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After Work Hike: Russian Ridge OSP

June 25, 2009

Russian Ridge OSP on Skyline Blvd is the quintessential after work hiking area. It’s a 20 minute drive from the intersection of 280 and Page Mill Road so it’s quick to get to and it has more than a half dozen loops of varying length that can be done, ranging from the Ancient Oaks Loop, the best 1-mile loop on the Peninsula, to a longer 3.5 mile tour of the preserve, which is the hike I did last night.

About the Preserve: Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve is located at the intersection of Page Mill Road and Skyline Blvd in the hills above Palo Alto. Technically Page Mill Road turns into Alpine Road on that side of Skyline but most people will be coming from the Valley so I’m using that as the reference. The preserve is located across the street from Skyline Ridge OSP, which is home to a nature center and the main office for the rangers and open space technicians of the MROSD. What this means is that this is ground-zero for rangers and enforcement, you’re in their back yard. Plan to play nicely and obey all regulations, this is a heavily trafficked preserve and the rangers and volunteers are aggressive at patrolling it. If you go on the weekend plan to be accosted by at least one volunteer trail patroller who will assume you’re a fool who is lost and needs direction, no matter where you encounter them. Just put up with them and move on, as long as you stay on the trails and obey the regulations you’ll be fine. Bikers should be aware that the rangers frequently set up radar guns on the main trails and will ticket you if you’re over 15 mph. This is a ridiculous limit, IMO, but I advise you to obey it nonetheless, the tickets are expensive. Make sure you either print out the map to the preserve or pick one up at the main parking lot, this is a trail-dense preserve and getting more so. If you’re doing this during the heat of the day be sure to have some water, the ridgelines are exposed and can be very hot in the summer. Also, although I frequently hike alone this is one place that I would really advise you to have a partner. This is mountain lion country and they come out at sunset.

Getting to the Trailhead: To do this hike you will not be parking in the main lot at Page Mill and Skyline, you’ll be going into the preserve from the back door. From the main parking lot at PageMill/Skyline drive roughly westward on Alpine Road about 3/4 mile. Watch for a little unmarked gate on the right, this is the Ancient oaks Trailhead and you should park here if you can. If there are already cars here you can usually park in one of the other pullouts in the area. If you go a little farther on Alpine Road you’ll come to the marked RR02 gate, there’s a small space to park here as well but it’s tricky. Try to park off the road so you don’t get a ticket and then walk back to the Ancient Oaks Trailhead.

Doing the hike: From the Ancient Oaks Trailhead walk a few feet uphill to the beginning of the Ancient Oaks Trail. Turn left on this trail and you’ll be on a rolling singletrack with great views of Portola State Park and Pescadero Creek County Park to the west. Closer in is the new Mindego Ridge property that MROSD will be adding to its stable of preserves in the future. After 0.3 miles you’ll come to a wooded section of, well, ancient oaks. There’s a singletrack trail coming in from your right, if you only have 30 minutes or so to walk take this trail. It’ll lead you to the Ridge trail and you can do a short 1.1 mile loop that’ll take you back to your car. I highly recommend this hike for a later day.

For folks who have a bit more time, though, continue straight on Ancient Oaks following the sign towards the Mindego Trail. The trail will meander downwards through a mixed oak and Douglas Fir woods. There’s some poison oak in the neighborhood so be cautious about touching any plants you can’t identify. When you reach the wide Mindego trail continue straight/turn right and follow Mindego as it winds along below the ridgeline of Russian Ridge. This is an old ranch road and is patrol-width. It’s also a nice cool spot on a hot day. At various points you’ll hear some funny sounds off the side of the trail, mostly this is water trickling through culverts but you’ll also be enjoying the sounds of lots of birds and small critters. It’s a great soundtrack.

After about 0.3 miles on Mindego there’ll be a big wide fireroad coming down from your right. If you’re short on time you can turn right on this and head back but really you should continue straight on mindego all the way to the Hawk trail, a small singletrack that will come in form the right after another 0.4 miles. Turn right on hawk trail and wind your way up to the top of the ridge. This is a premier trail for mountain bikes so keep your ears open for approaching cyclists and give them the right of way if you can, you’ve got more options than they do on this trail.

