Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunshine tour

Family previously visited + Climbing partner with time off + Shoulder season + looking for warm weather = Bike tour in California! After some casual scheming, we decided to spend Thanksgiving cycling down the central California coast, basking in the November sunshine.

Just in time, too - a big storm cycle hit the Northwest, and we drove through snow all the way to mid-Oregon! My car got a flat sometime around when we hit completely stopped traffic, so not only did we not lose time, but we also provided some entertainment for other stuck drivers. Of course, the spare was all the way at the bottom of our neatly packed trunk, so off came the bikes and out came the gear. And since it is occasionally a perfect world, traffic got unstuck just as we were packing back up. Sweet!

Our plan was to drive to Monterey, bike down to Santa Barbara, and take the train back. And for a completely un-researched plan, it worked amazingly well. Sometimes it just happens like that. There was free long-term parking at the Amtrak station. We actually cycled the miles we needed to reach Santa Barbara. They had bike boxes requiring little disassembly for purchase there. AND, my car was actually still there when we got back!

The trip itself was great. The Big Sur coast south of Monterey has one 2-lane road and almost no towns, doesn't connect anything to anything. So there was very little traffic and lots of beautiful bluffs and bridges and sandy beaches and hillsides. It was actually pretty quiet most of the time, which was exactly what we were looking for. Pedal, look around, pedal, stop for a snack overlooking the ocean, pedal, wonder if the last bit of land you can see is where we stop for the night, pedal...

After the first few hours of cold wind and rain showers, it was sunny all week. It was, however, also quite cold. Snow in Seattle means quite a cold weather system, which translated to highs in the 50s in Cali, and lows near freezing! Being the seasoned outdoor veterans that we are, we used out bivi sacks and Jetboil and savvy outdoor survival skills to camp in the state parks... once. It was cold! Frost was forming on the top of the picnic table as made dinner. Brr!

So the rest of the time these two savvy outdoor women got hotels, took showers, and actually washed their socks at night. Safeway makes a mean meatloaf and salad for dinner. And we got a much earlier start when we could leave our room at sunrise rather than wait for the warmth of the sun before peeking out of our sleeping bags. Yes, we are wise savvy outdoor women.

South of Big Sur we got to wind through fields and rolling hills and the occasional little town (does San Luis Obispo count as little?) and generally just keep enjoying being outside. Our last stop was just a few miles short of Santa Barbara since we didn't want to get lost and miss our train back. Just over 300 miles in just over 4 days, but a little lopsided, with a couple 45-mile days and a couple 95-mile days. Funny - they didn't seem any longer or shorter, just more or less time spent stopped vs pedaling.

I love the zen of pedaling long miles. (Especially when the hills are mellow.) We drove back without incident, knowing that the perfectly executed trips make up for all those other times...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Most people have probably heard by this point about how strong a La Nina winter this is supposed to be, and here in the Northwest, how cold and snowy that is supposed to make our mountains. It seemed to be coming true in September, when we got plenty of new snow on Mt Rainier, and it is continuing to show such a trend, with some significant snow above about 4000' in the North Cascades.

Coming back from the east, with three more days off before returning to work, we did a little cycling and indoor climbing as the weather turned cold and rainy, then went to check out the mountains, hoping that the rain had indeed been good snow up high, as rumored.

Indeed. Hiking up to Skyline Ridge, close to Mt Baker, we topped out at 5800' and, lo and behold, there was about 18" of rained-on consolidated base, with 2-3" of new, smooth, fluffy snow on top, just waiting for us to ski it. Four skiers and boarders were there just ahead of us, but their tracks helped provide some depth perception in the otherwise featureless white surface the snow becomes in clouded conditions.

The inevitable first-of-the-season gear shakedown meant that I forgot mine and was using Dave's skins while he tried his new short "kicker" skins that don't cover the whole ski, just the part underfoot. They worked pretty well and he patiently took a less-steep path to climb back up after each run. Down the steeper part, across a bench, and down to the thicker trees. Skins on, hike up, and repeat. Good skiing in November, who'd have thunk it?

A bit of a storm is moving through this weekend, with very cold temperatures, including a good chance of snow in the city. Really? In November? Sounds like it's time to wax the skis and put the chains in the car. Winter, here we come!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

To the Near East

November is the time of short days, grey skies, and rain here in the Northwest. While we're all waiting for snow to come to the mountains, the recreational shoulder season makes November the perfect time to visit family in the east and appreciate the fall leaves and cold sunny days, which we don't get much of here.

To Virginia to do a little hunting (which in deer season means a lot of sitting still and quiet in chilly wooden tree stands) and eating (mothers' jobs are to keep their children well-fed) with Dave's family, then off to West Virginia to visit Seneca Rocks and do some climbing. Believe it or not, I've never actually climbed on the east coast! My outdoor awakening began post-college, in the great Northwest, but there is plenty of good rock in those much older mountains.

We were blessed with some seriously sunny days, warm and beautiful, even one afternoon in t-shirts! The town of Seneca Rocks exists of several buildings clustered around a T-intersection - two rival guide services, two rival tourist/convenien
ce stores, and a cafe. We were able to stay at the apartment above the guide service Dave used to work for, so the approach to the rock was all of a 10-minute walk across the road. Sweet!

Seneca Rocks is a big fin of stone folded vertically into the ground, relatively solid and in a beautiful setting. Unlike many crags, this has more of a mountain feel, requiring some hiking and offering longer multi-pitch routes. And the south peak happens to be the only summit east of the Mississippi that you can't hike or scramble to, pointy enough to require ropes and technical climbing.

Only a few days there, just long enough to get my steep-rock climbing skills back in order, then time to move on. We left the beautiful sparsely-populated valleys of West Virginia and continued the trip to visit my parents and sister. Raked leaves in Maryland, saw other of Dave's friends from guiding days, and suddenly two weeks was up, time to head back. Good to visit, see other places, catch up with old friends, and always good to head back home.