... unless you're one of them, I suppose.

Turkey vulture perched on a dead tree, San Martin, California
A healthy 55 miles, with 2,160 feet uphill and into the wind.

I reported three patches of broken glass, which I hope will be swept away before next weekend. The biggest problem is one we can't fix: Starting last year, the Santa Clara County Board of Health got carried away. Safe food handling is not enough. Whole fruit only! (Which means: lots of waste.) Snacks must be bagged! (Which means: lots of waste.) No homemade nut breads—our signature and popular treat. (Which means: disappointed riders, and fewer of them.)

April 14, 2016

Santa Rosa Creek

Given the choice, would you rather bike on a road named Green Valley or California State Highway 46? [Let me guess ...]

Highway 46 West near Cambria, California
But that's a trick question, because they're the same road.

Tree-studded hills carpeted in yellow flowers, view to the south from Highway 46 near Cambria, California
I've admired these very hills from the comfort of a tour bus each September, returning from the Best Buddies Hearst Castle Challenge. I didn't expect that I might ride my bicycle here. Ever.

Today was the queen stage of our little getaway, the route with the most climbing and the longest distance. I decided I was up for it. Then I checked the forecast.

We were headed for the coastal town of Cambria, and the weather service had posted a wind advisory. Strong winds in the afternoon, gusting to 35 mph, from the northwest. That would present crosswinds on the return trip; so far this week, I'd wobbled twice in crosswinds that were far weaker.

Time for Plan B.

Cows in the clouds along a ridge near Cambria, California
My wise roommate had been planning all along to drive to the end point for today's climb. I joined her. When I saw that the return to Paso Robles on Highway 46 would have involved more climbing, I was ever-so-glad that I would not be biking it today.

As we parked, we met a couple of guys setting up a rest stop of sorts. They said they had about 20 riders coming through and asked where we were headed. “Oh, you're coming up the wall,” they said. I asked them about the steep bits on Santa Rosa Creek Road. 20% grade, one explained; a steep section, followed by a steep switchback. [I see some uphill walking in my future.]

Intersection of California Highways 1 and 46, south of Cambria, California
Heading west entailed a bit of climbing to earn a creamy downhill to the coast. We turned right onto Highway 1 ... right into the wind.

Cyclists congregate in front of Linn's restaurant, Cambria, California
It was too early for lunch. But it was not too early for a warm slice of olallieberry pie at Linn's. (Thanks, Ms. C., for the recommendation.)

Curvy, one-lane section of Santa Rosa Creek Road near Cambria, California
Santa Rosa Creek Road was spectacular. See the tree trunk heralding a bend in the road?

View of hills from upper Santa Rosa Creek Road, with yellow flowers, San Luis Obispo County, California
Segments reminded me of some Bay Area favorites: Tunitas Creek (though without the redwoods). Lobitos Creek. Bear Gulch West. After several miles, the steady gentle climb ticked up. And then ...

There were two steep (but short) ramps in succession, each affording a (more or less) flat bit for recovery. Was that it, or would it get worse? Where's that nasty switchback?

The road took a bend to the left, and ... [gulp]. Unclip, unclip now! My left cleat would not release. I'm going to topple over. Rotate the pedals, steady, steady, unclip. [Whew.] Turkeys, unseen, cackled nearby. [Funny, very funny.]

The support van had relocated to (effectively) the top of the climb, and the racers were arriving as I got there. As I prepared to roll on, a bunch of them clipped in to do the same. Should I wait, let them pass? [Nah.]

And, we're off! Downhill, curvy, one lane, through the woods. One guy was ahead of me, and I wasn't losing ground. [Hmm.] Thoughts buzzed through my head. You don't know this road. The guy ahead of you does, follow him. We're really moving. Don't give chase. But he knows the road. Chill out. A couple more guys joined the first one, but the gap between us did not expand. When there was enough of a straight stretch, I checked my mirror. Maybe I should sit up and let the rest of the group come together.

They were nowhere in sight. Nowhere.

