Saturday, September 9, 2017

The New Normal

"What color is the sky?" the teacher asks the class.
"White!" the children respond for this is all they know.

Smoke. Haze. Fire. Our Pacific Northwest summer, the one season where we reliably see blue skies, overcast by wildfire smoke raging across the region. We haven't seen a blue sky in days. The sun burns red. My mouth tastes like smoke and I try not to go outside. I feel like a dinosaur after the meteorite which kills them all.

On the other side of the country, epic hurricanes tear through sprawling suburbs and Irma promises more. People dead, homes destroyed, flood upon flood upon flood. This is our new normal.

So what can we do? So what MUST we do?

Have one less child/adopt a child. Drive less. Fly less. Eat less beef. But most of all, demand more. More from your governments, more from your corporations, and more from your sustainable self.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Big Sur

We finally made it! Monterey to Big Sur was 34.78 miles at a brutally slow 7.9 mph due to the 3,438 ft of elevation we gained. With all our stuff. AND a terrible headwind, oof! By 5:00pm, when we hadn't even reached Big Sur proper (did you know there are awesome state parks like Garrapata along the way that are so so so beautiful as well?), well, we were in low spirits. Particularly Laura who had to do 100% of the steering and at least 50% of the pedaling in that crazy headwind. I mean, we were going downhill at barely 10 mph instead of 17, it was so bad. When I kept hearing constant "UGHS!" from my captain- I knew it was all downhill (no, not literally, if only!). I even started biking with my thumb out, hoping one of these giant trucks, SUVs or RVs would pick us up. Nope!

It was truly our hardest day, we really felt the extra elevation on our tandem. And quite frankly, we were mentally tired too. There were just so many cars on a Sunday, it seemed we never got a moment of peace. But the coastline is so beautiful, even if it's never flat. It winds up and down, in and out, blue seas and steep cliffs, ice plants and native vegetation.

When we finally got to camp, after the last seemingly endless 900 ft of climbing, we set up camp, ate, and just conked out. The next morning we woke to the sounds of rain! The closeness of the tent ceiling makes the rain drop sounds even more pronounced and I kept my earplugs out listening to it for a while at 3:30am. I also rescued our jet boil stove which we had foolishly left outside since we finally had a camping spot of our own to strew about our possessions.

There's nothing like rain when you are on a biking tour to make you question your decisions and Laura quickly found a bus that would take us all the way back to San Jose Caltrain with just one transfer in Monterey. After yesterday's endurance ride, this escape hatch really lifted our spirits. But we still spent the day reading and lounging in our camp chairs (we have chair kits that convert our sleeping mats into chairs- sitting with a back rest was so luxurious!). I even sat outside with hat, gloves, and sleeping bag to enjoy our beautiful campsite, surrounded by redwoods.

That night, fire! Our own fire!! Whenever we arrive at a campground we always look at other campsites to see if anybody has left wood and people did! That saved us $11/bundle (omg, private campgrounds are ridiculous) and Laura was even able to stretch the wood out for TWO nights, cleverly using only a couple pieces to create warmth, not necessarily a lot of light. This was perfect for our uses of cooking, warmth, and enjoying being outside in the night.

The next day we set out for Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park. Whether we should head back or go was a subject of long deliberation and checking the bus schedule and weather report dozens of times. Alas, we discovered that our savior bus didn't come down to Big Sur on the weekdays but the Monterey to SJ Caltrain leg still ran. So we decided to bike the 20 miles round trip to Julia Pfieffer Tuesday, then from Big Sur to Monterey Wednesday, and take the bus and Caltrain back to avoid the rain coming Thursday.

This was the best decision ever. Julia Pfieffer is only 4 square miles but it boasts 2 waterfalls (one pouring directly into the beach/ocean), redwoods and an amazing view of the coastline. We were thrilled to get to enjoy the iconic bits of Big Sur in easily hikable distances and the sun came out for us too! Taking in the view, we ate the surprisingly good sandwiches we had bought at the market the day before and it might have been one of the best lunches of my life (for just $7.95 too!). 

Our final day we rode from Big Sur back to Monterey, an initial decision forced by an elusive bus route but one that we were so glad to have made as well. On a Wednesday Big Sur is a pleasure to ride with far fewer cars and we even got to see a half dozen cyclists headed the other direction too! They were as happy to see us as were happy to not be on that side climbing 3400 ft. The last hill into Monterey was intense. We were dreaded the elevation but it was the cars flying past that actually made it miserable. We ended up beating the google maps estimate by a solid 40 minutes which was good because we had to break the tandem in half. Despite always thinking we know what we are doing, we actually don't so we used the extra time to take our time and eventually visit a bike store too. By the way, Bay Bikes, locations in Carmel and Monterey, saved our butts twice! Visit them, they are smart and didn't charge me either times!!

