Dennis on the Road

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Floating the Russian River

We had a recipe for disaster. A 3-night/4-day canoeing trip in a boat we had never used; Trish was completely new to canoeing and it had been ages since I had last paddled; tbe camping equipment hadn’t been unpacked in years; and the directions we were following were posted on-line in 1997. But everything miraculously came together to become one of my most memorable weekends ever.

Less than a week prior to our launch, I asked teammates a post race dinner if anyone knew of a canoe we could borrow. Josh led us to Rich who led us to a canoe that was not just available to use, but to keep. THANKS! Three days later we were driving home from Tiberon with an aluminum canoe hanging several feet over the front and back of my Honda. Wednesday we went to Wilderness Exchange and REI to get the remaining items on our camping checklist. And Friday morning we were packed and off. We drove two cars to Jenner; dropped Trish’s off at the mouth of the Russian River; and took mine to Cloverdale (stopping for a couple wine tastings, of course!)

Our out-of-date directions led us to a road that was closed over a mile from the river. So we drove around until we found the tiny Cloverdale Airport, whose clandestine runway seemed custom designed for drug running. We talked to a haggard German skydive instructor who tipped us off to a 2-track path, barely drivable with the Honda, that got us within 50 meters of the river. Thank god that post-911 airport security hasn’t caught on in Cloverdale yet.

With our canoe and gear finally riverside, we launched into a series of Class I-II rapids. Immediately we felt free, carried swiftly downstream, and relieved, noting that our canoe actually floated. Due to the late start, we paddled for less than two hours before finding a desolate beach where we set up the first of several idyllic camps. Trish proved to be a master fire builder (pyromaniac?) while I worked my magic over the camp stove.

Prior to the trip, I imagined that we would spend much of our time bouncing off of an armada of canoes unleashed upon the river by throngs of Memorial Day Weekend yahoos. But by noon on day two we had not seen a single person. This stretch of the river is completely undeveloped. Inhabited by every kind of bird imaginable, but no people. In the evening hundreds of swallows would sail from their riverbank nests, just above the surface of the water, coming directly at us before a dramatic last minute swerve. We regularly saw blue herons, osprey, red tail hawks, even bald eagles.

Day Two saw our only near catastrophe. A sudden bend in the river and a fast rapids, sent us right into a strainer (a tree down in the river). We paddled furiously for the bank, but had no choice but to go right into the tree. I was picked out of the canoe by a branch while Trish ducked and rode it out. For a second I was pushed under the canoe and tree but resurfaced at the front of the canoe and somehow managed to grab the bow and swim the canoe out of the strainer and to shore. We took in a lot of water, but miraculously didn’t tip. We learned a lesson and took all blind corners much more carefully, sometimes even pulling over to walk ahead to survey the river. In the next couple days we saw several canoes that never made it out of such snags, some severely bent and twisted by the current.

After a full day on the river, we found an even more impressive campsite, this time at the confluence of the Russian river and a babbling stream.

Day Three was our longest day on the river. As we neared Healdsburg we saw our first signs of development and river traffic. We passed a canoe livery, but were just ahead of their holiday throngs. By early afternoon we reached a crowded beach at Healdsburg where all day-paddlers end their trip. We had to portage the dam. Unfortunately, the gate to the portage path was locked and the lifeguards at the beach, although trying their hardest to be helpful, could not locate anyone with a key. There was actually an easier way to portage than the official route, but it required passing threatening signs and walking beside a fish ladder in an area that was strictly off limits. We were told that we could not do it. When I asked what other options there were, the only one the lifeguard could think of was to portage our canoe and gear over the bridge and about five blocks away to a beach downstream. This seemed nearly impossible and completely unreasonable compared to the 50-meter illegal portage ahead. So, of course, we went for it. Just as we finished reloading the canoe, Trish said in a panicked whisper, “Here comes a park ranger.” We pushed off and made a narrow escape. An hour later we were again far from any sign of humanity. We stopped for a late lunch and a skinny dip. First we heard, then saw, a helicopter flying low, tracing the river. Assuming it was a sightseeing tour, I mooned them. The helicopter did a 360 immediately above us, and as it banked into its turn, I could read “Sonoma County Sheriff” on the side. I’ve never put a pair of shorts on so fast. After a moment of panic, Trish and I spent the next several minutes laughing so hard we could barely breath.

Back on the river, we paddled until within an hour of dark, moving from a remote stretch of the river to one that had many more homes on the bank. We found another deserted beach, and except for the fact that we could hear cars on a nearby road, we enjoyed another idyllic riverside campsite, a crescent moon, and a sky full of stars.

On our final day we were on the river by 9:00 AM. There was a canoe livery with hundreds of stacked canoes just up-stream from where we camped, but we beat them all to the river and had another peaceful morning of paddling. The scenery had become more dramatic. Rather than distant hills, we now looked up at steeper slopes that rose from the river shores, covered by towering redwoods.

