Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bike Party 5/11- Dare I Say The Best Yet?

Of the two East Bay Bike Party rides I've been on...Yes, definitely the best! The May route featured larger, wider streets, a downtown Oakland start, a People's Park party stop, and a Lake Merritt finish with a live band. Having one Bike Party under my belt, I was better equipped this time out with the Kaptein Dolphin for smooth rolling comfort, better refreshments, 5 lights including the dynamo light covered with blue and red gels pointed at the front wheel for an aura of color as I made my way through the 14 mile urban landscape. This is a close to pure playtime as I've had since I was a kid.

At party stop #1, I catch up with Iris, my Zero Waste Lunch cohort from work

A group I seemed to be leading, so I turned around to see who was in it. Apparently a Ninja warrior princess?

Nice crotch protectin' and reflectin', styling bike too

Ogawa Plaza assembly point, around 8pm

I seemed to be within earshot of this mobile boombox for much of the ride. The owner did a super clean build on it, custom cabinet paint, neon lighting, car stereo drivers, and very little cabling evident. It could rock so hard at times I had to drop back 50' or to obtain a comfortable listening level.

Best seat for Bike Partying? Could be, depends on what you are there for.

Latino style bikes were proudly on display. Note micro tunes player

Another hard rocking sound system, this guy built a cabinet with powerful woofers and simply strapped it to the "skateboard" deck of his Xtracycle. Music is what drives Bike Party and much of the talk at the stops was who was rocking the best tunes. Reggae Guy seemed to get a lot of praise, but I didn't encounter him. The piece of bread was to attract....what? Night Owls?

Slimm Buick: bike artist. I've seen him riding around Alameda on a small bike with large cow horns

11:45 PM. Indy style band Caldecott was entertaining the riders at Snow Park at Lake Merritt. The actual scene here was pretty dark, and people were but shadows, (go back to 1st pic) so when I took this shot of some dancers I had no idea what I would get but I think this woman expresses the mood of the party.

I haven't tried to describe how much fun this ride is because I can't. It's something you have to experience. It's not for everyone, especially those who adhere strictly to state and local ordinances pertaining to motor vehicle law, helmet advocates, or those who think cycling should be a safe and sane activity done only in the daytime. I can say the local citizens, including motorists, seemed to embrace the impromptu rolling light and music parade through their 'hoods. Only you can decide for yourself.

Ride On My Friends,

Monday, May 9, 2011

May 7th: The Mystery Ride Virtual Simulator

Flashblog author putting 2+2 together

Welcome to Flashblog. If it's morning, brew yourself a big cup of coffee. If it's evening, pour yourself a generous glass of wine and sit back for this extra length ride report, Flashblog style. Recently I've posted much about bikes, bike shops, trailers, bike parties and not so much about my actual riding. Originally, I got my inspiration for Flashblog writing ride reports, so this evening I return to my roots and attempt to bring you along on this ride, the ride I call the Mystery Ride.

This ride encompasses the elements I crave in a good ride: world class locale (San Francisco), varied terrain and visual transitions, good company, many people to observe along the way, gorgeous countryside scenery, historical artifacts, topographical and elemental challenges, unforseen surprises, and a day given over to the bike.

So let's begin at the beginning, in Alameda at our Team Alameda gathering place, where I found a good number of cyclists preparing to ride, but none of them takers on my ride, except for one.

8am, Kaiser steps. My stalwart companion on this adventure, Bruce Bothwell
some images will enlarge when clicked on

Check out Bruce's Team Alameda Shutterfly page for more original pics

Mystery #1: Why is this ride called the Mystery Ride? Team Alameda had a pizza and beer party back in January, and after everyone was sufficiently lubricated, some clever ride coordinators began taking advantage, er, enlisting us to lead rides. I had signed up for two already, and on this third round, I said, sure put me down. Zoraida, our ride coordinator, asked me "Where are you going Flash?" I replied in a hopsy-malty haze, "it's a mystery". I really didn't know yet.

As the ride weekend approached, I figured I should do something different to live up to the mystery promotion, so I conjured up a Marin Headlands ride, and wrote up a vague description for the TA website. Maybe too vague as it turned out, as Bruce was the only taker. Also had the bad timing of leading on the weekend of the Wine Country Century, a big favorite of the TA usual suspects.

But a Bruce in the hand is worth two or more in the bush, so to speak, and I was very pleased to have him along. Bruce and I have shared many bike adventures over the years, such as the Thanksgiving day Mt. Hamilton climb in '08 and '09, but none so epic as the 2008 Death Ride, where we got caught at the top of Ebbett's pass in a hail/ freezing rain storm. (Flashblog 2008, "Death Ride '08", has an in depth story about that) That was my Into The Valley of Death Ride, and I got to share it with the good Doctor. Plus, should a dental emergency arise, he is the man to have at your side.

