Archive for the 'ACTC Touring' category

Amtrak Buses

| October 26, 2008 5:57 pm

by Jerry Schonewille

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Many bicyclist are familiar with Amtrak trains and some use them in their tours but few know about Amtrak buses. Buses serve as connectors between outlying cities and cities that have train service. They can get you to Reno or Lake Tahoe or Las Vegas but other than these excursions into Nevada they operate only within California.

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For a solo bicyclist Amtrak buses can be the cheapest and fastest way to get around California. I emphasize solo because you place your bike in the cargo hold under the bus and there is room for only one or two bikes. You do not need to box your bike and that by itself is a time and money saver. Also, unlike trains, buses tend to run on time and they run more often.

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There is just one problem. You can’t buy an Amtrak bus ticket. Well – you can – but you have to jump through a few hoops. California state law requires that you can only ride the bus if your trip also includes a segment on an Amtrak train. This is fair as Amtrak is subsidized by taxpayers and it would not be right for them to be in direct competition with Greyhound or other private bus companies. It might be that you will find a sympathetic ticket agent that will sell you a bus-only ticket but no way will you succeed if you book online.

To get around this requirement you need to tack on a train segment at the beginning or end of your bus trip. This is not unlike people booking a round trip airline ticket when all they want is one-way because it can be cheaper that way. It will take some research to find the best deal. For example, I recently took a bus trip from Martinez to Ukiah. Martinez is a major hub for Amtrak and there are several train options to tack onto your bus trip. I found the San Joaquin train from Stockton to be the cheapest. The San Joaquin, like the Capitols, is a commuter train. That means tickets are non-reserved and once you buy a ticket it is good for 1 year. So even though you won’t be using that ticket that you tacked on to the bus trip it is still good for a future train ride. At least that’s what they tell me – I haven’t put it to the test yet [UPDATE 11/10/2008: I have now used previously orphaned train tickets with no problem].

I try to schedule mid-week mid-day as these are the least used buses. Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday are best, Friday is worst. Holidays are always a problem. By problem I mean there is no place to store your bike and you won’t get on the bus. I’ve seen this happen but so far it has not happened to me. If it is absolutely 100% critical that you get to your destination NOW then the bus may not be for you.

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Sometimes Amtrak uses their own fleet of buses, sometimes they contract to a private tour company, and sometimes they use a county bus. At one point I was looking into taking the bus from San Jose to Monterey but learned after a phone call that this uses a Monterey County bus with a rack for two bikes on the front of the bus and no place to store luggage (panniers in my case) [UPDATE 11/10/2008: some of these buses do in fact have luggage compartments that can hold panniers] . The bus I ended up booking is one that goes all the way to Santa Luis Obispo (maybe all the way to Santa Barbara?) with a stop in Salinas. I then rode my bike from Salinas to Monterrey, a nice trip including back roads of Ford Ord so this turned out to be a good thing.

Sometimes the driver is a smoker and will drive really fast to the next stop so that he or she can get off the bus for a cigarette break. Some passengers might join the driver.

Another feature about buses is that since they serve as train connectors they will not leave before the train arrives. That can be good if you’re on the train wanting to make the connection, or bad if you’re on the bus and want it to depart on time.

— jerry schonewille (aka vagabond jerry)

Mountain Charlie

| September 30, 2008 1:01 pm

by Jerry Schonewille

The ACTC riding academy held a bicycling touring class September 20-21, 2008 that included a self contained overnight ride from Los Gatos to New Brighton State Park in Capitola. I know the leader, Tony Le, and sort of invited myself along.

First, I have to say I am very impressed with they way Tony conducts his class and the skills of the 8 riders that joined in. I was honored to be among them.

New Brighton State Park has a very nice Hiker/Biker site that is popular and used by tourist riding down the Pacific Coast. I think there must have been 15-20 people in the site overnight. My biggest impression was that I saw four Surly touring bikes. They are becoming popular (and hard to get, I’m told).

I had assumed that the return route would be on Eureka Canyon, one of my favorites, but was pleased that it would be Mountain Charlie instead. I love Mountain Charlie and had often wondered what it would be like on a loaded touring bike. Now I would find out.

Tony’s route from Capitola to the base of Mnt Charlie was different from various routes I’ve ridden before. I have to say, this one is probably the nicest and I will use again in future rides.

I know Mnt Charlie well and I know where the elephants are buried. There are three nasty sections. The first, leading to the purple submarine house is the worse. I didn’t even try riding that section. I was able to ride the second steep section but it really pushed my heart rate to the limit. I could have ridden the third steep section except I hadn’t recovered yet from the second section yet so I got off and walked. Not bad overall. As always, it is not my legs that limit me – it’s my cardiovascular system.

Thanks Tony for a great weekend!

Touring – Expect the Unexpected

| September 13, 2008 2:59 pm

by Jerry Schonewille

So I was in the middle of a 60 mile tour from Turlock to Mariposa, with 3000 ft of climbing, noticing that 5 gravel trucks had just passed me yet there was almost no other traffic on this country road.  Then an oil truck passed and I instantly thought – chip seal!  I started making plans in the event the road ahead was blocked.  I thought about turning around or hitching a ride or backtracking to an alternate route, but I kept going.  None of these alternatives were attractive because it was hot and each would sabotage my plan to ride early and beat the heat.  I carry spare tubes and spare spokes and a spare tire but no spare road.  So I plodded along.

