June 30, 2018

Riding with the Bunch

After last year, I was looking forward to repeating the MacMurray Ranch training ride for Best Buddies and was excited when it materialized on our calendars.

Mural showing a map of Forestville, California
I was eager to book the same Airbnb spot and was delighted that it was available. This year, I was joined by a biking buddy who took the leap to register for the big event this fall!

It was promising to be a hot day, so everyone was ready to get rolling. Our ringleader and master of ceremonies, Richard Fries, commanded us to “Go easy when it's hard and hard when it's easy” in a noble attempt to keep the group together. No reason not to do the 40-mile route today (well, other than the impending heat), and this year I saw a range of riders lining up. The hammerheads would split off soon enough, and the rest of us would stay together.

Or so I thought.

My cycling computer showed that I averaged 15.7 mph (!) for the first hour, and for me that's not sustainable. This was the slow group?

Bicycles lined up in front of the Dry Creek General Store, Healdsburg, California
When we stopped for our break at the Dry Creek General Store, I learned that I was part of the “middle” group. [Ohhhhh.]

The fast group was ready to roll when the slow group caught up, and the middle group was dawdling. “Let's go,” I said. “They'll drop us, but the day is only going to get hotter.”

pep's bike on the Wohler Bridge over the Russian River, Forestville, California
I soon found myself in a familiar in-between place: behind the fast group, ahead of the slower groups. That suited me just fine, allowing me to indulge in some photo-taking.

Despite the heat, the last leg on Eastside was actually pleasant—a little bit cooler, with a hint of a breeze even.

Green grapes on the vine, MacMurray Ranch, Healdsburg, California
We rode 38 miles with a scant 695 feet of climbing—which factors into how I was able to average 14.9 mph (wow).

Back at the party, Richard said “You're a strong rider, I watched you in the group today.” [Me? A strong rider?] “I have no power,” I sighed. “We can work on that, and the first thing is: Stop saying that.”

June 23, 2018

Castle Crags

Another Saturday, another metric century. [What?! Three in a row?]

How could I resist when a friend asked me to join her for the Castle Crags Century Mountain Metric? We managed to squeeze yet another Friday off and headed for Mt. Shasta. Long-distance driving is not one of my strengths, so I was thrilled—normally I would not consider such a distant event. [Not to mention that this one was not on my radar.]

Our motel was close to the the route, so I suggested we just start from there—that approach worked well last time I rode here, too.

View of Lake Siskiyou with hills in the distance, Mt. Shasta, California
When I rode the Mt. Shasta Century a few years ago, I missed getting a good photo of Lake Siskiyou. This time, I knew where to stop. It wasn't long before we stopped again, my ride buddy shouting behind me to look up. Ospreys! And then ... a Bald Eagle. What a way to start the day!

Fir trees anchored in a rocky hillside, W A Barr Road, Mt. Shasta, California
We'd tackled the principal climb first; the ride three years ago was an out-and-back on this hill, not a climb to the summit. [Oh, what we missed!]

Snowy top of Mt. Shasta framed by tall evergreens, W A Barr Road, Mt. Shasta, California
A rear-view mirror is handy for more than just checking the traffic behind you. Sometimes, there's a picture-worthy view.

Cyclist pedals through volunteers waving international flags at the Gumboot water stop, W A Barr Road, Mt. Shasta, California
We got the full Tour de France welcome from enthusiastic volunteers at the first water stop.

Sign reading "It's Just a Hill, Get Over It" along W A Barr Road, Mt. Shasta, California
The gentle grade turned serious after that. Encouraging signs were planted in strategic locations. The first one reminded us “Remember You Signed Up For This.”

View of the Trinity Alps from W A Barr Road, Mt. Shasta, California
As I admired the Trinity Alps from the summit, my internal soundtrack spontaneously began looping on a particular song.
Over bridge of sighs,
To rest my eyes in shades of green
Under dreaming spires
View of the Castle Crags framed by evergreens, Mt. Shasta, California
Around the bend, Castle Crags came into view.
What did you do there?
I got high ...
Clear view of the Castle Crags, Mt. Shasta, California
What did you touch there?
I touched the sky ...
View of the Sacramento River from a bridge near Castle Crags State Park, California
Soda Creek Road on-ramp to Interstate 5, near Castle Creek State Park, California
Even the on-ramp to Interstate 5 framed a lovely view of the Crags.

