Thursday, July 29, 2010

San Francisco Bay Trail: East Bay - Martinez-Benicia Bridge

Week #3 - 7.6 miles, 3.5 SF Bay Trail

7-18-2010 - I'm catching up but the blog is still running ten days behind my experiences.  It reminds me of William Brewer's journals, which were edited into Up and Down California in 1860-1864; The Journal of William H. Brewer.  It's a narrative of the Whitney California Geological Survey.  There were also big scientific reports that were published but Brewer's journal brought the state to life in the best detail to the time - meeting people, exploring, collecting far more than rock samples, and the Survey visited Mt. Diablo numerous times.  It was near San Francisco, the biggest city, and near Sacramento where Whitney traveled frequently to request funds from the legislature.  Brewer was in charge in Whitney's absence.  He was a botanist by training and collected thousands of samples, including many of the first collections of endemic plants now known from the mountain.  You see his shadow in their names, and those of landmarks, or in the collection data, Brewer's dwarf flax for example.  When the Survey camped in one place for awhile he'd catch up on his journal, reporting on the past few days or weeks.

My first ride was on the penninsula, and my intent was to balance my Bay Area Ridge Trail hikes in the East Bay with West Bay San Francisco Bay Trail bike rides for a little variety and mixed length drives. This Sunday found me procrastinating and it was maybe an hour before dark when I got out of the house.  I cycled right out of my driveway.

In my twenties, when I had more time than money, I rode my bike everywhere, daily and longer trips for vacation. It was a much healthier time. I'm trying to take the bike with me more to take advantage of spare hours.  I imagine I'll fit this ride in when I don't have time for much more.  It's a little over 7 miles round trip and can be completed in about 40 minutes or less.

San Francisco Bay Trail: Martinez-Benicia Bridge
The bridges are good starting points for the SF Bay Trail, and one is about a mile from my house.  The Martinez-Benicia Bridge is also one of the more recent Bay Trail segments, and one of just two locations where the San Francisco Bay Trail and the Bay Area Ridge Trail are the same.  The other is the Golden Gate Bridge.  When the new bridge was built--there are actually three between Martinez and Benicia, the new one, the old 1962 one and a 1930 railroad bridge--the old one was refurbished and a bike-pedestrian lane added.  Now the two main bridges are each one way for drivers.

The Bay Trail - Ridge Trail Carquinez loop
The Crockett-Vallejo "Al Zampa" bridge was completed in 2003 and its trail segment in 2004. It has a bike/pedestrian lane too, so it's now possible to ride 50 mile loops across both bridges.  Cycling groups lobbied long and hard for the bridge crossing, and the dedication was the first time in Cycling groups lobbied long and hard for the bridge crossing, and the dedication was the first time in

The dedication of the new Benicia bridge trail segment was on August 30, 2009. It was a really hot day so I waited until late afternoon but took a few pictures; lucky, because tonight's ride was a little too late for good light and pictures.  It's an industrial ride from downtown Martinez on Escobar then Marina Vista to the bridge approach on Mococo Road, passing through the Shell refinery to the western edge of Highway 680.  Beyond the freeway are the marshes of 198-acre Waterbird Regional Preserve and McNabney Marsh.  Al McNabney was a leader in the local Mt. Diablo chapter of the Audubon Society which advocated for preservation of the marsh.  You can normally see lots of waterfowl there, including an ever-present flock of white pelicans.

But that evening I turned north instead on the bike path, the new toll plaza above and out of sight, a gradual climb up onto the bridge.  It's about 1.2 miles long and 138 feet above the water.  The new bridge to the east is 1.7 miles and they cost $25 million and $1.3 billion respectively.

It's not the Golden Gate Bridge and the freeway traffic is fast and loud, but the views are spectacular, west up the Strait to the Crockett bridge and east across the Delta to the Sierra.  Once you reach the center it's a long coast to the other side, where you can loop left and under the bridge and north to a dramatic Vista Point.  I turned around there after looking at the fading light and Mt. Diablo for a few minutes, and retraced my route back to Martinez and the old train station on Ferry Street then back home.

