May 10, 2018

Bike to Work Day Bunch

Bike to Work Day for me isn't just a another day to bike to work. That would be too simple.

It's a day to lead my colleagues to work.

Group of cyclists stopped in a green bike lane, waiting for a green light, Cupertino, California.
There will always be riders to join me: some new, some regulars. We had an impressive contingent of first-timers, this year. Some sign up, some drop out, some know where (and roughly when) to meet us en route, and some ... just show up. One doesn't even work for the same company any more.

It all comes together, somehow.

With portable speakers on one rider's handlebars, the voice of Jim Morrison set the pace: Riders on the Storm.

By now, we have the timing well sorted out. Moments after we arrived at our rendezvous point, my co-leader rounded the corner with his group (eleven!) in tow.

pep taking a group photo at the rendezvous point, Campbell, California
After the traditional briefing (the most important rule: Have fun!) and group photo, our line of twenty-odd riders headed up the first bike bridge of the morning. Our route would carry us high above four different freeways, and more than one rider cackled gleefully at three lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic stopped below. “Wave!” I shouted.

I can always count on extra help: The rider who darts over to press the “walk” button to give us a longer interval for crossing major streets. The rider who hangs at the back, offering encouragement and ensuring that we lose no one.

As usual, we invaded the “energizer station” in a neighboring town, refueling on coffee cake (and for those who wanted it, actual coffee). As usual, they were highly amused. Many photos were taken, including a ring of ankles bedecked in last year's colorful Bike to Work Day socks.

The biggest surprise was meeting one of our executives there. My co-leader and I had no idea that our organization's senior vice president was on that town's bicycle advisory committee. And he certainly wasn't expecting to see the two of us roll up, trailing two dozen cyclists.

This was also our bifurcation point, this year. Roughly half the group followed my co-leader to Mountain View, while I led the rest to Sunnyvale. [My, how the company has grown!] Our building's bike storage room could hold no more.

Vertical bike racks, filled to capacity in a bike storage room, Sunnyvale, California
My co-leader was game to try my route home; I did my best to keep the pace brisk. (For my definition of brisk; slow, for him.) I rounded out the day with 38 miles and 880 feet of climbing, but that's not the whole story.

After Sunday's 53-mile ride, I can tell you that my legs were sore on Monday. [Eh, whatever. Get over it.]

In honor of Bike to Work Week this year, I dialed it up a notch. [Okay, maybe a couple of notches.] There was also a round-trip commute on Monday (36 miles), plus one-way trips on Tuesday and Wednesday (together, 36 miles). That adds up to 110 miles of commuting and 2,920 feet of climbing for the week. Last year, I wasn't confident I'd make it past the rendezvous point.

Friday's a rest day. I need my legs for Mt. Hamilton on Saturday.

May 6, 2018

Early Nesters

We paused at a park along the way, where a rider called out our first sighting: a hummingbird hovering overhead.

There were plenty of mallards and swallows along San Tomas Aquino Creek, but the prize was a well-camouflaged Black-crowned Night-Heron in the tall grass on the opposite bank.

Black-crowned Night-Heron standing in tall grass, San Tomas Aquino Creek, Santa Clara, California
The headwinds were surprisingly strong. (Builds character. And clears the air.)

Smiling cyclists on the Bay Trail, Sunnyvale, California
Another rider knew a thing or two about birds. Terns! American Coots (male and female).

And of course, egrets. Majestic Great Egrets gliding gracefully above the surface of the bay. Snowy Egrets hunting in the shallows.

Salt ponds along San Francisco Bay, with a view of the Diablo Range to the east, Sunnyvale, California
The willows are sprouting their leaves, and the birds are back—building and feathering their nests. Early birds claim the best branches.

Egret preening feathers in a tree, Mountain View, California
So many fancy feathers to preen!

This being the start of Bike to Work Week, it seemed only fitting to bike to (and from) the start for today's ride. Which meant 27 mostly flat miles for the group, but 53 miles and 1,100 feet of climbing for me. My longest ride of the year!

