Friday, January 31, 2014

A SANTA CRUZ EXPERIENCE


Author:  Mike Hassur

 
Warning:  this blog post is not about cycling – it is about surfing.  This is a blog for The Puyallup Cyclopaths, and it is usually reserved for cycling related stories/adventures.  Unfortunately, when it’s January in the Pacific Northwest, there are not as many cycling related stories to tell as in the more “cycling friendly” times of the year – hence I am hoping that a post about our latest surfing adventure in Santa Cruz, CA might be acceptable.

When I was 48 years old (I will be 66 next month), I found a surf board at a garage sale.  I’d always wanted to learn how to surf, but there weren’t a lot of opportunities in Kansas where I grew up.  Anyway, I called my running buddy, Woody Harris (I nicknamed him "Mog" when we were in optometry school together and still call him that), and asked if he would be interested in giving surfing a try if I bought this surf board.  He said “sure”.  I bought the board, and we have been surfing (or at least trying to surf) ever since.  Our surf adventures have evolved to the point where we now make three one week trips to Santa Cruz, CA per year to surf (and bird watch, hike, go to movies, drink the occasional oatmeal stout, and eat badly – calamari, fish and chips, pizza, etc.).  This post is about our latest trip which took place a couple of weeks ago (January 11 – 16).

We had done our homework and knew that the tides were particularly low during the period from January 11 through January 16.  The lower the tide, the further out the waves break, and the longer the ride; so we always try to pick a time to visit when the tides are extra low.  Also, our trips are always in the winter and early Spring months (i.e. November, January, and March).  There are more storms in the Pacific during the winter which means more “energy in the water” (i.e. wave action). 

We flew into San Jose Airport on the morning of Saturday, January 16th.  The low tide was scheduled to occur at around 2:00 PM that day; so we had time to pick up our minivan at the airport, stop at the house of some friends who are kind enough to store our boards for us and who happen to live in Los Gatos which is right on the way to Santa Cruz, make the 30 minute drive to Santa Cruz, catch a bite to eat at Subway, check into our usual hotel room (the one with a balcony from which we can hang our wet suits when we are done for the day), put the fins on our boards, put on our wet suits, and head to Cowell’s Beach where we do all of our surfing. 

 The area (called Cowell’s Beach) where we surf lies between the Santa Cruz Wharf and a long point of land which, basically, parallels the wharf.  When we arrived, we saw lines of waves running

** NOTE:  click on any of the photos to enlarge them, and click on the "x" in the upper righto-hand corner of the enlarged photo to return to the blog **

Cowell's Beach Surf Area:  wharf across the way and point of land to our right

almost all the way across from the point to the wharf which meant that there was a lot of energy in those waves.  We were so excited to get the boards out of the van and into the water that I totally forgot that I had intended to take some pictures of Mog surfing before I got in. 

We had two hours of good surfing before we wore out.  Usually, my first day is never great.  I’m not sure if it is the plane ride down or what, but I always lack energy on that first day.  This day was no exception.  The waves were good, and I got a few good rides; but I just felt like I was struggling the entire time.  Mog did considerably better than me and got a lot of nice waves.

After the surfing; we went back to the room, took a shower, and headed to the Seabright Brewery where they make the best oatmeal stout known to man.  We enjoyed our beer and watched the Seahawks hang on to defeat the New Orleans Saints.  Keep in mind that Santa Cruz is very close to San Francisco, so most of the folks in the bar were rooting against the ‘Hawks.  Thankfully, there were a few other Seahawk fans present, and the 49’er fans were pretty friendly.

We spent Sunday morning honing our skills at identifying the 7 or 8 different species of seagulls that are found around the Santa Cruz area.  For me, seagulls used to be like sparrows – meaning they all looked the same to me.  When we actually started to make a study of it and learn what to look for, the differences between the species became pretty obvious.  Sunday afternoon’s low tide was around 2:40 PM.  The surfing was good and more enjoyable for me than the previous day, because I had more energy.  That evening, we watched the San Francisco 49er’s hammer the Carolina Panthers.  They looked really good, and I was wondering if the Seahawks could beat them (even with the advantage of the 12th Man).