Okay, commercial plug over. So here I am, sitting in the comfort of a giant home with wifi, electricity, a laptop, a bed with a real pillow, and shorts on even though it's raining outside. After 214.89 miles and 14097 ft of elevation, it's nice to be home.

How Bike Touring is Different From Camping

Initially when we were planning this trip, I thought bike camping would be a lot like bike camping. Wait, that doesn't make sense. I thought that bike touring would be a lot like bike camping. You see, we've been bike camping a couple of times over the years, usually for a weekend. And you pack light, use Ortliebs and all that good stuff, but still, bike touring is very different.

The biggest difference is for bike touring is, much of the time, and this may seem obvious- you spend riding your bike. When bike camping, we just took a bunch of stuff to one campground and stayed for as long as possible there (read: until we ran out of food). This is also kind of like car camping. Go to a place, camp out, see the scenery around there.

Thus, our plan was to stay in Monterey for 3 nights (their maximum) and check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium, 17 Mile Drive (fyi, Asilomar Beach is superior), hang out at camp/build fires, and so forth. Imagine our surprise when we got to the bike/hike campsite and everybody else was just staying for the night. Well, except one dude, but that was because he was broken and needed to rest, not because he planned on it.

Apparently, the way to bike tour is to ride from bike campground to the next bike campground. You do see a lot this way, as being on a bike is seriously the best way to see scenery, but where is the resting?? Where is the gourmet food? Why is it okay to just keep eating canned beans every night???

In fact, our campground in Monterey didn't even have fire rings for the bike campsite. We had to beg regular campers to use their fire every single night. And don't get me wrong, every single person we asked to use their fire was completely friendly and absolutely cooperative, but by the last night, I just wanted our old camping routine. Laura making a fire, me cooking over it, and then watching the embers burn burn burn. But alas, when you are in somebody else's campsite out cooking them on their own fire (why do car campers even bring camping stoves? One should do everything on the FIRE!) , you can't outstay your welcome.

Second reason why food isn't important when bike touring is because food is really heavy. When you can save a lot of weight, packing space, and time by cooking over a camp stove, why not? In fact, today, after a huge day of biking to Big Sur, we did exactly that. We didn't want to lug around firewood or worry about keeping meat cold, so we just ate boiled food (but don't despair for us too much, I still made it a 3 course meal- avocado topped with almonds, noodles with peas in a mushroom soup, and hot chocolate with marshmallows for dessert!).
Also, you don't want to have too much stuff with you because you just don't know what might get stolen! We were warned the first morning when we headed out to Monterey Bay Aquarium and were just going to leave everything in our tent like we usually do when we camp, that things disappear all the time. Sure enough, during our stay we met somebody who had their bike stolen in the middle of the night from that site, somebody had their huge gas canister stolen, and we had 5 of our 6 star bolts stolen from off our rear disc brake. Why somebody would do this is totally beyond me because I literally had them replaced for free and if you had tools you should really go for high roller items like derailleur or seats, but the guy at the bike shop said he had never seen just one bolt left unless it was stolen. Sometimes two or three come out, but never all of them but one. This was also super shitty because it slowed us down a lot to diagnose the problem (luckily we didn't die coming down from Monterey to Carmel), hitchhike to the nearest bike shop to fix the problem (Laura wisely wouldn't let us ride without brake) and then hitchhike back. Totally nuts. Luckily, I had great luck hitchhiking waiting only about 5 cars and not even having to show any skin!

Finally, bike touring is super epic because it is kind of hard to always be camping. Many times this trip I've wondered if I'm homeless. In order to save weight, I don't have a pillow, I just stuff all of our clothes into our sleeping bag stuff sack. Over the nights, I've finally perfected my "pillow" by making sure our down jackets stay on the top side of the stuff sack. But seriously, I haven't slept in a real bed with a real pillow in 5 days. Hilariously enough though, I'm taking more showers because they were free at the Monterey site and we had to wash our clothes in the shower since we packed so few (see once again, homeless or bike touring? It's hard to tell).

