Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Travel snafus can lead to good outcomes

Apologies that this is a little out of date (welcome back winter!) and long, but I figured y'all wanted to see the pictures anyway...

February was a busy month for us travel-wise.  Not only did Chad have the usual work trips, but I had planned to fly back to Boston for Bill's birthday party, and all of us did our normal go-up-to-the-mountains-for-ski-week thing.

I was scheduled on a direct flight to Boston on a Thursday, was going to have a day to goof off by myself on Friday, go to Bill's party Saturday, and head over to see Chad's family in Rockport Sunday before flying back Monday.  All planned out, all very straightforward.

Except for this thing called winter weather...

On Wednesday afternoon, my original flight was preemptively cancelled because of a storm due to roll in.  Needless to say, I was a bit irritated, since it looked like the storm was supposed to roll through before my plane was scheduled to land there, but that particular airline (Jetblue) is apparently pretty prone to cancelling things early.  I was even more irritated when, after trying to get through to the airline on the phone for several hours, they gave me a response of "well, we've rescheduled you on a flight for Sunday."

Sunday????  That's *three days* after the original flight, and after the birthday event.  Not acceptable.  Fortunately, while I was waiting on hold, I had found a relatively cheap alternative on Alaska for Thursday, so I had Jetblue refund my ticketand switched gears.  The new flight was not direct, but Seattle wasn't too far out of the way, so all seemed ok.

Of course, that storm was still coming.

I got up early Thursday, took a shuttle to the airport for my 6am flight, and checked my phone for the flight status of the second leg from Seattle to Boston.  All looked well, so I turned the phone off for takeoff.  Not 30 seconds later, I hear a voice from the row behind me "Darn it -- they just cancelled our flight to Boston."

Argh!  I ascertained that they were talking about my flight.  We all headed up to the front of the plane (which hadn't quite left yet) to figure out what the situation was.  Do we stay on this plane and hope they can reschedule us by the time we land in Seattle, or just give up?  Four of the six people got off, but the two of us who had more urgency to actually get to Boston stayed on after the gate agent who came down to talk to us said "I might be able to get you on the red-eye to Boston tonight if it is still available when I get back to the computer."  Not ideal, but ok.  Birthday party isn't until Saturday.

At this point, I figured there would be more alternatives on Alaska going out of Seattle (it's their hub),  and the worst that would happen was that I'd have to kill time in WA.  I have family there too :)

Good thing for that family.  I landed in Seattle to find that Alaska did get me a seat on a red-eye into Boston, but it was for Friday night, not Thursday, so I had a full day and a half to kill.  I'd still make it to the party on Saturday, though!

After sending an email to the hotel in Boston cancelling Thursday and Friday night, I called my sister-in-law, who was kind enough to come pick me up and let me invade for a day and a half.  Although my brother was out of town, I had a good visit with her and the kids.  It's quite entertaining to watch kids' reactions upon arriving home from school to find an unexpected relative...  It was really cool to have more of a chance to talk to both Becka and the kids than I usually do at larger family gatherings, and the kids were much more open and goofy on their own home turf.  Very fun, and it wouldn't have happened if not for the travel troubles.

Friday night rolls around and it was back to the airport for me.  All looks well; the main snowstorm is done and only a dusting of new snow is expected.   It was a blessedly uneventful flight, and the view from the plane of the Cascades blanketed with a new layer of snow under the full moon just after takeoff was amazing.

On the approach into Boston it was apparent that they got more than a dusting.   I don't think I've ever landed on a white runway before.  It's hard to tell from the picture, but many of the runway lights were buried under the snow.  Not what one usually sees upon landing.

Boston is easy to get around when the T is running, which fortunately it was at 6am that morning.  I was clever and wore my snow boots on the plane; that paid off during the 1-block walk from the T station to my hotel.

I was amused by the cute little snowplow headed in to Boston Common to clear the trails.

The hotel, which had already been really cool about adjusting my reservation, found me a room so I could check in early and get a little sleep.  I woke up a few hours later to enjoy the view of the park out my window.

By the time I made it downstairs, the rest of the group I was meeting was just finishing up with breakfast, so I headed down the street to a cafe that I had previously sussed out.  I'm quite sure the cafe, which was serving Stumptown, had better coffee than the hotel :)  It was also packed on a snowy Saturday morning.

