Sunday, December 20, 2015

Protecting the Central Coast

The Central Coast is a huge, amazing place, that is one of the few places that combines all the things that make California unique and special: mountains, forests, rivers, deserts, weird geology, and the ocean - not to mention that it preserves the wild places part of the Western character, and practically speaking, the area contains critically important watersheds. (Don't believe me? I'm a terrible photographer and even my unskilled hand could capture some of the place, here and here.) The Central Coast Heritage Protection Act has been reintroduced into Congress (see video below). If you're interested, you can find the California Wilderness Coalition here or on Facebook here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Learning to Appreciate One's Backyard

Below: the American River bike trail with the Guy West Bridge in the distance. Image credit RubberDucky451. The American River is quite a handsome river indeed and it's nice having (kinda) four seasons again.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Where Should You Live? Critter Fatalities By State From 1900

Added later: a NYT article shows that we do indeed spend too much time in the U.S. worrying about things with venomous things and things with big teeth, as opposed to dogs and wasps. And even considering wiki statistics, based on Wiki statistics from the 2010s for snake bite deaths and population, a person in Australia is indeed more than 11 times as likely to be killed by a snake in Australia than the U.S. - but even in Australia you still didn't even have a 1 in 13 million chance of being a victim from 2011 until today. Your morning commute is far more dangerous than living in Australia.

Also added later: here's a guy screwing up my statistics who was also bitten by a shark in Hawaii just a month after being attacked by a bear in Colorado. If I were this guy I would have business cards made up that said this.

In light of the recent seasnake that washed up on a beach in Oxnard (pleasantly, a few days after we were swimming across the channel from there), I looked up the statistics for snakebite fatalities in the U.S. (No recorded seasnake fatalities.) Interestingly, at the bottom of the wiki article for snakebite fatalities, they have links to mountain lion, bear, alligator, and shark fatalities because they know there are people like me running around loose who will look those up next anyway. (Hereinafter these five types of animals are referred to collectively as "critters".)

And of these critters, how many deaths do you think they've caused in the U.S. since the turn of the last century? 226, over the last 115 years. Not even two a year, not many! Compare that to the about 31 deaths per year caused by dogs (actually, 42 in 2014). And of course (being responsible) if you're out in the wild you are much much much more likely to be killed or injured by falls, drowning, exposure to heat or cold, dehydration, or other people than by wild animals. Of course drowning doesn't have pointy poisonous teeth that rush at us from the darkness, so our dumb Type-1-error making brains pay less attention to rushing water rising around our ankles than a twig snapping in a forest.

Still, I decided to compile absolute critter fatalities by state. In calculating this, I took out BS ones (i.e. snake handlers and dummies who keep non-native poisonous snakes at home don't count as a legitimate bite. Come on guys.) Interestingly, Texas has fatalities from the most types of critters (four of the five) - they finally got a gator fatality on the board this summer - and in fact Texas is the only state where the range for all five critter types overlaps because there are sharks and gators on the Gulf Coast, snakes all over, mountain lions in the west, and bears in the Big Bend part of the state. (Come on guys, you can do it!) There are 22 states with no fatalities from these critters since 1900. If all these critters scare you, then the biggest contiguous area with no critter fatalities stretched from Minnesota, to the west of Missouri and down to Louisiana. (To be honest I have difficulty believing no one died from a snake bite in the southern part of this range since 1900, and if this omission from my data here offends you I'd like to invite you to go dig for the stats yourself.) Northern Iowa/Southern Minnesota is the only place safe from all five, which no doubt is why the Mayo Clinic was placed there, as there's no other reason to want to be in Rochester Minnesota.

Ranked in order, the states with the most critter fatalities in absolute terms are:

However: the absolute number of critter-victims in each state is lacking as a risk indicator. Why? Look at California and Alaska, which are tied. There are a lot of people in California, and not so many in Alaska, and yet critters have managed to get the same number of people in each state. Concretely speaking, there are 38 million people in California, and not even a million in Alaska, so walking around in Alaska it's actually *76* times more likely that critters will get you! So if we weight for population (i.e. critter fatalities per person in the state) what does it look like? Now, Hawaii, which somehow manages to keep its shark attacks very quiet (I wonder why?) comes out on top, so I adjusted the rates to express the others in terms of how many Hawaiis-worth of critter risk they represent:

Interestingly, Hawaii has only ONE type of the five critters, but apparently in Hawaii that one type of critters eats well. In this analysis, California drops from #3 to #13. An also-ran! Even New Jersey is per capita more dangerous than California! (Granted, this is owing to the black-swan/white-shark event of the Matawan Maneater.)

