The Damp Season

We're renaming the seasons in California. Not as in 'another referendum that will probably cost more than voters are willing to pay for and we'll go deeper into debt' renaming the seasons, just A and I have decided that the spring-summer-winter-fall quad-chotomy is imprecise in describing what the climate does here. It's a desert that gets wet in the darker months, or something like that. We only have two seasons. In April, it stops raining and the Sun shines brighter, becoming oppressively bright and dry by July/August or so. Then around October or November, the rain comes back, and the mild weather somehow chills you to the bone.

And so, I present, The Bright Season and The Damp Season.

Today marked the beginning of the damp season, with the first real rainy day since June (yeah, last damp season stuck around way too long). The tomatoes were probably the only thing really happy about it. The leaves are falling off the trees, despite not having to worry about snow coming and callously ripping them off or anything. By December, it will be gray and dark, the deciduous trees will look dead, leafless in the middle of fields of green, healthy grass.

There is still, as of today at least, that quite autumnal feeling that things are getting darker and cooler and we're working our way toward the winter solstice. I finally find myself in the mood to wear sweaters and scarves and hoodies with thumb holes. Actually, I had to wear hoodies all summer too, as evenings are always long-sleeve weather. But now they feel extra cozy. And I can put on introspective music like Arcade Fire and curl up inside without feeling like I should be out playing in the sun. Squashes and pomegranates and apples fill the shelves of the organic section of the supermarket, with the ever-enticing "California" label on them, indicating some amount of locality to my produce.

And the holidays, with a much-anticipated trip back East, wade ever closer. Despite the chill-you-to-the-bone 50°F, the Boston winter will still be a kick in the pants. But I'll be happy in my winter coat and my parents' justifiably heated house (we can never quite convince ourselves that it's cold enough outside to put on the heat here) and the candles and twinkles and other trappings of keeping ourselves happy despite the 10 or fewer hours of daylight.

And time hurries on.


These Are Not the Goats You Are Looking For: Henleyville Race Report

Editor's note: I'm going to use a bunch of terms that none of you know. As such, there is a glossary at the bottom of the post.

So I did my first road bicycle race today. 3 18-mile laps through flat, flat, flaaaat Central Valley California. But really I should start this story earlier, like last Friday (cue Fight Club-style cut-back to the real start of the story).

One of my fellow SF2G'ers is also a racer on a fancy team that wears lots of blue polka dots. She's way fast and pretty obsessed with racing. Also, her team is recruiting. (How could they possibly need to do this when they have the best-looking kits in the area? No I'm serious, they're rad.) Her latest scheme in getting me to join was to introduce me to a teammate who lives in the East Bay and likes to ride around with people. So on Saturday we had a blind riding-buddy date (awww.)

And then in the emails we were exchanging to plan this date, she mentions that this race coming up would be a great one to try as a first race, and oh by the way she could give me a ride. Also it's flat. Ok, I was in.

After doing our pre-ride on Saturday, I rushed home, showered, packed some stuff, went back out to run errands, and then finally made it uuuup the hill to her house to meet her and the other woman to drive out to the Corning, CA Econo-tel so that we could be in Henleyville at ass-crack-of-morning AM Sunday.

After some sandwiches in the only non-McDonald's place in the "town," we called it a night at 9pm. Woooo Saturday night!

Ok, so. Bright and early. Or rather, so early it wasn't even bright, we got up, packed our stuff back onto the car, and headed to Starbucks. Some of Corning's Finest were having their morning coffee there as well and asked if there was some bike race because they'd been seeing spandex all morning. Us: "Yes, the Henleyville road race." Police: "Henleyville isn't even a town." Ummmm.... We passed many olive and almond trees. And goats! One of the women in the car commented that we shouldn't get distracted by the goats--women's races tend to slow down to look at the goats. These goats were close to the start/finish line; an especially bad place to slow down.

Flash forward to the race. I had my awesome Battle 4 Brooklyn jersey on (up yours team kits!) and was in a group of about 15 total Cat 4 women. "Stay at the front; stay on a wheel," everyone had told me. And "don't pull!"

So I did! For the first 15 miles or so, I stayed 2-3 riders back, close enough to the front that I was with the more consistent riders, but far enough back I was able to avoid pulling. We went up the "hill" and back down; handled all the turns just fine; things were hunky-dory.