Thus fortified, I had energy for the rest of the day to enjoy exploring the city in the snow, before attending the surprise party that was the whole driver for the trip.  (Party was excellent, as expected!)

Sad snowed-in bicycle.

As if that weren't enough for the weekend, on Sunday after breakfast with the party group, I took a quick train ride out to Rockport and saw the crowd of Chad's relatives out there.  I was too busy talking to people to really take any pictures, but did get a cute one of their new dog to show Nimue.

All three branches of the family covered in one fell swoop, on two coasts.  I wouldn't have *planned* it that way to begin with (clearly lacking boldness), but should have!

I got home Monday night, recovered for a few days, and then it was Nim's winter break.  For the last several years, we've followed the same pattern:  go up to Downieville over Presidents Day weekend to see Linda and ski in the backcountry there, and then head over to Stephan's cabin sometime mid-week to go ski at the resorts when it is less busy.  The plan this year was the same.  After the previous week's trip, I was looking forward to it being straightforward.

Silly me.

The beginning of the trip went to plan -- we had an easy drive up to Linda's, relaxed a bit, and enjoyed an excellent day of skiing at Yuba Pass.  Then the next "atmospheric river" moved in, soaking the state in yet another deluge of precipitation.  This one was quite warm, so it poured and poured and poured in Downieville, and it wasn't clear if it would be raining or snowing if we went up the hill to ski -- plus the visibility would be bad -- so we chose to hole up in the house and read.

However, I was also compulsively watching the weather forecast.  It looked like it would get colder and the precipitation would taper off on Tuesday afternoon, indicating that Wednesday might be one of those glorious epic bottomless powder days, before another storm rolled in.  Clearly the thing to do was to drive over to Tahoe on Tuesday afternoon when the snow in the upper elevations tapered off.

This is not tapering.  See all the snowflakes whizzing by as we drove?

The poor windshield wipers kept getting gummed up with snow and ice.  Fortunately, the rest of the truck handles these conditions better than the windshield wipers.

Clever teenager practiced her usual "I'm bored in the car" strategy as we worked our way up and over Yuba Pass.

We had timed things so that we could drive over, stop at the grocery store in Truckee, and make it to the cabin before it got too dark, but the drive was a little slow and it was starting to get dark as we got to the store.  We navigated the zoo that is a ski town grocery store in peak season, and got in one of the overly-long checkout lines.

Blackness!  A collective groan went up from everyone in line as the power went out.  Now we were in a crowded zoo of impatient people in the dark, lit only by the glow of cell phones.  The store got their backup generator up pretty quickly, but it took a while to get the registers up, and then we realized that we had made the tactical error of assuming that the group of young adults in front of us were purchasing their items together.  All the lines aside from ours started moving.  We were stuck behind about eight underaged-looking European tourist skiers each trying to buy large bottles of alcohol.  Individually.  With nonstandard ID, given that they were visitors.  The front end of the store was so packed that we really couldn't move to switch lines.

Needless to say, it was pitch dark by the time we made it to the cabin.  We turned on the heat, ate, and went to bed.

Brrr.  Chilly morning made it hard to get out of bed.  Did we turn on the Nest controller right last night?

But it was gorgeous out!  Lots and lots of new snow!  Sunny skies!

We headed up to Sugarbowl and had a glorious day of skiing on more deep fresh snow than I've seen there in years.  Deep enough that your pole could go all the way down and not hit bottom if you were skiing off-trail.  As Nim put it, "It's like skiing on air!"  Definitely worth the trouble of driving over in the end of the storm the previous day.

The lifts weren't all open, as they were still making sure that everything was working and they had cleared any avalanche danger after all the snow and wind the previous days, but that just meant that there would be fresh deep powder the next day too.

We skiied until about 3, when everyone was frozen because the next band of storm had rolled in, and then headed back to the cabin.  

Brrr!  Still not very warm in the house.  

Nim coped in the best way she could.

We made sure the Nest was set correctly, communicated with Stephan about what to do (he was back in Sunnyvale), searched in vain for the key to the basement room where the furnace was, and were about to break into that room (with permission) to see if we could hit the reset button when the furnace whooshed back to life.  Yay, warmth!  

At least for a little bit.  Things would start to get warm, and then the furnace would turn back off.  Woe.  Maybe something wrong with the power?  The lights had been flickering a bit.  We called the power company, who put the address on their probably very long list of things to check out, and then went to bed.

