Sunday, April 27, 2008

Ride For Kids

Once a year a bunch of motorcycle riders in the Houston area get together and take a little ride to raise money for medical research centering on brain tumors that occur in children. This event is called the "Ride for Kids" and it benefits the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. (See links on right side bar)

We all pay about $35 to ride a 40 mile parade where the local police close whatever roads we are scheduled to ride (including interstates) and we putt down the road. But the work is done well before the day of the ride. All year, we have groups of bikers raising money for the effort and this year the Houston area riders raised over $280,000. These events happen all over the country and combined they add up to a tidy sum funding research that has had real results.

Years ago, it was common for a child with a tumor to pass away in the time between one fund raising ride and the next, but today we heard from a 31 year old nurse who was one of the early brain tumor survivors. The youngest patient we heard from today was 13 months old. She didn’t have much to say, but her father spoke for her and expressed the hope that he had for her future.

We bikers can't take credit for the advances that have occurred over the past 25 years that the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation has been funding research, but it is nice that a bunch of regular folks like us have found a way to be involved in furthering this effort.

My camera ran out of battery before much of the ride was complete today, but it was a good event for a worthy cause. Eighteen survivors and current patients from 13 months to 31 years old took the stage to tell us a little about their cases and thanks to the PBTF and Ride for Kids all of their futures look a little brighter.

Even the rain on the way home couldn't undo the good that came from today's ride.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Skaggs Spring Road

Skaggs Spring Road (SSR) was cited as "the best bike road in Northern California" by my riding buddy Joe. So without delay, Joe and I headed North today to check it out.

We rode 77 miles to get to Calistoga where the road turned good. Nice and scenic with some sweepers and a few tight twisties. But the main course was still to come and soon enough we turned West on the SSR. It was great. I took a bunch of pics with my left hand while negotiating the sweepers with my right hand on the throttle. I think it can give you an idea of how nice this road is and how much fun the sweepers are. Just after the big bridge I put the camera away because the road narrowed and wound its way through the forest with steep drop offs just over the edge of the pavement. It was no place to be careless so I wasn't.

SSR dumps you out on the PCH at Stewarts Point after a satisfying 45 miles or so of sweepers, hair pins, grand vistas and finally a jungle scene right out of Jurassic Park right before you see the Pacific Ocean. Great road.

The PCH was also a fine ride with views unparalleled. Click on any of the pics here to see the rest of them in the web album.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Day hike through Pine Valley on Mt. Diablo

I had several items on my list of fun things to do this week. I was going on a motorcycle ride Monday but the weather turned even colder than normal with night time temps in the 30s and the days warming up slowly. To top it off, the guy I was hoping to ride with had a family emergency and wasn't able to join me so I just filed the map and will do it some other time.

I was also going to take the commuter train into San Francisco to scout for a weekend trip that Brenda and I were planning to take this Saturday. But, although the weather has warmed back up the forecast for the weekend looks cold and windy in the city so we are holding off on the Saturday trip too.

But the one thing that I had not planned to do, but that has been on my list for some time is to take a walk up in Mt Diablo State Park. Mt. Diablo is the biggest thing around here rising 3,849 ft and offering views of things as far away as the Golden Gate Bridge on clear days. One web site says that Mt Diablo provides views of more geographic area than any other peak except Mt Kilimanjaro. Not sure I believe that but there are some nice views. Check it yourself though at this site.

Anyway, last night I pulled out my trail map that I bought a few months back and with the help of the web found a trail route that I thought fit my needs for today. It was a six mile loop with a 1000 ft elevation gain and is rated "strenuous" or "moderate" depending on the website you find it on. For me, it took three hours and I rested about three times during the steepest portions of the climbing sections. Moderate is probably about right.

I picked up the trailhead at Macedo Ranch which has a ranger station at it along with some picnic tables, drinking water and water for horses. The state charges $3 on the honor system to park in their gravel lot so after stuffing an envelope I strapped on my day pack and headed out.

I was a little disappointed initially since the "trail" was actually a dirt road that they use for fire abatement during the dry season. It turns out that most of the trails here are like that. But at the furthest point in my walk today I took a hard right hand turn onto "Secret Trail" and was rewarded with a foot path that gained elevation from 1175 to 1465 ft in about a mile and joins BBQ Terrace Rd with Wall Point Rd.

My walk today provided plenty of rewards besides the clean air and exercise. I saw lots of scenery and plants that I am not used to seeing. I listened to wild turkeys from just over the next ridge and was stopped in my tracks by bees buzzing so loudly that they commanded attention. I even heard that "Eagle screech" sound that all the TV shows use when they want you to know that you are viewing a wilderness program.

Mt. Diablo is far from wilderness and does not even allow back country camping. Normally there is no where to camp in the back country because of the scarcity of water, but today I made three stream crossings and enjoyed touching the icy snow runoff each time.