Mt. Diablo view from the Benicia side Vista Point across the new bridge

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bay Area Ridge Trail: East Bay - Sobrante Ridge

(Sun. July 11, 2010 - I'm doing a little catch up now that I've started this blog)

Sobrante Ridge Regional Preserve is a little 277-acre preserve between Richmond and Pinole with views into the Briones area and out across San Pablo Bay.

I was feeling my first week's work outs, minor though they'd been, and my bike ride the day before, but I was determined to inaugurate my first weekend with both a Bay Trail bike ride and a Ridge Trail hike.  I could have hiked a section of the Ridge Trail in Martinez but I hit those segments often and wanted something new, even though it was about 90 minutes before dark by the time I got my act together.

Bay Area Ridge Trail
To paraphrase information from the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council's website:  'More than twenty years ago, National Park Service Director William Penn Mott, Jr., envisioned a trail that would ring the San Francisco Bay high on the ridgeline.'  Mott was a Lafayette resident with a lifetime of park and urban trail experience.  He'd been Parks Director for the City of Oakland, then briefly General Manager of the East Bay Regional Park District in the 1960s before being appointed to head California State Parks and then the National Park Service by Ronald Reagan.  In 1964 while at the Regional Park District, Mott and a buddy of mine, Hulet Hornbeck who lives here in Martinez (he was 90 last Fall), led the campaign to expand the Regional Park District into Contra Costa County.  Mott then hired Hornbeck as the Park District's first Chief of Acquisition.

To that point, most of the Regional Park District's lands were on the ridges, mostly accessible to the middle class and the wealthy.  Mott and Hornbeck began a new era by creating shoreline parks in areas that were often industrial and expensive (shoreline land is often bought by the square foot instead of the acre, and often requires cleanup).  For the first time they also proposed urban regional trails outside of parks to link the shorelines with the ridges.  That way more of the public would have access to Park District facilities.  Twenty years later their efforts would be a foundation for creation of both the Bay Trail and the Ridge Trail.

More from the Ridge Council, 'In 1987, representatives of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the Greenbelt Alliance organized the Bay Area Ridge Trail project to fulfill Mott’s vision.  This initial partnership brought together public park agencies and trail advocates from all around the region. They mapped out an initial route for the Ridge Trail, and developed a “road map” for an organization to promote its completion. The first Ridge Trail segment was dedicated in May 1989. In 1992, the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council became an independent nonprofit. Its mission is to create a continuous 550+-mile trail for hikers, mountain bicyclists, and equestrians along the ridgelines overlooking San Francisco Bay.  Existing trails in open public lands were quickly added to the Ridge Trail network allowing a 100-mile celebration in 1990, and 200 miles in 1995'.

Carriage Hills development view south
Most of the Trail is an overlay of existing trails but new segments are regularly constructed too.  Trail segments in existing parks were quickly incorporated into the plan, work that was largely administrative and political; choose the existing trail, get approval to overlay the Ridge Trail, update the trail signs.  The first two years included dedications where regional trails already spanned multiple parks, through Mt. Tamalpais and in the Oakland-Berkeley hills, for example.

New miles requiring new trail easements, land acquisitions or construction are more complex.  Imagine the difficulties of creating segments across the Carquinez Strait from Crockett to Vallejo and from Martinez to Benicia.  You could already walk across the Golden Gate Bridge but crossing Carquinez Strait meant waiting for new bridges to be built or old ones refurbished, with bike-pedestrian paths.  The 300th mile was completed in 2006.  In mid 2010, over 325 miles (59%) are open of 550 miles planned.

I'd picked up Jean Rusmore's Bay Area Ridge Trail - The Official Guide for Hikers, Mountain Bikers, and Equestrians, 2008 3rd Edition (the 1st Edition was in 1995) and had been scanning it for ideas.  Sobrante Ridge is between Richmond's El Sobrante, along San Pablo Dam Road, and the Pinole Valley.  It was pretty close to Martinez yet I had never hiked there.