Then I came upon a roadblock and there was no longer any doubt – chip seal!  One-way traffic control was in effect and several cars were lined up waiting their turn to proceed.  I rode past to find out if the road ahead was even rideable.  Before I could ask, they guy said you don’t want to ride on this.  We’ll put your bicycle in the pilot truck.  Fantastic!  Almost 5 miles of fresh oil and gravel bypassed.  I asked if other bicyclist had been along but was told I was the first and only.  In fact, very few cars come this way.  I was dropped off at a fork in the road and while I had planned to go left, I was advised to go right.  So I did.  It ended up adding more miles and more climbing in exchange for no automobile traffic.  Good move, until the dog …

Anyone who rides remote country roads eventually gets chased by a dog.  I’ve been chased by many during my rides.  About 95% of the time dogs just want to have fun and chasing bicycles is fun.  Sometimes I play along, slowing down or speeding up and letting the dog know that I enjoy his company.  Sometimes I’m not sure of his intention and proceed cautiously.  If I’m nervous I’ll stop and get off my bike.  Usually the dog stops too, forgetting why he was chasing me and deciding I’m no fun anymore.  Turns around and goes home.  Once in a while the dog’s body language tells me this is not about fun but about aggression or defending territory.  That was the case today.

I saw a home on a hill next to the road ahead of me about a quarter mile away and already the dog in front was barking and acting agitated.  As I got closer I saw there was no fence between me and that dog and sure enough there came a point when he charged down the hill toward me.  I could tell right away this was not a dog looking for fun.  As he approached I slowed, made eye contact, and started yelling things like “no”, “bad dog”, “go home”.  But he kept coming.  This dog was not accustomed to taking directions from humans. I stopped, and so did he – about 5 feet away and continuing  to display aggressive behavior.  I was concerned an attack might be forthcoming.  I kept yelling at the dog, my bike between me and him, standing tall and waving my arms like a madman.  The dog kept his distance but did not back off from his aggressive demeanor.  We had a standoff.  I now had water bottle in one hand (to squirt in his eyes in case of a charge) and my frame-mounted bicycle pump in the other (as a defensive weapon).  The dog was not backing off and seemed to move closer as he paced back and forth.  It entered my mind that if I was carrying a gun it would be in my hand right now and cocked and ready to go.  This was a very scary and unpleasant situation.

Then I noticed pebbles near my feet and I grabbed one and threw it at the dog.  It missed but not by much, and he noticed.  He instantly turned tail and ran back to his home up on the hill.  Phew.

This all occurred just before I reached the property the dog was defending.  As I rode past he continued to be agitated and aggressive but stayed on his property.  I hope he learned a lesson and next time will not be so aggressive toward a passing bicyclist, but I doubt it.

— jerry schonewille (aka vagabond jerry)

The Long and Windy Road – Patterson Overnighter

| March 3, 2008 12:33 pm

by Franz Kelsch
photos by the group

About 25 cyclists enjoyed a weekend of biking together for the Patterson Overnighter, led by Russ and Sheila. We all started in Milpitas with more than half of the riders on tandems, I believe about 8 tandems.

Group at start

It was a bit cool as we started, be we all warmed up as we started to climb up Mt. Hamilton. Russ and Sheila had waited near the bottom to make sure everyone made the correct turn, but we figured they would catch us soon.

Russ and Sheila

And then pass us.

Russ and Sheila

They must have slowed to enjoy the scenery.

Russ and Sheila

As we climbed the temperature dropped constantly and it went down to 43 degrees at the summit. But as we descended down the backside the warmth returned and it was very pleasant for the ride over to the junction for lunch. We did have some headwinds so we thought at the time, maybe tomorrow we will have a tailwind on the return.

The ride down Del Puerto Canyon was fast and fun. Some even stopped to enjoy the scenery.

We arrived in Patterson soon after 3 pm where many of us enjoyed a rootbeer float.

Some new restaurants had opened in the area so we all tried a new Italian restaurant called Strings Italian, which turned out to be very good.

That evening we could hear the wind all night. When I finally got up early I looked out the window to see the trees blowing in the wind, but these were tree limbs without leaves. I could see the direction of the wind was in the exact opposite that we would be traveling. So much for a tailwind on return.

At 8 am, we all started out together to brave the wind. Some tried to go the wrong direction thinking we were going to have a tailwind.

It was rather cool, but it was the wind that was most difficult. It was so strong I had to keep my hands on the brake hoods and could not move them to the top of the handlebar because that would not provide enough leverage in case a gust was going to blow our tandem over. We averaged only 7.5 mph for the first 20 minutes, even though we were going flat, on a tandem. Some riders were following further behind, especially those on single bikes.

After about an hour, the winds went from crazy to just real strong. We plugged our way along the canal.

We had to stop several times to get through the barriers. Some of us did it the hard way.

Others took the easy path.

All enjoyed a break from the wind.

We asked Mike to take this picture of us, but from his high vantage point, it made us look real short. I guess that is how we look to the world.

Franz and Ann

At mile 27 we finally made it to the first break. It took us nearly 3 hours to make that distance and it was all flat. We all needed to get some food and a rest. About a mile further down we made the turn onto Corral Hollow Road and the direction was such that we were finally out of the strong headwinds.

We stopped again in Livermore for a sandwich. We found a Subway Sandwich shop near the Lucky’s where people were going to take a break. After about 30 minutes we made our way back, over Calaveras Road. It was beautiful this time of the year.

Mike didn’t get enough riding in (I guess the big guys don’t feel the wind). So he biked home via Felter and Sierra.

It was a great trip. The ride leaders did a great job and the company of everyone made for a great weekend.

This morning I was listening to the news about some jumbo jet that was trying to make a landing in a strong wind and almost crashed. I thought, hum … I didn’t realize they had an airport in Patterson.

See all photo and see the video of the wind .