Welcome to “The Burning World”

September 9, 2020

Looking at the Santa Cruz Mountains from the San Jose airport.


When I was young I read a lot of “science fiction,” which was way more fiction than science, but you get the idea.

I read all of the apocalpyse novels by J.G. BallardThe Burning World, The Drowned World, The Wind from Nowhere, The Crystal World.

I don’t rate him as highly as I do Ray Bradbury, but he offered up some insightful thoughts about our planet, our environment, and how it shapes us.

His most famous work, made into a movie, is Empire of the Sun, easily his best writing and most evocative imagery. He survived wretched conditions in a Japanese prison camp in WW II, so there’s a lot of pathos here.

J.G. Ballard left us in 2009. He won’t have to see the worlds he conjured up. Today I can see The Burning World and it’s not a pretty sight. The sky is dark in mid-morning. I’m wearing a mask, although the particulate count isn’t all that high. There’s a lot of moisture and fog in the air.

I’m no believer in end times, but I do think global warming is here, and we need to do something about it.

Ending on a bright note, The Junction bar and grill in San Antonio Valley survived the fires. It’s the only food stop on the backside of Mt. Hamilton.

J.G. Ballard was a post-apocalyptic novelist who saw the future.

Swanton memories up in smoke

August 31, 2020

Jobst Brandt checks out the roundhouse in 1986.

Among the many losses suffered in the CZU Complex fire is the Swanton Pacific Railroad. It was founded by Al Smith, owner of Orchard Supply Hardware stores back in the day.

Now owned by CalPoly, 1/3 size steam trains used to run around the property just north of Davenport. Now they’re burned, and so is the roundhouse. Some structures survived and it’s hoped the damaged trains can be restored.

Here’s a diesel locomotive.

I used to stop by here with Jobst Brandt on our long bike rides to Santa Cruz. He had a passion for trains and never passed up a chance to check out the facility.

Swanton Road became a familiar haunt back in the 1980s for Jobst and friends as they took Last Chance Road to the coast to attend the annual Corn Roast, located just off Swanton Road.

Last Chance Road is a memory, turned into a trail about 18 years ago. It’s still rideable though. One hot summer day after the Corn Roast we jumped into East Waddell Creek to cool off before continuing on to Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

A handful of people lived off the dirt road, but we never had an issue, except once. We came to an open area where some people were undergoing fire training at a building. We tried to sneak by without being seen, but they noticed us and yelled. Fortunately they decided to leave us alone.

I last rode by here in 2015. Those were the days.

Jobst confers with a worker inside the roundhouse in 2002.

Mt. Hamilton has burned

August 21, 2020

Mt. Hamilton on fire. Looking north and east. One of the observatory domes marked in red.


In addition to Big Basin State Park, Mt. Hamilton is burning. Dramatic video can be viewed on the Lick Observatory website.

All areas around Mt. Hamilton, San Antonio Valley, and Mines Road are under evacuation orders.

So many great bike rides here…

Cal Fire website has a good map of this SCU Lightning Complex fire, but not of the fires in Santa Cruz County.

Lands near the summit on Mt. Hamilton are visibly scorched.

Big Basin State Park in ashes

August 21, 2020
Big Basin Park HQ on April 11, 2009. I also rode through on May 4 when the park was closed by Covid19.

It’s worse than I thought, much worse. This morning I read in the Mercury News that one of our most precious natural wonders — old-growth redwoods — have been ravaged by fire.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park headquarters and surrounding buildings burned to the ground.

Some old-growth redwoods will survive, but there are precious few of these majestic trees in the park, all of them concentrated next to headquarters.

Communities between Skyline Boulevard and Hwy 1 in San Mateo County are under evacuation orders.

Scotts Valley, Felton, and nearby communities have also been evacuated.

Butano Ridge in 1984. This entire area has burned and communities evacuated.

Several fires blazing in the Santa Cruz Mountains

August 18, 2020

Fires in the distance, from Half Moon Bay. It looks eerily apocalyptic.


My old cycling grounds in the Santa Cruz Mountains are going up in smoke.

I say old because I no longer ride in the areas burning, but I can remember every detail of the lands. They’re remote and the terrain is rugged.

This is a sign of things to come in a time of global warming. We’ve had three consecutive years of wildfires so destructive in the Bay Area that they have altered my cycling plans.

These fires were all started by dry lightning from our really bizarre Sunday night storm.

