To The Lick Observatory

So today I rode for more than 12 hours, up 5000 feet, through the hills east of San Jose and up to the Lick Observatory at the top of a snow-covered mountain pass, and then back down to my front door. I wanted lots of hills to test out the new crankshaft and gearing on the bike. And I sure did get ’em. Hoohah!

All these pictures were taken with the iPhone, since I didn’t have the regular camera around.

Here’s the stuff I brought along for the ride (except for the laptop, smoke detector, and tape):

This is the view from partway up the East San Jose hills:

This is the view from further up the East San Jose hills:

This is the view from most of the way up the East San Jose hills:

This is the view from the top ofhe East San Jose hills, before I went down behind them and began to climb the REAL hill up to the observatory:

Things that Mr. Fins learned this day:

  • I can do it! I can do anything! Hot damn! Weeoooo!!!
  • The iPhone camera has some clever software driving it, but compared to my 7-year-old digital, it’s awful. If you tied it to a pole and nailed it down in front of a sunset and left the shutter open for ten minutes, you’d probably STILL get a bunch of gritty crap, like the bottom of a deep-fryer.
  • Large amounts of carbs becomes very dull after a while. You start dreaming of vegetables, and oily things, and protein. Hour upon hour of Fritos and crackers and peanut butter and chocolate just … sucks. Sounds good at first, sure, but … Not at hour 8.
  • Ski-glove fingers don’t work with the iPhone. Drat.
  • Frequent stops, where you get off the bike and sit down, or walk around, are really nice. My ride took more than twelve hours, but since I took so many breaks, I felt fine the whole time.
  • The more of your body you cover up and keep warm, the warmer the exposed bits of you will be, thanks to the magic of circulation. It’s MAGIC!
  • The new crankshaft that I had installed on the bike is totally worth it. It makes pedaling up large hills a pleasure, instead of the torture it was before. I don’t have to swerve around on the road anymore. In fact, I now prefer going up hills to going on flat ground – because when you go up a hill, you get somewhere with a view, and a nice fast ride afterwards, and there are generally fewer people around.

Here’s the bike as it looks now:

Stuff that Mr. Fins saw this day:

I passed an odd French-looking guy on my way across town. He stopped at the same signal light as me, but didn’t turn his head or wave. Serious looking fellow. On Le Serious Businesse, no doubt. His bike looked expensive. He also passed me on his way back down the hill later in the day, while I was still grinding my way up it. He stared, but didn’t wave. The reason I remembered him was not because of his stoic expression; it was because he wasn’t wearing a helmet.

I wanted to stop him and ask, “So, is that a political statement? Are you protesting helmet laws, or helmet makers, or something?” … But he would have probably though I was mocking him. No, I was genuinely curious. Even if I had hard data that my own helmet wouldn’t help me 99 percent of the time, I would still wear the thing because it’s damn cold outside, and the helmet keeps my head warm, is very light, and doesn’t fall off. And on hot days it keeps my scalp from frying. What could his reasons be? His hairstyle maybe?

I saw dozens of cyclists on my ride, and he was the only one without a helmet.

Also, just after dusk, I was passed by a woman going downhill on her bicycle with two lights on her handlebars – one of them flashing – and an extremely bright light on her head, which she pointed straight at me, making me blind. At fist I didn’t know what was coming at me, but whatever it was, it was irritating and I immediately felt angry at whoever was doing it. … Which is not something that you generally want to inspire in people when you’re heading downhill at them on a bicycle. When I saw it was a cyclist doing all that flashing and blinding, I wanted to yell something at her, but she went by too fast for me to think. Oh well.

I passed through an area of road that made me very nervous. It was curvy and had a gentle downhill grade, with thick forest on either side. I felt spooked, and had to pause my BBC documentary podcast about Afghanistan, and just listen to the wind.

The reason I was spooked is that on the 4th of July eight or nine years ago, I was driving my car along this same stretch of road in order to watch the fireworks from the peak at the Observatory, when a mountain lion jumped down from the bushes on the uphill side of the road and began running in front of the car. I slowed down so I wouldn’t hit the beast, and when the car drew close it leapt back off the road, into the foliage.

I did not want anything like that happening while I was on a bicycle. So I stayed in the middle of the road, and started singing “Doctor Worm” at the top of my voice until I was out of the forest. No deer here; just a lunatic human, thank you very much.

I’m going to have to learn how to repair a bike chain, I think. Today the chain slipped off the front gear and got caught under it, wedged around the joint where the axle meets the bike frame. If I’d tried to pedal even one turn, to try and correct it by force, the chain would have broken. Maybe there’s some way I can fix it so that doesn’t happen… A plastic wedge maybe…

While I was tinkering with the chain at the side of the road and getting my fingers all greasy, a guy in an old pickup truck stopped, backed up 20 yards or so, and asked if I needed a ride. I told him that it was a minor repair and that I’d be okay, but “thanks for stopping, though – that’s very good of you!” He said, “Alrighty, then” and drove off.

Hours later, I was stopped at the side of the road making a phone call, and another guy pulled up and asked if I needed help. I said no, but thanked him for stopping, too. Such nice people!

I’m also going to have to learn how to replace a tire. I passed another guy on a bike, who was on his way down the hill, and had his bike turned upside down with one tire off, and the tube out. He was working both his fists around the tube in sections so he could find the leak and patch it. We had a nice chat about the cold and tires and headlights, and he showed me a tiny bag that he kept under his seat, which contained a spare tube and all the tools to install it. “Huh,” I thought, “If the equipment to fix the problem can be that small, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t carry it around.”

I felt sorry for the guy – his hands were frozen stiff from rushing downhill with no gloves on. When I was passing through the preserve area after the sun went down, the air got so cold that my hands were sore just from standing still. If I hadn’t packed those ski gloves, I would have turned around and gone home. Yes! I am actually listening to my own advice! Heh heh heh.

Two sweaters over a long-sleeve shirt, and sweatpants over bike shorts with hiking socks, plus the ski gloves, turns out to be just enough to feel normal in this cold weather. Not hot, not cold. Also, with the bike helmet on, my head stayed warm. Some kind of air current or convection thing going on perhaps.

Here’s the whole route in 3D, via Google Earth:

And here’s a closer view of the hill with the observatory at the top:

If anybody out in the world tells you that “vegans are sickly wimps who can’t do anything”, refer them to me. I will pwn them.

Things Mr. Fins needs to do:

  • Get some kind of abrasion tool and cut a rough notch on the inside of the left pedal arm, so the magnet for my GPS tracker’s “cadence sensor” doesn’t slide all over the place.
  • Put together a “tire repair” kit.
  • Investigate getting a better rear rack.
  • Keep workin’ on that battery enclosure.