The Pinole Valley
Sobrante Ridge
The preserve was dedicated as a condition of the Carriage Hills development below, an artifact of Contra Costa's anything goes, anywhere, wild wild west, mode of urban planning before conservationists forced adoption of the county's first Urban Limit Line in 1990.  Carriage Hills is classic cherry stem, leapfrog development, approved on cheap land barely connected to Richmond because its developer had political pull.  It jumps from existing development across a half mile of open space, jutting into and fragmenting ranch lands.  Wildlife habitat is also fragmented and the public ends up subsidizing urban services stretched over longer distances.  It's also a great place to live, if you're so lucky, surrounded by open space with great views.  You just have to drive further to get anywhere or to buy groceries.

I took Pinole Valley Road southeast from Hwy. 80.  I passed Pinole Valley Park, where I could have started on a RidgeTrail 'connector trail' but I was in a hurry so I continued further south and then west on Castro Ranch Road, which bisects Carriage Hills "North" and "South."  I took Conestoga Way up to the north end of Coach Drive to get as close to the ridge as possible.

Faux cell "tree" and water tank
"Sobrante" is Spanish for the common lands between Mexican ranchos.  Reminds me of the "tragedy of the commons" as it's known, which has long been used to illustrate the environmental differences between greed and self interest, and good stewardship.  Acting independently the average individual is more likely to overuse shared resources.

To excerpt Wikipedia, the dilemma was "described in an influential article by that name written by Garrett Hardin and first published in the journal Science in 1968... multiple individuals, acting independently, and solely and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource even when it is clear that it is not in anyone's long-term interest for this to happen.  Central to Hardin's article is a situation based on medieval land tenure in Europe, of herders sharing a common parcel of land, on which they are each entitled to let their cows is in each herder's interest to put the next (and succeeding) cows he acquires onto the land, even if the carrying capacity of the common is exceeded and it is temporarily or permanently damaged for all as a result. The herder receives all of the benefits from an additional cow, while the damage to the common is shared by the entire group. If all herders make this individually rational economic decision, the common will be depleted or even destroyed to the detriment of all."

View into the preserve canyon west of the development
California's Mission and Californio eras depended on huge, unfenced herds of cattle.  From the ridge I wasn't far from the town of 'Rodeo' where the cattle were gathered and slaughtered for their hides and tallow.  The tragedy of this commons was that overgrazing from the too abundant cattle, drought years now and then, and introduced European grasses and weeds (really Middle Eastern ones evolved alongside intense grazing) quickly overwhelmed California grasslands and converted them, at the expense of very rich botanical biodiversity.

Sometimes, as in the case of my hiking spot, new ranchos were carved out of the sobrante lands, often becoming named "Rancho el Sobrante."

The small staging area at the end of Coach Drive is incongruous, a park entrance in a subdivision, and the views are initially dominated by the houses below and a badly located water tank and a faux tree cell tower above.  The developer agreed to/was required to donate the open space above and to the west as a condition of the development, but they didn't really embrace the park, or adjust their design to enhance it.  Water tanks are usually higher than development to create water pressure, so they're often visually intrusive.  It's more expensive to sink them into the ground or berm them to cut the visual impacts.  The faux tree is similar - it's the only 'tree' there so it stands out as much as if it were just a tower.

View across Richmond to San Pablo Bay
The whole loop is on the Sobrante Ridge Trail, its upper portions overlaid with the Bay Area Ridge Trail.  A quick zig-zag up the hill, though, and the views get dramatic.  You climb from the development up onto the ridge; about 2.2 miles is part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, the loop was 3.5 miles.  At first you're passing through those converted grasslands on your way to the main ridge line, with lots of coyote bush--signs of too much and too little grazing.  Then you curve south across the top of the densely oak-bay wooded canyon west of the houses.  The fire road alernates between amazing views of San Pablo Bay, Richmond and El Sobrante below, and a canopy of live oak.  It gets lovely.  On this evening's hike, the fog is flowing into El Sobrante and toward Vallejo, a horizontal layer with the setting sun showing through the swirls of fog.  The botany is more interesting along the ridge line too, and I pass a spur trail down to one of the reasons the Preserve was created, a patch of rare Alameda manzanita.  It will have to wait for another day.

