Sunday, March 30, 2008

Coast Roller

A few miles west of where I live, the Palos Verdes Peninsula juts out into the Pacific, the closest piece of land to me that rises above about 200 feet. If I want to ride up a hill, this is where I go.

Palos Verdes Drive East offers the highest point on the loop around the peninsula. (You can climb higher, but the summit is a dead end.) The picture above shows Palos Verdes East as it snakes back down toward the water. I ride up the land side and come whizzing down this road at high velocity. Some people make the loop in the other direction, so they huff and chuff up this side of the hill and shoot past me on the other side as I sweat and climb. Me, I like the view I get coming down this side.

Palos Verdes Drive South continues along the south face of the peninsula, the most obvious road in the picture above. The two distinctive points sticking out into the water frame Portuguese Bend, an odd spot where the land is always slipping into the sea, and the road heaving and collapsing under you as you ride. To the left (west) is Abalone Cove. To the right (east) is the cove where Portuguese Canyon reaches the ocean.

This is from the first big curve on the downhill side of Palos Verdes Drive East, looking west toward Portuguese Bend. This weekend we had some overcast, which made for good riding temperatures and occasional scenic views. I can’t say I was thrilled about the wind, but I’ve gone out in worse.

Since February, when I took the aerial shots of the road, wildflower season has come on strong.

Down Palos Verdes Drive East, looking south toward the ocean. My goal last weekend was to make two laps around the peninsula, which meant about 60 miles of riding (when you include getting there and back from Long Beach), with about 2,000 feet of climbing. I was testing my legs to see how they might do on a 100-mile ride, with more climbing than 2,000 feet.

Looking down at the road east, back toward San Pedro. I have taken this road before, but it wasn’t on my route this weekend.

My brother is fond of flowers.

This is what the cliffs look like along Palos Verdes Drive West, which runs up the west-facing side of the peninsula—the scalloped edge in the foreground of the top picture in this post. Just about the entire ride is very scenic, and a nice change of pace from the flat rides along the beach routes I usually ply.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sunday Driver

Normally California’s hills are tawny yellow, or golden, or what some people call brown, covered in dry grasses. This winter we’ve had plenty of rain, so the hills are green.

In some spots the grasses have erupted in wildflowers, washing up the side of a hill. I watched for wildflowers around Gorman, where five years ago I drove around a curve and into a stunning patchwork palette that stretched from the highway to the sky, but so far Gorman’s hills are staying green. The lavender hills above were further north.

The purple is probably lupine, and the orange is California’s golden poppies. Notice the darker purple bushes on the nearby hillside. The camera is probably missing a few other shades of purple and blue, along with yellow and white that you’d see if your eyeballs were there instead of a digital chip.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


Thinking of coming to California but you can’t decide whether it’s worth the gas? Let me save you the trip. Here’s what California looks like.

Note the green hills in the distance. It’s been a good rainy season. Lots of snow in the mountains too.

Moffett Field, closer up.

Hoover Tower, Dumbarton Bridge, Mount Diablo

Pacific Ocean

Future lumber

Flowers (see below)

There! Now you know what California looks like, so you don’t have to come all that way to see it in person. Feel free to go about what you were doing before. You’re welcome.

Easter Flowers

Friday, March 21, 2008

Reminds Me Why I Ride

Riding is always a pleasure at some level, but sometimes it seems like a lot of slogging through weather and up and down hills and early mornings when your stomach is growling, and then there’s the wind.

But some days remind me why I ride. On an afternoon with nothing but a balmy breeze, just warm enough to be pleasant without overdoing it, out in the sun swooping up and down old familiar hills.

As much as anything else, it’s probably the hills that remind me what I love about getting out on two wheels. These are the hills my legs got used to in high school, and for my legs they’ll always be home turf. Not any particular stretch of road, but the typical rise and fall of the Bay Area foothills, the way a road curves around the shoulder of a hill below some oaks: Whichever road I’m on, the contours are as familiar as the fender of an old favorite car.