April 28, 2018

Three Bikin' Babes

Looming gray clouds must have convinced my fellow cyclists to stay home this morning. There were no showers on the local weather radar map.

Two women joined me, both excited to share “This is one of my favorite routes!” (Mine, too.)

As I had hoped, the cool (and gloomy) weather meant that we would contend with little traffic; on a hot summer day there will be a steady stream of impatient drivers diverting off the freeway onto the original Santa Cruz Highway. Today, we had the redwoods to ourselves.

A male turkey fanned out his tail feathers for his hen (but not for my camera).

Male wild turkey in a field along Skyland Road, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Some of these back roads, I believe, were originally logging roads. They've been paved since then, but ... not regularly. Every rainy winter breaks up more of the pavement, or worse—last winter a car was trapped in a hole (where the road had given way). I couldn't be sure which stretch of smooth, fresh pavement corresponded to that repair. But I can say that no section of road gets repaired before its time. [Which, in some cases, may be a century. Or more.]

Young bug in a field along Skyland Road, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
A young buck eyed me warily.

Sculpture garden, including a T Rex mother defending her hatchling from a diving pterodactyl, and other dinosaurs, Skyland Road, Santa Cruz Mountains
Mama T Rex is still defending her hatchling from a diving pterodactyl.

A few drops of rain fell from the sky, barely noticeable. Which was good, because it was much chillier than I expected; I regretted not donning wool socks this morning.

Wild iris flowering in shades of cream, yellow, and purple, along Highland Way, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
The hillsides were dotted with wild iris, purple vetch, and some very tiny flowers unfamiliar to me.

The patio at the Summit Store was overrun by cyclists—another club's ride overlapped with a bit of ours. Three or four people emptied out of a car, bundled in puffy insulated jackets, and stared at us as if we were a herd of exotic creatures.

Yes, this is what we do on the weekend. 38 miles, 3,370 feet of climbing—even when it's gray and gloomy.

April 26, 2018

The Mighty Eucalyptus

I set off for home late on a blustery afternoon. No need to hurry, I told myself, with all that wind.

It's not unusual for me to pass a long line of cars along one stretch; some drivers prefer that route, even though a couple of stop signs cause traffic to back up.

Most of them, I expect, regretted their choice today.

Huge fallen eucalyptus tree limb blocking one lane of S. Stelling Road, Cupertino, California
I have to admit that I'm not a particular fan of eucalyptus trees. It's wise not to linger near them. Especially on windy days. Or hot days, when they sometimes explode.

I dismounted and took to the sidewalk, chatting with the firemen who were clearing the lane that they could. “It's not often we get to walk to a call,” they noted. (Their station is right across the street.)

Fortunately, there was no one in the path of that falling limb. “It was a close call,” a fireman said.

I can't begin to count the number of mornings I've pedaled beneath that monster and its neighbors, but I can tell you I'll be sprinting in the future.

April 21, 2018

Sounds of Spring

Oh, that enticing ribbon of road! One rider claimed to see the snow-capped peaks of the Sierras in the distance, but there was too much haze for me. I was tempted, oh-so-tempted, to head down the other side of Patterson Pass, but that was not part of today's plan.

View to the east of wind turbines and green hills from the summit of Patterson Pass Road, Livermore, California
Another rider matter-of-factly identified the repeated trill of a nearby western meadowlark. They'd seen peacocks, too; I had recognized their cries but I didn't catch a glimpse. None of us could miss the spectacle of hundreds of red-winged blackbirds swarming in a brushy field we'd passed. What a cacophony!

Frogs croaked, goats bleated, sheep baaed, wild turkeys gobbled, cattle mooed, cyclists panted.

By the time I reached the base of Morgan Territory Road, I had recovered enough to make the turn with the rest of the group. Why not?