Mystery #2: what of the hordes of Girl Scouts that were scheduled to walk across the GG bridge that morning? How would we ever get past 8,000 girls, their mothers, regular tourists, Blazing Saddles rental bikers, and the usual cadre of "Manx Missile" Wannabe road bikers? The emails came in early Sat. morning advising me to beware...Bah! Let the Girl Scouts beware!

We departed Kaiser steps a little after 8am, it was cloudy and breezy, and Bruce's thoughts turned to breakfast, which I think he skipped. He has the metabolism of a teenager, tall and thin as he is. He suggested Chinatown for some pastries. Sounded good to me, so along the Embarcadero we rode. I should add we had a tag along, an Alamedan named Kenny (?) whom I had met at a party for our exchange students last year. Kenny rode with us to the pastry shop, saying we were pretty fast for him. We were as Bruce was hungry and riding on a mission.

Oh, man, did it smell good in there! I scarfed a BBQ pork bun, as did Bruce and he got some other things to take along for lunch. Delicious. We said goodbye to Kenny and rode to Oakland West BART where we transited to SF Embarcadero station and detrained.

An obligatory BART photo. We spend a fair amount of time standing in BART trains, don't we, and BART just makes it so easy to get around. Notice his flash enhanced jersey that glows in light. Brilliant!

We popped out of BART onto Mission St, the Ferry terminal just ahead.

Tried to get both Bruce and Coit tower in the same image, not so easy when you are riding along, but by gosh, I did it. This is SF's Embarcadero district.

Riding along just before the SportsBasement

Fast forward through Fisherman's Wharf, Fort Mason, Aquatic Park, Marina Green and Crissy Field, and here we are near the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. I actually love getting from there to here, so much to see.

Surfers catching mild waves in front of Fort Point

Surfer with Alcatraz Island

Bruce took this lovely picture that captures the whole mood.

Fort Point looking South

Have you ever seen such a lack of tourists on rental bikes? Awesome!

Looking at our goal in the distance, the top of Conzelman Road, elev. 900

Bruce up ahead, Girl Scouts on the East side. We were thrilled to find the west side open, so the whole Girl Scout problem became a non-issue. It was very windy crossing, and chilly, riding around the towers was like entering a howling wind tunnel.

Flash approaches the Sausalito one way tunnel. Mystery #3: would we make it to the other end of the tunnel before the cars on that side came at us? There is dude standing behind the signs at the tunnel entrance, his counterpart is at the other end of the tunnel. I suspect they had something to do with the altered light timing, damn them. Normally, the light is green for 5 minutes in one direction, then it is green for 5 in the other direction. It's one lane in there with two shoulders. Not bad at all on the downhill leg, uphill, that's something else.

Minute 1 inside the tunnel, and the cars are passing us, lots of time left.

Half way through. The cars have all passed us. Ominous sign, as the dudes at the ends of the tunnel seemed to have forgotten about us, and sure enough, about 50 yards before the end of the tunnel, cars started coming at us. This is why I made front and rear lights mandatory on this ride. Long story short, they didn't hit us and we emerged gratefully into the daylight of Bunker Road. I was breathing hard and my heartrate was pretty high. It's all uphill in there, plus on this day, we were fighting a headwind blowing down the tube. Wow, this is a unique experience, not for the weak of constitution.

Bunker Road just out of the tunnel.

We took a left onto McCullough Road, and this is the view looking towards Rodeo Beach

Same location as the last pic, looking up the road. Very few cars, lovely

The intersection of Conzelman and McCullough, with the new roundabout. There was a gale wind up here and we needed to take cover for a rest stop. The lower part of Conzelman is closed for a second round of road reconstruction, therefore the almost total lack of cars. A very special unexpected bonus, this lack of hoards of encapsulated tourists.

Former ammo bunker shields us from the winds. Nice view

Flash in his foxhole

Riding through the first of two tunnels at the top of the hill, this one leads to a third, hidden tunnel, in which we found mysterious and arcane artworks inside pitch black rooms.

Flooded gun pit. There used to be Iowa class battleship cannons up here. Bruce disappeared into the tunnel darkness, an it was only the dim reflection of his bike headlight that led me into a pitch black concrete room filled with cavepaintings. Mystery #4: who painted these and did they work in the dark or by candlelight?

Bruce and the Gatekeeper.
There were two rooms like this. Very strange and unexpected.

This photo is the opposite of that earlier photo from the bridge looking to this exact spot.

Top of Conzelman's new parking area

These flowers caught Bruce's eye and he got down low, way low, to take this excellent shot with GG bridge in the background.

An observation post high atop the hill. Note the rocks affixed to the sides of the bunker to camouflage the prying eyes from other prying eyes

Inside the observation post, upper level. Lower level was filled with fetid, dark water
The usual and more expected level of artwork in here

Bruce managed to ride up here, but the Volmer-esque super steepness of the access road had me pushing the Miyata, and even that was hard work. After we explored the fortifications, Bruce took off down a dirt path into the trees. He was on his Gunnar cyclocross bike, so this unexpected maneuver had me pondering whether to follow him or not. After some time, I decided what the hell and just as I was about to push off down the hill, here he came back up the hill. He had gone down to get this magnificent photo of the walking path down to the road. Looking at Rodeo beach in the distance. Bonita lighthouse to the far left outcropping, some of you will remember that outing of 2 years ago.