Another glorious day of skiing, this time at Squaw Valley.  I haven't been there for years, and they clearly hadn't had much of the mountain open the previous day, so there was plenty more powder to be found.  The game was to try to keep track of what they were opening next and hit it before everyone else did -- but there was plenty of good snow to go around even if you mistimed things a bit.  We skied until they stopped letting people on the lifts and were looking forward to another day.

Back to the cabin.  Is it warm?  Not exactly.  57 degrees, but the furnace again turned on.  I took a shower, then noticed the furnace was off.

"Hey Chad, do you smell anything funny?"

Hmmm.  Slight burnt smell from the vents.  Not good.  Break into furnace room (delicately with an axe to the doorknob--yay Chad!), no obvious thing to address.  Lights in the kitchen now seem extra bright.  More consultation with Stephan who calls a furnace guy, head out to get some pizza for dinner before said furnace guy is supposed to show up.

Hmmm.  The garage door opener won't open.  Beginning to suspect dire electrical woes in the house.
Pull the cord to disengage the automatic opener and try to open it manually.  Door won't open.

Great.  The ski hut really has it in for us and is now trying to trap us.

Fiddle with the mechanism, rig a sled rope to pull on the part of the door that appears to be stuck, and incidentally tighten many screws that appear to be loose on the hardware, and eventually get the door open so we can escape.  Yay!  Pizza ho!

The back to the cabin.  Very very cold in the house.  Forecast low temperature for the night: 0F.

The furnace repairman showed up a few minutes after we got back from dinner.  I started poking at my phone to look for hotel options just in case, with no luck, while the guys headed downstairs to look at the furnace.

"Pop!"  The fluorescent light downstairs just blew.  Now the lights in the kitchen are scarily blindingly bright.  The ones in the upstairs bedroom are almost nonexistent.  The furnace guy checks a few outlets with his multimeter.

(Chad thinks he should have had our multimeter with us).

190V.  Hmmmm...that's kinda scary.  Aren't those things supposed to be 110?  Half the outlets in the house were at 190V; half were at 50V.  Clearly a power problem.  10:30 pm,  power people weren't going to get around to fixing that night.

By this point, I was already starting to slowly pack up a few things, and had ascertained that there were no nearby hotel rooms available.  No heat, power so freaky that the prudent thing to do was to turn it off, forecast temperature low enough that it would also be prudent to turn the water off.  I hated to admit it, but the right thing to do was to bail out and go home.  We haphazardly threw everything in the truck, set the cabin to order as best we could, and headed down the hill.

Good thing we got two amazing days of skiing in before having to leave.

The additional silver lining when we got home was that I realized that there were actually still tickets available for the Redwood City showing of the films on tour from the Banff Film Festival the next night.  I had originally thought we were going to miss it this time around, but we got to see it after all :)

And in case you need closure, the problem with the cabin did indeed turn out to be a power thing -- it turned out that the storm had knocked out just the neutral line to just their one house, leading to some weird voltage divider stuff going on that blew the transformer to the furnace.  Stephan was able to replace it a few days later with a part he bought off of Amazon.

Escalation of Squirrel Evil

The squirrels around here learned to eat citrus this year.  Slowly, the oranges disappeared off the tree; we could watch the partially-eaten ones on the yard or the ground disappear over the course of a few days.  Bad, bad new trick.   I had hoped it would end there.  Squirrels wouldn't possibly eat lemons, right?  I have a lovely Meyer lemon tree which up until now, has always been covered with fruit.  All I need to do when I need a lemon is go out and pick one, and one year's crop keeps on the tree and lasts until the next year's crop is ready.

Not so any more.  I went outside today and spotted the evidence.  The squirrels don't seem to be able to actually *pick* the lemons, so they are gnawing them right off the tree.

Evil.  I suspect I'll just have to go pick them all and freeze the zest and juice.

Bike rides

As you can see above, yesterday was just lovely -- sunny and almost 80 degrees.  I took advantage of the good weather to ride north up the Peninsula and up San Bruno Mountain.  Nice views, and then I zoomed down the hill to explore the bike paths around the edge of the Bay at Oyster Point before taking the train home.  60 miles, and it was so nice to be out in shorts and short sleeves :)

Other rides lately have provided other interesting views:

A new statue of Lupe the Mammoth, next to the Guadalupe River Trail, observed during a ride to explore how flooded the creek trails still are.

