Park Here - Quiet Country Lanes of the Bay Area - CycleBlaze

December 7, 2020

Park Here

There is a happy ending to the story I told you earlier, the one about my wife and I spending 25 or so years in tech. About 15 years ago each of us changed careers. My wife went into non-profit work. I became a park ranger. Even better ending: I retired this year, the wife is semi-retired. This has not been a great year for our retirement plans but better than still working during all this year's horribleness.

I was a ranger for a city that has about 4000 acres of open space parceled out among four preserves. There's a small ranger staff to manage the preserves. My main place was called Foothills Park, so that tells you something about its general location in relation to the bay.

Since I didn't live far from work, once in a while I'd bike commute there. My home is at 25 ft elevation. The park entrance is near 900 feet. Almost half of the elevation change comes in the last 2.5 miles. So while not crazy it's a good workout on the way to work. In the olden days it would take  an hour and a half to two hours for Pokey to carry me the nine miles uphill. And then 35 minutes to get home. Now that I have e-assist I wanted to see how long it would take me to get up there. Turned out that it took me just over an hour with lots of photo stops. Still 35 minutes to get home, but also with photo stops. And still a good workout.

The route is pretty nice. To start with there are a mix of quiet residential streets, arterial roads with good bike lanes, and bike paths, then low-traffic winding roads the rest of the way. It's not the same way I drove all those years; that's another winding road but with much more traffic. 

Changing to the ranger job was a good thing for me. For example, I learned I liked to play on tractors and other heavy equipment, which had never even entered my mind before. I was pretty good with a chain saw and weedwhip. I did nature walks, barked at people to stay on trail or put their dog on a leash, fought a few little fires, and did medical calls (usually cyclists who didn't make the turns on the roads up there). I also cleaned restrooms and emptied trash cans. Once in a while I got to hike a trail. My worst day as a ranger was still better than my best day in a cubicle.

A couple of years ago a coworker and I were riding around in a truck when I said to him, "Ya know, I can't wait to retire so I can enjoy this place." It sure is nice to go there once in a while and not feel responsible for a place or its visitors any more. I can just recreate.

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A secret passage lined with redwoods. Even though it only has about 10 feet of redwood duff it still smells wonderful when you ride over it.
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Bike path that's built over the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct. We saw this path on my first ride, coming in the other direction.
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On another bike path. I hardly ever use this path because the bike lane in the road right next to it is perfectly fine and faster. But I'm retired; big deal on faster. Also, you may see a lot of oaks on this ride.
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A little further along the same bike path. Ya know, the light's getting a little low.
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Now on a quiet country lane where we start on the steeper part of the ride.
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Looking out into the distance you can tell we've gotten some altitude. I started at around 25 feet above sea level. Also, there's an awful lot of luxury house building going on around here during the pandemic.
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Just when you think you've had enough climbing you come around a bend and ....
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... a nice open area called Byrne Preserve. It abuts a community horse barn.
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We're not done climbing but we are close to our destination. I took advantage of another short bike path to avoid a blind curve.
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Ta-daaa! Made it. [Edit: 10 days after this photo was taken, the park was opened up to the public instead of just Palo Alto residents as it had been since it opened in the 1960s. And it was renamed to Foothills Nature Preserve.]
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Stopped for a photo op, then decided to try for a selfie in the left mirror. Didn't quite work. But when I got home and looked at the photos I noticed that I did get myself in the right mirror after all.
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Now we're done climbing. Behold, the San Francisco Bay Area. Sorry about the haze. San Francisco is way out there in the distance in the middle, but not distinguishable in this shot. It's about 30 miles away as the crow flies. Two-thirds of the grassland you can see belongs to another preserve that I helped manage which adjoins the park.
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Looking away from the bay we see the hills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the spine of the San Francisco peninsula. Some chaparral and oak woodland to take care of.
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After enjoying the view of the bay we dropped down to a little human-made lake. In the Before times we would rent canoes in the summer. Feel free to bring your own non-motorized craft for a little bass or perch fishing.
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Fall is here.
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You can tell which part is irrigated and which part isn't. There's a couple of little valleys where most of the amenities are, including this nice lawn. But watch out for gopher holes.
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I stopped by the maintenance yard to pay a visit to my old ride. Last year this baby succeeded an 18 year old F150 truck.
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The old office. Originally built as a horse barn by the last owner but never used as such. It was a fire station for a while with the engine parked in the middle of what is now the lobby.
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I stopped at the office to see if anyone was around. Had a nice physically-distant chat with a couple of people I hadn't seen since I last worked with them in February. They were really interested in the motorized Pokey. One of them races bikes and motorbikes, the other used to work in a bike shop. He was going to help me install the e-assist system but between the pandemic and then the choking smoke from the wildfires there was never a good or safe time to get together. (I ended up installing it myself.)

I visited with my former co-workers so long it was time for me to skedaddle and for them to start closing ceremonies. Just missed the sunset over the lake.
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A few minutes after leaving the park I'm back down in the flatlands.
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Season's greetings from the neighborhood.
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Today's ride: 20 miles (32 km)
Total: 72 miles (116 km)

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Bill StoneSo, uh, in the wake of the lawsuit, is Foothills finally open to non-Palo Alto residents? You know, North Bay miscreants like moi. ;-)
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1 year ago
Kathleen JonesTo Bill StoneYes, as of Thursday, 12/17/20. Before I left I was working on that pilot project to let in some non-residents but most of us old timers thought they should just rip off the band-aid. When I visited my buds on this ride we mostly talked about all the logistics of opening up that were "left to staff to determine." They were tired.
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1 year ago
Suzanne GibsonI see you are enjoying your retirement. As Janos says, it's the best job he ever had. And congrats on your motorized Pokey!
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1 year ago
Kathleen JonesTo Suzanne GibsonI agree with Janos and I'm glad I finally got to do the same job as you two. Loving the e-assist too. Again, following in your footsteps.
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1 year ago