Monday, January 1, 2018

Downing Rode

As a cyclist, there are roads that I’ve ridden hundreds of times. You get used to them. There are markers that give you encouragement when you are “almost there”. Calaveras Road is a favorite climb and a favorite decent and Downing Road is one of the markers between the top and the bottom of Calaveras. On one spirited commute, my friends and I were racing down Calaveras. Just as we reached the turn in the road where Downing Road enters on the right, there was a family of turkeys slowly crossing the road. With fortunate timing, we just missed them! There are countless other stories that involve Downing Road. Sometimes, you are simply at the right place at the right time.

Years ago, Calaveras Road was relocated to its present site. The renamed Old Calaveras Road is also a fun climb. Downing Road connects the two. But otherwise, Downing Road has little significance. It is only significant for visitors of the local park, for the very few local residents and for cyclists. And what is the significance of its name, Downing? Who gave their name to this place at that time?

This history of this corner of the San Francisco Bay area is one of local native Americans (Ohlone tribe), conquest by Spanish missionaries and eventual conquest by the westward migration of European-Americans following the gold rush. In the hills west of what is now Milpitas, local ranchers and farmers often rented the land to immigrants for Portugal. There are families of Portuguese descent all over this area – I know some of them. But most of the roads have either Spanish or English-sounding names because it was the wealthy who owned the land and named the roads. And one such wealthy rancher was William Downing.

William Fresh Downing

William Fresh Downing, originally from Missouri, came to this area from Elko, Nevada, where he raised cattle. My guess is that he was an established cattle rancher in Missouri and well into his late twenties before he move west with his family – probably the early 1870s. Although the Transcontinental Railroad had been completed in 1869, the Downings who headed west in the 1870s were still likely to have traveled by wagon train. As with those who went thirty years earlier, looking for gold in California, they picked up the Santa Fe Trail in St. Joseph, Missouri. Eventually, they would follow the California Trail (roughly I-80, today). It was an arduous journey taking three months across the great American plains and Rocky Mountains. Oxen were invariably chosen with which to make the journey, and the month of May the time to start. Then the buffalo grass was sufficiently started to support the cattle, which were herded at night in turns by members of the party.

Source: National Geographic

And I’ll also guess that once he established himself in Nevada, that his younger brothers headed west and spent a year or two working William’s ranch in Nevada before continuing on to California. He stayed there until 1881 before moving his family to the Rancho Tularcitos property in Milpitas. He is buried in Irvington Memorial Cemetery in Fremont, CA. If that were the whole story, it wouldn’t be significant to me as an amateur historian or as a cyclist.

Absolom R Downing

William Downing was the second of nine children of Absalom and Susan (Fresh) Downing. The third son, Absolom R. (consistently, I see his name spelled differently than his father’s) and his wife, Jennie (Cook) Downing are buried in Pleasanton Memorial Gardens Cemetery – a.k.a., Pioneer Cemetery just up from Richert’s Lumber on Sunol Boulevard, near my house.

Nathan Downing

I believe the fifth brother, Nathan H., contracted spinal meningitis and lost his hearing at a young age. Because of that he didn’t attend school but nonetheless ran a local newspaper until coming to California in February, 1886, when he briefly took charge of the Livermore Review. At age 40, that would make him the last of the brothers to go west. In 1888 he purchased the Santa Clara Journal and turned it into a thriving paper.

T. B. Downing

I was a bit more intrigued by the sixth, Thomas Benton Downing. In 1879, Thomas moved to California, living for a number of years on a large ranch near Pleasanton (where I live). Three of his children were baptized at the old Presbyterian Church – the one still standing on the corner of Neal and Second Street. In 1894, he came to Palo Alto, building what was then one of the largest and finest homes in the growing town, on the corner of Cowper Street and Forest Avenue. Thomas apparently was influential in something other than agriculture. He served on the School Board from 1893-1898 and again from 1900-1902. When the city charter was adopted he was elected to Palo Alto's first city council, from 1909-1913. Today, his house at 706 Cowper Street is on the National Register of Historic Places. Hmm, do I know someone on Cowper Street in Palo Alto? (Yes.)

You would think with such a lovely house, that it would be a great place for your son’s wedding. Well, one of Thomas’ sons, Claude Standish Downing, fell in love with Alice Spencer, daughter of Dr. John C. Spencer, a prominent San Francisco physician who eventually became a two-term mayor of Palo Alto. Dr. Spencer had worked with Louis Pasteur, if you’ll tolerate my name-dropping. Dr. Spencer’s house was apparently a nicer place for a wedding or perhaps it was just the tradition of the bride’s family having responsibility for the wedding. Nonetheless, Claude and Alice were married in the shingle-style home at 369 Addison Avenue (the address later split with the bottom floor becoming 367 Addison). If that address rings a bell, it is because it was the garage out back that became “the garage” where Hewlett and Packard started their instrument company – and most people would say that is where Silicon Valley started.

Claude and Paul were among the very first students of Leland Stanford Junior University, having only been opened in 1891. They were classmates of future president Herbert Hoover, the man for which they named that big tower on campus.

Lorenzo Downing

The youngest brother, Lorenzo, was barely 18 when he ventured west from Missouri, through Nevada and ultimately to San Jose, CA. Like William, it appears that Lorenzo pursued an agricultural career. Perhaps, like William, he purchased land and rented it to others for farming and ranching. I know very little of his life, but his children left quite a legacy.

