May 30, 2016

Cat Tracks!

Redwood forest, Stetson Road, Los Gatos, California
There was some trepidation about today's ride—the leaders regretted not calling for an earlier start, as we worried that heavy traffic would make us late for our rendezvous. And, when patience ran low on the crawl over the hill to the beach, how many drivers would cut away from the freeway and compete for the lane on the narrow back roads we planned to ride?

My ride buddy and I got a head start on the group, the better to reduce our interaction with motorized traffic. This also meant entering the redwood forest earlier, the better to enjoy its fresh morning fragrance and cool shade.

Redwood sorrel in bloom along Skyland Road, Los Gatos, California
An especially generous club member, known for his epic all-day adventures, brought a small tray of blueberry strudel to share. [Yum!] He worked our short route into his long plan for the day, much to our delight.

Deep in the forest, I noticed lush patches of redwood sorrel in bloom. Reluctant to stop mid-climb, I nonetheless regretted not pausing for a photo. Certain I would see more, I kept scanning the roadside. I found some on both sides of the road before climbing up to sunnier terrain, and stopped near a small stream.

Years ago I tried to recruit a fellow cyclist to join me for some after-work rides near the reservoir. She declined, for fear that we would be attacked by a mountain lion. It's true that they roam the hills, but they're generally not keen to mix with humans. If you hike in this area, it's not likely that you have seen one. It is commonly said, however, that you have likely been seen.

Wet mountain lion paw prints (unconfirmed), Skyland Road, Los Gatos, California
I turned to walk back to my bike and discovered something far more interesting than the flowers that had drawn me to stop here. Paw prints. Wet paw prints. Fresh wet paw prints. The cat had come out of the stream and sauntered briefly along the road. Closest to the stream, the blotches were indistinct—too much water being shed. But after those first couple of steps, they were unmistakable.

“It's worth stopping!” I called out in vain as the rest of the group cycled past.

Dinosaur sculptures, Miller Hill Road, Los Gatos, California
They stopped instead to admire a local collection of primeval creatures. The pterodactyl was now frozen in flight, teasing the T. rex to catch it.

I wasn't sure I'd have the legs for the last climb on our route, but decided to go for it. I was surprised that we were being tailed down the hill by a pair of vehicles; any driver that could hold that pace had to be intimately familiar with this twisty road—a local. And locals who choose to live in remote pockets of the Santa Cruz Mountains are often less than friendly. Anyone who drops down a steep dead-end road is surely up to no good. Just to turn around and climb back up, on a bicycle? How ridiculous!

I imagine that she was none-too-pleased with us, but she lavished her attention on the folks in the other car that had driven down the hill. She would have them believe that they were trespassing. They were seeking to explore the abandoned train tunnel at Wrights Station. We later explained that there were no issues with them being on the road, but crossing the barbed wire fence (and poison oak) would indeed entail trespassing.

Prudence carried the day; they flashed me a peace sign as they drove past, climbing out.

A cool 32 miles with 3,170 feet of climbing. More importantly, I am pleased to proclaim that pep was not pounced upon by a puma. (Today.)

May 28, 2016


Clarkia rubicunda blooming on a dry grassy hillside along Uvas Road, Morgan Hill, California
It seemed like a good idea at the time ... ride to (and from) the start of today's club ride. Sure, it would add a pair of hills and some miles, but it would be about as fast as loading the bike in the car, driving there, and unloading it.

There were two problems, as it turned out: Too much heat and too few calories. Nothing to be done about the first; the second was simply my own fault. There I was at mile 40-something, feeling the bonk and estimating how many more miles till the top of the last hill. From there, the last couple of (downhill) miles would be free. At home there would be a nice cold It's It bar to revive me.

I was particularly not enjoying the ride on McKean/Uvas. So much traffic! Trucks, on a long holiday weekend? Where were all these people going? And in such a hurry? No one was doing the speed limit. Not even close. No one.

An over-sized white pickup truck passed me with mere inches to spare. As in, maybe a foot of clearance. Thankfully his side-view mirror was well above me, because I bet it would have clipped me. That close.

Approaching the intersection with Bailey Road, paramedics and an ambulance were on the scene. An officer was controlling the flow of traffic, reduced to one lane. Always a dreaded sight, even more so when you know that most of your cycling buddies were ahead of you. In this case, the crash involved only cars. Which, considering the way people were driving out there, was not a surprise. Not at all.

And their behavior regressed as soon as they rounded a bend, out of the officers' sight.

Close up of Clarkia rubicunda along Uvas Road, Morgan Hill, California
At the end of Croy Road, Uvas Canyon County Park was as refreshing as ever; what's not to like about enjoying your lunch at a picnic table tucked amongst the redwoods?

