Thursday, April 28, 2022

Tribute to Biking Mentor and Partner - Mike Buettner

 A dear friend passed away a few months ago - below is my small tribute.

I met Mike in the mid 1980’s while we were both working at Lawrence Livermore National Lab. We crossed paths on various projects and on bike rides with the Cycletrons, the noon-time riding group.  I recall one day when he stopped to help when I had flatted out on Tesla road. Evidently, we had a good conversation during our ride back to the lab, as our friendship grew and we started riding together frequently.  We both loved biking, coffee and pastries and Mike introduced me to many of the Bay Area’s classic bike routes, including Nicasio-Tomales, Tunitas Creek, and the Two-Bridges Ride, all of which I have blogged about.

In 2006 we make a cycling trip to Northern Italy, and spent a week enjoying the Vento country side and the excellent food and coffee we found there.

After I retired in 2008, Mike and I started riding regularly, often on Tuesdays.  We spent a lot of time designing interesting routes that would take us to undiscovered coffee shops and bakeries throughout the Bay Area.  Mike encouraged me to start this blog, and of course. provided input for my critiques of the coffee and pastries we sampled. 

In 2009 Mike and I were both laid up and unable to ride for an extended period.  I had broken my wrist skiing and needed surgery. Mike had a hip replacement.  We resumed our riding habit on July 24 and his wife Jackie took this photo as we were heading out.

In 2014 we made a trip to New Zealand and spent two weeks riding the length of the South Island.  This was a fabulous trip with miles of scenic highway, glaciers to hike on, and an amazing flight to Milford Sound.

Mike and I shared our love of cycling and coffee, and never tired of anything to chat about.  I have lost a dear friend and will miss our rides, our chats and his very dry sense of humor.

R4R - Cycling for Oakland Schools

Saturday - April 23,  I rode with a small pack of VeloRaptors and helped Ride For A Reason get to 98% of its goal of $180,000. Both the fund raising and the the cycling aspects of the ride were a great success.  The weather was perfect, rest stops were appropriately spaced and well supplied, and of course the VeloRaptor riders were excellent company. The R4R organizers offered a variety of routes and most of us chose the 68 mile route from Suisan City to Sacramento. Although Paul L. (in bright yellow) started in Oakland, completing over 100 miles. 

A few of us stopped for a beer before boarding the train back to Suisan City

Monday, September 27, 2021

Not Your Normal 2 Bridges Ride

This was a fun ride with a bit of everything – The day started with 14 riders heading out of Martinez on Franklin Canyon Road.  The first few miles are a long-ish but gentle climb up through the oak woodlands of Franklin Canyon, then a bit more climbing along Cummings Skyway through the often windy grassland on the ridge. 

After the few miles of climbing we got the reward of a long, fast, fun descent through the Crockett Hills Regional Park on Crockett Blvd.  This is a fabulous descent that features a sweeping 180 degree curve.

Once down into Crockett, we regrouped at the end of Crockett Blvd. While we were stopped a lone cyclist came along and asked if we were headed over the Carquinez Bridge, and yes that was our plan.  He had just been turned back from crossing by some workers, who had ‘dropped’ some equipment on or near the bike lane and were temporarily holding traffic on the bike lane until it was safe to go. His alternate plan was to get to Martinez via the Carquinez Scenic Byway.   

We decided to try the bridge anyway, and on approach saw no signs indicating closure.  In fact, ahead of us was a group of maybe a dozen cyclists already on their way across.  Well, there was no problem riding on the bridge itself, but when we reached the far side of the bridge, just before the turnout for Vista Point, we did indeed find that the bridge bike path was closed.  So, there we were, a group of 30 or so MAMILS (and MAWILS) stuck on the bridge, trying to figure a strategy.  It may have been the expanse of lycra or the seeming gazillion flashing lights in their eyes, but something inspired the workers to pull back and let us proceed! (Note: MAMIL short for Middle Aged Man In Lycra).

