Monday, November 18, 2019

World Day of Remembrance for Traffic Victims - San Jose

At the World Day of Remembrance for Traffic Victims - Nov. 17, 2019, San Jose
I watch early morning news programs and I get annoyed at the traffic reporters quite easily. 

There's always a creative little icon to indicate a car crash and a red colored line to indicate...the traffic. 

The delay the crash means to you, the viewer watching. Who just wants to know the fastest way to drive to work - as if that is the most important thing about the report. 

The World Day of Remembrance for Traffic Victims is one of the few times - unless someone you know personally has been killed or permanently maimed in a car crash - when you can look at a single car crash in the proper context. As in: a person who had a life, who had friends, who had hobbies and interests like your and mine, is dead because someone made a bad decision while driving.

I came upon the scene of this crash on a bike a few days ago on Monterey Road in San Jose: one car stopped and others, going too fast, crashed since none could stop in time. Seven cars were involved. 

The #WDoR19 was organized by San Francisco Bay Area Families for Safe Streets, Walk San Jose, California Walks, and The city's Vision Zero team was there, and a representative from Assemblymember Ash Kalra's office was also among the speakers.

The memorial walk had about 100 participants and went from St. James Park to City Hall. For some reason the meeting point where the speeches were took place behind city hall rather than in front (where it would have had more motorists and passers-by to seet it. 

Some family members of victims bravely got in front of the crowd of over 100 to speak. I heard people hold back tears and watched a few turn away to dab their eyes. I saw a little girl holding a sign that read "A Drunk Driver Killed My Big Sister" and saw familiar faces from the #BobbyWouldGo ride I went on last summer to honor Bob Lavin - a man who made it through 43 years of marriage and became a grandfather to three kids only to be the victim of a hit-and-run at age 62.

I learned of a little kid who died in his stroller in a crosswalk because a truck driver wasn't paying attention while turning.  And I learned enough about one of the victims to feel a little bit like Scrooge must have felt when he brushed the snow off the tombstone at the end of 'A Christmas Carol.'

Over 3,200 people are killed in California every year because of car crashes. Here's two. 

The organizers of the event also made these bright yellow signs showing the age and gave some details for the bicycle user or pedestrian who was killed. 

One of the details was the location where the person had been struck. 

Four years of living in San Jose and I recognized all of the street names and even remember some of the exact locations.

I stayed for all of the speeches and didn't feel like making much conversation with some of my friends who were there - mostly because the whole time I felt like I was learning about friends I'd never get to make. 

I rode all the way home from City Hall - taking the long way and topping it out over 13 miles. 

I'm telling you this for two reasons - first off I want you to know that every decision you make while driving matters and secondly I want you to drive slower and tell your friends to do the same. Get in the faces of people who need to know this - and start dreaming up definitive action, legislation and street design to make roads safer. And look at traffic reports differently and drive as though you need to save other people's lives instead of your own personal seconds. Thanks for reading and thanks for driving slow.

Drive slower and less often.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Finding Good Karma and Women's Night in San Jose

November 6, 2015 - the day before Good Karma Bikes moved into their 460 Lincoln Avenue location I biked inside and took this photo. 

It's a bit hard to believe I've lived in San Jose long enough to feel nostalgia over certain things. When I moved from Connecticut to California more than four years ago I had a few freelance clients I was clinging to and quickly began volunteering as a mechanic at Good Karma Bikes as well as do some social media and other communications work.

It wasn't sustainable - freelance work began to dry up and after about nine months volunteering at Good Karma Bikes, I came to the sad realization I needed to work on business development - and search for full-time work - more than I was doing, so I stopped volunteering. It was a feeling akin to breaking up with someone for no other reason than the summer was ending and you were about to go your separate ways.

But I've kept in touch with Good Karma Bikes and still shop there and donate bikes and bike parts to them to this day. In fact, most of the bikes I own - including the serious* road bike I used on the Cycle of Hope ride - have at least a couple of used parts on them from Good Karma Bikes and almost my entire California Cargo Bike was built from bikes and parts I bought from them. 

So it was a great pleasure to go there last week for their quarterly salon and hear a few words from Jim Gardner, the founder, and also Vera, the head mechanic there who is just one of Those People I'm grateful to know. She's the wrench I trust with any problems I have with my builds when I discover - usually when building anything having to do with front derailleurs - that I'm out of my depth.