The woodland thickens, and I drop past a picnic bench to a PG&E tower then start east again, descending quickly.  It's still the Sobrante Ridge Trail but the fire road narrows to single track.  Patches of grassland and I'm in the wooded canyon. It's almost dark now and I'm only too aware of the way the Diablo Range ridges converge north to Mt. Diablo in Central County, and to Carquinez Strait in West County, funneling wildlife to a narrow band of open space.  My shoulders and back aren't tingling the way they do sometimes on hikes that end in darkness but I look back frequently, and scan big oak branches above for mountain lions.  Crazy, I know, I'm surrounded by 7 million people, but I'm in lion country.  I'm a big guy but mountain lions are ambush hunters and can break the necks of deer or elk.

Along Sobrante Ridge
It gets darker, the woods more dense, then I'm at the cayon bottom stream--wildlife is affected by gravity too, and there will be more at the bottom of a canyon than the top, rattlesnakes for instance.  Then I start circling around the toe of the ridge and emerge at Conestoga Way.  I climb the subdivision streets back to my car, my first hike on the Bay Area Ridge Trail complete.

Giving Back: picked up some litter on the ridge

Monday, July 26, 2010

Week 3: Fitness this Week

July 24, 2010:  End of Week 3

I'm seeing differences already.  It wasn't an ideal week but I'm putting in some time.

Work is intense right now; I'm a conservationist and save land for a living, acquiring it and defending it from development.  I'm juggling a November election campaign kicked off Monday, and put in three late nights, one of them an all-nighter to get ready for a Board conference call authorizing an offer on a new property.  Then Friday I was offered another property and began work on it.  Saturday I attended a Memorial for a friend, drank too much, then went dancing.  I paid more attention to my diet too, despite the long hours.

All of this began after snapping my biceps tendon, surgery to repair it, then three months recovery.  For three months I wasn't supposed to lift more than 5 lbs with my right arm.  Now for six months more I'm slowly gearing back up.

The week began with a short SF Bay Trail bike ride, made it to the gym twice, lifting and cardio, and ended it dancing, with the 4th week started with another bike ride.  I'm walking more during the day, eating less and better.

These days I work out in the city with my work out buddy Stephen.  Scheduling work outs with buddies increases my chances of going.  For the first month I've increased single arm weights from 5 lbs, to 10, and chest and back weights to 30.  Ridiculously light; I was using 85-100 lb dumbbells before the injury but I have to give my reattached tendon and bone a chance to grow stronger.  I've often used super sets to make a workout more intense.  These days we're going a few steps farther.  Stretching and a few sets of abs, 10 minutes of cardio, then one or two muscle groups, 5-7 exercises, often in super sets, with ab crunches during the rest between sets, and 5 minute cardio intervals between the exercises, with another ten minutes of cardio at the end.  We're changing up the kinds of cardio to hit different parts of the legs, about 35 minutes in total right now interspersed between the exercises.

Something I read recently really grabbed me.  A Harvard study used data--over 200,000 participants--from three large studies of U.S. health professionals to establish that brown rice or other whole grains instead of white could dramatically reduce the chances of Type 2 diabetes. This is important because new cases of diabetes have risen 90 percent among adults over the last decade.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) have found that eating five or more servings of white rice per week was associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. In contrast, eating two or more servings of brown rice per week was associated with a lower risk of the disease. The researchers estimated that replacing 50 grams of white rice (just one third of a typical daily serving) with the same amount of brown rice would lower risk of type 2 diabetes by 16%. The same replacement with other whole grains, such as whole wheat and barley, was associated with a 36% reduced risk. The study appears online June 14, 2010, on the website of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine. Brown rice is superior to white rice when it comes to fiber content, minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals, and it often does not generate as large an increase in blood sugar levels after a meal. Milling and polishing brown rice removes most vitamins and minerals. In addition, milling strips away most of its fiber, which helps deter diabetes by slowing the rush of sugar (glucose) into the bloodstream.