Hardy Downing

Lorenzo’s son Harding Kenneth Downing (almost every reference to him is “Hardy”) was born in 1877 and would go on to become a professional cyclist. Remember that we are still in the time of Mark Twain, who had just published “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” The “bicycle” was not yet a word in our lexicon – the velocipede (affectionately called the boneshaker) had evolved in 1863 from its early invention around 1839. The first actual “race” was held in 1868 in Paris. Any semblance of popularity would wait for the high-wheel bicycle (a.k.a., penny-farthing or ordinary), invented in 1870 – with its metal wheels giving way to solid rubber tires. A dramatic rise in popularity came with the Starley Rover “safety” bicycle (two wheels of equal size) and pneumatic tires (invented by John Dunlop, an Irish veterinarian in 1885). In San Jose, the Garden City Cyclers (Garden City Wheelmen) club was founded in 1884. In the 1890s, Hardy Downing would ride with this club and make a living as a bike racer – a wheelman.

In cycling, this was the right time and the right place.

For context, it is hard to overstate the dramatic rise in popularity of cycling worldwide during the decade of the 1890s. In America, the “Golden Age” of the bicycle was happening. The automobile had only been invented recently, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen was born in 1886 and most people could not afford a car until Ford’s Model T in 1908. So the bicycle offered the freedom, the basic transportation and the speed for this window in history. And speed meant competition. While the bicycle was playing its part in breaking down gender, class and racial barriers, open road racing was evolving mainly in Western Europe. In America, short-distance speed records were more popular and especially on velodromes or board tracks (high-banked, short ovals made of hardwood planks or sometimes concrete). Almost all roads were still dirt for years to come. From about 1890 until World War I almost every major city had its own velodrome. It is hard to imagine today, but in America track racing was the number one spectator sport. Professional cyclists were paid more than any other athlete, including baseball ($30,000 per year compared to $5,000).

Unlike road racing, where spectators couldn’t see the whole competition – and more importantly, they couldn’t charge admission, track racing was a sports promoter’s dream. Events included short time trials, one-on-one duals and endurance races – peaking at the “six-day” format where racers would literally ride around the clock for six days straight. These races, which often attracted up to 100,000 spectators per week, were part races, part shows. Bands would play, betting was rampant and, to keep the intensity up, promoters would offer cash premiums to the leader at various times during the race. This event model was so potentially profitable that promoters would contract riders all over the world in pursuit of racing talent for marketing purposes. Not surprisingly, these same promoters would also handle boxing matches.

But I am slightly ahead of myself. Hardy Downing was at the right place at the right time. San Jose was one of the premier cities in the world for track racing. San Jose built its first velodrome in 1892 and would quickly add two more, had 28 bike shops and nine bicycle clubs before 1900. Competition was fierce, too; Otto Ziegler, aka "the Little Demon from San Jose," won the U.S. national track championship in 1894. Of course, the talent was world-class but regional advantage (flat roads in the valley, good weather year-round) helped. Hardy became one of the most famous racers of the era, traveling to the east coast (Newark, NJ, being the premier city on the east coast for cycling), Europe and Australia.

According to Peter Nye in his book, “Hearts of Lions”:
Hardy traveled wherever cycling took him. He used to say that he settled in Salt Lake City because he was snowed in there once after a race. In 1913 Downing retired from cycling and got into boxing promotion with his brother-in-law, Big Jack Price. In 1915 he opened the boxing gym where Jack Dempsey got his start in professional boxing.
On the first page of photos in Dempsey's autobiography, Dempsey is standing in the boxing ring of Downing's gym. Downing's fights were known for their action. "No fight, no pay" was his motto. After 1930 he sold his boxing interests and managed an apartment house.
Downing was well known in Salt Lake City, newspaper reporters used to write about his fondness for deer hunting, and his belief that left hands won fights and right hands signed checks. When illness overtook him in 1960 at eighty-two, Jack Dempsey went to Salt Lake City to visit him in the hospital before he died.

Lace Downing

Five years younger than Hardy, Lewis Richard Downing (Lace) was born in 1882. Lace was also a successful racer and would win many races but never quite eclipse his older brother’s fame. A nice article in the San Francisco Call, Dec. 1899, introduced him to the cycling world:
San Jose, which has given to the cycle race path such illustrious names as Wilbur T. Edwards, Otto Ziegler, Floyd A. McFarland, Hardy Downing, John A. Alexander and Clarence Davis, has added another to the list of great performers. Lace Downing has developed within a few short weeks and is pronounced the peer of any amateur on the coast. Upon his first appearance, recently, he swept the boards, winning the three races which made up the card. Since then, he has defeated E. F. Russ and George P. Fuller, considered to be the fastest amateur on the coast.
Young Downing has had the opportunity of training on the fast track of the Garden City Cyclers, supplemented by muscle-building work on the road. When his brother and the other crack professionals in the McFarland party arrived here he enjoyed the benefits of their coaching and also the use of their motor-driven pacing machine. This brought out the ability of the young wheelman and placed him at the head of the lists.

Burton Downing

The youngest of the cycling brothers, Burton Cecil Downing, was born in 1885. Burton was almost born too late for the first bicycle boom in America. He was at his peak between 1901 and 1905, but remained an amateur which gave him access to national and international amateur competitions at the expense of the types of contracts Hardy enjoyed. Burton held many records over his career including the motor-paced 5-mile record of 8:48 in 1901 (34mph!).

History remembers him for something that went relatively unnoticed – both in the following decades and even during the event itself. Burton Downing won six medals in the 1904 Olympics: two gold, three silver and one bronze. For this, he was inducted into the Cycling Hall of Fame in 1998. He was the most decorated Olympic cyclist until 2008 when Bradley Wiggins eclipsed that number. Why was this not a big deal back then?

