September 29, 2018

Wildlife Week

Commuting to work this week, no earlier than usual, I was surprised when a coyote popped out of some bushes and trotted across the road, heading in the opposite direction. It was handsome (well-fed) and not the least bit interested in me.

Then I was even more surprised when a second one popped out, following the first. I'd seen one, years ago, in the same neighborhood—but much earlier in the morning.

That was more than the usual wildlife for the week, but ... little did I know.

While the rest of our group today chose to head out on Calaveras Road, as far as they could (it's still closed near the dam), I chose to skip that part and head straight up Felter. If I were to combine them, I'd rather tackle Felter first—but that was not their plan.

I was thinking about the time I saw a bobcat sitting upright in a field along this road, and then ...

A bobcat darted across the road, about 20 feet in front of me! Slightly bigger than a domestic cat, with that distinctive bobbed tail—no doubt about it.

The air was clear, the cloud formations were interesting, the sun was shining. There were turkeys, quail, a snake, and one scrawny tarantula. The scenery looked like an oil painting, the way the light fell on the hills. I chatted with a guy at the summit on Sierra Road. He wondered if there were more vista points (not really). I explained that he'd see the Calaveras Reservoir if he kept driving, but warned him that the road is barely one lane wide, with many blind corners.

Descending back the way I came, I was grateful to be on one of the wider sections when a red Ferrari approached in the opposite lane. I wonder how his drive turned out? There are long stretches where two cars really cannot pass.

And there are times when a single car should not pass, like the place where I boldly took the lane and signaled, palm back, with my outstretched left arm. Because at that moment, a bunch of cyclists were coming downhill in the opposite lane. I pulled to the right when it was safe, only to be yelled at by the eco-driver in the maroon electric vehicle that I'm supposed to stay to the right. [Right.] If you can't safely pass me [3 feet, it's the law] I am going to help you understand that, by taking the lane. It's a pity that you had to wait 5 or 10 seconds to pass. [Seriously.]

A scenic 19 miles with 2,195 feet of climbing. I waved to the rest of the group when I passed them (climbing) as I descended.

Maybe I should have taken that right turn and finished Calaveras ...

September 22, 2018

Puzzle Pieces

Not too hot, not too cold, not too steep, but ... not flat at all.

Red flowers and dry grass in front of canyons carpeted with trees, view from Highland Way, Santa Cruz County, California
It seemed like a good time to tackle the climb up Loma Prieta, via Mt. Bache. I felt defeated last time, and walked up the toughest section. Today I merely paused, and was surprised at how quickly my heart rate recovered. I've done quite a bit of cycling this week, and have not felt the tiredness I expected after donating blood last Saturday.

Slides have shrunken the roadway to a single lane in places, with no evidence that permanent repairs are planned, much less imminent. It won't take much to wash more of it away—other sections are nothing more than irregular chunks fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Bicycling over them is enough to make them rattle in place; driving over them must only accelerate the deterioration.

View of the Doppler radar antenna and cube atop Mt. Umumhum from the summit of Loma Prieta Way, Santa Cruz County, California
We had a clear view of nearby Mt. Umunhum, but Monterey Bay was lost in the haze.

Having tackled the hard climb, we moseyed through the redwoods along Highland Way. Some stretches have fresh pavement (!), some are cracked and crumbling, and two “natural” speed humps have formed and been marked with bright pink paint and “slow!” warnings—likely by fellow cyclists.

We enjoyed 3,485 feet of climbing over 37 miles on what was likely the last hot Saturday of 2018.

September 20, 2018

Queen Quien

Without trying, it appears that I paused and took two photos today that I shot the last time I rode this set of hills. They were green, then.

Cluster of trees in a ravine surrounded by dry hills, view from Quien Sabe Road, San Benito County, California
We got our mechanical issues out of the way early. One rider realized that he had a loose cleat just as we approached some workers with tools. Then, having made it up the first little bump, I realized my rear tire had gone flat.

