Monday, May 24, 2010

It starts at seven...

So a third grade boy came up to me at garden club to day and said conspiratorially "I think Nimue likes me -- she keeps poking me in the back and running away. That's the first clue." Then he scampered off.

A few minutes later, I see Nimue wandering around with a piece of pink paper in her hands and a nervous grin on her face.

Five more minutes, and Aleksei (the third grade boy) comes up to me again holding up a pink piece of paper that says "I like you, Aleksei!" "This is the second clue. She definitely likes me!" A happy grin, and he ran off again toward the corner of the garden where Nimue was digging for bugs.

Very cute. His mom and I both cracked up. I laughed even more when I later asked Nim what they had been doing together and she replied "We were looking for worms and bugs to scare other kids with." An elementary-schooler's idea of a good time :)

I have to give his mom credit for keeping a straight face when he raised his hand in front of the entire garden club during the group wrap-up and asked "What's the difference between being engaged and married?" This despite Nimue's later comment that "Aleksei's a little embarrassed that we have a SECRET CRUSH." One could definitely hear the capital letters in the whispered utterance.

Somehow, I thought that this all started later, but for now it is funny and sweet, despite Chad's comments about going shotgun shopping.

Nimue the hiker

We went hiking at Henry Coe State Park again over the weekend while Chad was out mountain biking. The hills are just starting to turn yellow, but there are still quite a few flowers out.

Fairy Lanterns look like hairy lanterns

Nimue found a caterpillar. She later looked in the book and identified it as a Pacific Tent Caterpillar, and was somewhat annoyed that a pretty caterpillar turns into a boring moth.



She really wanted to think that above caterpillar would turn into a checkerspot like this one we snuck up on. (Butterflies are MUCH harder to photograph than even wiggly Nimue.)

The obligatory Nimue-sticking-out-her-tongue shot.

Experimental shot through my polarizing sunglasses, since the little point-and-shoot has no filters.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Watching the Tour of California Stage 4


Wednesday dawned sunny, Nimue was going to be in school until 2:30, I had nothing scheduled for work, and Stage 4 of the Tour of California was scheduled to start at 11:00 in San Jose, with a respectably steep climb up Sierra Road just a few miles into it. With my legs tired out from the last few days I though to myself "I'll just ride across town along the flats, and find somewhere sunny near the bottom of the hill to park myself in the sunshine to read the Economist for a bit and watch the race."

Yeah, right.

I got to the base of the hill to find that there was a pre-race timed hill-climb event going on, plus a lot of non-event cyclists just going to see the race like me. I happened to arrive just as a batch of event riders were being released up the hill. Naturally, I had to follow them all up.

It was gorgeous. It was clear, the air having been washed clean of the usual brown haze by the previous day's rain. The road was overrun by happy cyclists, some seriously riding for a good time, others just looking for a good spot to watch the race. There was no traffic other than the occasional Amgen support vehicle honking its horn gently as it passed the continuous stream of riders. The riders generally were happy to chat to distract themselves from the shared suffering.

Sierra Road is steep. Not just run-of-the-mill steep, but seriously sustained leg-burning, lung-hurting steep, for about 3 miles of pavement and 1800 feet of elevation gain. Since it's not in the normal direction for me to ride from home, the last time I climbed it was on one of Stephan's Wednesday night rides more than 10 years ago.

Lacking rational judgment in these situations, I couldn't stop until making it to the top :) The views and the atmosphere demanded it, there were quite a few spectators already in place cheering the rest of us on, and my new bike, a Specialized Ruby with a triple, is delightfully forgiving on tired legs and body. Plus I managed to pass a bunch of people, which is unusual.

After taking in the view and the cyclist-party scene at the top, I rolled back down to the last steep bit just a few hundred feet down, staked out a spot, and settled in for a snack. At this point, it was still pretty empty, but I knew it would fill in as more people made it up.


The same spot 15-20 minutes later:


Over the hour or so I waited, cyclists continued to fill in any available spots on the side of the road. Everyone seemed quite jolly, having skipped out on their normal obligations gotten in some good exercise on a warm sunny day. Most had had a similar soggy wet experience as we did the day before for stage 3, so the warm sun and great views were welcome. As the race helicopter approached closer and closer and the official vehicles came up the hill, the anticipation was quite apparent. I waved at Chad way down at Moffet in the background even though of course he couldn't see. We all waved at the helicopter, the motorcycles, the car with the announcer and big speakers, the photographers and anyone else coming through.