That in mind, I used my rice cooker to make a big pot of brown rice and beans mixed with organic squash soup--it's a new thing that I cook at all.  I also paid attention to how much white rice I've been eating; the idea that refined grains would quickly turn to sugars and rush into my bloodstream to cause an insulin feedback loop, was startling, as was taking stock of how much white rice I eat:  sushi once or twice a week, burritos or burrito bowls 2 or 3 times a week, Chinese food or Thai.  I tend toward whole grain bread but I'm probably getting white rice nearly every day.  This week I cut it in half.

Last Sunday I hit the Farmer's Market here in town and have been eating a lot of fruit.  I've been trading off my breakfast Starbucks and sandwich habit for coffee at home about half the week, and my too frequent restaurant lunches for more Trader Joe runs and vegetables, fruit, packaged sushi, etc.  I made the decision earlier in the year to become a near-vegetarian to improve my diet.  I avoid meat most of the time, have almost eliminated chicken and pork entirely based on some ethical and health concerns about factory farming, but am not adverse to small quantities, and I've been eating a lot more fish.  I was at a Memorial yesterday at Crissy Field, a lot of people were barbecueing nearby, and I gave in and had a hot dog--a grass fed beef one.  Frankly, it didn't taste as good as regular ones.  I tend to drink protein shakes after workouts and am trying to gear up more on protein supplements.  All that said, I cooked a little, cut my white rice in half and got a LOT more fiber.

On my evening bike ride today, I was thinking about exercise.  I'm convinced that simply moving more, being less sedentery, is the key.  Jobs and technology, especially motor vehicles, tv and computers, are a trap.  Liberating in some ways but a trap.  I don't watch much tv, but I spend a lot of time on computers at home and at work.  In my twenties, before motor cycles and my first car, I was a long distance runner and cyclist.  I got around everywhere by walking, running or riding my bike.  I had more time than money and I'd take trips on my bike.  I lived in Oakland and Berkeley; if I wanted to go to the movies, for example, I'd just walk or run there.  At my current weight, running is a lot of stress on my knees.  Nonetheless I've started taking my bike with me more places, just in case I have time for a ride, have taken three bike rides in three weeks, and ran on the treadmill this week.  Pitiful.  A half mile run and my knees were a little sore the next day.  Not far, but it's a step in the right direction.

I'm not beating myself up for not doing more, I'm encouraged.  I'm hoping this blog will help remind me to pay attention.  Bottom line, I'm down 4 lbs from my starting weight.

241 (current weight); 245lbs (weight July 5, 2010)
Bay Trail cycling miles: 12
All cycling miles: 28.6
Ridge Trail hiking miles: 2.2
All hiking & other cardio miles: 15
Gym visits: 8

Giving Back:  I save land for a living.  This wasn't a good week for altruism but I began planning a native plant restoration project on one of my organization's properties.  I agreed to help out a friend with a loan.  I made a donation to PAWS in memory of a friend who passed away--I'm trying to give more money to charity and non-profits.

"Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS)  is a volunteer-based organization that provides for the comprehensive needs of companion animals for low-income persons with disabling HIV/AIDS and other disabling illnesses, as well as senior citizens. By providing these essential support services, educating the larger community on the benefits of the human-animal bond, and advocating for the rights of disabled individuals to keep service animals, PAWS improves the health and well-being of disabled individuals and the animals in their lives."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

San Francisco Bay Trail: Ryder Park, San Mateo, to Foster City to Oracle

(Sat. July 10, 2010 - I'm doing a little catch up now that I've started this blog)