And boring. OMG, riding along a mostly flat 18-mile loop, staring at the ass of some logo-addled bike shorts, is pretty friggin boring. This part of the race is just to work your legs a bit so that by the third lap they can separate the men from the boys. But the first lap is easy for everyone, especially averaging 18mph, especially when the view is of the same rider for 5 miles.

So, I made things interesting. For me at least. I was having trouble staying in the pack, kept getting bumped off to the side. And I'd seen the goats! Clearly the first lap was near over. So I sped up and got in front of everyone. It wasn't an attack, per se, as I wasn't really going any faster, but I figured that even if I wasn't supposed to pull, it was good etiquette and I might as well step up for a bit.

We turned, and turned again, and I was still in front. The start/finish line (end of the first of three laps) was not approaching. Uh-oh, those were not the goats I was looking for. I fiiiinally made it back into the pack right around when we passed the goats I was looking for. The women I knew gave me some "good job!"s for pulling, but I knew that loosely translated to "you're gonna be done soon, n00b." But I was ok with that. My goal was to stay in it through the first lap, and--hey there goes the start/finish line! I'd made it! So I continued to stay in.

Then things took a turn. I ended up at the back. Everyone around and in front of me was squirrely. But I was still with the pack! I tried moving around, getting on wheels up ahead, but the gaps were tight and I was getting tired and less aggressive. And the feed hill was coming up--I had to get to the right lane to get a refill!

Uh-oh. On the way up the hill, toward the feed, the front started speeding up. I was stuck at the back, and also tired. Or just too slow. I got dropped. As I grabbed my shiny new (used... but hopefully cleaned) water bottle, the feeders yelled "You can still catch them!" I thought I just maybe could, as I had been descending faster than the group all day. I went fast, with nobody to draft off of. And they went faster. The group, and the two women ahead of me who'd started to fall back from the group, all continued to shrink until they were dots on the horizon. And then they were gone. I'd been dropped. I kept going hard, but there was no way.

And then, my savior! A fellow rider caught up to me and yelled "get on my wheel!" So I did (well, once she'd passed enough that I wouldn't have crashed into her). And she pulled me slower than I'd been going. This is actually still ok strategy, as it takes a lot less energy. I sat on the wheel for a while, and then went up for another pull. I kept pulling and pulling, until a van came along side me and yelled "There's another rider about 200m back, going the same pace as you!" So I had dropped her, oops. So I time trialed. I just rode, as fast as I knew I could keep up, until the finish. And this time I was done. No way I was time trialing another 18 miles with no hope of catching the group. Also I wasn't sure if I was supposed to stop, having been dropped. But then once I'd put the bike back by the car and went back to the start to watch the finishes, there went that other woman cruising on around a third time.

But I had completed my goal! I stayed in for a lap. I did get a "you pulled too hard and too long too early" from one of the women I'd met, but I knew that already. And it had made things more interesting for me. And now I've raced road.

Cat: short for Category. 1 is the best, 4 is the... least best. To move to a better category ("cat up"), one must win some races and earn upgrade points.

Feed (hill): The feed is the area where you get to show how awesome it is to race bikes by littering and stealing! You throw your water bottle off to the side of the road somewhere, and then someone hands you a new one, full of water. The $35 has to pay for something I guess. They eventually find your water bottle on the side of the road and bring it back to you. Mine came back with a different color top, but I'm not gonna complain about that too much. The feed in this race was on a hill, aptly called the "feed hill." I'm betting that they're actually often on (up)hills so that speeds are slower.

Kit: the silly padded shorts and lycra jerseys worn by cyclists on teams. They have lots of logos on them and are very matchy.

On a wheel: The position in which you're behind another rider but close enough to be in their slipstream, taking advantage of full drafting action!

Pull: To lead the group. You do all the work while everyone else drafts off of you. Typically, everyone takes a few turns pulling, but as it was my first race and there was no way I was going to win anyway, I may as well have stayed in for as long as I could by avoiding pulling everyone else.

SF2G: Group of people, whom some would call insane, brought together by their love of meeting at 6:30am and riding 40+ miles to get to their jobs in Silicon Valley. Also enjoy drinking beer, but not usually during the ride.

Squirrelly: Mark of a n00b. When cycling in a group, and especially in a race, one is supposed to "hold their line," or continue in a straight line and not swerve, and ideally to hold about the same speed so that it is easy to draft behind them at close range. Being squirrelly is the opposite of that. It's not fun to ride next to and behind squirrelly riders.

