Friday, March 28, 2014

Down the Coast

I counted how many times we have driven between the Bay Area and Seattle. Since my first drive to Vancouver for the BCBR in 2011, the number of trips is about seven. One can either take the more or less boring I-5 route, or drive along the coast on Highway 101, even better, on Hwy 1 in Northern California. In July 2011, we drove south along the Oregon coast and saw a few beautiful places, I just remember being too tired after the week of BC racing to fully enjoy it. In December 2012, we were forced by a snow storm to take the coastal route, but were in a hurry to reach Seattle. So now, on my way home, I thought I could explore some sandy beaches for a bit of fat biking.

My first stop was Astoria, OR and then Fort Stevens SP. The beach here is vast, the coast was being whipped by strong winds and rain showers, so I lost the resolve to ride and went picnicking instead.

For the rest of the day, I drove through a violent spring rain storm, which impacted most of Northern Oregon, second guessing my decision to carry two bikes on the roof rack.
It still rained in Springfield, OR on Wednesday morning, but as soon as I started driving west towards the coast on the Umpqua Highway (Rt 38), the clouds broke and early morning sun shone onto what must be some of the most bucolic valleys in the USA. Spring in Oregon is beautiful, green meadows, deep forests, every tree that can bloom blooming, horses, sheep and no cars on the road.

My next destination was the Oregon Sand Dunes NRA just south of Reedsport. The beach looked great from the Umpqua River lighthouse.

From the fat bike saddle, it looked and felt even better. There are areas dedicated to ATV use (seen from the picture above), and then there is the beach with a band of smaller, but very diverse sand dunes just inland. There is no motorized vehicle use permitted, but I have always argued that bicycles cannot be classified as motorized, saw no signs forbidding bikes here, so I rode.

 You can either follow the water on a densely packed wet sand, or explore the adjacent maze of dunes. I was very surprised how compact the sand was, perhaps the rain had something to do with it. I could climb steep dunes, not seeing what was on the back side - either roll a smooth dip, roll a grassy drop off, or get off the bike.

I rode only for about an hour and half, but jeez, this was too much fun! Somewhat easier in terms of power required compared to riding on snow, softer landings, and the terrain variety was amazing.

Post-ride fish and chips at Unger's Bay tasted like sushi to me. So here is how I see my next Oregon biking trip: first, mountain bike the McKenzie River trail east of Sisters, something I have been planning to do for years. Then drive to Drain and do a road ride on Highway 38 to Reedsport. At Unger's Bay, unload the fatty and spend a day (or two) blasting the sand. Who's in?

On this particular trip, there were just a few more quick stops to enjoy the views along the coast during the sixteen-hour drive home. The pull of California was just too strong to make this a biking vacation.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Going Home!

Today was my last day on the job I started in Seattle on October 22, 2012. Accepting a job in Seattle, working at a startup company, moving in phases, Marketa's air-commuting to school in California for a semester, living separately for seven months, having our small household split between two (expensive) places, all were the difficulties we had to put up with. It has been an experience that although brought to us by necessity, we do not regret. But we are very glad it is over. Next week, I will be driving south to Los Gatos, this will be my seventh road trip between San Francisco Bay and Seattle, unless I get stricken by a meteorite by then. I will be leaving this behind:

South Lake Union docks viewed from the roof of my company building

Space Needle and Lake Union

And going to the sunny paradise:

I will not go into details of my previous jobs and scientific career, I will just say that I look at the past seventeen months as a sabbatical stay. Encouraged in the academic world and almost unheard of in the biotech industry, sabbatical allows one to leave the stresses of high responsibility, politics, management of projects and people, move to a new environment and focus on research. Not planning it this way, it is exactly what happened to me. 