Lost In Nisene Marks

This marks the first time I’ve done back-to-back “training day”-style rides, with food, gear, and a destination. I felt surprisingly good afterwards, except for some minor butt soreness and a little tossing and turning overnight. I’m beginning to realize that my stamina is greater than I thought. Perhaps a lot greater, thanks to all my riding this year.

This also marks the first time I have been able to use the battery pack I built, even though I don’t have an enclosure for it. I put the batteries and the regulator board in little plastic bags and then sealed the whole thing in a large bag with a USB extension cable running out. With the whole mess stowed in my luggage, I was able to keep the iPhone charged at 100% full the entire time. (I’ll be crowing about this later on in the story…)

Saturday I did a ride across town to the south end of the valley, then entered the rolling hills around the Lexington Reservoir. Along the way I listened to the full broadcast of the latest “Intelligence Squared” debate, about whether the government should be responsible for universal healthcare. It was an excellent debate, and very relevant, as I considered what kind of situation I would be in if I were hit by a car, or if my knees deteriorated. I spent one of my rest breaks sitting on a stone bench outside of a hardware store, and just as a debater was talking about the crowded conditions in emergency rooms, I saw an ambulance go screaming down the street.

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Night fell fast. I probably spent less than a mile biking in daylight, and had my headlamp on for the rest. That lamp continues to be a brilliant piece of hardware – literally. It lights up my bike and the road around me without being an eyesore to traffic and it stays lit for as long as I need it, no matter how long I ride. I feel very sorry for all the other night cyclists I see out on the roads. I worry for them. Their lamps are either pathetic and impossible to see, or blinding and annoying to drivers. I saw one guy who had what looked like a damned flashbulb screwed onto his handlebars, going FLASH! FLASH! FLASH! FLASH! every half a second. What numbskull engineer designed that? I can imagine a driver being tempted to run him over just to stop that damned flashing.

There were three “totally worth it” moments for the first ride:

  • Biking up into the private property of a church-funded “retreat” hospital as part of my route, and rounding a corner to discover an illuminated statue of the Virgin Mary embedded halfway up a gigantic hedge, then going a few more feet and being presented with an unexpected panorama of the entire south valley. Surreal.
  • Being stopped by a locked gate and a wire fence, and realizing that I was actually on the wrong side it it, then spotting a twisted hole at the underside of the fence just large enough to slide my bike under, which I did. I turned the iPhone brightness all the way up and shoved it under my chinstrap, then laid flat and inched backwards under the wire on my stomach. I’m all Special Ops and shizzlick.
  • At the south end of the reservoir, after riding up and down a lot of gentle squiggly hills, I stopped in the middle of the road and looked behind me. The black silhouettes of the trees framed a V-shaped wedge of dark blue sky that was glistening with all the millions of stars that I couldn’t see when I was at my house downtown, under the hazy air and streetlamps. It stunned me and I had to stop and just be there for a second, on that dead silent roadway, enjoying that private space. “It’s not really private,” I thought. “People have been driving up and down this road all day.” But then I realized, even if it’s a location that many other people go to, it’s not a time and a way that they do it. Right now, it was mine.

Now that I can keep the iPhone perpetually charged, I don’t have to worry at all about how intensely I use it. I can leave the GPS running and the display on all the time if I feel like it. And for the trip through the woods leading to the reservoir, that’s just what I did.

It was really quite incredible. I’d never been there before, but when I saw the road lose shape and change to dirt, I was not worried at all. I pressed a few buttons and instantly I had a daytime satellite photograph of the entire woods. My route along the road was drawn across it with a purple line, and there at the top was a little dot, showing exactly where I was. As I rode the bike I could glance down at the dot and confirm that, yes, there’s the tree I should be seeing, and there’s the spot where the road bends,… et cetera. All this with one device, and as I was navigating, it was playing music for me too. I even got a few new emails. I was so impressed that I just had to talk about it, so I began calling people up, and chatting as I rode.

One device. Frankly, it’s like having “god mode” for a bicycle. It turns my bike into a mobile command center, almost an extension of my home. DO YOU NOT SEE!!! I cannot EVEN CONVEY how impressed with this technology I am!! It is fucking amazing, people!!! I ARE SERIOUS!!!!

It also makes me overconfident, I think. I have often taken risks with my navigation that could have ended badly. It’s not that I expect the phone to get a signal all the time – I don’t depend on it for that – it’s the feeling you get from using it. With a few bars of signal and a data connection, I am just as connected to the digital world and my social network as I am when sitting at home, vegged out in front of a computer screen. That connectedness inspires a feeling of closeness to home, a false sense that no matter how deep into the woods I push my bike, I am still just a finger-touch away from all the trappings of modernity. On the second day of this weekend I was hit by this cognitive dissonance pretty hard, when I wandered very far into the back woods of the Nisene Marks nature preserve.

I was pushing my bike over a dirt-and-gravel road that looked like it had been literally carved through the woods. The press of branches was so thick that they effectively formed a wall, and I wondered how the animals could possibly thread their way between them. The canopy was closed overhead of course, so I was in total darkness except for my headlamp and phone. And every 30 yards, as the road lurched down the backside of another misshapen hill, the gravel was erased by a shallow creek that seemed to flow right out of the wall of branches on one side, and into the wall on the other side. Here instead of road was a corridor of rocks and pools of water lined with mud. At the first one I tried to ride my way through, lost my balance, and had to dunk my shoe in the water. At the next one I carried my bike across, simultaneously using it as a gigantic flashlight to see the rocks I had to step on.

The road was extremely uneven, so the recent rains had formed innumerable potholes filled with water. Whenever the beam of my bicycle headlamp brushed along one of these, some of the light would be scattered upwards and reflect off the trees in front of me, creating a wavery illusion of movement. The first three or four times it scared the crap out of me. I kept thinking that someone was coming down the road towards me, waving a flashlight. After I figured out what it was, I was impressed by it. It’s just the sort of unexpected material phenomenon that could make people scream, “THE WOODS ARE HAUNTED!! AAIIIIYYEE!!!”

Anyway, I got past this gauntlet, and the road tilted upwards. The phone began displaying ‘NO SIGNAL’, but the GPS still had my location marked on the map, which was already loaded into memory. “I’m still alright,” I said to myself. “I just need to stay on this road and I’ll pass through Nisene Marks without trouble.” (I was babbling to myself out loud in order to make my presence obvious to things like skunks and mountain lions.)

Then the road wandered off the map. It began to squiggle all over the place like a damned spaghetti noodle, and my path (as described by the line on my GPS tracker) did not match the map line at all. Then it got steeper. I had to dismount and push my bike uphill. Out of curiosity I launched the “clinometer” app and calibrated it, and it told me that I was going up a 22-degree slope. (Yes, the iPhone does that too! See? It is “god mode”!!) Since my wheel wasn’t turning as fast as the headlamp wanted, my light became very dim. Then the road forked, and forked again, and again, and again.

