Friday, June 10, 2016

Cook little pot, cook!

I managed to harvest apricots before the squirrels ravaged them too badly this year.  They're pretty fragile, so once you pick them, you need to do something with them fast.  I figured I'd cook them slightly to soften the skin, puree them, and freeze for later use.  There was quite a bit of fruit, so I got out the big stockpot.

The pot spilleth over.  31lb of fruit is TOO MUCH for the pot that is ridiculously large for everything else.

I wisely chose to do multiple smaller batches.  Pictured is about 1/6 of the puree.  Sticky goo everywhere.

My brilliant plan to just freeze and defer any decisions was thwarted by the fact that I ran out of containers in which to freeze it, so I had to start drying the goo that wouldn't fit.  Now the whole house is perfumed with the sent of apricots, but I still have many, many more sheets to dry...

She survived middle school

And more to the point, also survived sitting in the sun for hours rehearsing for graduation in hot polyester tent gowns!

We in the audience only had to sit in the sun for the actual ceremony.

Cactus flower

It's always surprising when the cactus in the corner of the back yard does its extravagant one-day bloom:

The whole plant, for context:

Friday, June 3, 2016

Cat Hut

It's amazing how much joy the cat gets from a simple cardboard box.

Holiday Weekend Bikepacking

We took advantage of the three-day weekend last weekend to do a little bike trip.  Putting this together, I had three criteria:

1) Ride mostly together, so all parties can set their expectations for riding behavior when we do our upcoming trip along the Danube.
2) Pretty/interesting, yet cheap.
3) Doesn't require much advance planning, given that this scheme was only concocted a few days in advance.

I thought that last element was going to be a problem, given that all the campgrounds around here book up months in advance -- but as I found, that is only true for places that one can drive to.  We weren't driving, so I got a last minute reservation at the Black Mountain Backpack camp for Friday night, and decided to take our chances with the first-com-first-served sites at the Castle Rock Trail Camp for Saturday.  (The worse-case scenario if there were no sites left was that we would roll back down route 9 and go home.)

It turns out that trail camp didn't get full until about 6pm on Saturday.  Holiday weekend.  Bay Area.  I guess people are daunted by having to walk or bike in.  There are benefits to being in halfway decent shape :)

At any rate, Friday afternoon, I checked Nim out of school an hour early so she didn't have to suffer through a noisy end-of-the-year pep assembly, we loaded up our bikes, and headed towards Montebello Road.  Chad got a slightly later start, given that he needed to finish out the work day; we spent the entire climb wondering if he would catch us.

Then hoping he would catch us, after I realized he had most of the real food, and all of our clothing.

My bike, all loaded up and ready to go.  I carried the tarp, two sleeping bags, one sleeping pad, two kindles, a wallet, sunscreen, bug spray, and some snacks.

Kiddo at the first rest stop, enjoying beef jerky.  Mmmmm.  While we were stopped here at Pichetti Ranch, we saw one of the peacocks there actually *fly* across the parking lot.   I didn't know they could do that.  (The big tail was as unwieldy-looking as you might imagine.)

Montebello is a real climb -- it goes up about 2000 feet in a little over 5 miles, with sections up to 12% grade.  If it were part of a bike race, it would definitely be a Cat. 1 climb.

Nim was sometimes tired,

sometimes goofy,

and generally cheery as she motored along.

Eventually, we made it to the end of the pavement at the top, ate a snack, and surveyed the view to see how far we had come up.

We headed past the gate

 and onto the dirt in Montebello Open Space Preserve.

There were still a few wildflowers amidst the tall grass,

as well as plenty of deer (Look closely to spot them).

Silly us, near the top.  We hoped that Chad had left the office at this point, as we were starting to think about dinner....which he had in his bags.

Nice views in the late afternoon light.

At the summit of Black Mountain.

Slightly downhill, in our shady campsite.  It was about 90 degrees out at this point, which meant we were happy to have the shade.

It being 90 out didn't stop the kiddo from curling up in her sleeping bag to read while we waited for our dinner to arrive.

Aha -- The dinner sherpa arriveth!  He made considerably better time up the hill than we did, despite his bigger load of gear and food (sleeping bag, all the clothes, all the food, stove and dishes, two sleeping pads, and one kindle).  Note the lightweight alcohol stove he is filling in this picture; it was actually made from a beer can and worked remarkably well.

After a good night's sleep under the stars, we headed out down a nice singletrack through the preserve.

Admire my prowess at taking pictures *while* riding a loaded bike on dirt:

Ok, some of the pictures taken while riding are crooked...

One of course has to take advantage of the hot dog stand at the intersection of 9 and Skyline.

After the hot dog stop, we continued down Skyline until we hit an obscure service road into Castle Rock.  I had never been down this dirt road before; it was about a mile of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride that plummeted down 500 feet to the campground.  Upon arriving, we found a spot and Nim promptly took a nap.