I will also be leaving behind my semi-bachelor lifestyle, which let me to get outside and explore trails on foot, snowshoes, skis, mountain and fat bikes almost every weekend. When I was asked by a colleague what I'm going to miss most about the Pacific Northwest, I replied without any hesitation: The trails and the people who build and maintain them.
However, I am a scientist, not an explorer or an adventurer, my meaning of life is to figure out how the macromolecules, that are the basis of life, work. No matter how many miles I would run, hike, ride or ski, without a possibility to do experimental science, I would be filled with an existential vacuum. So I will go back to the corporate world and try my best at inventing some more cool shit, while hoping that there will be enough spare time to run, bike and ski, for recreation and not to get too fat. My old boss said once: When you move to the Bay Area, you should never leave. I know now, David. I won't make that mistake again.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Sunrise Take Two

After a week of heavy rains and temperatures pushing the snow line above 7000 feet, it was clear that skiing would be miserable. Sunday was supposed to get a little better, so I planned a repeat of my January fat bike ride from the base of Crystal Mountain Road to hopefully as far as the Sunrise visitor center. It is a long drive to start with, but the last section of highway 410 before the gate is such a lush rain forest that it is worth the trip, even in a downpour, as it happened on Sunday. 
By now, I know that the is no wrong weather, just wrong clothes, so I was prepared. By the time I got ready, it almost stopped raining so I started up the road dressed lightly, with all kinds of layers stuffed inside a larger backpack, snow shoes and poles strapped to my pack as well. One lane of the road has already been cleared of snow, the other half had three feet of wet snow, the consistency of Hawaiian shave ice, pretty much all water held together with few ice crystals. So I rode the bare pavement uphill for 4.5 miles, then some icy pavement another couple of miles to the park entrance gate, and there, with the asphalt ending, I just sank the wheels up to the rotors. Exactly as I predicted, but it still bummed me. I locked Pepper at the closed entrance station and put on the snow shoes. 

There was a snow mobile track, but the surface was still soft and I was not too happy with how slow the going seemed compared to even the slowest biking there is, fat-biking. Paradise park road is pretty flat here for another few miles and despite some scenic water streams and waterfalls around me, I did not much enjoy myself. Left, right, left, right.... It rained, no visibility, long stretch of a forest road ahead. This is where I took this phone video in January, riding on frozen thin cover:

It seemed like forever to reach the split in the road, where snow mobiles can go left along the White River to the campground, the route I took on my last trip here, and skiers and hikers can continue the now steep climb on the park access road. As was the case several months ago, there was no ski track, not a footprint visible beyond the gate. As I started uphill, my snow shoes were leaving prints about 10-15 cm deep and each step was a workout. I was hot despite the chilly rain and just a wool base layer and a jersey. Seeing the sign "Paradise 10 miles" did not improve my mood, either. So far, you may think I was really miserable and what the heck was I doing there anyways, instead of being home baking a struedel? Yet, with each painful step (I had blisters on both heels at this point), I wanted to go just a little bit further, just around the next bend, just a bit higher to see if the clouds would break. Thee were a few breaks but otherwise it drizzled steadily. I gave myself till 3PM, thinking there was enough daylight now since the time change. But at 2:30, my resolve just evaporated, I started to feel dizzy, short of breath, and thirsty. I pulled out some food and hot tea from my thermos, took 10 minutes rest and felt lot better. At this point, I turned around and started the march down the hill. With less exertion and less stinging of the blisters, I fell into a rhythm and all of a sudden, felt peace. I was in the middle of this vast wilderness, not a human being in sight (I did not see a soul in the whole day), roaring rivers and streams, the big trees just standing there as they have done for decades. Rain water, the essence of all life just kept falling silently onto the already soaked thick layer of snow, feeding the streams, washing the volcanic soil downstream just to deposit it some hundreds of miles away. The nature going about its business, huge forces driven by laws of physics, oblivious to my tiny and unimportant presence here. I had lots of time to think about my past year and half in Seattle, the good, the bad and the ugly. The losses and accomplishments. And the fact that Monday would be the day when I take another step towards changing my own course. A change is in my future. For better I hope, but who knows? And the Nature certainly does not care.