Friday, January 19, 2018

Bowen Winter Tour 2018 Index Page

During the Martin Luther King long weekend, Bowen and I did a 3-day self-supported tour, starting from Los Altos and traveling to Capitola, Morgan Hill, and then back home. This is the index page for the tour.

  • Pictures Link
Trip Report

Winter riding in California's great when you get a spate of good weather. Since we knew what the weather was like, we could reduce weight far more than we could have during a summer tour in England. Plus, for a short trip you know you can do without luxuries like stuffed animals or a Kindle. What was interesting to me was that Bowen didn't want to do any playground stops, even though we did pass several playgrounds during the trip. My guess was that the cold weather and empty playgrounds made them look rather unappealing, even when we had relatively large amounts of free time. Touring close to home also let us do away with what might be necessities on tour such as spare tires, chain tools, and spare spokes.

We did get one sour note, which was that the AirBnB owner we stayed at complained that Bowen had wet the bed and tried to charge us $400 for clean up. No hotel would attempt to do this, but obviously the owner saw an expensive custom bike and thought she could extract money from us, despite the fact that we'd tour'd all summer last year on AirBnB without a single owner attempting to do this. I'd definitely stay away from AirBnBs in the future while touring in the US with young children. We'll see how AirBnB's customer service responds to this.

As you get older, you hear people saying things like: "Time passes so fast." To be honest, I think that's because people fall into habits and routines and basically sleep-walk their way through life. Bicycle touring is easily one of the most intense experiences you can have in your life, and the memories you make while doing so will remain firmly fixed in your mind for years to come. It completely upends your daily routines, and forces you to make decisions constantly, and will make your life subjectively longer in pleasant ways. I feel sorry for people who don't experience it.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Bowen Winter Tour Day 3

Bowen woke me up at 5:00am! This bothered me a bit until I realized that he did the same thing to me on the Manchester to London trip. The little guy is as goal-oriented as any athlete I'd ever encountered and wanted to finish today! I managed to snooze a bit until 7:00am, whereupon I gave up and got up and made breakfast and then we got everything ready and left at 8:30am.
When I first laid out the tour on Komoot, it tried to route me along the flat section between Morgan Hill and Almaden Valley. In my past travels, however, I knew that the route leading through Uvas Road and McKean road, which took you through Calero reservoir and Chesbro reservoir was pretty and didn't have much climbing. The route there from Morgan Hill went up Willow Spring, which did see grades up to 12% but was short and fairly pleasant, with not much traffic even on a holiday morning. We stopped for pictures at Chesbro Lake but didn't find a good vantage point at Calero.

Once in Almaden Valley, my instinct was to ride over Shannon or Kennedy Road, but Komoot pointed me in a different direction, and I figured I might as well try it in case it was a good route. It's a good route for the last day of a 3 day tour, but not as isolated and pretty as the hillier alternative. Once onto Lark Avenue I knew where we were and we headed along familiar roads back to Saratoga, where Bowen asked to visit his Grandmother.

After a pizza lunch, we rode back home under darkening clouds, but confident that we would beat the rain. The skiers in California this winter  have been unlucky, but their luck was our gain: in 3 days, we had ridden 114.5 miles and 6704' of climbing, a very respectable tour for anyone in the middle of winter.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Bowen Winter Tour Day 2

