Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Bywater Restaurant in Los Gatos

For my birthday, Inna decided to surprise me by making reservations at the newly opened Bywater Restaurant in downtown Los Gatos. Since this restaurant was newly opened by David Kinch, the famous chef of the 3 Michelin-star rated Manresa (also in Los Gatos), we were eager to have a bite there.

When I lived in Houston, CA (after graduating from Georgia Tech), I got used to eating spicy Louisiana delicacies at the famous Pappadeux Seafood Kitchen in Houston. This Louisiana inspired chain serves my favorites such as Crawfish/Shrimp Etouffee and Louisiana Gumbo (among many others).

When we arrived at The Bywater, there was no seating inside (there is very little room on the inside), so we ended up seating on the back porch. It was a bit hot out, but there was very little indoor seating for our group of five.

The menu for The Bywater is limited to a few items:

To get started, Inna ordered "The Hurricane" cocktail - Jamaican rum blend, passion fruit, campari, and lemon. Inna liked her Hurricane but it was strong - The Bywater does not water down drinks!

I ordered the "Huck a Buck" cocktail made with  tequila, watermelon, dry madeira, lemon, and sea salt. The cocktail was outstanding (but the glass was too full of ice).

For appetizers, we ordered the "Classic Tomato Gazpacho with Poached Shrimp" (mostly for me). It was very tangy and delicious!

We also shared the "Creamed Corn & Garden Tomatoes" salad, which Inna really enjoyed. The "Chicken Liver Mousse and Seasonal Jam" was also quite delicious!

For the entree, Inna ordered the blackened fish or "Snapper Courtboullion" . She really enjoyed her fish!

For my entree, I selected the "Duck and Oyster Jambalaya". The duck was marvelous but the Jambalaya was ok.

Overall, we thought the food was quite good, but a bit eclectic. Since I really like spicy, Louisiana-style cooking, The Bywater tickles my tummy, but I would guess that it would not be everyone's cup of tea.

One tip to remember - when ordering drinks, ask for no ice. The Bywater staff fills up drinks with so much ice that there's hardly any room left for liquid.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Intro to Dirt in Hollister SVRA (with Riding Notes)

Since it was still September (Red Sticker Season ends on October 1st), I decided to refresh my off-rod motorcycling skills with Brian Garrahan. I enrolled in his Into to Dirt class with Garrahan Off Road Training for a two-day seminar.

The two-day class takes place in Hollister SVRA, CA and Brian Garrahan provides all of the dirt bikes. He mostly uses Honda CRF150F and CRF230F motorcycles.

Day 1 - Saturday, September 24, 2016

I got up early in the morning, around 7:00 am, to get ready for the drive to Hollister.

I arrived at around 8:45 am at the Hollister SRV (it was a one hour drive with almost no traffic). Brian was setting up all of the dirt bikes and unloading all of the protective gear. I already had my own gear so I put it on.  I selected to use the CRF150F as it is much lighter and easier to maneuver.

After putting on all of the gear, Brian and Jason explained to use the techniques we needed to use on dirt bikes. Unlike street bikes, dirt bikes require a lot more body movement, and he showed us how to move our body forward during acceleration and backward during braking.

To warm, we rode a few rounds on the nearby Vintage track. I dropped the bike on the first loop (it was very sandy), but I got used to after a while.

We proceeded with more dirt bike drills, learning to smoothly break, accelerate, slide the rear wheel, and turn the bike.

After all of the drills, we did a loop around Adobe trail - a very gently rolling trail in Hollister. One of the riders in the class crashed her bike into the fence (on the return portion), but was not injured. Our small group was just four riders now, and we really enjoyed the personal attention of Brian.

Day 2 - Sunday, September 25, 2016

Today, only two riders showed up - Erika and I. Brian took us riding immediately to one of the black diamond trails, followed by more practice drills to follow.

I did manage to stall my bike on the Black diamond trail and had to get better at picking the right line on the trail, as well as being smoother on acceleration and brakes (to keep good traction).

We did many rides around the TT track, to try to internalize all of our practice drill learning. There is so much to be learned from riding the TT track. I could spend a few hours just practicing turns, acceleration, smooth up and down shifting. According to Brian, he uses all of the gears on this bike when riding around the TT track. I was only using gear 2 and 3.

I learned a lot more about leaning the bike, when riding in circles. I head to get on the gas tank with my butt on the saddle, controlling the lean with my outside foot peg and the outside arm. It was a bit difficult, as I was approaching a slide.

We also go to ride around the ATV track. It was a lot of fun and a highlight of the day, as I really enjoyed the multiple jumps.

