September 28, 2019

The Good Part

On the upper part of the climb, a cyclist from our group greeted me as he passed. “Good morning,” I replied. “You're supposed to say: What's good about it?!” he laughed.

The good part was that I had, again, conquered Old Calaveras Road. It was windy and chillier than I expected, and the cold dry air was searing my lungs. It's a brutal beginning (15% grade) to that climb, before it tapers into being just another challenging hill. A hill that I have evidently skipped for the past four years. [Common sense? Nah.]

Late September cast a painterly light on the landscape. We skirted the edge of the lake and watched the paragliders sailing above the hills.

We continued over to Felter Road, where a confused motorist asked me for help. They were looking for the Boccardo Loop Trail, and their navigation system had led them astray. I assured them that there were no trailheads or parking areas behind me, and recommended that they turn back to the parking area at the summit of Sierra. [Which, as it turned out, was the right answer.]

I regretted not bringing a jacket today. I had two options for returning to the start: the long, sweeping descent of Felter and Calaveras that I love, or the short plunge down Sierra. With regrets, I chose the latter—for a whopping 19 miles and 2,525 feet of climbing. My legs were done.

September 22, 2019

Viva Calle San Jose

The best line of the day came from a dad who asked “If I give you a kid, can I have a bell?”

Our sign announced “Bike Bells (for kids),” so that was a fair question.

Viva Calle San Jose is an event run by the parks and recreation department periodically. They close city streets and get families to explore their neighborhoods (on bikes, scooters, skates, or simply on foot). It was quite the scene!

We were there to spread good will (and hopefully entice some new members to join our club). Our formula was simple: A free bell (sporting the club's logo) for every kid who wanted us to install one on their bike.

One member contributed his helmet-fitting expertise, improving the safety of many children (and adults). It's amazing the number of cyclists—even very experienced cyclists—who are riding around with ill-fitting, poorly-adjusted helmets: tilted back, loose straps, too small ... we see it all.

This is the first time I'd participated, and it was a joy to see the kids' faces light up over those bells! The more the parents cautioned their little ones about how much they could ring those bells, the more gleefully I would encourage them to test those bells after I'd installed them.

We weren't far from the band, and our ringing bells added some musicality to the performance. It was a warm day; I drank a lot of water, and basically I was just standing around. I can't imagine what it was like inside those fleecy shark costumes. [Why sharks? Well, we were positioned right outside the “Shark Tank,” the arena where the San Jose Sharks play hockey.]

I biked to and from our booth, but didn't have enough time this morning to bike the event route. The real workout was not the 21 flat miles (320 feet of climbing), but all those deep knee bends. Little kids have little bikes ... little bikes have little handlebars ... little handlebars that are low to the ground.

And even though I didn't follow the event route, I did discover something new, a charming Italian restaurant in a mostly industrial neighborhood. The patio was so inviting!

And if you haven't adjusted your helmet in a while, I'll bet that your straps are loose (at a minimum). We're not there to help you, so here are some guidelines to follow.

September 14, 2019

The Bernal Burn

It's a short but healthy climb up Bernal Road, with some rewarding views on a day as clear as today.

Mt. Hamilton and the Diablo Range to the east,

Mt. Umunhum, Loma Prieta, and the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west.

After that little jaunt, we dropped back down and continued past the Chesbro Reservoir on the way to our turnaround point in Morgan Hill. The water levels are low now, but there is still water.

We came upon an unexpected herd of goats along the Coyote Creek Trail, corralled by a temporary electric fence. I wondered where they might find some water, as we were all baking in the sun.

The goats were a surprise, though we have seen them here in the past. The turkeys were not a surprise, and somewhat panicked when we pulled up.

We were in it for the distance today, covering 42 miles and climbing 1,315 feet.

September 12, 2019

Hamilton, the Musical

When Hamilton: An American Musical first appeared on the scene, I was puzzled by the buzz. Friends were eager to travel across the country to see it, tickets were all-but-impossible to find and the prices were astronomical.

Years later, tickets are still difficult to find and they're still pricey. I got lucky and was able to buy a pair, so I invited my chief culture-and-biking buddy to join me.

Traffic being what it is (in a word: awful), I suggested that we spend the day in San Francisco. I recommended the California Academy of Sciences, and she was game. I had only visited once before, at night, so I was eager to check out the green roof. [Yes, that's a view atop the building in the photo above.]