Each time I chose the fork that pointed back towards the line described by the map, but each time the road would turn and wander away, keeping me off course. Eventually the phone started showing a few bars of signal again, so I called up La (who was having dinner with Alison at her house in Santa Cruz) and whined to her about how damn steep the hill was… But I couldn’t help thinking in the back of my head about the potential severity of my situation.

Suppose the dynamo in my front wheel failed. I’m not sure how it would, since it’s tough, water-resistant, and relatively simple… But suppose it did. I’d have about five minutes of dim light on my headlamp left, and then I’d be in darkness.

Then I’d have to take the iPhone out of the holster and hold it in front of me, and push the bike with one hand. By itself, in ideal conditions, the iPhone would probably last about four hours this way. But I’ve got my battery pack. But suppose that failed too? Or suppose the backlight in the iPhone just broke all of a sudden?

Then I’d have to take the GPS tracker off my bike, leave my bike on the ground, and go blundering back the way I came in total darkness under the forest canopy, using the mini-map on the GPS to retrace my route along the road. Once I stumbled back out onto pavement I’d have to walk for a good long while until I found a payphone – or perhaps I’d get lucky and flag down a car. This is assuming, of course, that I don’t break my ankle or my neck by tripping over a deadfall back in the woods.

But say the GPS tracker craps out too. Now I’m in total darkness in the middle of the woods, with no shelter, and some meager snacks. I’d have to stay put until daylight and then attempt to backtrack along a road that now looks completely different from how it was in the dark. Maybe I’ll come out in a few hours, maybe it’ll take me all day. Either way I’ll eventually come home to a La who’s been up the entire night worried sick and probably called the police.

This all went tumbling through my head as I pushed my bike up that huge hill. I had not been expecting a road like this. All I remembered of the roads in Nisene Marks was the road leading in, from the front, and that was nice and flat and wide. This road was the opposite. I should have checked the route in satellite view before committing to it. Actually, no, my problem isn’t that. I’ve just been too stubborn again. I saw that sign at the head of this road, where it suddenly stops being pavement and turns into a sheet of gravel. I should have obeyed that sign. Instead, I thought, “Oh boy, another deep woods adventure! Last time this was awesome!” Apparently I’d forgotten that last time I was obviously pushing my luck. Now here I was again, pushing my luck. A couple of mechanical or electronic failures could endanger my life.

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“On the other hand,” I thought, “how is that any different from driving a car?”

I had to ponder that for a while. Eventually I reached the peak of the hill, and the road leveled out and opened up to a clearing. Then I forgot all about the danger I was in, and just stared.

There, before me, was the Monterey Bay, wide and black, swathed in the glowing yellow embers of civilization and the sparkling diamonds of the midnight sky. Transparent ribbons of cloud swept down across the stars and joined with the mantle hanging over the ocean, like fingers of a gigantic white hand. The moon lit the panorama from behind, sketching the jagged tops of the trees that blanketed the valley, all the way down to the fringe of city lights in the distance. As I rolled to the edge of the clearing and dismounted my bike, a soft breeze flowed down from the hilltop behind me, picking up the heat that was still bleeding out of the hills and drawing it across my back like a warm cloak. Right there in front of me was a pair of park benches. So I sat down.

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The urge to sit there for the rest of the night, caressed by this warm breeze, staring up at the stars… Was almost unbearable. This had not been on my to-do list, or even a stop on my route. I drank some water and ate a little bit of chocolate, and thought to myself, “I can’t believe I’m actually here. It’s midnight on a Sunday and I’m here, all by myself, miles from any paved roads… And somehow I feel as safe as if I was sitting on my couch at home. What a strange feeling.” Then I looked over at the iPhone and noticed it was displaying “3G” and five bars. “Hell yeah. Best invention ever,” I said, and called up La for a while.

I was so impressed with the phone, once again, that I opened up a voice recording application and began to rant out loud about it. “It’s perfect! Perfect for a bike! It’s like the software was chosen specifically to complement riding! Even the size is perfect!” Rant rant, rave rave, et cetera. I felt kind of foolish talking out loud, but I kept doing it since it helped me avoid mountain lions. I’ve only ever seen one up close once (and that was while I was in a car), but the paranoia never fully leaves you…

Anyway, I eventually kept riding. The downhill route out of Nisene Marks and into Aptos, then Santa Cruz, was easy going. I sang They Might Be Giants songs out loud. I went through every single one I knew, and had to switch to Weird Al for a while, before finally being free of the forest and potential lions. Then I found it hard to stop blathering out loud to myself, since I’d been doing it for so long. I felt a little crazy. So I called up La and talked to her, which helped. She eventually met me at the Cabrillo exit, with a change of clothes and some snacks.

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She really is an excellent pit crew. :)

Other highlights of this trip:

  • Setting up a night-time photo and having a 40-minute chat with Mr. Breakpoint about camera technology
  • Lying on my side next to the camera to photograph a long exposure of the house across the valley from me, and attracting the attention of a concerned motorist. The pickup truck stopped, then reversed 50 yards back up the road, then the window rolled down and after a while a woman’s voice asked, “are you okay?” Since I was almost completely blinded by their damned headlights, I waited until I’d gathered up my camera, then I stoop up all at once and waved at them, smiling. The woman apparently had not been expecting that, and she let out a scream that sounded like, “BGAWK!!!!” … and then she (or her friend at the wheel?) drove away. I wonder if my camera looked like a gun or something.

All these pictures give some sense of just how dark and creepy it really was … but they also make me think, “Wow, I definitely want a better camera…”

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A Jaunt Around Roseburg

Visiting my dad in Roseburg kicks ass. We get to lounge around the house, talk about photography, make puns, and play Wii and board games. A good way to spend a holiday. But this time I was ambitious, and brought my bike along, making use of the super bike rack that The La got for the Accord.

And so it was that on the second or third day of lounging around I decided to break with tradition and go for a ride. Then, a couple days later, I went on an even longer ride which lasted well into the evening.

Instead of doing my usual minute-by-minute recount of events, I’m just going to describe the photographs I took, and whatever other details they bring to mind.

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This is what you see when you look up the road after exiting the gated community. Those kids play ball in the street a lot, I’m told.

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This is the view from the top of the hill, leading down into one of the valleys that Roseburg is spread across. There’s still some nice color in the trees, even in November.

This big section of drainpipe was sitting off the main road in a beat-up looking field strewn with litter and glass. Roseburg, or perhaps Oregon in general, has a strange dichotomy between conservationist people who are more serious and well-informed than their California equivalents, and rural folks who are content to abandon trash anywhere and leave old structures to dissolve and corrode slowly into the ground.

Sometimes I think the real difference is just one of money. A shorthand rule I’ve discovered is that the smaller the lot, the dirtier it tends to be. I passed huge tracts of farmland without so much as a gum wrapper by the roadside, then came upon little square plots just big enough to hem a manufactured home, choked with garbage.

