Thursday, June 29, 2017


We have an apricot tree.  A petite little apricot tree (given my tendencies toward tree carnage), but it makes lots of delicious Blenheim apricots every year.

Sadly, the squirrels (AKA Voracious Verminous Rats of the Day -- VVRDs) usually get most of the fruit before it is even fully ripe.  Their favored evil strategy is to pick an almost-ripe apricot, take one bite of the ripest part, and then shred the remaining fruit and throw it on the grass below before moving on to the next apricot.  While I don't mind sharing, they don't share.  They just destroy.

Last year, I picked what fruit remained a little early, before all of it could be shredded, and ended up with 31 pounds.

Somehow, in my head, this was not enough.  I've tried bird netting in the past, to no avail, as the VVRDs would chew right through it.  This year I opted to escalate, as I saw bunches of orchards full of fruit trees covered in white bags on a road trip earlier in the year.  Apparently what amounts to be white tyvek bags with zippers are used for both frost and pest protection for fruit trees.  They let air and light and moisture in -- and can be had cheaply off of Amazon.  Naturally I had to try one out.

I didn't want to get a bag that was too small for the tree, so maybe overcompensated with one that was a bit too big.  Not really a problem, except while I was trying to get it on the tree by myself in the wind, while avoiding the power and phone line into the house.  Some trimming of the tree was involved...

Once installed, it reminded me of a giant tent caterpillar next -- except it whoofled around in the wind a lot.  I used a big binder clip to tighten some of it up so one could walk around the corner of the hose without being flailed by the excess fabric.

For a while, it looked pretty successful.  The beginning of June came, and there were no shredded green fruits on the grass.  Yay!

Of course a week later, the VVRDs had figured out how to untie the drawstring at the bottom and had started their usual tricks.  I retied it and taped it down to the trunk thoroughly with clear packing tape.

That lasted another week.

By then, some of the fruit was starting to ripen, which motivated one brave nasty little beastie to launch onto the scary white bag from the neighbors' tree and chew its way in through the top of the bag near the ripest fruit.   Its friends then followed.

Well, at least it slowed them down a little.

Yesterday, after assessing that they had probably ruined 1/3 to 1/2 of the fruit, I decided to pick the remainder even though I had wanted to leave it to ripen on the tree longer.  They already got their share.

I started out by trying to pick with the bag unzipped but still on the tree (it was nice and shady and cooler underneath it), but quickly realized the sticky misfortune of trying to do anything inside a large bag covered with squirrel-shredded apricot detritus.  I could just imagine the monsters making little spitballs out of fruit and shooting them in all directions to cover the entire interior surface.

Now covered in sticky slime, I removed the bag and picked the rest of the fruit.  There were a number of apricots that were half-eaten, but still hanging on the tree, which are disconcerting to grab when all you can see is the good side.  Eeew!

I got lots of fruit, though :)

This heap is estimated at 70lb -- more than twice as much as last year.  Which was too much...  Wait -- what was I thinking???

I blanched and pureed the first 25 pounds that was soft or damaged enough that it needed to be dealt with right away yesterday; some of that is currently drying into fruit leather so that I have enough containers to deal with the onslaught of apricot processing that is still coming.  Fortunately, the oven's "Cook and Warm" setting is low enough that it can act as a dehydrator; I figure I'll let the remaining fruit keep ripening on the counter and just process the ones that are soft every day for some number of days to come...

Mini bike trip

Nim's been away at backpacking camp for 11 days now (I pick her up tomorrow), so naturally I came up with a notion for Chad and me to enjoy last weekend:

Take bikes on train up to SF.
Ride over the Golden Gate Bridge and up to Santa Rosa via the scenic route.
Stay in Santa Rosa overnight, then ride via another scenic route down the Napa Valley to Vallejo.
Take the ferry from Vallejo to SF, then take the train back home.

Chad, who is good at accommodating my notions, happily played along with this plan :)

We were too busy riding, talking, and musing about life to take pictures, so I only have a few from the ferry at the end when we had time to kill.  Perhaps that was appropriate since the loop was dreamed up around the possibility of easily taking bikes on the ferry across the bay -- something I had never done before.  (It's easy:  ride your bike up to the dock, scan your clipper card, get on the boat and put bike on the rack on the stern of the boat; reverse process to get off at the other end.)

Waiting for the ferry.  There was a convenient restaurant with a terrace overlooking the water next to the ferry dock.

Resting in comfort out of the wind at the end of the ride. You really get a size of how large the Bay is when you get out on it.  It was also quit jolly seeing familiar sights and landmarks from unfamiliar angles.

Other observations we made:

The bike behavior of tourists cycling is quite different than that of cyclists touring.  (particularly noticeable around the bridge)  Beware the tourists cycling.  

