Saturday, May 21, 2011

Whatta Week!

BajaBabe says: "She can't wait to get back to work...and rest up"! I'm beat, BajaBabe's beat, and we have nobody but ourselves to blame...OK, a little blame should be directed at Mother Nature for all the pot-stirring snow!

BajaBabe's brother was in The City for a weekend conference...the Giants were back at AT&T Park to begin inter-league play against the Oakland A's...Babe got the tix and events were set into motion.

The SF Giants were giving away a premium to the first 20,000 fans to enter the park for the 7:15 game...they opened the gates 15 minutes early due to anticipated heavy earlybird demand. Boy howdy, they weren't kidding! Lots of happy fans out for a Friday night game and an Orange Snuggly.

They were lined up for miles at every entrance. I came by BART, the Bay Area's Subway System. Lot's of Giants fan on the train, it's the best way to get to the Bayside park. Once you get into The City, you catch a MUNI Light Rail at the Embarcadero Station and it stops right in front of the big bronze Willy Mays statue at One Willy Mays Plaza...couldn't be any easier.

BajaBabe called as I was walking down 3rd Street towards the park. They were on the left field side in line near the Marina. I was approaching the home base side. I looked at the huge lines and opted to get in the shortest of the right field side lines.

I took over the end of the line from an A's Fan. The line wasn't going to move until was about 4:15. After ten minutes or so, the A's Fan's wife joined us. She was wearing a Giants 2010 World Series Champions t-shirt and matching ballcap. I'd seen several "Mixed Couples" since I boarded the train in the Inland Valley.

Right at five the line started moving. It only took 2-3 minutes and they were scanning the ticket that BajaBabe bought online and printed on the Ancestral Digs' network printer. They handed me the Orange Snuggly and I was in...what a fascinating Modern World we live in...

I met Babe and Bro in our seats, it was two hours 'till the first pitch. We got to watch both teams take batting practice. While the Giants were taking their swings, the loudest cheers were for injured third baseman Pablo Sandoval who was running the bases because he won't be able to hold a bat for another three weeks. Pablo, better known as "The Panda" broke the hamate bone in his hand, had it removed surgically, and though the hamate bone (in the palm of the hand) isn't structural, it is is professional baseball, and the hand takes lots of shocks on both offense and defense. The Panda has been looking downright grumpy in the dugout lately...he was having a career season when he was injured, and was leading the team in all batting stats.

The crowd was anything but grumpy! The Giants entered the game with a half a game lead over Division rivals the Colorado Rockies. Outfitted with their new Snuggly wearable blankets, they were ready to cheer, raise a ruckus...whatever it was going to take to root the Giants to a win.

Batting Practice Voyeurs
Finally it was time for the National Anthem. It was The Blue Man Group to perform it. Of course the didn't sing it, but played the tune on these weird looking, wearable tuned percussion things made of PVC Irrigation piping and these loopy gray hoses looking for all the world like they came from the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" animated movie. They started off oddly, and a little off, but soon found their groove about the time the crowd started singing the Anthem out loud. They ended to thunderous applause and laughter...I loved it! (I hope that NBC showed it on the telecast that my DVR captured for me!)

I'd been looking forward to having a Ball Park Dog, some Garlic Fries (that are the best I've ever had), and a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, but the game was too intense to leave my seat!

I knew we were in for a Pitching Duel...both teams have league leading pitching staffs, each featuring a five man rotation that's very strong. The Giants turned a walk, a stolen base compounded by a throwing error and a Freddy Sanchez ground-out to 2nd into the game's first run.

The A's got four hits and tied it up...the crowd was eatin' it up! Hanging on every pitch, they scoffed at the Umpire's calls and were boisterous to a fault. They came to root on the World Champions, and seemingly every pitch was for all the time to trade my seat for a line at the Food Court!

Sold Out...again...
Lots of impassioned fans yelling at the top of their lungs, drama and dashed hopes every inning through the middle innings. It seems like every single fan sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the Seventh Inning Stretch. Our relievers got into and escaped serious damage slipping out of a lead-off walk, a strikeout/stolen base and a passed ball that moved the runner to third, thanks to a highlight reel play by Freddy Sanchez at second base.

The Giants won it in the 10th Inning on a Walk-Off RBI single. It was nearly 10:45 and the 42,224 happy fans poured out of the park and into the night. We hoofed it the six or seven long city blocks back to Market Street and the BART station. The train arrived as we stepped onto the platform and we miraculously found seats. At the next station the crowd from the trolley filled the aisles with hangers-on, and we whisked through the TransBay Tube to Oakland and finally back to the Inland Valley.

This was one long, great day. Saturday we zoom back up the hill so BajaBabe can catch a flight out of Reno.

Formula One from Barcelona and the Finale of the AMGEN are on tap this weekend, then the Ancestral Diggins need my attention.

