May 28, 2018

Upside, Downside

Calaveras Reservoir and the hills beyond, with sticky monkeyflower blooming in the foreground, Calaveras Road near Milpitas, California
The upside to the closure on the backside of Calaveras Road is the near-absence of traffic. [We shared the road with a total of three motorcycles, all well-behaved.]

The downside is that we can't ride all the way to Sunol, as is our wont. [Despite the helpful pointer from one member of our group that the road goes all the way. You're new here, aren't you?] Another member with intimate knowledge explained that although they did repair the slide damage, they've decided it's easier to keep it closed for a few more months and not have to sweep the road every weekend to clear the gravel dropped by trucks working on the dam.

It's not unusual to hear something rustling in the brush on back roads. Birds and lizards can make a surprising amount of noise in the dry leaves, especially if they set off a small cascade of debris. I glanced to my right and this time saw a small doe scampering away.

It was promising to be a hot day, though it turned out to be rather pleasant. I still face “the wall” with due trepidation, but as I grind my way up I admit it's not as bad as it used to seem. By the time we were heading back, a welcome wind had picked up. The hillsides had a golden hue, carpeted with sticky monkeyflower in bloom.

Round trip offered a mere 27 miles and 2,000 feet of climbing—and that will have to do until the road goes through again. Signage claimed September. [Promises, promises.]

May 20, 2018

Berry Cool Day

There was a reason why I was eager to take it easy yesterday, and that reason was today. Time for one of my favorite events on the greater Bay Area cycling calendar: Strawberry Fields Forever.

Strawberry Fields Forever check-in table festooned with paper berries, Watsonville, California
We have an abundance of choices for organized rides, and I've sampled many of them; this is my mainstay. I've missed it for assorted reasons over the years—sometimes by choice (rain). For the first time in many years, a friend signed up to join me.

There were a couple of places, early on, that could have used some route-marking arrows. My ride buddy grew concerned, but I assured her we were on the right road, headed in the right direction. I hope the newbies always had other riders in sight, to follow.

The “May Gray” might have been less than picturesque, but it did ensure we had a comfy temperature all day.

Ice plant blooming on the cliff overlooking the sandy shore of the Pacific Ocean, La Selva Beach, California
Somewhere along the way, near the Elkhorn Slough, a tall, pink poppy next to the road caught my eye. That's odd, I thought; how did that get here? [A few days later would bring the largest opium poppy bust in California history. The growing fields? Near Elkhorn.]

The route takes us along Hazel Dell Road, which had been closed due to storm damage dating to the winter of 2016-2017. The road was open, and we shared it with some cars, but ... wow, I wouldn't drive it. One of the washed-out sections was barely one lane wide, with no protection or reinforcement creekside. Even on a bike, the condition of the road gave me pause.

It's not uncommon to run into friends on this ride. One found me as we enjoyed our apple pie and fresh lemonade at Gizdich Ranch, another as we were about to head home. My ride buddy looked up from her plate at the finish and spotted a friend ... seated across the table.

Cliff swallows nesting under the eaves at the school,

Cliff swallow perched on a mud nest in progress, Watsonville, California
great egrets hunting in the shallows of the slough.

Two great egrets and a California gull near the railroad bridge, Elkhorn Slough, California
61 miles, 2,895 feet of climbing, and more strawberries and chocolate ganache than I could sensibly eat.

May 19, 2018

Sky High

Fog rolling in over the coastal hills as viewed from Skyline Boulevard, Los Gatos, California
The rest of the group had ambitions to climb some popular hills to the north. Knowing that I would quickly be dropped, I was less keen on spending a few hours alone on one of the busier stretches of Skyline.

I headed south, solo. Less traffic (once you're past the entrance to Castle Rock State Park). The park was busier than usual, evidently hosting some event. Land has been cleared for the future entrance, but the pace of progress is slow. It's been more than two years since I led a bunch of volunteers hauling out debris that had been left on the grounds of the former Christmas tree farm.

New section of road along Skyline Boulevard spanning a new gully, Los Gatos, California
I was most curious about the road repairs necessitated by the harsh storms of the 2016-2017 winter. A portion of the road washed out then, undermined by the development of a new gully.

View of Skyline Boulevard and a new retaining wall as viewed from the bridge over the new gully, Los Gatos, California
I shared the road with a few cyclists (and fewer cars), climbing some 1,945 feet over 21 miles of peace. And quiet.

May 12, 2018

Wild Flower Hunting

The burn scars are gone; the fields have renewed themselves.

Three women (racers, evidently) passed me as we approached the first descent. Coming around the bend, I was gaining on them, and ... I dropped them. As expected, they caught me when the climbing resumed. “You started it,” they joked, “now you have to stay with us!” Ah, if only ... “I have no horsepower,” I confessed. “You've got great descending skills!“ they replied. I smiled. Yes, there is that.

In 2012, I managed ten and a half ascents of Mt. Hamilton. I missed March and December that year, but surely there were wildflowers in April and May. Why was today so remarkable? Was it the rainy winter, or was I just paying more attention?

I certainly never noticed the lilac bush at the summit. Because, how would you? Unless it was in full, fragrant bloom. Like today.

Yellow flowers along the driveway to the observatory.

Msny flowers I don't recall seeing before.

I started wondering how I'd identify them all, which got me thinking about how it is in our nature to name things. The flowers have no need for being named.

I noticed some yellow lupine on the way up, then regretted not pausing to get a photo. Regretted enough that I actually stopped on the descent.

The usual 39 miles and 4,890 feet of climbing, but I will never tire of this climb.

Even without the flowers.

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!