This was remedied with lightning speed by my crew [haha]. One guy had the tire partially off the rim before I pulled the tire levers out of my saddle bag. Another had reinflated the old tube and was searching for the puncture. In the process, I learned why it's helpful to shift the bike onto the small rings front and back, which means that now I will remember that I want “small-small” instead of “big-big,” rather than “it's a combination you wouldn't ride, but ... which one?“

My companions, more capable and experienced riders than I, took good care of me. They'd often ride at my pace to chat, and one would circle back to ride a stretch with me. He even made an animated warning of himself at one shady spot to ensure none of us would get caught out by the broken pavement there.

Rhyolite-streaked golden hills along Quien Sabe Road, San Benito County, California
The second climb of today's route is gradual—but long. And the day was heating up (97°F by the time we were done). I loved the seemingly endless views of the golden hills, but I wasn't loving the seeming interminability of this leg. The reward for that suffering was to turn around and descend for almost five miles. My speed took the guys by surprise. “You're one of those riders who gets stronger late in a ride!” exclaimed one (when he caught up to me after a short ascent slowed me down). “No,” I laughed. “It's downhill.” I don't think he believed me.

After loading my bike into the car after finishing 35 miles and 2,950 feet of climbing, I discovered an abundance of goathead thorns embedded in the soles of my shoes. Evidently that was underfoot where I'd parked, and I'd bet that my tire had picked one up at the start of the ride. Almost certainly.

We were here, on this mid-week ride, to attend the next court hearing in the case against the driver who killed Jon in February.

The last time I rode this set of hills, so did Jon.

We will return. And we will never forget.

September 15, 2018

Reigning on Reynolds

It's not just me. Reynolds is the longest 1.2 miles known to man. Or woman. It was unanimous.

Two riders watching Ms. C arrive at the top of Reynolds Road, Almaden, California
That's Ms. C summiting. We all made it, and I was definitely stronger than on my last ascent. Today, I pedaled to the top without pausing. It was hard, but not horrible.

View of golden hills, the city of San Jose, and the Diablo Range from Reynolds Road, Almaden, California
I reserved my photo-taking for the descent. The smoke has cleared out, giving us a birds-eye view of the valley—that's downtown San Jose in the photo, with the Diablo Range in the hazy distance.

View of the summit of Mt. Hamilton framed by trees along Reynolds Road, Almaden, California
And Mt. Hamilton. The domes of the observatory beckoned (though they're likely not too visible in this photo). I need to pay another visit this season, before the weather turns too chilly.

Normally I don't stop on a downhill, but this downhill is tricky (and fast). Autumn is upon us, and the deer are out. I spotted eight of them along the way, including one standing on Reynolds. None of us wanted to be taken by surprise (hence, the caution).

The turkeys were out, too. Four had started to cross the road as we approached, but something in their pea-brains convinced them to turn back. Pro tip: You don't want to collide with a turkey, either.

Seven wild turkeys heading up a driveway along Shannon Road, near Los Gatos, California
Later, we stopped to study a small flock; two were perched on the fence before I startled them, hurrying across the road to snap a photo as an ill-timed truck approached.

Technology failed me today, so no map to share: 19 miles, 1,795 feet of climbing. Our group of six was well-matched; all pleased to get out for a healthy (but short) challenge.

September 8, 2018

Baked Buddies

For my 12th ride in the annual Best Buddies Hearst Castle Challenge, I considered opting for the 60-mile route instead of my traditional 100. Although repairs to the Pacific Coast Highway were completed ahead of schedule [when does that ever happen?], the organizers couldn't gamble that the road would be open before the big day. We would trace the same route we followed last year.

We made the long trek to San Simeon and visited some of the local sights after checking in. For the first time, I spotted the resident zebras grazing in the fields below the castle—I've long known about them, but not clearly seen them till now.

Zebras grazing in tall grass, San Simeon, California
We drove a few miles north to observe the resident elephant seals. The colony was spread around the largest bull I've seen. No doubts about who's in charge.

Elephant seals lounging on the beach, San Simeon, California
I wasn't enthused about reprising last year's route, and I imagined that climbing Old Creek Road would be more scenic than Highway 41. I mean, the highway was sort of scenic—this is California, after all—but the back roads are more enticing. I had been similarly tempted last year, but stayed the course.

