June 30, 2016

Chop, Chop

Fortunately it had been a relatively quiet week at work, with many folks adding an early extension to the upcoming July 4th holiday. Because somehow, my volunteering stints were all packed into the last week of our month-long community service extravaganza.

Since I've worked at the same company for a while, chances were that my projects would include some folks I knew; and that was true for both projects earlier this week (Sunday Friends and Castle Rock). Today's project was led by someone from our organization, and several of us joined in: Go, team!

The chefs for Loaves and Fishes Family Kitchen set us up with aprons, gloves, cutting boards, and sharp tools. Then we got to work.

Chopping vegetables for stew, Loaves and Fishes Family Kitchen, Morgan Hill, California
One group would cut and season chickens. A lot of chickens. Another would prepare meatloaf. A third group cooked enchiladas. Somehow, trays of salad were prepared. I joined the crew prepping vegetables for a stew.

At the office, teams can sign up for sessions in an onsite “teaching kitchen.” It's a fully glass-enclosed space, and I admit that I often chuckle at my colleagues inside, many of whom have that deer-in-the-headlights look on their faces. [It's okay, that would be me, too.]

Anticipating the inefficiency our lack of experience would entail, a chef showed us this one weird trick for chopping off the broccoli florets: Hold the head upside down, by the stalk, and then whack-whack-whack the florets off with the knife. It takes a few seconds. [Wow.] Three of us could fill a large aluminum pan within a couple of minutes. Cauliflower was a bit more work; after removing the leaves and base, the best approach was to break off the florets by hand.

After we exhausted multiple cases of cruciferous veggies, we joined the rest of the crew working on potatoes (easy) and carrots (hard).

After we helped with cleanup, they estimated the number of meals we'd prepared, by type. Altogether: Five thousand. Five thousand? That's a lot of meals.

But there are so many people who need them.

June 28, 2016

Rockin' the Castle

I remember the first Earth Day. I was just a kid, but I helped haul trash out of the marshy woodland near our school, former cranberry bogs gone native. I was inspired to haul more trash out of the wooded area near my home, too.

Spend any time on the road, especially on a bicycle, and the popular dumping grounds become all too familiar. In the local neighborhood, it's small scale: cigarette butts, fast-food wrappings, bottles and cans. Get out of town, though, and there is so much more. I think of one area along Sierra Road as “The Valley of the Appliances:” washers, dryers, you name it.

I can only wonder how it all got there. I mean, if you're hauling it in the first place, why don't you just haul it to the dump? [Yes, I know. Because then you'd have to pay a disposal fee.]

My assignment today was to lead a group of colleagues for a few workday hours in the wild: Hard labor in Castle Rock State Park, on behalf of the Portola and Castle Rock Foundation.

Hypericum calycinum, Castle Rock State Park, Los Gatos, California
One group would stay in the parking lot and repaint the trim on the entrance kiosk. Light duty.

Another group would hike to the Castle Rock Falls overlook and paint the railing. Beautiful view.

The third, and largest, contingent was needed to haul junk out of the creek in a not-yet-opened section of the park.

Guess which group I joined? [Hint: I'm not much for painting.]

This new tract was formerly a Christmas tree farm. Oh, the allure of exploring non-public territory, legally!

Old growth Douglas fir, Castle Rock State Park, Los Gatos, California
Down the hill we tromped, past the stumps of logged redwoods and one particularly massive Douglas fir. Old growth.

Of course we went down the hill, because that's where you find a creek. [And poison oak. Though I managed to emerge unscathed.]

Down means we'd be hauling the junk back up the hill. Cardio workout!

Four teammates hauling a tarp loaded with junk up the trail, Castle Rock State Park, Los Gatos, California
Tires. There are always tires. That's easy to understand; they roll.

Pipes, tubes, rusted wire mesh, fence posts, orange plastic netting, a traffic cone. Three lengths of narrow PVC piping encasing three heavy-gauge insulated wires. A sealed bucket full of white paint.

Really, what is all this stuff? And why is it here?

The grand prize was an unwieldy corrugated metal panel, as big as a garage door, but heavier. Down an embankment. (Of course.)

I love engineers. How best to move that behemoth called for brains as well as brawn. Pipes and shovels were pressed into service as levers, and with coordinated effort (and coordinated grunting), the panel was heaved up the hill. About six inches at a time. More importantly, no one got hurt!

Someday I'll hike along these same trails, and I will see what others cannot: The ghost of Christmases past.

Pile of junk hauled up from the creek, Castle Rock State Park, Los Gatos, California

June 26, 2016

Sunday Friends

Volunteers -and- Families Register Here -- Voluntarios -y- Familias Registran Aqui
During June, my employer lays out a month-long smorgasbord of community volunteering, around the globe. Most of these opportunities are scheduled during the workday, and we are generously given the time to participate.

