Eating an oak tree — one acorn at a time

December 6, 2016

Acorns are best left for the squirrels.

Acorns are best left for the squirrels.

We’ve all ridden through oak-covered hillsides in the Bay Area, but I’ve always wondered if the acorn could be a delicious food source, so with a lot of free time these days I decided to find out.

I’ve eaten Miner’s lettuce, Chanterelle mushrooms, Thimbleberries, and other wild foods, but I’m hardly a survivalist.

If we ever have one of those events leading to a dystopian future, I’ll be the first to go.

Gathering acorns is the easy part. They’re everywhere. I picked up some in a nearby park as the squirrels chattered away in the trees, watching their food source disappear.

I followed the process recommended by Arthur Haines in his YouTube video. He recommends cold-water leaching of the tannin, the stuff that makes acorns poisonous to most animals.

I didn’t see the point in drying the acorns in the sun, as recommended, and besides, it was raining. Probably not a good idea. They should be dried.

I used a claw hammer and a flat stone to smash the acorn (lying on its side) to get to the nut.

It took at least two hours of pounding. I thought about the indigenous people who used to do this all the time and thanked my lucky stars for Costco.

Then I had to grind the nuts into a fine powder before leaching.

Leaching took a week of twice-daily emptying water-filled mixing bowls with ground acorn. On the eighth day the water was clear except for a slight color tinge, so I knew the tannins were gone and I wouldn’t die.

Then I had to dry the acorns. On a cold winter day that can take a while, so I used a space heater.

Finally, I used the acorn mix to make waffles. I figured, one cup of flour and one cup of ground acorn would do the trick. No, the acorn is more like ground nuts, not flour.

I had to add another cup of regular flour. The verdict: Acorns don’t have much taste, if any. Think sawdust.

The lesson here is simple. Good foods are popular.

Acorns don’t make the grade. That’s why you only see them being eaten by survivalist types. Same goes for buckeyes, only they’re even harder to prepare and taste like bland potatoes.

OK squirrels, you can keep your acorns.

Follow-up: I tried it as coffee. With sugar and half-and-half, not bad. The Southern troops drank acorn coffee in the Civil War.

Sunnyvale improves signal light for bikes, San Jose fills potholes

December 5, 2016

The signal at The Dalles Ave.  and Mary Ave. in Sunnyvale has been adjusted for bikes so that it's a short wait. (Google Maps photo)

The signal at The Dalles Ave. and Mary Ave. in Sunnyvale has been adjusted for bikes so that it’s a short wait. (Google Maps photo)

Every little bit helps, including making traffic signals “bicycle friendly” as was done recently at Mary Avenue and The Dalles Avenue in Sunnyvale, after I made inquiries.

Sunnyvale public works, Sunnyvale Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission (SBPAC), as well as John Cordes, SBPAC member, paid attention to my request and now the Mary intersection signal turns red for bikes on Dalles after a brief wait of about four seconds. I registered my concern when the light did not turn for long periods, or not at all. A local cyclist I spoke with at the intersection said she had the same issue.

I can’t say for sure it will always change in that time, but it has behaved that way for me on a couple of occasions, weekdays non-rush-hour.

San Jose fills dangerous potholes: And not to forget San Jose, they quickly filled in some seriously deep potholes on McKean Road near the Cinnabar Hills Golf Club after I reported it. The holes presented a severe hazard for cyclists speeding down McKean. Thanks!

San Felipe Road wanderings

December 4, 2016

A horse-drawn grader on San Felipe Road.

A horse-drawn grader on San Felipe Road.

South San Jose, with all its traffic, has some nice roads for cycling, including San Felipe, which heads south to Metcalf Road (steep descent) and downhill to the Coyote Creek Trail.

Another neat road for descending is Clayton off Mt. Hamilton Road. It’s one of my favorites. For some reason it seems to descend forever.

But I digress. San Felipe Road is home to a couple of old road graders. From what I can find out online, they were horse-drawn, built in the late 1800s, maybe in the Midwest (it looks like a J.D. Adams, made in Indianapolis, IN). The driver sat up front while the person raising and lowering the blade sat in the back.

It’s sad to see all the ancient equipment rusting away. People collect them but they have no use and just turn to rust when left outdoors. These graders go for about $500 on Ebay.

I’d like to know the grader’s history. The stories it could tell.

