Monday, September 21, 2009

Monterey trip

I did the bicycle trip to Monterey for the genetics retreat this year. I thought I had planned well, but then I got off to a late start. After a couple miles out, I realized that the two water bottles I put in the freezer "for a few minutes" were still in the freezer. At least I had the one emergency water bottle in the back. I guess that would have to do. Luckily the weather was just about perfect. Not cool enough to justify a jacket, nor hot enough to cause a lot of sweat.

The trip to Los Gatos was uneventful enough. Again, this year, I followed the signs to the Los Gatos Creek trail instead of taking the quick entrance on Santa Cruz. D'oh! Eventually I went through some alleyway over a few bridges, and finally on to the trail. The trail was one of the least fun parts. The crushed limestone gravel just slows things down, and I was unable to get traction to climb up some of the steep hills, thus I had to wheel my bike up. From there it was up around the reservoir on Alma Bridge (stopping at one little park with an outhouse), Old Santa Cruz and Summit, and then down San Jose Soquel. The climb is extremely nice - mostly shaded, not so steep that you need the lowest gear, but steep enough so you are not climbing forever. The pavement is also in great condition. The decent is also great. Smooth pavement, and just about the perfect mix of grade and turns to allow fast speed without much breaking. (The only downside was some tree work at the end of a downhill. The flagger even apologized for destroying my momentum.) There is a nice park near the bottom of the hill with water and a bathroom.

Then on to Soquel Road for a long haul. I saw a hole-in-the-wall donut shop somewhat near the community college, so I stopped in for an Apple Fritter. Yum. They didn't have much a of a selection, but the fritter was good.

Around Rio Del Mar, Soquel makes a curve, and I always seem to get confused. This time, I found myself on Huntington, and decided to continue on it. It has hardly any traffic, but some nice little hills. From there, it was a hop down Valencia to Freedom. I continued on Freedom to Watsonville. The first section of Freedom was mostly farmland (lots of apple orchards. (I recall passing a "martinelli" street.) Then it turns industrial, and the pavement becomes absolutely horrid. Eventually, I ended up in downtown Watsonville (and passed by a park with a water fountain) A couple metro buses follow this route, so it could provide an alternative.

From Watsonville, I went over the bridge to Pajaro, and then continued on Salinas and eventually to Elkhorne. This road has very little traffic, with some shaded sections and hills. It makes for a much more pleasant ride than Highway 1.

Then I got to Castroville. Or almost to Castroville. At 156, a sign said the right turn was towards 1 north. I thought that left must then lead to one south. Even the long wait for the left turn signal was not enough to convince me otherwise. After going for a little while, I had a hunch I was going in the wrong direction, but with it being around noon, I had a hard time judging by the sun (and my GPS was gone...) After a little while I was convinced it would be good to make the next right turn. Only problem, is there wasn't a right turn for 4 miles! Finally, I reached a right turn to 101 at Prunedale. I remember this place from the MST 55 bus, so I figured it was not the direction I wanted to go, but I could quickly take the first right to get back towards Castroville.

101 had a nice wide shoulder, and a couple traffic lanes, making it a somewhat more pleasant than 156. Part way down 101, a highway patrolman stopped me, and advised me not to ride on 101. I asked him if it was ok to ride there, and he said it was legal, but there were lots of large trucks and unlicensed drivers and it was dangerous. (Hmm, wouldn't the unlicensed drivers be on other roads, too? And there are plenty of large trucks moving at fast speeds on other roads - most with narrower shoulders.) However, I was clearly headed in the wrong direction, and wanted to get on to Monterey, so I asked him for the fastest way there. He pointed in the route that I was considering, back to Castroville. D'oh! (And his recomendations included a narrow road and then a high volume, high speed road with lots of trucks... Sigh)

So it was back down Blackie road to Castroville. Blackie has a little bit of shading. Which made it better than the heavily exposed other roads I was traveling...

Finally I end up on 183, and notice I'm heading towards Salinas... Again! D'oh! I see a turn off (Cooper) that seems vaguely familiar, and follow it down to Blanco. I remember that one from a previous trip back from Monterey. From there its on to Reservation and then Imjin. Then through CSU Monterey Bay and under Highway 1 to the bike path. I actually took a different underpass that took me to the 'empty' road on the beach side of the bike path. Its a little more pleasant, being a greater distance from the freeway.

I eventually made it there, 2 hours late and very sunburnt. D'oh! The 75 mile trip ended up being about 100 miles.

