08 July 2014

Into the Wilds

Hello Sierra-Nevadas!
With three whole days to play thanks to America's 238th Birthday, it was time to pack up the car and head east to somewhat crash my buddy Kyle's camping and biking trip.

On the road slightly later than planned (I was lazy and didn't want to get up....) traffic was surprisingly light as we made our way east on I-80. Still funny to me going east to find mountains. After about 2 hours of driving, we hit National Forest land and started to lose cell service...and still had about an hour and a half to drive. Apparently we were going way off the grid.

The two-lane road (California 49!) twisted and turned following the Yuba River through the cradle of California's 1849 Gold Rush Country. Towering pines lined the roadside, with the occasional glimpse of the river and rocky cliffs as we gained altitude. We hit Downieville early afternoon - just in time to grab lunch at the local pizza joint before heading the last 30 minutes to our destination at Packsaddle Campground.

After lunch, it was time to play rally-car navigator and find the fun and fast way to the campground. I had managed to use my pretend tech-savvy skillz to save a copy of the map on my phone, so we had a functioning GPS despite no cell service. I saw what appeared to be a short-cut to the camp road and figured we had to at least check it out. Sure enough, the maps did not lie and there was a little gravel road to the left.  All-wheel drive? Check. Sense of adventure? Check. Time to see where this road goes!

Sometimes the low road is just more fun...
And it went up, up and up. I got a little nervous as the road was narrow-enough that it was one car, one way, with nowhere to turn around. But -- the view at the top, when we finally hit the camp road, was well worth the adventure!

Now - on to making new friends and camping!

What I love about people who share a love of adventure, the outdoors and mountain biking - is that 99% of the time, they are awesome, and Kyle's friends did not disappoint. We pulled up just as they were working on inflating a giant turtle and orca to use on the lakes. My kind of awesome :-)

After making a a round of hellos, we set up camp and set off for a little adventure to check out the trails. Of course this meant starting off with a 1.5 mile climb that averaged 9%. Ouch. Our effort was rewarded though, with sweeping views of the "Lakes Basin" of this part of the Sierras, as we explored some trails and managed not to get completely lost before returning to camp for a quick clean-off dip in Packer Lake and a fantastic campfire dinner with our new friends.

Up early as usual while camping and was excited to break out my spiffy "Handpresso" for the first time. Nothing says "Glamping" like a portable espresso machine... After our fantastic breakfast it was time to hit the trails. With a long day in the saddle on the schedule we packed the CamelBaks full of food and water and rolled out - of course back up my new favorite climb and then into the Sierra backcountry.

Riding above Lakes Basin (Photos: Aaron Johnson)

The trail network in this region is amazing. Kyle's friend Aaron acted as our guide and photographer extraordinaire as we wound along ridge-lines, with a new crystal lake around each new bend. The trails were incredible, the scenery, un-real and the company was fantastic. We had a bit of hike-a-bike to get up and down the top of Mt. Elwell, but all part of the adventure!

Hike, hike hike your bike!

Mikey took a little tumble but luckily Kyle is a sales rep for Adventure Medical Kits and had one of their field kits out in no time to fix Mike up and get him back and rolling in no time. Tough Canadian Cookie! :-)

Mid-ride break on the summit of Mt. Elwell (Mike, Kyle, me & Sean)

We stumbled through some more hike-a-bike, circling some of the lakes before heading up one last peak to finally drop into the Downieville trail network. Downieville is known for his downhill mountain biking and the trails definitely did not disappoint. For the girl on the hard tail who still has a slight fear of downhills from one too many endo's - you couldn't get the smile off my face. I was flying and re-learning how to ride downhill and falling in love with it all over again. The wind in your face, the feeling of flying and the slight knot of terror in your stomach - all from riding a bike down a mountain. My perfect type of day :-)

Trailside waterfall - Tahoe National forest is full of surprises!

The trails drop you almost right into downtown Downieville, where Aaron and Sean's girlfriends (and adorable pups!) were waiting with pizza and beers for us. After 6+ hours of running and pedaling around in the woods - perfect ending to a near perfect day!!

Got back to camp for dinner round 2 and some campfire time before calling it a night. Fun filled weekend of adventure, sweet single track and new friends! California is starting to feel like home!

And super thanks to Aaron for all the awesome photos!!

