Ten Years Ago Today: Darth Veeder

Remember life pre-COVID?

Our President David Goldsmith was the originator of this ride as well as L’Alpe de Fromage. “Darth Veeder” takes riders up the ever-popular Veeder Road in Napa. David first led this ride in 2010 as part of a spring training series. This was the second year on tap at our ride calendar. Veeder runs approximatly north-south and can be ridden in either direction. David wisely chose to ride it from the south, which is less steep than doing from the north. It also gives riders the chance to amble peacefully next to Redwood Creek, lending a very pastoral feel to this relatively isolated road. Along Veeder you pass estates and vineyards and then at the top get a fantastic view of the Napa Valley and the nearby mountains. The descent is curvy but not crazy except for the pavement breaks that seem to come out of nowhere. Fortunately traffic is usually sparse. After Veeder is a fun, easy descent on Dry Creek Road. David also started this ride at Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, giving riders a chance to fill up on exquisite pastries both before and after!

David reported:
Today was beyond beautiful. To start with, we were surrounded by a ring of snow-capped mountains. In Napa Valley. Unreal. Mt. St. Helena was particularly impressive viewed from Highway 29 while driving up to Yountville. Once we got on our bikes and started climbing the mountain, there was water everywhere. I figured there would be, since it had rained all week. But the flow through the creeks, occasionally spilling over onto the roads we were riding, was massive. Redwood Creek was churning away and Dry Creek was not dry. When we got to the top, there were daffodils blooming among green mountainsides. Just before we left the summit, I turned around and espied Mt. Diablo, probably 50 miles south, huge and blanketed with snow. It looked like one of the Sierras, very impressive.

Redwood Creek at its best
At the top of Veeder Road
That white stuff is called “snow”

If you’re a club member, log into the club website and view all the ride pics in the 201102 Darth Veeder photo album!

“Sesame, Ouvre-toi!”

Hell no!

It’s not quite that easy to reopen, is it? A magical incantation may have worked in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves but it will take something beyond words to get the club to really open up and reveal its treasures. It’s proved that way at other Bay Area cycling clubs as well—being able to reopen for rides has not led to a spate of listings nor of participation. Most members are still eschewing group rides even though they check off just about all the safety boxes: health and safety protocols, outdoor and mostly uncrowded, and constantly moving air. Everybody’s assessement of risk is going to be different and although we’d like to think there is a rational calculus, so much is unknown about COVID spread that the penumbra of uncertainty seems large and hazy. I have read anecdotally that in Florida, which pandemic-wise is a world unto itself, large group rides (e.g. 50+ riders) take place almost every day of the week where riders ride in close quarters unmasked, i.e. conduct rides as if nothing were different today. Actually I still see a few “relatives” of those Florida training rides out here although they aren’t quite as big and more of the riders are carrying face coverings even if they aren’t wearing them. But for the most part Bay Area cyclists seem to be riding by themselves or only with small groups of family or friends.

We restarted our club rides in October and they’ve mostly been led or co-led by our Secretary Jeff Pekrul. They seem small—maybe four to eight participants—but those numbers were pretty typical prepandemic. Of course you can’t have club rides without ride leaders/hosts and since that population has always been small—about fifteen or so members—the limiting factor is going to be the number of hosts that are willing to lead now. Whether it’s because the pandemic has upended personal lives, fear of COVID transmission, or the fact that it’s currently the rainy season and cold, ride leaders aren’t leaping forward to grab the reins, so to speak.

Looking at who’s showing up on our pandemic rides it’s mostly the same people, ie. those who aren’t fearful of congregating with fellow Spokers. Everybody else seems to be hunkered down waiting for the plague to blow over. But with mass vaccination no longer on the horizons and well into view, more Spokers are certain to emerge like Punxsutawney Phil and not be scared by their shadows.

I’ve certainly been pondering this question although it’s mostly theoretical since I’m still recovering from an injury that’s keeping me off the bike: when I’m vaccinated, will I then start leading club rides just like before? Will I then join a club ride? I hate to admit it but there is one thing that is a real turn-off for doing a group ride right now: I can’t stop someplace, sit down, and have a nice lunch midride. Restaurants are currently open only for takeout and it’s cold outside. Eating takeout under those conditions is not a whole lot different than stopping at the Kwik-E-Mart for a snack. Yeah, it’ll get you home but it’s…disappointing.