The advantage of doing a tour near home is that you can take full advantage of all your local knowledge. For instance, when I saw the forecast, I immediately dumped the fender on the tandem and ejected all my rain gear. This allowed us to fit everything into one pannier, which saved us more than 2 pounds of empty pannier.  I'd ditched everything that could be considered a luxury, including my beloved Kindle Paperwhite. Bowen sacrificed bringing his bunny. The disadvantage of doing a tour in the USA is that public transit was scant, and here in California, we're surrounded by mountains, many of which are so steep as to have few equivalents even in the Alps, where grades are limited by winter snow.
Nevertheless, the compensations of California riding are many. We left the hotel around 9:00am, riding along the Pacific Coast bike route, but by the time we turned off onto Freedom Blvd, the day was already starting to warm up, and by the time we got to Corralitos around 11:00am, it was pleasantly warm at 70F. This was an area I was still familiar with, but I elected to let Komoot guide me to reduce climbing and in case it had found a route that was better that what I knew about. The answer was "no", it hadn't magically found a flatter route that was better. The flatter route simply had way more traffic than I would put up with, but with an unknown climb up ahead, I wasn't too unhappy about an easier day.
Once on Mt Madonna, the ride preview of a steep painful climb was confirmed. It was made worse by an exposed approach: I saw the thermometer on my computer reach into the mid 80s. Fortunately, I had brought and was wearing a sweat-band. I'd introduced Bowen to Radio Gaga by playing Singstar Queen on the PS3 with him,  so he entertained me throughout the climb by singing "Radio Gaga." Then he asked me why his GPS watch occasionally would think that we weren't moving even though we were, I told him about GPS satellite signals and the GPS antenna in his watch, he switched the lyrics to "Radio Satellite". Even though I'm as big a Queen fan as they come, I did get a little tired of "Radio Satellite" sung at the top of his lungs by the middle of the climb.

The climb was so tough we had to stop to rest twice, though the second rest stop at a winery turned out to be within a mile of the top! We saw no other cyclists on the road except a woman road biker coming down the road. The same road on the peninsula would probably have been flooded by cyclists as its well connected to a high speed descent on 152 in either direction. Strangely enough, once we reached the top, the sky clouded over and we did the dirt descent on Mt. Madonna road under cloudy skies at least 20F cooler!
The unpaved eastern side of Mt Madonna Road was slick and muddy, forcing me to brake often and stop once in a while to check the rim temperatures, but given the cool day and light load I needn't have bothered. We reached the paved section after about 10 minutes and then after we put on clothing I gave the tandem its head and we barreled down the descent in the high 20s.

Once onto Redwood Retreat road, we finally started seeing other cyclists, including a couple on a tandem but no one stopped to chat or even do much other than wave to us. To be honest, with only one pannier we didn't look like people on a bike tour, just a father and son on a day ride.

The ride into Morgan Hill was a slog, but we found the AirBnB with no problems (though Kelly the owner told us not to let her neighbors know that she was running an AirBnB). She told us we were less than a mile from downtown, so we dumped most of our gear and rode over to Provo which was still serving brunch!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Bowen Winter Tour Day 1

When your firstborn son comes to you during winter break and asks for a 3 day bicycle tour instead of fancy toys or trips to Disneyland, your fatherly heart swells with pride and you say, "Yeah, we can do that!" Unfortunately, I had to break that promise, as I came down with whatever viral infection his brother brought home for the holidays, so when the forecast came to good weather on the MLK weekend (which he had time off for), I decided I would make it up to Bowen.

Joining us for the start was Eva, who graciously took some nice photos of us while climbing up Old Santa Cruz Highway. We actually had to walk the dirt section (granted, the sign says "walk your bike" in both directions, but I'd never actually respected that sign before), between the Saturday hiking crowd and the slightly sloppy conditions. We did explore an alternate entrance to the Los Gatos Creek trail off University avenue, which, while not tandem friendly was something new to me.

Eva split off at Mt. Charlie road on my advice in order to avoid the nasty section on summit road between Old Santa Cruz Highway and Highway 17, and Bowen and I had lunch at the summit store just a little past 1pm.

After that, the descent down Soquel San Jose was fun and pleasant as always, and at the bottom of the descent we found the hotel with no problem whatsoever.
A shower later, we made it to Gayle's Bakery, a place famous amongst cyclists, but that I'd never actually visited. Bowen had the ginger creme brulee while I had the chocolate eclair. That must have been a pretty good creme brulee, because Bowen became adamant that we had to have dinner there as well, and so we did.
Chris Kuhar called and suggested that we walk down to downtown Capitola, and so we did. Despite having lived in the Bay Area for most of my adult live, I'd never actually visited downtown Capitola before, and found it as charming as any Italian village I'd been to, complete with waterfront restaurants, cafes, a beach, and a riverside walking path that took us past a windmill house!
I finished reading Watership Down to Bowen that night using the Kindle App on the phone, an accomplishment that I hope I didn't have to repeat any time soon.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Review: Batman, the Telltale series

Ever since I realized that the Telltale Games series are basically movies with fake choices (as opposed to the real choices provided by Heavy Rain), I've stopped buying them. While the writing is generally nice, the fact that my choices don't actually change the outcome means that the series feels more like watching animated TV episodes than like a choose your own adventure type game.