The 1904 Olympics were held in St. Louis, Missouri – the Games of the III Olympiad. However, the early Olympics were not the marquee event that they are today. In fact, it was a bit of a side-show added to the St. Louis World’s Fair that summer. The racing was held on a cinder track of what is now Francis Field at Washington University. 18 cyclists representing just one nation (United States) participated. From newspaper accounts, the spectator count was probably lower than the participant count. Nonetheless, the races were conducted under the auspices of the National Cycling Association and Burton Downing became the U.S. Amateur National Champion in the 25-mile and 2-mile distances. As a footnote, that was the only year that Olympic events were recorded in non-metric units. Technically, the races were open to contestants from other countries. There were also events held for professionals.

The trip to St. Louis was part of a longer one which took Downing to the Newark, N.J., area where he settled. He joined a construction firm, the Spearin Co., and soon became the president of it. He was later president of the New York Contracting Dock Builders Association. Burton died at the young age of 43 in Red Bank, N.J., about an hour south of Newark. Newark, New Jersey.

St. Louis is 176 miles from another Newark – Newark, Missouri – where his grandfather was buried and his uncle was still living at the time of the 1904 Olympics. I can’t help but wonder if Burton even knew. As I write this on my laptop and store it in the cloud, it is difficult to comprehend the time of my grandfather in the early part of the previous century. And I suppose it was the same for Burton Downing.

The Previous Century

Take yourself back to the childhood setting of Mark Twain. The lazy river, sweltering summer heat, bare feet, no cars, no bicycles, no electricity, no indoor plumbing, Indians, schoolmarms and a vast unsettled frontier. Samuel Clemens was born in Hannibal, Missouri, two weeks after Halley’s Comet arrived in 1835. Just up the Mississippi River from Hannibal is a little tributary called the South Fabius River and if you follow that about 50 miles upstream you’ll find a tiny village called Newark. And that is where our story began. Newark, Missouri (sidebar).

James Fresh was probably the first permanent settler in Knox County. In 1833, he came here from Maryland with his wife and children and three slaves, brothers Abe, Dan and Dave. He selected a site for a home and without acquiring title to the land (i.e., they were squatters), built a cabin with his slaves. In the spring of 1834 Fresh built a saw mill and grist mill a mile west of where the village of Newark now stands.

Missouri had only become a state in 1821, after being part of the Louisiana Purchase. So-called “Indian Territory” was west of the state line, but apparently there were no skirmishes in the early days of Newark. Kansas City was still the Wild West as gold had not yet been discovered in California.

Absalom Downing of Newark

In 1834, James Fresh’s fourth child, Susan, became a widow at the ripe old age of 17 with two babies to care for. In 1836, she got re-married to a man named Absalom Downing. Absalom’s great grandfather was one of three brothers who came to America in Colonial times and settled in Virginia. The grandfather, William, was born and raised in Virginia then became one of the first settlers in Garrard County, Kentucky. The father, John, was eight years old when they left Virginia, and he too left to settle near Hannibal with his wife and ten children. Whether or not he floated on the Mississippi on a raft, history did not record.

The Downing family was from England but of Irish descent. Apparently, Protestant Downings in Ireland are scarce. If you are interested, I believe the majority of the Irish who came to America in the 1700s were protestant and from the North of Ireland, also known as Ulster. My research suggests that our Downings are from either County Antrim or Derry (Londonderry). This line of Downings are not related to Sir Charles, for which Downing Street in London is named.

The Downing ancestors in America created a legacy of pioneering and so it was for Absalom’s sons. Which brings us back to William Fresh Downing settling on former Ohlone land with a view of San Francisco Bay. I doubt that his nephews ever rode their bikes on that dirt road to his house, but it would be poetic. Where two centuries later I was at the right place at the right time to avoid a family of turkeys.

  • Newark, NJ, is probably the most famous “Newark”. It was founded in 1666 by Puritans and named "New Ark" for "New Ark of the Covenant."
  • Newark, OH, was named after Newark, NJ.
  • Newark, IL, is located 60 miles southwest of Chicago along State Route 71. I’m not sure why it was named Newark.
  • Newark, IN, was founded in the 1850s by settlers from Newark, Ohio, hence the name.
  • Several Newarks were located in Des Moines. One was in Bertram Township, another was sometimes known as Wortport and sometimes Newark. It was named after the New Jersey community. There was also a Newark in Marion County and one in Summit County. The Newark established in Webster County was founded in 1873 by John Teters who had come from Newark, Ohio, again named for Ohio.
  • Newark, KS, was named for Newark, Ohio, and formed out of Neodesha Township in April 1871. (Seriously, Ohio again?)
  • Newark, MD, is located along the old colonial stagecoach route between Cape Charles, VA, and Philadelphia. Some think it was probably named by a homesick Englishman, but there is also the theory that it came from the shape of an ancient country house shaped like an "ark," thus Newark.
  • Newark, MO, is reportedly named after Newark, NJ. In 1836, the year that Newark, NJ, was incorporated, the streets of Newark, MO, were laid out, and in 1872, the town was incorporated.
  • Newark, NY, is located along the Erie Canal, 29 miles southeast of Rochester and a short 15-mile drive from Lake Ontario. Was it named for Ohio? Just kidding; I don’t actually know.
NOTES and – sources for much of the family history

“Hearts of Lions”, Peter Nye,FinisEbio.html

Pen Pictures From The Garden of the World or Santa Clara County, California, Illustrated. - Edited by H. S. Foote.- Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1888. Pg. 280-281 Transcribed by Kathy Sedler Proofread by Betty Vickroy

Steve Staiger of the Palo Alto Historical Association


Monday, June 6, 2016

Velomoon - May 2016, Bike Month Recap

What began in 1956 as "American Bicycle Month," initiated by the Bicycle Institute of America - an American manufacturers' group - (or possibly the Cycle Trade Association?) is now the League of American Bicyclists' National Bike Month. This is an entire month full of events designed for raising awareness of cycling. For me, every month is bike month but in May I have national-level support when I say, "hey, you should ride your bike!"