Check out the one way road below, a world class descent normally, but it was so freaking windy it was almost hazardous this day.

After we stowed out camera gear, we dropped into the dizzying descent to the valley. The gusting side winds were blowing me all over the road, so I didn't get to savor the new pavement, I was just trying to stay upright and not crash out on the upper section. It goes fast. We stopped midway down to step out onto the bluff to look south down upon a black sand beach. I didn't know this beach was even there. It can be accessed via trail from a newly built auto turnout. We continued down, and soon we reached our last feature on our tour, the only remaining Nike missile base in the United States. Talk about walking straight into the past and reliving Cold War angst. There is something chilling about this place, and it wasn't the wind.

Grabbing a bite to eat before the missile complex opened. Hard to see the stiff, cold wind in this photo, but it was there.

The gates opened, we were let in, and we set to locking our bikes to a chain link fence. Bruce had an easy to use cable lock, but I had my U lock, and in attempting to put it through the fence, I dropped it on the inside, a part flying off it as well. Doh!!! Then proceeded us trying to gingerly fish it out and get it back out through the fence. I was feeling inept for some reason, but finally we got it back together and I locked my bike to Bruce's. sheesh.

What the Ruskies feared most: a 40 kiloton nuke tipped, solid fueled, Mach 3 anti-aircraft missile, the Nike

Enlarge this pic to see what the buttons say. This was state of the art electronics in the early '60's.

As was this communcations board. We were told that a modern digital watch has more computing power than the entire base had back then. Mystery #5: How did they do it? How did they control these tools of Armeggedon with tubes, and knobs, and wires?

Fire control radar screen, lit by incandescent light bulbs no less.

Our zealous tour guide, who actually worked at a missile base like this one. He took inordinate pleasure telling us how many ways you could get shot for security breaches back then . Or worse, the dogs would rip your throat out when shooting you with bullets might harm the missiles. He told us they used to transport the nuke warheads in disguised milk trucks. Fascinating stuff, this glimpse into a tense and insane past many of us grew up in. The Cold War shaped us in ways hard to describe.

The Nikes are stored in a below ground garage of sorts. I never did figure out where they launched them from, but I assume from the lift once the bird is up at ground level.

This Ford Falcon perfectly sets the time in which all this took place. The concept behind the Nike was that it would fly out over the ocean to intercept the incoming Commie air force. It didn't need a direct hit, only come within a mile or so and detonate it's nuke. The shock wave would blow the wings off any plane within, well, quite a ways. One of these missiles packed 4 times the destruction of Hiroshima. Could you imagine the fallout over the Bay Area had they used one or more of these? Probably better to just get nuked and die quickly than to suffer horrible radiation sickness that would have ensued. Really, just insane to think about it, that we were just a hair trigger away from this being our reality.
Mystery #6: What prevented mankind from destroying the earth? MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction. I guess it worked.

Suddenly, it was time to turn for home. We needed to get Bruce back to Alameda before 3pm, so we took advantage of the stiff tailwind to blow us back to the Sausalito Tunnel. Well, almost, it is rolling uphill, but the wind helped. Even returning at 30mph through the tunnel those damned dudes let the oncoming cars in early, so again, thank goodness we had lights on. Back on the Golden Gate, the sidewinds were even stronger than the morning, and when we slowed to turn around the first tower, the blast of wind nearly blew us off our bikes. We estimate it at 50mph.
Here's a photo of my glasses showing how some liquid, hopefully from me and not a tourist, dispersed across the lens.

We made our way back across the city via Bay St. to the Embarcadero, moving along at a good clip. Once we tromped down three flights of stairs with our bikes, ran to make the Fremont train, which I barely did, I found a seat and just closed my eyes. Man, I was tapped. The wind and chill had taken a lot of energy out of me. It felt so good just to sit there and listen to the train roll along beneath me. We exited Fruitvale at 3pm, I think Bruce was in a little trouble as he was supposed to make an Alameda party by 3:30 in clean condition. I hope he did. Upon arriving home, I finished my lunch sandwich, (seen being eaten in the photo at the missile base). Downed that with a cold beer. Took a hot shower. Fell asleep for two hours. Got up for an evening out which ended at Midnight. Man alive, what a full day!

Postscript: I didn't ride at all Sunday. After an intense week I just needed to veg, but that didn't even happen as all the to do items needed attending to. But even while doing those, I had the great afterglow of a day well spent on the bike. I hope you enjoyed this photo tour of the day and were able to relive it vicariously. If so, I did my job.

Ride On My Friends