June 30, 2019

Faster than Some

Slower than most.

The Best Buddies Sonoma training ride has become one of my favorites. I was looking forward to visiting the same Airbnb hosts again, but maybe they're working on the renovation they mentioned last year—their listing wasn't available to book.

I was stunned when I realized that the place I did find, this year, was right on the edge of the burn zone in Santa Rosa. As in, one or two blocks away. This was a direct connection to a dramatic video I'd seen in the aftermath of that fire, when firefighters from Berkeley rolled into town and found a neighborhood to defend after realizing that their assigned rendezvous point had already been lost. This was that neighborhood.

Our ride would be less hot than last year (hurray!). Our Ringleader Richard sorted the 40-milers into three groups after we'd covered a few miles. Not surprisingly, I landed in the middle group ... after hanging on at 16.4 mph (!) for the first 30 minutes (climbing 270 feet in the process).

Eventually I would slip off the back. Despite Richard's colorful admonitions not to be a “martyr” and ride alone, I am content to do exactly that. The slow group would be too pokey for me, and I'd be disappointed not to collect a good photo or two.

The middle group left the rest stop first; the fast riders waited for the slow riders to arrive, allowing for a somewhat tighter finish. [A less spread-out finish, anyway.] Along the way another rider fell in with me; his buddy was with the fast pack. A mile or two later, he said “I'd ride anywhere with you, you're very consistent!” [Well, I have that going for me. That, and descending.]

The fast group would pass us, of course. Back at the ranch, Richard's closing remarks were poignant. “I know how some of you felt this morning, wondering whether you could keep up, whether you could do this ride. Remember that feeling? That's what our Buddies feel, every single day.”

And that is why I keep supporting this organization.

I did push myself hard today, 835 feet of climbing over 38 miles, averaging 14.7 mph. [Unnaturally fast, for me. But, evidently, possible.]

June 22, 2019

Challenging Castle Crags

Not one, but two of my cycling buddies were keen to travel up to Mt. Shasta for this year's Castle Crags ride.

Lake Sisikiyou was lovely in the early morning stillness, and snow lingered on the distant ridge.

The mountain dazzled us with its glorious cap, and there were even a couple of snowy patches still melting along the north-facing heights along our route.  And wildflowers.

Curious to understand more about the folks who choose to live up there, I chatted up three volunteers at one of the rest stops: An attorney who practices up and down the state (and owns a hotel in a nearby town), a guy who works remotely for a company in the Bay Area, and an executive for a local conservation organization. Surprising? Or not, because this event is hosted by the Rotary Club.

The last rest stop was packed and gone by the time we reached it. We'd started slightly later than last year, and I'd dawdled a bit more throughout the day. That, and the freight train ...

I flew down a sharp hill to cross the railroad tracks in Dunsmuir ... to find our path forward blocked by a freight train. Which wasn't moving. A train whose end was not in sight. It would be easy enough for me to slip through beneath a car, but not my bike. I walked back up the (steep) hill in time to catch Ms. C before she started the descent. She was a champ at recognizing that we could simply proceed along the main road. I could see why they wanted to route us across the tracks (and back again), but it wasn't strictly necessary.

I had forgotten the long uphill slog out of Dunsmuir; surely it would flatten out around the next bend ... surely it would [not]. A dim memory surfaced, of studying the profile and noticing that last year.

I definitely remembered where that ride ended for me—after walking up an unpaved section, eager to descend and too much at ease given how well-marked the hazards had been ... up till then.

No mechanical snafu for me, this year! My faster ride buddy was waiting at the finish to chauffeur us back to our hotel (rather than bike the last couple of miles). A full 59 miles and 6,360 feet of climbing, this year. More than 100 feet per mile ... very much more so, given that what went up also went down. Ah, but  remember those views!

This year I wondered if that odd “motel” sign at the penultimate rest stop had a history. Those train cars at Railroad Park are the motel! Now I want to return for a stay!

June 16, 2019


It's that time of year again—time to check out the Shoreird Class of 2019.

Having repeated this ride a few times over the past couple of years, I know where to expect the first sightings. Sure enough, there was a Black Crowned Night-heron dozing on a debris-pile perch in the middle of San Tomas Aquino Creek.

The drainage opening nearby must carry some tasty bits into the creek. The standoff between the Snowy Egret and another Black Crowned Night-heron didn't last long (the heron prevailed, and soon thereafter chased the other heron from its perch).

Overcast skies kept us comfortable, and the lack of wind made for good bird-watching.

This hunting pair made for a perfect lesson in distinguishing between a Snowy Egret (left) and a Great Egret (right).

Of course, there was plenty of activity at the rookery; lots of squawking adults and hungry chirping chicks. The surprise for me this year was the number of Black Crowned Night-heron nests—more than the one or two we've seen the past few years. With a healthy supply of suitable branches, the herons and egrets nest in harmony.

This has, unexpectedly, become one of my favorite rides: 51 miles, 1,040 feet of climbing for me.

June 15, 2019

Courting Cormarants

“I should know better than to follow you downhill,” one of today's riders remarked (when he caught up with me). The group was massed at the summit when I arrived, so I waved and immediately started my descent. [Otherwise I'd be on the brakes the whole way down, mixing it up with them and likely making more than a few of them uneasy.]

All that water in the reservoir was a site to behold! I paused to admire a hunting great blue heron and a pair of cormorants who seemed fixated on each other.

