Saturday, April 26, 2014


Moving back to the Bay Area also means visiting favorite places and trails, which I haven't seen in almost two years. When I ran trails in Connecticut a few weeks ago, I was very surprised how exact my memory was about specific places on trails. Perhaps my muscle memory is better than my grey matter memory. So I looked forward to bike and run as many old and new places here as soon as possible. But in between the new job, business travel, two and half hours spent each day commuting to and from work, and essentially living out of a suitcase, I did not find enough time for whole day outings. I also lack the endurance now to go long, although I feel like I can output some decent power on shorter rides. Those Cascade hills are stored somewhere.

The first place I visited for a run was Huddart Park in Woodside. I was pretty shocked by the number of people, mainly roadies, in the center of Woodside, there were lot fewer people on Huddart trails and once I hit Mt. Redondo and Lonely trails, I had the woods for myself.

After a long grueling climb to the Skyline Ridge, this bench advises to take it easy. I continued further up without sitting down, enjoying the grace of the forest around.

A day later, my friend invited me for a mellow mountain bike ride at Skeggs. I remember rides at Skeggs being about twice as hard as anywhere else and I used to ride there on my full suspension bike. Now equipped only with the 29er hardtail, I was a little apprehensive about the ride. We rode a classic shorter 10 mile loop and I enjoyed the ride a lot. The bike big wheels rolled over chunky stuff and I wondered why I ever thought of Skeggs as a technical place to ride. This is a prime hardtail terrain, I will save the full sus bike for Tahoe and Downieville. 

Mid week, after work, I went to explore the basic lay of land at the Pleasanton Ridge, which will likely become my new backyard ride. The hills around Sunol and Pleasanton are emerald green now and knowing that the color will change in matter of weeks, I was curious about the views. Trails he are mostly steep fire roads, I would even call them fire freeways, at least until you reach the ridge. Steep, very steep. 

There is also lot of single track and although probably not strictly legal, it looks like it is ridden a lot and since the trails are already there, I think it may be better that mountain bikers leave the fire roads to hikers and equestrians. Fun, roller coaster trails, with super steep pitches. The views really did not disappoint.

Although not technical in the traditional mountain biking sense, these trails demand skills and control of the bike, especially on loose ball bearings over hard pack and gravel and sand at very high speeds. To me, this type of riding is actually scarier than hopping and manualing over wet roots and rocks. 

Looking north towards Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore. Morgan Territory in the back, another please with fond memories of brutal climbing in the middle of nowhere. 
Gps track:

Finally today, I rode the very universal 29 inch bike on back roads of Santa Cruz mountains in the neighborhood. The ride had two goals: check out the Loma Prieta winery, where we plan to have Marketa's graduation picnic, and see whether I could find a missing link between the Aldercroft Heights road and Wright Station, a connection that would allow me to ride a loop including Old Santa Cruz Hwy, Highland etc, without riding the same roads twice. This area has some interesting places, like the remnants of the Holy City, lots of small wineries that grow in popularity, some local produce ranches and lots of weirdos living in the woods.

The first goal was easily attainable, it just required a long and steep climb on Loma Prieta Avenue, which eventually turned into a dirt road. But there were amazing views of the Monterey Bay so that made the climb less painful. At the winery, I was invited to taste the wines, but opted for a water refill and a Power bar instead, and prepared for a long descend back. 

The search for trail connection through the San Jose water utilities land included a plunge down Wright station, all the way to the Los Gatos creek, about 800 vertical feet. I needed to see the gate from this end - I already know that the gate at Aldercroft is easy to walk around. This gate proved to be the real deal: barbed wire, fences extending to thick poison oak growth, I would not be surprised if it had electricity running through it. After all, the creek is on the water supply cascade of lakes. Oh well, some places are not worth the potential trouble. There are tons of small mountain roads, as well as the Demo forest and trails down to the coast. All I need to do is to make my legs and lungs get used to 7 hour rides. For now, these 2 hour intense exercises will have to do, until our life stabilizes again.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Running at places II - A tribute to 454 Life Sciences and Commodore Leete

Running is also much easier than biking when you travel, especially business travel. That's why I declined John's offer to go for a ride (!) and went exploring the memory lane on foot.

My day started from this uninteresting building in Branford. The labs behind the second floor windows, between the tree on the left and the pole were the birthplace of 454 sequencing technology, proving that not all cool biotech ideas come from the Silicon Valley. 

I drove a short distance to Stony Creek, a small village and a harbor from where you can take a cruise around Thimble Islands. Although discovered by Adrien Block, these granite rocks are also called Leetes islands and I like this name better, since Commodore Leete and I are old friends. His gravestone is just off Moose Hill road and biked and ran past his grave countless times.

Stony Creek is also where the Branford trail and it's numerous connectors hug the shoreline. I found the trail soon, which was helped by the absence of leaves on trees. A month later, this place will be an impenetrable jungle of green, with the corresponding humidity. 

This section of the trail goes through coastal marshes and had some new bridges, offering nice views of the coast, despite the almost uniform beige color of dead vegetation.

After years of riding in California, one would almost forget how a decent rock garden looks like. The trail soon turned north, entering the Hadley Creek preserve. Memories of getting lost here, fixing a flat while covered with an inch thick layer of biting mosquitos, finding my car broken into after a hike flew through my head as I struggled uphill on a very warm day. 