So, it was on through Vallejo, via Sonoma Blvd and Lemon St. The trick here is to accelerate up the last bit of Sonoma Blvd and on around the corner on Lemon St, so as to carry speed down Lemon past the auto repair, auto parts and U-Haul businesses, until taking a right turn on Benecia Blvd.

Only one problem - the Benecia Blvd bridge over I-80 seemed to be closed! Again, no signs anywhere indicating that a detour may be in order!

Rob was quick with google maps on his iphone and found an alternate route via Georgia and Steffan streets, and we were back on course!

The next bridge on the ride was the Rose Dr. bridge over I-780.  Here we took note of the array of cones now safely delineating the very hazardous slot between the two sections of the bike lane.  This slot is filled with some sort of flimsy rubber seal that can capture a bike wheel and send the rider down in a hurry. One of our riders (PF) knows about this first hand, and her experience probably helped get the cones put out.  Happily, she negotiated the bridge this time without incident.

The next section of the route is on the bike/walking path through the wetlands of Benecia State Recreational Area.  This section of trail is also part of the San Francisco Bay Trail, and although it is not long, it is one of the highlights of the ride.  The path comes leads to a big parking lot along the shore which seemed to be the right spot for a group photo.

Our next stop was One House Bakery.  This place is high on my list of Bay Area bakeries, and it did not disappoint.  I had the scone with Devonshire Clotted Cream and house made strawberry jam and a side of sliced strawberries.  I tried this trio in both the Devonshire (scone/clotted cream/jam) and the Cornish  (scone/jam/clotted cream) ways and declare both to be fabulous.  In particular, the Devonshire clotted cream from One House is wonderfully thick and rich, but still easily spreadable! One House is take-out only in these days of COVID, so we enjoyed our goodies at the nearby St Paul’s Square in shadow of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

One of us (Paul) cycled the short distance down to Benecia Point at the end of 1st St. and snapped a couple photos of the waterfront.

We left Benecia quite repleat, and crossed the Benecia bridge back to Martinez with no additional road/bridge closures, then pedaled the short distance through Martinez back to our starting point.

Great ride, and as one of the riders summed up the day 'our fun meters were pegged on maximum!'

-Thanks to Paul L. and Robert R for sharing photos.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Treasure Island NO GO

During mid December the Bay Area is in the midst of a long string of sunny winter days, perfect for biking over the Bay Bridge from Oakland to Treasure Island on a Sunday morning.  Five of us headed out anticipating a cool slog up the bridge to Yerba Buena Island, and then possibly exploring the new route from the end of the eastern span to Treasure Island where we hoped to get coffee and a pastry.

The first part of the route was along Mandela Parkway where we passed the new Horn BBQ establishment.  This place already has a reputation and this morning there was one person lined up 2 hrs before opening. You can check out their vittles at

While we couldn’t stop for BBQ, we did end up stopped nearby to repair Pauline’s flat tire. The tire change was routine – it only required 4 of us to get the wheel back on (I’m a novice to disk brakes and we broke social distancing protocols for a brief moment).

We pedaled our way up the the two plus miles of the bridge and stopped at the lookout to take in the view back toward Oakland.

As I mentioned above, there is a new route over to Treasure Island with a new segment of bike path that leads to Macalla Rd.  The whole area is under construction including a big housing complex just above the bridge.  The signage guiding us through the construction was a bit unclear and while we were working things out, Chris took a ‘stationary’ spill off her bike.  Fortunately, she was up and pedaling in a flash.  We deciphered that the route was to go up a newly paved section of Macalla Rd, UP being the operative word. The climb is not too steep and relatively short and then the road flattens out for a short distance before heading down toward Treasure Island. 

There was a heavy dew overnight, and the road surface was wet so I took it easy as I started down.  Good thing, as I quickly realized that this was a real DOWN, the type of DOWN is thrilling on a dry day and terrifying on a bicycle when the road is wet.  There were a couple of brief moments when I was able to glance at my inclinometer and saw it was reading 15-17 %,with bits of 18%.  I got the bike stopped at the bottom and realized that the climb back up was going to be steep and slippery and basically brutal. I called my compadres and fortunately they were still at the top (saved by the cell phone!).  I recommended that they stay there and wait for me - we could do Treasure Island another day. 

