Category: science

Another Successful Adopt-a-Highway Event in the California Alps

Success on an Adopt-a-Highway day is a mixed bag, no pun intended. It’s great to be able to give back to the community but I wish we didn’t have to pick up trash in the first place. It’s mind-boggling to me that people still litter at all!

Bailey, Henry, Pat, Mark & January with the day’s haul from Saturday’s clean up.

Now to be sure, some of the littering was likely accidental – for example the Kenworth branded mudflap we found, or the socket wrench, with a couple sockets, likely left there by a distracted, or perhaps hurried, repair-maker (there’s not a whole lot of shoulder on that particular chunk of Highway 89 where this stuff was found).

Other than those “special” items, we found the typical beer cans (mostly Coors light and Chelada), numerous cigarette butts (seriously?), a filled (ew!) baby diaper, one-half of a plastic Easter egg, numerous plastic bags, various plastic car parts (headlight lenses, pieces of wind deflectors, taillight lenses, etc.), myriad bottles, including a few Sierra Nevada Summerfest, and other “fun” items.

The California Alps Cycling crew was joined this time by two folks from Sparks, NV: Henry and Bailey. They reached out to us after seeing our last blog post advertising the event. Chris (legacy member, Chris Schull) and I met them a couple months ago. We chatted a bit in town (Markleeville) as we were coming back from a ride and they were heading out. Henry and Bailey felt that it was important to give back to the community where they ride quite often and we can’t agree more. That’s one big reason we do it.

One of the other reasons we do it is to help keep our watersheds clean.

“As an interconnected system, an impact to any part of the watershed affects the rest of the system downstream.”

Did you know Alpine County includes the headwaters of five (5) watersheds?

Yup! The American, Carson, Mokelumne, Stanislaus and Truckee Rivers all get their start here and so it’s that much more important to prevent garbage and other nasties from getting into these rivers.

And, we aren’t the only ones that take this seriously. The Alpine Watershed Group does too. As their tagline reads, they are: “Working to preserve and enhance the natural system functions in Alpine County’s watersheds for future generations through collaboration, education, and proactively implementing stewardship projects.” We’ve donated to the AWG before and today we became a sustaining member. Perhaps you can help out, too? Just go to their website and donate, or volunteer, or both. They, and we, would love to have you!

Speaking of healthy watersheds…We have been frequented here at CA Alps Cycling HQ recently by an osprey! We saw it fly over town a couple days ago and then noticed it on Sunday, perched on a branch here, eating a snake.

“Our osprey” checking out the scene.

Was that a thank you? We’d like to think so.

Climb! the California Alps

For years, like many of my friends, I have been riding bikes. Mostly road bikes but I do some mountain biking as well and have been known to ride my wife’s hybrid as well – especially when I don’t want to gear up.

I’ve gotten to be a better rider over those years, mostly because I’ve lost some poundage but also due to the shear volume of riding, with the associated climbing that comes with living and riding in the California Alps.

I’ve found, though, like many of you I suspect, that I pretty much “just ride.” Yeah, I’ve used a heart rate monitor for years and I’ve been active my entire life, even when I weighed over 300 pounds, but I never really paid attention to the data and until about two (2) years ago I never had a power meter.

So, as I added my big events to the calendar this year, the first one being the Wildcat 125 in Chico next month, I decided I needed to do more to improve my climbing. An ad or an email, I can’t remember which, that I received earlier in the year touted a new book: “Climb!” by Selene Yeager and the editors of Bicycling. The sub-title reads: “conquer hills, get lean, and elevate every ride.” So I went ahead and bought the book and read it from cover to cover.

What an awesome book! It has several plans in Chapter 12 and I decided to do “The 8-Week My-Base-is-Built-So-Let’s-Roll! Hill-Climb Plan.” It’s a combination of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), steady-state intervals, endurance rides, easy rides, and rest days. In other words, exactly what I wasn’t doing! By the way, as it happens, just yesterday Selene posted a blog article on HIIT workouts. Click here to check it out.