There was a professor (Stuart Kim) and one of his students that had also biked in. They went through Gilroy and over 152. When I went to my room, there was a do not disturb thing in the door. When I game back with my bike, one of the bikers appeared there. It turned out my roommate was in their same lab, and was letting them borrow the room to shower because her room was not ready yet. I finally had a nice shower and realized I was a little fried. The bathtub was also a slow drainer. D'oh. This room was not on the beach side, so I didn't have all the load beach waves at night... Instead there was highway noise.

The next day, I had visions of going down to Big Sur. However, it was a little further than I had anticipated, and I was a little slower than I hoped. I also got a little twisted up on the way to Carmel. Going down Highway 1 in to Carmel, I decided I would not repeat that route on the way back. (I had done that last year. It did not look like a fun hill to climb, especially with rush hour traffic.)

Highway 1 south of Carmel was uninspiring. The heavy traffic made it loud, and the mixture of wind and hills made for a challenging bike ride. Perhaps the greatest challenge was the fact that it was an 'out and back' route. There was no other road to turn on to make a loop back. I would just be going on the same road that I took there. And the scenery was just cliffs, hills and beaches. It started to get old.

So, around mile marking 62 (Rocky Point restaurant), I turned around to head back. There I realized that the bits were I seemed to be making good speed were really due to a tailwind. D'oh! That left me with a nice headwind going back.

Near the turnaround, there were a group of beachfront estates - it looked like everyone was for sale - for about $6 million dollars. The multimillion dollar homes in Carmel Highlands looked a little more appealing, but I think I would pass on the beach view... Just a little too loud for my tastes.

On the way back, I went by Carmel's beach, through Pebble Beach, and around the end of the '1X' bus route only the coast and eventually to the bike path. With all the detours, the total trip was somewhere in the 40-50 mile range.

For the trip home, I decided to try to be as direct as possible. But things can sometimes get in the way. I took the Bike Path, then continued on to Del Monte. Near Marina, I really had to go to the bathroom, I jumped over the railroad tracks to Marina Library. Then I got twisted up, going out to the Reservation beach before eventually finding my way back to Del Monte/Monte. Then it was on to Castroville via a road and bike path that connects Nashua to Merrit. I tried to hunt again for a public facility, but I just seemed to see industrial areas. Castroville also seemed rather small for the population figure given. Finally I crossed the highway and found the "artichoke capitol" (75% of the US artichokes come from here according to wikipedia). I eventually found the Castroville library - had to ask for a restroom key ("due to vandalism").

From there I continued on Merrit Street, which eventually came to 1. This section of Highway 1 is not horrid, but not fun. It is loud with a lot of traffic, and it goes close to the coast, making for lots of wind.
Shortly before reaching Jensen, I noticed a lull in traffic, and thought I might try to make a left turn to go through the strawberry fields. However, when I got closer, there was a steady stream of traffic, so I decided to continue onward. Then the road became a freeway, with a bikes must exit sign. (I never understand why they make bikes exit when it becomes a freeway - this seems to make it safer for bikes. The traffic splits in to two lanes and the shoulder gets wider. And exits are to the right rather than forcing left turns. Oh well.)

I noticed some "Pacific Coast Bike Route" signs, so I attempted to follow them. This directed me down Salinas Rd. Then a sign
pointed left, so I dutifully turned left at the next intersection - which turned out a private road for a couple businesses. Then I realized it was pointing to the next street, so I eventually made it to the right location, and kept going down Salinas as directed. This lead me through downtown Watsonville, but then the signs seem to have failed me. I continued going straight on the road. But eventually it forked, without a sign.

I continued on Main Street. But, eventually, it entered the freeway. So I followed along the parallel road (westgate). It eventually turned in to Larkin Valley. This is a nice road with rolling hills and very little traffic (but also very little tree cover) Eventually it crossed over Highway 1, and became San Andreas. And right afterwards, it intersected with Bonita, where I found the trusty "Pacific Coast Bike Route" sign again. This lead a short bit down Bonita to Freedom and back to Soquel. Then I continued down Soquel to Porter which becomes San Jose Soquel. I stopped at the park there to 'refuel' for the trip up the hill.

San Jose Soquel seems much longer on the way up than the way down. It really does go past the 10 mile marker. There were hardly any cars going in my direction, but a decent number going the other way (early commuters heading back home?) I had managed to break out a nice sweat by then. Once I started going down the summit, the temperature jumped up noticeably.