When I thanked my donors last year, I invited any of them to join me (and expected no takers). Surprise! One of my friends signed up, excited to be tackling her first century. The die was cast.

As the day drew near, I kept a close eye on the forecast. The predicted inland high temperature for Saturday kept creeping up. As we drove to San Simeon, I checked the current conditions in Paso Robles: 107°F. (Yikes.) Neither of us could handle that kind of heat. I nearly bonked at mile 60, last year—and that was not a triple-digit day.

And so it was, with some regrets, that we traded down to the 60-mile route.

View of the Pacific Ocean near Cayucas, California
There are some stunning views as we head south along Highway 1, but with riders moving fast in a pack there are few opportunities to pull aside for a photo stop.

View of Whale Rock Reservoir and the Pacific Ocean from Old Creek Road above Cayucas, California
We climbed Old Creek Road from one end to the other. Along the way, there was a great view of Whale Rock Reservoir with the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

Ghost bike in memory of Jose Martel, killed on Old Creek Road above Cayucas, California on 3 December 2016
There was more traffic than I expected, with a motorcycle officer from the CHP patrolling up and down. When I saw the ghost bike, I understood.

By 10:30 a.m., it was already uncomfortably hot. Toward the top, I pedaled from one patch of shade to the next (when I could find some). I passed a cyclist immobilized with leg cramps, and others who were walking.

pep's bike at the summit, elevation 1762 feet, along Highway 46 above Cambria, California
This year, I had no intention of climbing the wall on Santa Rosa Creek Road. The organizers heeded our pleas for mercy and offered Highway 46 as an official bypass option. [Which I would have taken, anyway.]

Misty view of Morro Rock and the Pacific Ocean from Highway 46 above Cambria, California
Highway 46 offers expansive views of secluded canyons, the Pacific, and Morro Rock at the mouth of the bay. My descent was especially carefree: during yesterday's drive, we witnessed Caltrans sweeping the shoulder(!). A few pockets of warm air crossed the road, and by the time I reached Highway 1 the cool headwind was welcome. A tailwind would have been even more welcome, but ... dream on.

Pelicans diving into the Pacific for their meal, William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach, San Simeon, California
After crossing the finish line, I enjoyed a late lunch at the beach—watching the pelicans compete for their lunch.

The shorter route (58 miles, 3,220 feet of climbing) gave us ample time to arrive at the barbecue in time for all the speeches and award presentations. And, of course, the band!

Soulville California Band performing at the barbecue, Hearst Ranch, San Simeon, California
Every year we meet new Buddy Ambassadors and are inspired by their achievements: meaningful jobs, sincere friendships, and the confidence to live full lives.

Poster for rest stop host Best Buddies Ambassador Caley Versfelt, quote: Inclusion IS possible. Together, if we can dream it, we can achieve it!, Santa Rosa Creek Road above Cambria, California
Every year I am humbled by the donations I'm able to collect, and awed by the top fundraisers.

William Randolph Hearst's office, Casa Grande (Hearst Castle), San Simeon, California
We took a short tour of Casa Grande at the after-party, where I was thrilled to get a close-up view of the resident bats in addition to the usual sights (like Mr. Hearst's office, above). Others in our party were, shall we say ... not so thrilled?

Best Buddies logo projected next to stairs leading to the Best Buddies VIP party at Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California
My ride buddy and I made the right call; Atascadero topped out at 101°F. Mother Nature willing, I'll return to the traditional coastal route in 2019—all 100 miles of it.

September 4, 2018

For Jon

The day was clear and although it warmed up in the hills south of Hollister, somehow there was a refreshingly cool breeze. This is how Jon would want to be remembered, we said, riding our bikes in the golden California countryside.

View of golden, oak-studded hills from Cienega Road, San Benito County, California
I rarely crossed paths with Jon; he was an accomplished long-distance cyclist, with tens of thousands of miles and 44 double centuries safely behind him. We did ride in the same group in January, when he turned up for a shorter ride (which he, of course, extended).