There was some beauty to be found along the G8 speedway, for those traveling at a humane pace: patches of Clarkia rubicunda tinting the hillsides pink. These were new to me; although I have cycled along this stretch of road many times, I haven't caught them flowering till now. Their common name offers a clue: Farewell to spring.

Not a hard route (52 miles, 2,740 feet of climbing), if adequately fueled. Note to self: Always bring more than you think you'll eat. Always.

That It's It bar helped. So did a session of low-power mode—about 45 minutes, stretched out on the floor. Farewell to spring.

May 15, 2016

Berry Berry Nice

Strawberry Fields Forever is one of my favorite local cycling events. When a few riders today asked me how many times I've ridden it, I honestly didn't know. [Seven.]

Coastal view of Monterey Bay toward Santa Cruz from La Selva, California
Calfee shares their space with us for the first rest stop, where we traditionally find Italian fare (including espresso machines) and a view of Monterey Bay. But no strawberries.

Row upon row of strawberry plants near Watstonville, California
The course passes through agricultural fields of greens (and strawberries). Acres and acres of strawberries. It's a humbling sight, at scale; appreciate the human effort that brings these to your table.

Elkhorn Slough, Elkhorn, California
In the first few miles I worked to get some separation from a pair of boys (and their well-meaning parents). I applaud them for tackling a 100 km route, but their road and bike-handling skills were dodgy (at best). By the time I reached the Elkhorn Slough, I was riding in near solitude.

Cyclists, bicycles, and apple bins at Gizdich Ranch
Extended climbs took their toll on unprepared riders, especially leading up to the lunch stop. Some walked. A few were sprawled, napping, on the lawn. I was disappointed at lunch this year. Note to all event organizers: Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches should be prepared by people who eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, because they will actually put peanut butter and jelly on the bread. Luckily, I knew that the next rest stop, at Gizdich Ranch, would feed me well. No crêpes this year (sadly), but plenty of apple pie and fresh-squeezed lemonade and apple juice.

Tray of fresh strawberries, bowls of chocolate ganache and whipped cream.
The strawberries (with chocolate ganache and freshly whipped cream) are last. It's important not to gorge at the post-ride meal, to save room for the berries. Lots of berries. Big beautiful red-ripe berries.

More than 60 cliff swallows swooping in a courtyard at Pajaro Valley High School, Watsonville, California
Pajaro Valley High School was built at the edge of the wetlands. Cliff swallows have established themselves in the eaves of most buildings. They're fascinating (but, messy). When I paused to observe their comings and goings, closer than they would have liked, most of the community took flight—swooping and swerving, at high speed, all around me.

This being the usual route, I cycled some 61 miles with 2,865 feet of climbing. I aimed to complete the course in under five hours (not including breaks, of course)—and I did. In fact, I finished in the second-shortest time of my seven rides, much to my surprise.

It was fitting, somehow, to tackle this ride without a ride buddy today. In addition to the seven rides I've completed, there were four I didn't start. Two were rainy days, and well, I just don't feel compelled to ride in the rain. But on this ride, I will always reflect on the losses that kept me away last year, and the year before. Forever.

May 12, 2016

Pedal Power

The largest part of the group assembled in Campbell, California.
“You need new shifters,” the Bike Doctor told me last year. I gave him a puzzled look. “You're used to it, so you don't notice.”

He was right, of course. Lately I was indeed struggling to shift onto the big ring, so I caught up with him. “Should I source the parts, or do you want to source the parts?” I asked. I had decided on SRAM. He smiled. “I have the parts. Bring it by tomorrow.”

I'd have the bike with me; it would be [today] Bike-to-Work Day.

A long train of riders followed me ... I didn't drop a single one. Which was good, because I was Mother Goose and they were my goslings. Including a pair of co-conspirators on a tandem this year, upping the game: instead of the usual self-serve, the stoker/barista dispensed the coffee and doughnut bites.

Riders climbing up to the suspension bridge over Interstate 280, Cupertino, California.The drill is routine now. Get everyone to arrive 15 minutes before we want to start rolling, because there will be Issues. Guaranteed. Helmets that need adjustments (two of them). One tire with a slow leak, needing a tube swap. One rider who mounted his front wheel backward (quick-release skewer reversed) and who couldn't re-rig his front brake. One rider whose bike “wouldn't go;” front reflector and brake pads jammed against the rim.

Having resolved all problems, mysterious and not, we set off nearly on schedule. Our friends on the tandem led a smaller group to meet us, and after picking up a few more colleagues en route, I set a gentle pace for a record 33-odd riders. Some were making the trip for the very first time.

I gave the usual morning pep talk: ride single file, give each other enough space (especially, the tandem), and don't take chances—if we don't all make it through a green light, we'll wait for you. Then, when I have their full attention, I tell them the most important rule of all: Have fun!

