May 31, 2020

WFH: Week Twelve

I had a most unusual dream this week: I was walking down the aisle of a supermarket, and there on the shelf were a few packages of toilet paper. And facial tissues. [True story.]

When the novel coronavirus emerged, I took in the news with some alarm—at a distance. I'd understood, in an academic way, that such an event was possible (inevitable, really). I just didn't expect to see it, in my lifetime.

As the pandemic began to build, I was grateful for the privilege to switch to working from home. But at the same time, I could not see how this would end.

As the virus began to spread in our county, I was grateful for the protective course set by our leaders. I was puzzled that people were hoarding bottled water and toilet paper. I did not expect that, three months later, our markets would still be struggling to stock even facial tissue.

I surveyed my food supply; would I have enough to eat if I needed to quarantine myself for two weeks? And if I became sick, what might I want to eat?

I surveyed my medicine cabinet; I didn't have enough fever-reducing medication to get through one week. I was not alone in that anxiety; the shelves had been stripped bare, everywhere. It was a massive relief when I found one last box at my local pharmacy.

As more became known about symptoms and severity, having a pulse oximeter seemed sensible—the better to notice a decline in lung function before too much damage might be done.

Working from home is now the norm, not the novelty. Our team can work effectively, but so many opportunities that organically develop from serendipitous connections and conversations are lost, now.

I believe the safest course is to minimize close, unprotected or prolonged interactions with other people, and I can do that. Even as restrictions are relaxed, I will watch, and wait.

Five years ago this week I found comfort venturing out on a simple and familiar route: just one hill to climb.

The week opened with a confirmed 2617 cases of COVID-19 in our county, and closed with 2776 (a 6.1% increase).

The end is not in sight. One hill at a time.

May 30, 2020

Spring Squall

With thundershowers in the forecast, my ride buddy and I scrapped our plans. Being exposed on the flanks of Mt. Hamilton would not be prudent.

The morning was dry, though I could see patches of precipitation on the weather radar. And I did rather want to ride.

Because I did, after all, have a goal: one more selfie to complete my personal bike bingo challenge.

I headed for a Saturday farmers' market in a nearby town. Should I make a (hillier) loop of it, or a longer (flatter) ride by tracing an out-and-back? I turned right for the longer option, and ... seeing no traffic in sight I made a spontaneous u-turn. Hillier, it would be.

The market was big and bustling; I stayed clear of the perimeter. I needed only a photo; no produce, today.

I'd felt the occasional sprinkle, until (just a couple of miles from home) I was caught in a downpour. [Payback for claiming it wouldn't rain again until the fall.] I could have found a spot to wait it out, but the words of a wise man echoed in my head: You will not melt.

Should I take the usual route, cutting through the park? It should be empty, given the weather. [It wasn't. But I would have avoided the trails anyway.] A simple 11 mile loop with 460 feet of climbing.

Into each life, some rain must fall. [And I didn't melt.]

May 25, 2020

Nowhere Ride

With the possibility of record-breaking temperatures over the next few days, there was only one way—get up, get out, and get back before it gets too hot.

To the post office, and then a little ride before the work week resumes tomorrow (just 15 miles and a mere 300 feet of climbing). A ride to nowhere in particular, a ride to pick up a few more selfies for a bingo challenge of my own design. Leaving just one more to collect, maybe mid-week.

But then, what?
He's a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody

May 24, 2020

WFH: Week Eleven

Ten years ago this week I pedaled up a difficult hill to watch a stage of the Tour of California. The organizers pulled the plug on this year's race, long before COVID-19 emerged.

This was a short week (thanks to an extra day off) during which ... nothing remarkable happened. And, like so many others, I'm feeling a bit housebound—despite getting out and biking 59 miles.

I found that free day to be surprisingly unsettling. Is this what it would be like to retire without a plan? Wake up with nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to visit? Sure, there are plenty of chores I've endlessly deferred, but at some point I'll work my way through all of them. [It will take a while, truth be told.]

But then, what?

My life has been pretty structured for a long time. Monday through Friday, work (and sometimes bike). Saturday, bike. Sunday is typically reserved for chores and puttering around. (And sometimes for biking.) Special events, weekend getaways, and longer trips are plotted on the calendar.

Now, what?

The week opened with a confirmed 2453 cases of COVID-19 in our county, and closed with 2617 (a 6.7% increase). That's trending in the wrong direction, but a consequence of more testing or more viral transmission?

