July 29, 2016

Bike Buddy

Setting sun obscured by smoke from Soberanes wildfire, view from west-facing camera atop Lick Observatory, Mt. Hamilton, California
The Soberanes wildfire rages on in the steep canyons south of Carmel, sending some smoke north to the Bay Area. I have continued to check the air quality before riding; in the early morning, it's clean enough to bike to work.

In the evening? Not so much.

To encourage more folks to bike to work, our company recently started a program where experienced cyclists offer to show newbies the ropes. For our trouble, leaders are rewarded with “Bike Buddy” t-shirts. [Right. Like I need another t-shirt ... ] The logo features a tandem bicycle that only a non-cyclist could draw.

Two green Android figures atop a fanciful tandem, t-shirt design.
What's not to like about getting more people on bicycles? It's an off-season Bike-to-Work Day, any day.

I signed up. Ha, I thought; no newbie will tap me for a 20-mile commute.

Haha. The joke's on me. Someone did.

For our first trip, we joined the semi-regular Friday gang last week. Today, he was game to follow me on my normal route, which is a tad more direct. It's also a tad more advanced, bypassing the trail and entailing one merge across three lanes of traffic to make a left turn.

It worked out just fine. Traffic is especially light on summer Fridays. And he's a willing student, shadowing my every move at a safe distance.

There's more than self-satisfaction in this, for me; I do manage to pick up the pace when I'm not riding alone. It's all good.

July 26, 2016

The Weird and the Wild

Juvenile male pheasant, molting, Los Gatos, California
I was just telling a colleague that one of the things that discourages me from cycling to work more often is boredom. I've ridden the same route so many times. Lately I've been changing it up, seeking diversions that bypass stop signs and traffic signals. I gave up my game of trail roulette, though, after it became a little more chancy than I'd anticipated. (Some local miscreants caused at least one serious crash, and several near misses, by launching a skateboard into the path of an approaching cyclist.)

Yesterday morning I was rewarded with the sight of a small flock of wild turkeys rambling across a suburban lawn. I shuttled most of the way home, though, to avoid breathing the smoke drifting up from a huge wildfire scorching canyons some 70 miles to the south.

This afternoon I returned from another building and was surprised to feel something tap my arm as it dropped from my hair. There on the floor was a yellow jacket—a wasp. Crushing it was an option. But it had chosen not to sting me, so I chose to scoop it up and release it. Missing most of its left wing, I set it on some flowering shrubs and wished it well.

Heat waves and bad air quality are partners. I stepped from the cool comfort of the shuttle into a veritable blast furnace: 97F. No need for exertion today; I prepared for a leisurely pedal home.

What's that in the middle of the lane, I wondered, as I signaled my turn from a busy road onto a side street.

Feathers ... did someone hit a duck here? There shouldn't be a duck here.

I stopped. It was a pheasant. [Yes, a pheasant.] A youngster, molting into his adult plumage. In the middle of the road. He was alive, but in distress. Miraculously, no one had run over him (yet).

What to do, what to do ... He was breathing hard. In this heat, collapsed on the hot roadway was not the place to be. I assumed he was injured and I would need to pick him up, but he rose and started walking.

No, no, not toward the busy road! I formed a moving fence, guiding him slowly to safety (and, shade) under a bush on the corner and wishing him well, regretting that I had no water to share.

That bit about being bored with my commute? Rubbish.

July 23, 2016

Shifting Shadows

Bike parked against a tree, near Santa Cruz, California
There were many choices for riding today, all of which involved ice cream.

Most of the rides would end up at our club's annual Ice Cream Social, but all of those would involve baking in the hot summer sun.

Cool summer fun seemed like the better choice, so I headed over the hill for a ride that would end up on Ice Cream Grade.

I was sorry to skip the party, but much more comfortable in the redwood forest.