Vera also leads Good Karma Bikes' Women's Night - a free class "for women and by women" to teach bike repair and other cycling skills. The next one is today: Tuesday, November 12, but check their page for their full schedule so you can go to one.

At the friend-raiser the other night, there were drinks and light snacks served on workbenches with bike parts crammed under them, and Jim began his remarks about twenty minutes in. I got a bit distracted while he was speaking because I was marveling at the highway billboard-sized list of milestones the organization has achieved in its ten year history - the nonprofit got its start in November 2009.

After Jim's remarks and a nice recognition of some of the folks who have been volunteering for Good Karma Bikes, San Jose City Council member Pam Foley spoke and said Good Karma bikes would be getting a commendation by the San Jose city council at the December 10th meeting at San Jose City Hall at 1:00pm. 

Then Vera spoke about Women's Night - and mentioned she'll be teaching Park Tool School with Good Karma Bikes next year - which is great news. If you want to become skilled at being a bike mechanic in the Bay Area I can't think of a better person to learn from.

Vera, the lead mechanic at Good Karma Bikes who runs their Women's Night program. The bike in front of her is a new Univega - a new brand of new bike Good Karma Bikes will start selling soon. 

I'll be sure to post links to the Park Tool School schedule when it's available, but in the meantime please look around your sheds and garages for gently used bikes and bike parts to donate to Good Karma Bikes during their business hours - remember they are still trying to restock their supply of bikes since some recent burglaries. Also check out Women's Night - starting with the one on November. 12. And finally, volunteer. Even if you can't do it forever, you'll remember the experience just as long. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

Good Karma Bikes, October 2019

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

A Cycle of Hope in the Bay Area

This is where the kid-writing-from-summer-camp "Sorry I haven't written" is supposed to go and I'll do my best writing that bit by saying the three terrible words I've Been Busy.  I really don't have a whole lot of words to add to that - and words have been failing me a lot lately. I've had an unusually large amount of writing - or as it is passionlessly called "content creation" - and that has sapped a lot of strength. I also came to terms with the fact that I couldn't get enough people together to pull of Cranksgiving San Jose this year** which contributed to the relative gloom. So I'll just fall back on the standby line, I've Been Busy, move on, and write about a ride I just did to try to find my footing again.

As I've written about before, there's a big connection between bikes and housing: the more we use the former, the easier it would be to build the latter. Parking minimums cost money and empty cars take up valuable space, and without #SB50 in California, apartment projects can be denied or NIMBYed to death. Also there's the whole cars-are-killing-the-planet thing too.

Habitat for Humanity East Bay/Silicon Valley landed on the idea to use a bike ride to raise funds for their efforts to build affordable housing. Last year was their first one which I did not get to attend. This year, I was keen on the idea, but since I've Been Busy and everything I was working on was shape-shifting mass of timesinks I wasn't sure I'd be able to do the ride - or even if I wanted to: I've been taking fewer rides than I'd like since I've Been Busy and, as shown with my failure to put together Cranksgiving this year, haven't felt connected with the cycling community lately.

But just as my much loved and forever-to-be-remembered ride up to Lick Observatory was born from a crummy mood I figured an organized ride - that had other people and everything - might do me some good. I signed up for the Habitat for Humanity Cycle of Hope ride four days before the event and decided to do the Metric Century - or 62 mile - course. 

I flung the link to the fundraising page on my Twitter and Facebook page like a spaghetti strand to a refrigerator and didn't bother to see if it would stick. I would have written a passionate blog post about it to try to ask for donations but, as I said, I've Been Busy.

I rode home from work several days in a row (about 11 miles each time - often the most biking per week I ever get to do) and used the cargo bike to do Saturday errands. Hoping I was in the right shape, I filled my Camelbak and - after the Expired Kirkland Protein Bar Debacle associated with my Lick Observatory ride - I set the stage for a new debacle by only packing three individually-wrapped waffles about the size of coasters - only crunchier. 

And early on Sunday morning, feeling groggy because of wretched sleep the night before, I drove to Palo Alto, picked up my registration packet - some cool stuff was in there - and  made it to the start line with ten minutes to spare before we were off. 

Even though I brought a serious* road bike with me - one that I made over the Spring but didn't tell you about because I've Been Busy - I wasn't sure how well it or I would do. As you all know, most people ride faster than me and I'm fine with it. I did keep up with most of the group for a while cruising through the streets of Palo Alto.