This time, I decided to go down Old Santa Cruz Highway all the way (instead of Aldercroft Heights.) It was a fairly nice decent. Good pavement, hardly any traffic. I noticed a VTA bus just ahead of me on summit. I thought I would have a chance to outrun it, but some of the intermediate hills did me in. On the way down, I found myself breaking a little more than San Jose Soquel - partly due to the sun (I just couldn't make out the road.) I road on the shoulder of 17 for the brief bit between the end of Old Santa Cruz and Aldercroft Heights. The shoulder has a few real bad patches there. But, there is still plenty of room. And the rightmost lane is actually an 'exit' lane, so there is plenty of buffer.

After jumping on the Los Gatos Creek trail, I had wished I just stayed on 17 to Los Gatos. To get to the trail, first you have to go down a steep gravel hill. I tried riding, but eventually walked down it. Then up a hill, then down a hill. All pretty much need to be walked, unless you are good with a mountain bike. Yuck.

From there, it was the direct route down Santa Cruz to Highway 9. I had planned on continuing down Saratoga-San Jose to Prospect. However, I got a red light at Pierce, with another car in the left turn lane, so I decided to take that shortcut through the Prospect. I found the right streets, with only one little detour (through a "no outlet" sign I didn't trust, which ended up being true.)

I had already gone through all my water, so just decided to zoom towards home. Eventually made it there, and quickly guzzled the two water bottles that I had forgotten (somebody had placed them in the fridge.)

Trip there was a little before 7 am to 3pm. Trip back was between 10:30-11am to 5:30-6:00pm.

As for the Genetics conference, the talk I found the most interesting was on "barcoding". The goal is to allow quick, cheap tests to determine the identity of species of plants and animals based on a quick DNA sample. The tests have already been used for identifying new species among similar animals in Costa Rica. The speaker envisioned a $2.50 device that would allow for identification, along with a 'tax' that would help support the scientific research and classification. (Somehow, I see the $2.50 device much more likely than the research tax.)

There was also an interesting panel on consumer genetics companies. Should people have access to their genetic information, and what are the consequences. Will some of these super cheep sequencing technologies come aboard? (And not discussed - will this amount to anything? Or will we discover that were missing some other huge aspect of the genetic system?)

View Larger Map
Above is a rough version of the route I took. There were a few additional minor detours that are not included in the map. Also, the 'routing' on Highway 17 was actually the Los Gatos Creek trail, while the routing on 1 was a combination of Beach Range Road and the beachfront bike path.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Stolen Garmin Forerunner GPS watch

At first, after playing racquetball, I was careful to bring all my
racquetball gear in to the locker room with me. I didn't want to risk
any of it getting stolen. However, I gradually started to let my guard
down. First I'd leave the racquet in the pannier. Then the balls,
goggles and gloves would begin to stay there also. And today, I made
the ultimate faux-pax: I left my Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch in there.

I even saw it there and thought, "I should really bring that in with me."

"Nah, it will only be a few minutes. It will be fine."

"Well, ok. But let me move some of these bags on top of the stuff just
to be safe."

Well, somebody may have seen me move the stuff, or they may just have
thought that a full pannier was worth rifling through. When I came out,
there were a few bags on the ground, as well as an inner-tube box. The
balls, gloves and racquets were still there - as well as the pluot book
that I need to return.

But no watch. And no innertube. (And I would later realize, no goggles).

At first I thought it might have been some animal that happened to grab
some stuff. (After all, who would still an innertube while leaving the
handball/racqetball equipment?) So, I took a look around the area for
any sign of animals. Also checked the garbage cans, just in case
somebody just grabbed it and tossed it. No dice. So, off to file a
police report.

Perhaps even more unsettling was the fact that I had not downloaded data
for the past few days - even charging it up for the past few times
without doing a download.

Whoever has it also wont get much use out of it - after all, they don't
have a charger. They may be able to use it for a dozen hours, and then
the batteries will be dead, and they'll probably toss it. The goggles
may have a little more value. The innertube? Now that is really
baffling. Why would somebody rifle through a saddlebag, through some
plastic bags on the ground and take an innertube out of a box and run
off with it?

On the positive side, I have been trying to dejunk. This is one less
thing I will need to keep track of. And now I need to start being more
careful with my stuff.

Quick bike turn at home

I've been thinking about the trip to take the girls to schoool, then
drop off the triple, pick up my bike, and bike in to work. I had been
attempting to analyze it, saying that, in theory it could be a route
taken directly to get from the school to work... Alright, there is a
little detour, but not much.

