Thursday, January 12, 2017


So far, 2017 has been the year of rain around here.  Lots of rain.  Rivers are flooding, and at least locally, the reservoirs, which had been at about 40% capacity at the beginning of the year are now full to the brim and spilling over in ways that I haven't ever seen.

We had one big storm on Sunday, so Monday I headed out for a short ride up Stevens Canyon to admire the creek.  It looked like a torrent of raging chocolate milk, and parts of the road were so covered with residual mud from mostly-cleared slides and continued runoff that one would be hard-pressed to know that there was pavement.  An entertaining ride.  I was briefly tempted to head up past the road closed sign on Redwood Gulch, but hadn't planned on doing any real hills (still getting over the remnants of last week's viral plague), so didn't.  Just as well -- apparently there were slides everywhere.  No one was getting over 9, 17, or along Skyline that morning; Nim's English teacher, who lives over in Santa Cruz, had entertaining stories to tell about trying to find a clear route through to work on this side of the hill.  Given the obscure road names she mentioned (which I know well because I like to ride on them!), she definitely had to scrape the bottom of the route barrel.

The kiddo also came home from school very very wet on Monday.

Clever kid wore her rain gear on Tuesday.  Just as well, as yet another big band of wetness came through.  I was amused to note that the radio emergency broadcast noise that usually signifies "This is a test.  This is only a test" was not really a test; but rather reported repeated flood warnings, including a report that Lexington Reservoir was starting to spill over.

??!!! This is the reservoir that was so bone dry not too long ago that one could start to see the remains of the old towns of Alma and Lexington that were flooded when they put the dam in back in the 1950's.    I don't think I've ever heard of it being so full as to spill over.  Naturally I had to go check it out, so yesterday I drove over to do a bike ride around the reservoir.  It was indeed full.

Sadly, I don't have any pictures of the reservoir's recent drought state for comparison.  Suffice it to say that the water surface level was more than 40 feet lower on Jan 1 according to the county gage data, and that was after our fairly wet fall.

It was odd to look over my right shoulder and see water right near the road in places where I am accustomed to seeing deep gaping chasms.

There was indeed water going over the spillway.  It looked so benign and smooth at the top,

but rapidly turned into a big waterfall going into the raging Los Gatos Creek below.

It was distinctly disconcerting to ride back up the dam, knowing that it was full to the brim, after I went down it to look at the creek. (The big green thing near the top is the dam; you can just see the spillway on the right side.  Just imagine all the water backed up behind it...)

As I started around the reservoir on my bike, I noted an almost constant array of small slides..

I decided to head up Old Santa Cruz Highway to get a little climbing in, and quickly ran into a road closed sign.

This was most annoying, as I had called the useless Santa Clara County road closure hotline that morning; it didn't say anything about the closure (and was several days out of date!).  Some hotline.  I decided to go past the sign, figuring that I'd go inspect the storm damage and turn around if it actually looked impassable or dangerous to bikes.  The standards are different for bikes/pedestrians than cars...

Incidentally, neighboring Santa Cruz County publishes a good, frequently-updated road closure list on the web. Basically, anything I would want to ride on on that side of the ridge is still closed.  I do appreciate their list though; it's pretty reliable, and I'd much rather just take a quick look at a web page before going out on a ride and get good information than make a phone call and listen to a long-winded inaccurate recording that is several days out of date.

After the sign, there were more small slides and one place where there was a little water running across the road that had clearly been worse earlier but was still passable.  After about another mile of climbing, I ran into another road closed sign, but no real evidence of any need for it, so I went past that one too.

A few more switchbacks and I came to this.

Hmmm....maybe they really mean it now?  By this point, I was too curious to stop, so I proceeded.  A slide I could go around unless it was really bad, a downed tree I would climb over.  Power lines I will not mess with.
Hmmm.  Power lines look weird.  

Oh look, the pole has snapped in the wind!  We didn't get the 173 mph gust reported at Squaw Valley, but it was still pretty windy when the storm moved through.  

And this is a tree plus power lines.  There were big truck sounds on the other side, like there might be people working on it too.  It looked like it was stable enough for me to get through, but I really didn't want to get to the other side, get yelled at, and then not be able to go back down the way I came, as that would have led to a detour of uncertain length, given that I knew many of the other options off the top were closed (for those on the Santa Cruz side) or in terrain that was likely to be a problem (for those on the Santa Clara side for which I had no reliable info).  So I turned around at this point and went back down to circumnavigate the rest of the reservoir.