The ride was well marked thanks to a little company called which has been - and this is from their website - "enhancing the quality of cycling and running events since 2007." If you've been to a cycling or running event over the last decade you've probably seen sticky arrows attached to asphalt. These arrows were color coded because there were routes of different lengths. And I didn't get lost once. Getting lost in a professional cycling event isn't ideal, and not getting lost enhances my cycling experience - so RouteArrows did some outstanding work that day.

And a hat tip to the volunteers who put up the arrows, too. Usually, at just about every intersection there was a turn, there would be a political campaign-style sign, Route Arrows on the pavement, then another political campaign-style sign. If it was a more complicated intersection there were extra Route Arrows to go around or a volunteer with a flag.

I followed the Route Arrows and after going about ten-twelve miles or so we ended up in the Forest Moon of Endor phase. 

At times the roads were uncomfortably narrow in this stretch and at one point I was shocked by a woman driving huge, white Cadillac Escalade. Here's what happened: she came up behind a group of three or four of us, did not use her horn, and hung back. She slowly drove this living room-sized behemoth while following us, and she waited patiently for room to pass. When she got it, she gently accelerated and passed our group with more than 3' to spare.

If you have to drive, please drive like her.

But back to the ride. The Cycle of Hope people were thoughtful enough to share the route map before the ride but that didn't matter to me for the simple reason I didn't read it. If I had, I would have noticed there was about 5,500 feet of elevation gain (about 1,000 fewer feet that riding all the way to Lick Observatory).

The ride also had stations to stop and get water and food. This one came after some climbing - and if I had known there was a lot more climbing to follow I would have eaten more food and listened to the Aloha Ukelele Squad longer. 

I also would have had more of the food at the first couple of rest areas before continuing on. The first one had these little cups of trail mix, and I was so pumped to keep going on the ride I actually pedaled carrying one. A few bumps left a trail of the trail mix behind me...hence the name, I assume.

In the Endor Stage, the trees were beautiful along the switchbacks but for the most part they were blocking my view of anything that would have given me a frame of reference in terms of distance. With Lick Observatory you could actually track your passage up and think "ten miles to go from here, I can do that" or the like...but you'd have to make time to look at a map. I didn't before Cycle of Hope because I've Been Busy so after a while each mile uphill felt like ten. 

To make matters worse, the serious* road bike I made - which has a triple chainring up front - would ignore the tiny 'granny gear' at very random and extremely inconvenient times. I sighed. Ever since building my first mountain bike eight years ago, properly installing a front derailleur has always been my weak spot. 

Before long, nerves in my legs began hitting me with intermittent pain - like each one was being plucked like a guitar string. Even when my bike would get me to the tiny ring, I felt like the essence of my body was sitting in a La-Z-Boy reading a newspaper and would occasionally look over the corner of the page at me with a disapproving expression.

From time to time I was able to take my mind off the pain I was in by taking in a view once one was available.

As with Lick Observatory, I don't mind being passed by faster cyclists since it makes my photos more interesting. 

Even with the stunning view of Silicon Valley I was not doing well until I hit another rest area. This time, I ate food. None of what you see on this table, but I ate the Clif bars and bananas on the other side of the table.

I also refilled my fast-emptying Camelbak with electrolyte water - not in the mood to care about potentially ruining it by filling it with such a concoction - and slowly began to pedal again. The serious* road bike I built never felt heavier. 

But then - a miracle. 

I followed the Route Arrows and suddenly began descending Highway 9 - which felt as though it had been given new pavement the previous afternoon. The serious* bike, which had less than 325 miles on it, came to life - and some of that life came to me in kind. I passed 40 miles an hour at least once as I swooped down the hill and back into the valley. Miles fell. 

As you know from the Lick Observatory ride I did in April, I've begun using Strava - if for no other reason it helps me later remember what hills I was on, which ones were an incredible challenge, and which were a joy to descend - here's an actual screenshot of my ride that day:

After several miles of this bliss, I had to follow the Route Arrows - and a volunteer waving a flag - through yet another beautiful neighborhood with houses few humans can afford. Still, the odometer on my serious* bike told me I had only 16 miles left to go. 