Century / Super Century / Mountain Metric sign pointing to the on-ramp to Interstate 5, near Castle Crags State Park, California
And as you see, that's where we were headed ...

Semi truck passes cyclists riding on the shoulder of Interstate 5 approaching the Crag View exit near Dunsmuir, California
The orange cones on the shoulder of I5 were a helpful reminder to passing cars and trucks to stay clear.

View of Mt. Shasta with cyclists heading toward the distant mountain, near Dunsmuir, California
The weather was near perfect, but a tad warm in the afternoon. I was holding up better than last week, grateful to have my lowest gears again after I'd taken my trusty steed in for some adjusting. I'd also mounted some new (wider, 25mm) tires—the organizers had been emphatic about the poor road conditions. I chose to walk when my wheels started slipping on an uphill dirt section, but the rest of the route was rideable. The hazards were well-marked and all was well, until ... I got excited about a downhill stretch and slammed into a pothole that launched a water bottle. [At least that was the worst of it.] At speed, in the shade, I didn't see the markings.

The road kicked up, I shifted down, much clattering was heard. I stopped (luckily before the rear wheel would have seized up): the chain had dropped off the largest rear cog and become thoroughly wedged between the cassette and rear wheel spokes.

I nudged.

I tugged.

I yanked with all my might.

I was skeptical when the technician had turned the limit screws on both derailleurs last week. I'm no bike mechanic, but ... that wasn't the right solution.

My hands got plenty greasy, but the chain would not budge. [Somehow it always seems like Too Much Trouble to fish around in my saddle bag for the latex gloves. Why do I carry them?]

I looked at the map; so close, yet so far. The SAG guys transported me seven miles to the finish, and then carefully pried the chain free with a screwdriver, link by link. “We should have tried that out there, you could have finished the ride!”

After partying with my bike buddy and some newly minted friends we pedaled back to the motel as planned, rounding out my day with 55 miles and 5,805 feet of climbing.

It's all too beautiful ...

June 18, 2018


Every June, our company organizes and sponsors a month's worth of community service. We're encouraged to get out of the office and volunteer our brains and brawn. I traditionally gravitate toward the outdoors-y projects. [As if I didn't have enough yard work to do.]

Adopt A Park truck and trailer, San Jose, California
We learned that the city of San Jose has more than 200 parks! And (no surprise here) there isn't enough staff to maintain them. Especially since, here in California, stuff grows ... and grows ... year round.

Group shot of most of our volunteers, San Jose, California
The project I chose this year was on the grounds of a large community center, landscaped with trees, bushes, and flowers that were out of control. Volunteering alone isn't enough for me; for many years, I have chosen to lead at least one project. This year I went all in: 100 volunteers to coordinate (one of whom stepped up to co-lead!).

We swarmed over the grounds and, in a matter of hours, transformed the place. Community members thanked us, the staff came out to marvel at what we accomplished, and city workers hauled multiple truckloads away.

Weeding, raking, and sweeping debris, San Jose California
I joined a crew that tackled the weeds, leaves, and assorted debris that had accumulated in the plants along the long sidewalk fronting the facility. We raked and pulled and swept faster than our comrades could load tarps and wheelbarrows to haul it away.

A few folks even stayed late, after lunch, to help the city worker load the last load into his truck.

Piles of plant trimmings and debris next to a city truck, San Jose, California
At the end of our stint, everyone was dirty and sweaty ... and proud of what we accomplished.

June 16, 2018

Morning, Marin

I thought last week's ride had a small turnout. Today's ride was smaller still.

I'd resisted signing up for the Marin edition of a one-day ride for the Arthritis Foundation, opting for the Pescadero ride the past two years. But there will be no Pescadero ride this year, so I decided to haul myself up to Marin to support the cause. A few days before, a friend decided to join me—that turned out to be quite fortuitous, because I would otherwise have been riding alone all day. [Pretty much.]

Sunny and windy, we both found this ride unexpectedly difficult. The temperature, though, was perfect.