For those who can't focus for an entire month, there was bike week. And if a week is too much, there was bike to work day - which was basically just two hours in the morning as far as I could tell, with free coffee cake.

Previously, I participated in a bike challenge called Errandonnée - using your bike to run errands. This became my stepping stone towards mostly eliminating a car from my daily life. This month, I did some organized challenges and events as well as some that I made up myself, just goals really.

National Bike Challenge,
State of California Rankings
1. National Bike Challenge ( This is a competition against others to ride the most miles. There are teams (by company, by advocacy group, by club, etc.) as well as state level and community rankings. The challenge was very convenient for me because I simply linked it to my Strava account once and everything else happened automatically.

Team Bike Challenge
2. Team Bike Challenge ( The challenge was almost identical except that it was a regional competition for the East Bay communities. It required manual effort to log each "commute" ride and has some drawbacks which annoyed me but I did it all month. I suspect from watching the leaderboards that other cyclists gave up logging rides at some point.

3. Personal Goal, Only Drive When Necessary: I never drove alone. I only drove a car in situations where someone else was with me - e.g., going out for dinner with my wife. That meant riding my bike to get groceries, to work (or the train station), to other errands. There were rainy days and hot days and challenges like how to bring eggs home from the store.

4. Brewvet Challenge (not online this year): This is a beer-themed adaptation of the randonneur community. To complete the challenge, one must take five rides and drink at least one, unique beer each time and accumulate at least 50 miles. As with the randonneur events, documentation is required - an Instagram photo is sufficient. I completed that challenge, too.

5. Bike to Work Day: This is how cycling went from one of many recreational activities for me, to a defining theme in my life. A few years ago, I would ride about 50 miles per week and drive my car at least 250 miles per week. That year, I rode my bike to work because of Bike to Work Day for the first time. Little by little, it increased to the point where I now ride at least 250 miles per week and probably haven't bought gasoline in close to two months. So, Bike to Work Day 2016 is more about me being an advocate, trying to help the new cyclists and simply being a good example. We had a nice group of about 35 riders do the ~30 mile commute from Pleasanton to San Jose.

6. Bicycle, Pedestrian and Trails Committee (City of Pleasanton): In April, I applied to be on a committee for our City government dealing with bicycle and pedestrian trails. I interviewed with the Mayor and was appointed. This will be a four-year commitment. Hopefully, I can do some good in what is already a pretty good community for cyclists, walkers and hikers.

7. Global Bike to Work Day ( While the regional Bike to Work Day was on a Thursday, other organizations claimed either Tuesday or Friday. Strava is a website where cyclists, runners and other types of athletes log their activities and get kudos from their friends. Occasionally, they create challenges to motivate the users. One of these was Global Bike to Work Day. I clicked the icon to join the challenge and, since I rode on that particular day, I completed the challenge. Kudos for me.

According to Strava, I rode over 1,250 miles in the month of May.


"A brief history of National Bike Month", Dr. James Longhurst, University of Washington Press blog, May 14, 2015,  (Bicycle Institute of America)

"National Bike to Work Month– hatched 56 years ago this May,"   April 25, 2012,  (Cycle Trade Association)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Errandonnee Part 2: Going Car-Free (bike build begins)

It doesn't take much for me to get excited about building a new bike. I have a traditional road bike. Thinking that it wasn't quite appropriate for taking on the train or riding around town, I built a single-speed. Steel frame, belt drive, disc brakes but otherwise, it's a normal urban bike. But it's not quite right for many of my errands because the only real cargo capability is my backpack.

Thus begins my next bike build. I started by thinking about what I wanted to carry and how. Pizza, beer, groceries and bulky, heavy stuff from the farmer's market - that's what I need to carry. I decided I would prefer to have a front rack. It seemed better for awkward and heavy cargo. Buying local, I ordered a porteur style rack from Pass Stow ( Recycling (or re-using) an old 26-inch Trek Navigator 200 from 20 years ago seemed appropriate. The rack will work well, so the project gets the green light.

Of course, this is still the middle of the Errandonnee Challenge.

March 11, 2016, Errandonnee #7
Doctor's Appointment (category 1. Personal Care)
I took a vacation day to do a few errands. I probably would have done this even if I wasn't planning to bike to them all. First up was a doctor's appointment for a routine skin cancer check. I didn't have any particular concerns but I'm in my mid-fifties, have fair Scandinavian skin, burned all the time when I was a kid, and spend a fair amount of time outside. So I have risk factors, but no family history. I got a thorough check and everything is fine. 11.5 miles round-trip, including coffee where I happened to meet an old co-worker from 25 years ago. Yet another uncounted "social call" errandonnee.
Observation: Apparently, you can detect skin cancer on your forehead by the roughness - even before you could see anything. I have a large forehead, but fortunately, it's smooth.

March 11, 2016, Errandonnee #8
Powder Coating Facility (category 3. You Carried WHAT on Your Bike)
I didn't want this new cargo bike to simply be my old bike with a rack - which it is - so it needed a fresh coat of paint. But paint that isn't baked at the factory and sealed afterwards tends to chip easily. Powder coating is super tough but it is more of a specialized thing. Fortunately, there is a powder coating place about 12 miles away (23.6 miles, round trip to be exact). As you can see, it's not exactly easy to transport a bike frame on a bike! I used a bungee cord and my backpack, with the fork inside the backpack. It was surprisingly secure and well-balanced. Next time, I'd attach it sideways because it kept bonking me in the head! I got surprisingly little attention or commentary along the way. It probably happens all the time. Meh. Whatever, it's not like I crave the attention.
Observation: It hadn't rained on the way over, but my luck ran out on the way back. It poured and the wind howled. So, the return leg of the trip was much more difficult than the outbound. Second observation: rain pants and waterproof socks - good choice.