30 June 2014

Just Another Day Around Paradise

It's been 5 months since I packed my life into a 16x9 foot container and Subaru WRX, drove 3,000+ miles across a continent with a cat in the car and a pit-stop in Jackson Hole (why not?) to set up the next chapter of my life on the edge of the Pacific. The past 5 months also included finding a new apartment, starting a new job and getting hitched. Whew. The crazy part is that I can't remember the last day I didn't see sunshine and I'm not sure if the temperature has fluctuated much more than 30 degrees. I shook up my life to move somewhere where time stands-still yet moves at twice the speed of light at the same time, 5 months have flown by and yet every morning I still wake up wondering if all this is real.

BORT takes over California!
But it is real, and it is my home now, and the awesome thing is when you live near one of America's most fantastic cities, your friends are very apt to visit! This weekend I was so stoked that Mel and Joe were in town for a family wedding and bunking at our house -- meaning that with the exception of a few hours, my friends, who, let's be real, are more like family, were here to adventure and laugh with, and I couldn't wait to show them around!

After being "lazy" and opting to stay in and catch up over a few bottles of wine and homemade pizza Friday, we were up and early to head out on what is now becoming my favorite "weekend spin" in the area - the Paradise Loop. Bicycle Outfitters takes over the West Coast!!!

Munchkin was kind enough to play tour-guide since I didn't have the cue sheet memorized, so we saddled up at his house and took a spin through the Presidio to cross the Golden Gate Bridge and on to Sausalito, Tiburon and Paradise!

The weather was excited that Mel and Joe were here and was pristine -- the morning fog (why good morning Karl!) was lifting as we crossed the bridge, and once we hit Sausalito, there was only a mild breeze, clear blue skies and temperatures hovering in the high 60s. Perfect. Paradise :-)

So if the weather and the biking weren't awesome enough -- before heading back across the bedlam that is the Golden Gate Bridge midday on a weekend (Blazing Saddles of death....) our morning of "work" earned us a pit-stop at Philz Coffee in Sausalito for their infamous Iced Mint Mojito Coffees. Throw in a chocolate croissant and you have one very happy girl.

Pure magic mid-ride :-)

Not to mention of course - getting the chance to ride a fantastic loop with my favorite training buddy. Mel -- I miss you!!!!

Mel -- I'm keeping you in California!

Now - onward to more shenanigans and adventures in my new playground :-)

27 May 2014

Why Hello Summer

Love the Pacific Coast!
Memorial Day weekend has come and gone so I suppose that mean's it's officially unofficial summer now (official "summer" starts June 21st). Crazy how time flies when you've a)moved across the country; b)started a new job and; c) planned a wedding. Is it really almost June? And more importantly - is it really almost June 7th? Like I said - Crazy.

And this year for Memorial Day - 3,000 miles from the known, I traded the mountains of Blacksburg for the coastal hills and rugged coast of the Monterey Peninsula. Mike was playing underwater getting his SCUBA certification for our upcoming central-American adventure, and while I could have gone diving - the prospect of having to wear a 7mm wetsuit and hood to stay warm in water with very limited visibility did not sound quite as appealing as pedaling along Pebble Beach and 17-Mile drive zoning out on the Pacific.

Even pretty in overcast weather!
The riding in Monterey is fantastic -- as long as you don't mind dodging a few tourists here and there and being extra-wary of opening car doors. But overall, with a nice wide recreation trail that runs through downtown and connects to Oceanview Boulevard, complete with bike lane, I was in seaside cycling heaven. Another plus of biking Monterey / Carmel -- if you want to see 17-Mile drive and Pebble Beach, you don't have to pay the entrance fee like cars do, so of course I took that opportunity twice to pedal around the multi-million dollar homes and get passed by an Aston-Martin or two. No big deal. Haha.

