Sunday, April 27, 2008

Steinbeck Was Right

Other places in the world are as beautiful as the Salinas Valley, but it would be hard to find one more beautiful.

(Go ahead, go back to click on that top picture and bask in it. Slightly north of Soledad.)

Captive Flowers

I do like wildflowers, because you know they’ve been raised cage-free, with no rBST and strictly organic fertilizers, so they’re less likely to distort your vision after your eyes take them in. But now and then I don’t mind treating myself to flowers that have been grown in captivity.

This guy wasn’t too fussy about farm-raised vs. range-fed, as long as pistils and stamens were exposed.

Friday, April 11, 2008

. . . And Another Day

On the 9th, I had two big buds on one of my orchids, waiting for their moment.

These orchids are new to me, and I haven’t ever watched them bloom, so this was exciting for me.

On the 10th, one of the buds had popped.

By the time I came home the next night, a second voice had joined the chorus of colors.

Shooting flowers is always tricky, because their intense colors tend to overwhelm film or digital sensors. Particularly in bright sunlight (where the flowers are at their prettiest), it’s easy to overexpose the bright spots and lose the delicate shading that gives the blooms their beauty.

With the orchids—and maybe because I was shooting indoors, not in direct sunlight—my camera did a good job of picking up the finer gradations of color. But I noticed it never really matched the color of the flowers in real life. I tried resetting the camera’s automatic white balance; I tried using the flash; I tried different settings. Ultimately the camera always darkened the most delicate shades.

They still look pretty good, though. It’s exciting to know these particular plants have been flowering for different family members for decades, and so far I haven’t done anything horrible to end their careers.

The other orchid I’ve got going doesn’t have any flower pods coming up yet. Rest assured there will be pictures if it ever does.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Difference a Day Makes

Got home tonight and found this . . .

. . . where this morning I had left this.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Spring Stagecoach Century 2008 (Part I)

Nothing as refreshing as a weekend ride in the desert. With plenty of wind.

See this? See all that green? This isn’t the desert. No, this is on the way to the desert. Nice mountain, though.

If it hadn’t been blowing 15 miles an hour at 10:30 the night before, and if I hadn’t felt the swirling air sucking and tugging to pull my car out of its lane for the last 20 miles of the way there, these signs (on the way into Ocotillo) might have clued me in on what I was about to face.

My father, who used to fly and sail, taught all of us as kids to keep an eye out for elements in the landscape that show how much wind is blowing and where it’s coming from.

The untrained eye would easily spot the palm fronds blowing 180° around the palm tree and remark that some wind might be present.

The sharper observer might note the planks bracing the palm tree so it can stay upright and speculate that such winds might be common around here. (See in the landscape behind the tree how much protection nature has provided between here and the mountains to obstruct winds that sweep down across the desert the way water pours over Niagara Falls.)

That fence, by the way, is about waist high. So this is how much wind there was at just about the same level above the ground where a cyclist sits. And—in case you hadn’t guessed—the wind was coming from the exact direction I was about to ride in. (What cyclist spends energy describing a tailwind?)

Fortunately, the weather was fairly good otherwise, and the temperature was very pleasant—the wind was at least warm. On the way back, the headwind mostly turned into a tailwind, except for a stretch where it was a gusty crosswind that threatened to knock riders off their wheels.

This is the first ride I remember that went past a Border Patrol checkpoint.

I just about didn’t notice the first climb. I was prepared for worse, but it was relatively gentle. I probably didn’t notice I was climbing because I was spending so much of my energy fighting to work my way upwind. This is just past the end of that little rise—the top of Sweeney Pass—coming down into the valley where the ride would spend most of its hours.

After coming down out of Sweeney Pass, we crossed the old stage road that gave the ride its name: The Stagecoach Century.

I’ve been eyeballing this ride for a couple of years now. The first year I heard about it, taking part was out of the question: I was swamped up to my neck in processing my mother’s estate.

The second time I watched it go by, it took place on the same day I had promised to lead a workshop teaching architects about matching wood veneers—not nearly as exciting, but I felt some probably misguided obligation to make good on my pledge.