Before we set out on our bicycles this morning, eight of us made our way to the San Benito County courthouse to be present for the arraignment of the driver who killed Jon on February 19. The driver wasn't there, but we were. His attorney responded to the judge with a plea of “not guilty.” Of course, the man is guilty of taking Jon's life. The legal system must determine whether he is guilty of the precise charge that has been filed against him.

Looking back at the shimmering golden hills, Cienega Road, San Benito County, California
There is a beautiful sheen to the hills when the light strikes them just so.

We climbed Cienega Road from Hollister to Paicines and turned south onto Highway 25. Nothing stands out about the place where Jon lost his life that day. The roadway has no shoulder, but there is ample visibility: that stretch of road is razor-straight. It can be an easy place to drive very fast.

At the future site of a ghost bike for Jon Kaplan, Cienega Road and Airline Highway, Paicines, California
Thanks to the owner of the Paicines Ranch, we expect to place a Ghost Bike nearby, in Jon's memory.

The other riders in our group are much stronger than I am; there were at least two who have completed multiple double centuries—including one rider in the Triple Crown Hall of Fame. On our return to Hollister, I motioned that they should pass me as we approached an uphill grade on Highway 25. “No, this is fine,” they said. And I understood. On this road, on this day, they were my wingmen.

I dug deep on that hill, and managed to average 13.2 mph overall, climbing 1,560 feet over 38 miles.

Know that we will return, and that we will never forget.

September 3, 2018

Mellow Fellows

“You're doing great!” he said, as if I needed encouragement.

Where do I go, with that? I simply smiled. [You have no idea, do you?] I mean, I'm sure my fellow rider meant well.

I wanted a long-ish ride today, and opted for the only “flat” route on our club's calendar.

The riders-who-do-hills and the riders-who-do-not rarely mix it up in our club. Most of the faces were as unfamiliar to me as mine was to them.

We rode out to the Calero Reservoir, where we were approached by a confused minivan driver seeking Mt. Umunhum. [Which you could see, in the smoky distance, from where we stood.] After several cyclists gamely explained how to get there from here (with more turns than she could fathom), I said “Point your navigation system at Hicks Road, and that will take you there.”

I've been part of this movie before. These folks ride well enough, single-file, on a trail. On the road? They're all over the lane, only occasionally taking the hint that “car back” means single-up, and dashing the hopes of any motorist who planned to turn right on red at every traffic signal.

One rider gently chided me for passing him on the right. I apologized, and gently explained that it's hard to pass him on the left when he's not staying to the right. As in, about eight feet from the curb. I take that as comfort with riding two-abreast. Evidently I should not. [I gave him a wide berth, thereafter.]

Maybe I was just cranky today. When I set out, one of the first things I saw was a discarded cigarette that had burned itself out on top of a dried-up pile of needles shed by a redwood tree. How lucky are we that they didn't catch fire! How stupid do you have to be to toss a burning cigarette into the gutter? That's beyond careless.

When we stopped for a snack break, I approached a new-to-the-club rider. “Before we leave, let me help you adjust your helmet.” None of the other dozen riders in our group noticed, apparently, that her helmet was completely askew and tilted back on her head. “That feels much better!” she exclaimed.

It's the little things.

I tacked on a moderate hill climb at the end, finishing with 41 miles and 1,160 feet of climbing.

August 18, 2018

Palomares Pals

Has it really been more than nine years since I've climbed Palomares?

It would be hot today, with the air quality falling as the temperature was rising. We persuaded our leader to alter the route plan: Let's climb Palomares first; later, Kilkare will offer some shade.

Valley view from summit of Palomares Road, Castro Valley, California
The road had been closed last season, or the season before, after heavy rains slid some of the hillside across the pavement.

After dropping down the backside, a rider caught up to me on the exposed stretch that parallels the freeway. “I'm glad we're doing this now, and not at 1 p.m.” he said. That's what all of us had in mind, this morning. That, and also riding through Niles Canyon before the traffic picked up.

Traffic. Stopped. Completely. On Foothill. No shoulder. No room to roll past. I dismounted and walked (more than a quarter of a mile).

Drivers? Sat in their cars.

The day warmed up, it did. 35 miles, 2,360 feet of climbing took more out of me than I expected. Nothing a nice, long nap couldn't fix.