I could see the road ahead tilt up. Ah, that must be the “one more climb” a rider had foretold. I didn't want to crawl uphill. Aerodynamics and some mad pedaling paid off: not only did I make it up the hill with little effort, I actually closed the gap to the racer guys! [Thank you, CervĂ©lo, thank you.]

Oak tree in a field of blooming purple lupines along Santa Rosa Creek Road, San Luis Obispo County, California
The road leveled out and a spread of lupines called for a photo. I sat up and slowed. As they passed, one of the women called out “You did a great job descending back there!” I smiled. “That's why I climb.”

View of tree-covered hills with lupines and poppies in the foreground, Santa Rosa Creek Road, San Luis Obispo County, California
Our ride leaders for this trip were clever indeed. With each day's loop out of Paso Robles, we explored a new direction: southwest, southeast, northeast, saving the best for last: 32 miles, 2,795 feet of climbing west, to the coast (and back).

Purple lupine, vetch, and California poppies blooming along Santa Rosa Creek Road, San Luis Obispo County, California

April 13, 2016

Santa Margarita Express

I've come to believe that there are two varieties of hillsides in this area: those that are covered with grapevines, and those that will be covered with grapevines in the future.

Private narrow-gauge railway with trestle near Creston, California
With today's route, we left the vineyards behind and passed through ranch lands. Horses and cattle, mostly. A few goats.

We paused to admire an impressive private narrow-gauge railway along the way, complete with a trestle and working signals. Not surprisingly, this being a weekday, the train wasn't running.

We stopped for a snack (freshly baked cookies!) at the Creston General Store.

Aermotor windmill near Santa Margarita, California
Over the years, I've developed something of an affinity for Aermotor windmills. I just have to stop and take a picture. It's a thing, I guess. A harmless thing. Today was a four-Aermotor day (though I skipped photographing the fourth one, which was planted in the parking lot of a farm supply business).

This little eccentricity of mine paid an unexpected dividend. Just as I climbed back on the bike after admiring my third Aermotor, a bald eagle glided just overhead. A few moments earlier and I would have had my camera at the ready. I kept my eye on the soaring bird as I pedaled on, hoping for another chance but expecting it to fly out of sight.

Then I got lucky.

Bald eagle landing in a tree near Santa Margarita, California
The bird circled back. I stopped and pulled out my camera, just in case it would pass nearby. I pointed and shot, hoping for the best: one shot in flight, the second with tail feathers fanned out as it prepared to land in a tree. For much of my life, these birds were nearly extinct; seeing one in the wild will always make my heart race. I've never been closer to one than I was today.

We rode into Santa Margarita looking for lunch at the Mercantile, but it's apparently out of business. We invaded the Southern Station instead, where they accommodated our crowd with grace and good humor. Their outdoor seating was perfect for our small herd of cyclists.

The general profile of our return route was downhill, but along the way we gained 600 feet in elevation as the hills rolled up (and down).

The locals were mostly tolerant, though I wondered at two signs along one rural road: a picture of bicycle, with the words “PASS 3 FT MIN.” It is the law, but it left me curious about what led to those signs [which I'd never seen before] being posted on this road. Then there was the pea-brained troglodyte in an oversized pickup truck, backed up in traffic in some small town, who deliberately belched a huge cloud of black exhaust as he passed the core of our group. I'll bet he doesn't give bicycles three feet on any backroad.

At the end of the day, we'd covered 53 miles and climbed some 2,230 feet along some beautiful back roads. It was the bald eagle, though, that made my day.

Bald eagle in flight near Santa Margarita, California

April 12, 2016

Girls Rule


Riding along, it's not uncommon for a high-pressure bike tire to catch the edge of a pebble or whatnot and launch it off to one side. Or to roll over something that goes “pop!”

I did wonder at a lighter spot on my front tire, trying to puzzle out what I might have ridden through. A patch of sand?

Nope. A stout roofing nail, driven smack into the center of my front tire. If I wanted to do that deliberately, I have no idea how I would make it happen.

