June 28, 2017

All That Jazz

Today was my day to test a cycling route to my new office. I'd studied maps and thought about traffic patterns.

Most of the route would be the same (pleasant). The last few miles ... not so much.

Signs for Sunnyvale Bike Routes 352 and 600, Sunnyvale, California
For this segment, evidently I had chosen well—I was surprised to find myself turning onto Sunnyvale's “Bike Route 600.” [There are a few such signs posted around town, with mysterious route numbers; I have found no information online about these.]

I continued down a quiet residential street, knowing I'd have to make an uncontrolled left turn at the end. I could see more traffic on that throroughfare than I expected; two cars sat, waiting to make the same left turn I wanted. This could be challenging ...

Could be. Wasn't. Cars were backed up by a red light on the cross street; here, I had the advantage. The cars couldn't turn left, because there was no room for them. Bicycle? No problem! I eased right on through to the bike lane.

A pair of bike/ped bridges carried me above 14 lanes of freeways: eight lanes of 101, six lanes of 237. (Both jammed with traffic.) The second bridge deposited me conveniently near the company café that is the highlight of my new commute.

Fresh fruit and chocolate croissant, Sunnyvale, California
Best croissants I've had outside of Europe. The best.

The last mile entails crossing through one of the messiest intersections I have ever seen. In the morning, it's doable. In the evening ... it's terrifying. Drivers weave aggressively as they jockey for position in the correct lane for the desired freeway in the desired direction. It would be safest to load my bike and ride the shuttle home.

VTA light rail train pulling into station, Sunnyvale, California
Light rail, for the win! Direct from my building's parking lot, to the platform, without using any road at all. Roll the bike aboard, disembark a couple of stops later—one block from a road that was part of my former commute route!

It might seem counter-intuitive to head southwest when my destination is southeast, but this solution saves time (and a little distance). Crucially, it spares me from navigating through that traffic engineering nightmare.

Paula West performing at Jazz on the Plazz, Los Gatos, California
On a whim I routed through town, deciding to check out the mid-week summer evening concert. The town plaza was packed with jazz fans, and ... I confirmed that I was not one of them. I listened to a few minutes of Paula West covering Bob Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone. It didn't work, for me. Some notes went up, some notes went down, some notes went up, some notes went down. There was no depth, no emotion, no soul.

Not a fan.

My new commute, well ... it's okay. About 36 miles today, with 1,080 feet of climbing.

June 24, 2017

Carefree, Car Free, Calaveras

Wishing to avoid competing with beach traffic (much of the population of the Bay Area heads west on summer weekends, clogging all roads), we headed east instead. My ride buddy suggested we go for a cruise on Calaveras, and a few like-minded souls joined us for a short trip: a mere 21 miles (1,845 feet of climbing, though).

Curve rounding a dry hill on Calaveras Road, above Milpitas, California
This turned out to be, absolutely, brilliant. Best. Day. Ever. on Calaveras.

Because ... portions of the road are closed. It is, temporarily, a veritable playground for cyclists (and, hikers).

The lower portion, between Piedmont and Downing, was blocked for all vehicles. Climbing that has never been so delightful!

I dreaded The Wall, but it wasn't terrible. A racer encouraged me, as he flew past, without a hint of condescension.  No zigzagging, I was riding straight up ... at about a third of his pace.

Calaveras Reservoir with golden, tree-studded hills, Alameda County, California
The upper portion of the road was closed at the dam, and will be for some time: it is, essentially, a road to nowhere. And especially with the lower closure, there is no reason for any motoring enthusiast to make the trek.

Southern end of Calaveras Reservoir, above Milpitas, California
Ah, if only it could always be so.

June 23, 2017

Sunnyvale Community Services

“I know you just finished leading a volunteer project,” the email message read. “But we have a few that are still leaderless, and we heard you might be willing to help out.”

I'm a softie (and, the folks who run our company's annual volunteer service extravaganza know it).

I browsed the list to see if any would sync with my schedule.

Not that one. Nope, not that one, either.

Assembly line ready for volunteers to pack bags of food, Sunnyvale Community Services, Sunnyvale, CaliforniaI found a winner: Sunnyvale Community Services.

We often hear about the high cost of living in the Bay Area these days, and the challenges faced by low-wage earners, the jobless, senior citizens—but it's not a new problem: SCS has been in operation since 1970. They provide much more than food support for those in need. Caseworkers help folks with all sorts of setbacks—from finding a mechanic to fix a broken car, to emergency financial help to pay the bills. It doesn't take much, when someone is living on the edge, to topple over. SCS is there to catch them before they fall, before the damage is too great (loss of a job for want of a car, loss of an apartment for missing a rent payment).

Some non-profits need brain power; today, SCS just needed more hands.

Our task was to load grocery bags with non-perishables: canned green beans, refried beans, spaghetti sauce, peaches, tuna, plus peanut butter, dry beans, raisins, rice, and quinoa. [Quinoa?!]

Bags of food packed and stacked on pallets, Sunnyvale Community Services, Sunnyvale, CaliforniaWe quickly became a well-tuned machine: some folks fed the assembly line with bags and food (and recycled the cardboard and plastic packaging); others formed the assembly line to pack each bag “just so” (forming a stackable package), while others wheeled the finished products to waiting pallets and stacked them.