As you climb Hawk check out the big hill to the West. It’s sort of rounded on the Southern side and has a big scoop out of the northeastern side. the scoop is filled with green trees and shrubs. This, I believe, is the long extinct Mindego volcano. And was the source for a lot of the big rocks you see scattered around the ridge you’re climbing.

At the top of Hawk Trail turn right on the Ridge trail and begin your return to where you began. You’ll follow Ridge for about 0.6 miles and you’ll come to that shortcut fireroad that was mentioned earlier. Continue straight on Ridge for 100 yards and there’ll be a singletrack trail coming in from your right, take this trail. This is the singletrack portion of the Ridge trail and it’s my favorite trail to ride my bike on. it’s twisty, just bumpy enough to keep you honest and has killer views. After 0.5 miles you’ll re-encounter the arm of Ancient Oaks the forms the short loop on your right. You can return on this but I’ll advise that you continue past it and rejoin the fireroad portion of ridge in another 100 yards.

Once on the fireroad turn left and go back the way you came. You’ll see a high point on your right and a steep little trail leading to the top. Go up there and enjoy the view from the top of the preserve. You can see Moffet Field and all of Silicon Valley. See all that nasty brown air hanging in the Valley? That’s why I’m a bumpkin living on the Coastside. For you geocachers, there’s a USGS marker at the top of this hill.

Return to the Ridge Trail and walk in the southeastern direction. After about 0.2 miles there’ll be another fireroad coming in from your right, that’s your return path that will lead you back to the Ancient Oaks Trailhead and your car. In all you will have done about 3.7 miles. Walking at a medium pace this will take you a little less than 2 hours.

Big Family, Part 2

October 10, 2007

Usually when I tell people how big my family is they ask a few FAQs. So to forestall that, here are some of the answers.

1. No, my parents were, and are, not rich. We grew up pretty broke all the time. 14 kids will do that to you. We all wore a lot of hand-me-downs.

2. Yes, they are my real brothers and sisters. No, I do not feel any different about the kids depending on whether they are related to me biologically or not.

3. No, none of them has chosen to investigate their biological parents.

4. My Mom had two washers and two driers and there was rarely a day when she didn’t do 8-10 loads of wash.

5. We went through 2 gallons of milk each day.

6. Yes, some of them still live at home though nearly all are moved out. We’re trying to get the last couple moved out so they’ll be on their own.

7. Yes, the racial thing caused problems but only with stupid people, not inside the family. We just grew up with family members who were different colors and that was just part of the family. We older boys did corner one kid and beat the living heck out of him when he dared to use a racial epithet when referring to my sister, tho. I’d do it again but I’d feel bad about it.

8. Yes, we have had several newspaper stories and evening newscast stories done about us. They always get stuff wrong.

There, did that cover your questions?

14 kids, 13 grandkids, my parents

October 10, 2007

I come from a large family. So when people express surprise when I tell them that we have 4 kids I always think that their horizons are a little limited.

When my parents had their third child the doctors informed my mom that she should stop having kids since all three of her children had been delivered by caesarian. Back in the day the c-section method was a lot harder on moms and the uterine wall and having more kids would have been pushing their luck, according to the docs.

My folks always wanted a large family and Mom particularly wanted a daughter or two. All of their kids were boys so both the limited number and gender mix were a bit of a disappointment to them. They solved that problem by going the route of adopting more children to fill out our family to its current size.

My folks have raised 14 children, three of them home made, 11 adopted. I’m the second oldest. The current age-span is 44 to 22 years of age. All of the adopted kids were adopted as infants, except Adam, who came home from an orphanage in Vietnam at the age of 2. My adopted brothers and sisters are from mixed races, several from outside of the country and some with physical challenges. So my family has black kids, korean kids, vietnamese kids, phillipino kids and some we’re just not sure about.

