Sunday, November 30, 2014

Back to Mendocino, This Time on Foot

Since my August trip to mountain bike the very awesome trails around Mendocino, I have really wanted to show Marketa some of the easy trails in the area. There are enough beginner's trails for at least three days of riding just south and north of town, as well as some sand for fat biking, and that was our plan until a few days before the departure. A weather forecast called for couple of strong systems moving through Northern California over the Thanksgiving Holidays. Knowing how bad these rain storms could be on the coast (drove through one in December 2012 on our way to Seattle), we decided to leave the bikes at home and packed trail running gear instead.

As we drove through the Anderson Valley where the vineyards shone bright yellow and red, illuminated by the low autumn sun, we recalled how in the past years, we would leave the turkey in the oven to its own slow protein denaturation process and go for a run or bike ride. This year, we decided to leave all things "Thanksgiving" behind and have a vacation.

While the Anderson Valley is most visited by wine connoisseurs, we found Henry Woods redwoods and the adjacent apple farm to satisfy our needs: an hour walk, three bags of apples and couple of bottles of fresh apple juice.
After we checked into our cabin on the coast in Little River, we started our two day feast of seafood at a great place called Wild Fish.  Oysters, local catch, Hush Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, North Coast brewery beer, much better than wrestling with the bird at home!
Next morning, the promised rain arrived but we were prepared and went for a trail run at the Van Damme state park. A flat trail (open to bikes, too) first followed the river through a fern canyon, then crossed the river and pitched steeply up and climbed to a plateau where the Pygmy forest area is.

If you go east from the rugged coast, through the redwood groves and up these step-wise plateaus, you will go essentially through a staircase of ecosystems, ending with blooming rhododendrons. As we turned around and entered a singletrack looping back to the canyon, the rain almost stopped and we enjoyed the narrow, loamy and rooty trail.

In the late afternoon, we went to check out Glass Beach in Fort Bragg. A place of an old landfill, the ocean has rounded broken glass into sparkly pebbles. I expected the whole beach to be made of glass, so the occasional layer of glass in the sand was bit of a disappointment.

Apparently the ruby red glass is very rare - some 50-ies car tail lights, I guess.

The pile of Dungeness crab and fish and chips accompanied again with local wine and a sampler of six North Coast brews did not disappoint. Run beautiful trails, eat great seafood, drink beer, sleep at the sounds of crashing waves - I liked this vacation agenda.
Saturday morning looked almost sunny, of course until we left the car at the trail head at the Russian Gulch state park. This being the day of our drive home, we thought that fast hiking would be enough of an activity. Again, the trail heads east from the beach through another fern canyon (seems that each eastward pointing trail here is named Fern Canyon Trail) until it split into a loop around a waterfall.

On the last leg of this six mile hike, the rain intensified into a downpour and my reasoning that it was "just two miles" to go and not worth to pull out my waterproof pants from the backpack, left me soaked through from waist down, despite making a fast pace. My jeans being my only non-running pants, I brought that Mendo rain water with me all the way to drought suffering Pleasanton. When did that last happen to me in California?

Cabrillo Light Station, Russian Gulch State Park

Sunday, November 9, 2014

No Sympathy from the Devil's Mountain

Mt. Diablo is an omnipresent feature of the Tri Valley. It is quite nice to have a 3800 ft high mountain in the backyard. Daily light changes paint the double-headed monster in lovely colors, severe weather makes it look really scary, and an occasional marine layer that sneaks through the 580 corridor and gets stuck in the mountain's mid section makes it look like a fourteener.
I have been to the summit and some trails on Mt. Diablo on foot and on bike several times before, but did not know too many trails there. We went to explore and called it a trail run, knowing that the uphill sections will be a fast hike, if that.

Starting at the Junction, the Summit trail is a relentless climb. It goes up the western slope along the Summit road, meaning it is sunny and exposed. Luckily, today was a pleasant 73F, but this was a sweaty climb.

The viewtower stayed in sight most of the way, except the last few hundred yards of rocky trail above the paved section where the road cyclists weaver at speeds of 2-3 mph.