Bike parking at Swanton Berry Farm, Swanton, California
I was even downright cold as we dipped down toward the coast. We turned north into a mighty headwind and stopped to visit Swanton Berry Farm, where cyclists are welcome (and even get a 10% discount) on the treats, but it was just too windy and chilly for picnicking today.

Next Saturday, the Santa Cruz County Cycling Club will host their annual Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge, and today the volunteers were out on the course enjoying their workers' ride. Which meant that we saw more cyclists than cars on Swanton Road.

Coastal view near Davenport, California
Heading back, of course, meant ... major tailwind! With my top gear maxed out, I settled for a tad over 47 mph on the smooth descent to Scott Creek. The fog was blowing in, teasing us with wispy shadows on the road.

What goes down, must go back up. Fortified by a wedge of olallieberry pie, I made my way to Ice Cream Grade along Bonny Doon and past the cliffs on Martin.

After 37 miles, 3,865 feet of climbing, I was rightfully tired. I celebrated at home, with ice cream. (Of course!) And a long nap.

July 16, 2016

Steady As She Goes

Smog layer above the Santa Clara Valley, view from Soda Springs Road, Los Gatos, California
The end of the public portion of Soda Springs Road—effectively the summit—is surprisingly high: 3,000 feet. Trees and hillsides block the view there, but an intermediate vantage point offered a clear view of the layer of gray smog hovering over the valley. The past few days have been “Spare the Air” days, but too many people drive too many vehicles, nonetheless.

The climb isn't particularly difficult; the grade is a nearly constant 8%. Somehow it always feels never-ending; there are few landmarks or vistas along the way, and I haven't ridden it often enough to grow familiar. A large boulder, a few mailboxes and private gates. Eventually you round a bend and there's a welcome sign: “Road ends in 500 feet.” [Finally.]

Soda Springs Canyon and Alma Bridge Road, Lexington Reservoir, Los Gatos, California
The tricky part is the descent. The road is in better shape than I remembered, but the grade makes it fast. Too fast, for a curvy road with few clear sight lines. Descend with caution.

Getting this ride done before the day heated up seemed like a great idea. Even better was the cool breeze that kept the temperature just right. Chilly, even.

Not content with one hefty climb, we ventured to the far end of Aldercroft Heights. From there, Wrights Station is oh-so-near; but, off-limits. [Sigh.] For the day, 23 miles with 3,440 feet of climbing.

July 5, 2016

The Metcalf Mauler

Smooth blue water of Coyote Creek, looking north from the bridge near Metcalf Road, San Jose, California
There is a weekly afternoon tradition of climbing Metcalf Road, and since I had the day off, I decided to join the party.

What's that, you say? You can think of better things to do on a day off than ride a bicycle up a steep hill? Ah, well, you're not me.

The downside of this ride (apart from the grade) is that the climb is almost entirely exposed—broiling hot on a sunny July day.

The upside of this ride is that there would be little traffic, mid-week, with the off-road vehicle park at the summit closed.

Grinding my way up the hill, sweat pouring off my body, I tried to hold that image of the serene blue water of Coyote Creek in my head. [Didn't help.] If only those kids with super-soakers who gleefully cooled us down during the LIVESTRONG ride were always here ...

I've climbed this hill a handful of times. Six times, before today. By way of contrast, our ride leader has climbed it more than 1,200 times. [That's not a typo.] It's been a few years since he took stock, and he's continued to climb it regularly, so it's more likely that he's biked up more than 1,300 times.

Who am I to complain? [Nobody. That's for sure.]

Oak-studded, shimmering golden hills along San Felipe Road, San Jose, California
Lacking a power meter, my heart rate is a proxy for the effort it takes to get up the hill. It peaked at 178 bpm, and when it would occasionally drop to 176, or 174, that meant the road was a just a little bit less steep for a few moments.

To put that in perspective, that's just shy of 3 heartbeats per second. Which is pretty remarkable, if you think about it; and for some reason I hadn't really thought about it before this ride.