The woods here are criss-crossed by old stone walls and many of the trails were undoubtedly used by the Mattabasec Indians centuries ago. I was afraid of these trails ending at private property, but there were new trail marks and a detour around the formerly inaccessible land. Even the creek crossing was now enabled!

It is funny how I remembered so many exact spots on these trails, even specific rocks and ledges that schooled me as a mountain biking novice sixteen years ago. We rode these trails on hard tails with 3" of fork travel and squeeky rim brakes. 

The trail, often disappearing under layers of dry leaves from last fall, eventually loops back south and comes to the Stony creek Quarry. This is still an active quarry and it would be too wise to trespass into it on a work day, but being Saturday, I took the risk for a photo. The famous pink granite quarried here was used for the Statue of Liberty pedestal as well as many other structures in New York and around. 

After 2.5 hours of getting my toes banged against granite rocks, it was a time for New Haven (Marco's) pizza and a naturally flavored, totally bright orange artificially colored Foxon Park soda.  I guess not much has changed here since 1614, I mean, 1998.

A quick Sunday update: 

Met my friend John L. for a run through Westwoods. Westwoods is a maze of trails, some of them take you through cracks in granite walls. Running here is technical and slow, but this was actually good: we had enough lungs to chat about how an ideal biotech startup could look like, if we had a magic wand. Using your brain on a run for some actual conscious thinking while letting the unconscious pick the best path through rocks was great. 
Oh, and if you did not believe me about Leete, here is the evidence:

Friday, April 11, 2014

Running at places

The main difference between cycling and running for me is that on a bike, when the going gets tough,  I concentrate on shifting, braking, keeping somewhat good form and position, which keeps me occupied. During runs, even the short ones, depending on my momentary physical state, I often suffer. Focusing on breathing and my own body somehow makes running even more harder. The one good thing about running is that there is much more time to look around and decouple the mind from the body. Here are few snapshots of places I ran recently while suffering mightily. I know that running becomes lot easier for me when I cross the magical (for me at least) 10 mile barrier as the regular distance. For now, it is in the 5-8 mile range where the warm-up phase turns into a cool-down phase and no groove in between.

This is on the streets of Magnolia in Seattle in early March. Spring arrives early in lowlands of Pacific Northwest and lasts till June, depending on elevation.

Alpine Road, Portola Valley. Early April. California nature is just waking up fueled by the long awaited rains.

Photo taken from my office in Pleasanton, CA, just before going out on an exploratory jog which ended up being about twice the distance because of a wooden wall at the end of the outdoor rec center.

This is Monona Terrace in Madison, WI, designed by the local Frank Lloyd Wright and built sixty years after his death. 

During four days of corporate events and many restaurant meals, I managed two one-hour jogs along the lake Monona on a totally flat bike path. One day west and back, the other day east and back. Strong head wind was the only challenge on these runs, but I am glad I saw the place closer than from a car. Very few signs of spring at this part of America.
I am off to New England, where I hope to visit some friends and run on rocky, rooty and muddy trails at Westwoods, which used to be in our backyard for nine years we lived in Connecticut.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Taxed by California (trails)

Living in Washington state for all of 2013 gave me a chance to avoid paying state income tax. But my ex-home state has caught up to me: I did have a California income and state tax was taken from it. Despite the best efforts of an H&R block expert (who thought it ridiculous to pay taxes to a state on whose territory you don't live), I had to give them my unfair share. But who could be mad at California if you wake up to views like this every morning?

The heavy rains I had brough with me from the northwest apparently resulted in late season 51" of snow in the Sierras. But the tax day approaching and looming business travel prevented me from showing Pepper how the Cali Sierra cement compares to the Cascades concrete. I grabbed the 29er instead for a half day Sunday ride. I have been thinking about several rides starting in Lexington Hills, but thought I would start with the backyard hills first. Dropped down to the reservoir, followed the shore and climbed up Limekiln. Surrounded by lush and freshly green vegetation, the trail surface was slightly wet and packed, none of the loose scree that sopped the last energy out of me on the same trail few years ago. Poison oak glistened with fresh oil and stretched its trifoliate fingers into my path, asking to be touched (and pay the price). 

I got soon passed by a guy with much more grey hair than I have (if that's even possible) and the gradient of the climb reminded me that there were no switchbacks here, just straight up. I reached the top just after the older dude, had a nice chat with him and shared my plan to continue up Limekiln trail under the power lines.  Good luck he said with a smirk. By now, the sun was nuking my pale skin that hasn't seen sun since last August, I was short of breath and dripping sweat from my head band. But I persevered and got as close to Mt. Umunhum as I have ever been. I could see the windows in the concrete tower.

From here, it would be either continuing into the unknown territory for many more miles, or turn around and take an alternate (Priest) trail back. From my view point on the high ridge, I could see the whole Silicon Valley spread below, smog free. Besides my very personal reasons to be back in California, the mere existence of this place would be enough to be here. 

The return trail looked like a downhill boulevard of packed sand from this point, but turned out to be series of super steep pitches - I mean like chin on the handlebar and the rear wheel slipping  steep - alternating with similarly steep white knuckle downhill sections.

The rest of the ride was view-less but tough nevertheless. Out of water (it's not 45F and raining you idiot!) and with about 800 vertical feet of our "driveway" on the final mile, I just about collapsed on the porch when I finally got home. So here I have it: in my current de trained state, my maximum tariff to California trails is about 20 miles / 2800 vertical ft of these slopes. I am willing to pay more, but I am afraid it will require an extension beyond April 15 to file.