One of these is not like the other (hint - the only non-Canadian)
Caught back up with my favorite almost-certified SCUBA diver and his two new Canadian friends (apparently Canadians travel in packs - who knew!?) after my ride for an adventure to Monterey's Fisherman's wharf where we warmed up with some of the local specialty clam chowder and watched the seals lazing about in the harbor. A little while later we finally checked into the hotel and lazed about until it was time to head out for dinner adventures again with our new Canadian friends. We bypassed Monterey and headed a little bit farther south to Carmel-by-the-Sea. This little boutique town originally popped onto my radar when we visited it when I was about 11 years old and we spent the better part of an evening looking for Clint Eastwood's Restaurant. And while we did pass by the Hog's Breath Saloon tonight, we ended up stumbling into a French Bistro called "Cassanova" that boasted a 119 page wine list book. And while we weren't in the market for one of their multiple $1000+ magnum bottles, we did find a nice local red and after our fantastic meal were treated to a tour of the wine cellar, which contained a mere 20,000 bottles. I think I like Carmel :-)

Cassanova in Carmel

Wine Cellar!

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny, and while Mike was up and out early to play under Monterey Bay again, I took advantage of the rare morning to sleep in, enjoy the chaos of the Embassy Suite's large buffet breakfast and head out again on two wheels to cruise Monterey and Pebble Beach in the sunshine. Could not ask for a more perfect day of riding! A little shopping on Cannery Row followed by an early dinner at the Cannery Row Brewery (think grilled cheese with brisket....) topped off another fantastic relaxing day in Monterey.

Harbor Seals in Monterey
Obligatory bike-ride selfie!

Bixby Bridge - we meet again!
Now if we had been smart, we would have left early Monday to get back to Oakland, but thinking more of adventure than practicality, we drove south to tackle on two wheels what we had tackled on 2-feet back in 2012. Big Sur. The coast along Highway-1 was as gorgeous as ever, and a few miles south of Carmel Highlands we pulled over to the side and then continued south on our bikes. Perhaps not thinking, we had the wind to our backs and were flying along the coast. It was definitely fun to cross over Bixby Bridge and pedal up Hurricane Point. I can now say that I have driven, ridden and run across Bixby Bridge and up and down Hurricane Point. Kinda cool. Eventually due to some grumbling tummies and the prospect of riding back in a ridiculous headwind, we turned around and headed back north. Ridiculous doesn't begin to describe the headwind. I had to pedal going downhill and fight to keep my front wheel straight when we hit turns that resulted in a cross-wind. I finally realized why they call Hurricane Point, Hurricane Point. We stopped for a quick dorky photo at the top and then scooted back down the hill to wrap up a gorgeous, albeit windy ride.

Grabbed a late lunch at La Bicyclette (cheese plate!!) in Carmel to top off a fun weekend and kick-off to summer before battling traffic to head back north. I missed my Mountains of Misery for sure -- but new adventures (and good food and wine!) are good for the soul!
Up next ...?? Well -- the start of the next big adventure!!

12 May 2014

Emily and the (almost) Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Weekend

As much as we wish life could be filled with sunshine, puppies, rainbows and unicorns pooping rainbows - that is for better or worse - rarely the case. Life likes to test us, push our buttons and pile on more non-rainbow poop that we'd like to think.

With Mike out of town, as well as most of my small circle of California friends, I was a little bummed heading into the weekend, but determined to still have fun and explore my new neighborhood. There was a race on Saturday I wanted to check out and I was looking forward to happy hour Saturday night with a girlfriend in the city. Boys be damned, this was going to be MY weekend of fun in California.

Friday Night #fail (but at least my mini-pump is cute!)
Friday night was gorgeous, so I decided to spin the legs out for a little bit and headed up toward Grizzly Peak to try and catch some panoramas of the city. About 3 miles in, I heard that dreaded "pop! hissss!" that every cyclist hates to hear. I had managed to hit something that almost immediately de-flated my front tire. Fail. But thankfully, I had actually remembered to grab my mini-pump before heading out the door and was able to pop a new tube in and get back rolling. Unfortunately - it looked like whatever had popped my tube had also compromised the sidewall. No bueno. Once I got home, it was a scavenger hunt to find a tire I could use for Saturday that wasn't compromised - all the while trying to cook dinner and get my bag ready for the 6am departure Saturday morning. Eventually I somehow got everything together, had a not-too-shabby dinner of gnocchi and smoked salmon and curled up for a few hours of shut-eye.