Our plan had been to make it to Jenner this day, where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean. But the wiser choice seemed to bail earlier. By 1:00 PM we passed Guerneville and were nearing the homes of our friends Skeeter and Alex and Janice and Bill. With the pressure off, we made the final hour of hour journey the most relaxing. We made a cheese plate, opened a bottle of wine, and sat in the center of our canoe atop all our gear.

Janice and Bill not only saved the day, they made it even sweeter. From their place, we pulled the canoe out and brought it across the street to its new home at Skeeter’s. While I drove with Bill to retrieve Trish’s car from 15 miles down the road, Trish and Janice stocked up for a steak dinner to celebrate Trish’s birthday. There was plenty of wine, great food and wonderful company. The perfect end to a perfect journey. Here are the rest of the photos.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Here's a catchy new short video about my hood. Temescal rules... just don't tell too many people. Parking is hard enough to find and I don't want my rents to rise.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Good press for the team.

Here's an article about our team's victory on Saturday at the Modesto Criterium. Four RHVillanis rolled to the line, and all of us had an agresssive and smart race. Kudos to Jamiel for getting in the winning break and lighting up the sprint.
"A muddled breakaway led to a close finish in Saturday's professional race of the Modesto Criterium, with Jamiel Reza Danesh of Velo winning by milliseconds."

Another team's rider comes across in a much less favorable light in this article.... but you'll have to go there to read it for yourself since I don't want to start slingin' mud.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The perfect weekend

This weekend will be hard to beat! It certainly is the current top runner for best-of-the-year.

The fun started at noon on Saturday. Trish and I drove to the infamous Cat’s Hill Criterium.

Aaron, Rob, and Shelly were hosting a post race party at their pad, only a few blocks from the course, so that is where we warmed up… kegs in sight. The Cat’s Hill course has never suited me well, but this year I managed to finish the race for the first time. Although my contribution to the team was minimal, I was able to step up a couple times, covering the front of the field on the first ½ dozen laps, and after a restart with only two laps to go (due to an ambulance on the course to clean up some blood), I was able to get to the front and slow down the first two corners so that Josh and three companions could maintain their 24 second gap.

The teams' results were strong, and everyone rode very well. 51 of 101 starters finished, including all eight RHVilla/Montano Velo guys. Christian spent most of the race in a break and took eighth. Josh escaped near the end and took ninth. Good job, ya’ll! Here are some great pictures that I can’t copy but can link. Thanks to Chris Patterson for these great shots!

~ me charging the hill
~ again
~ will this race ever end?
~ Paul is the king of Cat's Hill!
~ Aaron & Paul represent!
~ Christian is Cuchulain on a bike!

As much fun, and much less painful, than Cat’s Hill, was Cat’s Swill, Rob, Aaron and Shelly’s party. Those cats know how to throw a hell of a BBQ, including a bonfire two blocks from downtown Los Gatos. As if that wasn’t enough, Trish and I joined another crew of bike geeks for Matt Fritzinger’s “house cooling” party in the pad he was moving out of after a decade of residence. Many thanks to all the party hosts!

As much fun as the racing was, a day of adventure off the bike was welcome and overdue. Sunday morning Trish and I rejoined her friend Karishma and others, who were also at Matt’s shin-dig, for brunch at the Berkeley Thai Buddhist Temple.

We then ventured off to the beach, via an idyllic drive over Mt. Tamalpais. We loaded up on some lunch with a quick stop to the co-op in Bolinas and then drove to a trailhead at the South side of Point Reyes National Seashore. The hike was bliss. Within the first mile, we stopped for a cliff-side picnic. Two miles later I was naked and swimming in the chilling water of Bass Lake. Then we ventured further on the Palomarin Trail than I have ever been to what this trail description, aptly terms “waterfall nirvana”.

The Alamare falls has several cascades, the first few between three and twelve feet in height. The final one is certainly most impressive: a three-story drop to the beach! The fact that a nine-mile round-trip hike is required to get here, keeps this place quite and a mystery to most… Although I’ve lived in this area for twelve years, it never ceases to amaze me how many magnificent, natural, and peaceful places are just beyond our urban density.

The hike back included a cliff-top vantage of a near-perfect sunset, and a lot of handholding and kisses!

The final stop on the drive home was the Pelican Inn at Muir Beach. A stop in their pub is like stepping into a page of Chaucer. A small group of travelers gathered to share soup, a cheese plate, conversation, and several pints.


There are more pictures of the hike here.

Friday, May 12, 2006

I go Citgo

I have a small sticker on my Yakima bike rack that says "god grant me the courage to sell my car." Well, I haven't done that yet, nor traded it in for a biodiesel or hybrid. But I have made a recent choice to buy my gas almost exclusively from Citgo.