I pedaled as steadily as I could. Back in the populated areas I began stopping and riding beside other cyclists as we were waiting for traffic lights. My legs hurt but it wasn't catastrophic. Simple conversations were struck at red lights. The serious* bike got me a few questions. A drained CamelBak was refilled a third time (even though it is November things are a little hotter in the Bay Area compared to the way it is back east)

Eventually, I rolled back to the starting point and someone on a loudspeaker welcomed me back as "Rider 391!" and I was met with scattered applause...and a medal! I actually got a medal similar to the kind I get when I do the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event in Santana Row. Only there they have a volunteer put the medal on you as you pass through the finishing point. Me, I was so exhausted I misjudged the height and swiftly banged the medal on my nose trying to put it on myself - my only injury besides my tuning-fork legs. 

Moving slowly but with effort, I checked in to say hi to a friend at Cycle California magazine - who was completely understanding as to why I wasn't doing Cranksgiving San Jose this year but he said he wanted to help out next time. And I met the owner - or the new owner, I should say - of Tonik Cycling - a brand of cycling clothes for women. I took a picture to remember the name and I hope you do too, because it has a cool story behind it

Even though I nearly needed a spotter to get the bike back into the car, I decided I was very, very happy I had done the ride. On the drive home I vowed that there would be a next time and began to think being Busy was a state of mind instead of an absolute. There would be more group rides. There would be more meetings with interesting people where plans would form and friendships would be made. I also started to plan ahead for a new year's resolution. In 2019 I gave up French fries, in 2020 I'm going to give up being Busy. Sure, I'll have work to do, errands to run, grown-up stuff to deal with, but I'm not going to say I've been Busy. Time, like a bicycle, is something that can be made - and I'm going to commit to having more of both - if for no other reason it is good for me.

I hope you join me in that commitment - failing that you make a donation to Habitat for Humanity East Bay Silicon Valley - and not to my page, either. We need affordable housing here and we should support the causes and entities that build them. Sorry I haven't written but I'll be writing more. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

*with an asterisk. 

**I strongly encourage anyone reading this to #ChooseYourOwnCranksgiving and ride, volunteer, or find another way to give to worthy causes this season. I'll write about this more soon.  In the meantime the hours of the Second Harvest of Silicon Valley at 750 Curtner Avenue in San Jose) on Saturday, November 16th is 8am to 4pm and on Nov. 23 from 8am to 7pm. If you have a bike and can ride it safely, please ride there with some food and bring friends with you!

Monday, August 5, 2019

Lessons from Boomertopia: Lakeside, Ohio

Some months ago, it was decided the annual family reunion would take place in a town called Lakeside - where my aunt and uncle have a vacation house. 

This meant Family Weekend would not be in my hometown-with-an-asterisk Mystic, Connecticut. I liked the idea of trying the Ohio town and I liked the idea of the whole family getting together even more. 

Since I was (and still am) busy through the year, I didn't have the time I wanted to have to research the town. In rumor I had heard it was like the camp in Dirty Dancing - only with more shuffleboard and fewer illegal abortions. My mother - who would occasionally ask my opinion of family meal plans months in advance even though I usually don't know what I'm having for the meal ahead of me and have difficulty recalling the meal behind - kept me apprised of the goings on and what I needed to know about Lakeside - one of which was a "visitors pass" that I'd need to enter and leave the area.

Unsure if I was visiting a quarantine zone like in 'Outbreak' or the Acadia planned community from the X-Files episode of the same name, we set down at the airport in Cleveland, Ohio to begin our journey by rental car to Lakeside. I unfortunately didn't have a chance to ride a bike in the Alfa Romeo of cycling cities* but I did get have just enough time to stop by the new location of Joy Machines - a shop I visited several times. Now I have so many cycling T-shirts I long ago put a moratorium on getting new ones...until I visited Joy Machines in Cleveland the day before Independence Day.

With a new T-shirt in my vacation wear clothing rotation, we made it to Lakeside, and we showed our passes at the gate. On narrow streets we drove to the rental home my parents were staying at. When we parked the car in a designated spot, we didn't move it again until we drove back to the airport three days later. We then watched the Fourth of July Parade - I was most impressed with the bike part - and if I had gotten there a little sooner I would have unpacked my bike Friday and joined them. 

When the parade was over I began to notice the traffic in Lakeside: it was mostly golf carts. 

There were also plenty of bicycles to be found - and I didn't see a single lock among them. The morning of July 5, I walked past bikes that were parked, on kickstands, overnight and nobody stole them. 

A couple of blocks from this location I found a three bedroom house for sale for $191,000. In the Bay Area it would easily be five to fifteen times that amount.

There was also a coffee shop that opened early - like, almost-when-I-get-up early. I wasn't sure if I had found utopia or was living the first fifteen minutes of the movie "Get Out."