Monday’s surfing was okay.  Good waves, good rides, and nice people to share the waves with.  Then came Tuesday – probably as good a day of surfing as we’ve ever had. 
The waves were good (i.e. they were consistent and the conditions were right for long rides).  We enjoyed one 300 to 400 yard ride after another and got lots of photos.  Since it was a weekday, most people were at work; and there was plenty of room for everyone on the waves. 
 
 
 
Mog and I have gradually improved to the point where we can enjoy cutting up the face of the wave and back down (not like the guys on TV but enough so that we think we are pretty hot stuff – of course, none of the other folks out there seem to recognize these qualities in us)?!  Rich Larson, a Santa Cruz college professor that we met surfing a few years back was out with us. 
Rich is a really nice guy.  He is a Ironman triathlete, so he and Mog usually do some running together during each of our visits.  We spent a few hours surfing our brains out until we were too tired to surf any longer.  In the end, we had stowed the boards and were sitting on the on the back of the van giggling in disbelief at what an amazing afternoon we had just experienced. 
There are times in life when it seems like things just couldn’t get any better – this was certainly one of those times for me.

The next day (Wednesday) was our last day of surfing.  We ate lunch at our favorite pizza place “Pizza My Heart” and enjoyed another fun day of surfing later that afternoon.  That night, we made one final visit to our favorite restaurant in Santa Cruz, Riva.  It is a little place on the wharf where you can get a combo plate of calamari and fish and chips with more calamari and fish than one person can eat for just under $10.  We go there three or four times per trip, so we know all the bartenders and waiters/waitresses well enough that they know us by name.  The bartenders are surfers so we spend most visits sitting at the bar, watching sports and talking surfing.

The next day we left Santa Cruz, stopped in Los Gatos to leave our boards at our friends’ place, and headed for the airport. 
 
This was an awesome trip – can’t wait for the next one.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

New Mexico Sacramento Mountains and White Sands

The month of December in New Mexico was truly a memorable one. After leaving the mid west (Nebraska) the end of November to escape the cold winter, it followed us all the way to New Mexico. Wind and cold in Kansas, to a freakish snow storm in Amarillo Texas. Didn't get any rides in those 2 states, but did get a few runs in. We were trying to escape the cold as fast as we could. We verily escaped the heavy snow and ice in Amarillo, leaving the morning of the storm arriving. It looked like Moses parting the Red Sea...

Finally arrived in New Mexico, looking forward to the mountain rides in the area. Its a mecca of bike riding opportunities. Most locals are mountain bikers, so tough to find any parts or supplies for road bikes. I mostly rode my XC bike for the month I was there due to  the goat heads and sharp rocks on the road. Lots of gravel roads and arroyos in the area.  1stride was to get to know the area, lots of Pistachio Groves.
 

Next ride was to head up into the foothills and was really looking for a gravel route to the top to Cloudcroft, NM. This is an epic ride on the pavement from Alamogordo to Cloudcroft, 5000+ ft elevation gain in 16 miles.. Definitely a ride to put on your bucket list. No shoulders, so little scary with cars, but worth it. Check out the gradient sign behind me! They closed this road earlier in the am and later in the afternoon. Had a small window to get up there. I was ready for a beer afterwards!
 
The gravel routes I found up the backside to Cloudcroft were available, just a little longer and ran into snow! Here's a great pic of crossing an arroyo in the foothills. There are a lot of these!