I missed the fawn that others saw, but this pair of young deer posed nicely for me. [No, they are not lawn ornaments.] They didn't immediately bolt when I stopped, and seemed curious when I spoke softly to them.

On the return trip I looked up to see a halo ringing the sun; not wanting to point directly at the orb, I captured a lower arc.

It was cool and breezy, the kind of day we needed to reassure us that our recent run of triple-digit heat was a fluke.

A smooth 44 miles, with a scant 1,319 feet of climbing.

June 13, 2019

Engineering Farmers

Although we're always encouraged to support our local communities by volunteering our time, once a year our company works with a local agency to sponsor a broad array of projects over the course of a month—and nudges us out of the office to pitch in during the work week. Projects fill up fast, and I quickly learned that the best way to work on the project of my choice was to sign up to lead it.

We all spend too much time in office buildings, so I gravitate toward the outdoors. This year, the one that aligned well with my schedule was a project to revitalize a small plot near an urban school, run by the California Native Garden Foundation.

Here they mix native plants, to restore the soil's ecosystem, with food crops. During the school year, students learn from the garden. Year-round, produce is sold at a local farmers' market.

Our representative from CNGF shared her passion about “agrihoods;” her dog, having heard all of this before, knew where to settle down in the shade.

Cell phones were stowed in favor of wielding sledgehammers and pry bars. Who doesn't enjoy the chance to do some serious demolition?

When I put out the call for volunteers, many of my teammates signed right up—including my manager. (You're not the boss of me, today!)

Everyone worked hard, and of course they're all quite clever. Count on engineers to figure out the best way to get the job done (and do it well).

At the end of our morning, the folks from CNGF surprised us with a salad of tasty (and unfamiliar) greens from the garden!

We left a big pile of debris and a garden much better than we found it, and no one got hurt in the process. (Whew!)

You, too, can volunteer!

June 8, 2019

Motorcycles, Mostly

As the group was gathering for today's ride, one rider proclaimed “You helped me become a better cyclist!” He explained that he used to bonk all the time, and then fished a sandwich bag from his pocket filled with my “cure:” Salted, peanut butter pretzel nuggets. I smiled and held up my cache of the same. Another was grateful for comments I'd shared long ago about recovering from a PCL injury.

Unexpectedly, those two guests on today's ride knew me from a road bike mailing list at work. [Small world!] It was pure luck that we met today for the first time. Especially since one of them is now based in Australia.

Unfamiliar with this route, I told them what to expect. Motorcycles, mostly. Sports cars. “Pickup trucks,” our ride leader added.

And views that the vast majority of Bay Area residents will never see.

They were somewhat uncertain about going the distance to The Junction, concerned about climbing back out. But the thing is, once you make that turn onto Mines Road, there is essentially nothing until then. (Except those views that the vast majority of Bay Area residents will never see.)

One guy was getting over a cold, the other had just flown in yesterday—and then broke a spoke after the first few miles. The wheel was still true enough; another rider helped him weave the broken spoke through others to tuck it out of the way. They kept going and were glad they did. “It's just like you said it would be!” one exclaimed.

I was surprised that wildflowers were still blooming, and flowering shrubs on the hillsides shimmered in the light.

There are creeks running alongside the road, but there was another area that caught my eye. There was something different about that standing water. Was I looking at sag ponds? (Indeed, I think they were. Mines Road basically aligns with the Greenville Fault.)

We passed a few Aermotors along the way; this one begged for a glamour shot.

The temperature will be unbearable here tomorrow, but today it was just right. A bit windy, but that helped keep us cool as we climbed 3,705 feet over 62 miles. Of the times I've biked this road, today was the prettiest.

June 1, 2019


A warm summer weekend in the Bay Area sends thousands of people in their cars over the Santa Cruz Mountains, to the beach.

I made the same trip ... on my bicycle.

Sirens wailed as we climbed Old Santa Cruz Highway, heralding the latest crash on nearby Highway 17. Sure enough, bursts of cars soon appeared on the old road to the coast as Waze helpfully re-routed drivers around the backup. One of them nearly mowed me down.

I'm a skeptic when it comes to self-driving cars, but one of those would have yielded to me today. Instead, a zombie driver, unfamiliar with the area and fixated on his or her navigation screen, pulled alongside me as I approached Mountain Charlie Road and then veered directly across my path to make the turn.

I was semi-expecting this move after watching a few other vehicles make that same turn. No one familiar with these roads would take that steep, twisty, one-lane shortcut; they would stay on the main road and turn right at the summit. But Waze will recommend the shortest (fastest) path, thus sending a stream of zombies up Mountain Charlie.

When we reached the summit, we could see that the marine layer was thick; the descent was cold, and moist. On a sunny day I wonder where all those thousands of people go, when they get to the coast. On a day like today, I wonder even more. What do they all do?

There were only four of us planning to do the full route today; I contemplated re-routing straight to Corralitos, as I was pretty chilled and saw little point in biking all the way to the beach. But we were looking after one another, so I carried on.

We would not see blue skies again until we were partway up the return climb on Eureka Canyon Road.

It's been a while, so I had forgotten how long that climb is. Most of it seemed to be in better shape than I expected, but Highland Way certainly took another beating over the winter. I had shortened the route by starting on the south side of Lexington Reservoir, as 62 miles and 4,655 feet of climbing seemed like enough for me.

And, it was.