Six hundred bags packed and stacked in less than 90 minutes!

June 17, 2017

Plein Air

Tight switchback on Reynolds Road, Los Gatos, CaliforniaSpinning in a studio is really not my style.

The first real heat wave of the summer was upon us, so a short morning ride seemed best.
Reynolds Road is always longer and harder than I remember. The top is just around that bend ... no. It's the next bend ... no. We had a tight group today, and for one rider it was a special trip indeed—especially the descent.

Two months ago, she had crashed here (over the edge, into the ravine) on the way down. The road is twisty, and steep; if you're inattentive, you can pick up more speed than you can manage.

It will take more than one trip on Reynolds to vanquish the fright, but she toughed it out. (I sent everyone else down first, because if anyone had an issue, there was no way I'd manage a hill repeat to help.)

Along the way we met five club members—one hiker, the rest on wheels. You'd think we lived in one small town, not a sprawling suburb-opolis packed with millions of people.

Bicycles parked at outdoor art show, Los Gatos, CaliforniaWe finished our ride in a shady park filled with artists displaying their work (fundraising sale). They'd spent time in town over the past week, painting local scenes—some of which had already been snapped up.

Our hungry band of cyclists got lucky: Trader Joe's was supporting the event, handing out plates of cheeses, crackers, and grapes (complimentary!). Then we got even luckier: one very generous rider treated us to cookies and bottles of juice when he returned with his lunch.

18 miles of cycling with 1,730 feet of climbing—in the open air.

June 16, 2017

Last Call

What happens if you build an office park in the middle of a freeway interchange?

We're about to find out.

Although I've worked for the same company for more than a decade now, I've hung my helmet in many different buildings (five, to be exact). Next week, make that six.

This time, my team is being shunted to a satellite campus in a neighboring city. And there are many things I will miss: the views, the green space, the straightforward commute.

Today was my last chance to bike the familiar route. I was a bit of a greyhound this morning, averaging more than 14 mph to arrive in time to get cleaned up before my first meeting (9 a.m.).

Great Egret preparing to land in a treetop, Mountain View, California
I routed myself through the egret rookery, raucous in the early morning. On the way home, I dawdled.

Riparian corridor of Stevens Creek, hills of the Diablo Range in the distance, Stevens Creek Trail, Mountain View, California
Much of the route to our new location will remain the same; overall, it will be a bit shorter. It's the last mile that will be a challenge.

Stay tuned.

June 12, 2017


Our company runs a worldwide community service blitz each June. Originally, it lasted one week; now, it's the whole month. During this time, we can choose from a veritable smorgasbord of projects at local charities—and volunteer our time during the workday.

For the past several years, I've been a project leader. That means a little coordination work—keeping volunteers informed and supplied with the latest t-shirts, capturing some event photos—and (of course) lending a hand.

Volunteers at work, Resource Area for Teachers, Sunnyvale, California
This year I chose to lead a large group of volunteers at Resource Area for Teachers (RAFT). This is a local non-profit that supplies teachers with much-needed supplies at low cost, by upcycling donations from corporations into creative educational kits (as well as offering basic supplies like pens and paper at low cost).

Two packaged kits for Breadboard Circuits, Resource Area for Teachers, Sunnyvale, California
Our group worked on raw materials, as well as assembling and then performing quality control checks on four different kits: Breadboard Circuits, Retractor Car, Design a House, and Simple Telescope. (And our electrical engineers thought they'd get a break from their daily routine!)

RAFT started out in 1994—it's a model that works. I volunteered with them in earlier days (late 90's), and I can attest that they've come a long way since then. They were well-organized and made good use of the time we gave them today.

Cartons of the kits we prepared, stacked on pallets, in front of a sign that reads "RAFT volunteers are inspiring hands-on learning! Thank you", Resource Area for Teachers, Sunnyvale, California
By RAFT's estimates, the handiwork of our 41-person team will serve 22,500 students—not bad for a morning's worth of volunteering!

June 10, 2017

Hills of Gold

From hills of green to hills of gold ... make no mistake about it, we've left the lush terrain of Ireland and the U.K. far behind.

It was exciting to see so much water in the Chesbro Reservoir (at last!).

Today's ride traditionally draws a large crowd; it's a route with options, and it gets scheduled with comforting regularity. My ride buddy proposed the flattest version—just one hillclimb, really—and then over to the Coyote Creek Trail.

I set aside my trail aversion and agreed; it has been a long while since I've biked that trail.

We picked up the trail at its southern terminus. Riding north into the strong winds, perhaps the trail would cut us a break. It certainly couldn't be worse than the headwind we would have battled on the road.

Winter rains had been a bit too much for Coyote Creek; the resulting flood caused millions of dollars worth of damage and displaced many San Jose residents from their homes.

Months later, the aftermath was astonishing. The creek looked more like a lake, and in places it may have settled into a new course.

We covered a respectable distance: 39 miles, with a scant 770 feet of climbing. Biking the trail was, actually, a delight.