Then came the racers. Like yesterday, there was a break of several riders who came a few minutes before the peloton; unlike yesterday, I was near the King of the Mountains point at the top of the hill and the leaders were thus working pretty darned hard.


Being in a spot that steep really makes is apparent how hard the leaders were working.


In contrast, the peloton seemed shockingly relaxed, as they knew that they'd catch up on the later flat parts of the stage and were smoothly working their way up the hill. I guess you have to be smooth when you're packed in that tightly with other riders.

Note the Radio Shack riders on the right side of the road where I was standing (Lance and Levi and the bunch) -- I had maybe stepped over the white line in the excitement, and was just thinking to myself "Hey, I've got a nice view now that the guy in red has finally stepped back", when I realized that I'd better step back too. Almost got runned over by them...


We all whooped and hollered for every last rider straggling up the hill and at all the team cars for good measure; then everyone headed back down or off for longer rides.

I love being able to ride from home to see two stages of a major race like this. An interesting feature of it all is that even though everyone who was there was ostensibly there to watch the race, which goes by very quickly, it was clear on the hill that the experience was at least as much about hanging out with a bunch of happy random cyclists on an interesting hill talking about rides and life while anticipating the arrival of the "official" reason everyone was out there.

Daddy's Tub-Timer

I came back from rehearsal on Tuesday night to find that Chad had designed a mechanism in response to Nimue's dawdling in the bath...

Watching the Tour of California Stage 3

Tuesday was an early dismissal day for Nimue. Tuesday also held one of the local Tour of California stages. The temptation to play hooky was very, very strong. On these short days, especially this close to the end of the year, not a lot of import happens in a second grade classroom. Fortunately, Nim's teacher sees the value of direct experiences and is an avid cyclist -- he thought it was great that we would take her out of school to see the race, so Chad and I took the day to ride over to the race course with Nimue on the tandem. Her only assignment was to report back to the class afterward.

Though the weather forecast called for sun, it was drizzling when we left the house at 9am. Chad tried to convince us that it was merely marine layer condensing on us and not real rain -- either way, it was wet, so we made sure to pack rain gear along with our picnic lunch. Though it may have been fun to spectate from the top of Tunitas Creek Road (one of our many beloved local climbs), we opted to head for a point further down the hill on Highway 84 to meet up with Chad's friend Dave (also not as hard work for me to get to on the tandem). This spot had the advantage of being on a slight uphill slope just past the feed zone, and we figured the cyclists might be going a little slower there so we could see them better.

We staked out a spot on the shoulder where there was a good sight line down the hill a couple hours before the riders were expected, but Nimue managed to keep herself entertained.

Chad's friend Dave had brought a thermos full of espresso; we enjoyed this along with the salmon salad sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, and nutella sandwiches out of our pack, while watching many spectator-cyclists on their ride up to the top. I suspect there were many chilly people up there by the time the race started, as not everyone was wise enough to bring a backpack of warm layers to put on while waiting like we did.

Along with the string of spectators looking for their spots, we got to watch the string of support vehicles and cops wind their way up the hill for quite some time. As the time the racers were expected approached, the anticipation rose every time another car came around the corner, in the hopes that the riders would be coming soon. Many, many fake-outs. We cheered and waved at them all anyway, and Nim continued to be interested and happy.

Ooh -- a race marshal! And we can hear the group down the hill ringing their cowbell and hollering!

There was a lead group of five riders a couple of minutes ahead of the pack where we were. As we had hoped, we got a good view; the riders were recovering between the big hills and finishing up their mid-stage feed.

Above: Eric Boily (SpiderTech) and Will Routley (Jelly Belly)

Nim finds the Jelly Belly team especially amusing as they have jelly beans not only on their jerseys, but also on their helmets.

Below: Blurry shot of who I think is Levi Leipheimer (I think that's right as he seemed to be the Radio Shack guy wearing longer socks like this rider on the TV coverage we saw later that day).

Blurry shot of the peloton. It's interesting to see what you get when randomly snapping the camera in the direction of the action without actually looking at it.

Line of team cars and stragglers out of the feed zone.

The best thing about our viewing spot was its proximity to the end of the feed zone, as one can often pick up discarded items as souvenirs. A very cool rider on the Radio Shack team spotted cute little Nimue, deliberately tossed his empty feed bag to her, and checked back to make sure it went where he wanted it to. She was a bit surprised when it hit her, but was quite pleased to score the little red Team Radio Shack bag, which she showed off to her classmates when reporting on the race. You can see the red bag in the air and the rider who tossed it to her in the photo below. I pulled the picture out of Chad's iphone video of Nim watching the race :)

Stuff we retrieved from the road after the race went by.