According to Patch:

5-14 Fire is near Olmo Fire Road and Butano Fire Road in San Mateo County, 215 acres, 0% contained
5-15 Fire is near North Butano Truck Tail and Dearborn Park Road in San Mateo County, 272 acres, 0% contained
5-18 Fire is just south of Rhododendron Creek in San Mateo County, 117 acres, 0% contained
Warrenella Fire is near Cement Plant Road and Highway 1, close to Davenport, in Santa Cruz County, 120 acres, 5% contained
Waddell Fire is near the Old Coast Road and Highway 1 in Santa Cruz County, 118 acres, 0% contained

The first three fires are east of Butano State Park. There are a few remote fire roads here, but it’s mostly rugged, unoccupied forest. I used to ride Olmo Fire Road and Butano Fire Road, almost always downhill.

Dearborn Park Road bridges Pescadero Creek Road and Butano Ridge Trail. I’ve ridden it a few times.

Given the high heat we’re experiencing, my rides are finished by 9 a.m.

We’re drowning in trash

August 12, 2020

Interstate 680 underpass path at Penitencia Creek. There’s a homeless camp nearby.


In the midst of a global pandemic I’m keeping busy picking up trash during my rides.

There’s no shortage of trash lining the streets of Silicon Valley. This is no Switzerland.

You’ve got to pick your battles. I avoid homeless camps. Not that they’re intentionally tossing their trash, but when you don’t have a place to live, your living space becomes your garbage dump. No weekly trash pickup here.

Even our pristine looking Santa Cruz Mountains are one big garbage dump. Rick Denman, who started documenting his trash pickup on mountain roads on Bicyclean! (Facebook), has found huge dumping grounds among the redwoods. It’s mind-boggling.

How did things get this bad and what can be done about it?

Like homelessness, trash is an epidemic with no easy cure. It tracks closely with homelessness. The more homeless, the more trash.

The increase in trash is closely linked to income disparity. It’s also linked to housing shortages, and packaging that uses plastic. The poorest neighborhoods are also the trashiest, through no fault of their own.

I don’t have an answer. I’m under no illusion that my efforts, and those of Bicyclean! aren’t going to save the world, but hey, it feels good to see a clean stretch of road for a week or two.

As one Caltrans official told me, “As soon as we clean up a place, it’s dirty again.”

There’s something else that comes into play with regards to garbage. Community pride plays a role, closely linked to social norms.

One day I was being driven by a family member in the Philippines on a mountain road. It was hard not to notice all the garbage lining the road. The driver tossed his fast food bag and drink out the door. I gasped. “Why did you do that?”

He just shrugged. “Everyone does it.”

It’s not the Filipino way, tossing garbage. Consider Palawan. It’s a beautiful island that caters to tourism. Their pride in community is uplifting. I looked hard and didn’t find any trash lining the road. Like all jungle climates, buildings do not last long and can look rundown. But ignoring the condition of the buildings, the place is spotless.

In Silicon Valley, dumping is a problem. People without means are more likely to dump their junk. They’re either uneducated or can’t afford to get rid of construction materials, household trash, and so on.

Where there’s a shortage of community pride, you can expect more trash.

Enjoy your ride, and pick up a piece of trash while you’re at it.

For years someone cleaned this area after it had become a hangout. It’s still fairly clean, except for what’s lurking in the shadows.

RockShox fork maintenance — could have been worse

August 7, 2020

Ancient RockShox Judy XC foam o-ring. Good luck finding a replacement.


I had my introduction to maintaining a front fork with suspension and it reminded why I like simple.

There’s nothing simple about fork suspension maintenance. I felt like I was working on a motorcycle, not a bike.

Fortunately, it went relatively well, but I had an unexpected advantage — working on the simple RockShox Judy XC, vintage year 2000 (on a Trek 6500).

I’m not going to tell you how it’s done here. RJ The Bike Guy took me through the process.

The only real issue I had was the foam o-rings located near the top of the shock. They were shot after 20 years of use.

One had broken in half and they both looked like limp pieces of old spaghetti.

I looked around and couldn’t find anything matching my Judy XC. That’s the way of the bikes these days. There must be hundreds of different bike shocks and they all have different components. Good luck finding parts.

I noticed that China has stepped in and they make just about every bike part on the planet. They’re small shops and their work is not always topnotch, but it’s your only choice.

I found something that looked like it would work, but I was wrong. My o-rings must be 28 mm, but it’s hard to tell because they were so degraded. I bought 32 mm and they were way too big.

I wound up cutting them to shorten and down the middle to slim them.

