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.

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