I’m looking forward to the day when we can do a ride, sit down for a delightful meal filled with insouciant and witty conversation, and then after an inspiring postprandial coffee saddle up again for a slow roll back to the manse. Without a mask.

Oh yes!

Serving or Self-Serving?

As you know we continued to offer club rides despite the winter CoViD-19 surge and the December statewide Stay-At-Home order. Some board members had a discussion about this prompted by the news that Western Wheelers ceased club rides in early January when Santa Clara County informed them they could no longer have gatherings. You may be wondering the same thing: how could a club like Different Spokes have continued to host club rides, which involve gathering, when all gatherings supposedly had been banned?

A little history: since last March every local cycling club—that I could think of—either explicitly stopped club rides or emptied their ride calendars (leading me to conclude that despite no announcement they too were not hosting rides). In June San Mateo County got a variance from the State that allowed outdoor gatherings up to 50 people. Suddenly group outdoor recreation was now licit in that county. Western Wheelers quickly reactivated club rides just in San Mateo. When Santa Clara also allowed outdoor group recreation, WW, which is based in there, reopened rides in their home county as well. Thereafter other cycling clubs followed suit in their communities. (Some of those clubs were in counties that hadn’t yet allowed group outdoor recreation but some clubs did it anyway.) Several of the larger clubs in the Bay Area reopened—Fremont Freewheelers, Almaden Cycle Touring Club in San Jose, Grizzly Peak Cyclists in Berkeley, Sunnyvale Saratoga Cycling Club. There were also large cycling clubs that didn’t reopen, including Marin Cyclists, Valley Spokesmen in Dublin, Davis Cycling Club, and Sacramento Wheelmen and have continued to eschew group rides. We decided to reopen.

The restart of group cycling was initially prompted by San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties allowing it. But it really gathered steam when the State switched to the State Plan and the color tier system—ie. the State Blueprint For A Safe Economy—to give guidance to all counties. This was helpful because when each county had no choice but to implement its own pandemic plan, we ended up with a confusing patchwork or regulations. The new tier system meant that counties could just adopt the state rules instead. Some Bay Area counties eventually did exactly that including Alameda and Contra Costa whereas others continued to draft their own more restrictive plans such as Santa Clara and San Francisco.

The import of this has to do with (a) what was considered an allowed gathering in a county, and (b) how governmental bodies viewed cycling clubs. Although never explicitly stated, governmental bodies viewed cycling clubs the same as informal social groups unless they had a business license or non-profit status. Clubs without formal legal status were then subject to general restrictions on gathering. But clubs that had legal non-profit status were treated the same as businesses and hence their gatherings were subject to the regulations in the State Blueprint, which devotes the bulk of its attention to which businesses may operate and how they can operate. In other words for clubs that didn’t have some kind of business or non-profit status, their gatherings were treated no differently rulewise than just a group of friends or neighbors who were hanging out together. It didn’t matter if your club had a professional-looking website and snazzy kit: if you hadn’t bother to file for non-profit status (or perhaps your rides were not sponsored by a local bike for-profit cycling business), your club’s rides were no different than a generic gathering and hence subject to all the regulations—e.g. pod size, limited number, limited number of households, etc. Under the December emergency order their gatherings were purely social gatherings and were banned. You’d be surprised how many cycling clubs were in this situation. There was even one local cycling club that subsequently entertained the idea of becoming a religious organization/church in order to offer rides presumably because they didn’t have business or non-profit status.

In late summer and early fall, counties were allowing some social gathering either by requiring social distancing and face coverings, limiting the maximum number who could gather, requiring closed pods, or other such devices. Businesses were also required to do similar things for their patrons and employees, eg. by limiting the number who could enter an indoor business or work in a space. But the regulations for social gatherings and business gatherings were not necessarily the same with the latter spelled out both in the State Blueprint and in specific county regulations (if the county wasn’t following the State plan).

Last summer when non-profit organizations such as Different Spokes, Grizzly Peak Cyclists, or Western Wheelers looked at the State Blueprint For A Safe Economy for guidance, there was no obvious category for us. At that time the only category that even came close was Outdoor Recreation and RV Parks and we, as well as several of our fellow cycling clubs, ended up following those guidelines in terms of how we conduct our club when we’re in counties that have adopted the State Plan. San Francisco County was one of the counties that wrote its own plan and it has never clearly categorized us. The only business category we seemed to fit in is Gyms and Fitness Clubs; I’ve confirmed this with the SF Department of Public Health. One of the compliance requirements to operate in SF is to create and make available to the public a health and safety plan, which we have done. This is no different than for any other business in this category operating in SF. When the December emergency stay-at-home order was announced, all gathering outside of your immediate household was supposed to cease. But ‘gatherings’ such as outdoor fitness classes were still allowed. Why? Because the rules for business ‘gatherings’ were not the same as for purely social gatherings.