Heading back up, the roadway was slick and I ended up walking it. Near the top where the gradient was a mere 8% I tried to get back on my bike. My foot slipped and I nearly went down, so feeling somewhat ancient and rickety, I continued my trudge back to the group.  I’m sure stronger, younger cyclists could do it no problem, but I chose the safer method of ascent. Moreover, we were out for a lazy urban ride and that section of road was more like Double Black Diamond biking. 

Things got a lot less intense as we headed back to Oakland. We took a quick tour of the new Judge John Sutter Observation Pier built on foundation of the old Bay Bridge.

From there we pedaled over to Port View park at the end of 7th St.  Tom and Chris had both visited this spot many times, but it was new to me. A special park feature is the recently reopened historical exhibit: "Room with a View", which is housed in a relocated historic train switching tower.  The exhibit ‘presents rich detail about the maritime and railroad history of the area, which was the western terminus of the transcontinental railroad’.

The Port View park borders the Mid Harbor Shoreline Park which the Port of Oakland has built on the site of the former naval ship basin.  ‘The park is a 150-acre water area of the harbor and has become an ecological reserve of shallow bay and shoreline habitats for many species, such as Dungeness crab, flatfish, anchovy, herring and perch.’


We toured the park and explored the Chappell Hayes Observation Tower. 

and some of the huge Port Of Oakland cranes.

Then it was on to Jack London Square in search of coffee and pastries.  Several booths at the Farmer’s market were still open including Dot’s Baking Pantry. I can recommend mixed fruit scones, Chris indicated that the cinnamon rolls are top notch, and and Tom found that the chocolate bumble (brownies surrounding chocolate mousse and covered in a fudge frosting) was definitely a chocolate lovers dream.  While we were munching out on the goodies, we heard a commotion at Dot’s ‘tent’.   A seagull had flown in through one of the ‘windows’.  Dot, along with a couple of hopeful customers ushered the seagull out before it frosted any of the treats.

 So in conclusion, until the old cycling route is restored, or they install an chair lift, I'll be driving to Treasure Island. 

Here is the track of this ride, note the V in the elevation profile on Yerba Buena Island.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

SF Bay Trail Just Got Better!

A new section of the San Francisco Bay Trail opened in May.  This is the strip along San Francisco Bay behind Golden Gate Fields!  While group bike rides are suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic and associated Shelter-In-Place orders, I did a socially distanced ride with a few friends to check out the new route. This section of trail has been under construction for what seems like forever and it was worth the wait! It has lovely smooth pavement, a nice railing, places to stop and enjoy the spectacular view, and there is less climbing and a lower gradient than the route through the GG Fields parking lot!

Pauline and Chris at the south entrance to the path, near the west end of Gilman St.

Others besides cyclists seem to enjoy the ambience 😔.

Nice railing with Mt Tamalpais in the background

The path is almost wide enough for five to socially distance side by side - with bikes.

View out to the Golden Gate with benches make for a perfect rest stop

Looking back south toward Golden Gate Field

There is a small plaza at the north end of this section with a big information board describing McLaughlin Park.  This park is named for Sylvia McLaughlin who started Save The Bay and there is a panel describing her contributions.  I met Sylvia a couple of times – as Fiona (my wife) held the Donald H. McLaughlin Chair of Mineral Engineering at UC Berkeley (she is now the Chair Emerita). Moreover, the first person to hold the Chair was Dr. Neville Cook – my Ph.D. advisor. Sylvia was an energetic and dynamic lady throughout her life and was very proud of the fact that she rafted the Grand Canyon in her 80’s.