This year, the Cupertino Energizer station was prepared: there were enough musette bags for all. “It's like a swarm of locusts!” they exclaimed, as we finished off their strawberries and gobbled Hobee's famous blueberry coffeecake.
Passing under a fallen tree on the Stevens Creek Trail, Mountain View, California
The trail presented a fresh challenge today: a large, fallen tree. The city was surprisingly accommodating, with workers to warn us and cones to guide us. They waited for the bike traffic to subside before closing the trail to clear it.

Not only was every rider still smiling when we arrived at work, 18 or more miles from the start, but a record number expressed interest in the end-of-day return trip. Hopefully, I would have a working bicycle on which to lead them.

I delivered my bike to the Doctor at noon. An hour later, it was ready to ride: new shifters, new chain, brakes adjusted, freshly lubed. The ride home seemed so effortless, I repeatedly checked my gearing. I can't explain it; the gearing, of course, was completely unchanged. I needed to slow down, and sometimes to wait, for the end of our evening train: a record-breaking nine riders were following me home.

Bikes parked at Charleston Park, Mountain View, CaliforniaOur mischief-makers on the tandem threw down the gantlet: on a flat straightaway, they cranked it up to some 29 mph, the strongest rider in our group giving chase with a stream of colorful words in his wake.

The group—still smiling—dwindled as riders split off onto their own direct routes home. But not before one of them quizzed me about how often I ride to work. [I try for at least one day per week, often more, and sometimes all five—round-trip.] “This was easier than I expected,” he said, “I think I could do this once a week.”

One tired, but proud, leader rolled home: 44 miles and 1,020 feet of climbing for me.

Ladies and gentlemen, another successful Bike-to-Work Day!

May 6, 2016

Mostly Monterey

Yellow flowers in bloom near Fishermans' Wharf, Monterey, California
Our team had an overnight getaway to a most familiar area, Monterey. I passed on stand-up paddleboarding or biking; although I have paddled around in kayaks, I had never kayaked in the bay.

My partner had no experience, but he did have one valuable qualification: upper body strength. The outfitter set us up with waterproof pants and life vests; I had chosen the right shirt (quick-drying, long-sleeved) but was reluctant about going barefoot. It was a gloomy day; luckily my feet didn't get too cold.

Kayaks on Monterey Bay under looming gray clouds, Monterey, California
The skies were ominous, but the rain held off until just after we returned to shore.

It was also a windy day. Two people managed to tip their kayak; unable to climb back on, they clung to it and were towed back to the beach.

Our guides tried to keep us near the shore; the wind was determined to push us out to sea. We got rather close to the pair of yellow buoys that mark the seawater intake for the Monterey Bay Aquarium—which, when viewed from land ... are quite a ways out there.

Many sea lions hauled out on rocks, Monterey, California
We saw an otter with her pup, lots of seagulls and cormorants, the occasional pelican, seals and sea lions both curious and indifferent. Like otters, we used the kelp to anchor oursselves.

Young sea lion on a rock, Monterey, California
On Friday morning, I persuaded a couple of co-workers to take a stroll before the group would head back to the (other) Bay Area. I spotted a curlew and an otter, and we peered from above at the sea lions we'd observed from the water yesterday. Eager to get back to the hotel on time, an Uber driver was summoned. Not only did he give us a ride, he dispensed souvenirs: original labels from the Hovden Cannery (site of the Monterey Bay Aquarium). I was tagging along on my first Uber ride, and they told me this souvenir thing is not typical. Not at all. But it was sweet.

Historic red label for Portola Brand Pilchards, Hovden Cannery, Monterey, California
My plan was to stay one more night. How should I spend the rest of my day?

I could bike, having brought my bike along.

The whale-watching boats were enticing.

Another colleague planned to hike at Point Lobos.

The afternoon, however, was more wet than not. I decided to drive over to Carmel Valley, to scout the unfamiliar part of the route I planned to ride tomorrow (weather permitting). The terrain was steeper and more remote than I had anticipated. Perhaps the rainy forecast was doing me a favor ...

Silvery Lookdown fish, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, California
I finished the day with a short visit to the Aquarium, bustling on this weekday with students on field trips and tourists alike. Nonetheless, at the end of the day it was possible to find a few quiet galleries for peaceful reflection.

May 2, 2016

A Golden Ticket

Last week, when I had the privilege to see the Solar Impulse 2 up close, I was thrilled. Absolutely, thrilled.

Maybe, just maybe, I could see it fly. There would be a good view, I expected, from the Stevens Creek Trail. With enough advance warning, it seemed possible. Not likely, perhaps, but possible.

The best view? From the tarmac.

Rear view of Solar Impulse 2 being pulled from its hangar, Moffett Field, Mountain View, California
And that is just where I was, from about 2:40 a.m. until shortly 5 a.m.

You see, somehow, I scored a golden ticket.