View to the west of green hills and grazing cattle from the lower portion of Morgan Territory Road, Livermore, California
Why not? Because I had climbed the front side once before (and I remembered it well).

But, here I was, again. When I met an SUV coming down the steepest section, I stopped debating whether to attempt it. [I walked.]

View to the north of a rocky peak and green hills, Morgan Territory Regional Preserve, Livermore, California
I wondered at the rocky peak in the distance, so clearly visible from the park where we'd stopped, just past the summit.

Close-up of orange California poppies with pep's bicycle in the background, Morgan Territory Regional Preserve, Livermore, California
The green hills will fade to gold all too soon, and the poppies will shed their petals and seeds.

Our return via Collier Canyon Road was unfamiliar, and unexpectedly lovely—a very pleasant surprise.

I've been commuting by bicycle with more determination, and it is paying off. My most challenging ride of the year: 43 miles, 3,090 feet of climbing, with no regrets.

March 31, 2018

Evil Twig

You know the old superstition that bad luck comes in threes?

First, one of the riders in our group broke his chain. [Fixed.]

Flying down Old Santa Cruz Highway, it sounded like I'd suddenly caught a piece of paper in my wheel. Strange, I didn't remember seeing anything like that on the road.

I slowed and stopped. Nothing there. Maybe it came loose. Maybe it was a leaf?

I started rolling again. Something wasn't right. Was something rubbing? Another cyclist pulled up behind me. He spun the rear wheel, listening. “Oh look, it's flat.”

I pulled out a fresh tube and set to work. There was a suspicious cut in the tire—all the way through. Which, sure enough, corresponded to the hole in the tube. “This is weird,” he said, as he folded the old tube. “Feel that? There's something inside the tube.”

As we loaded our bikes at the end of the ride, a minivan pulled up and dropped off a solo rider and his bike—which he proceeded to load into his car. Evidently he'd needed to hitch a ride back, unable to recover from his mechanical issue. (It comes in threes, I tell you.)

Our group of four had cycled a mere 18 miles (with 1,905 feet of climbing and more than our share of breakdowns).

Back at home, I sliced the tube and pulled out ... a piece of a twig, similar in size to the shaft of a pencil and roughly tapered at one end.

That pierced a tire? And tube? And lodged itself inside?

Off with both Mavic Yksion (Comp) tires, on with the Continental GP4000S tires I trust.

March 23, 2018

Daylight Bonus

With a forecast for a dry day, I eagerly prepared for a long-overdue bike commute.

Then I woke up, groggy, to a chilly morning (37F). As the minutes ticked by, I doubted I could make it in time to get cleaned up before my first meeting of the day. [I've starred in this movie before ... ]

If I'm tired now, how would I have the energy to bike back home?

💡 But wait! That's it! Take the shuttle now, bike home later! 💡

With no time to waste, I showered, ate breakfast, swapped the street clothes I'd packed with my bike gear, and dashed off to catch the early bus. [I did forget my water bottle. And evidently I'd neglected to replace the spare I keep at the office ... sigh.]

I made it (barely). The bus caught me as I raced to the pick-up point. Our oh-so-thoughtful driver greeted me: “I was trying to figure out who it was!” she said. [Not my usual folding bike.]

How did I forget about this option? During the dark winter months, I take the shuttle home if I bike to work. With daylight savings time in effect, there is no good reason not to do the reverse when early morning meetings make it impractical for me to bike to work. [I am not now, never have been, and likely never will be, a “morning person.”]

The ride home felt delicious! [Well, except for the obvious reminder that I need more saddle time. Ahem.]

March 10, 2018

Australian Museum

Crossing through Hyde Park, I happened upon a small flock of Sulfur-crested cockatoos that were poking about in the grass and mulch at the base of a tree. Having met them only as pets up till now, it was a treat to see them just being wild birds.

I was headed for the Australian Museum—another recommendation from a colleague. The entrance walk features reproductions of some famous fossilized footprints of indigenous people dating back 20,000 years.