Time trial: A race done solely by time. Starts are staggered and riders aren't allowed to draft. Bikes with crazy handlebars that you can rest your forearms on, and those super-aero helmets, are for time trials. Such things are not safe for road races, which are (ideally) ridden in groups.



Not to be confused with the Amgen Tour of California—which just today rode from San Francisco to Santa Cruz—the A (me) and A (boyfriend) Tour of California took place this past weekend, and took us from San Francisco to Santa Cruz... and back!1

So early Saturday morning, A and I packed a few clothes and tools, an extra tire, and two extra tubes into our panniers, grabbed our fancy phones and wallets, donned our spandex, merino, and other fancy technical fabrics, and set out on our first tour on our two-weeks-old (to us! it's an '89 Santana) tandem bike. As we don't have a drag brake yet, we packed light and did a credit card tour, meaning we ate out and slept at a B&B instead of packing camping equipment and food.

Braving unseasonably chilly air, lack of sleep, and a mild hangover from a fancy dinner and show the night before, our intrepid travelers had eggs and coffee and hopped on the BART, as there's no other way to get a bike across the bay. From there, they used their fancy phone to rethink their route, as the BART map showed that the Colma stop clearly let off way closer to the coast than the South San Francisco stop they'd planned to go to.

So, at Daly City, we exited the train, only to realize as the doors closed that we'd left one stop too early. Oh well, this was close enough. We started out on John Daly Boulevard2 and rode up to Skyline Drive, then to Skyline Blvd (the smaller residential road paralleling Skyline Drive until it veers off down a hill toward the ocean). We made the usual snarky comments about the houses all looking the same. The scene was made even more surreal by the crazy fog. Hello, San Francisco suburbs.

After some more riding through random residentia, we arrived back on Rte 1.3 On our way back down the first big hill, the rear of the bike started feeling a bit wobbly. We pulled into a turnout and discovered that the rear tire had pretty much disintegrated, probably due to not having been changed since 1989. There are some great pictures of this, all on A's computer. So I took some pictures while A changed the tire, and we were off again toward the (hopefully) sunny beaches of Santa Cruz.

It was a bit of a slog. We still felt less than awesome from the previous night's wine, and the fog had yet to lift. At least getting back down to about sea level, the fog became clouds and no longer interfered with our view of the road 30 feet ahead of us, but it just wasn't quite the California Coastal ride we'd imagined. We stopped and had Clif bars. We stopped and had some more Clif bars. We realized we wouldn't make it to Santa Cruz in time for lunch. We had some more Clif bars, figured we'd have to make it to Davenport before we found any lunch places anyway, and continued.

And then, the sun came out! All was not lost. We redoubled our efforts, thus doubling our speed, and figured we'd be in Santa Cruz in no time. But we also figured we had time to stop at the barn advertising pies and coffee. How could we not? And once we were full of not only Clif bar but strawberry and rhubarb pastries and fresh coffee, and our way was full of sunlight and blue sky, we decided that we could make it to Santa Cruz before the next meal.

We pulled into Santa Cruz around 2. After a nostalgic tour of A's college memories, we stopped at a bar/coffee shop for a beer. As students studied all around us, we chatted with a dude passing by who at 65 had taken up the piano, and now, at 85, was wandering around listening to recordings of his music. I'd never have guessed before he told us. And who knows, maybe it was all made up.

After the well-earned beer, we headed over to the boardwalk to do something A had never done as a college student: ride the roller coaster! America's 6th-oldest coaster, at 85 years, it was as smooth as rides one-tenth its age (and smoother than that one at Six Flags New England, that if it's called the Mind Eraser like I think I remember it, must be so named for its jiggling-your-brain-cells-to-mush capabilities). Not all that big, even compared to Phoenix or Cyclone, but a good ride nonetheless.

Finally, we went to A's favorite old taqueria and had the requisite Super Burritos. They were huge, and pretty damn hella.

Full to overflowing with burrito, we continued away from town and up toward campus. We could hear the drum circles in the distance as we toured the school that more closely resembles a woodsy summer camp than the brick-and-stone-and-one-main-quad New England schools I'm used to.

The sun had started making its way down toward setting as we began our final climb, which it turns out is a descent this ear in the OToC, but is nonetheless an intense hill. And as with any hill, when we reached the top (or at least our turnoff), we got to go back down.