Coyote Creek Trail near the Coyote Creek Golf Club.

Coyote Creek Trail near the Coyote Creek Golf Club.

Mushroom weather in Portola Valley

November 28, 2016

Sunday was ideal weather for mushrooms. This is what 1.5 pounds looks like.

Sunday was ideal weather for mushrooms. This is what 1.5 pounds looks like.

After a “dry spell” of two years, I finally found some chanterelles, in Portola Valley. During our ride in December 2010, Jobst revealed his secret spot a week before his fateful accident.

Unfortunately, the reclusive mushroom is found in remote locations or on private property.

My two favorite locations haven’t had any chanterelles in more than two years. Sometimes they just disappear. They don’t like seeing their environment disturbed. They also can’t be cultivated.

2017 Bay Area Bike Rides Calendar

November 25, 2016
2107 calendar cover. Available now.

2107 calendar cover. Available now.

I create a Bay Area Bike Rides calendar every year, mostly for fun and to remember my rides for the year. Enjoy.

Transportation manifesto for Silicon Valley

November 14, 2016

Silicon Valley rail plan. We have a lot of work to do. (Google Maps)

Silicon Valley rail plan. We have a lot of work to do. (Google Maps)

Since we’re in the mood for blowing away the entrenched establishment, it’s time we remapped the valley’s transportation network — more light rail and fewer cars.

I’ve been seeing what’s coming down the pike — the urban village — which is another word for Europeanization. I’m all for it. It’s happening in your back yard, along Winchester Boulevard, Stevens Creek Boulevard, Mountain View’s San Antonio area, Tasman Drive in Santa Clara, north First Street in San Jose.

Denser housing is a way to maintain regional growth, but when it comes to finding ways for these new residents to get around, we bury our heads in the sand and rely on cars. This lack of transportation planning can’t continue on its present trajectory.

All we have to do is adopt the model of cities like Zurich, which rely on light rail for short trips and regional trains between cities. There are still cars, just not so many. Bicycles play a bigger role, especially in the Netherlands where 31 percent of the populace count cycling as their main mode of transportation.

I included a map of Silicon Valley where light rail could run, shown in red. We can start with major corridors like: Stevens Creek Boulevard, San Tomas Expressway, El Camino Real, Central Expressway, Lawrence Expressway, Sunnyvale-Saratoga Road, Homestead Road, Winchester Boulevard, etc. Many of these historical routes had light rail, back in the late 1800s.

There’s plenty of room for a lane of car traffic (more one-way roads), maybe even two lanes, and bike lanes. We can keep the freeways as is.

You might think that the autonomous car will solve all our traffic problems. Not so. Some experts predict there will be even more traffic. Robot cars will greatly reduce accidents, but they’re not the answer. Light rail is the ultimate solution. Autonomous vehicles will be useful for those with special needs and, of course, the uber wealthy.

From attending recent community outreach programs with Caltrans and Valley Transportation Authority, I get the impression these government entities are stuck in the past. They need a wake-up call.

Zurich transportation map. Rail line everywhere.

Zurich transportation map. Rail line everywhere.

Screw job

November 9, 2016

Where the screw goes beneath the saddle.

Where the screw goes beneath the saddle.

No, I’m not referring to the presidential election result, but a solution I found to a creaky saddle that has been taunting me for a year.

My Avocet Gelflex saddle is comfortable and I don’t want to part with it over a little creak. I tried Super Glue, which worked for a while, but the creak came back.

I know the problem is where the rails go in at the tip of the saddle.

I decided I had nothing to lose by driving in a wood screw, about a half-inch long. I had already drilled a hole a while ago to drizzle in Super Glue.

The result today after a seven-mile climb in the saddle was more than satisfactory. I’d say it is 95 percent successful. I don’t know if it will hold up though, so I can’t say 100 percent.

Of course, your results may vary.

I came to realize that saddle comfort and which brand you prefer depends a lot on what you “grew up with.” My gluteal muscles developed around the Avocet saddle. That’s all I like these days, and I’ve tried others.

Back to all steel

November 7, 2016

New Saso steel fork, left, and the old carbon fiber put out to pasture.

New Saso steel fork, left, and the old carbon fiber put out to pasture.

For the past six years I’ve been riding a carbon-fiber fork, but that ended today when I installed my new steel fork, built by Dale Saso. I painted it.