I signed up to lead a project for the fifth year in a row, and that will happen later this week.

Then my coworkers organized a group for a different project, so I doubled down (as a regular volunteer, also this week).

And then the word came out that a few projects were in jeopardy because no one had offered to lead them.

That, I could not abide. Our local non-profits are counting on us. I surveyed the list, and regrettably ruled out one after another.

With one exception: It would be a short drive from home, on a Sunday afternoon. I just didn't have a reason not to step up.

Thus I found myself leading a small group of colleagues, along with their friends and family, volunteering outside my comfort zone: in a room packed with children (and parents), families all struggling to meet their basic needs in our community.

The stated mission of Sunday Friends is to “empower families to break the generational cycle of poverty by fostering positive development in children while educating and guiding parents to support their children's life success.”

Their approach is well-honed after two decades of service. We stepped into a room buzzing with activity: crafts and educational tasks to engage the kids, cooking and thank-you letter writing for all. There were also classes for the adults: parenting, financial literacy, English as a second language.

Our group fanned out to help where needed: tutoring, Fourth of July decorations, red-white-and-blueberry yogurt parfaits. I joined the crew working on today's hot meal, chopping onions and mincing garlic for the potato-and-red-pepper hash. Families also bring pot-luck dishes to share with all.

This program runs with a special twist: Time spent on each activity earns tickets, which can be redeemed for products at the Sunday Friends store (or banked online for future use). The store is stocked with necessities we take for granted, like household and school supplies, health and beauty products. There is also a small stock of simple toys, like stuffed animals and games. At the end of the day, every family will also go home with a bag filled with fresh produce.

For me, this was an extraordinary experience. I was apprehensive that I would be met with suspicion and resentment; instead, I found warmth and acceptance. Volunteers and families worked happily together. The room bustled with children eager (and equipped) to help with every task—even food prep. It's about pride: Pride of accomplishment. Pride of contributing to the community.

The organization's executive director (Ali) was onsite and had given our group a tour. The main room had emptied out, and I wondered if the families normally trickled away after the meal.

Not at all.

They had assembled outside to sing “Happy Birthday” to Ali; the kids had crafted a tall party hat for him. With much cheering and clapping, the crowd followed with a second joyful song, in Spanish.

I can think of no better testimonial, than that.

June 25, 2016

Remembering Bill Davis

I opened the email message and burst into tears. My heart raced, my stomach knotted. I felt sick.

The life of my friend and colleague, Bill Davis, had been ended by a reckless (likely impaired) driver.

Bill was riding his bicycle with a friend on this sunny summer Saturday in Boulder, Colorado when a woman swerved her multi-ton SUV into the bike lane and killed him.

She then fled. But she was caught. Reportedly, she has been guilty twice before: injuring someone while driving carelessly and driving while impaired. Fines, community service, and probation didn't dissuade her from doing it again.

It is unspeakably horrific to see the photo of Bill's twisted and shattered bicycle. I cannot begin to imagine this experience for his family. His three children have lost their daddy, his wife has lost the love of her life, his parents have lost their son, his siblings have lost their brother. All of us have lost a friend.

For the love of humanity, for the love of daughters and sons, wives and husbands, mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers:
Don't drive drunk.

Don't drive if you're impaired in any way, shape, or form.

If you see someone who shouldn't get behind the wheel, don't look the other way. Take their keys. Get them a ride home.
Bill Davis in his signature floppy hat, volunteering his wrenching skills for Bike to Work Day in 2008.

My Way

The gang was headed out on a long ride today, and I just couldn't get excited about it.

First, because it would be too much like my bike commute—too much riding on busy roads, though bracketed by a couple of pretty climbs.

Second, because it would be much too hot. At home this afternoon, the thermometer peaked over 95F ... in the shade. I know what it's like to feel the pavement radiating heat from below, while the sun radiates heat from above.

Why fry when I could find a cool place to ride?

Having gotten a head start, I waited for the group to arrive at the summit of the second climb. After a brief chat, my usual ride buddy saw the wisdom of my way and ditched the group to join me.

We were surprised by heavy construction deep along Stevens Canyon Road; on a Saturday, no less! One by one, they seem to be replacing all the bridges over the creek. Which kind of amazes me, for a dead-end road dotted with few homes, given the overall state of road infrastructure in the county. Just one wood-plank-topped bridge left, and probably not for long.

For our return, we had a choice to make. Direct, shaded, and steep? Or roundabout, exposed, and mellow?

Of course, we went up Redwood Gulch. For one reason or another, I haven't tackled that climb in a while. Because one can always find a reason.