The climb up Franz Valley Road between Santa Rosa and Calistoga is just delightful, as was zipping down the edge of the valley on Silverado Trail while the tailwind lasted :)  

There are too many cars!!  By and large I had mapped out a good route, but there were a few sections that were more busy than expected.  I don't remember it being quite this infested the last time I rode out in this direction.

If your lunch is smaller than expected (scrounged from the very small Nicasio store), just wait for the cheese factory down the road.  Mmmm....truffle brie....I'm very glad Chad spotted it and stopped.

One should be aware of when Giants games let out when one plans to take the Caltrain.  When we got to the SF station, the line of people for the next train in 20 minues snaked two corners around the block and down Townsend; we were lucky that the train conductor saved the bike car for people with bikes and only people with bikes, so we got a seat. After two days and about 140 miles and Chad's ailment that turned out to be a sinus infection, that was most appreciated!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Another week, another ride

Yesterday: 98 miles in the heat.  One could say "oooof"  I say "Fun!"

Since my goal was to check out the road conditions on Mount Madonna Road, which crosses the ridge from Gilroy to Watsonville, I left the house at 6:30 am in order to get there and up the climb before the temperature rose above 90.  I made it, just barely.

There were road closed signs both at the base of Madonna, and again just before the pavement disappears, but they didn't look too serious.  I'm getting very used to ignoring these this year.

By and large, the road was in pretty good shape, with a few minor obstacles.  Really all quite rideable.

There was, however, a pretty thick layer of loose gravel in spots, which wouldn't have been too bad except that it was steep enough in spots (over 10%) to make traction on the gravel difficult, especially given that I kept having to wave away a cloud of bugs that wouldn't stop stalking me.  At one point near the top I let out a big "Aaaaargh!!" of disgust and walked about 20 yards, hoping that the people I could hear in the park to my left didn't actually hear that utterance of primal annoyance.

However, I think they did -- as I was splatted under the big tree at the top for a snack, a couple of women on horses came out of the park from that side and said hi just as I choked on a big swig of water from my bottle.  I sputtered what I hope was a cheerful reply in response, but they just looked at me like I was a bug-eyed alien.

Thankfully, it was lovely and cool on the coast side of the hills, and for once the store in Corralitos was open. cream.  I bought a big container of iced tea and what I thought was a mint chip it's-it and sat down for my snack.   Mmmm...cookie ice cream sandwich covered in chocolate...mmmm.... but wait, this doesn't taste very minty.  Oh look -- it's not mint chip, but green tea ice cream in the it's-it!  A delicious discovery.

The climb up Eureka Canyon was enjoyable, but bumpy, and it only seemed hot for the last little bit at the top.  And of course, the long slog through the suburbs on the way home, but it was (mostly) downhill.  Now I just need to plan next week's fun!

week of "Camp Ma"

Every summer, there seems to be a slow week where Nim and I just goof off.  The year, it was last week.  We managed to:

1.  Go to the climbing gym, only to find that it was infested with a large noisy kid camp.  Climbed anyway; Nim ended up going on some of the taller walls :)

2.  Take Sebastian (with Stephan) on his first-ever mountain bike ride.  He did awesome and reportedly told Stephan "Chasing a high-schooler up the hill will make you strong!"  Stephan now knows the secret dirt route down the train tracks to the closest park with mountain biking, so they too can ride from home.  A good piece of work.

3.  Mountain bike again at Arastradero in the crazy heat.

4. Discover that the new heating element that Chad put in the dishwasher is hotter than the old one.  Poor, poor plastic cutting board.

5. Mount a train expedition to San Francisco.  We walked about six miles from the train station through Chinatown and North Beach to the aquarium, and then back along the Embarcadero to the train after seeing the fishies.

6.  Pack and test gear for her backpacking camp this week.  It's very hard to catch a clear shot of a just-fed kid dancing around the block in the dark after dinner...

Now that Nim is off in camp, her cat is most unamused.  Don't worry, she will be back!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Familiar territory

Chad noticed the other day that he recognized the name of the start town of stage 10 of the Tour de France this year.  Perigueux is the town where we made the final train transfer onto the teeny-weeny local train that took us and our bikes to Les Eyzies for the start of our Dordogne bike tour in 2012.  Lo and behold, the riders will go right through many of the towns we visited.

Here you can see our week's riding through the same territory (in red) compared to the race route set for July 11 (in purple).  It'll be fun to watch the scenery go by for this stage, even though it is one of those relatively boring flat stages where nothing much happens in the GC competition.  The backdrop, however, isn't boring.  Too bad for the riders that they won't get to go to the interesting bits: the caves, castles, churches, fortresses, etc.  They probably also won't choose to consume the same amount of foie gras, cheese, wine, nougat, and absolutely delicious bread as we did!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Making fun of the teenager

I just ran across this graphic that Chad made, which sums up one of the kiddo's sentiments during spring break; at one point she referred to Joshua Tree as Nowifi National Park.  I can't wait to see how she copes with the summer's backpacking camp and our Tour of the Volcanoes road trip...