Having a chance to saunter through the greenery for a few minutes in the late afternoon, after driving all night and being cooped up doing office work all morning, made this a Good Friday indeed.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Vicious Cycle

My brother has already touched on the topic of the three cyclists hit by a Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputy in the first part of his shift this weekend. The deputy allegedly told witnesses he had fallen asleep at the wheel when he crossed the center line and hit the riders head on, killing one immediately. Another died after being flown to a hospital.

There’s just nothing positive to extract from this tale, and yet I feel I can’t leave it unremarked.

As my brother points out, that’s a road we both know from our childhood. I personally have not taken it on a bicycle in many years, but it could just as well have been any number of roads I do ride through the foothills when I’m in town. Some see more car traffic and some less; some have more twists and turns and some fewer. They all make for beautiful, challenging rides, with sun-dappled slopes that draw cyclists from all over the region.

The deputy would have killed anyone he drove into—possibly even a car driver or passenger—but these riders were amateur champions, one seriously considering this year’s Olympics, another coming fresh from a victory he’d trained years to savor. They weren’t casual Sunday hobbyists; they had traveled miles to ride this particular road that morning. Not that their skill level makes it any better or worse.

I ride for fun and for my health; getting hit by a car doesn’t do so much for your health. And there’s nothing special about a deputy’s car. I’ve read stories about folks who were drug-addled hitting riders, and I still remember the poor teenager who mowed down a family on a similar mountain road about two minutes from her driveway. She had just pulled out onto the road on her way somewhere, and she was fiddling with her car stereo when she plowed into the cyclists, killing I forget how many.

The judge drily observed at her sentencing that living the rest of her life in the knowledge that she had snuffed out innocent people’s lives for such a petty distraction would be a worse and more lasting punishment than anything he might throw at her.

It’s easy to regret stupidity after the fact, to wish you had stopped for the extra cup of coffee, to wish you’d had the brakes repaired a week ago. I’m sure the sheriff’s deputy in this case has had his emotional life wrecked. (He got out immediately and started administering CPR.) But that’s not bringing back the riders whose lives and careers were snapped off midstream.

I’m no saint when it comes to driving. I talk on the phone; I send text messages; I take pictures out the window while I travel at high speed. A story like this leaves me with a keen sense of “There but for the grace of God . . . ” both as a bicycle rider and as a driver. I’m not going to quit riding or driving, though occasionally a sobering account like this convinces me to ease back from some particularly asinine behavior on the road.

Most riders don’t get killed; when you consider how many riders are out on Bay Area roads on a typical weekend afternoon, it’s amazing more collisions aren’t reported. Road design can make a big difference in safety, but not every road can be redesigned to keep bikes safe. I’m sure punishment is appropriate after an egregiously stupid piece of driving, but I don’t think most people are going to drive more safely for fear of punishment. What’s in our forebrains when we’re driving is the egg salad from that bagel that just fell down our fronts.

We are fragile vessels all of us, and everybody’s got to go sometime. Not everyone will get to reach the pinnacles these riders conquered; they died doing something they loved—on a beautiful day for riding—and we should celebrate the blessings that filled their lives.

But that all rings hollow in the face of such a senseless loss.

My Oak Problem

These pictures are a week old, but I haven’t had the time to post them since I took them.

It would be nice to always have the option of driving during the best part of the day, but my schedule is often determined by others. When you need to be in someone’s office by 9 a.m. to discuss insurance, it sounds a little odd to say you decided not to get on the road till first light, even if that means you won’t be there till 1 p.m.

And when you tell someone you’ll meet their flight arriving at a certain hour, it’s generally considered poor form to make them wait several hours in the white zone because you were waiting for that “golden hour” when pictures come out better in the sunset.

Now and then, though, I do get to travel when the scenery’s nice. It’s a special stroke of luck when I’m also able to dodge rush hour traffic.

It’s easier to appreciate these pictures if you can imagine the smell of a truck hauling fresh onions about a quarter-mile up the road.

At this point I don’t think it’s a secret from anyone that I’ve got a soft spot for oaks. I started into taking oak pictures about a year ago for a particular reason, but now I don’t have any excuse, other than that I like the way they look.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Lush Life

California has had lots of rain this year, and the hills are green. In the Central Valley, field crops and orchards are getting ready for a rich season.