There are countless reasons to be outraged at US oil companies: their support of the war on Iraq; price gouging at the pumps; $13 million annual CEO salaries; or Exxon Mobil’s recent quarterly earnings that were larger than any company in history.

Contrast US oil companies with Citgo, the US-based oil company owned by the nationalized Venezuelan company PDVSA. As a nationalized resource, oil profits fund dozens of "misiones", or efforts to better the lives of Venezuelans. There are programs that drastically improve public education; offer free university education; provide full access to integral health services; make accessible basic food items to the poor; encourage citizenship and voter rights; seek to end unemployment; honor indigenous people; and even lend a hand to US citizens living in poverty.

When I'm paying $_____ (fill in the blank w/ today's price) per gallon, I would prefer for it to go to the citizens of Venezuela than a Texan CEO.

There are fewer Citgo's than Shell's around, but you can easily find the nearest one to your house here.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

If we can't fix it...

Bicycle racing is so much more than going fast on two wheels. There’s the tactics, team dynamic, and of course the adventures of being on the road nearly every weekend.

This past weekend the RHVillans headed off to Madera Stage Race. Jesse/Andy ventured out on his own with his girlfriend while Aaron, Christian, Josh and I, joined by Cal Giant’s Patrick Briggs, set sail in Big Red, the bastard stepchild RV of the team. All was going as planned until ½ way from Oakland to Madera, Big Red started making sounds you never want to hear coming from a vehicle you are counting on to deliver you somewhere. That was immediately followed by a smell of the same description.

We pulled over at the next exit: Central Turlock. (There doesn’t seem to be enough of Turlock to designate any part of it “central”.) Demonstrating the voracity of our team, we quickly sprung into action. Patrick began inspecting the engine. Christian was on the phone to AAA. Aaron was researching where the closest Uhaul center was. Within a half an hour Tiny (who, as you would expect, was far from small) showed up in a tow truck, guided us around the corner to Toby’s Auto Center, and drove Christian to get a Uhaul.

We hustled to unpack the bikes and gear from Big Red. From the Uhaul we called ahead to Andy. “Please beg Velo Bob (the promoter) to let us start the time trial late.” After all the drama, we arrived to the start of the race as the final riders were heading off. Since the first race of this 4-stage competition was an individual event against the clock, it was possible to give us the time we needed to get ready (although without the essential warm-up). I assembled my bike, including the $900 carbon disc wheel set I was borrowing from our team manager, and slipped into my arrow-dynamic kit, only to discover that my cycling cleats did not make the transition from RV to Uhaul. Since stage races require the completion of each stage in order to continue competing in the later stages, I had no choice but to mount my sleek TT bike with sandals, heading off for the slowest 20-mile ride of my life.

Since all categories, other than our Pro/1/2 class, started racing the following day, we brainstormed how we might get my shoes to Madera without having to drive to and from Turlock ourselves. Christian suggested his friend Steve, who would be driving down early the next morning. He agreed. We called Toby to see how the transfer of shoes could happen, and he gave us instructions to climb the fence. I still can’t believe that I asked a guy I didn’t know to climb a fence of an auto yard at the crack of dawn in the center of the Central Valley to fetch my shoes… and that he said “yes”. It turns out that my friend MJ was with Steve and showed his support by imitating the barks of rabid auto yard mastiffs once Steve hopped the fence. Here he is delivering the shoes before the 2nd TT the next day.

After Friday’s fiasco, I was ready to show what I could really do. I put in one of the best time trial efforts of my life and took 4th place in the stage, although I would remain hopelessly at the bottom of the GC (General Classification).

Meanwhile, back in the Bay Area, Elliot, our teammate and Big Red’s proprietor (i.e. he was the one who found her for free on Craigslist and has paid for her with endless hours of labor), was devising his plan to save our asses. He got Toby on the phone and somehow convinced him to work on Big Red on Saturday. Elliot drove to Turlock and worked side-by-side with Toby, finally delivering Big Red back to us by the third stage, the criterium, Saturday afternoon. Elliot, and Josh’s friend Rich did a late night run back to Turlock with the Uhaul while the team debriefed some tactical screw-ups that resulted in the loss of the podium by only one second! (By the end of the last day, Andy ended up in 4th place, while 3rd place was literally only one second faster over 150 miles of racing.)

Although we nearly weren’t able to race, and we faced a million challenges, we pulled off a decent weekend. RHVilla/Montano Velo Cycling Team took 4th and 7th in the GC, and in total we had 6 top-ten stage placing. As we set off on the trip back to the Bay Area, we started Big Red up with her keys attached to a new key ring from Toby’s shop. In addition to the name, address, and phone, was Toby’s slogan: “If we can’t fix it… Fuck it!”

Before and After

Along with warm weather and sunshine, Spring cleaning came a bit late this year... but seems to finally be here.