People in Hawaii are in the water a lot, which reminds me that I once calculated statistics showing that people in Florida were 3 times more likely to get attacked by a shark, but people in California were 3 times more likely to be killed by one. (Which is to say, once you're attacked, you're 9 times more likely to get killed in California than in Florida. Because we have great whites and they have coot widdle tigers and bulls.) But again this statistic still understates the danger, because Florida has a lot more accessible coastline (California is mostly cliffs) and it's warm, so lots more people go in the water, therefore a LOT more exposure to shark attacks in FL. And still more fatalities in CA? That is to say, once you're in the water in CA, you're much more likely to be attacked and killed - but I don't have ocean bather-numbers to back that up.

And a good day to you.

Above: the head of the Hawaiian Tourism Development Board. He advises that all tourists bring Worcestershire sauce and perhaps tuck a sprig of parsley behind the ear before swimming. From

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Channel Islands: Specifically, Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island from space, courtesy NASA.

Somehow these large islands off the coast of Ventura and Santa Barbara County escape the notice of basically everyone in SoCal. We went out to Santa Cruz Island over the long Columbus Day weekend. It's been a long time when I've been in a brand-new (to me) part of California, and seeing the state from disorientingly new angles, it was like I'd just moved here again: over there is the front country of southern Los Padres National Forest, down there is the bumpy spine of the Santa Monica Mountains, and right over there is the marine hyphen called Anacapa. We camped in Scorpion Canyon, about a half mile from the beach. Close enough to hear the waves but not so close they kept you awake or made you worry you would get wet. It is most certainly a place to do nothing. It was pretty swell.

Above: Anacapa to the east as we head south toward Santa Cruz

And wildlife? We saw Risso's dolphins on the way over, a humpback in the channel on the way back, several silly seals, and some critters found only in the islands - an island scrub jay, and plenty of brazen human-habituated housecat-sized island foxes, which we named Foximus for obvious reasons. The foxes are nifty because they're a perfect example of island dwarfism in action. (They've only been separated from the mainland foxes for ~10,000 years, and the subspecies on each island in the chain actually have different numbers of vertebrae. Similar to cave fish losing their vision in a few thousand years, it's not saltation when you're losing information - especially when it's a repeated structure. They don't quite rise to the level of coolness of Galapagos finches since it's not obvious that they're uniquely adapting to each island. But still.)

Above: Foximus, one of the Channel Island Foxes that kept us company

We were only on the island for about 30 hours, but that was fine. It was really nice although I was surprised by the bugs, and it was actually pretty hot. When we arrived, my wife wisely set up camp and started a combination of three activities: napping, cutting it back, and chillaxing. On the other hand, I am a moron, and I just had to go running over to one of the few harbors, Smuggler's Cove (almost all of the island's coast is several-hundred-foot cliffs) and to Montañon Ridge, which honestly is ugly as sin - crumbly trail, unvegetated dirt ground - and it was really bright and hot up there. I ran out of water and asked, "What am I doing up here? There's a beach and blue water down there!" Which, after I returned by way of Scorpion Canyon loop and the wife hydrated me with red wine, I promptly took advantage of and did some swimming. The water was amazingly warm. The next morning we went kayaking to sea caves around the island, which unfortunately I had to bail on because I was getting seasick.

Above: Venus from Scorpion Canyon, just below dawn.
Below: sunrise at Scorpion Anchorage

Above: we went into some sea caves like this one, but didn't take cameras, hence this photo is from

Above: this is about as pretty as the land up on top of the island got. From

As with all trip posts, a word or two about food is in order. On the island we had power bars and red wine, which was quite rewarding, but before going across the channel we ate a HUGE amount of raw oysters and clams at the Jolly Oyster, right on the beach in Ventura. I was annoyed as I was trying to pry open clams that they were definitely clamping shut in reaction to my efforts - but also glad that they were alive so I could punish them. The proprietor tried to assure me that they do not have nervous systems capable of appreciating their fates but that's a bunch of liberal crap. In Cthulhu-like manner, for those that resisted me the least, I showed them mercy by eating them first. Those that held out suffered more. One that was particularly foolish in delaying the inevitable, I let sit alone and isolated from its fellows for quite some time, and then chewed extra slowly, reflecting that perhaps in a symmetric irony, the Lovecraftian nightmares of mollusks take the form of Euclidean warm-blooded tetrapods like myself. No I was not high at the time, nor am I now. We also hit Fisherman's Catch, where I did not psychologically torture my food, and which is about as close to an unpretentious East Coast seafood restaurant as any I've been to in California (on the plus side, the closest in the U.S. I've come to the quality of New Zealand fish and chips which is elevated to an artform; on the minus, no crabcakes dammit!)