 
 
 
I ended up meeting a new cycling buddy Dave, who's a triathlete, at a fun run race in Alamogordo. He lived about half way up the mountain to Cloudcroft, and graciously offered to take me on a ride. This ride was from Cloudcroft along Sunspot Hwy to Sacramento Peak upper Air RSRV, a space observatory.  This is a rolling paved road across the top of the Mtn peaks, from 8800 ft to 10,000 ft. This was a very beautiful ride. Rolling hills, great climbs, and some beautiful views of the valley. You can probably see a 100 miles in each direction.
 
 
After all those views, next ride on the bucket list was to Whitesands, NM. Many notable features of this location. Whitesands is sand that's blown off a lake to the east of the Western Mountains. Its said that the high alkaline from the mountains formed this sand. This massive sand dune moves about 6 inches a year to the east. Its actually so fine and white, its like snow. The plow the roads like a snowstorm weekly. You for sure need to wear your sunglasses in here. Many notables about this dune is its home to White Sands Missile Base, much of the filming for the movie "Transformers" was filmed here! Its about a 15 mile ride from Alamogordo, then when you reach the park, its a 16 mile loop. A lot of people come out here with there snow sleds and sled down the dunes! Dave went with on this ride, pretty flat, but very memorable ride.

 
 

 
 
 video
 
I had many more rides and running/hiking journeys while in New Mexico. Hiking trails right out of your back yard. Great place to go.


 
 
I would come back at a different month though as a little chilly still in the mornings, so maybe spring and fall would be the best times. What an adventure, running and bicycling the US. I will post again the end of this month or beginning of next from the great state of Arizona!

 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2014_01_02 PUYALLUP CYCLOPATHS: Conor Colllins "California Screamin' "

Author:  Mike Hassur

Over the Christmas Holidays, Conor Collins and his parents travelled to the Los Angeles area to visit family.  During that visit, Conor rented a bike for a week, hooked up his GoPro, and did a number of rides in the local mountains.  One of those rides (on January 2nd) was from the community of Azusa to an area in the San Gabriel Mountains called Crystal Lake.  In fifteen miles the road climbs approximately 4250 feet.  This blog post/video shares the experience of the Conor's descent from Crystal Lake back to Azusa.  I think that this is one of the best videos that we have ever done (probably the best).  Hope you enjoy it:

For best viewing do the following:
  1. Turn on your speakers.
  2. Click on the link below.
  3. Click on the icon in the far lower left corner of the viewing box to make the video full screen. 



Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014_01_01 New Year's Day At "The Climb"


Author:  Mike Hassur

 
Happy New Year to all of our blog readers!!  The weather forecast for today (New Year’s Day) predicted a high around 46 degrees (F) and little to no rain.

Our intrepid group arrived at The Climb at about 9:15 AM.  The group included Leon, Kurt, Nick, Rob, Mark, and me.  The temperature at the base of The Climb was around 35 degrees (F), and the roads were slightly damp.  Nick arrived early and drove his car to the top – tapping his brakes as he went to see if there were any slick spots.  Thankfully, everything seemed fine.
View from near the top of "The Climb"

In Puyallup, it was a gray and dreary morning.  At the base of The Climb things had brightened considerably, and you could tell that it was even clearer up toward the top.  Our group headed up the mountain together (I was lagging due to a rear wheel issue that got fixed but made me a “loner” on that first time up  - at least most of the way as Leon was kind enough to circle back to escort me for the final 2k).  It was cold, but the climbing made it comfortable.   As we got closer to the top, we got above the clouds/fog, and the view was spectacular with patches of sunshine and low clouds filling the valley below.  Heading down was cold, but we were dressed for it, and we survived pretty well. 
Thankfully, the road was not slippery.

The longer we were there, the warmer it got so that it was in the low 40’s by the time we were ready to leave.  That may sound cold, but it felt pretty “comfy”.  We got in 3000 to 4000 feet of climbing and A LOT OF VISITING.  I suspect that we got more of an aerobic workout from the chatting than the climbing!!

Looking forward to our next opportunity to ride together.

Best wishes to all.