March 11, 2016, Errandonnee #9
Pick up new rack (category 5. Non-Store Errand)
Errandonneering encourages you to buy local. When I built my previous bike, I had a custom fork made by a local bike builder in San Francisco. I follow him on Instagram (coffeeandeggs). On one of his photos, I commented about shopping for a rack and he responded with a comment about his friend's company. He's in Oakland, so on that recommendation alone, I ordered a rack and offered to pick it up so I could see his shop. Pass Stow Racks is not a store, for sure. There's no sign, no front door, really. It's just a couple guys in warehouse space a block from the BART station (our rapid transit system). Today, since it continued to rain, I was happy to get on a train! I biked across town to our BART station and got off at his. He met me on the sidewalk and guided me through the labyrinth to where the magic happens. I'm a big fan of metalworking and truly appreciate good welding. We talked about bikes, racks, bags, commuting, fountain pens, to-do lists - you know, guy stuff. He showed me an unfinished rack and then gave me mine. It's gorgeous (if you're in to that sort of thing) and amazingly light. It's 4130 cromoly steel, so you could carry a person on it - but don't.
Actual non-train distance worked out to be 11.9 miles. When I first loaded my ride on Strava, it was 57 miles. But Strava doesn't give you tools to edit out the middle. So I wrote to Strava and within a few hours they had fixed it. Wow! So many observations on this trip, but...
Observation: A lady on the train thought I was funny for taking photos of my rack.

March 12, 2016, Errandonnee #10
Breakfast with Goats (category 9. Wild Card)
A half-mile from my house is an area that hasn't been purchased by developers and converted to suburban housing, thankfully. Along one paved emergency vehicle access road are a couple of little goats. My wife started feeding them carrots on her runs. So I grabbed a few carrots and went to see them. "Wild Card" almost works as a category - if they were wild goats, it would be perfect.
Observation: Goats have really crazy eyes.

March 12, 2016, Errandonnee #11
Future Blog Research (category 2. Personal Business)
I use this blog for many topics, but mostly cycling stories. I also like history and sometimes I write posts about the history of cycling. A surprisingly popular post was about a particular hill that we call "The Wall". And I included a few tidbits about the person for which one of the side-roads was named, Downing. I continue to be intrigued by the pioneer Downing family and know that they lived in my little town of Pleasanton. So I rode over to the Pioneer Cemetery and found their family grave site. Lots of Downings there along with the dates that might help me write a future blog post. Distance: another half-mile.
Observation: Judging by the prominant location and the size of the main headstone, I'd say they were moderately important people back then.

March 12, 2016, Errandonnee #12
Farmer's Market (category 5. Non-Store Errand)
I know these two posts are long, but the trip to the Farmer's Market was key to this whole "Errand Bike" idea. Yes, it undermines my whole rationale if I can take any old bike there and bring fruits and vegetables home. But what if I wanted a watermelon and a dozen funny-colored eggs? That would not work out well with a backpack. Today, of course, it's still late-winter or early-spring so there's not much at the market. I bought oranges, almonds and cauliflower.
Distance: about three-quarters of a mile.
Observation: Fruits and vegetables can get heavy.

That completes the Errandonnee Challenge. As short and simple as many of these errands were, a few of them were difficult. And if the rules committee throws out any of them, I went from the Farmer's Market to a coffee shop. And I commuted all week (an additional 150-some miles). And I went to the LBS to check on my road bike (routine maintenance before a Brevet in Utah, need a new chain and a lot less gravel in the bottom bracket). So I've got several back-up errandonnees. But again, I opted out of riding to the SPCA. This time it was the elements, a tight time schedule and the possibility that I would need to pick up our college student from the train station. Perhaps next week.

In my quest to go car-free, I've proven that living in the suburbs doesn't mean that you need to drive (solo). The bike in combination with mass transit works very well in all kinds of weather. I've proven that most short errands are easier on a bike. I've proven that "'s awkward to carry..." is an excuse that can be eliminated with a little planning (and the right bike). And I've proven that cycling is simply more fun than running errands by car. Well, I've proven these things to myself.

This is where I say "your mileage may vary" with just a touch of irony.

Coffeeneuring / Commuter Bike at the Local Bike Shop, there is not a tandem in my future.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Errandonnee Part 1: Going Car-Free (Lite)

Michigan, in the 1960s, was all about the automobile. Gasoline was $0.30 per gallon when I was born. Living in farm country, we actually had a 200-gallon tank on our property and a gas truck would come out periodically and fill it up. No thought was given to burning gasoline - even just for fun! Before I was old enough to drive, I owned five cars. The economy revolved around the automobile. And so I went to General Motors Institute to be an automotive engineer. I only say this to underline how deeply the automobile is ingrained into my being.

After a few years of increasing annual mileage on my bike in the past decade, it dawned on me that it might be possible to eliminate the car from certain aspects of my life. Is it possible to completely eliminate it? Let's examine some of the problems:
  • Commuting - from the suburbs to Silicon Valley, 55 miles round-trip per day
  • Errands - grocery store, dry cleaning, volunteering (the shortest trips, but awkward to carry stuff)
  • Dining Out - ~10 miles, but always with my wife who does not bike
  • Going Places - vacations, day trips, movies (varying degrees of difficulty and luggage)
Enter the Errandonnee Challenge. Mash up "errands" and "randonnee" - meaning long, self-supported bike ride, take a photo and hashtag it. The challenge is 12 errands in 12 days and it's made slightly more challenging by specific categories to enforce some diversity of the errands. Of course, it's possible to do all 12 errands in one day. But what fun would that be‽

March 4, 2016, Errandonnee #1
Multi-Modal Commute (category 7. Work or Volunteering)
Short bike ride to the train station; train ride down to the Valley; five-mile bike ride from the train station to work. Then the opposite back home that afternoon. About 20 miles of actual bike riding.
I've been doing this a couple times a week for a couple years. There are lots of cyclists doing the same thing.
Observation: If it's raining and snails invade the bike path, there will be collateral damage.