I rode past a dilapidated home and saw four little kids playing in the back yard. The area was ringed with hurricane fence which ended flush with the walls of the house, like a prison exercise yard. The four kids had taken a bunch of long flat boards from a collapsed storage shed and were laying them at an angle to the fence. As they passed from my sight, I saw one of the kids try to walk up the ramp, only to lose his balance and fall back onto the grass. A few more boards and they might make it over the fence.

I didn’t know whether to shout a warning … or shout encouragement!

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Alright… See that little box with the three holes in it? Can anybody tell me what the heck that box is for? I can’t figure it out.

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Also, on the subject of things I can’t quite figure out, my only theory for this is that the little cement wedges stop brush from piling up all at the same time, so the drainage pipe that passes under the road doesn’t get plugged up. Am I guessing right?

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Lots of rolly hills around here. The grass has thick roots to survive the snow, and my theory is that the roots hold these little hills into shape despite a lack of trees or bushes. Elsewhere on my ride I saw open ground that had been flattened into pools of mud by the rains, but each time it was on a construction or refinery site where the vegetation had been torn away.

Highway around Roseburg, Oregon

Mmmyep. Rolly poly. Pardon the oversaturation; I was processing these pictures on an old fuzzy monitor with poor colors, and the camera I used was rather noisy to begin with.

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Mmmmyeah. Come see the three arks. Please. We need the business. Buy a Noah Burger or whatever the hell we serve.

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I enjoy the juxtaposition here. Religion and power mix easily.

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Squash for sale! Or gourds! Or mini pumpkins! I’m not sure what these are, but the sunlight made them look taaaasty.

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The fire department was supervising a controlled burn of some kind in a local park. The smoke from the fires caught the light nicely.

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This appears to be a railroad-mounted snowplow. It reminds me of something a four-year-old would play with in the living room, except this one is “actual size”. I can practically taste the rubbery paint over the cool die-cast metal, and nubby sound of the wheels rolling over the carpet.

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I didn’t have to ride through this, thank goodness. Just saw it while taking a breather.

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Some wheels take more energy to turn than others!

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This vehicle is probably known by it’s owners as “The Woodchucker”. Bicycle included for size.

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Dig those crazy spraypaint colors, yo. And those hornet’s nests. I’m not entirely sure what this doodad is for, actually. I’m guessing it has something to do with guiding very heavy cables along mineshafts.

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Hand included for size. That’s some bigass chain. Probably a valuable amount of metal just lying around, if anyone had the means to shift it. I could probably carry … let’s see … four links of it home, on my bike. Any more and the weight might blow a tire.

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The ritual mantra reverberates around the hillside, as Smokey bellows it out:



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Lots of earth-movin’ going on around here!

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I was gonna keep going up this road to see the view from the top, but a large dumptruck rolled by, fully loaded with grey mud that slopped over the edges every time the truck hit a bump. It ground to a halt halfway off the road, then began beeping and reversed across the other half of the road, then a hatch sprang up on the back and the grey mud went jetting out under pressure, spattering on the hillside. It matched the mud of the hill exactly, and seemed to merge with it as I watched.

Not wanting to disturb this ceremony, I about-faced and went back down the hill. I passed the fork in the road that I’d turned up earlier, and arrived on the back lot of a lumber processing plant. I’m not sure where they get so much mud or why they need it – or perhaps it’s a byproduct – but apparently, when they’re done with it, they spill it out over yonder.

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All kinds of weird old equipment is scattered in this lumberyard.

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The yard covers many acres. No one on the grounds paid any attention to me.

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They keep the ground constantly wet to prevent the wind from blowing away their land and dirtying the lumber stacks. Judging by the algae, this pipe has been gushing water constantly for several years at least.

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There is an incredible amount of wood here. I’ve gone browsing through satellite pictures of Oregon and seen the sad patchwork of barren or scrubby land that much of the state has become, in the regions set back from the major highways where the tourists don’t go. I wonder how much of that forest has lain stacked on this lot over the years, awaiting transformation into houses, scaffolding, and cardboard boxes.

I had an encounter with a security guard here, who rolled up in his truck and politely asked me to delete any photos I’d taken of the buildings. He was almost apologetic about the security condition, though I could sense he was working under strict orders and could really screw me if I became belligerent. He recognized my camera by model, and we chatted for a while about amateur photography and wildlife before he gave me directions to the road.

One of the interesting things he said was that it was illegal to take a picture of the facilities even if the picture was taken from adjoining public land, like a highway. He said that the law was partly in response to “those eco-terrorism people”. He spat the phrase, like it was an epithet.

Something about that made me quite angry, and I wanted to say something, but I knew that this security guard was not the person I should be saying it to. I don’t know who the right person would be, really. But when private citizens destroy private facilities with the intent of interrupting what they see as environmental wrongdoing, I am not comfortable calling it “terrorism”, as if it were equivalent to detonating a bomb in a concert hall. “Sabotage” would be a good word, and I could definitely use “misguided” and “unproductive” … but “terrorism”? Is Al-Jazeera airing talk shows where furious extremists call for the destruction of lumber mills? I don’t [expletive] think so.

Use of that label is just … corporate crap.

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Mmm, delicious mud! Note the charging wire for the iPhone. That goes to the battery in my saddle bag.

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The refinery was spraying a huge amount of hot water into the air. My guess is that they were exposing some additive in the water to oxygen, or carbon dioxide, in order to safely neutralize it. Sure looks pretty though.

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A few pools over they were spraying the water out of long pipes.

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I found this fellow just a few steps from the road while I was taking a break. I’m guessing it was a sheep, about a year ago. Now it’s an art installation.

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If you ever meet a man who boasts proudly of his “strong jawline”, just remind him to consider the average sheep!

Just after finding this, I rode down the hill on a two-lane road into the forest east of the highway, and began listening to an old vinyl production of “Murder In The Cathedral”, by T. S. Eliot. I was expecting some kind of lighthearted comedic mystery in lilting prose, but that was because I hadn’t done any research whatsoever. “Murder In The Cathedral” is not a mystery, not comedic, and definitely NOT lighthearted. But what it does have is some deliciously creepy, brooding, atmospheric verse about poor devout farmers and the haunted gothic countryside they inhabit. The sections of the play are framed by a chorus of three women, speaking in rounds, lamenting their fate and the fate of the archbishop, and a plague of foreboding omens. They moan for a while about “living, and partly living”, a phrase which rang like a bell in my brain. I’ve heard it somewhere before…

Hearing this, and seeing the hillsides roll around me in the gathering dusk, spotted with animals and broken-down stables and mist, was clearly the highlight of the ride. Once I went down a huge hill and spilled out into a small valley that was lit by the barest yellow light along the fringe of the oak trees to the west, and everything was dead quiet except for rushing wind and the occasional very distant “moo”. I played some piano music and wished there was some way to bring all my friends here, and stack them up in sidecars along the bike, so I could share this perfect moment with everyone. But it was just me.