My route today started at Macedo Ranch and proceeded North by Northeast about 0.87 miles along Wall Point Rd to Dusty Rd, which branches due North (left.) Dusty Rd descends 260 ft in a half mile and intersects with Stage Rd before merging into BBQ Terrace Rd in another 0.45 miles and after ascending a mere 80 ft before splitting from Stage Rd for good. At this point you are at 715 ft with a steady climb to 1175 facing you over the next mile to the intersection of Secret Path. Turning Right (SE) on Secret Path continues the climb over the next mile to 1465 ft where you rejoin Wall Point Rd and climb the remaining 135 ft in just a quarter mile or so before starting your descent with the sheer drop to your left. Look closely and you may spot some interesting erosion patterns in some of the rocks jutting up from the canyon floor 500 feet below. The descent is easy as long as your knees are good. I stopped a few times to rub my worn out hinges. I guess my basketball injury from earlier in the year is not quite healed yet. One and three quarter miles later you intersect Dusty Rd again, only this time you turn hard left (SW) to get back to the trailhead having seen wonderful vistas and no telling what else.

With 20,000 acres and over 100 miles of trails I suspect that Mt Diablo has not seen the last of me... …or me of it.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Point Arena Light House

Our mission for today was to get North as fast as we could and then cut over to the Pacific Coast Highway and head South for a nice drive home along the wonderfully scenic PCH. Like all of our California trips so far we were surprised by the scenery, both on the PCH and while getting to it.

We drove Northward diving deep underground through the tunnels through the mountains on HWY 24 and then across the San Francisco Bay on I-580. I was completely surprised to see San Quentin located right on the bay. Man this is some high dollar real estate put to use as a retirement home for criminals. What a view they have. Well, they WOULD have a great view I guess.

We stayed inland and fought the weekend traffic through Novato, Petaluma and Santa Rosa Continuing to stretch our legs ever Northward. Finally after we cleared Santa Rosa, HWY 101 narrowed to four lanes and the traffic thinned out making the driving a little more enjoyable and less like a massive session of "Dodge Car." HWY 101 is scenic enough but I was eager to get off of it and onto some smaller and more interesting roads.

We finally did that at Cloverdale where we veered West by Northwest on Hwy 128. Now that is a great road; two lanes of smooth pavement winding its way toward Booneville where we stopped for an "organic hand made" lunch. Booneville looks to us like sort of a hippy holdover, full of interesting looking people and more cafes and restaurants per capita than anywhere I can recall. Nice town and it is in a good spot in the road for a day trip. Just far enough away to have us wanting a little break.

After lunch we hung a hard left on Mountain View Road where we enjoyed the 30 mile meander over the last mountain range before we hit the coast. Mountain View Road is a beautiful run through a redwood forest and allows speeds less than 30 mph with no penalty. Go faster than that and you are either a really good driver or about to meet a new group of doctors. While still about 8 miles from the coast we broke out of the forest and saw the Pacific Ocean in the distance. Cool.

We stopped at the lighthouse and snapped a few pics. I have learned that I have to budget my time at these ocean overlooks because I could really just sit and watch the swells all day. After the photo session we headed South on the PCH and alternately caught spectacular views of the ocean and ducked into the forest as this famous road shared it's multiple personalities with us. At one minute you are at sea level and could walk down to a secluded beach not even seen from the road, and the next moment you are 1000 feet above the surf on a road carved out of the cliff. Top a hill in the forest and ease down into the next glade and the temperature can drop 10 degrees. Now we know what a micro-climate really feels like.

We were in the convertible today but this ride would have been a great bike trip. It was a long day at 330 miles and much of that in the 30 - 35 mph range. Any serious exploring along the PCH North of San Francisco is going to require a multi-day trip but I am absolutely certain that it will be worth it.

Remember, you can click on any of the pics in this post and go directly to my web albums where you can see full size versions and a few that I didn't have room for here.


Monday, April 07, 2008

Day Ride Toward Reno

I have a lot to learn about planning rides in California. After about an hour of interstate and some two lane highway, which was a small price to pay for getting to the roads I suspected I would find on the way across the Sierra Nevadas, I spotted snow in the approaching mountain peaks. I pressed on figuring that even if I had to turn around, it would still be a good day of riding.

It ended up taking me about 2 hours to clear the interstate and the flatland traffic at Jackson, CA. By this time I had already enjoyed what is becoming a staple of my forays into this scenic state. I had run past the windmills along I-580 in Livermore and had taken in a new set of rolling grass covered hills as the bike and I steadily climbed toward the snow.

In Jackson the changes became more abrupt and the road started winding its way upward via the path of least resistance. Kit Carson first navigated this pass that became a crucial link across the Sierras for the Pony Express. I encountered my first roadside snow at 4500 feet and thought to myself "This won't be so bad." That was before I realized that the road kept climbing to 8000 feet.