The alarm went off before the sun popped over the hills as the race-day coffee (straight from Tuscon!) brewed and for the first time in 5 months it was time to put the hair into pigtails. Giddyup. I started loading the car just before 6 but on my way out with a 2nd load - some trickster somewhere was rolling on the floor laughing as the driver's side rear tire on the Golf was flat. Panic time. Without skipping a beat, and more likely that not, not thinking, I ran into the office, grabbed the keys to the WRX threw my bike on top, my bags in the trunk and rolled down the hill and off to the Berkeley Hills. I was driving the WRX. I had never driven the WRX without Mike before, and the last time I had driven it - we were cruising across Nevada. Now - I was alone, in the hills of California and terrified. Terrified I'd crash the car, terrified I'd burn out the clutch. Talk about a pre-race adrenaline rush.

Ready to bicycle!!
By some miracle of sorts, I got to the San Pablo Dam staging area with only two little stalls and pretty much in one piece. My nerves were shot, my deodorant was pretty much gone, but I was there and I was determined to get on my bicycle and ride some hills! By 8:30 we were off and rolling through some gorgeous countryside. I had ridden this loop once before, so at least I kind of new the uphill battle that was coming on Berkeley's infamous "3 Bears." Our group stayed together until about mid-way up the big climb and then completely splintered. I didn't make the first break (fail...) but managed to come together with a group of about 6 other ladies, and we managed to get into a nice working rhythm  to finish out the 33-mile course. Again on the last hill, things started to splinter, and I guess some of my endless loops of Pinehurst paid off as I somehow pulled away from part of the group and grabbed a 9th place finish. Not exactly what I was hoping for - but again, looking at it from 30,000 feet and considering the circumstances - not too shabby for my first foray into the NCNCA.

But with everything - what goes up must come down, or vice versa and when my low-blood sugar, and adrenaline-drained self tried to take the WRX up hill out of the parking lot, it was an embarassing mess of stall, smell clutch, stall, start to cry - and finally get a little help getting out. But the hills kept going up, my nerves were wrecked and then every time I would slow (or inevitably stall the damn car) I would burst into tears and freak out. Nice going, McDonald, nice going. You think you have your shit together but you can't even drive the dang car home. After a tearful phone call to Gab, who kindly offered to pick me up if I really couldn't get the car going, I realized that I had to get my head straight, stop acting like an incapable nincompoop and take care of myself, because, well, I was on my own, in a still very new city, state, and side of the continent and the only person who could get me out of this situation at this particular time, was myself. Breathe, calm-down, focus, drive. I may have had angels pushing me, but I calmed myself, got the car going and finally (with only 2 more stalls....) made it home and up the hill, parking it safely off the street - where it was going to stay until its proper driver came home.

Now time to fix the Golf!! I can do this :-) Bicycle pump in hand, I pushed some new life into my sad tire and limped it down the hill to the local service station. After taking a look at the car, the mechanic said "Wheel locks - I can't get it off without your wheel locks." So, given that this is a new (to me) car, I asked him where I would find those, and the looks at me like I have three heads and goes "I don't know - it's your car." Could not believe how rude he was, when all I was asking for was some guidance. Looks like I'm never going to that service station again. And for the record - if you'r ever in Montclair Village in Oakland - never EVER go to the Chevron across from Safeway.

Back up the hill, near tears for the umpteenth time that day and have just had it with trying to fix things, trying to make things work, and feeling like today nothing is working, nothing is working with me, and well, on top of that, incredibly alone. In a state of almost 40-million people, I have never felt more alone.

So I call my folks, I look at the horizon and I hit reset. I've done what I can control, the things that have happened are mostly out of my control so while it sucks - it is what it is. I've cried enough for today, so it's time to put all the bad stuff on the back burner and kick my feet up and enjoy that there's a beautiful world outside :-) You guessed it - hammock time!


When the world seems impossible - it's amazing what 30 minutes of swinging quietly in the breeze will do for you. A view of the San Francisco Bay, Skyline and Mt. Tam doesn't hurt either ;-)

After sleeping a lot of my anguish off Sunday morning, I was up, refreshed and revived and ready to tackle the day and all the hurdles that remained in my path. Tried calling VW of Oakland to figure out the wheel locks - but with no answer, I didn't let that slow me down, and turned to my constant companion, my favorite escape, my old faithful - I grabbed the CamelBak, clipped in and went mountain biking :-)