When you have 8 or more kids and want to adopt more the adoption agencies will mostly offer you special needs kids, some with severe physical challenges. The foreign adoption agencies began to suspect we were using the kids for child-labor and Mom and Dad had to find references to attest that they were not mis-using the kids.

We always knew when Mom was going to get the itch to add a new kid to our family, it was about the time when the youngest started to stop being a baby. The real surprises were when, through weird issues with adoption agencies, we would end up with two kids the same age at the same time. So we had the  experience of raising pseudo-twins with a couple of my sisters and with a pair of my brothers.

Growing up in a very-mixed-race family of 14 kids probably isn’t much different from growing up in any other family. I wouldn’t really know, though,  I only know about my family. We always had enough people for a snowball fight or building snow tunnels in the back yard. Heck, we had enough people for two full basketball teams, with referees, substitutes and cheerleaders, even before the friends came over. Sometimes people would stare or make unkind comments but that’s probably not unusual. One of our best stories is when we went out to dinner and the restaurant manager made a point of telling Mom that they usually asked youth groups to call ahead before they came in.

Mom and Dad stopped adopting kids about the time that grandkids became imminent. They currently have 13 grandkids provided by 4 of their kids, as near as I can figure. Do the math and that tells you that when we sit down to to a meal there are 29 of us. Add in 10 or 12 friends and roomates who usually show up and you can understand why Mom cooks two turkeys and a prime rib for Thanksgiving dinner.

I’m not sure if we’ll be able to make it home for the big family Thanksgiving or Christmas this year, things are pretty crazy here in California right now. I like doing the small family gatherings with just the Honey and the kids but I miss the crowds and crazyness, too.

Pre-Christmas funeral and surgery

December 28, 2006

It seems like our family has a funeral or some medical crisis every year around Christmas. This year was no different.

My grandmother died on Thursday Dec 14 and her funeral was on Sunday Dec 17. Grandma died at home in Lost Nation, Iowa, of complications due to pancreatic cancer. She had declined rapidly after the cancer was diagnosed and had been visited recently by all of her children and many of her grandchildren. Most notably she got to enjoy the huge family reunion in July where about 80 of us got together to reconnect and catch up.

I flew out to Iowa on Saturday and we spent a good bit of Saturday at a visitation for Grandma and then we went back to her house to do some cleanup of the house. The state had helped out with Grandma’s bills in the last few years and in return they have a lien on her house so the house will be sold and my mom and her siblings wanted to settle the matter of distributing some of Grandma’s mementos to the grandkids while we were all there. While cleaning out the drawer that contained Grandma’s needlework I knelt down on the carpet and managed to drive a sewing needle into my knee. The needle then snapped off, leaving about an inch of the needle in my knee joint.

I went to the emergency room a couple hours later and the ER doc and an orthopedic surgeon spent a couple hours digging around inside my knee trying to get the needle out. Just for the record, I don’t advise going through that if you have a choice. Eventually, with the aid of a fluoroscope, the were able to extract the needle but they also determined that the needle had been inside the joint so they were worried about the risk of infection. Because there is little to no blood flow inside the joint just taking antibiotics wasn’t likely to be effective. So at 7 AM Sunday I went in for arthroscopic knee surgery and they ran 5 liters of antibiotic solution through my knee joint and made some minor repairs where the needle had torn things up. They kicked me loose from the hospital at noon and the funeral was at 2 so I didn’t have to miss the service.

I only had to use one crutch so managed to not make too much of a scene at Grandma’s funeral. Most of the family had not heard what had happened when I showed up walking with the crutch so we just told everyone I “banged up my knee” without giving details until later.

I flew back to the Bay Area Monday afternoon. Had some of the usual mish-mosh at the airport, such as the airline giving away my aisle seat which was a little bit of a problem because I couldn’t bend my knee to a 90 degree angle and sit in the middle. But all in all everything worked out okay and I beat the storms that shut down Denver a couple days later. Everything is more or less back to normal now except that I still can’t put any weight directly on my knee so kneeling down to wrap Christmas presents and water the tree have been a little comical to watch. I figure I’ll be able to do pony rides again in a week or so.