The most uncomfortable I ever felt was when I'd have to enter or leave the premises. I did it twice on the Bike Friday - they scanned my pass on the way out and scanned it again in on the way back in. 

Outside of the gate, I could open the throttle and take quick rides before breakfast - and before it got too hot. I had derisively referred to Lake Erie as "Hasbro Water" since it just wasn't the East Coast, but it still had its moments where it looked like a real body of water and everything - look at the lighthouse:

When you bike or walk around Lakeside you'll see a lot of gray haired men and women driving around their grandkids in golf carts. That was when I realized I was in Boomertopia. A generation who worshipped cars actually built a place they would have hated to have lived in if they had jobs to commute to ever day. 

The golf cart thing is the nicotine gum equivalent of cars: yeah, I'm trying to wean off the hard stuff - I just need a little hint of speed.

And I do mean little. I Stravaed** the golf cart I drove my family with - all six of us - and kept the phone attached to the center of the steering wheel with the little clippy-thing used to hold golf scores. It topped out at 15 miles an hour. What's more, since these are slow, quiet and open - If you see your Phoenix cousin and your Los Angeles cousin as they approach and accompany them on a trip to get some ice.

There are other Lakeside quirks that aren't travel related - for instance several homes have an assortment of tiny miniature fairy lands set up somewhere on their property. 

That is just incredibly weird - but I suppose my sister and I taking Yoda action figures and adding them to the scene at the AirBnB may fall into the same category.

But to get back to the design lessons of Lakeside: It is accepted that a motorized vehicle should be governed to 15 miles an hour. Since the golf carts are small and not Hummer H2 sized, the streets are safer for walking and biking. Since they have tiny motors they are quiet, and that makes it easy to carry on a conversation with your dad on the front porch of an AirBnB during rush hour. Since it is widely known bikes and slow carts are on the streets at all times, the few cars that are in town drive slower. 

Since parking lots aren't needed the buildings can be closer together - which makes things more walkable/bikeable. It also means more buildings - which means less land wasted on temporary motor vehicle storage.

It isn't lost on me the retirees who inhabit Lakeside now probably would hated to have lived there when they were younger and had to drive everyday to get to work. It wouldn't fit in with the narrative of automotive contradictions we all hear (or make) every day. Wanting a house you can drive to quickly...but on a quiet and safe street. Wanting your grandkids to have a safe place to bike...but you show up at town hall meetings railing against adding bike lanes. Wanting less traffic...but you don't support affordable housing built near train stations and getting people ways other than a car to get around. 

The point is, when we talk about how we want cities to look, let's remind the naysayers again and again that some places have already gone or our going that route - and those places are safer for their kids and grandkids to play in. Sure, you get around slower but there are more important things than speed - like trying to try every ice cream place before your vacation ends. 

Let's not stop advocating, working, and making arguments for the kind of world we want. If we do that, we'll eventually, given enough time, be in charge. The history of the automobile may have mostly been written by our elders, but the future of our towns and cities will be written by cyclists. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

*This turn-of-phrase is mine, but it was inspired by Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear who complained about different aspects of Alfa Romeo's but said they still had an 'Alfa magic' that made the cars like no other. I'm always going to have a strange, can't-put-my-finger-on-why affection for Cleveland even though other cities have better bike infrastructure, better bike acceptance, better weather...but it still has an indescribable something that makes it better. Visit Cleveland.  

** Strava is an app for jock people to help themselves reach new peaks of excellence and then brag to their friends about it. I just used it as a verb - past-tense. I need a shower. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

A View of Lick Observatory

Note: Walk a Mile in Her Shoes - the YWCA event to raise money to fight domestic violence - is next week and I could use your help. Please make a donation to my Walk in Mile page - thank you!

I didn't start Sunday, April 7, in the happiest of moods.

I had woken up before dawn so I could drive my wife to the airport. I drove back on 87 South annoyed at her early flight and tired from the lack of sleep and coffee. I didn't have a plan for what to do during the day - I only knew I wanted to take a longer-than-usual Sunday ride.

As the sun came up, I glanced east and saw Lick Observatory all the way at the top of Mt. Hamilton, on the horizon.

I had wanted to try that ride for a while, but originally thought it would be a good one for the road bike I wanted to build after I had finished The Alameda Bike Trailer. I also considered my Bike Friday but I worried the 53/34 chainring wouldn't give me enough range for that level of climbing (In fact, the day before, I tried to put a triple crankset on that bike but was thwarted when I realized too late it wouldn't fit on the bottom bracket). 