Some school-age denizens made a beeline for the “shakey house” and we followed their lead. It's set up like the dining room of a vintage Victorian, but with serious grab bars. The first simulation was the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta quake (1989); the second was the 7.9 San Francisco quake (1906). [Hint: you need those grab bars.] The simulation of the 1906 quake ran longer, but soberingly shook us for only about one third of the duration of the actual event. [And that was plenty.]

I was particularly impressed by an enormous specimen of silicon dioxide (quartz), weighing in at 1,350 pounds.

The museum is located right in Golden Gate Park, which we thought we might also explore—but the museum had so much to offer, we stayed until the closing bell.

Bordering the green in front of the museum is a monument to Francis Scott Key, commissioned by James Lick (familiar to us Lick Observatory fans). There seemed to be no particular connection to San Francisco, though this area is known as the Music Concourse.

It was a hot autumn day, and the fountains looked particularly refreshing. [We stayed dry.]

The musical was playing at the Orpheum Theatre, and I made the mistake of leading us down Golden Gate Avenue and Hyde Street, through drug-dealing-central of the Tenderloin. [I won't make that mistake again.]

As for the show, well ... I enjoyed the character portrayals and absorbed the outlines of Hamilton's life and impressive role in the founding of our country. The music, for me, was entirely forgettable. [Give me Lerner & Loewe, or Rodgers & Hammerstein, or even Andrew Lloyd Webber.] It didn't help that it was over-amplified and the lyrics often unintelligible to my ears. Surtitles would have been a welcome addition. The piece (and performance) I remember most was King George III's; in my opinion, he stole the show.

But what do I know. See for yourself.

September 7, 2019

Gusty Gutsy

Could I still do it? Could I still ride 100 miles down the coast? Last year, on the alternate route, I dropped back to 100 km due to the heat. But that would not be a factor this year.

You've done it before, I told myself. This will be the eleventh time. Of course you can do it. A 25-mile ride is nothing, this is just four of those.

The start was different this year. Although it's not a race (for most of us), this year they had us line up in three groups. Group 1 would finish by 1 p.m, group 2 by 2 p.m, group 3 by 3 p.m. Where is group 4? [There was no group 4.] I normally place myself at the front, to stay with the pack as long as possible, but I dutifully found a place at the back. Once we were rolling, I was able to catch some of the group 2 stragglers, at least.

Our “neutral” 15 mph start was no such thing, as I averaged 17.1 mph for the first 30 minutes. The route was also a bit longer, with a sharp uphill turn from Rancho San Carlos onto Carmel Valley Road, because they positioned us to start in the opposite direction. I didn't need that extra mileage or elevation gain ... and there were urgent choruses of SLOWING! from the pack whenever the pace would suddenly drop and we would bunch up. At one point George Hincapie effortlessly sailed past me as if I were coasting [but I was pedaling, hard]. Maybe he got a late start, because he should have been at the front.

Group 2 was ready to depart right after I arrived at the first rest stop, and group 3 followed only a few minutes later. There were plenty of domestiques (in hot pink jerseys) to look after us; I didn't want to get caught up in a group of stragglers, so I was careful not to tarry.

The weather was, in a word, perfect. Warm enough to forgo even arm warmers, and once we slipped out from under the marine layer, the views were as spectacular as I'd ever seen on this ride. Mother Nature was, perhaps, making amends for the damage that closed the route to us the past two years.

Thirty miles in, I wondered again about whether I could still do this. Seventy miles to go? Eh, 33 miles isn't a big ride, this is just three of those.

I was prepping to leave the second rest step when I heard the ride “sweep” roll in. [Uh oh.] I don't think I'd ever been that close to the back of the ride at the halfway point. I hustled out of there and understood that I needed to stop taking photos or risk being swept into a support vehicle.

The hills slow me down. “Keep on grinding,” a voice behind me called out. [Grrr.] I'm sure he meant well, but it's times like this when I wish I was wearing my Death Ride jersey. [Respect.] I adopted he following approach:
Me:  Have you done this ride before?
Domestique:  No, this is my first time, the views are incredible!
Me:  Ah yes. I've done this route ten times, and the views today are one of the top two—if not the best—I've seen.
I'd explain that I usually finish around 4 p.m., and once they were reassured that I was smiling (not struggling), we had some nice chats and they turned their attention to the strugglers. “You'll see people walking on the pair of hills after the lunch stop,” I told them.

But not so many, this year—I only passed one walker. Until I nearly got toppled by some powerful wind gusts, and I dismounted for a short stretch (self-preservation, that). On the next climb, I rounded a sharp promontory and got blasted with sand and twigs. The gusts were so fierce and unrelenting that I nearly lost control of the bike. I had a flashback to the day my bike got slammed into the guardrail, up north. There was no guardrail here; I got off the bike and walked until the road direction shifted me out of harm's way.