But whether we are bike camping, bike touring, or just plain biking, life is pretty awesome to us. It's been beautiful out and not too cold (although packing only one pair of long pants and shorts/2 tshirts was definitely not the right ratio for outdoor living). We've met plenty of fun people at the bike campsites, for instance a duo that seriously reminded me of Cheryl Strand from Wild. They booked tickets to California 3 days before, had never bike toured, and were just carrying around WAY too much stuff. Like, oversized sleeping bags, sweatshirts/sweats, and so so so many apples. However, they were in super good spirits and at the end of the day, are still ahead of us since we took our unheard of break! That's the most brilliant thing about bike touring. You can just go and start biking. Anywhere you really want, just get on your bike and there will likely be campgrounds that are first come, first serve for you when you are tired, a ton of people willing to help you along the way, and  fantastic feeling of knowing you got yourself where you are going.   

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Bike Touring

So this is new. Laura and I decided to really go for it and go bike touring. As in we decided this less than a week ago and now here we are on day 3 in a lovely city hike and bike campground in Monterey. I'm fancy writing this with a Bluetooth keyboard connected to my smartphone! Don't worry, there's outlets in the bathroom to charge so we don't get stuck without directions. 

It all started when Laura said she wanted to go to Big Sur a couple months ago. We thought we'd drive since we drove down Laura's stepdad's truck from Seattle, but then somebody was selling front rack Ortliebs on Craigslist for 50 percent off list price. Robert let us borrow his front rack and that was that.

Well not really, we did spend a couple days putting together the tandem and breaking a screw off in the tandem and trying to extract this screw (cleverly it was the screw for the rear rack). We also had long vacillating debates about the merits of going north or south but finally, FINALLY we just decided to go for it and go for it we did.

I thought the first day would be easy because we took Caltrain down from SF to SJ so and I thought that meant we were going to have a short riding day. Reminder to everybody, check the route of where you are going before you get on your bike! Alas, Laura had done almost all the route planning and campground reserving so I didn't know our first day was actually our longest- 56 miles, 2100 ft of elevation gain. It really came all at once in a 5 miles stretch climbing over 152 into Watsonville. Brutal.

But hey, we made it! And before that, oh my, so amazing finding Coyote Creek trail. That's right, almost half our ride on a dedicated pedestrian and cycling trail with almost nobody in our way. Then we rode through Morgan Hill which was filled with bike lanes. Then that brutal part I mentioned earlier, then a rather pleasant ride to DINNER at a taqueria in downtown Watsonville. Note to reader: tons of taquerias in Watsonville- I don't think you can go wrong. And then a final climb to our campsite under the glow of the sunset. As usual the last few miles were the hardest, at least mentally, we were done at dinner.
Let me tell you a little bit about hiker biker campsites. First, they are usually shared (look at me, the expert after staying at two sites). They are usually very cheap ($10/site, $6/person at another). This one, at Pine Hallow Campground at Sunset State Beach even had two bike racks. I mean, whhhaaaatt??!! So cool. And nothing really beats the coolness factor of biking into a campsite of course. But we were beat. So we set up camp and then went to bed. I think it was 8:30pm.

The next day we woke up to another perfectly blue sky day and only a 3.5 hour ride (35 miles)! We fixed our bike (and spoiler alert, the belt has not come off again even though we've ridden said 35 miles and MORE). We charged our phones in the glory of the sun (yes, Laura insisted we borrow my Uncle Jeffrey's solar panel) and off we went. The ride through Watsonville covers farmlands and we discovered what Brussel sprouts look like with leaves on the stalks! Man, this vegetable keeps surprising me aesthetically. Best part was smelling all the strawberries growing next to the road as we winding through basically abandoned roads. But we did meet OTHER CYCLISTS! GASP!!! HOOORAAAYY!! This guy was going at it for a month and it's just so nice getting to talk to other cyclists being crazy like you. We were also passed by a couple of road cyclists who did not have packs but were very friendly. We also road some of highway 1 which was not friendly, but at least it had a shoulder, unlike the BRUTAL highway 152 climb. Obviously, I am not over this climb.

Okay, so then what happened? Then we passed through Moss Landing which I remembered kayaking at and seeing roughly 10,000 otters (j/k, there are only 3000 otters who live there, up from their low of 100). So we stop at the bridge overlooking Elkhorn Slough and what do we see?? SEA OTTERS!!!!!! YESSSSSSSS, FANTASTIC, 1000 STARS, 200 THUMBS UP! We had already decided against kayaking, as this is a biking trip and we were already feeling under-athletically prepared, but watching from the bridge we saw a sea otter chowing down so that was definitely the right decision. Then we stopped by a farmer stand which was so awesome because everything was so cheap, but so bad because everything was so cheap. Luckily, Laura talked some sense into me and I just got 3 PERSIMONS and 2 GIANT avocados. Yes, that's me being reasonable. A couple miles later, that persimmon was devoured. We are still working on the avocados. They are seriously giant.