Painting Pumpkins

December 12, 2006

We live in pumpkin-growing country and we still had some uncarved pumpkins/gourds sitting around the house being decorative. This weekend we started putting out the Christmas decorations and it was time for the pumpkins to go. Bad move, big tears erupted from the Big Girl. So that was how I discovered that despite my misgivings you *can* spraypaint pumpkins red and green and turn them into Christmas pumpkins. They even look pretty neat when it’s all done. Go figure.

Date night desperation

October 10, 2006

This weekend is the Half moon Bay Pumpkin Festival. Over Saturday and Sunday more than 500,000 people will come to our little town that normally has fewer than 30,000 residents for a massive craft fair and some pumpkin memorabilia. And one kick butt pumpkin parade.

The festivities are fun but they also serve to point out to us that it’s been quite a while since my wife and I had an adults-only date. The last time was back in July when we were at our folks’ homes in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The grandparents were happy to watch the kids but it’s been quite a while since July.

We had a sitter whom we liked quite a lot but she’s moved in with her fiance across the San Francisco Bay. So she’s not really an option and so far our attempts to find someone we could leave 4 kids under the age of 7 with have failed. So we’re going to try something a little different. We’re going to try to do a kid-swap.

We have some good family friends who have 2 kids who are exactly the same age as our two oldest kids. And they’ve not found a sitter they feel comfortable leaving their kids with either. So we’re going to watch their kids while they have a date and then they’ll watch our kids while we get some time. It has the upside that we know they’re good with the kids and the kids will be entertained with playmates rather than watching tv. And it’s certainly cheaper than paying a sitter $14 per hour.

I’m not sure it’ll work on a regular basis but hopefully it’ll work once in a while. If we can make it work this weekend maybe my wife and I can go kayaking. Or go walk around the craft fair with a couple hundred thousand realyl swell folks.

Left meets right

October 10, 2006

I gew up in Iowa and I consider myself to have a pretty solid set of traditional midwestern values, along with a severe case of Latent Midwest Envy Syndrome. California is a pretty place but the weather is boring and some of the natives are downright odd.

This weekend my traditional Christian conservative values collided with a big chunk of extremely liberal California in our back yard, during my daughter’s birthday party. One of the guests was the mother of my daughter’s new best friend at kindergarten, let’s call her Hannah. Hannah lives about 1/4 mile from us and in a whole different universe. You see, they’re hippies. Actual dirty-footed, birkenstock-wearing, peace march-demonstrating, power-to-the-people hippies.

In the world of Hannah and her parents the new principal at the local school is a fascist for enforcing the no parking zone in the parking lot. Apparently many things in their world are fascist because when Hannah wanted someone to play with her Hannah’s mom told her that the other kids didn’t have to follow Hannah’s directions and asked her “What are you, some kind of fascist?” Mind you, Hannah is 5 and her mom is calling her a fascist. That should work out well later in life.

In their world the new principal is brainwashing the kids to swear allegiance to the current administration’s policies when she reads the Pledge of Allegiance over the PA, right after reading the lunch menu. And what’s worse is that the principal doesn’t have “the decency to remove that offensive line.” I think we can guess which line is being referred to.

Hannah and her parents are vegetarians. They’d be vegans but Hannah’s mom refuses to give up cheesecake. This leaves Hannah’s mom with an overriding fear that keeps her up at night. She lives in terror that when Hannah’s grandparents take Hannah for the day they might take her to McDonald’s and feed her meat. This, she explained, would be the worst thing that could happen to their family.

Mind you, I was munching on a chicken salad sandwich while she was telling me this. We didn’t really respond to her rants but I think she knew we didn’t exactly see eye to eye.

But whether we agree or not our girls seem to like to play together. So we’re going to try some playdates. I think they’d be more comfortable if the paydate was at their house and I know I’d rather it happen at our house but I suppose we’re both going to have to let go a little. Our girl will probably learn about how to go limp when the police cuff you at a demonstration. Maybe we’ll teach Hannah how to pray.