Coming back across the channel, you could see Topatopa Bluff quite clearly, which again made me want to get into the mountains around Ojai as I did a year ago. I've been in this state for going on two decades and it keeps revealing new faces. A project for another time!

The Bluffs. From

Noted the week after the blog post: sea snake seen on the beach in Oxnard. Wow I *love* being in the water with elapidae. NICE.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Boat Trip from San Francisco to Red Bluff and Back?

I was thinking about doing this, or more precisely, thinking about trying to talk someone who has a boat into doing it. Kind of interesting - it's always difficult to imagine that the serene waters rolling along under the tree-lined banks of the Sacramento connect to the cold and choppy Bay. (For more on this feeling, see McElligot's Pool.) It might be good fun to start in the city and see how far you could get.

I went looking to see if anyone had done this from SF, and still couldn't find evidence of that. But there used to be a race - not from SF but from Stockton (starting on the San Joaquin) all the way to Redding, prior to the dam. I can't find anything showing the event is ongoing, but this 1957 Popular Mechanics article describes it. In those days the winner would make the 316 miles in 7.5 hours.

Still no evidence online that someone has done it from SF, but that would make it about 350 miles and a long weekend.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Do These Places Feel Half Pac NW, Half SoCal?

Some pointless map geekery for you, if you find yourself driving on the 5. If you're cruising on the 5, stop in one of these places and see if they seem halfway. Because they are.

MetricCAN to MEXSeattle to San DiegoAlong 101*
By Drive TimeRedding, CARed Bluff, CAKlamath, CA
By MileageCottonwood, CAArtois, CACrescent City, CA

*Includes going around the Olympic Peninsula via Port Townsend ferry

As a bonus, the halfway point for I-5 in CA is Los Banos or Firebaugh by mileage and time resp.; for the 101 it's Morgan Hill and Palo Alto by mileage and time resp. Below: the West Coast "Heartland".

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Dawn of Humanity, or East Bay Hills?

Maybe it was a little greener during the early pleistocene (or whenever the newly discovered Homo namedi lived.) From National Geographic, this is the area around the Sterkfontein Caves in South Africa where H. namedi's remains were found - 15 of them, deliberately put in the cave after death.

This area of South Africa is literally the birthplace of our genus, and possibly our species. That we find places like the Bay Area pleasing, if they look similar, should not be surprising. In a way we're like aliens in most of the non-African climates on our planet, and by coming to another Mediterranean area, we've come home. Note, the area around Sterkfontein is not truly Mediterranean, and even during an ice age, the high pressure zones in the oceans that maintain the deserts and steppes (and Mediterranean areas) on continents to their east would be in the same place. But they do get similar Koppen designations, and the range of lowest monthly low and highest monthly average high in today's world in nearby Johannesburg are 40-78F. That sounds pretty good to me - but then again, my ancestors evolved there.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

You Shall Not Find New Places

You shall not find new places; other seas
you shall not find. This place shall follow you.
And you shall walk the same familiar streets,
and you shall age in the same neighbourhood,
and whiten in these same houses.
The Place, CP Cavafy

Don't you know you can't go home again?
- Ella Winter

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Western States 100 vs Angeles Crest 100 Comparison

While running in Berkeley today I ran into noted ultrarunner Mike Palmer, as one does. (Seriously, this has happened to me so consistently I would be worried he were stalking me if I weren't the weirder of the two.) During our brief chat I asked if he did the Angeles Crest 100, and he responded "It did me." (With that course could it be otherwise?)

Full disclosure: I have never run either the AC100 or the Western States, and don't plan to, but the trails they're run on are fun and I've run much of the AC100, and getting on toward all of the Western States in my quest to "connect" from Nevada to the Golden Gate Bridge. And after Mike and I parted ways I wondered which course is harder? The best way to compare might be to look at any runners who ran both.

In 2015 there were six such maniacs. Despite that the AC100 took a median of 9.1% longer for these six to finish, they finished a median of 5 percent better in the rankings in AC than in WS. The obvious explanation for this is that although WS100 has a more competitive field, AC100 is more difficult. (Interested in this stuff? Check out Dick Collins 50-miler scatter plot of age vs time. Difference for men and women!)

So: Jeff Giumarra, Matthew Menacher, Jorge Pacheco, Mauricio Puerto, Franco Soriano, and Mark Tanaka, this Bud's for you!