Friday, May 20, 2011

At Last

Nice weather has arrived in the Inland Valley. Forecasters promise high temps in the high-70's Friday. I'm almost verklempt...all I've got a handle on are my random thoughts in the wake of our big day chasing the AMGEN.

The weather will be doable at AT&T Park Friday evening when the SF Giants host the Cross Bay Rivals the Oakland Athletics. We've got good seats on the right field side...this should be good. After the spanking they endured in wintery Chicago, the Giants took both games from the SoCal Rivals sweeping the Dodgers in their house!

I'm looking forward to the first Formula One race of the European Swing, the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona. The Teams have had two weeks since the Istanbul GP to install their latest, greatest new go-fast bits, and Pirelli is bringing a new tire formulation that should complicate the tire wear strategy enough to further shake things up.

Stateside motor racing fans turn their eyes Saturday to Indianapolis and Pole Day Qualifying for the Memorial Weekend's Indy 500.

May is Mt Everest time and record numbers of guided climbers are reaching the top of the world.

I love May!

So I edited the LIVE broadcast of Stage 4 Thursday night. I guess the fog/cloud deck was a problem after all. No MotoTV footage from anywhere near the top of Mt Hamilton, save for a quick stationary establishing shot of the Mt Hamilton KOM banners...maybe 4-5 seconds tops. Most of the Mt Hamilton images were helicopter long shots of the telescopes and MotoTV shots from farther down the descent. I figure the low ceiling prevented the helos from getting enough altitude to get solid signals from the MotoTV cams.

The telecast turned out to be an hour and 28 minutes total when stripped of commercials. The summit of Mt Hamilton at 2/3 of the stage distance was over at 16 minutes in, or 1/6 of the telecast in round numbers.

The bulk of the telecast was spent on the sunny hills around San Jose's Sierra Rd mountaintop finish. California's rolling hills are so telegenic in May!

Thursday, May 19, 2011


King Of the Mountains!

We finally took our place out on California's roads during a stage of the AMGEN Tour of California! In baseball terms, we came into today 0-2 against superior pitching.

Undaunted, we made a Game Plan, followed it, and were rewarded with an excellent day and a peak experience or two to boot! (forgive me...alliteration is my life!)

After fanning at our chance Tuesday to mine some AMGEN Swag in Auburn, we made our way to Stage 4's Start City, Livermore, CA. I'd spent a few hours pouring over "the internets" researching all the details that could impact our "Day at the Races".

We parked in Livermore's free downtown parking structure right at the appointed opening hour of 10AM, and hoofed it a few blocks into the closed-off Start Area lookin' for swag. Leaving as little to chance as possible, we made our way to the Livermore Chamber of Commerce Office where we bought our AMGEN ToC Cowbells, and the Stage 4 Yellow Bandanas. We went looking for the Hospitality Tents to no avail. Everyone with Official Garb that I asked: "Where are the Team Hospitality Tents"? couldn't give an answer...I guess all the changes of venue, and double-clutching had taken it's toll...besides it was raining again.

Near the Start 1:15 before the starting bell.
We snapped some photos and beat feet back to the car...I didn't want to be too late to the dance, the start was scheduled for 11:45...My plan had us taking the Race Course from Livermore through all but one KOM spots to camp atop Mt Hamilton to watch the racers as they crested the hors catégorie Mt Hamilton Summit. The top of Mt Hamilton is home to UC Berkeley's Lick Observatory where several telescopes scan the night sky for all sorts of astronomical wonders...pure science, and a bonus for photo buffs...iconic views to juxtapose the racers with...woohoo!

We made our way south through Livermore, skirting the downtown until we finally found our way onto Mines Road, the Race Route to Mt Hamilton that winds through tidy vineyards and boutique ranchettes slowly climbing out of the Livermore Valley. Mt Hamilton was obscured by clouds from our vantage point, but I wanted to drive the course in the same direction that the peleton would to better understand just how tough an hors catégorie climb is. I'd looked at the Mt Hamilton webcams just after 0900, and the view was all fog and mist, but no visible raindrops...

We enjoyed an hour and a half of discovering some beautiful country. Mountainside roads gave way to high meadows and valleys that were vivid green from La Niña's lingering winter storms. Seemingly there was water everywhere, even a couple of places where rivulets crossed the road!

1st KOM of the day Catgory 4 1512ft 17.8 miles out.
Lots of avid cyclists were spread all along the way...some already camped along side the route awaiting the peleton, others in their colorful togs riding towards Mt Hamilton.

We soldiered on snapping photos of race signs, race fans, and the countryside.

The Toyota climbed up the road without complaint as we approached the summit some 92Km from the start, the crowds along the road began to grow. Most of the turnouts were already occupied with cars, motorcycles, and fans. A mile from the top we entered the cloud deck...deadly fog...ugggh! Things were looking a little dire for film making and photography.