May 23, 2020

A Pace of Teslas

Here was a sign I'd never seen before. There wasn't anything obviously treacherous about the road surface on this residential street, and of course it was completely dry.

A bit of searching confirmed that it is indeed meant to convey “slippery when wet,” which I reckon should be sometime around November, or October if we get lucky.

So many signs, so many rules (five four). There is no fifth rule; whatever it was, it has been obliterated with duct tape. My bike buddy and I are safely staying six feet (or more) apart, which means we aren't required to wear face coverings. Social distance or face coverings, we don't need both. Seriously.

“Please use another table that has not been marked NOT AVAILABLE FOR USE.” (Of course, there are none.) Your type is not wanted here.

Thankfully, though, the park's restroom was available for use, with soap, water, self-flushing toilets, and that most precious commodity, toilet paper.

The strangest observation of the day came at the end of our ride, when we spent some more socially-distant time chatting in a parking lot. A parking lot that was, of course, essentially empty. A Tesla drove through. After a while, another Tesla drove through. And another. And then the same one, recognizable by the dirty splatter on its windshield. (And on, and on.) There are electric charging stations in the lot, for public use, including Tesla Superchargers, and most were not in use. Were the cars in so-called “autopilot” mode, compelled to circle around the nearest Supercharger site until they do need to juice up?

After 32 miles and 1,965 feet of climbing, I was ready to refuel. Yogurt with a dash of granola and some cherries for me. Plus some chocolate. I earned it.

May 22, 2020

Free Day

My employer generously gave us an extra day off, unexpectedly extending the holiday weekend from three days to four.

If only we could .... go somewhere.

Evidently, many people decided to do just that: the highway leading to the coast was clogged almost as badly as on a hot summer Saturday, and our streets were gridlocked with drivers who cut through town because they think it will save them a few minutes. Either way, they crawl through 3-4 miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Essential trips? For the doggie peering out the rear window of that Hyundai Tucson?

I had a mission to complete: just two more photos, and I would have collected all 34 images (!) for our bike bingo challenge. Yes, I'd already “won” with five squares in a row on one card. But ... but ... there are six cards.

Those last two photos were a bit of a challenge to collect without traveling on busy thoroughfares. I'd decided that the surest way to find a white Nissan Versa was to visit a dealer's lot. I headed out, made my first turn, and ... stop! There was the elusive vehicle, one block from home.

I took that as a sign to scrap my original route, opting for the nearest Target instead.

For bingo, it seems only fair not to re-use any image to complete a line on two different cards. On the way home, I decided to collect a few extra photos (plus this unplanned scenic vista).

Not to mention photos for a seventh card of my own design ... keeping the traditional “bike shop” in the center, I'd plotted twenty four new images. Places that people miss visiting right now, places that might take people a bit farther from home, and places they might not otherwise have noticed.

Didn't seem like much, but somehow I managed to climb 500 feet and cover 20 miles just noodling around.

May 17, 2020

WFH: Week Ten

Friday morning my heart sank when I discovered that my clock had stopped. How would I get it repaired, now? Wait a sec ... 4:05 (give or take, the clock had been running a little fast) ... I woke up during the night and thought it was odd that the window blinds were rattling, ever so slightly. The windows were closed, no breeze ... was it an earthquake?! [Yup.] Evidently it woke me, though I didn't feel the wave; yet it was strong enough to interfere with the swinging pendulum of my clock, the epicenter more than 250 miles away.

During my morning workouts, I have been exercising my brain by watching the original Cosmos series. Sometimes I need a break and listen to a contemporary podcast, instead. And sometimes, I get stuck. I've watched episodes 8 and 9 two or three times.

Why did the nuclear force sound like magic, to me? Protons, electrons, and neutrons I remember from basic chemistry, but (alas) I never studied physics. I was reminded of a time—long before we had the world of knowledge at our fingertips [thanks, Google]—when I approached a colleague with a physics degree: “I abase myself before you, but ... I realized today that I don't remember how gravity works.” He laughed. [cf. Gravitation]

And speaking of Google, of course I was familiar with the origin of the name. But I had never before heard the term googolplex (Episode 9), and now I see just how clever a name is the Googleplex.

The dissonant yellow blossoms that pop up on my red salvia bush seem out of place, but remind us that the world is imperfect. I'm grateful to be working, grateful to have work as a distraction, and grateful to be able to work from home. This is my life in 2020, and I see no change on the horizon.