Way too many road closed signs.  Despite the fact that I've been checking the county road closure websites before heading out, I've had to do a lot of rerouting on the fly.  Sometimes I'll ride past the sign to see if the storm-related road issue is really bad enough to be impassible to bikes, but this one was at the top of a really steep hill (Hicks Road) that I didn't want to have to climb back up if I couldn't get through.  I've not ever seen so many storm related washouts and slides around here.

Needless to say, there are closures on the trails as well. This one was not actually impassable, given the rogue detour trail to the left of the main trail, which disappeared down the hillside to the right.

Anywhere there is a creek, the trails want to be part of it.  It's easy to go around to the right of this one, but that innocuous-looking brush contains poison oak sticks.  Thank goodness for Technu!

The next few are of a trail that was not actually closed -- I've had to thread by bike through several tree-and-brush mazes,

which is sometimes harder than it looks,

and hoof it over some very sloppy, gloppy mud.  Incidentally, mud in these slides can sometimes be impregnated with poison oak oil, so once again, thank goodness for Technu.

Also observed on a recent bike ride:  the most excellent kiddo rode up King's Mountain Road, a 5-mile climb at about 7%.  She's getting strong; it only took her about 8 minutes longer than it did me the previous week!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Not all storms

Despite the storms mentioned in the last few posts, we do still have quite a bit of sunshine around here.  So much, that the flowers have started to bloom.  One might be mistaken into thinking it is spring :)

I like how the irises look almost like sea creatures inside.

I thought these died off in the drought, but they came bravely back, now more white than pink.

Endless unidentified succulents are trying to take over the corner; I keep having to prune these back.

Even the herbs are blooming! (rosemary)

Most self-respecting roses don't deign to do anything when it is 38 degrees in the morning; this one is an exception.  I kinda sorta forgot to prune the roses back this year.

Fun fuzzy mexican sage.

And the azalea has been blooming since about November.  Now that I think about it, so has the camellia.  Happy Spring?

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Ski day trips

All the torrential rain down here was snow up in the mountains.  Yippee!  After the last storm dumped something like 10 feet of new snow on top of the 8 feet or so from the previous week, I couldn't wait any longer to go skiing, so on Tuesday I decided to drive up for a quick day trip.

5:00 am -- alarm goes off.  Ouch.
5:10 am -- actually get up.
5:25 am -- leave the house
9:05 am -- arrive at Sugarbowl to ski.   Yay!

Although the snow was somewhat tracked up from the few lucky souls who were able to ski on Monday, it was still pretty good, with pockets of fresh, deep snow in the trees.  The trees themselves were still plastered with snow, making the mountains very scenic.

11:30 am -- starving.  Time for lunch.
11:45 am -- back out on the snow.
1:00 pm -- starving again.  Time for second lunch.
1:15 pm -- back out on the snow
2:00 pm -- legs starting to get tired.  I didn't have Chad and Nimue around to distract me so I never took any breaks.  Skiing hard in relatively heavy powder the first ski day of the year, while fun,  does lead to a wee bit of fatigue!  Keep skiing anyway.
2:45 pm -- head back to car, so I can leave in time to make it back for rehearsal
3:00 pm -- actually start driving
4:30 pm -- hit some traffic in Sacramento.  Will I have time to stop and get food?
~5:30 pm -- Hungry.  Stop for a big gooey burger.  Decide on route into Palo Alto given current traffic conditions and reported giant potholes on 101. 
7:20 pm -- pull into parking lot for rehearsal and actually find a space in the first row I looked at.  Miraculous, and just in time for rehearsal!
9:30 pm -- done singing, drive home.
9:55 pm -- finally back home.  Eat the last cookie that family members kindly saved for me.  A long, but very fun day :)

Now, I couldn't just save all that ski fun for myself, so yesterday we took another day trip up to Sugarbowl as a family.  

Nimue is skiing well at this point (notice she is entering from off-trail here -- you can't see the steep pitch of moguls she just came off of...)  She still mostly prefers staying on trail because she likes to go fast; we tend to do quite a bit of choosing our own routes to meet up at the bottom.  

Chad and I did have a chance to ski together amidst some of the newly-opened powder in the trees at the top while Nim repeatedly speed-demoned down groomers, and also while she took a break at the end of the day.  Fun for all (though today everyone is flopping around the house tired...).

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!