March 5, 2016, Errandonnee #2
Haircut (category 1. Personal Care)
About two miles downtown. No big deal. I tried to take it easy to keep my head from sweating.
Observation: They open at 8am! Okay seriously, I noticed that it's so much easier to park a bike - right at the front door - than a car.

March 5, 2016, Errandonnee #3 (same day)
Coffee (category 6. Social Call)
From the barber shop to the coffee shop was less than a mile. The rules allow this, so I did it.
Observation: Kouign-amann (pastry); resistance is futile. 

March 5, 2016, Errandonnee #4 (same day, but I went home first)
Dry cleaning (category 2. Personal Business)
This was a bit of a challenge and has always been a hurdle for going car-free. It's possibly the shortest errand for me, 0.7 miles. How do you transport a few dress shirts on hangers to and from the dry cleaners? I've tried this before. It's rather dangerous to have a shirt on your back. 
Observation: The tip from packing experts is to roll your clothes, so I tried this. I left the shirts on their hangers and precisely rolled them up and put the roll in my backpack. Success!

March 5, 2016, Errandonnee #5 (same day, same shopping center)
Groceries (category 8. Store)
The grocery store is two doors down from the dry cleaners in the same shopping center. I rode my bike but probably didn't pedal more than a couple times - slightly more than zero miles.
Observation: Rolled up dry cleaning is useful padding to keep potato chips from getting crushed.

Then the rains came and I opted to drive across town to my volunteering gig at the SPCA. It's not that I won't ride in the rain. But I need to put more thought into packing. Maybe next week. This is something I need to resolve on my car-free quest.

March 6, 2016, Errandonnee #5
Coffee and CycloMonkey Chaperone (category 6. Social Call)
As I am apt to do on Sundays, being a Devout Coffee drinker, I rode down the canyon to Devout Coffee to drink coffee. After that, I visited my friend to drop off a certain stuffed animal. CycloMonkey has been to two corners of the globe and Andrea is going to take him to a third (New Zealand and Australia). The ride home made the whole trip 31.7 miles.
Observation: The short-cut from Andrea's house, through the sports park, leads right to Rusty's house. (True observation: I can barely recognize my cycling friends without their helmets on.)

Clearly, I can eliminate the car for commuting and most errands. Stay tuned for more Errandonnees and more serious changes in my transportation habits.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Catching Up with CycloMonkey

I recently sat down with CycloMonkey in between trips. It was a rare chance to reminisce and share a cup of coffee. These days, his travel schedule is too hectic to share in-depth stories and thoughts on each trip but he was happy to answer a few questions before the limousine shuttled him off to the airport again.

TN: So, where are you headed this time?
CM: Oh, this is just a couple days in Austin, Texas, with Steven for business. I've never been to Texas. I hear it's big. And I hear they have funny accents but they can't be worse than Scotland!

TN: For our infrequent readers, why don't you tell us where you've been recently?
CM: Okay, sure, let me think. Okay, after Steven took me to Scotland, then I hung out with Dave and Dedi. They took me to see the Lion King at the theater in San Jose and then we went to Big Sur on the coast and slept in a yurt. That was great! You and I went to Yosemite after that.

TN: Yep, that was cool.
CM: Yeah, and then John took me on a bike ride where I met Jens Voigt. I think that guy was a monkey in a previous life; he's hilarious! And then John took me to Japan - wow! Very intense place, very exciting. And then John took me to Italy - whoa! How come you never go to cool places like that?
This is the life (Venice).

TN: And then where?
CM: Sorry. Okay, Damian took me down to Baja, Mexico. That's all off the record, okay? It's fine. Nothing happened, really. But after that, he took me skiing in Colorado. Snow! Tons of snow! And cold, really cold. And you've gotta get one of those fat bikes. They're a riot.

TN: I've ridden them; I agree! But I've got too many bikes.
CM: You need one more. Anyway, Patty took me to Minnesota for the U.S. National Figure Skating Competition. She knows a lot of famous people. So that brings us to this trip to Texas.

TN: Okay, great. We better speed things up; your ride will be here soon.
CM: I travel light.

TN: Alright, let's go to the speed round. You ready?
CM: Fire away!

TN: Best bar?
CM: Harry's Bar in Venice.

TN: Best bike ride?
CM: Fat bike in Colorado

TN: Worst food?
CM: Minnesota, no comment. Next question.

TN: Worst flight?
CM: Spain, but I didn't lose my stuffing so it's all good.

TN: Favorite travel companion?
CM: Will they be reading this? I mean, it's you, man, it's gotta be you.

TN: Nice try. Bucket list destination?
CM: Mars. But don't leave me there.

TN: Where would you go back to?
CM: Easy, I'd go back to Santa Cruz. I'd go back to where we met and find my old friend who lost me. Sorry about messing up your speed round. I love me life and I wouldn't change anything, but I'd just like to check back in and let them know I'm alright. That's all.

Where we met, on Columbia St., off Cliff Drive, just north of the Lighthouse in Santa Cruz

TN: I'm working on that. But I need some help. Since you are so busy, how can your fans keep up with you?
CM: I've got my own Facebook page now! I'm a "public figure" - ha ha!