I shot a GoPro 4 video of some of the off road rides during Day 2:

Here is a list of my Dirt Riding Notes from both days of training.
  1. General Riding Notes
    1. Apply front brake, rear brake, and clutch smoothly - no jerky movements (jerky movements unsettle the bike)
    2. You should never be coasting; you should either be on the gas or on the brakes
    3. Look far ahead of you, to avoid incoming potholes, rocks, tree stumps
    4. Pick a line that avoids rocks, potholes, etc. It can be a few feet from the center of the trail
    5. Always cover the clutch and front-brake with two fingers (for better control)
  2. Body Position
    1. Stand up as much as possible; legs should be straight (do not squat or sit on the bike)
    2. Squeeze your thighs when riding the bike, whether going uphill or downhill (this helps to control the bike, especially when going downhill)
    3. In the attack position, bend body at the hips, putting extra weight on the front wheel (handlebars) for more traction on the front wheel and better tracking
    4. When holding the handle bars, elbows should be bent (this gives you much more leverage to control the front wheel)
    5. Bend back at hips, moving forward to accelerate or backwards to brake
  3. Turning
    1. On a corner, after breaking with front and rear brakes, move body forward on gas tank and extend inside leg (to help move more weight on the front wheel for added traction)
    2. When approaching a turn, you should be doing the following: 
      • Move your body backward to prepare for braking
      • Smoothly apply both front and rear brakes (and clutch) before the turn (to scrub some excess speed), but not so much that you're coasting
      • If necessary, shift down to a lower gear
      • Squeeze a little bit of clutch to help with the braking (so that the engine is not fighting the brakes)
      • Start leaning the bike in, as you are completing braking and transfer all of your body weight from the rear to the gas tank
      • Extend the inside leg to put more weight on the front wheel 
      • The bike should be leaned over. All of the turning is done by leaning (not by moving the handlebars) 
      • As soon as you are off the brakes, you should be applying throttle and releasing clutch
      • The transition from braking to acceleration should be instantaneous and smooth
      • Shift up as soon as possible
    3. Control your motorcycle's lean angle with your outside arm (bent elbow) and your outside foot peg
  4. Hill Climb
    1. Be sure that to have both your toes on the foot-pegs and your body as far forward as possible (you do not need to cover the rear brake)
    2. Keep your hand on the clutch; in case the rear tire starts to slip, release a little bit of clutch (but do not release the throttle) to give the rear tire time to dig in
  5. Descents
    1. Move your body back and cover the rear brake with your right leg
    2. Module both front and rear brakes, to avoid locking up front and rear wheels
    3. Be sure to squeeze the bike as much as possible with your thighs!
    4. Try to stay relaxed
  6. Obstacles
    1. When trying to jump over a log, do a wheelie using the following steps:
      • with the body centered, squat down when about to jump
      • stand up while applying gas and releasing the clutch simultaneously
    2. When going through a rut, be sure to be on the gas tank with the inside leg out and gas should be applied smoothly 
    3. When riding up a berm, be sure to squeeze thighs to hold on to the bike and to move the body forward and backward as needed. Be sure to cover the rear brake during descents as front tire may be hitting sand/gravel which could slide out
    4. When hitting a jump, accelerate during the launch phase of the jump. You can decrease the throttle while in flight, but be sure to be back on the throttle during landing. You should try to keep your body centered.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Biking at Monte Bello OSP

I have never mountain biked at Monte Bello OSP in Palo Alto, so I decided to go with the local South Bay Mountain Biking Meetup.

I arrived at the Monte Bello parking lot at around 9:40 am, ready for the 10:00 am bike ride. I had changed both of the tires on my Specialized S-Works bike. I did not realize that these tubeless tires needed to be re-sealed every 3 months. My front tire was de-laminating and needed to be replaced completely and my rear tire just needed new sealant. The guys at Trail Head Cyclery took care of it, although I usually service my bike at the local Los Gatos Bicycles shop.

The ride started out on the White Oak trail, which provided some tree cover in the hot September sun. White Oak trail is mostly single-track with narrow and very sharp switchbacks.

Once the White Oak trail ends, Canyon trail takes over. It's a serious climb for the two-mile ride to the top of Black Mountain. The ascent was seriously challenging and I ended up walking part of the way to the top.

While the ascent was quite difficult, the rest of the ride was quite engaging.

I recorded a nice video using my GoPro mounted on my Specialized S-works mountain bike.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Hiking Dipsea Trail at Stinson Beach

For a while, we planned to hike some trails near Stinson Beach (Mt. Tamalpais). While I hiked Mt. Tamalpais in the past with the Sierra Club, I have never hiked the proposed Dipsea Trail.

The Dipsea Trail is located at the intersection of Highway 1 and Arenal Avenue in Stinson Beach.

Since our friends were running late, we stopped by for breakfast at the nearby Parkside Cafe. We didn't expect it to have such freshly baked pastries! We really liked the croissants and lattes/mochas made there.

Having hike many trails in Big Basin, Castle Rock, Point Lobos, and Yosemite, I was truly surprised by how beautiful this trail turned out to be.

The trail covers areas of lush forest with heavy tree cover, and open brush. We saw a few waterfalls on the way (though not very tall) and many bridges crossing streams & chasms.

There were very tall redwoods, grasses, and lush vegetation. We even saw a coyote. Inna got a chance to climb between tall redwoods.