We weren't even 1.5 miles into the ride. The route started with a climb, so most of the group was ahead of me. Three of the women in our group stopped. “Go on without me, it will take me a long time to fix this, I'll probably just turn back,” I said.

Nonsense! Let's get this started, where are your tire levers? With four of us sharing the work, we were rolling again in record time. [They insisted I save the nail for show-and-tell, later.]

Down the road apiece, I paused at a random spot when I realized that one of our riders had dropped out of sight. We reconnected, and within moments a pickup truck that had been trailing us stopped just ahead. We were a bit nervous when the driver got out and started walking toward us. “We have to stop meeting like this,” he joked, and then sensed our uneasiness. GPS unit in hand, he was looking for a geocache located somewhere within a few yards of where I'd chosen to stop. I think he'd assumed we were at that spot for the same reason. (No, unless I've somehow developed a sixth sense for finding hidden treasures ...)

We would eventually catch up to a couple of stragglers, but we didn't see the rest of the group until our lunch stop around mile 33. We passed on the cafĂ© they'd overwhelmed, heading instead for a little local Mexican food. Climbing out of San Miguel entailed going up a steep hill—it was only one block long, but a sign posted along the edge announced it was a 15% grade. (Made it. Just. Whew.)

For us, lunch was at the top (yay!). The rest of the group would climb that on full stomachs.

Our next challenge was to merge onto Highway 101 South and ride the shoulder for about a mile before exiting onto our next lovely back road. Being a bit heavy laden with lunch, we were feeling sluggish. Once on the highway, I quickly found the motivation I needed to move—fast! There were multiple lanes and not much traffic, but the speed was intimidating. As we circled off to continue our route, the bridge we'd crossed loomed high overhead; we paused to gawk at the tractor trailers zooming by. We'd biked that! (Yikes.)

The reward for that stressful mile was a peaceful trip through ranch lands. I thought I'd seen long-horned cattle before today, but ... maybe not.

We lost our fast lunch advantage over the rest of the group when another one of us flatted. Our well-practiced crew sprang into action, this time changing out the tube on a rear tire. When they caught us, the rest of the group stopped to see that we had matters well in hand ... and then continued on their merry way.

For the day, 47 miles with a mere 1,720 feet of climbing. Girls rule.

April 11, 2016

Just Peachy

Balcony and tower at the Paso Robles Inn, Paso Robles, California
A spring getaway? Why not venture out and see more of my home state?

My curiosity was piqued when some club members proposed a set of rides in the Paso Robles area.

The plan was to drive down early enough to start our first excursion around 11:30 a.m. I thought a poor night's sleep spelled doom for my first ride, but I made it. With time to spare.

When you walk into a hotel lobby and pass two bike boxes waiting for FedEx to pick up, you know you're in friendly territory.

Grape vines with tree-studded green hills under cloudy skies, near Paso Robles, California
Did the gloomy gray cloud-filled sky also spell doom? It was chilly, but dry ... until nearly the end of the ride. Was that, or was that not, a raindrop?
Perhaps. Perhaps not. Blue skies opened up only after we all arrived back at the hotel.

Somehow I rode off the front today, instead of the back. This group was riding at a slower-than-advertised pace. (Which is fine.) The strongest rider got a late start, appeared out of nowhere to catch me, and then sociably kept me company.

Purple wildflowers near Paso Robles, Califonia
This is Central Coast wine country; lots of vines staked on the hillsides, fewer wildflowers than I'd hoped. We cruised through the oak woodland, where I noticed two distinct types (and probably failed to notice more, this being the “Pass of the Oaks”). And the understory of poison oak doesn't count.

When the tracks of more bicycle than vehicle tires streak the pavement, you know you're in friendly territory. But when you pass “Hanging Tree Road” you can't help but wonder at the story behind that name.

Peachy Canyon Road near Paso Robles, California
Peachy Canyon was the highlight of today's 33 miles and 2,330 feet of climbing.

With modestly sore muscles, I'm hoping for better night's sleep.