Chad napped too.  (It only looks like he is reading.)  He actually was suffering though the cold that Nim had earlier in the week, though from all outward appearances was just fine.  Stoic, I say.

Fortification.  If one has a flask with a bike bottle mounting cage, this is the sort of trip to use it on.

Small dinosaur glyph carved into the picnic table by some previous occupant.  Better than your average graffiti.

The next morning, we packed up and headed back out the service road, which, while steep, was thankfully still rideable.  We had enough energy when we hit the top to detour south a bit along Skyline to hit the John Nicholas Trail, a relatively new stretch of bikeable singletrack down through Sanborn County Park.  This meant we could avoid most of the weekend traffic going down 9.

Can you spot the Chad?

There he is!

Chocolate is apparently mandatory at the bottom of the hill as well as the top.  After this, it was an easy ride down Sanborn and 9 back home.

All told, we guided our loaded bikes 45 miles with 5000 feet of climbing on a mixed road/dirt route from the house and spent $21 in camping fees.  Oh, and $12 for hot dogs and sodas.  Not a bad spur-of-the-moment trip!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Band concerts galore

It's been the week of band concerts this week.  First, the middle school band

where she is sometimes serious and focussed,
 and sometime her own goofy self.
I had to miss that concert due to my own rehearsal for a concert next week.  Bummer, since I missed Nimue's surprise at getting the annual director's award for the eighth-grader who most epitomizes "band student".  Good kid.

The following night, jazz band.  She had her improvisatory solo in "Spiderman" again.  This time around it was longer, more chromatic, and entirely different from the last time I heard it -- she clearly has fun just playing around with the music!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Epic Rides

I've managed to squeeze in some great long rides lately - I signed up for Eroica California a while back, knowing full well that it would be ~125 miles of dirt and climbing on my old, heavy Bianchi with rather tall gears. That meant I had to whip by butt into some semblance of shape, after 9 months of slacking off... Anna and I trained well last spring and rode RAMROD in July 2015 (150 miles, mostly up, although technically, being a loop, there was just as much down as up, but if you measure in terms of time spent, it was mostly up. But I digress.)  After a bunch of weeks of good long training rides, immediately after RAMROD my mileage fell off precipitously, and I knew that to get ready for L'Eroica I'd have to ramp it back up quickly.

I piled in a bunch of increasingly longish weekend rides, interspersed with short but hard rides during the week, and felt pretty ready for the Eroica ride. At the 6am start, I rode out with my friends Chuck and Rita, and had a great time chatting with the notable old geezers who turned out for the ride as we led the small peloton into the dawn. The roads were great, the suffering was epic, and I rode strong all day. Despite missing a turn towards the end of the day and racking up 10+ "bonus miles" (I was riding behind a guy and we were cruising along at a good clip, but neither of us saw the turn we missed until at least 5 miles later...) I didn't really feel that beat up at the end of what was quite a hard ride. The vintage bikes on display (both in the concours and on the road) were really wonderful, and inspiration to keep riding my old Bianchi on more occasions.

Lots to see at L'Eroica
There was quite a lot of dirt
About a week later, I was back in the same Central California region for a work conference, and took the opportunity to go ride one of my favorite routes (here's what it looks like from a motorcycle; he captured the route, and took some good photos!) Starting from Santa Margarita, I rode out towards Pozo. A guy in a pickup pulled up next to me at one point, and asked through the window if I was aware that a "420 concert" was planned for that day... he was concerned that I'd be riding my bike on a normally very rural, lightly-trafficked route on a day when a huge crowd of weed-smoking concert goers were about to invade!  Of course, I had had no idea. A few miles further, I came upon the concert venue, the venerable Pozo Saloon. The Saloon has been a local watering-hole since the stagecoach days, and its customers are mostly the local ranchers and a few redneck off-road vehicle enthusiasts, so I was surprised to hear from the parking staff I queried, that the afternoon's act would be... Snoop Dogg!

Fortunately, I was well ahead of the concert-goers, so I kept rolling towards the mid-point of my ride: Black Mountain. There's a great one-lane, barely-paved, steep little road that winds its way up to the FAA radar site on the top of the peak. (Not to be confused with the identically-named site in Harlan County, Kentucky!) I wouldn't go out there in the summer, but in early spring it is just gorgeous, not too hot, and the views are spectacular.
Looking back at the one-lane road climbing up to Black Mountain

After a snack at the top, I headed back down, and finished my loop by riding out Park Hill road to connect with Highway 58, and back in to town. The last couple miles are on the same road I started on, but in the opposite direction, which provided a great view of the huge line of traffic now heading for the Snoop Dogg concert in Pozo. I was greatly relieved not to be going their way!