I’m not knocking carbon fiber. It’s a reliable material used extensively by the aerospace and aeronautics industry, so you know it’s going to hold up.

Carbon-fiber forks have broken though. I’ve come across a handful of reports in discussion groups and a friend knows a doctor who works in the Stanford hospital emergency room.

Of course, steel forks break too. Usually you get a warning in the form of creaking sounds. I know that’s not always true for carbon-fiber forks. They can fail without warning.

I worried about the possibility on my ride, so I did the only thing I could think of to put that concern to rest.

I got other benefits too — plenty of tire clearance and no more annoying lawyer lips on the dropouts. Those are little irritants that build up over time, like saddle sores.

Bike weight increased by 11 ounces, not a big deal. As for handling, I don’t notice any difference, but I can tell that my smaller Ritchey is a little more front-wheel sensitive riding no-hands compared to my larger Saso frame. That’s all due to frame size.

As you get old, you think about these things, at a time when it doesn’t matter so much anymore. Funny how that works.

Chestnuts roasting on an… open space district land

November 2, 2016

This is the best time to stop and buy some chestnuts on Skyline Boulevard.

This is the best time to stop and buy some chestnuts on Skyline Boulevard.

I can’t tell you how long I’ve known about the chestnut orchard on Skyline Boulevard, but it has been a while. I finally found time and picked the right day to buy some during my bike ride.

I had a brief conversation with proprietor Hans Josens about the history of the orchard. He looks like he stepped right out of the mid-1800s, when the orchard was planted. He has taken loving care of the orchard the past 15 years.

Josens is no stranger to the Santa Cruz Mountains. His family has been farming here for three generations and managed the nearby cut-your-own-Christmas-tree farm.

You’re encouraged to pick your own chestnuts — the ones that have fallen to the ground actually — but I still had some miles to ride so I opted for the chestnuts already gathered up, $6 a pound paid in cash.

While we didn’t get into talking about the trees themselves, his website says they’re a combination of European, American, and Asian varieties. The American variety got wiped out by a fungus, mostly back East, but a few orchards like the one here, escaped the illness.

When I mentioned I was headed off to look for Chanterelles, Josens related how he found a whole bunch or Morels near Yosemite National Park after the big fire. We bemoaned the lack of Chanterelles in recent years and, sure enough, I didn’t find any. It’s still too early, but I have a bad feeling about this fungi. I think climate change is going to make them a lot harder to find in the years to come.

The orchard is located midway between Highway 9 and Page Mill Road on Skyline Boulevard. Be sure to check it out before Thanksgiving day when they’ll close up until next season. Here’s a nice interview recording with Josens on public radio.

Aptos Creek Fire Road weathers the storm

October 23, 2016

Aptos Creek Bridge marks the end/beginning of the steep grade on the fire road.

Aptos Creek Bridge marks the end/beginning of the steep grade on the fire road.

While San Jose got barely a quarter-inch of rain last weekend, the Santa Cruz Mountains did much better, including the Forest of Nisene Marks near Aptos.

I decided to check it out, figuring the rain washed away all the dust that accumulates during the dry season.

I noticed rain even soaked Los Gatos Creek Trail as I climbed the 20 percent grade that maybe, just maybe they’ll pave someday.

As I climbed Old Santa Cruz Highway I couldn’t help but notice that Holy City Art Glass is closed. Even more sad, owner Tom Stanton died last year from cancer. The land is for sale for $11 million, although Stanton didn’t own the land. That’s another story.

I found one location on Highland Way where an excavator is parked after making repairs. Whenever it rains a lot the road starts to crumble.

All of this made me feel old as I rode past dozens of parked cars at the Demonstration Forest. Ninety percent of car traffic on Highland Way is from mountain bikers dragging their bikes up here.

Their youthful owners headed up Highland Way to Buzzard Lagoon Road, with the aim of riding back down through the Demonstration Forest and then driving back home.

I had much bigger plans, heading down Aptos Creek Fire Road. The rain, as heavy as it must have been, didn’t do any damage beyond knocking over a half-dozen trees, which blocked the road.

I looked down on the bridge over Aptos Creek and recalled years gone by when the bridge was washed out and we rode through the creek.

I rode home under cloudy skies and managed to equal my time from last year over the same distance, one of the rare occasions when age did not catch up to me.