Then we stopped for LUNCH, finaaaalllyyyy, finalllyyyy finallyyy (that's roughly how it felt). It was not so good, but it was time off the bike and I did get soda (Laura got Thai Iced Tea with boba), and I suppose wings were okay. Then I noticed there was a grocery outlet so I went THERE as well and we were ready to our next stop- Trader Joe's! A very food focused 35 miles if I may  say so myself! Anyhow, we needed meat and this was the last place before our campsite up a GIANT hill so we got 2 pork chops, 2 yams and hopped on for the last climb of the day- We were not super happy with it of course, being the last thing before  we could eat (again), but we muscled (as in took many breaks) through.

Google maps was wrong and the campsite was .4 miles closer and 200 ft less feet of climbing than it said so although I can't express our feelings upon realizing this in words, just imagine a lot of exclamation marks. Something like this: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, but more tired.

At the campsite, we rolled in and discovered OTHER BIKE CAMPERS!! As in, we are all sharing this enormous site with an enormous picnic table and 2 raccoon lockers for food. BUT NO FIRE RING. That's right, at Pine Hallow we get not one, but TWO fire rings to ourselves when we don't need it and here we had 2 pork chops but no fire ring. Or wood, for that matter (hey, you can usually buy wood at a campsite okay?!).

But have no fear, because your hero, Have-No-Fear-Woman is here and I went and befriended a lovely older couple who not only let us use their fire, but gave us the rest of their firewood and regaled us with awesome stories/tips during dinner too!

And I think that is by far, the best part of this trip so far. On the drive down from Seattle to SF we camped twice and talked to nobody. Like, literally nobody- the first night we slept in the National Forest where you can camp for free anywhere 100 ft away from water sources/hiking trails/parking lots so we didn't see a soul. But here, we are surrounded by people all the time who are way buffer than us (most people are either going further or came further or came further AND are going further than us) and so friendly. And buff, seriously. We've managed to cook pork chops, sausages, yams, and banana boats (pro tip: stuff a banana full of marshmallows and chocolate, put in reused tin foil and surround with coals and you will be delighted, I promise) without ever having our own fire. We've lent wifi to others, we've borrowed cords from others. It's been truly amazing.

Friday, June 12, 2015


Today I found R's long abandoned LiveJournal. And then out of curiosity for a comparison, I reread some of my own from the same period.

I remember doing this once, trying to start from the beginning, with my teenage self's RaNdoM CAPS and horible spellinz. Needless to say, I stopped immediately. But today, since R's journal started in 2002 when he was in college, I went back to 2005, when I was the same age (adding a few years to compensate for maturity levels- his higher than mine, of course).

The journal I happened upon was a review of a book which inspired me to run for office (and only one spelling error! "what" written as "wut" as in, "wut was I thinking?!"). Even then I was enamored with local office.

Fast forward to today. I sit on my first politically appointed board position (Contra Costa Transportation Authority's Citizen Advisory Board). I run the small non-profit arm of Contra Costa County Probation Department (Juvenile Hall Auxiliary). I hugged two mayors this month (don't worry, I'm 98% sure neither know my name). Today, after working for the state government, the county government, the city government, after seeing the rise and fall of Obama according to public opinion, after fundraising and hand-shaking myself, I feel myself jaded about public office.

I feel like more time is spent money raising than policy making, leaving hard decisions for the future. I value my privacy and home life more. I see the bureaucratic machine more clearly, towering so high, it threatens to fall upon itself or me.

So now, what next? Do I try and slay the giant? Do I turn inward to family life? Do I take my triumphs in the non-profit world? Is helping more people the answer? Is helping less people deeply more honorable, more true? Is just helping my own chosen kin enough?

Well, at least I got my yearly blog post out of it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

From Dumbphone to No Phone to Smartphone

For the past few months I have been trying to rid myself of my cell phone. One would think this would be a fairly easy task, you just chuck your phone over a bridge somewhere, consequences be damned. But when you have a friends, family, and a fiance, apparently you must be reachable at all times or people will think they think you are dead. I say "think they think," because even when I did have a cell phone, I never got random calls or texts asking if I was dead. In fact, I got very few calls and texts at all. I could have easily been dead, but really, I'm just not that popular.

So here I am, alive and well, and when I tell people I don't really want a cell phone, it's the same look I get when I tell people I don't drink- confusion and pity. They can barely fathom a life without their two social crutches. The first giving them the ability to talk, the second, removing it.