How many times have I crossed the San Mateo Bridge?  I even had an urban planners' idea about Foster City, a Venice Beach of the north constructed from 1958-1964 out of Brewer's Island and wetlands, four square miles leveed and filled with 14 million cubic yards of sand dredged from the bay and turned into houses along canal-like lagoons.  But I'd never really seen either place. 
I decided to add the San Francisco Bay Trail and the Bay Area Ridge Trail to my exercise goals for the next 12-18 months.  As I mentioned in my first blog post, while checking out Foster City on July 5th, I realized that hiking the Bay Trail would mean a lot of hot spots on my feet from hiking on pavement and then I'd have to turn around and return the same way.  Cycling was a better idea and would allow me to crosstrain with hikes on the Ridge Trail.  I did a short hike on Bayfront Park in Menlo Park, and returned on July 10th with my mountain bike.
Creation of the San Francico Bay Trail began in 1987 and eventually implementation passed to a nonprofit organization, the "Bay Trail Project." According to its website:  "When complete, the Bay Trail will be a continuous 400-mile recreational corridor that will encircle the entire Bay Area, connecting communities to each other and to the Bay. It will link the shorelines of all nine counties in the Bay Area and 47 of its cities." It will also connect more than 130 parks and open spaces, with plans for routes across most of the bridges too. 
This is remarkable because in 1965 there were just 4 miles of publicly accessible shoreline along San Francisco Bay, which was rapidly being filled (see image at right, and the 1965 projection for 2020), developed, and was the site of many of the region's dumps and a smelly repository for untreated sewage. Save San Francisco Bay Association (Save The Bay) was started in 1961, and using these images and the slogan "Bay or River" in 1965 it won a legislative moratorium against placing fill in the Bay, the McAteer-Petris Act. It established the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) to plan protection of the Bay, regulate shoreline development, and ensure public access.
I'm using two guides to the Bay Trail, the Coastal Conservancy's San Francisco Bay Shoreline Guide; in mid-1994 as the Guide was being published, 170 miles (43%) of the Trail had been completed.  Also Michael Cramer's 2005 Cycling Guide, San Francisco Bay Trail, which notes that of 450 miles, "about 240 miles are now complete, and another 110 miles can be biked on alternate routes." The Bay Trail Project has upped their plans to 500 miles including a variety of spur trails, bridge crossings, etc.

As I got off the San Mateo Bridge I immediately exited north on Foster City Boulevard, to 3rd Avenue and drove north until I found a place to park northwest of Ryder Park in San Mateo.  I was starting late so I didn't want my truck to get locked in the park if I made it back after dark.

Ryder Park was a great place to start.  A nice park design that viewed from the air (or Google Earth) is a series of circles, landscaped with native bunchgrasses.  The Bay Trail immediately crosses a small slough on a nice arched bridge to Seal Point Park, the old capped San Mateo dump.  On the Bay Trail there are a lot of former dumps turned into parks jutting into the bay.  You can see the fascination with cheap "new" land in the middle of an urban area; the bay averages 6-18 feet deep so by the time Save the Bay and BCDC got organized, a third of the bay had been lost to diked salt ponds and fill.  That trend has reversed in recent years as salt ponds are acquired, reconnected to the tides, and restored.

You can cycle along Seal Point Park's south side or preferably circle northeast along the shoreline side, breezy with wind sculptures and kids flying kites.  It's a relatively clean slate, made for native plant introduction even though it's "new" land created from marsh or open water.  Someone needs to adopt it but I'm optimistic; one of the good things about population growth is that more people in the future will afford more things including the time to fall in love with new parks and then spend some of it improving them. 
The trail crosses the mouth of Marina Lagoon on another bridge, then skirts nice wetlands before wrapping shoreward around a strange captive little golf course, confined with big nets, and past a wind surfing area.  More wetlands then a long stretch toward the San Mateo Bridge at Little Coyote Point, passing new commercial buildings and wetland restoration areas. 

