Sunday, October 27, 2013

Exploring Santa Cruz

Beat and I enjoyed a quiet weekend, working on a few projects and being lazy tapering for Frog Hollow. My friend Jan was in town for the weekend, and was interested in venturing out for a mellow ride on Saturday. Jan moved to Seattle recently and has been enduring autumn in the Pacific Northwest, so he was stoked about clear sky and temperatures in the 70s. He told us about the horrors of bike commuting in the cold rain, and I was quick to commiserate. "I lived in Juneau for five years. They get three times the annual precipitation of Seattle." Jan related his trials and I joined in with back-in-my-day war stories about showing up at the office covered face to foot in road grit and rigid, refrozen sheets of ice, which is what happens when it's 32.1 degrees and you ride a bike through three inches of slush, even with fenders. I'd have to stand outside the building until I peeled off the top two drenched layers, shivering with full-on convulsions as my extremities went numb, and, Sonny, you don't know the true indignity of bike commuting until you've commuted through a winter in Juneau.

But it's true that weather toughness is like muscle mass -- it steadily gets softer and weaker the longer one lives in a friendly climate. Now I'm Californian through and through, and I don't even blink when it's 70 and sunny in late October. Yawn.

2008 Jill would not be amused.

But it's refreshing to view one's routines through the lens of someone who sees more rareness in opportunities. Jan wanted to ride in Santa Cruz, which is one of those places that is so close and yet feels so far away. I admit my first reaction was, "Ugh, traffic." But there wasn't any; it's less than an hour of driving, to visit a place with incredible diversity in terrain and landscapes. In just one twenty-mile ride, we climbed a desert-like sand slopes, rode through a lonely eucalyptus grove stranded in a grassy plain, dropped into loamy, root-choked singletrack winding through a dense redwood forest, and skirted coastal cliffs.

Descending into the coastal fog after riding the trails and fireroads of Wilder Ranch.

Pelicans. Lots of pelicans.

More seabirds on an envy-inducing perch.

Whenever a taller friend comes to visit, we usually lend them our 18-inch Fatback, because it's our largest bike. This was Jan's first time on a fat bike and he had that giddy "monster truckin" grin on his face for much of the ride. The fat bike market is exploding right now, with exponentially more choices in frames, forks, wheels, rims and tires than there were just three years ago when Beat purchased the Fatback. This trend is also pushing fat bike design away from its snow-and-sand origins, and more into the all-terrain market, with bikes featuring tighter geometry, carbon frames, knobbier tires, suspension forks, sometimes even rear suspension. These developments annoy some "old-timer" fat bike enthusiasts, because the industry already offered bikes better suited for trail riding, called mountain bikes. I also agree that fat bikes really shine on soft and loose surfaces, and prefer my mountain bike for dirt. But I can't deny that riding a fat bike is simply fun -- smile-inducing fun -- whether it's on snow or dirt or pavement. Jan agreed. We managed to get Fatty off trail for a fun diversion of beach riding in a cove below the cliffs. I would try to ride sand more often if there were more accessible, longer stretches of beach in the area. But every strip of nearby coastline that I've noticed is either closed to the public, closed to bikes, or blocked by cliffs.

Skimming along the cliffs was my favorite part of the ride. Beat was on his singlespeed and spun out at a relaxed pace. A stiff tailwind helped scoot us along, so I just leaned back and coasted with my camera out.

So many pelicans! Thanks for getting us out for new explorations in our back yard, Jan.

Beat has been hard at work on gear for his upcoming walk to Nome. Now that he knows exactly what he wants, he's been designing, building, and sewing a lot of it himself. He started from scratch on this year's sled (version 6.0), built from a sheet of ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene. The lightweight sled is five feet long, with a built-in shield silnylon cover that doubles as a bivy sack. The front flap allows venting while keeping out snow, and there's a plastic dome at the head to keep fabric away from Beat's face when he's sleeping. The rear section rolls back into the sled with a VX21 fabric flap. I crawled inside and it was cozy in there, like a warm cocoon rather than the suffocating coffins that closed-up bivy sacks usually mimic. Innovative stuff.

There are more pictures of Beat's Nome sled at . There are probably only a couple dozen people in the world who'd appreciate a good, lightweight, sleep-in pulk, but who knows? Maybe this stuff will go the way of the fat bike someday. Just a few (thousand) miles north
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