Sunday, December 16, 2012

Horsing around

The girls had a horse riding class at a ranch a mere 20 miles away, up in the foothills. Of course they wanted to go there on bike. We checked out the profile of the trip online. It looked like a few miles of gradual downhill. Then a lot of flat as we go along the bay, and finally a couple miles uphill with 5-10% grade.

What the maps missed out was the multitude of overpasses and underpasses that we would go through along the way especially on the way.

Our route took us down the San Tomas Aquino trail for a while. This is easily the best north-south route in the area. There are underpasses at almost all major streets, and the trail is fairly straight. In the winter the not-so-nice weather means that not so many others are on the trail. (It also means that some of the underpasses could be flooded, but we got lucky on that count.)

The trail was pretty much the same as it was on our last trip to Great America - except for the 49ers stadium. The construction staging area blocked off the direct access to Great America. There is also the framework of a billion dollar stadium on the corner of the trail and Tasman. The construction also took up a chunk of Tasman where we got off the trail. However, Tasman is an "office park" street, so was basically a 6 lane ghost street on the weekend.

While the trail had underpasses, Tasman had plenty of overpasses. These were over creeks, train tracks, and who-knows-what else. Tasman also had a light rail running down the middle of the street. (If only our three year old were with us!) Part of the street had a bike lane, while part didn't, though it hardly matter. The girls got a kick of counting all of the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 advertisements on the way. (Just about every bus shelter and light rail station had one.) I wondered if we passed more of those ads, or Cisco buildings along the way.

Tasman turned in to Great Mall Parkway, and we eventually turned left on Able. As about a billion cars seemed to pop up next to the mall (how does that always happen right before Christmas?), we had to do a two-point turn. Abel seemed to be an OK biking street. Not great, but not horrid. The neighborhood seemed a little "different". They did have a lot of new looking parks, with a lot of modern car-centric development. (I guess being near the "great mall" does that.)

Our "Google Map" bike route had us continuing a way and going around to stay on bike routes. But, we hit a red light at Calaveras Rd., so we decided to take the "direct route". This road looked pretty nice at first. There was a nice wide marked shoulder as it started to go up a long bridge over the railroad tracks. This wide shoulder soon got smaller and smaller, until it seemed to be just a few inches as we went over the bridge. It was not the most pleasant road, but not intolerable, either. (The older girls were fine. It may have been hairy if we had some of the younger ones on their own.) After the bridge there was a lot of traffic, Milpitas city hall, a cloverleaf freeway interchange, and then the traffic started to peter out.

The road suddenly narrowed down from about 6 lanes to 2 lanes. The first part of this narrow section was fairly flat, but then it seemed to head straight up. The girls didn't shift in to their low gears in time, so they came to an "unable to pedal anymore" halt. Without the momentum, it was hard to get started again, so we went over to the "sidewalk" and walked up the hill. Luckily, there was a fairly flat part after a while, and we were able to get started again. (This time in lower gears!)

We made it up a ways before some exhaustion kicked in. We walked the bikes a bit, and stopped for some trail mix in the county park before continuing on the way. As we continued on the road, we saw the small "turn here for Chaparral ranch" sign. (It seems all the other class participants missed the sign and went on a long detour up in the hills. I guess that is an advantage of slow biking speeds!)

The final road up to the ranch continued up for a bit at a fairly easy grade and even had a small downhill. As we were going, we saw a little house way up in the hills. We hoped this wasn't our destination. Luckily, it wasn't, and we reached the ranch at the end of the road.

We ended up arriving about 58 minutes early. The timing turned out to be perfect. Just a few minutes after arriving it started raining, and then it started raining harder and harder. They let us park our bikes in the horse barn so they wouldn't get wet. (Luckily, none of the horses decided to go for a bike ride.)
Arriving at the ranch

After eating our lunch, the girls enjoyed their horsemanship class and their horse riding lesson. (The ranch had an "indoor" arena where they were able to ride without getting soaked in the rain.) Due to the rain, there was a lot of mud that needed to be "brushed" off the horse as part of the grooming.

The Ed Levin county park near the ranch had a large number of hike/bike/horse trails. However, due to weather, many of the trails were closed to bikes and horses. This might be a good place to check out in a "not so wet" month. (Though it may be a challenge for the bakfeits to get up the hill.) There is also the issue of rattlesnakes. (They mentioned that their dogs have done a good job of keeping the immediate area clear by finding over 40 snakes.)

Saturday happened to be their holiday party, and they invited us to join them. A full Christmas feast (and plenty of desserts!) provided the energy needed to get down the hill. The girls also stopped by to say hi to the chickens (and identify all the breeds.)

If you gotta go, you gotta go...

The trip down the hill was about 10 times faster than the trip up. I realized that our 9 year old may need a better bike. She had to pedal to keep up with the trip down (as I was just braking to keep my speed slow.) It was still raining, but it was down to a light drizzle. We didn't want to take the hill too fast. (Though it does seem to be a great hill to take fast. The grade was not too steep and the turns were wide, and there was a "flat stretch" before the stop sign at the end.)

We continued on almost the same route home. However, we did decide to take a "cloverleaf" turn to go down Main Street in Milpitas. This is not your "classic" main street, but more of a modern strip mall street. The girls noticed as we passed an An-Jan pet food store. (In retrospect, we should have stopped. When we got home, we discovered we were out of chicken feed!)

As we crossed over I-880, we noticed a "so-long-line" of cars backed up trying to turn left on to the freeway. As we continued straight at the intersection, we noticed that while all other directions seemed to get green lights, the freeway left-turn never turned green. It looks like us cyclists are not the only ones who get burned by sensors that can't seem to detect us.

On the way back we had a light tail wind that made the trip easy. We passed through many small puddles on the way. Then, near the 49ers stadium, we went through what we thought was another shallow puddle. Only it turned out to be a couple inches deep. One bike didn't have fenders. She got quite the mud bath.

The rest of the trip was uneventful until we were in Sunnyvale near Las Palmas park. We saw a police car go by and turn in to the street. Then we moved a litter further forward and another police car went by and turned. As we inched toward the intersection, 5 more police cars came by and regular intervals. (They were close enough together that we couldn't quite make it across the intersection, but far enough apart that we noticed the delay.) Finally, there was a gap in the sirens and we crossed the intersection. After going for a little longer, we heard another siren and saw a fire engine turn behind us on the same street. As we continued home, we heard more sirens. It sounded like somebody had done some "major league badness." The next day, the news reported there was a police shooting involving a man attacking people with a hammer