Perhaps some other time, friends.

Wandering Around San Francisco

My original intention with this ride was to cross the Golden Gate by bike, fart around on the north side of the bay, and cross back over… But I got a late start, and then wasted too much time hanging around in the park. By the time I arrived at the bridge it had been dark for quite a while, so I ended the day’s riding there.

I also underestimated the hills. Not the hills in the city – those were exactly what I expected – but the hills north of the park, which went up and down like the waves in a storm over deep ocean, forcing me to take many breaks. I hadn’t seen those hills on the 3D map when I was planning the route.

Another thing that messed me up was the lack of a “granny gear”. The folks at the bike shop were due to install one, in the form of a small 22-tooth gear mounted on an adapter, fitted to the inside of my current crankshaft assembly. But the adapter wouldn’t fit. So I ordered a new crankshaft with different gears, due to arrive in a week. Meantime, I went on this ride … and sorely missed that low gear.

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Here I am outside the hotel where La attended her anthropologists’ conference. Instead of riding, I had to push the bike for three blocks or so, because the sidewalks were crammed with people, most of them tough looking, like that bruiser over my left shoulder, or unfriendly looking, like the girl next to him in the hip sunglasses, knee-high leather boots, and “vintage” Star Wars t-shirt. As I moved away from the taller buildings, the toughies and hipsters became more ragged in appearance, and soon faded into the background of busy 30-somethings, musically-inclined beggars, and the occasional tough old lady.

When walking alone, each lady used the same grim expression and stiff gait that said “I might have a fireplace poker under my sweater, and I just might be unhinged enough to hit you with it. Do you feel lucky, punk?” I recognized it immediately, because it was how I used to walk between classes in Middle School.

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Anyway, the crowds thinned, and I rode upward just for the hell of it.

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Pretty soon the nifty architecture began to appear.

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The sunlight was fading fast, though.

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This was the last picture I managed to take before the “magic hour” sunlight faded away.

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Then it was all downhill riding to the park.

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I waned to explore the Japanese Gardens, but bicycles weren’t allowed inside, so I contented myself with one picture and then changed into warmer gear and hung around snacking for a while.

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Then I rode on, until some cute ducks forced me to stop, with their wiggly tailfeathers. It was getting very dark, so I made a loooong exposure on a group of them … which is why one of the ducks in this picture appears to have two heads.

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The fog was pretty thick by now, and would get even thicker.

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I tried to get one more picture in the park, of the windmill. That turned into almost a dozen 30-second exposures as I fiddled with knobs and tripod placement. Eventually I gave up and rode out to the sidewalk along the shoreline, which was totally lost in fog. A few bonfires were still sputtering in the distance, but people were quickly abandoning them and wandering in, staggering over the sand and out of the mist like zombies in a cheap horror film.

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After a lot of uneventful riding and rest breaks, I ended up outside an art museum whose name I currently forget. Please excuse the ham-handed color correction of these photos; I was attempting cleanup with a fuzzy, decade-old CRT monitor tethered to the end of a 50-foot VGA cable. Everything came out over-saturated.

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Despite the heavy fog, my dynamo, headlamp, iPhone, and battery all performed fine.

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Near the museum, at kind of an awkward spot near the entrance, was a Holocaust memorial.

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It was a strange approach, but an effective one.

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After ten zillion hills and an unplanned ride through a golf course, I made it to the cusp of the Golden Gate Bridge. But it was way too late, of course, and the bridge was closed to cyclists. Oh well, next time perhaps. Next time when I get a decent “granny gear”.

Lost In The Woods

This trip was too much to handle.  I went about 47 miles and burned almost 2400 calories according to the Mac, and had to call Pit Crew La and ask for a pickup between Felton and Ben Lomond, almost ten miles away from my goal of Santa Cruz.  I took some downright stupid risks and made some inexcusable mistakes…  And I clearly haven’t learned my lesson, because if I’d known I would get out of it alive, I would have done it anyway.

I left from Cupertino at around 3:00pm last Sunday, fortified with 10 hours of sleep and a huge meal in me from the night before.  I still didn’t have the advanced battery pack built for my bicycle, but I was tired of waiting for the parts to arrive and didn’t want it to stop me from riding.

  • The Risk: Leaving late in the day can make you rush to meet your deadlines.  Rushing on a bike ride is bad.
  • The Solution:  Leave earlier, duh.

I pedaled north from Apple in high spirits, then turned left on Homestead Road, with only light traffic.  The city biking was uneventful until I passed down a side street and saw this sign:

Even in this high-rent district, “the kids” still get away with something.  I laughed out loud and nearly swerved into a ditch.

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I passed into a suburban area and began to encounter a lot of bicyclists.  Almost all of them were men.  Almost all of them were wearing custom biking clothes, most of them with racing decals.  Everyone had that lean, gazelle-like shape, like they’d been doing this forever.  There were absolutely no pedestrians.  The few people I did see on foot were walking in or out of restaurants.  The contrast with the diversity of downtown San Jose, ten miles east, was telling.

I could tell it was an affluent part of town because no one was smiling, and no one said hello; not even the fellow bicyclists.  But once I got further up into the hills, the cyclists reduced to the handful who were traveling the same route, and they were very friendly.  We would always nod and smile, and occasionally chat as we passed or re-passed each other.  Since we were on this road, we were obviously sharing the same adventure.

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It got quiet, so I switched to the ambient playlist.  I passed a stables and a pasture, and saw a deer resting beneath a tree, and a rabbit darting around by the side of the road.  Small lizards went zipping under rocks as I approached.  Vineyards and orchards went rolling by.  The houses grew more palatial, some almost crossing into parody, with roman columns, crosshatched colonial shutters and brickwork, iron-filigree windows, and stone cherubs spewing water into fountains.  Nice stuff, but mostly it made me think, “If the poor migrant workers in downtown San Jose saw this, they would be enormously aggravated at this community.” … And about ten miles’ distance through thin air is the only wall separating these groups.

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Honestly though, I’m not as angry with “the rich” as a group as I was when I was younger.  I’ve come to understand that they are about as morally diverse as any other slice of people, except they tend to be much more strongly imprisoned by genetics.  When you live with – or even owe your survival to – genetically inherited wealth, you are compelled to believe that the genes demarcating your family line actually contain some justification for the inheritance.  This belief can easily poison you and your relationship with most of the world.  Be that as it may, the desire to spend money on your kids, and your kids only, is part of us all…  So, whatchagonnado.

Anyway, I took frequent rest stops and ate grapes from my saddlebag, and chatted on the phone with La.  With my quieter music playing I could hear better, so I began to switchback up the increasingly steep roads.  The rushing sound of the approaching vehicles gave me plenty of time to get back to the safety of the curb.