The air was still, the sky was dark, the plane was lit. A crescent moon glowed orange as it rose above the horizon.

The invitation welcomed us starting at 2 a.m., with take-off planned for 5 a.m. I pulled up at Moffett's main gate at 1:57 a.m., right behind the satellite van for KPIX, San Francisco's CBS affiliate.

Solar Impulse 2 at Moffett Field, Mountain View, California
It would be a while before they led us out to the viewing area, but I strode ahead of most of the pack and planted myself in a prime position. From which I would not budge for the next few hours.

I had a front-row ticket that money couldn't buy.

Ground crew members support the starboard wing of Solar Impulse 2, Moffett Field, Mountain View, California
Ground crew members were stationed beneath each wing, to support it with a pole until the plane lifts off the ground. The cockpit door was loaded onto a pickup truck, to be affixed later, after the plane was positioned on the runway.

Human handlers “taxi” the plane. Most of the inflatable hangar had already been taken down. The ground crew pulled the plane out, turned it around, and brought it close. The pilots spoke to us, then took questions from the media before getting on with flight preparations.

Solar Impulse 2 pilots André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard at Moffett Field, Mountain View, California
Electric bicycles are used to keep pace with the plane, especially during landings. One was strategically parked to prevent anyone from damaging (or being damaged by) the spear-like projection on the plane's nose. (Antenna? Sensors?)

Solar Impulse 2 cockpit and electric bicycles, Moffett Field, Mountain View, California
The plane would not take off any earlier than 5 a.m.; its batteries were fully charged, but it would be important to maximize solar exposure during the next leg of its journey (to Phoenix, Arizona). The inflatable hangar is made of a special material that allows the solar panels to charge, and sunshine had been abundant during its sojourn at Moffett. The plan was to land with fully-charged batteries, as the panels would not be exposed to the sun in Phoenix.

Pilot André Borschberg waves to the crowd before climbing into the cockpit of the Solar Impulse 2, Moffett Field, Mountain View, California
Little had I understood, when I originally hoped to watch the plane from the nearby trail, that it would take off before dawn.

Ground crew taxiing the Solar Impulse 2 onto the runway at Moffett Field, Mountain View, California
The tower at Moffett crackled alive at 4 a.m. Precisely. We were able to follow along, thanks to a spectator near me who tuned in to the tower's radio frequency. Solar Impulse 2 would head straight out over the bay, turn toward the east and climb to 3,000 feet.

Crescent moon rising above the Solar Impulse 2, Moffett Field, Mountain View, California
And so we waited. We could see a strip of lights down the runway; the wings remained lit. The pilot was ready at 5 a.m., but air traffic control announced a hold.

Solar Impuse 2 lit for take-off, Moffett Field, Mountain View, California
Once cleared for take-off, there was no more waiting. The wings went dark, then lit up like a bright string of pearls and started advancing. Even in the darkness, it was evident that the plane started lifting almost immediately. The propellers whirred softly as it passed us, aloft, and the crowd sent if off with a cheer.

Pilot André Borschberg thanked the tower for Moffett's hospitality, and the pearls vanished into the morning fog.


May 1, 2016


Евге́ний Оне́гин curtain, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, California
The first time I saw Onegin performed by the San Francisco Ballet, a few years ago, I recognized that his full name (Евге́ний Оне́гин) was featured on an inner curtain in script, as if he had signed it. I didn't notice, then, the faint writing that covered the whole panel. Pushkin's verse, no doubt.

It was “show-and-tell” at the ballet today, with tutus and footwear in the lobby for all to admire (and, touch). The bodices are sewn with rows of hook-and-eye fasteners to make them easy to fit to different bodies. How anyone can balance, leap, and twirl in toe shoes baffles (and awes) me.

Tutus on display, War Memorial Opera House, San Franciso, CaliforniaI feel a kinship with the young Tatiana, more interested in reading than in the shallow distractions around her. How often was I admonished, growing up: “Get your nose out of that book!” [More times than I can count.]

Onegin was so imperious, it was hard to see her smitten with him and to watch her struggle with her feelings when he returns. After she spurns him in the end, as harshly as he had treated her, the crowd roared—as much for Tatiana, I think, as for Yuan Yuan Tan's performance.

Another magical season drew to a close, and we stepped out into the reality of 2016.

To crazy street people in tatters, getting by somehow. Why do we treat stray animals with more care than stray people?

To a mass transit system that's rapidly deteriorating. I'm sure there are older subway cars in service in Manhattan than BART cars in San Francisco. A 10-car train pulled into the station, fully packed with riders gripping straps and bars to stay upright. Then came the announcement that they were taking it out of service for “mechanical issues;” everyone had to exit the train and join us in waiting for the next train. Which would need to accommodate three trains' worth of passengers.

One of the wealthiest cities in the U.S. Seriously.