Nothing like being able to access miles and mile of trails from your front door. Was I upset about the car and tires and just general crap? Sure. But that all was nothing compared to the wide-open spaces and sweeping vistas that I ventured forth into on my mountain bike. I rode up Skyline to Redwood Regional Park, and took the East Ridge Trail down to the canyon floor where I exited the park only to cross the road and enter the trail system of Lake Chabot Regional Park -- the MacDonald trail - how fitting :-) I'd ridden this trail once before, but turned around due to time. Today, well today I had no commitments, no where to be, and nothing major to do but enjoy the sunshine and my bike. So I rode onward. Up out of the canyon, twisting and turning up and down the ridgeline, until serendipity would have it - I rode into Bort Meadow. Now I'm not sure why it's called BORT Meadow here, but back in Virginia, BORT is my much-loved Bicycle Outfitters Racing Team, and it cracks me up that there's a BORT Meadow so close to me in California :-) I did a loop around the meadow, and by this point my snacks were about exhausted so it was time to roll home. I didn't mind the aching in my legs as the rolling hills spread out around me and the sun was bright and cheery. It was a perfect day to be outside and I was lucky enough to be outside doing what I love.

MacDonald Trail at Chabot coming up from Redwood

Cheesy Selfie time!

Home in time to catch a little more rest in the hammock and whip up dinner on the grill (whoohoo!) before enjoying a gorgeous sunset over the hills. I was finally content, and while perhaps still alone in this big wide state, I was OK with it, and knew that when I really put my mind to it - there wasn't anything I couldn't handle, and when it really did get bad, I had the solution to find my happy place and embrace it. A weekend that started with a bad bang, ended with an uphill one :-) So bring on the challenges - ain't no thang :-)

Mmm - Dinner California style

22 April 2014

Purely Teutonic in Toruń

That'll be SIR Baby Karl to you!
After driving up a maze of country roads for a few hours (and including a pit-stop where of course, they had
a refrigerator completely full of different types of "wodka") we arrived in Toruń, aka the once and future homeland of my soon-to-be Polish family-in-law. Toruń was one of the lucky towns that didn't get completely leveled during WWII and still retains a lot of its medieval charm. The town is still partially surrounded by a wall, which encloses most of the "old town." Our habitations in Toruń were in the old town - a great top-floor "suite" that even had a little balcony!

We headed over to Mike's Aunt & Uncles for a fantastic dinner, followed by a stroll around the local university, before walking back into town to check out the local brewery. Always an adventure when you head downstairs in a medieval building to sit in a giant wine barrel! Very cool place to top off a fun day of travel and family.

Up early the next day, with another delicious breakfast buffet, and now time to explore and conquer Toruń! So much to see and so little time! We started wander the old town of course - cobbled streets, old Gothic churches, wide plazas, colorful town homes.... Toruń is fantastic! While archaeologoy dates settlements at the site to 1100 BC, Toruń really popped on the map in the early 13th century (1231 to be exact) when Teutonic Knights established a fortress there, so it's definitely got some history to explore!

Old Town Square

Vistula River from the bell tower

And since we were exploring the old town, charging up bell towers and around dark corners -- we had to find some appropriate gear to fend off any potential foes...since I mean, you never know when there's going to be a dragon lurking. We took a little re-charge espresso (espresso macchiato!) break at one of the cafes on the plaza before going to explore Toruń's old town hall.

Baby Karl shows off his Dragon-fighting gear

Now a museum (with a really cool bell tower you can climb up!) it highlights the hundreds of years of history surrounding Toruń all the way up through present day (we tried to see the new exhibit about Pope John Paul II but were asked to 'politely leave' since it wasn't opening until the next day -- oops!)

All the bell-tower climbing worked up quite the appetite, so we took a late lunch break at, what loosely translates to Toruń Pierogi Factory! And of course ate until there could be no more eating, but they certainly do know their pierogies there! Mushroom and onion, chicken and cheese, traditional meat, sausage and olive -- and oh, what's this!? A surprise pierogie?! At one point I picked up what I thought was a mushroom pierogie and got an apple cinnamon one! Hilarious.

Back to exploring we wandered around a few more gothic churches and up and down cobbled streets, taking a detour by Nicholas Copernicus's home and the "Leaning Tower of Toruń." That's right - second only to Pisa, Toruń boasts its very own leaning tower (that conveniently also happens to now be a bar...).

The Leaning Bar-Tower of Torun

And perhaps we'll close this chapter with that -- more adventures to come -- and now two days 'til I face the dragon in Krakow!