This time I wasn’t going to miss my ride.

Of course, it would have been easier to catch a bus to get out here, instead of riding all this way.

For the record, although the ride was a full century ride, with 100 miles of road available and just one stop sign, I clocked only 75 miles for the day. I was there to do 100, but I had two flats, both from the same piece of metal I’d picked up the day before in Long Beach. By the time I finally got the metal well and truly out of the tire, it was past turnaround time, so I headed for the barn. I didn’t want to get caught out on the road with another flat or some worse mishap after all the rider support vans had gone home for the day.

I’m not complaining—I had a great ride and enjoyed the whole day, even the parts with flats. (The support crew was cheerful and very happy to help.) But having shorted myself on the full length of the ride certainly gives me a good excuse to go back next year.

Riding Up That Hill (Campbell Grade to Finish)

A rider sees a scene like this and reaches for an energy bar. In this picture you’ll see a faint but distinct line in the hill ahead, angling up and to the right. That’s the road I’m about to ride: Campbell Grade, climbing up Box Canyon toward Shelter Valley. This grinding grade came after a couple dozen miles of good strong headwind.

Riders coming down the grade toward me . . .

. . . and there they go!

This was a serious hill, and the longest, steepest, tallest rise of the day. I have seen worse, but it got my respect. I won’t say it was easy to climb, but I will say it was nice finally to get to somewhere sheltered from the wind.

I slogged all the way up the hill, but about halfway up I started noticing a little extra bounce in my rear tire, which by about two-thirds of the way up had turned into downright softness. I’m not complaining—all’s well that gets back home alive—but I probably wouldn’t have minded a somewhat crisper interface with the road. Better traction and lower roll resistance and all.

The view looking back from near the top of Campbell Grade. The dirt road through the valley is the actual old stagecoach path, for which the Stagecoach Century is named—the Great Southern Overland Stage Route of 1849. The paved road to the right is San Diego County Road S2, coming across the valley floor and hitting the hill I’ve just climbed.

Modern road near, stagecoach route in the distance.

Riding back south across the same valley we’d come in through. Most of the way home was slightly downhill, and significantly downwind. My legs were going faster, in top gear, and still not working as hard as they had all the way out.

Note the guard rail above these riders, against the sky. That’s the road we’re all riding toward, about one bend away from where we are here. Sweeney Pass, the last big hump on the way back to the starting point, was a short climb, but distinctly a climb. Beautiful scenery, though.

How sharp are your eyes? Do you see the car on the road below? That’s where I was standing when I took the last picture. (The climb was somewhere between five and seven minutes.)

How sharp are your eyes? Did you notice this bend of road in the last picture? Did you see those black specks on it? (It’s O.K.; you can go back and look again.)

How sharp are your eyes? These guys were about 10 minutes behind us, about to hit the grade I had just climbed. (No, I didn’t ride back down to warn them.)

I did eventually find out where all that wind had been coming from. Apparently someone left these turned on, several miles further west.

They were still turning when I drove by them hours later. I hate to think how much juice they were drawing.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Anza-Borrego Flowers, Early April 2008

Most days in the desert seem hot, dusty and bleached pale as a bone. Now and then—especially in springtime—you get lucky and see the desert in bloom. It’s not lush and green like a garden; the backdrop is still sere and desiccated. But the tiny flowers that do grow tend to show off intense colors, as if they knew what a vast sunblasted expanse they had to make up for.

I had forgotten what ocotillo is, though I knew it was the name of the place I was starting from. When I saw these plants sticking up from the desert floor on their gangly Dr. Seuss thornstalks tipped in red, I remembered: I had seen them a couple of years ago, on a trip across Arizona to destinations further east, and I took pictures of them then too.

Anza-Borrego Flowers, Early April 2008 (II)

Regrowth after fire.

With all the space in the desert, plants mostly grow separately. This was a rare spot where I spotted a “bouquet” growing together, combining colors a florist might have arranged.