Well, today, I was waiting with another cyclist at a red light at
Stelling and Stevens Creek. I passed her on Stelling. Then after going
home and changing out the bikes, I ended up passing her again on Fremont
between Wright and Bernardo.

I guess it really isn't too much of a detour.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Rural vs. Urban

A great part of the commute from Sunnyvale to Stanford is the various different commute options. El Camino and Foothill Expressway both touch sides of the campus, and are about the same distance. For alternatives, the modified 'crow flies' route goes mostly through quiet Los Altos streets. (These streets are mostly at 90 degree angles, so this route ends up being a few miles longer than the regular route.)
El Camino is the quintessential urban route. There are plenty of lights, but they tend to be rather short. There is also the constant stimulus of traffic, businesses and the like.
Foothill has a very rural feel. Built in the location of a former railroad, it seems to be mostly surrounded by trees. Intersections are fewer, but the lights cycles tend to be longer. Most intersections also seem to be "small towns" (many former railroad stops.)
It is nice to be able to switch from city to country without significantly impacting commute distance or time.
There are also other alternatives, like caltrain, that can take about the same time. as well as Alma/Central or Park/Evelyn that parallel the caltrain tracks and may take only a little longer.

Why I don't work in Sunnyvale...

I decided to stop by the Sunnyvale Smart Station to pick p some compost on the way home from work. (Alas, I go there too late for that...) The ride through Moffett Park reminded me of why I don't work there. The smart station was at the end of Borregas, so a trip down the Borregas bike bridges seemed the easy "low stress" way to go.
It may have been a lower traffic way than Mathilda, but the stress of traffic was replaced by the stress of poor design. At the Smart station, the first obvious problem with the lack of a signal that was tripped by bikes. (The other side of the intersection had nice embossed bike markings. Not so for the southbound side.) Ok. No big deal. There was a ped button nearby, and the signal was fairly quick. Going down Borregas there were a couple large tree branches in the bike lane. Annoying, but there was little traffic.
Finally the first bike bridge. Rather than a straight bridge over the freeway, they created a massive curve. This results in an offset entrance perpendicular to Borregas (and slightly offset from the street.) Luckily Moffett Park Blvd. was fairly low traffic in the area. Still, getting on was not the most low stress maneuver. The long curve over the freeway also means that you are exposed to the maximum amount of freeway noise. The exit on the other end was similar. Why not just extend the bridge straight and have at end a little further down the block? It may have caused the elimination of a couple (unused) street parking spaces. Horrors.
However, Sunnyvale seemed to like the design, and the next bridge suffered from similar problems.
Borregas itself was not too bad. There were few stop signs or stop lights. However, it was built to "Sunnyvale road standards", meaning it was about as smooth as sandpaper. One section was even recently repaved (or maybe 'blackened' would be more accurate. We should really pitch in and get Sunnyvale a good roller.)
The Maude/Borregas/Sunnyvale intersection is the next bit of fun. Borregas and Sunnyvale are slightly offset, making it an interesting left turn maneuver. It's not incredibly challenging, but it does slow you down a bit. From Sunnyvale, you have an overpass over Central and then a grade crossing over caltrain. Then you can sneak under the Mathilda overpass to get to Pastoria and Hollenbeck.
In theory, the Borregas way avoids most of the nasty intersections. However, most of its problems are structural in nature (thus little hope of fast trips). It took me 35 minutes from the Smart Station, and that was with a fairly quick run down Hollenbeck. I could probably go a little faster down some stretches of Borregas. But, would then be slowed down by the bridges. From some the office parks, there would also be some of the other nasty crossings (like Mathilda/Carribean and Java.) I think I would just stick with Mathilda.
But, Carribean has its own problems - lights. At Moffet Park and Mathilda, the light is not well synched with the others and too quick. The result is that Mathilda and turning traffic blocks the intersection, making it impossible for through Mofett Park traffic to move. The signal changes so fast that it turns red before the intersection clears. (Perhaps the city should try to balance its budget by handing out tickets to cars blocking the intersection.)
Other lights seem to suffer from the opposite problem. Java and Caribbean/Mathilda seemed to be red forever, with a few random railroad crossing bells thrown in for good measure (only one that was actually accompanied by a light-rail train.)
The density of office development would seem to be the ideal for setting up transit. If only... Instead it is the ideal area for huge ugly traffic jams. (And the poor configuration and frequency of the light rail seems to guarantee that it will only be lightly used.) But, hey, what do you expect from a Sunnyvale?