My track for the day is incomplete; evidently the electronics in my phone shuddered in fear at the base of Redwood Gulch and shut down. Truth is, I covered 26 miles and climbed 2,265 feet.

As (bad) luck would have it, a motorcycle caught up to me at the first steep hairpin. I couldn't swing as wide as I wanted (oh, the pain!), but I figured he understood why I wasn't hugging the inside of that particular curve.

I paused a couple of times to get my heart rate down; I've got nothing to prove. Getting up that beast is enough. Enough.

Descending Highway 9, an SUV caught up to me. He seemed content to hang back, maybe because passing me would have involved exceeding the posted speed limit. [Seriously.]

The way home involved mixing it up with beach-bound traffic. The road to the coast isn't getting any wider, and there are so many cars. So many cars. Driven by people who believe they can save time by cutting through town, which makes it impossible for residents to get anywhere near town on hot summer weekends. Once, as I walked home from the farmers' market, a frustrated driver making slow progress called out to me. “What's happening, is there a parade?” No, I replied; the freeway is backed up, so people cut through town. Just like you. [Okay, I kept that last part to myself.]

The town is experimenting with methods to discourage this cut-through traffic, and today they closed some roads. They announced it. They posted messages on electronic signs. They made sure the closure was registered in advance with Waze.

And traffic was backed up for miles, on all the main roads heading toward town, and along the cut-through route all those drivers were certain they could still take. Instead, they found themselves parading slowly through town, looping back to the freeway they should not have left, or to the ramp they should have taken in the first place.

I'm not sure this experiment was a success. In addition to clogging all the downtown streets, traffic clogged all the feeder roads. Not that I cared—I was on my bicycle. Even walking was faster.

My way, or the highway.

June 18, 2016

High Rent Hills

Sometimes a short ride is just enough. Sometimes I actually spend a Saturday afternoon not biking. [Imagine that.]

Novitiate entrance gate at Testarossa Winery, College Avenue, Los Gatos, California
Our little social group set out to climb into the hills above town. Before tackling the main attraction, our peerless leader took us on a couple of warm-up loops (which involved climbing, of course).

Some years ago, I visited the Testarossa Winery to hear the ever-entertaining Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen at a fund-raising event for junior cyclists. Then, unlike today, we did not cycle up to the (former) Novitiate.

View of the Diablo Range from the top of Foster Road, Los Gatos, California
Foster Road was our third climb of the day, and the most challenging. I remembered some impressive views, but had forgotten the steep price to be paid. By the homeowners, for that exclusive neighborhood. By my legs, for a short visit. I gained ground on two folks in our group, but with insufficient clearance to pass them I was forced to stop, to open enough of a gap to prevent our wheels from touching as we wobbled up the steep grade.

We tackled two more hills for good measure; after Foster, I found it surprisingly easy to reach their summits. The hard work behind us, we retired to a café where one rider regaled us with her tales of meeting the indomitable Jens Voigt.

For the day, 15 miles, 1,785 feet of climbing. Shut up, legs.

June 11, 2016

No Words

This might have been a story about another beautiful day spent cycling with friends.

A story about my uncertainty about being able to bike 53 miles and climb 5,400 feet, with tired legs and woozy head. Insufficient calories, or feeling the effects of Tuesday's blood donation?

About the friendly cyclists who chatted with me as we climbed Old La Honda.

The fox that darted across Pescadero Creek Road.

Cyclist adjusting his bike at a Fixit station, Pescadero, California
The Arcangeli Bakery that is so welcoming to cyclists they've installed a Fixit station behind their shop.

View of coastal hills and the Pacific Ocean, Stage Road near San Gregorio, California
The clear view to the coast from Stage Road.

The welcome sound of water flowing again in Tunitas Creek.

The riders who will crowd this route tomorrow for a charity event.

Young redwoods joining a circle of second-growth trees, Tunitas Creek Road, near Half Moon Bay, California
The exuberance of young redwoods.

Normally, there is little traffic on Tunitas Creek Road. After being passed by one Highway Patrol car and two San Mateo Sheriff SUVs, I was concerned.

One of the Sheriff SUVs came back down, slowly, lights flashing. Only to turn around and return, slowly, lights flashing.

Were they searching for a fugitive? Were we in danger?

Someone has marked the road to indicate distance to the top. 10km, 9km, 8km ...

I rounded a bend and there were so many emergency vehicles it was hard to make sense of the scene.

Paramedics. Two ambulances. SUVs. Patrol cars. Many officers standing in the road.

A bicycle resting on the ground, a rider's helmet placed carefully on top.

A cyclist who, like me, had set out to enjoy a challenging ride on a beautiful day.

My thoughts turned to a poem by W. H. Auden, Musée des Beaux Arts: “ ... the sun shone as it had to ... ”

I dismounted and passed with head bowed and a heavy heart.