Doe leading two fawns under a fence near Novato, California
A few miles into the ride, I spotted a doe and two (!) fawns next to the road. Mom decided we didn't pose a threat and tolerated our presence as they grazed. I was impressed to watch her drop down and slip under the lowest fence rail—so her offspring could easily follow.

View of Laguna Lake with wildflowers and golden hills, Chileno Valley Road, Petaluma, California
I remembered Chileno Valley Road from last fall, and it was just as pretty.

Had I studied the profile more closely, I might not have chosen to donate blood five days before the ride. And I might have been more diligent about getting a mechanic to adjust my finicky front derailleur, which sometimes refuses to shift down to the smallest ring. [I'm apprehensive about looking after my newer bike at group events, so I rely on my older road bike—which hasn't been getting enough love, for sure.]

Dairy farm near Fallon, California
The back roads were quiet, passing mostly through ranches and dairy farms. There were a few steep sections, but the route was mostly rolling hills. I did manage to shift into my lowest gear once. Before and after that one long climb, it balked (and I walked).

View of meandering estuary from Whitaker Bluff Road near Fallon, California
I had a sense, on Marshall-Petaluma Road, that I had been there before. (I was right.) On the Marin Century, some years back, we rode it toward the coast. In the opposite direction, it starts out with a rude climb. I shifted down and carried some speed, but without my lowest gear, I stopped turning the pedals before the grade eased up.

View of Tomales Bay from Marshall Petaluma Road, Marshall, California
With some 20 miles to go, my legs (and I) were ready to be done. I rode for miles without seeing another rider and wondered if they'd missed the turn. [They hadn't.]

Boulder in a field along Marshall Petaluma Road, near Petaluma, California
I was excited, and oh-so-relieved, when Stafford Lake finally came into view.

View of Stafford Lake, Novato, Calfornia
A scenic, but painful, 58 miles and 3,885 feet of climbing.

June 9, 2018

Incarnation 100

On Thursday, I stayed at work later than usual to wrap some things up since I would be taking the day off on Friday. Waiting for a later-than-usual shuttle, a cyclist started chatting with me. “You're the one who did the Death Ride, right?”

I have a special privilege at work: every four weeks I am one of a handful of people who talk to incoming employees on their very first day. As part of our introduction, we share a fun fact about ourselves—I mention that I've done the Death Ride, and I tell them that they could do it, too! [This does make an impression.]

Our new employee was curious about my folding bike; he'd used a folder commuting to his former job. “Where?” Santa Rosa. “Oh, I'm doing a ride up there on Saturday, the Incarnation 100.” Turns out his wife used to work for one of the beneficiaries (The Living Room) and he'd done the ride in the past. Small world?!

Puffy clouds above rows of grape vines, with a mountain in the distance, Sonoma County, California
I had never heard of this ride until a couple of weeks ago when a friend invited me to join her. [Sure, why not?]

A mile or two into the ride, I spotted a cell phone on the street and (of course) stopped to pick it up. A few miles later, we stopped at a Peet's for my ride buddy to get a caffeine fix. By now it was clear that this was a very small event, and we wondered if we would, in fact, see any fellow riders.

At the next traffic light, we caught up to a guy who had just passed us. With earbuds in both ears (a no-no, by the way), he didn't hear me say “Good morning!” But he did turn around, and ... and ... it was the new guy from work!

After chatting with me, he and his wife decided to come up and do the ride: 100k for him, 30 miles for her. “See you on Sweetwater Springs!“ he called out as the light turned green.

Think about this chain of improbable events—what are the odds?!

But, back to the ride story ... It was sobering to ride past the Santa Rosa neighborhoods that were consumed by fire last fall. If you didn't know, you wouldn't guess that those wide open fields were once suburban subdivisions, and you might wonder at the blackened trunks of nearby redwoods that survived.

Sunlit trusses of the Wohler Bridge, Forestville, California
I've long been a fan of the historic Wohler Bridge. I know there are scenic backroads in Sonoma County; I've ridden on them. On this ride ... not so much. [But, a very worthy cause.]

pep's bike on the Wohler Bridge above the Russian River, Forestville, California
I was not familiar with Sweetwater Springs, rumored to have a painfully long section of 18% grade (in reality, closer to 14%). I should have looked it up in my copy of Summerson's Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike) in California: “two sections of sustained double-digit grade.” [I did my share of uphill walking.] I seemed to be leapfrogging two guys along the way and began to wonder if they were sweeping me. [No, as it turned out.] I would come around a bend to see them standing with their bikes, and then they'd remount and continue. [They, too, were challenged by this climb.] I got some kudos when I pedaled past one of them, but I couldn't afford a breath to say thanks.

