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.

Rattlesnake Reparation

The route for today would be shorter and less strenuous, but my friends humored me with an earlier start.

Ornamental residential entry gate, metalwork depicting mountains, clouds, and a lake, near Nevada City, California
We meandered through rural residential neighborhoods on quiet roads. The area offers a mix of the affordable and ... the less affordable. We stopped to admire this impressive entry gate, a tribute to the land complete with a swirling lake and cloud-topped mountains.

The route also offered more shade, overall, so I was having a much better day.

I was looking forward to the promise of a lovely descent on Rattlesnake Road, but alas: The road had been trenched for most of its length and the infill spoiled it. I'm sure it will be nice again, someday, when it's properly repaved.

Mining equipment on the grounds of the Northstar Mining Museum, Grass Valley, California
We regrouped at the Northstar Mining Museum, which was closed. Much mining equipment was displayed outdoors, anyway (in its natural habitat, as it were). These were not small machines.

pep's bike next to a Pelton Wheel, Northstar Mining Museum, Grass Valley, California
This Pelton wheel was forged at a foundry less than 500 yards from where it rests now, out of service. Much more efficient than the familiar traditional water wheel, it was a big innovation in energy delivery (and is apparently still used, in places, today). [Learn something new every day, even at play, that's my motto.]

My friends were keen to extend our route to revisit some scenic views. “A little more climbing,” in the heat of the day.

I was having none of that. 30 miles and 2,380 feet of climbing felt just right to me; I had no desire to get overheated again. Besides, I knew where to get a nice berry smoothie and a cool shower—and have enough time left in the day for a local adventure off the bike.

July 7, 2018

Bitney Springs

In Nevada City, we were staying in cottages that are part of a vintage motor lodge (dating back to 1933). The place is quaint and funky; my mom would have loved the birdhouses adorning the cottage across the garden from mine.

We chatted with a local cyclist a few blocks into our ride. “Oh, that will be hot—I wouldn't do that climb today.” I wished we'd gotten an earlier start.

I missed viewing a dramatic bridge over the Yuba River. I was focused on the unpredictable traffic and parked cars, and when I saw a climb on the other side (after a nice long downhill), I just wanted to keep moving. The day was warming quickly. Drivers were more foolish around here, crossing the double yellow line to pass slower cars. Passengers were foolish, too; I did a double-take when I realized the shaggy head hanging outside a Jeep was attached to a human, not a dog.

I didn't miss the historic covered bridge, later, though it's fenced off. The best view was from the road outside the park. I was already suffering in the heat; I saturated my arm coolers with cold water, which helped for a time. We would be mostly climbing for the next 13 miles, so I preferred not to check out the local history displays in the barn. The day would only get hotter.

The heat was taking its toll on me. At first, I stopped every mile. Later, every tenth of a mile. Finally, I made it from one tiny patch of shade to the next. I dismounted and walked the final, exposed pitch to the top. It wasn't steep, but my engine was just plain overheated. The cattle lolling in the shade had more sense than we did.

The reward for climbing Bitney Springs Road was not the view; it was the eponymous water at the bottom. Despite the county's official warning sign, a steady stream of people with empty containers pulled up in cars. I drenched my arm coolers again, but hesitated to refill my water bottle. “I guess it's okay?” I asked an elderly gentleman who was filling three jugs. “Been drinkin' it for 50 years,” he replied. Enough of an endorsement for me!

We stopped at a quirky little spot to refuel with some healthy fare. I was grateful for the giant berry smoothie, but even more excited at the prospect of a cool shower at the cottage.

Done and done, 34 miles and 3,560 feet of climbing.

July 6, 2018

Rainy Day Women

My friends had mapped out an 80-mile route for the first day of our biking vacation. After plotting the course on a map, I saw a straightforward way to reduce it to 60 and suggested considering that option when we reached the turning point. But the more I thought about it, the more certain I was to follow the shorter route—especially since we were not staying another night in the area, but would face a post-ride two-hour drive to our next home base in Nevada City.

Our loop started with a sweet downhill, passing through the town of Graeagle. I was glad that I'd tossed a vest into my bag, almost as an afterthought, “just in case.”

The morning was chilly, with a slight chance of rain (rain?!) in the forecast.

