Massive update on the gallery

On uploading my photos from SE Sunday Parkways and a recent trip back to Albuquerque, I found that there were ten albums in my photos that I hadn’t yet uploaded to the Gallery.

This has been rectified and the gallery lightly reorganized to highlight the additions.

Special notice:
Otter whaa?, Iconic San Francisco Bay, Ascending the Mosaic Stairway, Perfect poppy, In the box, It’s raining in the sky.

Ride report: Sequoia 50K 2009

Sunday morning was my third, and more than likely last, Sequoia 50K ride.

DST: 34.5
MXS: 34
AVS: ~10mph (overall), 12.5 (moving)
Time: 3:15 (overall)

My stats are a tad muddled because I checked my distance at the finish, but forgot to check my AVS and time, and then I rode home via Foothill. My total distance for the day was 43.4 miles. 1 mile from home to Palo Alto Caltrain, 1 mile from Arastradero and El Camino to the start, and 7 miles home.

I’m proud of myself for getting up and doing this ride — I was out in Oakland Saturday night and lost my phone, and I haven’t been training at all (except in that I’ve gone on a few other rides recently), so I was tired to start out with and not that well-prepared. Also, in the past they’ve had bagels and coffee at the start, so I didn’t eat breakfast, and when the food and drink did not materialize, I only had a few spoonfuls of the nutbutter/honey/chocolate mix I brought to start out on. Fortunately that stuff is awesome.

I still managed to do a respectable job at the climbing. Arastradero kicked my ass, leaving me exhausted and panting as usual, but I was able to do Arastradero, Alpine, and Whiskey Hill without stopping. A peloton passed me going the other way at about 35 mph in the preserve.

The organizers included a new loop on Alpine out past Portola this time, which was more climbing but a nice rural-neighborhoody excursion. The descent back to Portola (on Willowbrook) was nice and I hit 32 on one steep section.

After Whiskey Hill, it was a pretty straight shot down to the rest stop at Burgess Park, near my house. Once again I didn’t succumb to the temptation to go home in the middle, and instead had a lot of food and headed out through Menlo and Palo Alto with some acquired companions.

This part of the ride has never been my favorite. I enjoy the winding trek along Woodland (which I rarely ride even though it’s nearby), but after you pass University the pavement quality goes from fine to terrible (almost nonexistent in places) and you bump along for quite a while before turning onto Newell in Palo Alto and finishing with a trek along Palo Alto’s badly paved but otherwise pleasant streets. One notable, and sad, sight this year was the memorials at E. Meadow and the train tracks, where two Gunn High School students committed suicide in May.

The final route this year went through the neighborhoods between Meadow and Arastradero before getting back on Arastradero, rather than using the Gunn High bike path. This was less confusing and more pleasant, and provided a better view of Juana Briones park between Maybell Ave and Arastradero, although it did mean overlapping the beginning of the route more.

The most fun part of the ride for me was the scenery and the slow lifting of the fog. As I was climbing Alpine, the nearby hills were green and the Skyline ridge hills were fainter and bluish. Along Whiskey Hill, the fog could be seen starting to lift, and the descent down Woodside provided a fantastic view across to the East Bay hills, partly golden and sunny, and partly blueish and dark. Traversing the familiar route was poignant for me because I’ll have only a few more rides before I leave. I’ll miss the unique Peninsula scenery.

Goodbye, Stacey’s

I happened to read today that Stacey’s Bookstore in San Francisco is closing.

Any bookstore closure is kind of sad, but this one has a particular sadness for me because that’s where I bought The Mindbody Prescription, which I used to get rid of my RSI totally. I bought the book in November 2005, on one of my first trips into San Francisco after moving to the Bay Area, and have been totally pain-free since June 2006 (more than two and a half years now). So the bookstore has some personal significance to me, and it’s weird to think of passing by there and not seeing it and being reminded of that lucky moment.

Sun-kissed frost

When I left the house this morning, an hour earlier than usual, it was bright but not light: the sun had risen, but wasn’t yet shining directly onto the roads and buildings. The air was crisp and cold, the sky pale blue and orange, the hills clear and purple, the clouds a golden mass on the eastern horizon. The moon, although no longer full, was still large and bright overhead. A thin layer of frost decorated grass, leaves, cars, and rooftops. Just as I reached the train station, the sun began kissing the treetops, illuminating the later stages of California trees’ extended but inconsistent love affair with fall color.

Days like this remind me of the winters I grew up in — cold, dry, and sharp; invigorating and refreshing. They’re days I’m very glad to be alive in this world.

Mt. Tam: cheesy edition

Back in August, training for Waves to Wine, I did a ride with J & C which ended with trip to Berkeley Bowl and the Berkeley Marina.

C & I looked at cheese while we were in Berkeley Bowl and saw Mt. Tam, which was a contestant in the Tomato Nation NCheeseAA (it made it to the final “fourmage”). The contest was the first time I’d heard of it, and Berkeley Bowl was the first place I saw it. It’s like Brie on crack — soft cheese, white rind. Triple cream. Mmmmm.