View of a tree-lined canyon with pink flowers in the foreground, from the summit of Sweetwater Springs Road, Sonoma County, California
There were a surprising number of banners strung up on barns and fences promoting this ride—surprising given how few riders there were. (200? 300?) Trails were a welcome respite from busy roads with fast-moving (though, well-behaved) traffic.

The route could have used a few more arrows. We inadvertently took a shortcut when we missed one trail junction. [Oh well.] Near the end, a clutch of riders had forked left and were standing up at street level, confused. I called out when my ride buddy headed toward them, and then all fell in line behind me. It helps to understand that, in urban areas, the main trail dips below cross-streets; you only want the street-level fork if you're exiting. I finished the day with 61 miles, and ... only 2,375 feet of climbing?

We were entertained by a live band and refueled with a meal at the finish. I pulled out the stray cell phone to see if I could determine its owner, but its battery had run dry. [Note to self: next time, put the thing in airplane mode until you have time to deal with it.] No one had reported a lost phone at the event, but I was able to hand it off to one of the event's tech-savvy guys. In all likelihood, it belonged to one of the locals; sorting it out after carrying it home to the South Bay would make its return complicated.

My best memory of this ride came on a trail. Among the cyclists we passed were a dad and his young daughter riding her own little bike, her helmet adorned with a tiara. It is especially important to slow down and call out in advance for the kids, who tend to weave unpredictably. Dad coached his pint-sized pink princess to stay to the right, and as I rolled past I smiled and said “Good job!” Before we were out of earshot, I overheard a tiny voice behind me.

She made my day! She said I'm doing a good job!”

Aww. She made my day.

June 3, 2018


The chicks are bustin' out!

This year, I learned that egrets lay blue eggs (!). I found a shell cast off from a Great Egret's nest for all to admire.

Discarded blue Great Egret eggshell, Mountain View, California
Note to self: start visiting the rookery in June, not May. Sure, there were a few birds last month. But today they were on full display.

When I chatted with some folks from the local Audubon Society chapter last week, they told me they'd counted 110 nests at the rookery this year. (Apparently there are more nests in trees on the far side of the nearest building, too.)

Pair of Snowy Egrets courting near a nest, Mountain View, California
Hungry chicks were squawking, while latecomers were building nests and fanning out their fancy feathers.

Our group had a latecomer, too: It was all chicks when we set off, till one lone male rider came barreling along to join us.

Snowy egret hunting, San Francisco Bay, Mountain View, California
Without the headwinds we faced last time, I expected we'd find more birds along the shoreline. Maybe it was too early for lunch; apart from some snoozing mallards, we saw only a few egrets (Snowy and Great).

Everyone was mesmerized by the colony and temporarily forgot their own hunger pangs. (I will definitely move the start time for this outing up by half an hour, next time.) They were even willing to stop rolling toward lunch when I spotted a pair of Black-crowned Night-Herons on their nest.

Two Black-Crowned Night-Herons on their nest, Mountain View, California
With some errands, 56 miles and 1,000 feet of climbing for me; an essentially flat 27 miles for the main loop.

Hard to say what I enjoy more, the birds or introducing new people to the birds. It's all good.

June 2, 2018

Short and Shady

The rest of the group planned some challenging climbs, which (today) would be grueling in the heat.

Hills reflected in the calm water of Lexington Reservoir, view from the dam, Los Gatos, California
I opted for the easiest climb, with a nice loop around the reservoir to cover some distance.

I eyed the redwoods towering over my head, across the ravine. I had to look down to see the base of the trees, and up (way up) to see the tops. They're that tall.

Redwood grove on Aldercroft Heights Road, Los Gatos, California
Far from the bustle of the valley, far from the highway packed with people heading for the coast for a respite from the heat, I reveled in the deep shade of a redwood grove. Moments of bliss, with just the sound of the birds and the creek tumbling over rocks.

An itty-bitty ride, just 12 miles with 1,115 of climbing.