As I came around the final part of the reservoir it started to rain.  Hard.  Argh.  At this point, there is a choice between riding about 1/4 mile on the shoulder of Highway 17, or taking a dirt detour along the edge of the reservoir.  My normal rule is to take 17 only if the weather and traffic are both good.  Weather rule violated, so Slippery Mud Ho for me.

This was actually pretty entertaining.  The dirt detour is just inches above the water level when the reservoir is as full as it was yesterday.  When I hit this point, there were geese swimming in the path, and a great blue heron hanging out watching them (sadly they flew off before I got my phone out -- but very cool to watch)

The outing was a mere 12 and a half miles of riding -- but they were entertaining miles!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

holiday travels

We took a quick trip up to WA right after Christmas to visit my parents.  Aside from the great plumbing flood of 2016 and the horrible flu that people have been coming down with, we also had some fun.  As an example:

Giant piece of meat that I was told to cook.  Fortunately my mom saved some notes from the last time I did this in her kitchen, as I was unable to default to my 36-hours-in-the-sous-vide-at-131F that I do at home.  5 hours at 250F in the oven was yummy too.

Giant bonfire made with wet sticks.  This is hard to light,

without assistance from a propane torch...

It does burn in the end!

Nimue's cousin Keldon, also known as "The Cutest Kid in the Known Universe" (TCKIKU).

Grandmothers and jaded teens had fun too:

To the adults, keeping the fire going was serious business.

Teens dance when faced with large bonfires.

Looking for ashes to catch.

Look, Grandma, I got one!

Not sure what this was....

Lots of smoke.

Happy peoples.

We also took a quick jaunt up the road towards Mt. Saint Helens to see some snow.  We found some, and got luck enough to see the volcano peeking out from the clouds too :)

The zombie teen chases her Ma (photo from my mom).  I ended up with snow down my pants.  Evil kiddo.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Festive or Ominous?

You decide.  Nim declared the vanilla-mint buttercream to be yummy.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Signs of the season

Things that tell me it is almost Christmas:

I find myself transporting unlikely objects by bike.

Low-tech Christmas crafts (though this one does have a teeny-tiny LED on top connected to a battery in the base with a thin line of conductive ink).

Geeky Christmas craft (see the 3-D printer in action!)

And of course, the kiddo's fun drawings.  Can you tell she is a teenager now?  I love these:)

She does occasionally engage in something more conventional.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The red bows suckered me into it

Never mind that I was tired and only planned a short ride halfway up the hill.

Never mind that it started to rain on me.

Never mind that the kiddo was getting out of school early at 10am after her math final was over.

Montebello Road was festooned with cheerful red bows every 50 feet or so all the way up the hill.   Some were on mailboxes, some on telephone poles, some on trees and some on fences.   I just couldn't turn around at the school and miss some of them, so I had to ride to the top.

"Mom, WHERE WERE YOU?????"   Out having fun.

(You can't see the view down 2400 feet to the bottom in the fog, but trust me, it's down there.)

Monday, December 5, 2016

I Made a Thingy

So I was recently cooking up the new batch of beer for Christmas, and needed to make a yeast starter. That consists of boiling a couple liters of water with a couple cups of malt extract, cooling it all down in an ice bath, and then letting yeast do their thing for a day or two - thereby turning one little vial of yeast into a much larger amount of yeast, primed and ready to go to town on the beer. Lots of happy yeasties make for better beer.

Key to getting the best, healthiest, and most yeast cells is oxygenation. Short of having an oxygen tank bubbling through the mixture (which I could in fact do, but dragging my welding cart in to the kitchen might result in objections, and it's too cold for the yeast out in the garage) frequent stirring is the next best method. So every hour (or whenever I happened to think of it, which was in practice a lot less frequent than hourly) I'd give the container a thorough swirl; the yeast clearly loved it, but it was a pain to have to do this repeatedly. "I wish I had a stir plate" I said. I've said this before. Yesterday I decided to get ready for the next time.

A magnetic stir plate is really pretty straightforward. It's a motor, with a magnet on top. Now you can get fancy and add speed control, or a heater, or a nice case to put it in... but the basic function is simple, and I figured the parts were already lying around the garage.

I had several old computer fans in a box, so I grabbed the biggest one. They're already speed-controlled to about the right speed for this. Hm, what has a big magnet? Why, an old hard drive of course! They have a couple of super-powerful magnets, and I have a big stack of dead hard drives from which I could scavenge. I also keep a box of assorted power supplies, so I easily found a 12VDC wall-wart to wire up to this.  A few screws from the hardware store (but only because I didn't have anything long enough lying around), some foamcore from the craft closet, and a layer of Rapid Ingenuity Tape (Thanks Greg!) and voila - one ugly but highly-functional and super-cheap stir plate! Ta da. A thingy.