Batman: The Telltale Series was one of this month's PS+ selections, however, and I'm a sucker for all things Batman, so I fired it up and played it through. The engine is clunky and stutters, particularly during action sequences, but not so badly that you can't get through it, and neither does the game crash.

The story places an emphasis on Bruce Wayne, which is good: what's interesting to me is that unlike the Batman stories in the canon, this version of Batman discovers that his parents were not what he thought they were (or at least, one of them), and the incident in crime alley wasn't a random mugging. This has severe knock-on effects on Wayne, not just psychologically, but on his standing in society. Other versions of Batman in games (such as the excellent Arkham series) never have you consider whether Bruce Wayne cares about anything other than dressing up as a bat and beating up thugs. This also makes up for the fact that the Telltale Batman isn't as invulnerable and competent as other versions.

The inter personal relationships in the game emphasis betrayal. Wayne betrays and is in turn betrayed by many of the people in his life (all but one anyway), and this drives the plot. At every point you're given a chance to play the tough guy Batman or the compassionate fool Batman, but as I indicated earlier, the choices don't mean anything: the story will plow  ahead in roughly the same fashion anyway.

The crime scene investigations in this Batman never lives up to the billing. You're just given a bunch of clues and asked to link them together. There are never more than 6-8 clues so the solutions are pretty obvious.

I wouldn't pay the current $15 used price on Amazon for the game, but for the approximately $3.50 monthly fee for PS+, this is worth the play-through. Mildly Recommended.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Review: Joola Compact Ping Pong Table

My wife got it into her head the Ping-Pong would be a good thing to do indoors during the rainy season. I haven't played since I was in graduate school (and even then it was more or less a social game, no attempts to keep score or anything like that --- just hitting the ball at each other trying to keep a volley going). I was concerned about space, so the compact table at a fairly low price seemed like a good idea.

Opening the box, the table's assembly is of extremely low quality. On one of the legs, 3 of the screws that are supposed to anchor the leg were missing! I dug through my tool kit and found some compatible wood screws, but wow, this is extremely low quality.
The table is small. It definitely takes quite some getting used to: any excessive force is going to cause an out. This means that you're getting even less exercise than standard ping pong. I found myself deliberately having to hold back force or I was going to be even worse a player than I already was. The net is regulation height, so there's a bit of a learning curve as you can't just uniformly back off your hits: you still have to clear the net.

Once you get used to it, it feels almost like playing "real" ping pong. But the quality of the product is poor, so I'd recommend looking elsewhere.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Here's how I integrate my library into Amazon

Sometimes, people assume that with the volume of reading I get done (my annual lists are the tip of the icebergs: for instance, I never review books I don't finish, nor do I review magazines I read), I must spend a ton of money on books.

That's actually not true. Here's the primary tool I use, which is Library Extension. I set it up on Chrome, enter all my library cards and library accounts, and then whenever I visit an Amazon page for a book, the extension automatically checks whether the book is available at the library, both as an ebook and a paperbook, and how many copies of each are available (if any). This lets me decide on the spot whether the book's something I want to pay for so I can read it right away, or whether it's something I'm happy to have on my hold queue. (In cases where there are no ebooks, sometimes it tips me into buying the book)

This extension has saved a ton of money for me. And what's nice about it is that it fills my hold queue with a bunch of great books for free. The extension makes money for its author by injecting a referral link so that the author makes money from stuff you buy from Amazon. (Yes, he makes money even if you always change the URL to But it's such a useful extension that he deserves however much money he makes that way.

And yes, Amazon's OK with this of course, since even more than before, I'm now trained to search on Amazon for books. I don't consider Google Play (no support for Kindle --- Google doesn't understand my love for epaper), I don't even bother visiting my library's web-site directly, since Amazon's reviews are so much better.

My biggest complaint about the extension is that it doesn't work on Android. (Not a surprise when you look at the UI)

If you have a library and a Kindle (or some other electronic reading device), this extension is a must have. Highly recommended.