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.