But not to worry. I found out that the forks will work fine without them. Real World Cycling has an excellent article about the purpose of foam o-rings. They’re non-essential.

I had to purchase two bottles of oil for $16 and the o-rings cost another $15. At least I didn’t have to buy a special hand pump to pressurize them.

The Judy XC is a basic shock. It may not be the best, but it’s easy to maintain.

I laugh at the notion of servicing these shocks every 50 hours of use as recommended. Absurd, unless you’re a professional. I’d say even the average mountain biker would get away with 2-5 years between servicing.

I don’t ride many miles on this mountain bike, so 20 years is not meaningful. I’d say they have 5 years of average use.

Now I have a serviced suspension. Given my situation, it will no doubt be the last time I ever service a RockShox suspension fork.

Mt. Hamilton Road needs our help

August 3, 2020

Not far from Grant Ranch Park. Do you really want to see this on your ride?

UPDATE: (Aug 10): I can’t blame Caltrans for their response, especially with a pandemic, but it is discouraging. “Caltrans appreciates you taking the time to provide us with your concerns. We are doing our best to keep the highways clean but no sooner do we clean up an area then it is littered again. There are pending tickets for the removal of debris that has been dumped along the hillside, but these items cannot be safely reached at this time. Caltrans is working on a solution to address this issue, and if you notice any illegal activity, please report this to the CHP by calling 911, because Caltrans has no law enforcement powers. Please also contact the Caltrans Adopt-A-Highway Program regarding future participation in helping to maintain sections of roadside within California’s State Highway System.”
UPDATE (Aug 6): Going forward, I’ll leave the filled bags next to driveways, where available, or at intersections where they won’t be in the way. Residents will mostly likely be happy to toss the trash. Larger loads are more of an issue. Contact Caltrans and submit a pickup request, since the road is a state highway.

UPDATE (Aug 5): I filled 5 bags this morning up to Lori Anne Ln., left side only going up. There isn’t as much on the right, and there are several dumpings that would require a truck or the like. Higher up it may be more efficient to collect on a bike with a trailer.

The large dumpings are not an easy fix. Mt. Hamilton Road has fast-moving traffic and no shoulder and some guardrails. Anyone trying to remove these large accumulations would have to manage traffic for safety.

These large dumpings are hard to remove. Plastic is badly degraded. A half mile up from Alum Rock Avenue.

If you’re interested in helping clean Mt. Hamilton Road, let me know. rayhosler@gmail.com

The first mile is the worst. Six people could probably clear it in an hour.

The other problems are more difficult, like large appliances dumped over steep slopes.

There are also lots of bags with garbage. A pickup truck is called for.

I’ll give a date and time. Location at base of Mt. Hamilton, Alum Rock Avenue.

You should bring your own picker. They’re only about $10, but worth it.

Nothing but garbage rides these days

July 31, 2020

Clean-up at Wolfe and El Camino Real. Lots of masks and gloves. Two bike racks at this location!


Swept up by the Bicyclean! movement, I’ve taken to the streets in a hopeless attempt to keep Silicon Valley clear of trash.

My trashcycle is a 20-year-old Trek 6500. It sports a rear rack and basket. My trash picker is folding, bought from Amazon.

You have to pick your battles. I’m not going to pick up trash along Guadalupe River near downtown. There’s no point with so many homeless people living there.

Right now the trashcycle is in the shop (my garage) waiting for parts. It had those garbage Shimano axles, the black ones that I see on the cheapest of bikes.

The bearing races are as soft as butter and after a few thousand miles they start pitting. My Campagnolo NR hubs are 40 years old and have never had pitted races.

While I’m griping, Cristo Rey Drive has got to be the most unfriendly road around as an approach to a popular county park. I’m referring to Rancho San Antonio. It’s narrow and has heavy traffic. Not very inviting for a bike.

Age doesn’t slow him down

July 25, 2020

Nice way to send a message.


As soon as he passed me on the short climb up Arastradero Road along 280, I knew it was him. He looked to be about 90.

Shaun Brennan wore his Gizzi orange jersey, riding a black Trek.

In 2018 he rode his bike 200 kilometers through the Santa Cruz Mountains, age 87. There’s no way I could or would ever want to ride that far now, and I’m 20 years his junior.

I made it up Moody Road today, my indoctrination to the Santa Cruz Mountains 42 years ago. Back then I got to Page Mill Road and gave up. It would be more than a year before I tried again, this time with more success.

Los Altos Hills gets kudos for its nice sign on Magdalena Road.