So that puts non-profit organizations such as Different Spokes in an interesting situation: our club rides are, in everyday language, certainly social gatherings. But because we are a non-profit organization, San Francisco’s CoViD-19 health orders allowed us to continue offering our “outdoor fitness classes”. We continued to offer club rides legally. But should we have?

Not only does this seem contradictory (but then again many things in the law seem contradictory to us lay folk, who don’t understand how subtle differences are finessed!) but it seems to belie common sense: if you want to stop community spread and you think it’s due to people gathering, then you should stop all gatherings, period. But a critical difference is that the allowed business gatherings are supposedly under the supervision of the business: the fitness club staff (= ride leaders) makes sure that class participants follow appropriate social distancing, masking, etc. There may be no such mandated oversight at informal social gatherings. That seems to be one of the reasons that club rides were and are okay—they’re part of a business practice and supervised according to county or state rules—and not treated like informal social gatherings where anything goes. The concern seems to be that informal social gatherings are major transmission sites because people don’t actually follow best practices for preventing infection. So they have to be squelched. Does that mean that ‘gatherings’ as part of a business operation are therefore safe? No. I’m sure plenty of businesses with ‘no mask, no service’ signs continue to do business with people who don’t or won’t wear a mask. They may not care to enforce the rules for fear of alienating their patrons; have indifferent, ignorant, or fearful staff; or they just need the money. Not too long ago I was in a supermarket where a customer was “blow holing” (had a mask on his face that didn’t cover his nose) and the woman at the bakery counter went about her business to sell him his morning coffee and bagel without ever asking him to cover up properly. At another supermarket I saw a group of employees convening in an aisle and at least two them did not have any masks. (!)

So was our continuing to offer club rides merely self-serving? My normally cynical self leans towards “Of course!” But the leaders of our pandemic rides have been dutiful in enforcing compliance with the club HASP. I had a discussion with the leader of another local club that was grappling with the same issues and we had come to a similar conclusion: people are out riding in groups regardless of the pandemic and many of those groups don’t have masks or other protocols to protect their participants. When people come on our club rides, they’re told exactly what they need to do to ride with us or they have to exit the ride. In that way our club rides are safer than the ad hoc social gatherings we see on two wheels. Think of it as a kind of harm reduction: if you think solo cycling is safe and group cycling unsafe, consider properly supervised group cycling as a lesser evil. Some clubs might be very laissez-faire when it comes to enforcing safety. But if you offer the kind of pandemic rides we do, then it’s hardly evil at all and may in fact be a good as riders internalize safe pandemic riding habits and then consider them “normal”. If the pandemic worsens due to perhaps the new SARS-COV-2 variants, then a real lockdown is surely in our near future—not the ‘lockdown lite’ we keep getting told is a lockdown but something more like what was implemented in Wuhan, Italy, or Spain last spring—and if that is the case then our rides will be shut down for realz. But so will many other businesses that have also been given a pass since the State started reopening last May.

Bike Lane, Bike Route, Bike Path, Bikeway?

I learned something recently: cyclists are not required to use a ‘protected bike lane’. Maybe you already knew that–I certainly didn’t! But I suspect most of us have little or no understanding of the difference between a bike lane, a bike route, bike path, and a bikeway. To most people those terms are interchangeable but the reality is that they are used under the Vehicle Code and by traffic engineers technically to distinguish related but different entities.

A bikeway is a general term for any path of travel that is designated for bicycle use. So it can be, for example, a lane, a ‘route’, a multi-use path, etc. But sometimes it’s used interchangeably with the term ‘cycle track’, which is generally some kind of protected path of travel for bicycles.

You’ve likely seen the near-ubiquitous signs announcing ‘bike route’. This simply announces that this path of travel—likely a street or highway—is a ‘recommended’ route for cyclists. Who recommended it? You don’t know. What makes a way recommended is totally unclear since bike route signs can be found on streets with cars and trucks travelling at high speed. Also because a street is designated a ‘bike route’ does not require any municipal entity to maintain it such as by obstacle removal or street cleaning (although they might if you complain).