August 17, 2018

Kouign-amann Karma

When you bike to work and find a kouignette waiting on your desk, the day is off to a great start.

Kouignette pastry glistening with sugar crystals
I had never heard of (much less tasted) a kouign-amann before. (Think croissant meets sticky bun.) One of my colleagues completed a rigorous professional pastry-chef curriculum this year as a way to relax (?!) and unwind from the stresses of work. [Yeah, I don't understand, either.] When his final “exam” was judged by local restaurateurs, one offered him a job on the spot. But that wasn't the point ...

Thus, it's not uncommon to find something delectable next to your keyboard in the morning.

My other stroke of good fortune, this week, is that I'm taking care of a friend's cat while she's away. She was in an unexpected bind because her regular cat-sitter had moved out of the area.

Me: Um, I can do it?

Friend: OMG, you don't know how much money you're saving me!

Me: And you will not pay me a dime! Your place is 3.5 miles from my office! I can just bike there, every day!

Smoky sunset viewed from pedestrian/bike bridge over State Highway 101, Sunnyvale, Calfironia
It's still smoky.

Close-up of ginger-colored cat
Kitty and I got along famously. He wandered in late the first night, ate, jumped up to check me out, purred and curled up on my lap to sleep. (Get that laptop out of the way!)

Each morning he'd climb onto my chest as soon as I woke up and nuzzle his purring head under my chin. Within a day, he'd adapted to my schedule.

This all worked wonders to reduce my stress level.

Piece of hazelnut/chocolate rugelach dusted with powdered sugar.
That, and the hazelnut/chocolate rugelach.

August 11, 2018

Creamy Good

Sometimes you need an incentive to spur you to climb on the bike. Club rides are great for that.

This morning I was more enthusiastic about sleeping in than I was about any of the rides listed on the calendar. But I did like the prospect of connecting with my fellow riders at our annual Ice Cream Social, which was scheduled at a friendly, post-lunch hour. And I was hankering for a long-ish ride.

After indulging myself and chatting with friends, I decided to take a different route home. Why not visit the rookery?

Snowy egrets on their nest, Mountain View, California
Many of the youngsters had fledged by the time I last visited, but there were still a few on the nest. As I watched, some crows set up a ruckus and the sky suddenly swirled with a flock of adult egrets. More than a few remain, after all.

Great blue heron on the far bank flanked by yellow-flowering bushes, San Francisco Bay shore, Mountain View, California
One of the resident great blue herons was hunkered down next to a channel along the Bay.

Cormorants on posts and a rail over water, San Francisco Bay shoreline, Diablo Range in the background, Sunnyvale, California
Today there were cormorants lined up, as they will, preening and drying their wings.

Trailside sign for the San Francisco Bay Trail, Sunnyvale, California
The Bay Trail offers options; I chose the straight and not-so-narrow. Reversing the route I usually lead, I was curious to explore a new segment of the San Tomas Aquino Trail.

Trailside sign for San Tomas Aquino/Saratoga Creek Trail, Santa Clara, California
They've extended the two-way, separated trail alongside San Tomas Expressway. But it's not done. And I hadn't studied the map for options before making this fateful decision, knowing that there is a wide shoulder on the expressway and that traffic would be light on a Sunday afternoon.

What I didn't know was that only one southbound lane would be open (road construction), with ... no shoulder. When I reached the end, I glared at barriers blocking access to the as-yet-unopened continuation of the trail. It was already striped! Why the heck wasn't it open?

I pedaled hard. The driver behind me was heroically patient; never honking, never trying to pass me. Maybe he or she was my guardian angel, shielding me from the cars behind. Or maybe they all just understood that even though I was slow, traffic was backed up and we'd all come together at the next traffic light anyway. There was no place for me to pull off (though I did consider veering left and pedaling in the cone zone).

I made it. 51 miles, only 800 feet of climbing.

August 7, 2018

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

It's not a cloudy morning.

It's a smoky morning.

The fires raging through the hills of northern California are hundreds of miles away, but the smoke spreads. The prevailing westerly winds haven't been enough to clear it away.