Few obligatory summit pictures, water refill and we continued east on the North Peak trail. This is one of the few bike legal singletracks on the mountain. Sliding down steep, narrow, rocky trail covered by ball bearing size rocks, with quite an exposure on the right, I started to doubt my idea of coming to ride here. Any other tail in this park would be much safer for mountain bikes.

On the "back side", we decided to loop north on Bald Ridge instead of continuing to the wide and smooth Prospector's gap trail. Bald Ridge was neither bald, nor really a ridge. This was a super narrow and rocky trail perched on a rocky wall just below the summit, overgrown with thick vegetation and going up and down over spines of rocky outcroppings all the time. Its last section before the Meridian Rd was actually very pretty, lava rocks and pines, kind of like in Hawaii.

We dropped way down to a dry creek bottom and started a long climb on fire road switchbacks. Here, our legs clearly let us know that there was enough climbing for the day. After a struggle, we reached the ridge not too far below the summit again and jogged down a gentle slope of Juniper trail.

The last leg down the Junction trail was an exercise in making tired legs slow down on a loose surface, eliciting some sharp pain in my right knee - this pain has been silent since MTB Himachal in 2008. Back at the car after 8.8 miles and over 2500 vertical feet, our supply of fruit and mineral water evaporated before we even managed to take our dusty shoes off. The Devil's mountain had no sympathy on us, and we continue to respect it.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Still here

I realized that this blog has been in a hiatus for more than two months now. It's not a lack of ideas that kept me from writing into the blogosphere, in fact, I have mulled over post ideas on my runs or bike rides. Yes, I still ride my bikes and go running, pretty regularly. In addition, there is my regular upper body strengthening routine (actually, I should be working out now instead of typing...), Bikram yoga on weekend, and also work.
On the side, we also shopped for a house, bought a home, got out of our lease, moved, set up the new place etc etc etc. So now I understand what it means poring over avalanches of paperwork trying to understand what the heck did I actually sign and making trips to Home Depot instead of REI and bike shops.

Well, at least I have now what I have been wishing for all my past life - a bike shop corner in my own garage!

As the daylight got shorter and shorter over October, I tried to make my ~ 7 mile run up Pleasanton Ridge from the Moller Canyon area to see the sun getting down and viewing the hills all colored gold then pink (above). I also rode my "road" bike 29er with 45mm slicks around Pleasanton. The photo below was taken on Mendelhall Road on my way up from Del Valle - the road on the opposite slope is Mines Rd which goes all the way to Mt. Hamilton.

 There were also some really nice mountain bike rides, for instance riding with Beat and Liehann at Demo  etc. These rides, lot less frequent than in the past, somehow make me feel more excited about mountain biking and fill me with sense of happiness every time I ride.
Late October, I went to Czech Republic to give a talk at a conference and this trip has turned into an adventure in science and culture, as well as some long overdue bonding and catching up with my family. The conference highlight was a tour of my home town, including a visit at the Gregor Mendel museum, the most famous Moravian scientist (don't believe Wikipedia about him being Austrian!).

It was actually fun to play a tourist in the city I was born in and I really enjoyed the night on town in company of esteemed scientists and my former colleagues.

If you go to Brno, don't miss the St. Peter's Gothic church and the Old Town Hall with the famous Brno Dragon and the wheel - you will have to study the legends yourself.
I also got some (not enough) time with my family, received a copy of my mother's memoirs from the author herself (thanks mom!) and even saw my son and his girlfriend ripping some muddy trails on the way to Jelen's Ranch for a tasty plate of tenderloin.

From the Czech Republic, I swung over to Bavaria for a few days of work, but managed to go for one 10km trail run around an area called Osterseen, a system of lakes and marshes connected by waterways. Southern Germany had very rainy summer and torrential rains before my arrival have turned the trails into streams.

The Alps were close (about 45km to GaPa), but there was not enough time to travel south.

Instead, on my way to Munich airport, I stopped at the Buchheim Museum of Fantasy - a place filled with expressionist art from Die Brucke group. The building itself was a functionalist gem as well.