A bike lane is more specific than a bike route in that it is a lane marked by signage or striping set aside for use by bicycles. Sometimes some motor vehicles are allowed to ‘use’ a bike lane such as when making a turn, and even park in it (e.g. police, ambulances, mail trucks, garbage trucks). Usually a bike lane is explicitly indicated with a sign or pavement marking, ‘bike lane’.

A protected bike lane is one that is separated from regular vehicle lanes. The separation can be as simple as an extra-wide, chevroned strip or true physical separation such as bollards, K-barriers, or even parked cars as is the case in Golden Gate Park.

In 2012 the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition convinced the City to install protected bike lanes in Golden Gate Park as a ‘trial’. (It must have been successful because they were never removed!) There were repeated incidents of drivers parking in the bike lane, which was adjacent to the curb, and not parking in the parking spots that were set away from the curb to protect the bike lane. There were the other adjustment snafus such as passenger doors being blithely kicked open forcing cyclists to move to the right as much as possible, people crossing the bike lane suddenly, and slow users in the bike lane (eg. the rental pedicars from Stow Lake) that obstructed the lane. Most of these issues have probably diminished over the years. But there are still structural issues such as the difficulty/impossibility of passing another slower cyclist when there are cars parked to your left. At the time I asked SF Bike what faster cyclists should do since my reading of the California Vehicle Code was that when a bike lane protected or otherwise was adjacent to the roadway, cyclists who were going slower than the rest of traffic were required to use the bike lane. Of course SF Bike responded that one should just use the regular lane that cars use. Say what? In any case I did try that and on the very first ride I did after that email exchange with SF Bike I was honked and yelled at by a driver ‘get out of the road!’ (By the way, another irritating structural issue is avoiding broken glass strewn in the lane—you can’t swerve right (curb) or left (parked cars) easily, if at all, to avoid it.)

It turns out my reading of the CVC was either incorrect or the law has been amended since then. Cyclists are NOT required to use a protected bike lane. Why? Because, in a bit of oxymoronic nomenclatural confusion a bike lane that is separated by a physical barrier such as parked cars, bollards, etc. is not considered a ‘bike lane’ anymore but a ‘separated bikeway’ and it turns out we may either use the ‘separated bikeway’ or not—it’s our choice.

The section of the CVC that mandates bike lane usage is here. The section of the California Streets and Highways Code that allows us not to use the protected bike lane is here.

If you read the latter, you may be wondering, “how does this paragraph allow us to skip the separated bikeway?” It’s because although we are required to use an adjacent bike lane per the CVC, a separated bikeway is not a bike lane in the eyes of the law, and the CVC paragraph above does not mention ‘separated bikeway’, ‘cycle track’ or ‘Class IV bikeway’, which are the correct terms for a protected bike lane. Interestingly there is a note that SHC 890.4 was amended in 2015, which was well after the GG Park lanes were installed. Whether the 2015 amendment was about differentiating bike lanes from protected bike lanes is unclear. But this semantic sleight-of-hand is our get-out-of-jail card.

However just because the law is technically on our side does not mean that there are no social consequences. I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of drivers don’t know this legal esoterica and when they encounter a slower cyclist (well, actually ANY cyclist) in their lane, they wouldn’t give a shit what the law says anyway, they just want you out of the way! Having a patently obvious alternative lane—the protected bike lane—and seeing cyclists not using it are likely to induce apoplectic rage and lead to diatribes about the massive ‘entitlement’ of cyclists. So it’s not enough just to let us use the regular vehicle lanes; we need driver education concerning cycling law and why some cyclists choose not to use the protected bike lane.

Bakery Loopers

First we take Manhattan…

Jeff Pekrul reports —

“We had a very nice ride to Pt. Reyes Station this past Saturday. Joan, Donald, Will, Scott and I rode from Corte Madera Town Square Park out to Pt. Reyes Station to sample the amazing baking at Bovine Bakery. It was a beautiful day—and pretty warm for mid-January—with hardly a cloud in the sky. A lot of other cyclists were on the roads enjoying the great weather. There has been barely enough rain in this very dry winter to green the hills just a little.

Stick ‘Em Up, Pardner!