Well, I’m in the middle of week 5 and it’s making a huge difference. My power is up, my endurance is up and I’ve learned some new skills as well. Because of the weather here in the Sierra over the last several weeks I’ve had to do many of the workouts inside but thanks to Zwift and FulGaz, and my smart-trainer, that hasn’t been a problem. Last Sunday I got outside for my first ride in awhile and I killed it! Extra poop on the climbs, lower heart-rate while generating more watts, and I PR’d my Max Avg. Power (20 min.)!

So, if you haven’t checked out the book, and if you want to be a better climber, I recommend that you do. It’s a good read with lots of nuggets, and no, I’m not getting paid a cent by Bicycling for this “review.”

And if you have any climbing tips for your fellow riders, comment on this post and share them.

Last but not least, I wanted to let you all know that you can FOLLOW US now on Twitter! @bikedalps is our handle and we’d love to have you join the conversation!

It’s Often Windy Here in the California Alps – Why is That?

As a San Jose native, I was very familiar with the wind patterns. I lived in South San Jose for many years and could plan my rides knowing pretty well how the wind would blow: Go out early and get the tailwind on the way home. Go out later in the afternoon and get the headwind on the way home. Certainly this did depend on the direction of my ride but for the most part I could easily predict the patterns.

So, what’s the deal here? Well, thanks to “A Sierra Club Naturlist’s Guide” by Stephen Whitney I’ve found some answers. 

Mountain winds: “Winds and breezes passing over a rugged mountain range such as the Sierra follow tortuous courses over and around ridges, up and down canyons, through gaps in the crest. Eddies set up by the irregular terrain blow here and there in vigorous gusts that rattle trees and shrubs one minute only to abruptly die down the next. In the protection of a large boulder or grove of trees there may be scarcely any wind at all, while just a few yards away, in a more exposed area, it howls furiously.”

Wind-driven clouds in the CA Alps

Okay, so that makes sense. It’s somewhat analogous to the flow of a river. Rocks = rapids. Eddies are often downstream of those big rocks and flat water can bee seen where there aren’t any big rocks to interrupt the water’s flow.

Let’s dive a little deeper, though. Why is it that I can head up Hwy. 4 (Ebbett’s Pass) with a headwind and then not get that tailwind on the way back? Okay, sometimes I do get the tailwind but it’s not consisent like it was in Silicon Valley. Well, Mr.Whitney has a bit more information in that regard. It’s about mountain breezes, valley breezes and the mountain ranges “intrusion” into the tropopause

“On a warm summer morning the air next to the ground surface is heated and rises. Cooler air nearby moves in to replace it and rises in turn. This movement is felt during the day as an upslope breeze.” Typically, he writes, this starts about three hours after sunrise and reaches its peak during the hottest hours of the day and then it tapers off again around dusk. This is a valley breeze.  “At night, cool air flows downslope, creating the mountain breeze.”

Dust off those cobwebs and cast your mind back (thanks Paul Sherwin) to those high school science days (daze?); here’s some additional data: “Wind speed increases over mountain crests and through canyons and passes because air – like any fluid – accelerates when forced through a narrow passage. As a volume of air moves upslope, it is increasingly squeezed between the mountains and the tropopause, the inversion layer acting as a lid on the lower atmosphere. Since the volume of air remains the same as it squeezes over the mountain crest, it becomes elongated.” Okay so that means it picks up speed. Makes sense. He goes on to write that “air forced to squeeze through a canyon or mountain pass is accelerated in much the same way.”

So, there we have it! Mountain winds, mountain breezes and valley breezes combined with the myriad canyons, crests, passes and that ol’ tropopause challenge those of us who cycle in the California Alps. It’s a rare day when we have no wind and due to the topography you can’t count on consistency. If you ride here then you, grasshopper, like I, need to learn to embrace the wind. 

Ride safe out there and let’s kick some passes asses!™ Even the windy ones…