Before I reached Skyline, a black van eased its way down the hill.

Before I reached Skyline, there were suddenly sirens. A Sheriff SUV had flown up the hill, lights flashing. At the top, a chaotic scene. Paramedics busy with a motorcyclist on the ground.

I chose a gap and picked my way through the debris. Before crossing Skyline, I looked carefully in both directions. Then, I looked again. And again.

There are no words for a day like this.

June 4, 2016

The Newest Grads

Another school year has drawn to a close, and has traditionally been the case, the all-night party would coincide with a heat wave. Facing what was bound to be a miserable night's sleep, the solution was obvious. Run away!

Academy graduates gather in a circle, Cabrillo College, Aptos, California
The coast was foggy and cool; I found sanctuary—peace and quiet—in a hotel. Better still, on Saturday morning I would be mere minutes from the start of a special club ride: a supported metric century for the graduates of the club's “academy” for new riders. This is an impressive achievement: that after 12 weeks of instruction and progressively longer rides, these folks were ready to ride 100 km.

Ferns under the redwoods along Hazel Dell Road, Watsonville, California
Although I had never joined this ride in the past, the route was familiar; much of it overlapped with the traditional Strawberry Fields Forever route (in reverse: clockwise). The first rest stop refueled us with apple strudel and strawberries before we embarked on the gentle climb along Hazel Dell. Point-and-shoot cameras struggle with the dynamic range of the redwood forest, but hopefully you get the picture.

Aermotor towers over apple trees, Gizdich Ranch, Watsonville, California
Our next stop was Gizdich Ranch; without the crowds, we gathered in the picnic area—where I found (you guessed it!) an Aermotor that had heretofore escaped my notice. The freshly-baked olallieberry pie was still warm!

Pickleweed at the Elkhorn Slough, Elkhorn, California
By the time I reached Elkhorn, there were no riders on my tail. That made it easy to pause for a photo of the bright-orange pickleweed in the upper reaches of the slough, a shot I'd passed up a couple of weeks ago. Our next rest stop featured fresh cherries.

Bicycles on a chilly day at Manresa State Beach, Watsonville, California
I motored along toward our final rest stop, at the beach. In this direction, of course, we faced headwinds. Along the way I chatted with one of the instructors (club member volunteers, all), who told me that the students had done a 55-mile ride last week. Impressive. (But I repeat myself.) Here we were treated to homemade snickerdoodles. And more strawberries.

I was uncertain about a turn near the end of the route, which led to an extra mile for me before I backtracked; in all,
64 miles, 2650 feet of climbing.

A waffle for breakfast, strudel for lunch, pie for dinner, fresh fruit for a snack, and cookies for dessert. Not to mention good company, beautiful scenery, and cool temperatures. What a day! What a club!

June 3, 2016

Feel the Burn

It was time to get serious, to double down, to get more fit.

Time to stop finding excuses, get on the bike, and go. Thus, I have biked eight of the past nine days (five in a row): some 319 miles, with about 12,230 feet of climbing.

It's paying off; my legs are stronger. And with this week's heat wave, there was no better time to be on the bike. The early morning hours are cool, and the temperature is dropping nicely during the evening ride home.

I've been mixing it up a bit on the return trip, having invented a new game I call “Trail Roulette.”

It's so convenient to start out on the trail, but it's also so risky. My game goes like this: Stay on the trail until I meet a Bicyclist Behaving Badly ... then, exit.

In the first few rounds, I've been exiting at the same place—the first real exit, after passing under the freeway.

Today, I didn't follow the rules; I stayed on the trail after a pair of cyclists approached and passed me while riding side-by-side, one over center line. It's Friday, the trail isn't crowded ... As I started onto the second overcrossing, an officer on a motorcycle approached. Motorcycle. Followed by three more. At least they had the sense to ride single file.

I took the next exit.

On Tuesday, taking the first exit wasn't enough to skirt stupidity: A cyclist was blocking the opening to the street, rolling to and fro in a trackstand.

Supporters of Bernie Sanders on the Dale-Heatherstone Bike Bridge, Mountain View, California
Distracted, I missed the left turn I needed. Calculating new route ... oh, look, the next street is a “bike boulevard.” Let's see where that takes me.

Right back to the trail. [Sigh.] So, that's where that trail exit leads. Time to surrender to my fate. Clearly I was meant to use the trail today.

As I neared the final overcrossing at the end of the trail, a car horn sounded on the adjacent freeway. Traffic was flowing at the usual crawl, was there a bit of road rage brewing?

Then I looked up at the bridge. Two people were standing above the southbound lanes, displaying signs. “HONK! IF U ♥ BERNIE”