From the back of the bike, the road was blocked by the pilot. It was like that scene in Star Wars with the hoverbikes in the woods. At least, until A pulled over. We could smell the brakes, and discovered the rims were hot to the touch.

A: We should probably stop a minute and let the rims cool do—
tire: psssssssssss

The tube was old anyway. Just as well we switch it out for a new one.

A: [changes tube and begins reinflating]
me: Do you hear that?
tire: pssssssssssss
us: shit.

Ok, we'll check for glass and put some electrical tape over the rim strip on the wheel. Maybe we melted the rim strip a bit.

A: [changes tube and begins reinflating]
me: [patches other tube]
tire: psssssssssss
us: shit.

Four patches and many curses later, we were out of light, tubes, and patience. We flagged down a passing van, owned by the wife of the co-inventor of some Specialized part, and big enough to fit the bike in (phew!) and got a ride to the B&B.

The two restaurants in town weren't all that exciting, so we went to the grocery store and stepped up to the deli counter.

us: Two 'treehugger' sandwiches please4 =D
counter lady: We're out of hummus, so I can't make you that.
us: Oh that's fine, just put on some mozzarella.
cl: Out of that too. You'll have to choose a meat sandwich.
us: Well what about some other cheese?
cl: You see, the hummus is supposed to take the place of the meat. Without that, the sandwich is no good.
us: What if we told you we ate pork for lunch?
cl: [satisfied that she wasn't about to help some vegetarians] Two pepper jack treehuggers, comin' right up!

And so our heroes settled down to a dinner of sandwiches and free B&B beer as they further investigated the tenaciously flatting wheel, eventually determining they needed to take it back to Santa Cruz to a bike shop in the morning. But that's a story for another day.

1. Ok, the other Tour of California is an 8-stage race, each day involving about 100 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing, and they do it way faster. But we had panniers and had to fix our own flats. But I'll get to that later.

2. Street? Avenue? You all live on the other side of the country and don't really care. It's a way to get to Skyline Drive.

3. As did the OToC, just this morning! (Other Tour of California)

4. The lunch burritos were so huge that despite the 2,000 feet of climbing we'd done since eating them, we still didn't want anything heavy for dinner.


Garden, round 2

So our initial garden has all but failed. All those little seedlings never became much more than the first pair of true leaves. We planted them, but most got eaten by slugs. The basils (the 4 that made it to the planting stage) refuse to grow and refuse to die.

Exception! The garlics, sent as a housewarming (gardenwarming?) gift by KPd, are doing fabulously. If you come visit, we can eat lots of garlic.

So anyway, we gave up and bought starter plants from OSH. Imagine it as something of a 30-times-the-cost head start. So now we have some baby lettuces, tomatoes, peppers, and pole beans. Oh, and a strawberry I got from work.

We've gotten more aggressive about slugs. There are eggshells and little mini-cups of beer all over the place. It looks like we didn't quite get the idea of compost and recycling. But something else must be eating everything too, and if they're not lured by beer and afraid of eggshells and coffee grounds, then we have no idea what to do.

The pole beans have already lost 3 of 5 new plants.

This at least is helping to cement our plans to move to SF when the lease is up. And if nothing else, we'll be swimming in garlic by harvest time.



We planted some plants!

This one holds garlic cloves and lettuce and spinach seeds:

Over here are some kales (if they haven't been completely eaten by snails by now), pole peas (poles to be installed later) and probably another clove or two of garlic.

In the back will be squash (one per 3 feet! We'll mix something else over there too), tomatoes and peppers, and probably some more garlic. In the front are more spinach and lettuce.

All the cardboard is a permaculture technique called 'lasagna gardening.' It's dirt (somewhat aerated, already in the garden), then compost, then cardboard, and finally mulch. The cardboard blocks the light so weeds don't invade. We had some tenacious weeds poke through our aging cardboard, so we uprooted them before planting. We kept one in a cup of water, just to see what happens. Then we made our own holes in the cardboard to plant our seeds and cloves and beans and seedlings. The garlics are already growing! So if nothing else, we'll at least have plenty of that this summer.

And here's a sunset, just for good measure:

The water is the SF bay. The Golden Gate bridge is off to the left, for reference. That's about a mile from our house.



You've all been waiting for pictures of our new place, and I was finally home on a sunny day to take some!

Kitchen. Observe awesome 40s-era stove. It likes to set off the smoke detector.

Other side of the kitchen, featuring 50s-era ugly-in-an-awesome-way table and chairs.