Fall in Europe is such a nice time, and as expected, it was picture pretty in Iffeldorf, a village that looked like it was just pasted into the landscape from a coffee table photo book. But it was real - even a photo amateur like me did not have a problem snapping a kitch picture.

Back at home, the time change made it no longer possible to catch a sunset at the Ridge, but I keep my bike light charged and commute to work regularly. Weekend mountain bike rides are fun and blowing fallen leaves in the yard seems like a small price to pay for all this fun. Lets see what there will be to blog in another two or three months.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Murphy Mack's Mendocino Mountain Bike Madness - aka The M5

I just got back from this event. I just somehow stumbled upon it online a few months ago, and others already wrote about previous editions and posted better photos. Everything that the Superpro Racing web page advertised was true. If you love mountain biking on really (I mean really) good trails, in redwoods, with a group of friendly people, then you should regret you were not there (about 120 of us were).

The Woodlands Camp is a special place on its own, deep in a ravine about 10 miles east of Mendocino town. The surrounding areas have been explored and trails built by a group of local enthusiasts, who, for some unclear reason, want to share their secret with the rest of us and gladly guided us on their trails.

What the organizer's web page does not tell you is that besides three days of intense, absolutely fantastic riding, you will meet interesting people, mountain bikers who, for a change, won't try to impress you by "dude, sick lines, dude" speak, or long descriptions of their past races, or bore you by some other sort of shallow "sports talk". There were many very skilled riders who went out for all day hammer fests, even on medium rides the level of skills was high, but this was not a race and the first rule of group rides was that you were responsible for the rider behind you at every trail intersection (it worked).

Well organized, well supplied by quality food and adult beverages, laid back and super friendly atmosphere. As a surprise, there was a wedding ceremony under the big trees on Saturday night, and the women to be married had to walk down an isle made of people holding their bikes upright. Dancing party, more talking to interesting characters, more beer...

I came back very tired, but with knowledge that the mountain biking spirit (bike sprite?) is well and alive here and that I will be counting days to the 2015 M5. Thanks Murphy!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Uncharted (Morgan) Territory

The hills surrounding Pleasanton are visible from pretty much any place in tow. Besides "The Ridge", the horizon is dominated by Mt. Diablo and Morgan Territory to the north and east. I have ridden around and up to Diablo summit in 2011, all on pavement. This time, I was interested whether there was a trail connection between the two parks. Neither of the official park maps showed a clear connection (Morgan being East Bay regional park and Diablo a state park). Some online sources suggested there was a way, and a detailed trail map of Mt. Diablo confirmed it.

Bay Area, 21st Century
Gravel bike paths took me easily out of Pleasanton and into Livermore, where I crossed I-580 and within a quarter mile, the scenery changed from suburban sprawl to deserted ranch land. The flat roads continued for a bit more, then after a turn onto Morgan territory Road the climb started.

Climbing to the radio tower on the horizon
The climb felt easy and I was really enjoying the scenery. As the road twisted around canyons and grassy hills, views of the valley down west were revealed.

It looks like there should be caravans of camels on this picture, instead, I saw lots of cows, horses, three donkeys and an ostrich. I arrived at the park staging area thinking how easy the hill was. Here, while refilling water supplies and fixing a dragging rear rotor, I spoke with a road cyclist and racer, Vojtek, originally from Poland. He noticed my Beskidy Challenge jersey, and it turned out he used to be involved in that race and even worked as the course photographer.

 Here, the first paved section of the ride ended and I hit the dirt roads. These were smoothly graded fire road highways, with surprisingly good amount of tree cover for shade.

There were lots of absurdly steep short pitches, several fantastic descents and the views of double-headed Devil's mountain changed depending on the view angle.
 I came to an intersection where I could have continued along the high ridge, or drop steeply down towards Sulfur Spring trail. Despite my legs were turning into two columns made of mashed potatoes, I chose the downhill, knowing well that I would have to get back up, actually higher, on the slopes of Mt. Diablo.

Sulfur creek was dry as a bone and except a mud bog with lots of hoof prints and an empty structure, there was not much here at the canyon bottom, other than a steep road up. I climbed around a knoll where the views opened up briefly before dropping down again towards Old Finley Road.