But it was $20 for a small wheel, so we decided it should be a treat for after W2W. Since then I think C has had it already herself (direct from the Creamery), but I hadn’t. Yesterday I finally picked some up at the Cowgirl Creamery shop in the Ferry Building, and today I ate half of it after getting home from donating blood (along with slices of a green apple).

Uhh….yeah. It’s the Best Cheese Ever. A robust but not overpowering flavor, slightly tangy, soft, rich, organic and vegetarian, and the milk comes from a farm where the cows are treated humanely and attention is given to sustainability and land management. This is a cheese I can get totally behind.*

A 10-oz round cost me $14, which is a hell of a lot for just any cheese, but doesn’t seem like that much for a piece of pure heaven in cheesy form.

*When I first became vegetarian I ate a lot of cheese — I’ve always liked cheese, so it was pretty much last on my list of things I wanted to worry about giving up. But over time I’ve worked on eating less of it because most cheese is produced under similar conditions to most meat, so to be consistent with my reasons for giving up meat, I would need to give up any cheese with similar production methods as well.

I don’t think I’ll ever give up cheese totally except for properly-produced stuff (for me, it’s just too hard), but I’ve greatly reduced my consumption of it and other dairy products, and tend to skew toward small amounts of high-qualty cheese. Finding a cheese that meets my criteria for production, like Mt. Tam, is very exciting. Finding out that it’s heaven on a plate is even more exciting.

Strawberry frustration

I love strawberries. The best ones are fragrant and sweet with a hint of tartness. I want to describe them as a “flavor burst in the mouth” but that sounds unfortunatey like a commercial. I buy them almost every week in the summer when they’re available. I freeze them to keep for over the winter when they aren’t available at the farmer’s market. But I also find strawberries incredibly frustrating. Their attractive red appearance can conceal many flaws — an unripe white center, or a soft spot that feels mushy and will soon mold. Even worse, equally ripe-looking and beautiful strawberries can taste completely different. One will be sweet and glorious, the next watery and flavorless with a tinge of sour. And they go bad so quickly. I have to refrigerate them, even though conventional wisdom is that fruit flavor is destroyed by refrigeration.

After thinking about this, I realized that these problems are common to most soft fruits, although they’re probably pronounced with strawberries and other berries because of their lack of a firm skin. But certainly stone fruit (cherries, peaches, plums) is just as much of a crapshoot from one fruit to the next, and it reaches the peak of ripeness quickly and just as quickly goes mushy and over-sweet. Avocadoes and tomatoes also vary some (bad spots and poor flavor), and with avocados you can’t even see inside at all. Even apples, which aren’t even soft fruit, vary a bit from fruit to fruit, though less so. Bananas are about the only 100% consistent fruits. No wonder they’re so popular.

I wish we had the kind of markets that they have in France where you tell the seller when you want to eat the fruit and they’ll pick out ones that’ll be just perfect that day. But I don’t think even they will sell you individual strawberries!

magnitude of the Central Valley

I hear people all the time talking about the Central Valley, and I thought I had a pretty clear idea of where and what it is — inland of here, a big area where there are a lot of farms plus some of the major inland cities, the nation’s major supplier of various fruit and nut crops. But I’ve never looked at it on the map before — I had no idea how big it really is! Just from looking at Google Maps satellite imagery, it seems to go from Chico to Bakersfield in a huge swath (Wikipedia tells me it’s actually as far north as Redding), where virtually everything is either farm, major natural feature inhibiting farming, or urban area.

Delightful Wikipedia factoids:
“Before California’s massive flood control and aqueduct system was built, the annual snow melt turned much of the valley into an inland lake.”

“Virtually all non-tropical crops are grown in the Central Valley,” a sentence that sounds not quite as intended when taken out of context. I assume they just mean that unless a crop is tropical, it can be and likely is cultivated in the Central Valley, not that it is exclusively so cultivated.

Also, the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta is an inverted river delta. And the Capitol Corridor train (and other trains on that line) crosses its outlet portion, the Carquinez Strait, on a very cool rail bridge [jpg].

The reason I noticed all this is that I went to Davis this weekend. Davis is also cool, but since I got sidetracked by this whole California geography thing I’ll have to say more about that later.

Saturday ride #8: Coastal ride

Due to exhaustion I am lacking in my usual verbosity. Therefore, mostly you get statistics, nouns, and adjectives.

DST: 50.5 mi (my computer reported 55 but that is not correct, and I don’t know why — I’m thinking a detector in Palo Alto)
AVS: 11.8 (…oy)
MXS: ~32 (84 descent)
Ride time: 4:36
Total elevation gain: 5450 ft (per Bikely)
Total time: ~8 hrs (yes, we spent almost half the time resting…see previous stat)

Preparation: Brisk
Sand Hill: Okay -> Bleargh.
Old La Honda: Very Difficult (1 hour climbing time = AVS 3 mph…oy)
Skyline: Reward!
CA-84 (descent): amazingly pleasant!
CA-84 (coast approach): scenic, windy
Stage Rd: Ridiculous
Hwy 1: Cliffs! Ocean! AWESOME!
Tunitas Creek: Nice -> Difficult -> Hellish -> Challenging
Kings Mountain: Frightening
Woodside and return: Pleasant, but hot and windy.