You might expect it's all downhill after reaching the top, and that would be true if you made a u-turn to return to the base. It's not true if you continue down the back side and loop around via San Felipe Road, which (of course) is what we did.

You also might expect to learn something new about this territory from someone who had climbed it so many times, and that was true. Our leader pointed out the remains of a private narrow-gauge railroad barely visible through a thicket of trees. It's neglected, these days, by the current landowner.

For the afternoon, about 17 miles with 1,780 feet of climbing.


July 4, 2016

Party Poopers

The club hosts a pancake breakfast every Fourth of July, and I always look forward to the socializing (and the carbs). I don't look forward to getting there at the very beginning; 7:30 on a holiday morning is just too early, even with the promise of pancakes.

Red flower with red, white, and blue stars and ribbons on my bicycle saddle.
The post-pancakes rides don't start till 10 a.m. (or whenever clean-up is finished), so my regular ride buddy and I figured that rolling in at 9 a.m. seemed about right. We've done this before.

We were wrong. Or maybe we didn't get the memo. I arrived a couple of minutes past nine, and the chairs were already put away. The last tables were being clanged shut. The plates had been removed, the fruit was being bagged. I hurried to snag a (hot) pancake bursting with blueberries, which I rolled up and ate taco-style. I found a paper towel to serve as a napkin, and retrieved a couple of strawberries and an orange wedge. Having arrived at 8:55 a.m., my ride buddy had scored a plate but was eating while walking around—the table had been almost literally pulled out from under her.

What was the rush? Disappointed and annoyed, I didn't stick around to find out. Why wait till ten? We ate and ran.

View of rolling hills and vineyards from Arnerich Road, Los Gatos, California
I vaguely remembered that Arnerich Road had a section that was pretty steep. [Yup.] Heart-poppingly steep. 185 beats-per-minute steep. [Confirmed: I can still function at high heart rates.] After that, the remainder of the route was tame; although the climb to the top of Reynolds seemed longer. Right around that bend ... nope. Right around that next bend ... nope.

Persuaded to join me for our town's celebration in a local park, I gave my ride buddy a choice: stay flat or go over a hill. [Bet you can guess her choice. Birds of a feather, we are.]

Boy Scouts Color Guard raising the flag, Oak Meadow Park, Los Gatos, California
The Lions Club runs a barbecue, so they got my support: hamburger and chips. We stood for the national anthem and watched some Boy Scouts raise the flag. After listening to the San Jose Wind Symphony play a few marches, we were on our way. Our timing was perfect to watch a Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad train chug past—the diesel locomotive, not the steam engine, today.

Diesel locomotive 3502, Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad, at a train crossing, Oak Meadow Park, Los Gatos, California
Burned off that pancake with 30 miles, 2,240 feet of climbing. Next year, I'll have to get an earlier start to the day. [Sigh.]

July 2, 2016

Blustery Black

View of towering trees and low coastal fog at the top of Black Road, Los Gatos, California
Cycling up Black Road is hard. Because I don't make a habit of it, I tend to forget how hard. And how long. At my pace, there is plenty of time to gaze down the steep sides of the canyon, and up at the towering trees. Now that the John Nicholas trail is open, there are also a fair number of vehicles carrying hikers and mountain bikers up.

It was surprisingly windy as we approached the top. Expecting a hot day, I had chosen this route for some shade; I didn't expect it to be, actually, chilly. [I was happy to be chilled.]

Wind-driven ripples and whitecaps on Lexington Reservoir, Los Gatos, California
The temperature shift was evident as we circled back toward Lexington Reservoir, despite the wind. We were descending, but our thermometers were rising.

Years ago I visited famously windy Wanaka, with its namesake lake. The whitecaps on the reservoir didn't rival that, but they were remarkable for Lexington. I had never seen our reservoir like this. The ripples approaching the shoreline made sense; the wind was pushing the water toward us. What I don't understand were the series of streaks crossing them.

Short and simple, 20 miles with 2,610 feet of climbing.