Navigation was really easy, as every intersection was marked with a post and trail names. I guess Old Finley fire road runs along the boundary between the two parks, I took Oyster Point trail, which is on Mt. Diablo park land, and appears to be one of the few bike legal singletracks in the park. As such, it did not add much to the park trail quality reputation. It was steep and very rutted, forcing me off the bike often. I was spent by now and thought that a fire road would have been a better choice. Further up, the incline lessened somewhat and the trail surface improved and I was able to ride with something resembling a rhythm. As I climbed, the surrounding nature changed from grass, oaks and chaparral to sandstone formations and pines.

From where the singletrack ended, I had another 1.5 miles of climbing on a sandy fire road to the park road. The Diablo summit with its stone lookout tower seemed really close, but the idea of another 1500 or so vertical feet seemed really bad at this point.

The descent on South Gate road was a welcome change for my tired legs and I cruised down the hill thinking that the tough part was behind me. All downhill from here! Wrong, there were some more climbs on Blackhawk and the manicured developments around were not pleasing to look at. I thought how designed neighborhoods look like prisons to me, despite the luxury homes and expensive cars on the road. But there was an advantage to being back in civilization: a cold bottle of Gatorade at a gas station.
The final 7 or so miles on the Iron Horse trail could be described as the final push home while running on empty, except I got to talk to a fellow cyclist who used to work in Czech republic, ran a Prague marathon and cycled around the country. Chatting made the last miles go by quickly, and cold Pilsner never tasted better at the finish.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Ordinary life

Since moving to Pleasanton earlier this year, our life has taken on a new rhythm. I would almost say it is a routine now. This new routine does not include long miles in the saddle, thousands of elevation feet, and all day outings. It is not boring by any means, just the priorities got reshuffled. There is my new job and it is really my first priority. I feel there is a future in my projects and I like the company. And we also have fun on the job. A week ago, I have put together a modified itinerary, based on Steve Blanks' Hacker's Guide, to tour places around the Silicon Valley that played important roles in the semiconductor industry. At the times when DNA analysis is moving from optics to electronic detection devices, I thought this trip would benefit my mol bio team.

Palo Alto - Site where a vacuum tube triode was invented

HP Garage in Palo Alto

San Antonio Road in Los Altos, this sign in front of a defunct produce store marks where Shockley Semiconductors once was, a company that fathered all today's chip makers

The Museum of computer history in Mountain View

A recumbent bicycle loaded with computers and electronics. Why?
Although I run and ride less then in the years past, I do get outside and there are also new activities that take a good chunk of my time during the week. We go to Bikram yoga classes twice a week, that's three hours a week of sweating and trying our best to nail all 26 asanas. I do my upper body workout sessions, going through all my exercises takes over an hour and I try for 2-3 sessions a week. My morning or afternoon short runs around the Rec Center park are just a maintenance exercise, but help me deal with the steep trails around here. Once a while I venture into an unknown territory. On one of these exploratory runs, I ran through some hills where gold mines used to be, and a small amount of poaching lead to discovering a connector between XYZ trails and the Pleasanton Ridge trail.

After climbing here from the valley below, I am now on the "legal" side of the fence

Rewarding views of SF and Bay Bridge from the Ridge
Pleasanton Ridge trail system is well marked
Seven miles of trail exploration and I now have a nice loop mapped where the chances of meeting another person are slim.

Couple of weeks ago, I have joined a Meetup group for a Tuesday night ride around Lake Chabot, the ride leaves every Tuesday from Endless Cycles in Castro Valley and besides brisk pace and nice views of sunset, it has pizza and beer at the bike shop for post ride socializing.

I keep thinking about longer bike trips, rides and events and also spam a group of unfortunates, who at one point shared their emails with me, with ride suggestions, yet there are also bike rides that despite not being long or strenuous make me happy. Every Saturday, we put panniers on our bikes, ride to the farmer's market and then pedal home with the bags full of the best fruit and veggies in the world.

Living close to downtown, I can even grab the fat bike and show off on the Main Street! I feel like the Fat Pepper deserves to be taken off the rack once in a while and the ice cream is a great motivation for a 2 mile ride.