I couldn't resist a few more photos. For some perspective, that line cut high into the hillside (below) is the road (CA 1).

I descended with caution, concerned about the effects of a crosswind at speed. I was anxious to get down to the flat section, where I expected the (tail)wind to boost me. I usually sweep past a few riders on the home stretch, and today was no exception. After passing a domestique shepherding a spent rider, there was another guy in my sights. I didn't expect to catch him, so I was surprised to find that I was closing the gap. (Until he noticed me and dug deeper to stay ahead.)

I crossed the line at 4:18 p.m. after 101 miles and 6,405 feet of climbing, average speed 12.6 mph, top speed 41.1 mph. Not my fastest time, but not my slowest, either. [I can, in fact, still do this.]

Enough time to catch a massage, collect my luggage, and dash off to the hotel to get cleaned up for some partying.

At the barbecue, Zack Gottsagen and the filmmakers were talking about making The Peanut Butter Falcon. If you're not clear about what folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities can achieve, well ... see the film and learn the backstory.

At the after-party, I was disappointed to learn that we would no longer enjoy the privilege of swimming in the Neptune Pool. As much as I thought, each time that I bobbed and floated in that amazing place, that I might never again have the chance, I did always hope for another opportunity.

I wrapped up the night with another brief tour of the castle, which has become more standardized each year. Gone are the days when the guide would ask what you wanted to see, and improvise. I don't recall visiting the Celestial Suite in the past, all the way into the top of one of the towers. The resident bats are gone, too; repelled by a clicking electronic device mounted in the eaves.

The first time I signed up for this event, it was the route that lured me. I didn't expect to return, again and again. I never expected that I could raise as much money as I have, over all these years.

I'm looking forward to next year, to riding and raising funds to help people like Zack be respected and achieve their full potential.

That's what we all deserve, isn't it?

September 6, 2019

Monterey by Day

How many times have I headed down to stay in Monterey the night before the Best Buddies Hearst Castle Challenge? [Many times, though not the past two years when the ride started in San Simeon.]

And how many times did I think “I should get there earlier and spend some time in Monterey.” [Many times, but I never actually did. Till today.]

I arrived at the Aquarium in time for one of their signature features: a diver feeding fish in the kelp forest tank.

Barnacles were hungry, too. There are many clever exhibits to engage visitors, like this one: turn a wheel to set the current moving in the tank and watch the barnacles extend their feathery feet to filter food as it flows by.

There are so many strange sea creatures, and the Aquarium does a masterful job of presenting them. I was fascinated watching the squid fluttering forward, arms extended. Such big eyes! What do they make of us, staring at them from the other side of the glass?

A short visit is better than no visit ... make the time for it.

September 2, 2019

Residential Ramble

Despite being a holiday, the ride pickings today were slim. And given that the leader for the ride I chose was feeling under the weather, the ride was not as advertised. [Sigh.]

Nonetheless, there were diversions. Like the young woman who showed up on a mountain bike (a “guest” rider) who insisted on twisting the straps of her large (tote-bag-sized) purse through her handlebars. “How long will the ride be?” she asked. I gave her an estimate; another rider joked that we'd be home before dark. She turned back before we'd traveled half a mile (all for the best, I reckon).

I've passed this somewhat eccentric property many times, never noticing (till now) that two Aeromotors are on display. Not surprising, I suppose, given the array of distractions to see there [motorcycles, rusting farm equipment, an antique car].

Instead of heading for the (scenic) reservoirs, we meandered through residential neighborhoods. One of the benefits of riding with a long-time local leader is discovering new places. Just as I was wondering where we were and how we would safely cross the freeway, we popped out onto an interchange-free overpass at Lean Avenue that was entirely new to me.

A few of us had biked to the start; returning home, two of us were stopped at a traffic signal when a driver rolled down his window and leaned toward us. “Watch out for that Mustang, he's been all over the road,” he warned. I'd passed that distinctive black-and-gold car with caution as we'd approached the red light. It wasn't clear where he was headed, having stopped short of the intersection, straddling two lanes. Was he planning to turn right? Or go straight? [We waited for him to head down the road—straight—when the light turned green.]

Then there was the guy riding his bike, hands-free, while playing his guitar. That takes some real skill, but I was glad we were traveling in opposite directions.

With the extra miles riding to and from the start, a reasonable (but very flat) 32 miles—only 320 feet of climbing. Not much labor for the day.