I had dressed for temperatures between 50 - 70 degrees F because I left the house at about 10 AM after the chill was out of the air. Normally things warm up around here by about 2 and by 5PM it is in the high 60s or maybe low 70s. Well, in the valleys at least. Up in the passes things are a little different.

When I stopped for lunch, I put on my heavy gloves. The temperature was in the low 50s. At 5000 feet, I checked the temp again and it was in the low 40's. At 6700 feet I had had enough and stopped to put on my jacket and pant liners which are good to the low 30's. Good thing too because when I checked before I re-mounted the bike, it was 36 and it stayed that way for quite some time.

I continued climbing past the signs that declared the area an avalanche hazard and past the swing gates that are permanently installed for the inevitable times when the road must be closed. Dodging just a few ice boulders in the road (rocks really) I eased my way to the top and then down the other side of the pass into the Diamond Valley.

My route called for a right turn on CA 89 which I took, but as I made the turn I saw what I had expected to see ever since first spotting the snow on the distant peaks. The passes back to the other side of the mountain range were closed along HWY 4. I figured I was lucky to get this far and continued down the road a little while until I found a beautiful little trout stream where I shot a few pics before heading back the way I came.

This turned out to be a great ride because it had 170 miles of smoothly paved roads filled with gentle sweepers and a few hair pins along for good measure. On the way over the pass the first time, I rode between 50 - 60 mph taking in the tall pines, snow fields and beautiful vistas. On the way back I picked up the pace a little and really enjoyed the bikes capabilities on these winding roads.


Friday, April 04, 2008

Vote Gridlock

Remember when we thought a 50% effective tax rate in some northern European countries seemed outrageous. Well here ya go.

If you file individually and earned just $31,850 in 2007 your federal tax rate was 25%. Your Social Security tax was 6.2% and Medicare added 1.45%. If you live in all but 9 states, you also incur a state tax liability that varies between 3% - 9.3%.

So far we are paying between 28% - 34.3%

We also pay sales tax on pretty much everything we buy. That's generally about 8.25% And if you earn around $32,000 per year, I am pretty sure you are spending every bit of it to keep the wolves from the door so it too is effectively an income tax. That means that right here in the good old USA we are paying 40% tax. We won't even discuss the 50 cent per gallon fuel tax (for now.)

So what do you do about this situation? Well, first I suggest that you fire anyone that you ever voted for in any local, state or federal election. They are all complicit in this grab for YOUR cash. Some tax is necessary, but is it really necessary to take almost half of the salary of a school teacher, bus driver, and secretary? Where is all this money going?

"Vote Gridlock" is what I say. When too many Democrats are in office, they enact whatever spending plan they want and it all comes out of your pocket. Ahhhh, but when the Republicans are in power, guess what... they do the exact same thing. The only way to stop them is to try to make sure no one has the advantage and we can only do this by keeping the Congress as close to 50/50 as possible and hoping that a few from each party will cross over when the really worthwhile ideas emerge from the noise.

There is one other thing you can do if you are self employed or retired. Be careful about what you earn. Stay on the right side of the delineations in the federal tax schedules. In 2008 those delineations will be as follows;

Taxable income -> Fed Tax Rate
$0 - $ 8,025 -> 10%
$8,026 - $32,550 -> 15%
$32,551 - $78,850 -> 25%
$78,851 - $164,550 -> 28%
$164,551 - $357,700 -> 33%
$357,701 - $lots more -> 35%

Staying below one of these lines in the sand can save you thousands. Good luck


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

WOW - What great roads

From San Ramon to the Lick Observatory atop Mount Hamilton, CA is about 180 miles round trip. The thing that is amazing to me as a flatlander is that after about 28 miles of the route we took today, there is a sign that says "Mt Hamilton 44 miles." The thing about this sign is that the 44 miles is nothing but twisty turny scenic road that is pretty much perfect for motorcycles. And you gotta know that a 44 mile trip up to the observatory on twisty roads involves a 44 mile return trip down the mountain on those same roads. That's roughly half of a day ride that is nothing but twisties. Wonderful.

I really don't know why I say "pretty much perfect" to describe these roads. I can't think of much that would improve them. The surface is good, the scenery is fantastic and our average speed was 34 mph (according to the GPS - not according to me - who had time to look at the speedo?) I swear there was one right hand turn with no shoulder... I had taken it in pretty good fashion with the bikes tire near the right hand edge of the road at the apex of the turn. I swear that I believed that although my tires were on the pavement, my shoulder was hanging off the road over a 200 ft drop off. I'm sure it wasn't... it couldn't have been right??? RIGHT??? At any rate, the penalty for not paying attention to the road on this ride would have been steep. Literally - STEEP. And the temptation to let your eye wander is strong. Such a beautiful place.

I'll go back to Mt Hamilton again because when I got home and looked at the map, it turns out that I missed more than half the good roads that climb that hill. Gotta go do the rest of the attraction and soon.