After lunch we returned via Platform Bridge Road and the paved bike path through Samuel P. Taylor State Park. But instead of taking Sir Francis Drake Blvd. from the park entrance, Joan took us on a section of the unpaved Cross Marin Trail, aka Sir Francis Drake Bikeway, for a mile or two. It was muddy and most of us probably gave our bikes a bath afterwards. Joan apparently does a lot of off-road biking and her mountain bike looks like it’s made of mud. For the route back to Fairfax we took side roads through San Geronimo and Woodacre that were new to many of us and really beautiful. Before ending in Corte Madera we stopped briefly at Low Key Motors in San Anselmo to look at their cool vintage bikes.”

Happy 2021!

I’ll always remember this lousy year:

  • We cancelled more rides than we held.
  • We postponed our Pajaro Dunes ride weekend.
  • We had more virtual meetups than rides. (Well, it felt like more to me. I haven’t actually counted.)
  • We had a holiday party – but on frigging Zoom!

We did have around a dozen in attendance at the holiday party, and it was nice to see everyone.

Yeah, 2020 sucked. Still, there were members who made very valuable contributions during this time of Covid-19. Thanks, Tony, for the incredibly valuable work you did putting together the club’s Health and Safety Plan, and keeping us abreast of the requirements we’d need to meet to start riding again. Without your work, it wouldn’t have been possible for Jeff to start leading rides again last fall.

Thanks, Jeff, for getting club rides going again.

Thanks, David Ga. for organizing the virtual meetups and the white elephant exchange at the holiday party. You kept the club’s social life going during a difficult time.

Better times ahead in 2021!

David

We’re Riding! Gazos Creek and Stage Road loop.

Jeff P. led a Gazos Creek and Stage Road loop from Half Moon Bay yesterday. Here’s his ride report:

If Sonoma and Napa are the Wine Country, is the San Mateo coast the Pumpkin Country? On today’s ride from Half Moon Bay down to Gazos Creek and back via Stage Road and Purisima Creek, we saw a lot of pumpkin fields – perfect for a Halloween ride! Adding to the spookiness, it was so foggy on the coast until we reached the Pigeon Point lighthouse, that it made me think of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, though no headless riders were seen.

It became a beautiful, sunny Autumn day with perfect temperatures. Our riding group from the past 3 weeks shrank by one, and today we just had Joan, Nancy, Scott and Jeff. At our stop at the Pigeon Point lighthouse, we took time to read the history plaque and snap photos of Whaler’s cove. We had our socially-distanced lunch stop in Pescadero, using the tables have been set up on a parking lot next to Duarte’s. We noticed that people were using the tables in the garden behind Arcangeli, so maybe that is an option for next time. Leaving Pescadero, we stopped to snap a couple photos in the creepy old graveyard, by the Goulson family plot. It just seemed right on Halloween.

The second half of this ride (Stage Road, lower Tunitas Creek, and Purisima Creek) is a personal favorite of mine. With 3900 feet of climbing, I think we all earned our pumpkin spice latte or whatever Halloween celebratory beverage we decided on for after the ride.

Ride Report: City Loop 10/17/2020

Many of us have done city loops a million times, and it normally wouldn’t occur to me to write a ride report about one, but Saturday’s city loop was special: after months and months of canceling rides, the club did our first group ride of the Covid-19 era.

Tony Moy has spent a ton of time researching the conditions under which we would be able to have a group ride. He put together a Health and Safety Plan for the club, as required by the City and County of San Francisco. We updated the club’s waiver to include some language about coronavirus. Jeff Pekrul was kind enough to volunteer to lead the ride. And, the board decided it was time for the club to start having group rides again.

So, we met on a gorgeous day in front of McLaren Lodge.

Note the nicely-distanced Spokers! For obvious reasons, part of our Health and Safety Plan is to maintain 6 feet between cyclists when we’re off our bikes. As you can see, we generally did a really good job of it.

Jeff gave a safety speech before the ride. It’s not something we normally do, but in the time of Covid-19, it’s essential. Our most important goal right now is to have rides that people feel safe going on.

Jeff P. delivering the first safety speech of the covid era (which we all hope is over soon).

Then it was time to ride.

The 6 of us left McLaren Lodge, went over to Arguello, then up to the pretty lookout:

From there, the familiar route through the Presidio, down the Great Highway, around Lake Merced, up Sloat, across Monterey, through the Mission and the Castro, over the Wiggle and back through the Panhandle to McLaren. 24 miles, around 2 hours rolling time.