In a natural history museum, there's no telling where I'll end up. Rocks and minerals. A captivating exposition about feathers and wings in the bird exhibit. Did their ancestors leave any trace on this land?

Yes, dinosaurs roamed Australia, and the museum has a cast of a Muttaburrasaurus.

So much to see! So much to learn! And never enough time.

All too soon I would begin the long journey east across the Pacific, returning home.

Till next time ...

March 4, 2018

Bondi to Coogee

My colleagues had a few suggestions for how I might spend my weekend. Manly Beach? [I'd left my swimsuit at home.] The Blue Mountains? [Maybe next time, with a plan.]

The Bondi to Coogee Walk seemed ... just right. With Google as my navigator, I found the bus to Bondi Beach (and, later, the bus that would return me from Coogee).

Alluring tide pools drew me away from the walk—well-worth the detour. By chance, there was a blue dragon (sea slug) in a pocket of water. Venomous [need you ask?], because it preys on the dangerous Portuguese man o' war, collecting and concentrating the jellyfish's venom. [Yikes.]

A few beaches featured seaside swim clubs, which seemed popular.

Even on this overcast day, the waters of the South Pacific Ocean were a dazzling aquamarine.

[Bondi blue, actually.]

The geology of the place is a planetary-scale reminder of human insignificance.

Weathered sandstone, hundreds of millions of years old.

It will remain, long after the monuments of the curiously-located Waverley Cemetery have been reclaimed by the sea.

After 4 miles with several interludes of steep stairs to climb, I was tired. Rightly tired. Back to work, tomorrow.

March 3, 2018

Taronga Zoo

Visiting Taronga Zoo was high on my list of things to do in Sydney, and not just due to this week's preview at the office. I was excited at the chance to see as many of Australia's unusual creatures as possible.

The ferry ride, past the Opera House, was a bonus.

I don't remember the last time I've visited a zoo. I do remember seeing my first bald eagle decades ago, at the San Diego Zoo, and how sad I felt that it was standing on the ground, confined. Now that I recognize the role that modern zoos play in the conservation of endangered creatures, I saw this family of Western Lowland Gorillas in a different light.

It was a warm day, and the animals were coping with that as they naturally do: they sleep. Koalas, of course, mostly sleep (as much as 20 hours per day).

A curious wombat emerged from the cool of its den.

There was one big bird that was completely unfamiliar to me: the cassowary.

Some opportunistic locals roamed free.

I had no idea there were native crocodiles. I'd heard about Australia's spiders and snakes, but not about the dangers of the platypus: An egg-laying mammal with a beak like a duck and a tail like a beaver; the males have venomous spurs on their hind legs.

Towering giraffes, towering buildings.

And a towering Aermotor (Australian-style), in the farmyard section!

A foraging wallaby hopped across a footpath, while the kangaroos lounged in the shade.

It's all happening at the zoo.

March 2, 2018

A Day at the Office

In a most peculiar concurrence, my daily route to the office connected me to my roots half a world away.

Here, along the waterfront, the Australian National Maritime Museum had mounted an outdoor exhibit on the container shipping industry: The Box that Changed the World.

An exhibit chronicling the industry that employed my dad, from its earliest days through the last of his days.

I wonder if he understood how revolutionary the indusry was? He didn't talk about it.

I think he would have enjoyed the exhibit, and he'd be awed by the massive container ships of the 21st century.

My workplace is very different. Very different. It so happened, for example, that folks from the zoo stopped by and brought some of the local fauna along. [What lucky timing!]

Not only could we observe and learn about the animals, we could pet them, too! Directionality is key with the echidna.

The fur on the ringtail possum was impossibly soft.

And all those spikes on the bearded dragon look intimidating, but its skin was really supple.

Someone generated a visitor badge for Zippy the tortoise, much to the delight of the zookeepers.

The short-beaked echnidna, though, was the crowd's favorite as it explored the room, waddling and poking about. A mammal? That lays eggs?!