TN: Yes you are. Oh look, you've got a plane to catch. Thanks for spending some time with me today.
CM: Anytime. You're like family. But not the super-close family that I'd share the details of Mexico with... just sayin'. Hey, can we go to Vegas?

Monday, November 30, 2015

CycloMonkey’s Maiden European Adventure

[Guest blogger: Steven McQuade]
I’ll be the first to admit that I was a bit skeptical when my good cycling buddy Todd brought CycloMonkey on one of our commutes into Santa Clara. However after a few rides and some good humored banter amongst the lads I decided to embrace our furry friend. After hearing of his adventures in southern California and Alaska I decided it was time for him to experience some European culture. The timing was right as it coincided very nicely with a business trip I had planned that encompassed Dublin, Ireland, Malaga, Spain, London, England and my home town of Hamilton, Scotland.
First stop on this mini tour for our long tailed friend was Dublin. Dublin is renowned for its Irish hospitality “the craic” especially at the Temple Bar and the Guinness Brewery however one thing that I wasn’t aware of until recently is that Dublin is actually twinned with our very own San Jose.

Unfortunately CycloMonkey and I never got the chance to experience the craic as we flew in for a 10 a.m. meeting then flew out to Malaga at 4 p.m.
Malaga seemed like a strange place to me to have a sales office as I was more aware of Malaga as a holiday resort for the Brits. I wasn’t complaining as CycloMonkey and I were looking forward to seeing the sun and the beach after being in a cold, wet Dublin.
At this point CycloMonkey was having withdrawal symptoms from the lack of cycling on this trip. As such I had to put him to bed for the night whilst I went for dinner on the rooftop of the AC Hotel Malaga Palacio – sorry no monkeys allowed.
The next day we had the flight to the UK, specifically London where I would have a couple of days to treat CycloMonkey to the pomp and ceremony of Great Britain, perhaps he may even get the chance to meet one of the royal family.
After the trek from London’s Stansted airport into central London I did take CycloMonkey to see the Queen at Buckingham Palace. I had called ahead to make an appointment with Her Majesty but unfortunately she was out the country on State business. Unfortunately, CycloMonkey had to make do with the outside of Buckingham Palace, as you can see he was overwhelmed by the experience.

Finally it was time to head home to Hamilton, Scotland. I was excited to show CycloMonkey some of my old stomping grounds and treat him to some home comforts such as Irn Bru (soda made from iron girders!).
Missing being on the bike myself, I decided it was time for us to hit the road. Five miles in to the ride and we hit Hamilton Mausoleum, the burial site of the Duke of Hamilton. The Mausoleum has one of the longest lasting echoes of any man-made structure in the world and is the largest private mausoleum in Britain. The chapel and crypt was built for the 10th Duke of Hamilton in the mid 19th century.
Leaving the Mausoleum we continue on into Strathclyde Park, a country park located in Lanarkshire, Scotland that covers some 4 km² and is centered on the artificial Strathclyde Loch. It forms what used to be known as the low parks of the now demolished Hamilton Palace and still includes buildings associated with the palace.

The remains of Bothwellhaugh Roman Fort and a Roman bath house can be seen in the park, where the South Calder Water flows into the loch. There is an arched Roman bridge across the South Calder nearby and the site of the Battle of Bothwell Bridge (1679) is to the north west of the park.
More recently Strathclyde Park hosted the triathlon and rowing events of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
After circumnavigating the loch it was time to head back home for some Scottish breakfast fare to prepare for the flight back to The Bay where I would return CycloMonkey to Todd to allow him to prepare for his next adventure.

It was a pleasure travelling with my new found companion and I look forward to our next trip together.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Bullet Journal - 22 Days

I like collecting things and so it helps that I like organizing things.

Old fashioned methods of cataloging and archiving information seem to appeal to me. Card catalogs from the library, a postman’s box, collections of identical books all in a row, etc. – that sort of thing. Lab notebooks, with their green paper and engineering grid – that, too. The visual reminder of the size of the collection is important, too. It reaffirms the organization.
With all that, it’s no surprise that calendars, to-do lists and general note-taking are also important to me. And like most of my ilk, the quest for a better method has been lifelong. I have years’ worth of lab books. I have years’ worth of Day Timers with their carefully designed layout (I preferred 2-page-per-day). And yet, no binder, no checklist format, no color-keyed prioritizing method survived for very long before abandonment. None look good on a shelf either.
The longest run came with Palm Pilots and PDAs that used “Graffiti” and a stylist. My engineering education left me with a small caps handwriting style that suited graffiti perfectly. I’m not sure what’s wrong with the rest of the planet, but now we’ve evolved to use cell phones with microscopic “soft” keyboards. The to-do list and calendar apps on smartphones do a wonderful job and have many advantages. I continue to use the calendar in parallel with my journal. Pen and paper have the advantage of convenience and speed for a quick note or especially for a sketch. Some people have become proficient in thumb typing on their phones – not me. The other advantage of the apps is their persistence and flexibility in terms of presenting your notes. With a journal, you enter data chronologically and therefore it is displayed the same way. Turn the page and it effectively disappears. No persistence, no searching, no prioritizing or categorizing.

And yet for all its advantages, I’ve never been able to stay with an app. Somehow it feels rude to type something on my phone in front of someone, yet it doesn’t seem as bad to take a note on paper. That’s probably a generational thing.