I glanced back and forth from Mt. Hamilton to the highway as I drove. I had an entire day to myself and aside from the lack of a tiny chainring, my 21 year old Bike Friday New World Tourist is a good bike for a long ride. I decided to give it a shot.

Hungry when I got home, I ate leftover chicken tacos for breakfast - my eating habits tend to take a turn when my spouse is out of town - and looked at a map. If I left from my house and took the most direct (read: steepest) route, it would be about a thirty mile ride with a level of climbing that would be described as...I believe the technical term is 'insane'.

Familiar with long rides with the Bike Friday, I filled my Camelbak all the way to the top with water and packed my usual travel/repair kit. The nut molecules at the bottom of a nearly-empty Kirkland Unsalted Mixed Nuts tub went into a baggie, and four expired Kirkland protein bars went into my pack. I figured I'd run into different food options along the way and discard the expired bars properly. I also decided that this would be a 'dry run' and I'd turn back if I felt myself getting too tired or the 53/34 wouldn't be enough to bring me to the summit. 

I set off. 

A good chunk of the trip involved taking the Coyote Creek Trail toward downtown San Jose. It seemed like a decent place to warm up since it follows the creek downstream - and is thus a downhill. For some reason the song 'Eastbound and Down' from the Smokey & The Bandit movie began going through my head and I began singing passages of it aloud. Thank goodness there was no one around to hear. 

I passed feral cats and homeless encampments the closer I got to downtown before turning off onto Tully Road. Wary of motorists on the ghost-bike-waiting-to-happen 101 interchange, I headed toward Eastridge Center and took a right on Quimby Road.

Quimby road is a straight, level stretch of road until it isn't. Then it goes straight up into the foothills with frequent switchbacks. This is where the little chainring was pressed into painful service. 

With speed in the single digits, I pressed on and began having a taste of the view.

I also recognized the general area as the spot where my car overheated a couple of years ago when my wife and I attempted the trip in a motor vehicle. But thanks to the water my Bike Friday and I creaked past the spot.

At this point I was trying to decide how much further I should go but then something unexpected happened. I began going downhill. 

What's deceptive about looking up at the foothills is that there are little hills in between the big hills that can't be seen from sea level. What I was suddenly descending wasn't a 'rolling' hill but scored rather high on the 'nosedive' scale.

It was also a Decision Hill - one where you had to make up your mind if you wanted to commit to it since, after all, you'd have to ride all the way back up later. Without thinking about it I let go of the brakes.  

"Eastbound and downnnnnnn, loaded up and truckin' we're gonna do what they say can't be done."

The moment of levity - and the full-on commitment to this ride - was brief as I soon came upon a ghost bike. It then dawned on me that Quimby Road, with its blind corners, narrow passages and, most significant, careless motorists, is not a low fatality road.

The descent continued and opened up into a valley. I turned right on 130 - Mt. Hamilton Road - and realized I had about another ten miles to go. I stopped, gnawed on an expired protein bar, and continued on. 

Even though I didn't have sweeping views of Silicon Valley on this stretch I was presented enough visual evidence this ride was worthwhile. Because of the elevation gain the trees were becoming more interesting and the pine cones were becoming more hazardous.

As the road got narrower I began using hand signals for the cars ambling their way up the road behind me. I'd spot them in my helmet mounted rear view mirror and hold my left palm out at a 45 degree down angle to let them know it wasn't safe to pass due to oncoming traffic. When it was clear I'd change the universal-symbol-for-stop to a thumbs up, and the car would pass safely - often with an appreciative hand gesture as they passed by. Not sure if this was normal behavior - mine or the drivers.

I didn't go very fast - even on the places where the road would level out - and I was occasionally passed by other cyclists. I was fine with that because it often made my photos more interesting. 

And so it went: pedal, stop, take a picture, eat a few bites of expired Kirkland Soylent or whatever, and press on. Once, when I checked my phone, I noticed the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition had tagged me in thanks for building the Alameda Bike Trailers they were teaching volunteers to use at the same time as my ride. 

Construction laborers in the 1880s may have had cyclists in mind when they designed the road, because every time you would pass the STEEP part of a switchback, your brain would automatically say "oh that was ridiculous I can't do another climb like that oh well look at that view!"

And when even that gets start to look up and think: "That's Lick Observatory! I'm almost there!"