Last weekend was the Delta Century ride, which is quite a contrast to all the other riding I've been doing, inasmuch as it is flat as a pancake. While Anna and Nimue undertook the metric century, I rode the "imperial" version; we figured we'd finish at about the same time this way. It was a pretty day, with a little wind and warming up into the 80's. I rode hard and decided at the end, that for me, 100 miles on the flat (with a bit of wind) is considerably harder than 140 miles of steep hills... there's no opportunity to rest the legs! At least with big hills, you get some big descents. Still, fun was had by all, and the kiddo performed admirably on her longest ride to date.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Delta Century (metric)

A couple of months ago, Nim decided she wanted to ride the Delta Century.  This is a flat ride out of Lodi that we have done before on the tandem, but now that she is big, she wanted to see if she could do it under her own power.  Yay kid.  We signed her up to do the metric century route (nominally 100km, but really a bit more than that at 64.3 miles).  I rode with her; Chad did the full (non-metric) century route.

Here's the route:
Completely flat route meandering along interesting little levee roads next to the Sacramento River.

The start is just far enough from the house to be a bit of a drive, but not so far as to require a hotel room the night before, if you don't mind getting up early.  We packed up the truck the night before and left the house at 4:30am (ouch).  Smart kid slept in the car.  We wanted to start the ride relatively early, as it was forecast to be 88 degrees and somewhat windy in the afternoon.  Clearly, we wanted to be done before those conditions hit.

Our routes overlapped at the beginning, but we let Chad go on ahead from pretty early on.  Nim and I were wondering the whole day who would finish first, as it was quite plausible and would be most impressive if he rode the extra forty miles in the same total time.  I suspect the race aspect motivated Nim to ride faster than she might have otherwise :)

Very quickly, Nim and I found ourselves in a little line with two other guys.  She took a turn pulling, then I did, and then one of the other guys pulled to the front.  He sped up little by little, but I could tell from Nim's shadow behind me that she was keeping up, no problem, so we tootled along that section at 16-17 mph.  Very surprising for the kid to be averaging that (but we are not used to flat riding!)

It couldn't last.  The moment of doom came when I felt something hit my back wheel and heard crashing in the bushes behind me.  I looked back to see what manner of critter it was, and heard the kiddo's voice "Aaaaaaaaahhhh!!!!!!"  Oh, the critter was my kiddo.  Apparently, she was enjoying whooshing along in the line of bikes so much that she let her mind wander, let her front wheel touch my back wheel, and veered off the edge of the road and down the embankment into the bushes.  Ooops.  Chad later teased her about her "Flanders dismount".

By the time I got myself turned around and back to the spot where she crashed, one of the guys with us had fished her bike out of the tree and Nim had gotten herself upright and started to complain that the plants were stinky.  Good -- if that is the worst complaint after a crash, it can't be that bad.  I climbed down the edge enough to pull her up out of the weeds, checked her out for injuries, and put the chain back on her bike.  Did she want to sit and recover?  "No, Mom, let's just get going!"

Google Streetview of the crash site.  She went down into the hole between the weeds and the bushy tree thing on the right and had a thankfully cushioned landing.  Even if the plants were stinky.

I looked at the bike computer data later.  The total time for climbing up out of the bushes, crash recovery, and bike check?  Seven minutes. I suspect most adults would take longer.

We slowed down a bit after that, to a more sedate 12-13 mph for the rest of the ride.  At 20 miles there was a rest stop with muffins, and about five miles after that, we had to wait for the ferry.

What other ride gives you the chance to see 100 cyclists stuffed onto a miniature river ferry?  Not any that I can think of...

Waiting for the ferry

Us (taken by another friendly cyclist)

After the ferry ride, we (ok, mostly me) started fantasizing about gooey chocolate chip cookies.  Imagine my surprise when the kiddo greeted me on my way out of the potty hut at the next rest stop with a chocolate chip cookie that she found for me.  Good kid, still cheerful after one crash, one ferry, and forty miles.

Inevitably, tiredness starts to creep in.  After the third and last rest stop, there was some reluctance to get up from the nice shady table, a few complaints about deflation of one's backside, and desire to be done.  No way to be done without riding though, right?  And we still need to try to beat Chad back to the finish.   Zoom goes the kid.

Tired goes the kid.  She gamely slogged through until about two miles from the end before any real griping started.  Something about it now being hot enough that the water in the water bottle seemed to warm to be wet. What is a mom to do???  I squirted her with my bottle.  Seemed to work, as she giggled a little and kept riding.

Gripe, grip, slog, squirt, gripe gripe, gripe, slog, slog, turn onto last dirt driveway, sprint!!!!!  She finished strong, and the whole thing was faster than I had predicted.  We ascertained that Chad didn't beat us, and she promptly asked for her pillow and sank into a nap.  My kind offers to get her something to eat or drink were grumpily rebuffed; a nap was clearly more important.

About 5 minutes later, I got a text from Chad: " Five miles from finish, but bonking".  Apparently the food stops on the long route weren't spaced out all that well.  He rolled in about 20 minutes later; we ate, rested, and enjoyed tasting wine from the winery that hosted the start/finish before heading home.  Successful and fun day for all :)