The opposite side of the board describes the park in more detail

The turn around point of this bike ride was the Rustic Bakery in Larkspur.  So after leaving the new section of the Bay Trail we continued north toward the Richmond San Rafael Bridge. We took a break in  Point Richmond to order pastries and/or sandwiches from the bakery.  You see, my last two attempts to procure an almond croissant from Rustic Bakery while biking were foiled. This is because in both cases I arrived long after the sweet pastries were sold out.  This time, the plan was to pre-order on-line or by calling, so that we could just pick up our delicacies upon arrival.  Our attempts to order mostly succeeded – but it was apparent that some businesses are struggling with reopening post shut-down.  First Pauline called – figuring we could submit one large order, but she got no answer.  Next, we all tried on-line ordering via smartphone.  I eventually got to the website and ordered for myself and Goldy.  The checkout page gave several options to pay, including Apple Pay, which I selected.  The website then asked me to hold my phone close to the scanner! Oh well… I eventually was able to pay using PayPal. Pauline and David got their orders in with about the same level of difficulty. Tom and Chris were never able to get to the website and decided to take their chances ordering in person.

We pedaled on across the Richmond San Rafael bridge, through the hole in the fence

Bike lane on the Richmond San Rafael Bridge

Hole in the fence access to Sir Francis Drake Blvd - from a previous ride
and over the Sir Francis Drake hill to Larkspur and the bakery (see previous blog post from Nov 24, 2019 for a description of the RSR bridge and Rustic Bakery: click here for RSR bridge blog).

Rustic has introduced a ‘one way’ system for patrons.  The bakery has two doors,  and now one of them is the Entrance and the other is Exit Only.  I entered the proper door and followed the arrows for ‘on-line orders’ and was second in line, with Pauline, Goldy and David behind me.  Chris and Tom followed the arrows for in-person orders.  Well, nothing was happening in my line – other than lots of folks entering through the Exit Only door and not grasping that there could possibly be a wait for on-line orders 😲.  I was there long enough to firmly establish myself as the warden for the Exit Only door.  Meanwhile, Chris and Tom breezed through the ‘in-person’ line and were out the door!  We eventually did get our orders – but the Rustic system is definitely in need of modernizing.  And yes, the croissant was worth it!
Ride On!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Desert Highways

The week of Feb 9 – 14 I was fortunate to take a cycling/hiking trip with 7 friends to the deserts of Southern California, including Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks and the Anza Borrego Desert.
Sunday morning, we met our guides (Fred and Dave from Black Sheep Adventures) at McCarran airport in Vegas and climbed aboard the van and headed toward Death Valley.  About 3 hours out we stopped at the Amargosa Opera House for a brief tour.  This is a unique venue located at a deserted T intersection in the middle of nowhere.  The Opera House was created by Marta Becket who Wikipedia describes as an American actress, dancer, choreographer and painter. She developed the opera house out of a deserted theater and performed there for more than four decades. She passed away in 2017.  We were scheduled for an 11 am tour, and arrived a bit early on a cool, windy day.  We found the tour guide in the motel office that looked to be straight out of the Eagles’ song ‘Hotel California’.  We shuffled around the little foyer/museum until it was time for the tour.  We were quite surprised when, right at 11, three other groups of 2 or 3 folks showed up for the tour. Evidently, Marta still has fans. Her life and the development of the Opera House is the subject of the documentary film ‘Amargosa’.

After the tour, we continued to Death Valley and took a glorious hike in Golden Canyon, just south of Furnace Creek. This was a 5-mile loop that took us over varied terrain. 

And up to the base of Manly Beacon, an iconic peak in the park.

Some of the sections of trail were easier than others!
We were staying at the Furnace Creek Ranch and before dinner Sally and Gail managed a delightful swim in the warm spring-fed pool (no pics). It was Sunday night and the Academy awards were happening.  We missed the red carpet much to the dismay of some in the group, but we did get to enjoy watching the two Freds demolish a tomahawk steak.

The next day (Monday) was an amazing and memorable day – albeit with a rough beginning for me.  The first activity of the day was viewing the sunrise at Zabriskie Point to watch the evolution of color on the desert landscape.  This meant getting up at 5:30 or so, then meeting at the van at 6am for a short drive to the lookout.   In anticipation of the early departure, I had laid out my clothes the night before.  Good thing, because I opened my eyes at exactly 6:00.  Oops!  I somehow jumped into my clothes and stumbled, bleary eyed, to the bus at 6:05, a couple minutes ahead of my roommate, who’s alarm had failed.  The others on the trip were already in the van and chatting merrily, while I huddled in the back, hoping for coffee to magically appear. 
The colors at sunrise were spectacular, and thankfully our guide Dave did have a thermos of coffee, so my outlook was able to brighten along with the rising sun.  We toasted the sunrise and headed back to the lodge for breakfast.