It all started when my good friend O told me about freedompop. Suddenly, paying $15/month for a dumbphone seemed stupid when I could have a smartphone for free. I signed up for a hotspot which gave me 500MB of 4G data for free and used fiance's abandoned HTC Incredible with Google Voice and Talkatone to mimic a smartphone. And it would've worked except that I didn't get 4G service anywhere. Also, I went from an absurdly small dumbphone to two different devices. Not smart.

Then FreedomPop came out with a free smartphone plan. 200 minutes, 500 texts, 500 MB of 4G/3G service for $0. I ordered it immediately. It took two months to arrive. During those two months, I essentially stopped using a cell phone. This is what I discovered:

Stopped Being Addicted to Facebook
When I first co-opted the Incredible, I went crazy. Every minute, no every second, I wanted to touch the phone. Even if the sound was on for notifications, I thought perhaps somebody was emailing me this very second. And when it turned out nobody was, I got distracted by Facebook which was right on my home screen. Once I went down the Facebook rabbit hole, it was endless. Even if I knew there was no possibility of new status updates (because I had just checked 2 minutes before), I still opened Facebook. Then I'd open my email. Then back to Facebook. I felt this intense dissatisfaction, my entire world was at my fingertips, but nobody was talking to me!

Email FTW
During those two months, I told everybody to email me. Google voice did allow me to get texts and calls, but only when I was on wifi or in a 4G area with my hotspot. What this really meant was that I could control when to communicate with others. There was nothing pinging at me, demanding my attention. There wasn't anything pinging at me, annoying others. Most things are not urgent. The phone does not know how to prioritize that.

Remember back in the day where you would make plans with somebody and you'd have to actually settle on where and when? And then you both would meet at the agreed upon place at the agreed upon time? Today you could spend 50 texts/emails decided on where to go and when and STILL end up with a text 5 minutes after you are supposed to have met that they are "on the way." Or you get a text the night before confirming. Or 10 minutes before.

If it's a group hang out, then all bets are off.  Half of the people don't respond, another quarter say they might be free, and the last quarter can't agree on a time or place. But in a world where "I'm so busy" is a status symbol, if we agree on a time, we still have to agree on a place! So we all Yelp for 30 minutes but end up going with the original suggestion. If it's still open that is. If nobody can cancel on you last minute because you don't have a phone, you don't get cancelled on.

At the end of the day though, since everybody is in a smartphone bubble, their atrocious planning skills affect you anyway.

5 Things a Smartphone is Good For:
1. Maps
I have to admit, it was kind of nice being able to look up where I was going after I left the house. I imagined all sorts of impromptu places I would discover, but instead I ended up planning less and relied on my smartphone to save me. On balance, this is probably a negative disguised as a positive.

2. Calendar
Work, social life, holidays, birthdays, all this can be at the touch of your fingertips. Unfortunately, even with this and reminders, people seem to put you on their calendar and forget about you anyway. Mysteries of the universe.

3. More eco-friendly?
I suppose if you only bought a phone as often as you would buy a computer and you ignore that everything has to be run or stored on giant networks or servers that are on 100% of the time, that smartphones consume less energy to make and run. In my case, mine was used and it is can be charged on our solar panel too! The desktop requires me to turn on our internet router, monitor, and this beast of a machine (although this beast can play Starcraft so I forgive it). 

4. Everything in your Pocket
Speaking of charging, assuming you don't run out of batteries, then you always have a camera, audio player, millions of movies, and all of the world's knowledge (and trolls) at the tip of your fingertips. If your like me and your case is also your wallet, well, just having one thing to grab when you go is pretty awesome. I also have to admit, having my camera sync up to all my devices is very handy.

5. I couldn't think of a 5th thing.

Consumption not Creation
This is perhaps the most dangerous part of smartphones, it is just too easy to passively consume and never create. I like writing. But since getting a smartphone all I can manage are half sentences in a gratitude onenote I keep on my home screen. If you want to write something substantial, if you want to reference other things, sitting at a desk with a real keyboard always wins. And, if you turn off your internet, you can even focus long enough to crank out one of these blog posts instead of feeling your brain is split into 100 different directions.

In the end though, I still have a smartphone on the free freedompop plan. I don't have to give a penny to those evil phone companies that dominate 90% of the ad slots on my hulu and make you sign unconscionable contracts. I still don't like how much internet I consume, so I still leave the data off unless I'm expecting a call and I still power it down when I don't expect to use it for over 4 hours. My friends, family, and wife don't like it, but it gives me the freedom of checking the internet when I want to, not when my smartphone demands it of me. And it makes me very conscious that I spend way too much time snuggling my smartphone.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Big 3-0