Bathroom. Or at least the shower curtain part.

Storage closet. Check out all that storage action!

Living room.

Office, aka the other half of the living room.

Drilling air holes in the compost bin.

Somehow I forgot to get good ones of the yard. I guess you'll all just have to come visit and see it =D


California knows how to garden

So it turns out we pretty much kicked ass at finding a place and getting settled. We've already signed a lease, moved in, and furnished our cottage. It's this little in-law cottage next to the house the landlords live in. A far cry from show-up-on-trash-day, underpaid "supers" who don't actually know how to fix anything. An even farther cry from having to make seven phone calls to get the simplest thing fixed. The whole apartment hunt made me realize just how crazy NYC is when it comes to renting.

The cottage has a bedroom, kitchen, and living room, plus a pretty huge storage closet. The kitchen has this amazing 40's-era gas stove that is gorgeous. The living room will also be the study and Guest Room (hint hint). It already has a futon! We managed to take the U-Haul to a Good Will after moving our own stuff and got a whole bunch of great furniture. Even the kitchen table + chairs that looked way too brown in the store are way better now that they're not surrounded by all the other brown.

More importantly (and more new and shiny for anyone coming from NYC), we have a BACK YARD! This is what attracted us to the East Bay rather than the more familiar urban environment of the city.* We share the back yard with our landlords, but they are entirely amenable to us growing vegetables and chickens in it. It even has a hot tub. We've already taken advantage of the hot tub and probably will again when I finish this post. Seeing as it's always hot, we figure it's more efficient to jump in there and warm up than to turn on the heat in the cottage.

I haven't taken pictures yet, but I have the plan we made this afternoon for the garden:

We're not sure where the chickens will go yet, but this plan is only for half the yard anyway.

* 'the city' means San Francisco here. Weird!


Leavin' on a... train.

As you must already know (unless you're a robot here to post spam in my comments), my boyfriend and I recently moved to California. As you may not know, we took the train all the way from Boston (well, two trains). Following are some of the more memorable parts of the trip.

Getting carded
Along the first leg, we stopped in Albany so that the train coming from NYC could get tacked onto the back of our Boston-originating train. We decided to use the hour and a half or so to stretch our legs and find a sandwich. This, of course, began at the bar. The bartender, not recognizing us as one of his regulars, immediately carded us. Makes sense—college town (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute). The surprising part was when my 28-year-old boyfriend was asked for a second ID, to match his bearded self. As soon as we explained that we were in on the train with time to kill, the bartender lightened up considerably. Then he and his regular customer watched hunting shows. Rock on, upstate NY.

Getting proselytized
After changing trains in Chicago (featuring a 4-hour layover that afforded us the time to have brunch with friends and wander around the city) and getting settled in our sleeper room (oooh bunk beds), we checked out the lounge car. With comfy seats facing huge windows, this is the place to spend the trip. We'd also brought some cards and poker chips (well, rolls of coins) and booze hoping to make friends. The first person we meet is, of course, Creepy Christian Dude. We're not that into talking about Jesus, and CCD wasn't that into talking about anything else, but we managed to play an awkward game of cards for a couple hours as the sun set over the snowy midwestern flats.

Getting contact-high
Included in the price of our sleeper car ticket were three meals a day in the diner car. The food was, for the most part, way better than airplane food. They even had made-to-order steak on the menu. But the diner car booths were made for 4, so at each meal we made some new friends. There were the typical Berkeley rich liberals, the Southern Republican father and probably-gay-but-maybe-hasn't-admitted-it-to-himself son, the annoyingly douchey Concordians... And then there was another father-son pair. The father was a pot grower from North of SF; the son, as far as I could tell, was just a little embarrassed by his father. It took a while to put it together—for a while I just thought the father was batshit crazy—but as soon as he mentioned that the only way to do these train trips was to make yourself a giant pot brownie, it all made sense.

Getting bored
Nope, didn't happen. The scenery was gorgeous. Everything was timed so that we went through the mountains during the day. We had too many books, it turned out, because staring out the windows occupied a surprising number of hours.

Getting home
We arrived in Emeryville, California, after four days and three nights on the two trains. We retrieved our damp, collapsed checked baggage (grr) and fortunately fit all of them in one taxi to our interim apartment. And so now I live in The Golden State (wait, really, Wikipedia? That's the state's nickname? Seems kinda corny). But that's best left for another post.