Ten years ago this week I enjoyed one of my favorite organized rides, Strawberry Fields Forever. This year's edition has been postponed, optimistically, to October.

Five years ago, I lost my mom. It has been five years, already? I was fortunate to spend most of her last day with her. That morning, I knew. Somehow I understood that day would be her last. Both of her children were at her side, bringing her whatever comfort and peace of mind might come from knowing that she was not alone when she took her last breath that night—a privilege that all-too-many heartbroken families cannot have, today.

Long before I heard Carl Sagan intone “We are made of star stuff,” I absorbed it from Joni Mitchell:
Well maybe it's the time of year
Or maybe it's the time of man ...

We are stardust
Billion-year-old carbon ...

Life is for learning.
The week opened with a confirmed 2339 cases of COVID-19 in our county, and closed with 2453 (a 4.9% increase).

May 16, 2020

Bernal Bingo

Rain in the forecast might yet reawaken some green in those golden hills.

I mapped out another modest ride to share with my chief biking buddy, with some bonus miles for me.

Some of my coworkers have set up a challenge, which I hear is making the rounds: a bingo game to get us outside and (in our case) onto our bikes. Easy-peasy: last week I filled one row (bingo!) with less than five miles of riding. [Which, you know, is not much for me.]

They've set up six bingo cards, so ... why not tackle all of them? [Overachiever ...]

If nothing else, I guess I'll get better at taking selfies (which, is really not my thing). Here's one square: a lake (Calero).

I'd strategized which photos I'd need to “win” a line on each remaining card. But then, when we met to start today's ride, I realized I was looking at five squares, right there! Why not go for all (34) of them? [Overachiever, x2]

To make it more challenging, I won't re-use any photos to fill a row: That is, I will use a unique photo if I pick a row on a card that repeats an image I've already used (e.g., two different churches, gas stations, crosswalk signs).

Fire truck and helicopter are not part of the game. (It was a training exercise, there was no actual emergency in progress.)

I could contribute a more challenging card, but it wouldn't be fair for me to play it. Coffee shop. Historic marker. Little Library. Museum. Town limit sign. Windmill. (An Aermotor, of course.) Hmm ...

Another personal best on a hill this week (1,520 feet of climbing overall). I hadn't planned to ride quite so far (48 miles), or be out for quite so long. I had plenty of water this week, but I was hungry. Very hungry. So hungry that I thought I had captured all of the shots I'd planned for today before heading home, but rode past three of them.

Must. Ride. Again.

May 10, 2020

WFH: Week Nine

How about some local fauna to go with the local flora? Anna's hummingbirds enjoy my feeders as well as my garden.

One bonus of spending all this time at home is catching sight of some less common visitors. I've spotted a single Bewick's wren and Nuttall's woodpecker this spring. California scrub jays are common, including one that briefly perched with a stem or twig that looked to be a good 15 inches long; they must be nesting nearby. The crows can be quite pesky. I wondered what set them off yesterday at 6 a.m., when I woke to the most raucous ruckus I've heard to date.

The house finches have been flitting about; they had been nesting in the attic (!) but disappeared after I moved into the house, many years ago. (And after a determined squirrel took up residence, counter-measures were taken to screen off all favored points of entry.)

Most days, I take a break to enjoy my lunch outside. Western fence lizards quickly scurry for cover in the bushes when startled. Honey bees busy themselves with the lavender in my garden, while the bumbling black carpenter bees have better luck with the red salvia. (They're too heavy for the pliable lavender stems; I wonder how they manage to fly, at all.)

Ten years ago this week I conquered Fremont Peak, a climb I have rarely repeated.

One year ago I celebrated Bike to Work Day with like-minded colleagues; this year, the event has been pushed out to September ... but we may still be working at home.

This week, I ventured out on my first bike ride in ten weeks.

My victory for the week was upgrading my Internet service. Over the past two weeks, it had degraded to the point of being unusable (upstream, 600 kbps). To head off an expected disagreement with my service provider, I invested in a new modem, first. So far, so good ... 10 Mbps upstream. [Yes, that sounds pathetic to those of you who live in places with modern infrastructure.]

This week's entertainment included the rarely-seen By Jeeves. Sure, it wasn't a critical success; but, you know what? It was goofy. It made me laugh. And I haven't laughed in a while.

