Dec. 18th, 2016

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On my free Saturdays (when I'm not gaming), I like to load up my computer on my bike (or in my backpack) and go out for a ride (or a hike), the idea being that while I'm out I can sit down for an hour or two in some beautiful place and do some of the writing that I've queued up while I tell passersby that No, they don't have wifi in the middle of this park. Unfortunately, this practice becomes a bit troublesome in the wee parts of the year because of the rain and the cold. More than once I've sat out bundled up to the max, wearing overshirt and jacket and my fingerless gloves so I can type, and still been shivering at the 40-something degree weather.

So Friday night I had a brainstorm. What if I took BART somewhere, doing one of those adventures I've been wanting to, and then I could write on (the less beautiful) BART, then keep in constant motion while I was out of the train, increasing my chances of being warm.

So that's what I did yesterday.

I've been wanting to visit Lake Chabot for years. It looked like it was a pretty easy bike ride from Castro Valley BART: just a few miles, and not too much uphill. So that was the plan, except I forgot that the Castro Valley line of BART is horribly inefficient. You get off at San Leandro, and then you wait 13 minutes for a "connecting" train. It's one of those things that makes it obvious that the people who schedule BART don't use BART.

At San Leandro, I pulled out my iPhone and it told me it was a 24 minute bike ride to Castro Valley, so I did that instead of waiting+BARTing for a similar length of time. (Wait, you think, you could have just sat and worked, which was the whole point of BART — except that the San Leandro station is raised, which means it's open to the air, which means that it's horribly cold.)

I enjoyed biking through San Leandro into Castro Valley. I discovered there's a bit of a ridge between them, but there was just one block that was super challenging, and then it was down into Castro Valley and lunch at Wendy's.

Mmmmm ... baked potatoes.

Warm baked potatoes.

Lake Chabot was even more beautiful than I'd guessed. It's just a few hundred feet above sea level, but it feels like a mountainside lake, with the hills dropping steeply down to the water. The first 1.5 miles are absolutely spectacular, with a paved trail allowing you to whiz around the Lake, usually 50 or so feet up.

Oh, and there was a little cafe, which is almost unknown in our East Bay parks, and which was well appreciated because I'd forgotten to pack a cookie. (The cookie I got there was sadly just adequate.) But here was the funny thing about the entrance to Lake Chabot: they steadfastly refuse to give out maps. Almost every East Bay Regional Park has a little kiosk near the entrance where you can grab a map of the area. Lake Chabot instead had very intricate map signs. It did repeat those at several points in the trail ... but eventually you got to a point where they weren't there any more, and then you cursed the penny pinchers who decided a profusion of permanent signs would ensure that printed maps weren't needed.

Because they still were.

Any who, past the end of the paved trail there was a stair and walkway across one of the marshy ends of the lake. I found it a very confusing design, because it was clearly marked at part of the bike path around Lake Chabot, but it was also so narrow that a person would have troubles getting around a bike coming from the other direction, let alone another bike. And, there were poles at very end that made it quite difficult to get a bike in and out. (I had to lift my handlebars about a foot to exit.)

On the other side, I continued the now-dirt path around the lake, and it was a little challenging because we had torrential rain on Thursday, and it was still muddy here and there. Eventually it got to a big climb, and I decided that if it were still pavement, I might try it (sure I would have!), but mud+gravity was too challenging to fight.

So I ended up walking my bike up 300 or 400 vertical feet, which was the most challenging part of the day.

And I said goodbye to the beautiful lake.

Anthony Chabot Park is above Lake Chabot Park. No, I don't understand why they split a single area into multiple parks there, when they're all run by the same people.

I'd been angsting for a bench for a few miles, so I could eat my cookie, and I finally found full picnic tables as I got to the top of the ridge (now about 700 or 800 feet up) in Anthony Chabot. So I ate my cookie, and I read Captain America, and I even did a bit of writing with my jacket off, because the walk up the hill with my bike had got me super-heated.

And, I was very pleased to find that here at Anthony Chabot Park, there were maps. So that's maybe the benefit of breaking the park up: map nazis are limited to smaller areas. (Which makes me think fondly of breaking up the United States.)

The East Bay Regional Park maps are usually quite good, and so I was able to pick out all the ridge lines and paths. To this point, I really hadn't decided where I was ending up for the day — whether I'd be circling the lake and exiting in Oakland, San Leandro, or Castro Valley, or whether I'd try to keep climbing higher. But, looking at the maps I decided that I was most of the way up the hill, and I might as well keep going.

So I set off for a ride through Anthony Chabot Park heading north. Because it was so cold and wintery I was able to ride the roads, with almost no interference from cars, which was nice due to the slight muddiness of the paths. The ride through the Park was overall quite nice. Some hills, yes, but nothing I couldn't deal with. And lots of beautiful scenery.

I eventually opted to exit at the Marciel Gate, which put me onto one of the main roads up in the hills, by now on the other side of the ridge line. On another day I might have ridden the trails that continued north, but ... mud. The benefit of riding Redwood Road was that I got to see out to the Upper San Leandro Reservoir, which becomes a very pleasant stream as you head further north.

Redwood Road eventually branches, going west toward Oakland as Redwood Road or east toward Moraga as Pinehurst Road. There were also some possibilities of heading into Redwood Regional Park — and I'd long thought what a nice trip it would be to walk through all those parks along the ridge, but not on a cold, muddy day.

I generally thought it would be much more pleasant to travel through Moraga (and Lafayette) than Oakland, so the decision on the route depended largely on what looked doable. Because I was quite tired by this point. I was pretty sure both routes were mostly downhill, but the route to Moraga clearly started with some up. It didn't look too steep, so I gave it a try anyway.

200 or 300 feet of vertical ascent later, I'd had about enough, but just as I passed the Pinehurst Staging Area for Redwood Regional Park I crested the hill and it was downhill from there.


In Moraga there was one unpleasant surprise: the southern end of the Lafayette-Moraga trail is closed. It looks like there might have been a landslide. The signs said it would be closed until East Bay Regional Parks could make it safe. Based on similar signs around one of the trails in Tilden for the last few years, that might mean "forever".

In southern Lafayette there was one pleasant surprise: a waterfall along the trail which I haven't seen falling for years was going. It was great. I took selfies.

In downtown Lafayette there was a final pleasant surprise: the BART train pulled up just I got to the platform. No sitting on another cold, elevated platform for me.

The total ride was about 29 miles with 2500 feet of total vertical ascent. By both criteria I think that was the most challenging bike ride I've done all year. Definitely the most in the last 9 or 10 months.

I thought I was going to be sore as heck today, as I have been the last few times I biked in the hill, but not so much. Yay.

Oh, and I got two articles mostly written, which is less than on a typical free Saturday, but not bad.

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