It was immediately after that photo I hammered the pedals. I could barely get enough oxygen into my lungs to manage the climb, but I somehow made it up there - though I didn't care for the Saab that zipped by me far too closely with only a hundred feet left on the trip. 

I rounded the bend and entered the parking lot. There were a few cars up there - some of which I recognized from passing me earlier that morning. My legs just about gave out at that point. 

After contemplating my footwear fashion choices for a little while, I took a walk around Lick Observatory, which was named after James Lick, a multimillionaire who made a decision - before he died in 1876 - that he wanted a huge monument to science and discovery to be part of his legacy. I was wowed. It is definitely a better place to put millions of dollars than Bitcoin.

I have to once again give kudos to Bike Friday - who made my New World Tourist 21 years ago that has been on a lot of journeys with me. 

As good a citizen as James Lick was, he didn't think to include a donut shop or a taco stand in his vision of the observatory, so instead of anything that could be remotely described as lunch I finished off the expired Kirkland bars and bought a couple of Clif bars at the vending machine at the post office. Also...

A way better value than Skittles. 

With the postcard sticking out of the front pocket of my bag, I took one long, last look over the horizon. I was pretty sure I could see both my office and what I think was my neighborhood. I also contemplated the road and realized I had a long way back. It was a thirty-mile thigh crusher to get to where I was standing and even though I was exhausted I had to cover just as many to get home.

Lucky for me, my brakes don't hurt my hands too much when I have to apply pressure for 70,000 years - or however long it took for me to get to the first valley. I did break 30 miles an hour in a couple of places but, knowing that some drivers could drive into my lane when making a dangerous pass of another cyclist going up, I kept it slow around the blind corners. 

So intent on moving I somehow missed the turn to Quimby road - by over a mile - so I had to make up that mile turning back to head up the hilly section of the road. Once I got past that horrendousness, I eventually made it home - wrapping up a truly memorable ride. According to Strava I had traveled 62.43 miles, with a moving time of nearly six hours and 39 minutes. My elevation gain was 6,529 feet, and my max elevation was 4,217. Average speed was 9.4 miles an hour and my max speed was 31.3.

None of that is a brag - it's a beg. To motorists like the Saab that buzzed by me at the last  mile: Cyclists who ride up Lick Observatory are not to be trifled with. We could have experienced Mt. Hamilton road in carbon-spewing comfort on a plushy seat just like you but we didn't. We choose slowness. We chose to smell the pine trees and feel the temperature changes on our skin. We chose the power of our own muscles to bring us to the top. Mess with us not and pass us safely you must because I never, ever want anyone to feel like they can't climb Mt. Hamilton because they thought it would be unsafe. Set the standard for sharing the road and good things will come your way - I promise.

Two months would pass before I returned to Lick Observatory for a photography night - one that we had to buy tickets for. My wife and I drove our car. There were two cyclists going up at that hour and I passed them with the utmost care and respect. 

It's a different place when the sun is going down - and the haze from thousands of Bay Area motorists clouded the horizon. But it was hard to think too hard of it that night, because we actually got to go inside and see the big telescope (there are actually eleven telescopes on the site).

It was especially fun to see everyone's faces: it was the same look I had seen on other kid's faces as a kid going into the Boston Museum of Science.

I also discovered - to my sheer amazement - that there is a gift shop on the premises that was open after 9pm. I bought a pair of socks that have the solar system on it and saw no need to buy what appears to be their signature item - even though it looks nice.

So that was the Lick Observatory adventure - I must tell you, Bay Area, that there is a certain level of comfort and happiness to be found at all times because you can see the Lick Observatory from quite a few places in the South Bay. If I look over my left shoulder at my workbench, I can see it. If I look out the window of my office where I work, I can see it from there too. No matter how bad my day is, on the ride home I can look over to the left and think: I rode my bike to that. 

Reach for rides you don't think you can do and support efforts kids make to learn and discover - like Zhea, my yoga teacher's stepdaughter, who wants to go to Space Academy

And while it's got nothing to do with space: please donate to my Walk a Mile in Her Shoes page - like I did last year I am helping YWCA raise money to fight domestic violence and I'll be walking in high heels at Santana Row next week. But if you can only donate to one cause, send Zhea to Space Academy. If you can donate to three, send Zhea to Space Academy, help me with Walk A Mile, and donate to my Tour de Cure page - that ride to fight diabetes is Sunday. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Carmel-By-The-Tandem: How To Hack A Bike-Unfriendly California Town

I am pleased to report I have successfully hacked Carmel-By-The-Sea - the Greenwich, Connecticut of California towns. By that I mean there are a lot of BMWs and salmon-colored pants to be found - and little in the way of either bike infrastructure or bike acceptance.