I did a double-take yesterday morning when I awoke to a red glow on the wall: sunrise. The smoke layer above us colors the light.

Absent warnings about air quality, I biked to (and from) work. My schedule hasn't been bike-commute-friendly this summer. (Not being a “morning person,” anything earlier than a 9:30 a.m. meeting makes the 18-mile trip infeasible.) On some mornings, I do load my trusty steed onto a commuter shuttle—and bike home at the end of the day. One way is better than no way.

Today gave me the usual 36 miles and 1,000 feet of climbing. The sun will come out ... tomorrow.

July 15, 2018

Where the Birds Are

Time for one of my favorite summer outings, a combination biking/birding adventure.

Great egret, four snowy egrets, and a few other shore birds, San Francisco Bay, Mountain View, California
The winds were calm, the tide was low, and many shorebirds were feasting in the shallows. Great egrets, snowy egrets, and more.

White pelican with open beak, San Francisco Bay, Mountain View, California
The first time I've spotted a white pelican in the area; all alone.

Two great blue herons, San Francisco Bay, Mountain View, California
A pair of great blue herons—one close by.

Great egret stretching for a catch, San Francisco Bay, Mountain View, California
A great egret craning for a catch.

We arrived at the rookery just as the local Audubon Society folks were preparing to pack up—a bonus! I really should check their calendar. And really, I should just become a member.

Nesting black crowned night-heron and chick, Mountain View, California
They had a scope trained on the nest of a black-crowned night-heron, which was snoozing with its chick.

Egret chicks on the nest, Mountain View, California
The egret nests are emptying out; many of the chicks have fledged, but a few remain.

A satisfying ride for me: 51 miles, with 1,000 feet of climbing.

July 8, 2018

Empire Mine

This is gold country, and my friends encouraged me to visit the nearby Empire Mine (now a California State Historic Park).

Mining equipment displayed on the grounds of Empire Mine State Historic Park, Grass Valley, California
Standing at the the top of the shaft, my internal soundtrack conjured up the Cowboy Junkies. [Of course.] I certainly had no concept of hard rock mining. Till now.

View of the top of the main shaft, Empire Mine, Grass Valley, California
There were a few numbers that stuck with me. The bottom of the shaft was nearly a mile below the surface of the earth; the shaft (11,000 feet long) cuts through the earth at an angle. The museum displays an enormous and intricate scale model of the shafts and side tunnels of the Empire Mine and its neighbors.

Stonework office buildings, Empire Mine State Historic Park, Grass Valley, Califonia
I wondered where the tons and tons of discarded rock ended up. Some of it was used to construct the buildings onsite. Some of it was likely used to form the beds for railroad tracks, as I now recognized the curious specimen I'd pocketed back near Graeagle as granodiorite.

View of the cottage across the reflecting pool, framed by tall trees, Empire Mine State Historic Park, Grass Valley, California
It was possible to wander through the offices, to climb the well-worn creaky stairs, to marvel at the redwood used to panel the walls. So many tons of rock drilled and crushed to extract precious ounces of gold. The scale of it! How can gold be affordable, at all? Here, in 1956, this operation stopped being profitable. The pumps were shut down, allowing the groundwater to rise to its natural level and flood the complex warren of tunnels. By one estimate, 80% of the gold is still down there.

The “cottage” was closed; I was too late for the last tour of the day. What was it like to live in such grandeur on the site of an active mine? The pounding, the shaking, the shattering of the earth?

Overhead electrical fixture in a stone alcove at the cottage, Empire Mine State Historic Park, Grass Valley, California
When the mine began to run on electrical power, there was enough to go around. The cottage was among the earliest electrified residences.

Lily pads with a blossom, cottage garden at Empire Mine State Historic Park, Grass Valley, California
It was cooler in the garden than on the barren grounds above the mine, baking in the sun.

Downtown Nevada City, California at dusk
Back in Nevada City, the evening cooled down nicely. I chose to dine on a creekside porch.

Deer Creek, Nevada City, California
My thoughts turned to one of the many stickers adorning the colorful spot where we'd enjoyed our smoothies: Earth Bats Last.

Remember that.