  • The Risk: Switchbacking up steep hills puts you in danger of collision with the huge metal death monsters otherwise known as “cars”.
  • The Solution: Get a decent low gear on your damn bike so you don’t have to switchback.

The iPhone map guided me up past the nature preserve and the various landmarks.  In general it was easier to find my way this time because I understood that not every curve in the road is actually on the digital map…  The map is a line drawn by interpolating between points, and there aren’t enough points to describe all the curves, so you only get an approximation of what the road does.

  • The Risk: When you rely on a digital map, what you see is not always what you get, and it’s hard to track your exact location.
  • The Solution: Memorize your route, go with a guide, or use a GPS tracker with your map.  Or all three.

On a particularly steep rise, the road went around a sharp curve directly into the setting sun.  I’d been riding beneath forest canopy for almost an hour, so my sunglasses were in my saddlebag.  Instead of stopping immediately to put them on, I tried to switchback my way up around the curve while half-blinded, and was so distracted that I almost rode into the path of a fellow bicyclist who was speeding down the mountain.

  • The Risk: Almost all bike accidents happen during sunset hours when the light can blind people, and approaching cyclists do not make noise like cars do, so you can’t rely on your hearing.
  • The Solution: Wear sunglasses and keep them on until the sun has set, so you don’t get blinded by surprise coming around a curve and fling yourself over a railing.

I stopped at the edge of a preserve to drink water and futz around with the camera.  The second I stepped off the bike I was surrounded by a cloud of mosquitoes and flies.  “Ahh yes, the sunset hours,” I muttered.  I laid my bike by the roadside and went marching up into the hills for a while.  Almost caught a bunny rabbit on film, but he was too wascally.  While setting up a picture of some sunlit grass, I suddenly observed that my arms were almost red with sun exposure.

  • The Risk: Short sleeves in the summer will get you fried by the sun and then eaten alive by insects.
  • The Solution: If you’re a “touring” rider, consider a long-sleeved white or reflective garment.  Perhaps not those tiny spandex things the pros wear, since a determined mosquito can poke right through those, but something with at least a little thickness to it.

In the hills easy of San Jose, California

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Back in the saddle I pedaled hard for a while to distance myself from the insect cloud.  Only a couple of determined flies kept pace.  I don’t know what they were after … I can’t imagine them being able to drink anything off me that makes up for the energy they expend chasing me down.  Oh wait, there’s an easy explanation for this:  Flies are dumb.

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I passed a gang of llamas parading around some very pretty farmland.  The slope leveled off, informing me that I was at the top of the mountain and due to encounter Skyline Boulevard soon.  The setting sun continued to blind me around many of the curves.  Finally I came to the four-way intersection I was looking for, where Page Mill Road crosses Skyline Boulevard and turns into Alpine Road.  About a mile further I stopped to eat the burrito that Pit Crew La made for me.  Looking west, I could see the fingers of mist filling the valleys between me and the coast.  None of that moisture makes it to San Jose.  Dammit.

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It was nice and quiet so I decided to walk to the edge of the road and pee. My bike shorts have no front zipper, so I have to pull them partway down, which is quite awkward. “Of course,” I thought, “the second I get them down, a car’s going to come rushing around the corner. So I might as well get this over with… Yep. There’s the car, right on cue…”

I yanked my shorts back up and pretended to be arranging luggage on the bike. The car went out of sight, so I got ready to pee again, but of course a second car came up. “Oh yeah. Cars usually appear in groups,” I thought. Then I got ready to pee a third time… And a third car zoomed by, going the other way. A minivan with a bunch of kids pressed to the windows. “Fine,” I shouted. “I don’t care who sees me. I am peeing on the side of the road right now.”

…And since I was already exasperated, no cars appeared. I put my headphones back up, put my helmet back on, remounted the bike, and kept riding west.

Gradually the road squiggled around to the south, and then became extremely steep. Toast-your-brake-pads steep. Around a couple of curves I had to brake so hard my front wheel began making a terrific squealing noise. I should really adjust that, I guess, but it’s already come in handy a few times to alert drivers to my presence.

I shot out from behind a hill and all of a sudden I was staring down the mountainside, across a valley, and out over the ocean. Except that instead of water, I was seeing a dense ocean of clouds. The whole coastline was covered in a thick wooly blanket, starting at the base of the hills and extending all the way past the horizon. The rapidly setting sun lit the tops of the cloudscape, and drew a line of fire all along the outer rim. As I rushed down the peak of the hill towards this scene, I looked down into the valley on my right, filled with eerie dusk shadows and cool air. It seemed to go by in seconds, and as it curved up to meet the hillside, another valley opened on my left, filled with more huge shadows and rushing air. I glanced at my GPS display and observed through streaming eyes that I was going almost 40 miles per hour.

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Totally worth the trip.

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After gazing slack-jawed at the terrain for a while I realized I should stop and take a few pictures. The sunlight got very dim so I turned on my bike lamp. About half a mile later the road did another nose-dive and entered a forest. A sign blew past me, and 200 yards after that I finally parsed what I had read: “Not a through street.”

“Well that doesn’t make sense,” I thought. “According to the map I examined last night, this road goes down to a nature preserve and campground, then connects with Highway 9 and leads to Boulder Creek…” I’d seen the signs for the nature preserve, so I assumed I was still on the right track, but… “Not a through street?”

  • The Risk: You’ve checked the route on several maps, but real-world conditions vary, and your plans are destroyed.
  • The Solution: Come prepared to encounter harsher conditions than the map says. Bring enough gear to stay out longer than you plan.

“Maybe it’s passable by bike, but not cars,” I told myself. I’d already gone way, way down the hill, so I was trying to rationalize going forward instead of turning around and inching my way back up. “Let’s just get down there and look around…”

The road arrived at an open checkpoint, like the kind you see in front of nature preserves. I slowed down long enough to see that there was no one in the booth, then kept going. The forest canopy got very high and blocked out the remains of the sun. Abruptly it was night. I glanced at the iPhone and it said 8:00.

The road became wide and smooth as it snaked between the trees. After riding in soft silence for a while, I began to hear distant voices, and saw the yellow windows of lodge houses. The road split, then split again. I tried to determine if I was still heading south by craning my neck to catch the moon flickering in the branches, but all I saw was blackness. It felt like south. Short gravel driveways appeared on either side of the road, and I realized I was passing unoccupied campsites. Was there another way out of this place? I had definitely seen one on the map at home…

I saw a sign ahead, pointing down a thinner road that branched off and up a hill. “Old Haul Road”. That sounded encouraging. A road good for hauling stuff is a road that goes somewhere. It became so steep that I had to dismount and push my bike, but only for a minute. At the top of the hill was another sign: “BRIDGE OUT.”