After breakfast and a lot more coffee, we headed to the Ubehebe Crater in the north section of the park. It is a bit of a drive, and we took a brief rest-stop at a closed ranger station.  Goldy and I spotted what looked to be an exciting hike nearby. Fortunately, were pressed for time and had to move on.

The Ubehebe crater, besides being quite scenic, is interesting geologically as it was formed by a steam explosion 600 ft below the surface. No molten lava – just hot rock and water.  We took and windy, exhilarating and not too treacherous hike around the rim.

After hiking the crater we were shuttled a few miles back south, where we donned cycling clothes, hopped on our bikes and had one of the best rides a cyclist could have – 32 miles on a long straight downhill grade, with wind at our backs!  I led out, and soon there was no one in my mirror.  I held my speed to 45 mph and slowed every so often to maintain contact with the group.  What a ride, fast and scenic on a smooth, open and empty highway!

It seems that Gail was enjoying the ride!

After those miles of cycling bliss, we arrived at the van, where Dave had put together quite a nice lunch for us.  The dude makes a mean guacamole!

After lunch we rolled on down a gentler slope to Stove Pipe Wells and the nearby sand dunes. While the more ambitious of us walked around, the others found a great spot to relax with a libation, enjoy the dunes and celebrate the day.

That evening Pauline lead a group to the bar and they mostly ordered doubles!

The next day we spent a lot of time riding.  Some on a bike, but mostly in the van.  We started early and journeyed high over Death Valley to Dante’s View which affords a fabulous view of Badwater and much of the National Park.  Despite the name it was cold and windy.  Evidently, Dante came up here to cool off.  Yes, that is snow on the Panamint Range behind us.

After braving the wind and cold, we drove down to Zabriskie Point, grabbed the bikes and pedaled the 20 miles (again DOWNHILL!) to Badwater, the lowest point in the US.  A few preparations before riding, smiling, sunscreen, checking electronics… 

Our stop at Badwater – choreographed by Pauline (the video is worse)

All that action, and it wasn’t quite noon.  Our eventual destination for the day was Pioneertown, near Yucca Valley, but we needed a couple more adventures along the way. Our lunch stop was in Shoshone, a dusty outpost that is easy to miss as you drive through (as I did after this past Thanksgiving). But, oh what marvels await for those who stop.  Actually, it is a very small, rustic old west town that has a cool little museum that is worth a brief look and a restaurant/bar with lots of local color. We didn’t venture too close to the old jalopy in front of the museum because the ‘roof’ over the car is as shaky as it looks. The museum has a collection of mammoth bone that were discovered locally, a history of Jack Madison the local bootlegger, and other exhibits showing aspects of local history.

After lunch we took a detour to the China Ranch Date Farm and Bakery for a date milkshake (  Half the fun was getting there.  On a map it looks innocous enough, take Furnace Creek Rd to China Ranch Road and take that to it’s end - about a mile.  The first half mile or so is non-descript high desert, but then the road descends steeply through an unpaved narrow, twisting, canyon with high, unstable walls lined with interesting rock formations.

I was thinking what a great spot for an old west hideout.  If the ride down doesn’t take you back in time, then the tin lizzie at the bakery will.  

The milkshake was fabulous, and once again we were amazed at the number of other tourists in the place.  We actually had to wait in line!  The bakery has several versions of date bread and a plethora of knickknacks.  We bought date cookies (yum) for the drive, and date bread to take home. Moreover, as I was arriving home late on Valentine’s Day, it was fortunate that they also had greeting cards appropriate for that occasion.
Dinner that night in Yucca Valley was interesting in that while the menu in the restaurant was fairly extensive, it was best to order either the burger or mac and cheese, as these were the only options available – it was off season in the desert.  The restaurant also had a picture on the wall of a mushroom cloud taken on the Tonopah test range.  Being retired from a Gov’t defense lab, I tend to notice these things.
Breakfast at the Natural Sisters Café was vegan and very good.  I had the sliders with vegan sausage. After breakfast we headed out on bikes for a 64-mile ride through Joshua Tree National Park and then on to Mecca at the north end of the Salton Sea.  Chris and I took a break at the entrance.  