A couple of observations from me:

  • It was much easier riding in a mask than I thought it would be.
  • The group did a good job distancing, and it felt safe to be riding with this group.
  • Jeff and I checked in with the riders, and they all agreed about feeling reasonably safe on this ride.
  • Alas, no pacelining, which is a lot of fun (for me) but just not very appropriate in this era. We’ll get back to it some day.
  • The ride felt nice and sociable without being huggy/kissy.

The weather was spectacular Saturday and of course that helped.

You might ask, why did we start with a short, 24 mile ride? Couple of reasons. A lot of us are out of shape, and we wanted to start with rides that will help those of us who are out of shape get back into cycling gently. The City and County limits the amount of time groups like ours can spend on outdoor activities. So, 2 hours rolling through San Francisco is the current max. Third, the first few rides we do, including this one, are experiments. The board wanted to see how we would do as a club meeting the conditions set down by the City and County for group events.

My opinion: we did splendidly.

Big thank yous to Tony for putting the club’s Health and Safety Plan together, which made this ride possible, and to Jeff for leading the ride.

On a personal note, I’ve had a physical problem that’s kept me from riding for almost a year now. This was my first time back on a bike since last year’s Mt. Hamilton climb (which I was unable to finish). I’m not out of the woods yet, but it felt great to be back on a bike again, and to be able to ride with the club. It felt like I was riding in molasses the second part of the ride, but I guess molasses is pretty sweet.

The Next Guerneville?

Group camp site at Johnson’s Beach Resort

The Guerneville Overnighter or Russian River Weekend has been on hiatus for ten years but not because we haven’t tried to restage it. The biggest obstacle to putting on another RRW is suitable lodging if we want to put it on in the traditional way. It’s not that lodging isn’t available—it would be relatively easy to book group accommodations as long as we did it ahead of time and picked a weekend that wasn’t already drawing a crowd eg. Lazy Bear Week. Traditional RRWs have had the following elements: (1) a Friday start for a group to cycle up to Guerneville for a three-day weekend; (2) inexpensive lodging, usually camping, in order make the trip available to the widest number of people, with an option for a room instead; (3) lodging in Guerneville preferably adjacent to the Russian River; (4) a Saturday group-prepared dinner. The two locations we’ve used most often, Fife’s and the Willows/Guerneville Lodge really aren’t suitable anymore. Fife’s is now Dawn Ranch Lodge and no longer has camping. It offers small cabins from $250-600 per night (one bed). The Guerneville Lodge is pretty much the way it has been but with two significant changes. The kitchen is no longer available for guest use so no group cooking can be done there, and now there is no onsite management with a consequence being loud, obnoxious partying in the lawn camping area making a peaceful stay a hit-or-miss thing (unless you want to party on too). At least the Guerneville Lodge still has camping.

The days of a Guerneville Overnighter costing about $20 are long gone too. Lodging along the Russian River, like everything else in the greater Bay Area, has experienced disproportionate inflation. $250 per summer weekend night for mediocre accommodations is common and some inns require a three-night stay. Even if we used an inn that did not require a three-night stay, the cost of a GW just for the lodging would be about $350-500 probably split for two people.

Camping has been a longtime option for GW; other than crashing with friends it is the only way to keep a Guerneville weekend inexpensive. Today a camp site runs about $40-50 per night or about $20-40 per person. That’s not bad, being just 100% inflation since 1983. But do Spokers still want to camp for a weekend? The club has aged up and the average income of club members is very likely quite a bit higher than it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s making camping–always the affordable choice–less necessary. If you look at the photos of the 1984 and 1985 Guerneville trips, other than the quaintness of people dressed in t-shirts and running shorts (by today’s standards they would be short shorts rather than just ‘shorts’) and tennis shoes you will notice that the bicycles are quite modest. It is a commonplace today to see bikes on club rides costing well over two grand whereas the average club bike back then was probably less than $300 brand new. Inflation since 1984 can’t account for that big of an increase. It says something demographically about Spokers back then: many members had low-to-moderate incomes simply because the Bay Area was still an affordable area for everyday people. I was a graduate student when I joined Different Spokes and my income was, well, a student income.