Company: Terrific (thanks J, C, and D)
Food eaten: 2.5 energy bars, several of D’s dates, a veggie sandwich, two spring rolls
Liquids drunk: 1 27-oz bottle Vitamin Water, 1.25 Camelbaks water
Most awesome products: C’s Enlyten electrolyte strips (weirdly yum), chamois cream (would not have lived through this without it)
Pain points: butt (climbing), thighs (climbing), hands (descending KM)
Spiffy breathing techniques learned: 1
Sections walked: 1
Breaks taken: Too numerous to count!
Sense of accomplishment: Powerful.

Ride report: Berkeley! Grizzly Peak!

This morning I went up to Berkeley to ride with my friends/team members up there, J & C (you guys let me know if you want full names or initials on the blog). We had planned to do a 38-mile route up Grizzly Peak that I found on Bikely (Downtown Berkeley – Grizzly Peak – Skyline – Pinehurst). The full route has 5000ish feet of climbing, so I figured if we could do that, we could do W2W (which it turns out likely has closer to 5500 and 3200 ft of climbing rather than the 8000/5000 listed on the topo map due to topo overestimation). So it would be a useful test, and an interesting challenge.

But in the end, we took a wrong turn on Skyline (possibly due to the cue sheet being left, with my book, back at their apartment) and did a 24-mile ride up Grizzly Peak and Skyline and down Tunnel, then out to the Marina for a quick lunch/snack (1700 ft climbing, instead of the 5000ish given for the full route) and back to their apartment.

The 1700 ft of climbing was mostly in the first 6 miles, with the next four being variably up and down, then down for the last part. Spruce was somewhat brutal and I was dripping sweat and had stopped to rest twice (briefly, just so my heart wouldn’t beat out of my chest) by the time we got to Grizzly Peak Blvd. But the rest of the climbing was relatively gentle, though I stopped to rest once more later on. The lower gears on my touring bike helped, though toting a rack pack probably didn’t. Descending was a challenge, but my brakes stood up to it, and I felt that on the long downhill I was practicing good technique in when I decelerated and when I coasted, so that was very useful.

We all remarked afterward that we didn’t feel too terrible and thought both that we could have gone on (though none of us wanted to climb back up in order to do so…so…who knows!) and that despite being cut short, it was a good prep ride because so much climbing is compacted into so little mileage. It turned out well in many ways, giving me time to meet someone for coffee afterward and J time to get to the airport. I also saw Berkeley Bowl for the first time (finally, you are all saying). What a great place, wow! I wish I lived near there. It’s like every grocery store I’ve ever been to, plus a farmer’s market, rolled into one, all on steroids. We saw Mt. Tam cheese there, which I’ve been led to believe is amazing. C and I joked about how expensive it was and said that it would be a treat for after Waves to Wine, rather than for today.

The picnic table we found at the Marina was just sheltered enough to be pleasant without being hot. To get there, we inadvertently missed the turn onto Addison down to the bike/ped bridge, and illegally crossed on University instead. People were surprisingly patient given the total silliness of our presence on that overpass. It must happen reasonably often since the sign that warns you away is small and placed just after you get on. (City of Berkeley, please note.) On the way back we enjoyed the peace on the bike/ped bridge.

I noticed that most drivers up on the hill, in contrast, were not at all patient and would pass too close and at awkward times. Another cyclist we saw reported he had a guy come up behind him rapidly and skim by so close he touched him (and on the downhill too). Augh! I wonder why the distinction in behavior.

My total mileage for today was around 28 miles (counting all the incidental mileage I did), so I’m just going to re-divide the weekend mileage and do around 50 tomorrow so it should equal out, more or less. Despite the intensity of the climbing, I am feeling restless and eager to do more tomorrow. I think I have reached the point of needing a certain amount of intense physical exercise to feel good — which at this point in training I think is a very good place to be!

Two things that are fantastic

I’ve had kind of a crazy week — maybe kind of a crazy month, really — and two things this week were particularly fantastic:

Dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes from Ella Bella Farm

These tomatoes are expensive compared to most of the heirlooms and organic tomatoes at the Menlo Park Farmer’s Market — they cost I think $3 or $3.50 a pound. But they are SO WORTH IT. OMG. They are fantastic and amazing and so flavorful and with great structure and they are great alone or in tomato-basil-mozzarella sandwiches and they pep up anything they are in, making a salad into a fun hunt-the-tomatoes experience.

XKCD Store‘s customer service

A while back I ordered the Regular Expressions shirt from the XKCD store and I got it when I got back from Portland, but I hadn’t worn it until this week (everyone at work loves it, incidentally). When I did I found a small hole in the shirt. I wrote to the XKCD store person saying, hey, I found this hole, I don’t think I made it but I can’t be sure, and they said, basically, “No worries! We’ll send you a new shirt right away! Feel free to keep the old one!” How awesome is that? Love.

Wall-E should probably make this list too, because it is really sweet and funny and I liked it a lot, but foodie geek that I am, the other two things actually make me happier. Tomatoes and XKCD FTW.