Well that explains it. No bridge, no escape for cars. I stopped to catch my breath and consider my situation. It was 8:30pm on a Sunday night. I was on a bike, at the bottom of an enormous hill, 35 miles from home. I had probably deviated from my route, which had obviously been inaccurate to begin with. My phone, my traveling lifeline, was displaying the words “No Service”.

Well, if I was going to bike all the way back up that hill, I would definitely be late to Santa Cruz. So I’d need to find a payphone at one of the lodge buildings and call up The La. That would be the smart thing to do. But on the other hand, what if the bridge is only closed for cars? Maybe I can just bike right across it anyway.

I decided to go have a look. How big of a bridge can it be, anyway, here in a campground at the bottom of a valley?

The road twisted and turned through thick forest, then opened up to a large dirt clearing. A small, temporary-looking building stood in the middle of it, next to a stack of wood and a huge mound of debris. Some construction equipment lay scattered around, bluish-grey and shadowy in the weak moonlight. At the opposite end of the clearing I saw a few wooden sawhorses with red plastic ribbon strung between them, and a large metal sign propped in front. I rode up to the sign and read it with my bike light: “BRIDGE OUT. Road closed to cars, bicycles, pedestrians. DO NOT ENTER.” Et cetera.

Just beyond the ribbon, the construction workers had pushed together a thick pile of branches and rocks, physically blocking the road. But beyond that I could see the road continued. So I wheeled my bike around the blockade and kept going. After another 30 yards, the asphalt of the road connected to a grey strip of concrete about a foot thick, like the lip of a bridge, but without the bridge. Beyond it was darkness and the faint trickle of flowing water.

I leaned my bike against a concrete barrier nearby, and detached my iPhone from the holder. I set the iPhone to the “adjust brightness” screen, which is mostly a big white rectangle, and turned the brightness all the way up. It made a pretty good flashlight. Over the edge of the concrete lip I could see the worn dirt slope of a riverbank, and beyond that a shallow creek. I climbed carefully down and scanned the area for an easy place to cross, holding the iPhone out in front of me like some enchanted weapon from Clash Of The Titans. On my right, downstream, the huge broken slabs of the bridge lay buried in the mud. To my left, some flat rocks formed an easy path over the water. I stepped across them and then climbed carefully up the hill, where I found the torn edge of the road. It clearly continued beyond the missing bridge. The way was open.

So, I climbed back over to the other side, grabbed my bike, and carried it across, holding the iPhone in my teeth to light the way. Back in the saddle on the far side of the creek, I began pedaling, and my bike light pulsed into life. The scene it revealed made me very worried: The road was littered with branches and redwood leaves so profusely that it looked like the forest might swallow it up. Did I just haul my bike over here for nothing?

Nervously I rode around the corner, snapping twigs and branches. The road continued up a hill. Partway up it, I saw a large gravel-covered clearing on my left with a couple of small buildings dimly visible. I pedaled up to them and observed they were covered with vines redwood leaves. The windows were dirty. The front door of the smaller building was obscured by a blackened weed that had burst from the cement landing and then dried out. I got the impression I was looking at a checkpoint, like the one at the campground entrance. This road had obviously been closed for years.

“Spooky stuff!”, I whispered to myself, and rode out of the clearing. The hill got steep so I began walking the bike. Only a quarter-mile up, the road connected to a wider dirt-and-gravel road that appeared to be in better condition. That was surprising. Nearby I spotted a wooden frame with a map posted on it, under a pane of thick plastic. In the lower left corner was an X, labeled “YOU ARE HERE”. The X was positioned in the vague middle of a hairy mass of lines, all connecting at right angles to a thicker, straight line that ran diagonally down the map from left to right. That line was apparently Old Haul Road. Since I’d joined this road from the trunk of a T-intersection, I had previously been on some other road. Where the hell had I been?

I looked around the X for roads that passed over a river, and found several. The curve that fit the route best was a road that joined up from the south. So if I had been on that road, and I wanted to head southeast on Long Haul Road towards Santa Cruz, I should turn right.

I turned and began pedaling. The road was in good shape, and refreshingly straight. Pleased to be making easy progress, I let my mind wander. Fifteen minutes went by. Then I arrived at another T-junction, with a sign posted. Old Haul Road to the left, Pescadero Creek to the right. With the distance I’d just gone, I was probably off the edge of the map back at the kiosk, so even if I could remember any details from that map, or had taken a picture, it wouldn’t have helped. I decided to turn right since it was probably more towards the coast, and pedaled on for about a hundred yards, then drifted to a stop.

My iPhone had no signal, but I still had my GPS tracker. I’d just remembered that it could show a miniature drawing of where I’d gone. It had no roads or detail, but by looking at the shape of my route, I could orient myself and figure out which road I should really be taking. I turned on the eerie green backlight and poked at the device for a couple of minutes, confused by the awkward menu system, and finally got the line to appear. There was my route, very clearly going… Northwest. Oops.

This was Old Haul Road alright. I could tell because the line on the display matched the shape of the line back at the kiosk. But I’d just cycled almost two miles in the wrong direction on it.

I stood there swearing for a while, then congratulated myself for finally remembering that my GPS tracker could do that, then wheeled the bike around and rode back the way I came. 15 minutes later I blew by the kiosk. The road continued for another five minutes, then was interrupted by a very serious looking gate in front of a bridge. A metal sign posted above the gate declared that the land across the bridge was owned by a logging company, and that no cars, horses, or bicycles were allowed, and no pedestrians after dark.

Time to break some laws. I monkeyed the bike around the gate and walked it across the bridge, then got back on and kept pedaling.

The gravel crunched under my tires. Occasionally it would become thick and moor the bike, throwing me off balance and forcing me to walk. I passed a lot of intersecting roads, but I had convinced myself that all of these were for logging access and didn’t go anywhere, so I stayed on “Old Haul Road” wherever the road signs indicated. The GPS console said I was going in a direction that matched the road I’d seen on the map at home, which was a good sign, but I was constantly worried that the road would simply end.

I got a serious fright when I rode onto a straight section and saw a tractor and a backhoe in the distance, parked in the middle of the road, next to a pile of dirt. “Oh CRAP,” I thought to myself. “Don’t tell me they’re still building the road. After all this, am I going to have to turn around?”

I approached the pile of dirt to see if there was even a trail on the other side. When I got there I found that the road kept going, just as straight and wide as before. For some reason there was just a big pile of dirt heaped in the middle of it. Uh, okay…

So I rode on. Four or five miles later the road brought me through a large clearing, dotted with young fir trees that leaned and stretched eerily in the moonlight. I felt a surge of instinctive paranormal fear, and had to stop and calm myself down. “If you start seeing ghosts behind every tree,” I told myself, “you’re going to have a really hard time out here.” I checked the iPhone clock and it said 10:30. I was due in Santa Cruz in half an hour, and I had absolutely no idea how far I needed to go. After a few deep breaths my nerves settled down enough to keep riding.