And in case you are wondering, this is a Joshua Tree.

The park has just fabulous rock formations and wonderful areas of Cholla and another cactusus. We pedaled along, stopping often to read the information plaques along the road.  I was surprised to learn that In more verdant times (10,000 yrs. ago) one of the Southwest's earliest inhabitants, Pinto Man, lived here, hunting and gathering along a slow moving river that ran through the now dry Pinto Basin.

Read more:
Moreover, Joshua Tree is where the Mojave and Sonora deserts meet.  Thus, it is home to many species that are characteristic of each desert region including big horn sheep, greater road runner and the desert tortoise (note, while working in Nevada I was trained in handling desert tortoise, so no worries if we encountered on the road, I could move it safely!)

Rounding a curve and heading down a gentle grade we were overlooking this amazing field of Cholla cactus and had to stop.  Across the road this ocotillo was calling Goldy’s name as well.

The twenty miles from Joshua Tree to Mecca was also great for biking. We had a smooth cruise over good pavement, no traffic and the road was either level or gently sloping down, through a broad canyon. The van picked us up in Mecca and as the February days were short, we arrived in Borrego Springs after dark.
Our last full day was in Borrego Springs and it was a bit fantastical.  That’s because there is more than desert wildflowers and the beautiful landscapes in this part of the desert.  The area is home to 130 amazing full-sized metal sculptures that are inspired by creatures that roamed this same desert millions of years ago. The artworks range from prehistoric mammals to historical characters, fanciful dinosaurs, and large serpent.  After a fine breakfast (more on that below) we headed out on bikes and Chris and Robin managed to find the serpent. Note, this sculpture is 350 ft long!  While we were there a fellow with a drone took a nice aerial shot. Check this website for a look at the sculptures

Speaking of flying objects, while wandering amongst the creatures we also encountered a group paramotor flyers that had buzzed in from El Centro. A paramotor is essentially a paraglider, then you strap a motorized propeller on your back and takeoff.  It took them about an hour of flight time to reach Borrego Springs. Follow this link to see a demo

After carousing with the monsters, droners and paramotors, we encountered the biggest challenge of the trip, a ride up the Glass Elevator – Montezuma Road – 10 miles of 8-11% grade, with a bit of 14% at the start to get us going. The climb was long, some might say epic with amazing views throughout the relentless climb.  It is in some ways comparable to Mt Diablo, but without the easy bits, and with high speed traffic and a few large trucks.   The shoulder is wide in most spots, so it wasn’t too frightening.

Our guidance was to stop at the Yeti, a way beyond the crest.  He (the Yeti) wasn’t too hard to find, and once there enjoyed what Sally called some ‘mundane but utterly delicious ice cream’. After a rest at the Yeti, we had the pleasure of the descent back into Borrego Springs and a stop at the taco stand for lunch. 

Then it was back to the resort where Goldy and I enjoyed a soak in the hot tub while others went off to explore a slot canyon.

Because this is also a bakery blog I must mention the delicious croissant breakfast at the Casa Del Zorro.  Their croissants were light but with a slightly crisp flaky crust, not too big, but not small.  Croissant were served with fresh fruit, butter and jam.  Put that with a side of bacon that was again prepared just right – and a cappuccino.  I highly recommend it.  I had it both mornings. 
The Casa Del Zorro, besides being a classy place is memorable in other ways as well. One of them being the omnipresent foxes. They are featured on the bar-room walls and on the guest room beds.  They are available for purchase with the proceeds going to a local charity.  I managed to resist!

Thanks to Sally for putting this trip together

And to our guides Fred and Dave for making it amazing.