Currently in the Guerneville area the camping choices are limited. The bigger options are Guerneville Lodge, Parker Resort, Schoolhouse Canyon, and Johnson’s Beach. The Guerneville Lodge is still open but it’s a different place than it used to be, ie. there isn’t a group kitchen anymore and there is no onsite management, which apparently has made conflicts among visitors not uncommon, mainly noise and rowdiness at night. The Parker Resort is essentially camping only as is the Schoolhouse Canyon, with the latter not allowing groups larger than eight. The Highlands Resort, which the club has used before, does not allow groups bigger than eight. That leaves Johnson’s Beach which has group camping and rooms. The group camping site cost in 2019 was $200 per night for up to 20 people making it the same cost as Fife’s back in the day. However the group camping site is right at the entrance and next to town and the bridge making it a noisier location; it does have electric outlets though for charging your phones. Johnson’s Beach is rather crowded on summer weekends but that’s true for Guerneville in general.

Of the four conditions mentioned above eliminating one or all of them would open more possibilities. We could skip the ride up and back, in which case Guerneville becomes a getaway weekend; however this doesn’t resolve the lodging issue. If Spokers are less interested in camping, then our lodging choices become much wider as we could stay at any inn or owner-rented accommodation near Guerneville. Guerneville isn’t the only place to stay along the Russian River but it’s the most ‘urban’ (but not urbane) and has the most overt LGBT sensibility. But we could stay in Forestville, Monte Rio, or out of the small river towns altogether. Finally we could skip having a group-prepared dinner, which would obviate the need for a kitchen. But the critical one is cost: foregoing camping would mean the average cost per person would be about $250-350 per person for lodging rather than $80-100. Foregoing a kitchen means all the meals have to be eaten out and, again, higher cost.

When the club will be ready to go back is an open question with the pandemic having no predictable end. Next summer? Possibly but unlikely. However Guerneville resorts are currently open with COVID-19 precautions. But when we will have group rides and events again is uncertain. We certainly thought three months ago that this would all have come to an end by mid-summer and it hasn’t. Perhaps in this environment it would be better to stay out of Guerneville and in a more isolated location? If so we are probably talking about a house rental.

Of course the Russian River isn’t the only possibility for a club weekend trip. But finding another beautiful location within 100 miles of San Francisco that we can cycle to makes it a good choice.

Dude, What Have You Been Smoking?

Smokin’!

Since last Friday the air quality has been ghastly in the Bay Area because of the ubiquitous wildfires. For those who dwell in San Francisco or coastside it’s been perhaps less polluted at times; for those of us in the East and South Bay it’s been varying between ‘unhealthy’ to verifiably dangerous levels. Since the dozens of wildfires started over a week ago we’ve also been enduring an unusually long and withering heat wave that has intensified the smokiness by trapping much of the particulates at ground level in place. With no coastal breeze to blow the smoke inland we’re pretty much stuck inhaling the same smoke over and over.

Over here in Contra Costa the smoke has been eerie but not unfamiliar: two years ago with the Camp Fire we had air quality this bad, so bad that the haze looked like benign fog. Except it wasn’t. Three years ago we had the Tubbs Fire, which didn’t cause as much havoc with our air as the Camp Fire in 2018 or even today’s fires. I rode during the Tubbs Fire without misgivings. But the following year the Camp Fire was so bad that after one day of riding outside—even with a Respro mask—I gave up; I was coughing incessantly anyway until the winds changed a week or so later and moved the smoke out. This time I’m not making the same mistake. As soon as the air quality warning was raised, I hunkered down indoors. We have two HEPA filters running constantly and we are also running air conditioning not just to cool the house down but to do some additional filtering. I haven’t been outside much, let alone to ride, since the fires began over ten days ago. At night we run the AC and HEPA filter in the bedroom; in the morning when I open the bedroom door the house smells of smoke until we run the filters in the other rooms.

One of our ‘downtime’ projects has been constructing a new greenhouse. We go outside in the early morning to get as much work done as possible before the heat increases. We wear N95 masks when working; even so I get headaches from breathing in the smoke and have to retreat indoors to recover.

Despite the pollution if you’ve still gone riding outdoors, you’re made of hardier stock than I. Riding in this thick smoke is like smoking a pack of cigarettes! And if you think ‘Well, it’s just smoke—it may smell funny but it won’t harm me”, keep in mind that exposure to air pollution can not just exacerbate COPD but also cause it. All that aerobic training torn down simply by breathing in smoke. That said getting a fix from riding is good for your mental health especially these days. But during this season of hellacious wildfires I would caution you to ‘exercise’ discretion rather than your legs.

[8/25: Here’s an informative read on how wildfire smoke damages your lungs.]

Next up: swarms of locusts!