It was at this point that I re-evaluated my hour out, hour back plans--my repaired biceps tendon and arm were doing a fair bit of shock absorbtion--but I was also starting to feel real joy.  Fog streaming over the Penninsula ridges to the west, cool temperatures, setting sun, and the waves on the bay.  Moving water is a sure fire mood enhancer, I was feeling alive, and it was my first sign that my plans for getting in shape made sense.  I simply need to get moving, more often.

You cross under the bridge past the parallel San Mateo County Fishing Pier, reportedly the bay's longest pier at 4,135" and you're in Foster City proper, following a long stretch of Beach Park Boulevard.  It's a nice stretch but the houses feel 1960s-1970s dated and the ice plant landscaping a little mundane after the restoration areas I'd passed earlier.  Sea level rise will threaten Foster City but, again, I'm optimistic.  Levee improvements will probably be accompanied by more wetlands restoration.  Marshes are good buffers for dampening extreme tide and storm events that will threaten the leees.  Managing the lagoons and bridges will be harder--tide gates maybe.

Driving through Foster City, looking at all the bridges, I couldn't help wonder about repair and replacement costs as sea level rises.  In 2050 will Foster City residents tax themselves to replace bridges with inflated billion dollar price tags?  In November 1936, after spending $77 million to build the Oakland Bay Bridge (including the Transbay Transit Terminal) could Bay Area residents have believed that replacing a section of the Bay Bridge in 2010 would cost $6.3 billion? 

It was getting late but I was determined to make at least a 90 minute ride so I pressed on west along the north side of Belmont Slough, headed almost to Hwy 101. 

The slough is lined with nice cordgrass marsh and another bridge crosses over to Oracle in the Redwood Shores area.  It was getting dark by the time I got there on a Saturday evening and the business towers were deserted.  The most incongruous sight was dozens of jack rabbits, which had crossed the trail from the marsh and upland areas along Belmont Slough to graze on the manicured lawns of Oracle, but darted back to the slough edge as I passed.  At 45 minutes I turned around and started back.

Halfway back around Foster City it was dark but there was plenty of light to see by.  I was getting tired but there was a new kind of wildlife to avoid, dozens of cats living among the shoreline rip-rap.  There was even an old lady feeding a group of them. 

When I crossed back around the point under the San Mateo Bridge, I realized another mistake.  Heading south first, in the evening, meant dealing with the wind on the way back.  My longest bike ride in over a year.  By the time I made it back to Ryder Park and the truck, I was beat.  At right is a view of Seal Point Park, the old landfill, as it gets dark.

An 8.5-mile segment of the Bay Trail, 17 miles roundtrip in 90 minutes, a little fresh air and joy.  I've ridden hundreds of miles in a day but not in years.  This was a start.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Stumbling Toward Fitness

Being outdoors is my anchor.  Since I was a kid being outside and exercise there have been a frequent sources of joy.  Professionally I preserve, defend and restore land, so I get regular doses of the outdoors through work as well.  I've always eaten a lot, I'm fairly muscular and I hit the gym regularly.  Difficult relationships over the past few years have managed to consume a lot of my attention and my work load has also contributed to my expanding waist. I can still power through hikes, but I'm huffing and puffing more, I haven't been running much in years, the bike and kayak haven't gotten much use lately, and I've gained about 50 lbs over the past ten years. 

The year started well, with three weeks off from late December into early January, a backpacking trip along the Coast trail and good hikes on Mt. Diablo and at Pinnacles.  The time off marked the beginning of a new relationship but long distance relationship travel got in the way of fitness.  In March I led an annual memorial hike from the base of Mt. Diablo to the peak and back down, a 3300' climb and descent over 13 miles, and my lungs and legs were having trouble recovering from the steepest parts. 

