Ironically not having the pool party this year turned out to be a good decision. Last year the Pandemic drove a dagger into the annual pool party. But even if Covid had never appeared, the intense smoke from the bewildering number of August wildfires would have cut the legs out from under the beloved event. Forgot about last August fires? Well, there was the CZU (Santa Cruz & San Mateo), SCU (East & South Bay), LNU (Sonoma & Yolo), August Complex (Mendocino), and the Glass Fire (Napa) to name just a few! How soon we forget. This year Roger and I were measuring the risk of having the pool party with the Delta variant spreading madly and had tentatively, halfheartedly decided to hold it the weekend of August 21-22. Then a surgery date opened up just after that weekend killing the idea for good. Rather than hurriedly putting together the event amidst prepping for surgery and recuperation, we decided it was best put it on hiatus for another year. There’s just something about life sending you a clear message.
Instead of the pool party we decided to hold just the ride since that is much easier to pull off when harried and busy. Instead of having the usual hot, hot August day that would have made the pool an alluring oasis, we got a cool day accompanied by a persistant haze from this year’s fires whose smoke we had heretofore avoided. The PM2.5 reading, which suddenly skyrocketed days before, was supposed to drop down by morning. Instead in the morning we were greeted with a reading of about 140, which is almost “Unhealthy”, but was now projected to drop as the day went on. Well, no good deed goes unpunished as they say.
I was expecting cancellations due to the air pollution but everybody showed up including Will, Scott, Stephen, and Roger from SF and Vanessa from Oakland. Only Will showed up in short sleeves while the rest of us were clad in jackets and even knickers—not the usual clothing for this time of year. But all the San Franciscans bemoaned the lack of heat and sunshine expecting a reprieve from the gruesomely gray Mark Twain summer on their side of the Bay. The route was one of the older pool party routes—out to Pinehurst but then heading to Redwood rather than taking on the 14% top of Pinehurst. After climbing up Redwood, which has a more sensible gradient, we turned onto Skyline and climbed up to where it intersected the top of Pinehurst. From there is was pretty much the standard pool party route except for dropping all the way down to San Pablo Dam Road instead of taking the ‘secret’ way down Old El Toyonal due to construction.
Stephen asked me if there had been any recent bikejackings on Skyline. In April there had been several along Skyline and Wildcat where armed robbers would hem in one or two cyclists with a car and take their bike, phone, and valuables. I told him that nothing more has appeared in the local rags about subsequent armed robberies and perhaps the increased police presence had made it too hot to continue stealing bikes. In any case it had put a damper on our forays into the Berkeley hills except when in a group.
This ride could have been called the Tour of the Berkeley Hills Tearooms because it seemed that we stopped at almost all of the restrooms along the way. Was it aging bladders? diuretics? running out of Depends? Looking for lost “friends”? I have no idea. No sooner had the Orinda BART facilities been inspected and deemed pee-worthy when shortly down the road we stopped at the Valle Vista restroom. Then the Sibley restroom. Then the Brazilian Room. Fortunately no one was in a rush so a rather casual attitude towards stops ruled the day.
Vanessa showed up on her Surly, the only non-road “racing” bike, just as she did in Monterey. It’s a great touring bike but a real boat anchor compared to the bikes the rest of us were sporting–carbon fiber gems, titanium jewels. Yet she pedaled that thing with aplomb, able to keep up, proving that having a $14,000 bike may be cool but ultimately is superfluous.
As we climbed up Skyline the fog got crazy thick. At first I thought it was smoke from the fires. But it “clearly” was pea-soup thick fog from the coast, causing eucalyptus trees to shed copious condensation down on the road. Road spray in August! I was sure glad I had on my longsleeve jersey and vest as well as glove liners. You also couldn’t see more than 75 feet beyond your face—you could hear the cars coming but couldn’t see them until they were right upon you. This made the descent down Grizzly a tad interesting. You couldn’t see shit, there were numerous wet spots, two decreasing radius turns, and with traffic—fun times! I was glad to have day lights on the bike.
Turning onto Wildcat we were finally going to be heading back to Contra Costa, which we hoped meant some actual warmth and sunshine, and right around the Brazilian Room the sun came out brilliantly and the haze vanished. We had a fast descent to Orinda. Will and Vanessa headed off to BART while the rest of us went to Geppetto’s for an outdoor lunch and convivial conversation. And by now the PM2.5 had dropped to 40 just as the forecast had predicted. So no pool but a party on two wheels nonetheless if a bit chilly.