Our spot was good -- enough other people in the merry band on our chosen shoulder that the happy anticipatory camaraderie of strangers developed, but not so crowded that anyone was uncomfortable -- and the whole family had a blast. Quite a worthy and memorable way to skip school/work/life for a day!

Sunday's bike stages

Sunday May 16, 2010

Giro D'Italia

Stage 8: Chianciamo Terme - Monte Terminillo
117 miles, 11100 feet of climbing
Average speed 24.2 miles/hour

Tour of California

Stage 1: Nevada City to Sacramento
104.2 miles, not sure how much climbing, but this one wasn't a hilly stage
Average speed 25.5 mph

Chad and Anna

Big loop to preview the Pescadero and Bonny Doon climbs for Tuesday's Tour of California stage. Moody/Page Mill and China Grade added for gratuitous fun :)
101.4 miles, 10200 feet of climbing
Average moving speed 12.6 mph
Thank you Linda for entertaining Nimue!

The pros may ride twice as fast, but we got to stop at a nice cafe for lunch and cappuccino, and spent the day looking at the CA countryside rather than other cyclists' backsides in the peloton.

They also probably didn't have to cook their own dinner and put the crazo kid to bed after their rides, but then again, we didn't have to get up and do it again in the rain the next day!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Nimue the Singer


A few months ago, Nimue joined a local children's choir, Cantabile. Last week, she got to participate in her first two concerts.
Thursday evening held an informal recital/dress rehearsal for friends and family for just her little group (about 30 kids). Then the kids all ate cookies and chased each other around outside the hall afterward for quite a while before I dragged Nimue off to get some real food for dinner. (Real food = Nim's favorite pepperoni and olive pizza in this case!)


Saturday's concert was a much more formal affair in a big church down in Campbell in combination with some of the older and younger kids. Chad's mom Linda joined us to see the performance. Nimue seems to quite enjoy it, though I suspect much of the fun for her is being able to wear a uniform!


Monday, May 10, 2010

Stuff in the yard this week





Mother's Day Mountain Bike Mud Madness


It hasn't rained for a couple of weeks. No, those clouds saved up their drops especially for Mother's Day, knowing that Chad and Nimue had agreed that I could get out for a rare bike ride on a weekend day. What to do, what to do? Since Chad had just installed brand-new extra-grippy tires on my mountain bike, I took it up for some mud madness fun up at Long Ridge and Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserves.


On the ridge yesterday there was every type of non-winter weather imaginable: fog, mist, full sun, drizzle, out-and-out downpour, sun+mist, sun+rain, wind, etc. Also mud. Sticky mud, grippy mud, clay-ey mud, mud full of half-decomposed sticks, slippery mud, splatty mud, sloppy mud, gloppy mud. Mud, mud, the mud mud. I have to say, the new tires performed quite well -- between being a little wider than the old ones, knobbier, and just plain newer, I reveled in the much-improved connection with the ground, despite said ground being mud, and rode further than I had planned given the rain.

At one point, I had to stop and investigate a horrible noise coming from the back wheel, only to find that the entire area surrounding the back brakes was encased in a sticky mud cement with the occasional chunk of branch to vary the texture. It was like the bike had somehow decided it needed a protective coating and deliberately accreted armor like a caddisfly larva making its case. One of these wood chunks rubbed against the wheel, making the disconcerting noise. There was also a layer of glop several inches thick completely encasing the cog that sticks down from the rear derailleur. I'm really not sure how the chain had continue to move, much less shift, in this condition (the stuff was approximately the texture of cold chocolate chip cookie dough), but it had been functioning just fine. At any rate, I hunted around until I found a stick that was both narrow and rigid enough to scrape out the worst of it; while I was in the process of this I encountered the only other mountain bikers I saw that afternoon. They asked if everything was ok, and then just laughed in sympathy upon finding that I was looking for the appropriate stick with which to de-mud the back wheel and drivetrain. Once the back of the bike was (sort of) cleaned off, my shoes and pedals needed the same treatment.

Besides the two mud-splattered mountain bikers, I saw a couple of hikers, a couple of people setting up a picnic in the fog for their cozy-blanket-wrapped aged mother, deer, a veritable explosion of quail, and lots of wildflowers, which included the red pea pictured below. Not native, but pretty nonetheless. (Notice the beads of water which really would prefer to be on the ground making the mud multiply.)