The Bullet Journal Method

I use Evernote sporadically. A few weeks ago, the email push from Evernote shared a story on the Bullet Journal method and how it could be used effectively with Evernote. It appealed to me right away. Visit the site for a video, photo examples and a nice description of how to use the method. Here are my own notes (with modifications) on how to get started.
1. add a topic on top of the page (like today’s date)
2. number the page
3. a simple dot “•” open square for tasks
    a.       X = Task Complete
    b.      > → = Task Migrated (from center of box and completely outside of it so it’s easily visible)
    c.       < = Task Scheduled
4. an “O” bullet for events (feel free to write about it at length on the next available page)
5. a dash “–”represents notes: facts, ideas, thoughts, and observations (not immediately actionable)
6. Signifiers are symbols that give your Bullets additional context (to the left of the bullet)
    a.       “*” to give a Task priority
    b.      an exclamation point for inspiration
    c.      an eye use @ for further research, something to look up
7. first few pages are your Index; add the topics of your Collections and their page numbers
8. “Future Log” is a Collection for items to be scheduled months in advance… or that you’ll get around to someday
    a.       create a six-month calendar (so far, I don’t use this …perhaps a simple list of key events is enough)
9. “Monthly Log” is a calendar and a task list
    a.       (left page) Calendar Page: list all the dates of that month down the left margin, followed by the first letter of the corresponding day (I’ll skip the letter next month, but this is otherwise a list of key events this month)
    b.      (right page) Task Page: list what you want to tend to that month, and unfinished Tasks that have migrated from the previous month
10. “Daily Log”: At the top of the page, record the date. Throughout the day, simply Rapid Log your Tasks, Events, and Notes as they occur. Add the next date wherever you left off. Each morning, add yesterday’s tasks to the Monthly Log page.
11. Migrating:
    a.       at the end of the month each morning, review any unresolved Tasks, “X” out completed Tasks and assess remaining open Tasks are still relevant. If so, migrate it: turn the “•” into “>” run an arrow from the square, then add it to the Task Page of your new Monthly Log. (If irrelevant, strike out the whole line, including the task Bullet.)
    b.      Migrate any entries scheduled for that month from your Future Log into your new Monthly Log.

I carry the notebook on bike rides, so I suspect it will get wet. Therefore, I purchased a set of three “Expedition” edition notebooks from Field Notes – they are pocket-sized, waterproof and nearly indestructible! Others have done evaluations of different pens that work well on the synthetic paper, and so I bought a couple Uni-Ball Jetstream pens, 0.7mm. They work well.


I am 22 days into the Bullet Journal Era. Within days, I was much more focused on what I had to do. Writing it down added clarification and reinforced it so I was less likely to forget. It was oddly energizing. It also shortened the time before I would follow up with others on open items. It required some amount of force to make a habit of checking the Monthly Log each morning so that I knew what I had to do. If there wasn’t an open item from yesterday, then I wouldn’t need to go to that page to migrate it so I had to force the habit. This was key. Without this habit of checking the task list every single day, the effectiveness would have waned along with the satisfaction of seeing the boxes all checked off.
The difference, for me, compared to other methods is the index and the migration. Of course, the index makes it easy to find things. But it also gives you the freedom to make a Collection Page whenever the thought occurs. No worrying about whether or not there is room. No worrying about messing up that day’s journal entries; just turn to the next page and start writing. It’s very liberating. Then list it in the index. The migration of open tasks to the Monthly Log keeps things from getting lost. You make the note immediately on the Daily Log so it’s within the flow of your fast-paced, short text note taking – no flipping to some dedicated page or app on your phone. The next morning, you migrate it to the list and can add any details you may have neglected.

I use the Field Notes as my all-day, personal journal. I have a separate, full-sized engineering notebook at work. That one stays at work. If necessary, I’ll make work notes in the personal book or vice versa, and then migrate it over. I have forgotten to carry one or the other. When I forget both, any slip of paper will do.

I’ve done two other things based on comments from other bullet journalists. One is a “Waiting On” collection page for things I’ve requested of others that won’t necessarily be completed for a few days. That frees me from trying to remember. I put the date on that row and an open box. If I follow up, I make a note on that same line. When it’s done, I cross out the box. I use this at work. The other thing is a “Habit Tracker”. I use the Monthly Log page for this. Next to the date, I make vertical lines. At the top of each column I write some habit that I want to create (drink water, groom the cats) …things that I want to do every day. Then I cross the box each day that I do that particular habit. As you can see, there are some things that I haven’t done at all, yet. And several of them are really meant to be weekly things, or a couple times each month – so I’ll probably modify this method.
I have found that I have less free time at work. However, I don’t think it’s because I’m spending that lost free time by writing. The bullet concept, in contrast to writing full sentences, doesn’t take long at all. No, I think that I am more aware of what’s going on, of what’s necessary to do, and so I am giving myself more tasks to do. And that in turn requires that I gather more information. I’m more proactive. All of which means that I’m doing a better job of doing my job. The jury is still out as to whether I’m doing a better job of living my life outside of work.

Still Searching

As with any paper journal, it is static. Whatever order you write things down, it stays in that order. The index helps. But if you saw a stray dog and made a note of it. Then, weeks later, someone asked if you had seen a stray dog, how would you find the note and recall what day it was? Would you even try? Evernote suggests you take a photo of every page. They have optical character recognition (OCR) software that converts the handwriting in your photo to searchable text. I tried it. It works, but not 100%. And I think I have decent, small-caps-style handwriting thanks to a decade of engineering education. What if you had a decade of med school? (Doctors have terrible handwriting.) I don’t know yet, but the solution must involve a computer.

However, I don’t feel the need to search for a better method. Unlike pre-printed journals and certain religions, if you don’t think the prescribed dogma works for you then change it. Change all the rules. Steal from other methods. I already have. So has everyone who has posted on their blogs, as far as I know. So I’ve stopped searching for something that fits perfectly. Simply by proclaiming the freedom to change it, the bullet journal method works perfectly with my style of collecting and organizing my thoughts.