Uncharacteristically, Ms. C (who normally stacks on multiple layers), brought none. Here she is snapping a photo of me snapping a photo of her.

There were flowers and boulders and evergreens a-plenty.

At one point I looked up just in time to see two fawns trailing their mom across the road and up the hillside.

“Did you feel that?” Sprinkles.

Which turned to rain.

Enough rain for vehicles to flick on their windshield wipers and spray water up from the roadway and bring patches of oil to the surface.

We have neither windshields, nor wipers.

But I've weathered far worse.

I met the Boyfriend (Ms. C's) climbing back up. “She wasn't far back when I started descending, but she must be cold.” He'd offer her the option to turn back. “I'm going to continue,” expecting that I would ride out of the rain. [I was right.]

I paused now and then for a snack, and to admire the scenery.

If they hadn't turned back, they'd surely catch up to me.

Continuing was the right choice (but then, with my vest and arm warmers, I wasn't really cold). I dried out soon enough.

I realized that my internal soundtrack had started playing a tune ... Gershwin. The mind works in mysterious ways.

I lingered a while at the Sattley Cash Store, by now convinced that my friends had turned back.

I had earned these photo-worthy views.

A barn dating back to 1895.

Vehicles traveled fast, but there weren't many. Visibility was excellent, so I wasn't worried about sharing the road.

A flock of white pelicans rose up from the field, swirled overhead and vanished.

In addition to the views, I was rewarded with a smokin' tailwind.

Puffs of cloud dotted the sky above massive rock formations.

Bright flowers were a welcome sight after the morning's gloom.

I was glad I had stayed the course: 4,025 feet of climbing over 61 miles (some wet, some dry). For my friends, who turned back, more wet than dry.

The afternoon drive gave us the views we missed this morning. Maybe I'll come back, one day.

July 5, 2018

A Walk in the Woods

With most people celebrating Independence Day, traffic was light and I made it to Auburn yesterday without growing exhausted in the process. That left today for the rest of the long drive to Graeagle, where I would rendezvous with two biking buddies for a mini getaway.

Graeagle? Where the heck is Graeagle? Until they'd suggested it, I had never heard of it. Entering the town, I think the sign claimed a population of 737.

Carved wooden Indian Chief statue atop sign "Chief Graeagle Welcomes You.", Graeagle, California
We visited the town when my friends arrived, and later I went exploring on my own as they relaxed before dinner. Our lodge provided a map that showed the start of a path leading to “the river.”

Light streaming through the trees along the Clareville Road path, Portola, California
The path wasn't marked, and I had no sense of the distance to the river. The bouncing blue GPS dot on my phone kept me on the main route (Clareville Flat Road, according to Google Maps).

I was rewarded with the sound of the wind in the trees and the occasional song of a bird.

And, of course, flowers. It may be late in the season, but the altitude is higher (and the nights cooler).

I wondered about bears ... but didn't see telltale signs of large mammals.

I wondered whether I would, in fact, find the river. The Middle Fork Feather River, as it turned out.

Railroad bridge over Middle Fork Feather River, Portola, California
I didn't expect railroad tracks, and a bridge.

Middle Fork Feather River flowing over rocks along granite cliffs, Portola, California
I didn't expect to find the river flanked by cliffs, dotted with granite boulders.

A most satisfying walk in the woods.

July 4, 2018


I learned my lesson from past Fourths of July: Don't sleep in. To the early arrivals go the pancakes.

Almaden Reservoir on a windy day with fog blowing in over the hills, San Jose, California
My post-pancake aspirations were modest this year. As tempting as it was to head up to the summit of Mt. Umunhum (which I have still not visited?!), I had other plans for the afternoon. It would take me at least an hour, I calculated, just to get to the top—bracketed by more riding.

The day was windy and unseasonably cool—I stepped into the sunshine at breakfast, just to stop shivering. The subsequent climb up the backside of Hicks warmed us up handily, of course. To get there, we looped past the Almaden Reservoir, where we had a clear view of the fog blowing in from the coast.

After 33 miles and 1,945 feet of climbing, I got cleaned up and embarked on my next challenge: Heading out on another road trip, this time solo. Apprehensive about my stamina for a drive of four-plus hours, I scoped out motels for a few “halfway” points along the route.

Could I make it as far as Auburn? We'll see ...