In March I snapped my biceps tendon in my right arm at the gym, and had surgery two weeks later.  My relationship was going through some ups and downs, and I started an intense 13 week election campaign.  The surgery went well but the initial three month recovery meant not picking up more than five pounds with my dominant arm.  At the end of April I led a three-day backpacking trip.  Although Winter and Spring are normally my fittest time of the year, the surgery, work and relationship combined to leave me in the worst shape I'd been in, in years.  In college and my twenties I'd been a 145 pound long distance runner and cyclist.  By 2001 I was a moderately muscular 185 to 200 lb weight lifter.  We won the election campaign but by July 4th, 2010 I was at my highest weight ever, 245 lbs and in need of larger waist bands. 

Work, relationship, less time outdoors; it's self indulgent but I felt imprisoned.  Besides being out of shape, my mood was low, the closest I get to depression, and I wasn't feeling especially healthy.  Self-indulgent because I know a hike or some time outdoors would immediately make me feel better, but the hikes I was taking were reminding me how out of shape I am. 

Before the surgery, I started to grab the bull by the horns by changing my diet to close to vegetarianism.  As the initial three month recovery ended I started making other plans. A number of things were mixing in my head. I was about to return to the gym but the weights would be very light for at least another six months.  I'd have to do more cardio.  Somehow the best way for me to get to the gym regularly is to have workout partners and to schedule workouts like work time appointments--I'm less likely to cancel on a workout partner to work late.  I needed to start scheduling more than just gym visits. 

There's a blog I like that's linked here, The Daily Ocean, on which Sara Bayles of Santa Monica writes about "365 days of collecting, weighing, and documenting beach trash."  It's rambling, thoughtful and engaging, her non-consecutive but frequent beach walks to think about all of our trash washing into the ocean, and her small part in cleaning it up and making change.  The change I want to make will be more personal and less altruistic but I thought a blog might help me the way scheduling workouts does, a regular structure as a reminder and a tally of both exercise and what I want to accomplish.  When I hike I always pick up at least one piece of trash--I think of it as the 'price of admission' to the parks I visit, so besides my exercise tallies and descriptions, I'll keep track of various 'prices of admission,' the ways in which I give back, a small tribute to how Sara has inspired me.

Would my blog be just an online diary read by a few friends or would it actually accomplish something beyond the personal?  I've built a number of trails and am interested in the movement which is creating better and better urban regional trails, in addition to all of the ones in parks. There are literally thousands of miles of trails within an hours' drive of my house in the East Bay, on and between about 1.2 million acres of preserved land and among the Bay Area's 7 million people.

Friends are involved with the creation of two signature regional trails, the mostly flat and paved San Francisco Bay Trail and the mostly unpaved and hilly Bay Area Ridge Trail. They both circle the Bay, are each about 2/3rds complete, and will be about 500+ and 550+ miles respectively. They happen to cross in two places, the Golden Gate Bridge and near my house the Martinez-Benicia Bridge. I've traveled plenty of the segments of each trail but I've decided that I will start over, hike them both over the next 12-18 months and blog to raise awareness about them.  My days on the trail will be, like Sara's, non-consecutive. 

While gathering information to get started I scouted a section of the Bay Trail in Foster City and pretty quickly realized that as pleasant as it was, I'd be doing most sections out and back and the pavement would get old on my feet.  The Bay Trail is great to visit because you're mostly next to the water but the way to really experience it as exercise is to cycle it.  The Ridge Trail is really made for hiking, and a lot of its segments allow for return loops on other trails.  For variety, I'll crosstrain and start the Ridge Trail in the East Bay and the Bay Trail on the Penninsula, but no hard and fast rules other than completing all the segments, hopefully in 12-18 months. 

Finally, what to name the blog?  Besides fitness what I really want is a return to more frequent joy.  I get it when I'm exercising outdoors--at times to the level of ecstasy.  Sometimes everything--the landscape, the exercise, the experiences--combines to become moments of pure, crystalline ecstasy.  It happens less when I'm out of shape. I've for years loved the title of one of Sarah McLachlan's albums, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, and it captures what I have in mind.  I needed not to confuse McLachlan fans with my blog though so in setting up the blog I chose a variation.  Frankly I slipped, and used "stumbling" instead of "fumbling" but isn't that even more appropriate?