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.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Richmond - San Rafael Bridge Bike Path - First Ride!

The new bike path on the Richmond-San Rafael bridge opened Saturday November 16.  I was hiking in the Sierra and missed the ribbon cutting.  Tom Willging (VeloRaptor and cycling activist) was there and got his picture in the paper! Tom is on the left.

To see the Chronicle Article click here

My first ride across was on the following Wednesday, and a sizeable group of VeloRaptors and friends came to join me.  We met at the Pt. Richmond Social Club in Pt Richmond, and a decent crowd showed up!  I counted 32, but I give up counting cyclists when the group size exceeds my number of fingers. 

The approach path on the Richmond side takes a circuitous route through the freeway infrastructure and has been nicely designed and constructed and the signage is good.

The engineer for the approach is a very tall guy that happened to be at the start of our ride.

Once on the bridge, the path is NICE.  The high barrier between bikes and cars blocks the wind and car noise.  The path is quiet enough for riders to actually talk, unlike the  Bay Bridge bike path.

Did I mention the scenery?  This view is looking to the East, and we did have a beautiful day!

The view to the North wasn’t too bad either, with the bridge curving into San Rafael and San Quentin.

The bridge bike path comes out onto Francisco Blvd in San Rafael, but our destination was the Rustic Bakery on Sir Francis Drake Blvd in the Marin Country Mart in Larkspur .  To get onto Sir Francis Drake Blvd the bike route takes a short, but interesting detour.  Yes, Howard, Goldy and Tom are heading through a hole in the fence! I believe it is a certified bike route, approved for cyclists by some wonderful government agency! Notice the green arrows at the bottom of the photo, remnant route markings of a past organized ride.

The large assembly of riders had broken up into smaller groups by the time we reached Larkspur, but all found their way to the bakery where we gladly refueled.  I chose a chocolate croissant paired with a cappuccino. No one went hungry.

The route back to the bridge included the second civil engineering highlight of the ride in the form of the Cal-Park Hill pathway TUNNEL!  The original tunnel was built in 1884 for a single track railway to haul freight to the Larkspur landing.  It was widened to a double track in 1924. Freight operations continued through the Cal Park Hill Tunnel during the 1960s and 1970s, serving local shippers that included a rail car restoration business and quarry in Larkspur.  The tunnel was closed for many years, until transit authorities realized that it could be used for transit.  The tunnel is now part of the SMART system and has a separate section for bikes and pedestrians

One of our rides (Steve S) worked on the development of this project 20 years ago, but wasn’t aware that it had been completed.  Here he is – all smiles!

Being the ride leader, I was of course the last to leave the bakery and took the scenic route back home with a group of 9.  We stopped for a photo op at the Richmond Marina

 The ladies in this group were having a good time!