We crested the summit, but the KOM Flags were MIA. We found them about a quarter mile down from the actual summit in the midst of all the telescope domes and ancillary buildings and scientists homes. Unbelievably, there was one parking spot left with a view of the approaching racers with the big telescope dome towering over the roadway!

The way the big white dome appeared out of the fog was magical. We parked, made lunch and met the neighbors...a nice bunch of real cycle racing fans...decked out in lots of beautiful NIKON DSLR Cameras and lenses...nice.

Mt Hamilton's iconic dome.
Across the road I saw a Hairy Woodpecker land on a telephone pole. As I pointed it out to BajaBabe, more flew into view...there must have been a half dozen in the digger pines and a couple of well-worn cedar trees! These birds came and went several times during the hour or so we awaited the race.

Everyone was worried about the fog...mostly we worried aloud about the TV choppers. The TV Motos relay the LIVE video to helecopters that follow the peleton and breakaways and chase groups. The signal is relayed by the hilos to the TV trucks at each day's finish area, where satellite uplinks feed the LIVE coverage to the world. All this magic is grounded if the clouds or fog are right down on the roads...the clouds had been lifting a bit since we reached the Mt Hamilton Summit, but we had no experience evaluating such minutia.

According to the smartphone users near us there was an early breakaway of eleven riders who's been caught by the peleton on the first kilometers of the Mt Hamilton Climb. Every few minutes, new information was received and shared...then "They're four miles from the top"

From the west, KGO-TV's NewsCopter came into view and vanished to the east.

I started my camcorder rolling. The KGO Bird came back and hovered to our east off the actual summit. Then the AMGEN Relay Chopper came into view! Soon the first Race Vehicles started passing by...then plenty of CHP Cars and Motos with lights blazing...more cars...lots of, medical, TV motos, Moto Commisars...then the peleton!

They blew by at better than 35mph, zipping their jerseys, tossing empty water bottles, and setting their jaws for the steep technical descent into San Jose. I was amazed at how fast they accelerated on the little flat where the telescopes live.

The dropped riders trickled by in twos and threes, and the knowledgeable race fans yelled encouragement to every rider, calling many by name. BajaBabe rattled her AMGEN cowbell and I watched the passing circus via the LCD Screen of my digicam snapping pix like crazy.

Like the first time I saw Formula One Motorcycle racing in person (after years of watching the spectacle on TV) I was struck by the not so subtle violence of the high speed cyclists. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not talking about sharp elbows, brake checks, or flying water bottles, but the pure violent physics of men tearing the air as they hurl down steep mountainsides at high speeds. These Pro Racers are tough, hardened men.

The Sweep Wagons brought up the rear of the procession, we bid our new friends adieu, and pulled onto the road headed back towards Livermore. Heading down the climb I got a better feel for it's steepness...I put the Toyota in 2nd gear, and I was all over the brakes just keeping our speed to "Safe and Sane" This was one serious climb...I now understood the grim faces of the riders as they flew by us towards the final mountaintop finish on Sierra Road in San Jose.

As I drove off Mt Hamilton, we scanned the shoulders for discarded water bottles and other potential swag, but the sweepers really are sweepers.

On our way back to Livermore we saw more beautiful vistas (Now under blue skies) I saw a big Red Tail Hawk, we saw a couple of herons, turkey vultures and just a dozen miles out of Livermore, a Bald Eagle!

Back at the Ancestral Diggins I made Barbecued Chinook Salmon Stakes with rice and steamed broccoli. Rhubarb pie for desert, and the SF Giants vs the LA Dodgers on TV.

This was one great day I won't soon forget.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Racing to Catch Up Again

Ah,yes I remembered this weekend the old saw about "the best laid plans of mice and men"...

BajaBabe and I headed up the hill Saturday to spectate atop Donner Summit as some of the World's Greatest Bicycle Racers contend Monday's Stage 2 of the AMGEN Tour of California.

Winter weather also headed up the hill Saturday, though it didn't arrive until almost midnight Sunday morning. I watched a little of the AMGEN Press Conference online Saturday afternoon the gist of which was..."stay tuned, we'll announce our "Plan B" for Stage 1 Sunday morning.

The AMGEN's website wasn't moving fast enough to keep up Sunday morning, but Twitter was reliably feeding all the info that told the story as it unfolded minute by minute...

First, the start was delayed and the route shortened. The race was supposed to begin in South Lake Tahoe and run clockwise around Lake Tahoe one and a half times before climing Brockway Summit and finishing at Northstar Resort near Truckee. Mother Nature had other plans...Ditching the circumnavigation of the lake and just racing over the Emerald Bay climb and on to Northstar was the fall-back plan, and the riders made their case to call the whole thing off when the skies really opened up and the weather turned to near white-out conditions minutes before the new start time...Good call as far as I'm concerned!