Last day of school today!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Escalating Rides

I've been making a point this year of doing more long rides -- each week there needs to be something that is longer or hillier than the week before, with one rest week a month.

Since yesterday was the only full day of school left for Nim this week (just a few hours today and tomorrow for the last couple of finals), it was time for a nice 87 mile ride to the coast, exploring a few roads I don't ride on often.

The highlight was finding an ice cream stand that was actually open along the trail cutting through Seacliff State Beach :)  Good thing too, as I had accidentally eaten my whole sandwich a mere 25 miles into the ride.  (Really, I was just going to have a couple of bites, and then it was mysteriously ALL GONE.)

Friday, May 26, 2017

Busy May

The last couple of weeks have been a bit busy.  Here's a bit of a taste

My mom visited for a couple of days around Mother's Day.  I took her up to the conservatory of flowers in San Francisco,

 and of course we had to go see the Bay and then meander home down the coast.

We dragged everyone out for a hike on Mother's Day and even the kiddo seemed to enjoy herself.

After my mom's visit, it was time for concerts:  Nim's flute ensemble (below) and two things for me for Early Music Singers (not pictured).

Somewhere in there, Nim entered the world of those who have cell phones (we gave her mine and I upgraded), and now she is careening headlong into finals week.  She made a point of telling me that she got to put her phone in the wall of phone storage during her first exam.

Almost summer vacation -- phew.  I just found out earlier this week that Nim got into the 10-day backpacking camp at the end of June that we previously thought she was too far down the wait list for, so her summer will be busier than expected :)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Out and about on the bike -- Together!

This last week, Chad and I got out for not one, but two rides together.  Most unusual, given that I usually ride during the week and he rides on the weekend. (that whole divide and conquer thing that parents have to do...)

No pictures from the first ride, but suffice it to say it was a 50+ mile ride up and around the ridge above the South Bay.

Gorgeous weather, entertaining people (it was organized by the folks who did our bike tour in France a few years back, and they still remember a much younger Nim dancing in front of the castle!),  and a nice route with views out to the ocean.  I'm reminded that we need to do another European tour with them one of these years...

A couple of days later, the Tour of California had a local stage finish, and Chad was lucky enough to be able to take the day off to ride and spectate with me.  We drove down to South San Jose, and took the scenic route down to Morgan Hill, around the reservoir, and back up steep Metcalf Road to the finish line area to spectate.

I wasn't sure how many people would be at the finish area and wanted to get a good spot to watch from, so we carried a picnic lunch up in handlebar bags and went up early.  After doing a loop around the reservoir in the wind and climbing up Metcalf (steep!!), we were definitely ready for our sandwiches, cherries, and sparkling wine.
(Isn't the small can of sparkling Trader Joe's wine cute?)

In retrospect, we could have just gotten a burrito at the taco truck up there, but the moral victory goes to those who are self-sufficient :)  We did concede principle enough to treat ourselves to iced coffees from the Peet's truck, however, and then went to find a warm sunny spot from which to spectate.

I've watched a stage finish here before, so knew to climb up the hill to a point where you can be out of the crowd, look down on the finish line, and still be able to see the big screen on which they show the race footage as it happens so you have something to watch while you wait/nap in the sunshine.  It is always distinctly odd to watch pro racers ride roads with which you are familiar -- "That looks like the back of Hamilton, but they are going way too fast to be climbing, right???"  The pros ride up these hills two to three times faster than I do.

There were a few other jolly folks who also watched from our perch on the hill,

including a bona fide cowboy

and a healthy-looking coyote.

No, please don't eat our bikes...

You can always tell when the racers are approaching because the helicopters start swirling above.

Zoom!  The riders zip by, and all the team cars get to the top, bristling with expensive bikes.

We noticed while watching the the podium ceremony that the coverage was lagging reality by a few seconds.  It's sort of funny to have the big screen right next to the actual happenings, but does help people see.

After the festivities ended, we picked our way down to the road and rode back down.  The endeavor was made more entertaining by the fact that shortly after we started down, all the racers came zipping down from behind us on their way back to the team buses parked at the bottom.  Even in relaxed race-is-over mode, they descend unbelievably fast.  Very entertaining to try to identify people by their jerseys and race numbers.  
(I just tried to maintain a predictable line and stay out of the way over to the right while they all passed going jaw-droppingly fast.)

After we got home, Chad looked at the footage of the race online and and was amused to note that you can see us in our green and red jackets behind the results (between the flags and times in the chart.)  All in all, a fine afternoon!