The flower/mud/Mother's Day juxtaposition seems somehow apt as yesterday Nimue gave me a bouquet of flowers from the school garden; the day before, she decided to excavate a giant mudpit in the middle of the back lawn where I had pulled up some weeds but hadn't yet reseeded the grass. "But Mom, you didn't tell me I couldn't do that!" Argh. Happy Mother's Day.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pushing the envelope of what can be done during the school day

About 2/3 of the way through my ride on Tuesday, I realized that the loop was going to end up being 70 miles instead of 60. Needless to say, this led to an unplanned increase in intensity up the last hill, as I had to make it back in time to pick Nimue up from school at 2:30. Oops.

Notable moments:

--Big squashed rattlesnake on the side of the road on Pierce.

--Coming around the corner on Skyline to see what looked like two little yappy-dogs in silhouette, only to realize that they were two of the tiniest fuzzy spotted fawns I've ever seen. They weren't much bigger than our cat, and still looked a bit unsteady on their legs. I think I actually uttered "Tiny, WOW!" aloud as I slowed down and rode by.

--Not seeing any more kamikaze squirrels run onto the road after I issued the ultimatum "Next one gets runned over." The evil beasties were playing a game along highway 236 in Big Basin in which they repeatedly darted out of the bushes on the side of the road to zigzag erratically in front of me.

--Motorcyclist slowing down just slightly on the way down route 9 so that he could ride along side me and report my speed. "20, 25, 23, 25, ...." After several curves, he got bored and sped off; I just laughed the whole time.

--Bonking not during the ride, but when I was in the shower after getting Nimue home from school. I guess the chocolate milk and avocado I wolfed down just before the shower wasn't enough to stave off the depletion long enough to get to the real food.

New bike is good :)

Monday, May 3, 2010

In case the snails were too gross

Some eyeball candy from Fremont Older Open Space Preserve last week to counteract the sliminess of the snails in the previous post:

Vetch (non-native, but pretty)

Miniature Lupine

Crimson Columbine

Deer that wanted to get runned over as I made my way through Stevens Canyon County Park on the way home. Yes, it was standing in the middle of the trail giving me a look. If I had a baseball bat, we coulda had dinner...

I like biking this time of year!

School Volunteering


Some moms grade math time tests and stuff folders in the classroom once a week; I find myself hunting victims for the garden club Snail Circus. (~100 snails in a jug in the back yard).

I was lucky enough to help on Nimue's field trip to the Menlo Park USGS Earth Day thing, which was quite cool, aside from the fact that I ended up chaperoning the group of obnoxious boys. Needless to say, the highlight for them was getting shaken in the magnitude 8.0 earthquake simulator; Nim also enjoyed driving a little robot rover and several volcano activities.

Also built one of these and one of these for solar cooking experiments at said garden club. So far, I've accidentally made a big purple spot in my vision (temporary), achieved a puny 225 degrees, and cooked a passable apple crisp. The results of all this go to school for kids to play with in a couple of weeks, so I'm ahead of the game for once.

Biking at the edge of the Bay

My memory is faulty, so I'm relying on the contents of my camera to elucidate the last couple of weeks... after the ski trip, there were lots of pictures of sunny bike rides along the levees at the edge of the Bay.

Nimue and I took a ride at Stevens Creek Shoreline Nature Study Area, adjacent to Shoreline Park in Mountain View as one of our "Friday Adventures" allowed by her school's early dismissal schedule on Fridays.

We had barely left the parking lot when we were treated to a raucous display of crows divebombing a big red-tailed hawk. This is the hawk after he found a perch that was acceptable to the squawking flock of others.

Nimue quite liked riding through the mustard.

Nimue's "I'm riding fast" position. Note the big buildings at Moffet in the background (Nim also shouted "Hi Daddy!" at the top of her lungs several times.)

A couple days later, we all took a ride out at Alviso so Chad could enjoy the edge of the bay as well. I experimented with attaching the camera to my handlbars with a gorillapod. While this saved me the potential embarrassment of wiping out while trying to simultaneously steer and take pictures, I can't say it improved the picture quality any... (I left out the attempted self-portrait, which ended up just showing my giant shoulders from a truly scary perspective) Still, you can tell it was a gorgeous day as we wound our way around the levees delineating the old salt ponds:)