Sunday night I set my alarm for 0530 and went to sleep. When the alarm roused me, I logged onto the internet and looked for the about 0630, I received an email from Mr Landlord...with three photos attached.

Approach to Old Hwy 40's Donner Summit ~6:30AM Monday 5/16
The pix were of the last half mile of the climb to the Donner Summit on Old Highway 40 past the spot BajaBabe and I intended to view/film/photograph later in the morning, showing plenty of ice on the pavement...a little later, I caught the announcement on the Train Wreck News: the start is moved west to Nevada City...the route from Squaw Valley USA over Donner Summit and down Highway 20 was correctly deemed unsafe...hence the move.

We lollygagged around all morning, then shoveled out 5-6 inches of new snow, and hit the road around noon with cameras in hand. We drove up Old Highway 40 to our chosen spot about an hour later than the peloton would have crested the Summit. I snapped photos from the same vantage points as Mr Landlord's photos for comparison purposes...with slush still on the pavement, the change was the correct call.

Approach to Old Hwy 40's Donner Summit ~ 1hr after the peloton would have past
Spectacular roads and vistas atop Old Hwy 40! Donner Lake, Rainbow Bridge
Doing the tourist thing, we stopped by my mountain, snapped some more photos, and headed back to Truckee to pick up some groceries. I made Bakesale Betty's Fried Chicken Sandwiches for dinner, and we watched the Giants lose to the Colorado Rockies.

Our "Plan B" was to head down the hill Tuesday and stop by the Stage 3 start town of Auburn and browse the "lifestyle faire" for some AMGEN swag (I fancy one of those Rabobank foam fingers, some AMGEN cowbells, and whatever looks good from Team Garmin/Cervello, Team Leopard/Trek, and Team HTC/Highroad...again Mother Nature had other was raining cats and dogs when we arrived in Auburn, our "New Plan B" was now lunch at TacoBell.

After our harrowing trip over Donner Summit and out of the High Sierra (Near white-out over the Summit, and difficult visibility all the way down the Foothills) we weren't filled with much ambition anymore. We fought fierce winds crossing the Big Valley, and gassed up and re-provisioned in Vacaville, before making the final push back to the Ancestral Digs.

Once we put the groceries away and schlepped the rest of the stuff into the house, I logged onto the internet and researched Stage 4 so I could formulate a Game Plan.

OK here's our plan...we hunt swag at 10AM in Livermore the Start City. Then we head out on the Stage 4 route to Mt Hamilton, the summit of the hors catégorie climb that's the toughest of the day's five King Of the Mountain climbs.

We'll be well below the snow line at 4130ft (knock wood), but the NWS is forecasting scattered showers in the morning and isolated showers in the afternoon, so we're not out of the woods yet...Allez all! (Cue the Woodstock Cheer: NoRain-NoRain-NoRain...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Midnight in the Garden of Winter

Greetings from the DaveCave! BajaBabe and I navigated the great Wide Open, and arrived in Truckee well before sundown. We raced the storm front across the Big Valley and up the Western Slope under pewter gray skies trying to catch the sunshine that I viewed on the I-80 webcams minutes before our luck luck in Truckee. The sun was obscured by the cloud band that's leading the latest blast of winter our way.

At the DaveCave, I looked east at the Carson Range where the sun was shining. From the west, a cold blustery wind chilled us to the was about 3:30PM Intel on the AMGEN was totally MIA. We tuned in the 6 O'Clock News and they were just rehashing old news...nothing concrete in the way of new news will come until Sunday morning.

Obsessively scanning the Reno and Sacramento AFD's encouraged me because the snow totals forecast by the usually widely divergent offices were in agreement on accumulation, and the afternoon forecast promised 30% less than the previous call.Still no less obsessed, I clicked from webcam to webcam and weather site to weather site trying to draw a bead on the onrushing disturbance...7PM...8PM...9PM where is it?

About 11PM I headed out the front door and upstairs to grab my digicam out of the car...I was barefoot and it finally was seemed too warm, the wind from earlier in the evening had abated.
11PM on the street

So far it wasn't stacking fact you really had to squint to see the snow falling. We had a late dinner...globe artichokes and fresh baked sourdough.

This morning there's a couple of inches on the front deck and the AMGEN's Stage 1 has been shortened and postponed to cope with the return of Winter. Moved up to 1:15PM PDT from 10:30AM, the stage will forgo a lap around Lake Tahoe and finish "on time" at Northstar a scheduled. LIVE TV coverage on VersusTV begins at 2PM PDT

Monday's Stage looks safe weather-wise, but Monday night another pulse of winter is on tap!

BajaBabe's making lamb shanks today while we stay in and veg out on Giants baseball, motorsports and the bike race.

Tomorrow Stage 2 atop Donner Pass woohoo!