On the way to the top, we entered an enchanted forest - it looked like Arenal Volcanic National Park in Costa Rica (with fog and light drizzle).

The moss-covered trees were so beautiful - like out of a children's fairy tale.

After the hike, we stopped by for a few hours at Stinson Beach. It was a bit cold, windy, and chilly on the beach (despite it being only early September).

We had a very enjoyable time on the Dipsea Trail hike and hope to be back soon.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Hiking Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

On Labor Day, we decided to explore the beautiful Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and then travel to Carmel-on-the-Sea for beach activities and lunch.

Surprisingly, the drive to Point Lobos was very fast. It only about 80 minutes (instead of the usual 2 hours) to reach Point Lobos.

However, when we arrived, the main parking lot at Point Lobos State Reserve was full (probably due to all of the Labor Day visitors), so we parked on the shoulder of Highway 1. (Note, there are parts of Highway 1 that have "No Parking" signs - and a ranger was giving out many tickets.)

We followed the "Lace Lichen Trail" to the Cypress Grove Trail, where we wanted to see the famous Allan Memorial Grove.

There we many beautiful trees and scenic overlooks. Some of the trees have rusted out look - this is a special rust-colored algae that grows here.

We saw a couple of whales in the distance spouting, but they were too far away for a photo.

The many exotic trees are so beautiful here.There are lots of birds too and we observed lots of pelicans flying around.

After really enjoying our time here, we headed for Carmel-by-the-Sea for lunch and beach time. We found a well-rated restaurant near our parking spot - Treehouse Cafe.

For appetizer, we ordered a plate of Hummus and Pita bread. The Hummus was quite good - almost as good as Oren's Hummus Shop in Mountain View (our favorite local spot).

For an entree, I ordered a Greek Gyro. It was not bad

Inna ordered highly recommended "Salmon Ravioli", which she really liked.

We also shared a bowl of the famous "Coconut Shrump Soup", which was off the menu (but was often mentioned in Yelp's restaurant reviews). The soup was delicious!

For dessert, we splurged on a "Mango Cheesecake", which turned out to be quite delicious.

After lunch, we strolled through Carmel-by-the-Sea, heading to the beach. The weather was sunny and very pleasant. We were looking forward to walking on white sand beach in Carmel.

There were lots of people and many dogs on the beach - much more than is typical for Carmel, but this was the Labor Day weekend.

When we got close to the water, we spotted a pod of dolphins! They were close to shore and were diving in and out.

We were very lucky to have seen dolphins and whales on the same day in Carmel. We ended up walking the entire beach from one end to the other, past the famous "Pebble Beach" Golf Course.

We had a fantastic day at Point Lobos and Carmel and hope to be back.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Hiking Big Basin Redwoods

Today, we decided to hike the beautiful Big Basin Redwoods State Park near Santa Cruz, CA.
We have not hiked there for over 15 years and were wondering what, if anything, has changed.

The drive to Big Basin Redwoods from San Jose was fairly uneventful. I drove  on Highway 85 west followed by Highway 9, south to 236. The narrow, twisty road was not as difficult as I remembered. However, when I approached Big Basin, I hit a serious traffic jam. It took me 20+ minutes to get into the park. Once there, I was told by the ranger that there was no parking! However, we got lucky as more spots opened up in a few minutes. Coming on Labor Day is not always a good idea.

As it was late in the day, we decided to do a short hike that reached the closest waterfall. The ranger suggested that we take Sequoia Trail from the Big Basin Headquarters and follow it along, until we reached Sempervirens Falls. From there, we could continue in a clockwise loop on the Shadowbrook Trail back. The entire round-trip was supposed to be approximately 5 miles or about 2 hours.

Along the tail, there were may groves of tall redwoods and plenty of shade on a hot day.

The actual Sempervirens Falls are not very impressive (compared to other falls I have seen).

Since Inna did not have breakfast, she purchased a "Tree Hugger Wrap" at the Big Basin Cafe. She decided to eat it at the Sempervirens Falls. The wrap turned out to be quite good and she shared half the wrap with me.

The hike back from Sempervirens Falls was quite pleasant, and I enjoyed walking beneath heavy tree cover on a warm summer day. Along the way, we ran into a stray dog that followed us for 20 minutes, but it eventually found other people to follow.

We finished the hike at 5:20pm and headed back to Los Gatos (as Saratoga did not have any interesting restaurants for us to try). The hike was originally supposed to take us 2 hours for 5 miles, but it ended up being closer to 2.5 hours and 5.6 miles.

Inna found a well-rated new restaurant in Los Gatos - Oak & Rye - and we decided to give it a try.
For appetizer, we ordered "Heirloom Tomatoes" and a "Homemade Pretzel". The tomatoes were great but the pretzel a bit too small.

For our main entree, we ordered the famous "Scotty 2 Hottie" pizza. It was a bit spicy but quite well prepared. I think it will give Pizza My Heart some competition!

We enjoyed our time there and will be back!