Seriously: I have been here since Friday and haven't seen a single, solitary bike rack - even a sharrow would be welcome at this point. Streets are wide and made for cars. 

I walked around this morning in completely empty streets, noticing how much more peaceful the town is without motor vehicles.

I also went to the beach to hurl my umbrella at the coming rain clouds in anger.

For those of you who don't know, the very word 'Carmel' is derived from the English word 'Car' which is defined as 'Thing that pollutes and destroys all it touches' and 'Mel' which is derived from the Gaelic Maol, used to refer to the word 'servant.'* 

When a town goes out of its way to make everything about cars and nothing about any other mode of transport, it ends up with an environment that welcomes, helps and serves no one but the motor vehicle. 

I knew this on the drive down to meet my wife at the Carmel Art Festival. She was staying at The Pine Inn for a couple of days prior to my arrival and sent me a very long text message that told me I wouldn't find a place to temporarily store my motor vehicle. Spaces around town were two hour unless after 7:00pm, at which time you can have your motor vehicle stored without worry until 10:00 the next morning. The parking lot/car storage center belonging to the hotel would be full, and one couldn't store a motor vehicle on the residential streets without it being towed. 

But on Ocean Avenue, the spaces that are perpendicular to the curb are unlimited. So if you can find a place to store your motor vehicle there, you're solid...until you have to go somewhere. 

In an attempt to find out if there was anything to do in Carmel-by-the-sea other than trying to find a place to store a car safely, I stumbled across workaround to the problem: I stored the car in a perpendicular space at dawn Saturday morning. And, in the back, I had this:

This is a 10+ year old Bike Friday Family Tandem that I bought a few months ago in one of the most Epic Tag Sale Finds ever. I had to replace the entire drivetrain and upgrade the seats but it doesn't change the fact the bike takes 20" tires and has an overall length so short I can put it in the back of my car just by taking the front wheel off. The bike can also be dismantled and put into two suitcases like my New World Tourist but I haven't tried that yet. 

So that's the answer: bring a bike to Carmel-By-The-Sea. And early in the morning, you should go to Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Company on Ocean Avenue, which - and this should come as good news to fellow early risers - opens at 6:00am on Saturdays and Sundays. The photos on the walls there right now are by artist Robert Christopher Nichols.

After storing your motor vehicle in the perpendicular space on Ocean Avenue and walking up to get your coffee and breakfast, you walk back to your motor vehicle and retrieve your tandem. 

Ocean Avenue is a little steep, so you can simply walk the bike a couple of blocks down and pedal along a road called 'Scenic Road' - which, after a short while, becomes a one-way street with a oh-god-bless-them speed limit of 15 miles per hour. 

The direction of the road - which does live up to its name -  puts the ocean on your right, and the pace allows one to gawk at some of the impossibly pretty gardens on your left and  listen and see the waves on your right. 

It's a little over a mile and a half to get to Carmel River State Beach. There's no bike rack to be found there, so bring a cable lock to lash the bike to the wooden sign. When that's done, you've got...well, you've got the beach, which I was thankful to be able to visit before the rare-for-this-time-of-year rain started.

Yesterday the beach featured a teepee made out of driftwood. I can't guarantee it'll still be there when you visit, but if it's there be sure to step inside and stay awhile.

Because this is the weekend of the Carmel Art Festival, there were some plein air painters afoot - including Gretha Lindwood, seen here painting.

We pedaled back via Carmelo Street which gave us more houses to admire. On getting back to the car, I removed the front wheel and put the tandem away - only to take it out again so we could ride ten minutes to Crossroads Shopping Center - which we also managed to do before the rain started.

Did I mention that Carmel needs bike lanes and bike parking?

My wife bought a frame for one of her works and we had lunch before heading back to Carmel-By-The-Sea in the rain. From there, we put the bike away and walked with our umbrellas to the Carmel Art Festival.

The Carmel Art Festival ends today (Sunday, May 19th) at 3:00pm. In Carmel, you can hack the rain with a umbrella and hack the parking with a tandem, so come to the Carmel Art Festival today and bring more art into your life - and you don't want to miss your chance to own a work of art by Suma CM. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

* This is true.