More crunching gravel, more steep hills and intersections. A few of them were unlabeled so I just looked at my GPS map and picked the one that went southeast. Every now and then I’d hear the noise of some unknown animal crashing around in the bushes. Once I heard it so close by that I turned around and made a very loud hissing sound at it. It’s the sound I always make at forest animals. It scares the crap out of them but doesn’t sound human, so I don’t reveal my presence to other humans when I make it, which for some reason has always been important to me when walking around in the woods. (Probably because a lot of the time when I was growing up, going into the woods meant trespassing on other people’s property.)

I came to another clearing. This one had been bulldozed flat and laid with gravel, making a staging area. A decrepit-looking tanker truck was parked on the left edge. Ahead of me on the right I could see a wooden fence with a camping trailer installed next to it on cement blocks. Beyond an opening in the fence I saw more trailers, arranged on either side of a narrow driveway. Beyond that, a bright electric light illuminated part of a low building. This looked like the outpost of some construction or logging business.

Aside from the driveway, there was another road leading out of the clearing to my left. I didn’t want to go blundering up to the trailers and wake the sleeping humans within… I would have rather turned around than do that… But luckily I didn’t have to make that choice. I took the road leading left. No sooner had I gone 100 yards around a corner when a dog began to bark. Not the high, alert bark of a family dog, but the low, explosive, coughing bark of a large muscular guard dog. A tone that said to the base of my brain: “If I find you, I will bite your throat right off your body.”

A few weeks ago I’d been walking around outside my house, bringing some food to a stray cat, when I heard dogs barking and a woman screaming in panic. I went striding towards the sound and saw a young man holding the collar of an enormous pit bull. The dog was panting heavily from it’s wide flat mouth and seemed to be in a good mood, but was pulling to be free of the boy, who was having serious trouble keeping the dog in place.

“Is this your dog?” I asked him. “No,” he replied. We talked, and I learned that the boy’s mother had been out walking her two small dogs when this dog had simply wandered up and started fighting with them. The mother’s screaming had brought out the son, who held the dog back while she fled into the house. Now he was standing outside in his boxer shorts at 10pm trying to restrain an anonymous dog that weighed only a few pounds less than he did.

We took turns holding his collar, which was actually a thick loop of rope with a broken tassel hanging off of it, and The La (who had walked up behind me) called the police and then an Animal Control unit to come deal with the beast. Meanwhile, we were lucky that the dog had some instinctive respect for humans packed away in its brain, because as I spoke with it and groomed it (while practically sitting on it to keep it in place), it calmed down a little bit and remained in a good mood. At the time I wondered if it was just happy to be free. It had clearly gnawed through it’s rope leash some time ago.

The cops arrived and they handed me a strong skinny leash, and asked me to clip it to the dog since I seemed to be keeping him calm. It took several of us to corral the reluctant animal but we eventually tethered him to a metal signpost. Once he was attached to an object he stopped jumping around. We all chatted with the police for a while, who expressed their frustration with pit-bull owners and owners of large meaty breeds in general. “What ever happened to the Golden Retriever?” I asked. “You know, dogs with actual brains?” “Yeah, seriously,” one of them said. The kid went back into his house with his mother. I petted the dog one last time and then left him for Animal Control.

Anyway, that incident was fresh in my mind while I stood on the road in the middle of the forest. Big dogs with big mouths, in bad moods, were very scary. And this time I was alone, and clearly trespassing. There was no way I could make a case for “I was just riding and got lost, sir.” Not after 15 miles.

The huge booming bark continued for several minutes. It echoed across the valley and back, and I realized that the dog was probably barking at it’s own echo, since I’d long stopped making noise. Finally it trailed off, but when I resumed riding, the dog resumed barking less than 50 yards later. With a sinking feeling in my gut I realized that the road was leading me directly towards the sound.

Like an idiot, being an idiot for the fifth or sixth time that day, I rode on. In another 50 yards I saw a driveway on my left, and the reverberation of the barking changed, informing me that I had just passed within direct line of sight with the dog. As soon as I did so, the barking ceased. That was even more unnerving, because most dogs quit barking when they’re running. Was I about to be jumped by a guard dog?

I pedaled as hard as I could up the hill, for almost 200 yards, expecting at any moment to hear barking just a few feet away, or the bite of teeth in my leg. I’d been bitten by dogs just twice in my life, and both times they were just ordinary neighborhood dogs. I was anticipating far worse from this one.

But the attack never came. I rolled to a stop, panting, and tried to hear the presence of any other animal. None. What had happened? After standing in place for a few minutes to catch my breath, I figured it out: The bike lamp. It’s almost as bright as the headlight of a motorcycle. The dog had seen my lamp, which obscured everything else, and had come to the conclusion that I was a vehicle, and that there was no point in barking.

  • The Risk: A guy on a bike looks like a giant hamhock to nearby dogs.
  • The Solution: Blind them with science.

Twenty feet further up the hill was a sign nailed to a 2×4, facing the other direction. I rode over to it and read the writing on the front: “No Trespassing.” That was a relief. I was riding out of a place that required that sign. Just ahead I found the paved ribbon of an actual public road. Hot damn! Back in civilization. I turned on the iPhone and it showed a few bars of signal.

The first thing I did was call La, to tell her I would probably be later than 11:00pm. But she was busy driving over Highway 17, so I said I’d call back. Then I went looking for a street sign, and found none. So I turned east on the road and began pedaling. It switched back a few times, then began to climb straight up the hill. Was this taking me back up the mountain? That would suck.

I rode for a while longer, unsure what to do, and then got a bright idea. I’d compare the squiggle on my GPS route with the shapes of the roads near Boulder Creek. Maybe I’d find a match. In only a few minutes I had it: I was on Saw Mill Road. That intersected Highway 236, and Highway 9, in less than a mile. Eagerly I rode on, zig-zagging up the steep road and chatting with The La over my headset. I told her I’d be late, and she said she could do some shopping, so it wouldn’t be a big deal.

I hung up the phone after I was on Highway 9, and fired up the music player since I was no longer worried about battery life. By the time I passed through Ben Lomond I was feeling pretty run-down, because the cold air was turning my arms numb and, like an idiot, I’d forgotten to bring a sweater. I stopped to call The La again and looked at the GPS readout, which said “42.42 miles”. An auspicious number!

We agreed to meet along Highway 9, between Ben Lomond and Felton. She began driving up from Santa Cruz, and we found each other on my 46th mile. Gratefully I loaded myself into the passenger seat, and we drove to Santa Cruz for Saturn Burgers and shakes with our friend Alison.

Quite an adventure. And clearly I have a lot to learn about trip preparedness.