The week opened with a confirmed 2231 cases of COVID-19 in our county, and closed with 2339 (a 4.8% increase).

May 9, 2020

Bike (Not) to Work Day

The morning started with a poignant reminder from Google Photos that on this date in 2013, it was Bike to Work Day.

It was time. Time to go outside and ride my bicycle.

“Why aren't you riding?” friends had asked. I was being conservative, however unlikely an accident might be. So many families had dusted off their bikes, pumped up the tires, and headed out. I've watched them cruise past ... without helmets ... on the wrong side of the road ... and wondered why I was worried that I might crash.

The lupine is still blooming.

My chief ride buddy and I agreed to ride together, not together. To ride within sight and often within earshot, but to stay apart. There is comfort in not being alone on the road.

We rode up and over a hill to visit the Guadalupe Reservoir. Much to my surprise, given that I have not been out for a ride since February 29, my time up that climb was a new personal best. (Thanks to my workouts and weight loss.) I also set a new personal record on one of the descents—despite having to slow and come to a full stop for a turkey that decided to cross in front of me. Lucky bird, because the car that had been politely tailing me also stopped.

I scripted a route to explore a nice neighborhood on our way to New Almaden. Although I'd expected to return the same way, we scrapped that in favor of a flatter option. My legs were feeling it (different muscles), but my main concern was having enough water. (Should have brought two bottles.) The day was warming up, and when we reached the parking lot for Almaden Quicksilver Park we found the water fountain shrouded in plastic and thoroughly taped up. I can't say I understand the calculus of risk, there.

The patriotic New Almaden community was decked out with American flags and many signs thanking our essential workers. I've been here many times before, but never noticed the historic plaque (California State Historic landmark 339-1) across from the park commemorating the nearby site of the state's first mine (cinnabar). Signs warn people not to eat any fish they catch in the local waters (contaminated with mercury).

Neither of us had noticed a tall red tower on the hillside before, either. The parking lot was full; this park is best hiked when the weather is cool. Although I had planned to ride as far as the Almaden Reservoir, we agreed it was prudent to turn back.

By the time we were done we had covered 34 miles and climbed 1,685 feet; not bad for my first outing in 10 weeks!

May 3, 2020

WFH: Week Eight

I'm sure our local transportaton agency had the best of intentions when they posted these signs, but ... they're rude. [My mode of transportation was my own two feet.]

I've been puzzled by the people I see walking (or biking) through the neighborhood—alone, not another human in sight—wearing masks. Puzzled by (healthy) colleagues struggling to get groceries delivered. Puzzled by people leaving packages, mail, and groceries in the garage for 24 hours or wiping them down with disinfectant. But, I'm over it. If it brings them peace of mind, let it be.

After all, there are still (still!) people who haven't gotten the memo, like the woman I saw during my walk who sneezed ... into her bare hand. [Sigh.] 'Tis the season for springtime allergies ... but sneeze into the crook of your arm. Please.

Everything gets dusted with yellow-green pollen, and here's a major source: oak trees in bloom.

Our first hot days of the season reminded me that I'd intended to make some curtain panels that will fit a particular bare window, to block the sun from baking my upstairs hallway and pumping heat into my office. How many times have I thought about that, and even taken measurements? [Don't ask.] This week, finally, I tackled the job. It was embarassingly easy (and quick).

Ten years ago this week I savored a springtime commute (by bicycle). Oh, how I miss those rides!

One year ago this week I pedaled through the damp redwood forest, despite being somewhat under the weather. That would not happen, now.

One month ago, I was 1.5 pounds heavier. I've settled into a workout routine that's 30 minutes of cardio, plus another ~15 minutes of resistance and floor exercises, four or more times per week. Supplemented with the occasional walk into town (it's still there!) and yard work.

When I made the first batch of this lentil soup a few weeks ago, I opted to keep it vegan. This time, I picked up the bacon it called for ... and that made all the difference.

A highlight for the week was a visit with my chief cycling buddy, spent chatting at a sensible healthy distance outdoors in the garden. We both needed that.

After watching On the Basis of Sex, a snippet of a poem by Mary Oliver echoed in my head:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I think (I hope?) my time on the planet has been a net positive, albeit on a much smaller scale.

The week opened with a confirmed 2084 cases of COVID-19 in our county, and closed with 2231 (a 7.1% increase).