The total elevation gain loss for WS of 41,000 is less than 46,390 for AC, and AC is higher on average. The page I got this from has a number of other profile comparisons, many of them done by Chihping Fu.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Chargers Stadium: Suddenly They Want to Talk About Intangibles

Below: as Chargers fans explain, even if a stadium isn't actually a good investment, there are much more important things on the line here - like the winning history and most of all pride of this successful organization which we just can't afford to lose.


The Chargers want a new stadium in San Diego. The Chargers have traditionally argued that asking for taxpayer money is justified, because stadiums are a good investment. Actually, "argued" is a strong term; more like, they've repeatedly said it quickly, out of the side of their mouth in a press conference with no follow up questions.

Unfortunately for the Chargers and the NFL more generally, this discussion has generated open debate, and the facts that keep surfacing are consistently clear: stadiums are bad, bad underperformers as investments, and/or as tools to bring outside tourist dollars into a city. That is to say, if there were a little league of investments, you'd have to have a heartbreaking talk with stadiums and their parents and say, "I'm sorry, but little Stadiums here just isn't cut out for this game, and not everyone gets a trophy." From an article at the St. Louis Federal Reserve website:

Very little evidence exists to suggest that sporting events are better at attracting tourism dollars to a city than other activities. More often than not, tourists who attend a baseball or hockey game, for example, are in town on business or are visiting family and would have spent the money on another activity if the sports outlet were not available.5

Economists Roger Noll and Andrew Zimbalist have examined the issue in depth and argued that, as a general rule, sports facilities attract neither tourists nor new industry. A good example, once again, is Oriole Park at Camden Yards. This ballpark is probably the most successful at attracting outsiders since it is only 40 miles from the nation's capital, where there is no major league baseball team. About a third of the crowd at every game comes from outside the Baltimore area. Noll and Zimbalist point out that, "Even so, the net gain to Baltimore's economy in terms of new jobs and incremental tax revenues is only about $3 million a year—not much of a return on a $200 million investment."

(To stress the point - BALTIMORE IS THE BEST CASE SCENARIO FOR A STADIUM! 3 million a year for 200 million? What is this, socialism?)

So what does this mean? It means if you still want a new stadium you have to abandon the old approach. The pro-Chargers commenters on articles like this excellent one in the Union-Tribune are suspiciously astroturfy. Suddenly, it's all about "History! Culture! If you disagree you're not a real San Diegan!" That's typically the turn a discussion takes when all the facts are against you. (And if you seriously want to take that angle - San Diego is a city for winners. WINNERS. By that I mean, NOT the Chargers. You don't fit here guys!)

The thing to remember is that governments know that there are people who, let's be blunt, will bend over and do whatever they had to in order to keep their heroes from leaving the city or they'll cry their little eyes out, and these people would oblige the rest of us to do the same. And these people show up at election time, as the mayor of Seattle once found out when the Supersonics left. Let's not let this happen again. If you oppose government subsidies for the Chargers, then at election-time, reward the politicians who represented your views. Otherwise, why do you expect them to listen to you?

More reading if you need more data:

The consensus among economists is to oppose sports subsidies

The history of taxpayer funding of sports stadiums

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The 1928 Trans-American Footrace

I finally got around to reading Tim Noakes's Lore of Running, and among the many gems in it, is a brief discussion of the race mentioned in the title. (That an American first learns about this from a South African's book is truly shameful.)

The Wiki article is short but valuable for compiling links about various maniacs that completed this and similar feats, and says:
...the inaugural Trans-American footrace which took place in 1928 starting at Legion Ascot Speedway in Los Angeles and finishing in New York City in Madison Square Garden for a distance of 3,423.5 miles. Out of the 199 runners who left Los Angeles, California on March 4, 1928 at 3:30 p.m. only 55 runners finished on May 26, 1928. The race took 84 days to run from coast to coast. It was called the Bunion Derby by the newspapers and was also held in 1929. Runners included Paul Hardrock Simpson and Andy Payne who won the event in 573 hours, 4 minutes, 34 seconds.
It turns out the first fame of Route 66 was not earned by west-bound experience-seekers in the 60s, but runners almost 40 years earlier! Here is a rather limited trailer, followed by some history of the winner Andy Payne, a Cherokee farm kid who wouldn't give up:

(Some original footage here.)

Once when I was driving out of Bryce Canyon National Park, I had a brief moment of despair when I noted a national forest trailhead just a few miles from the B.C.N.P. entrance - and realized that even if I quit working and foraged, I could never, ever experience every single trail. But this soon abated. For one thing, while it's fun as hell, there are more meaningful things to do in life - and I say that not to detract from the people who accomplish much bigger crossings than my comparatively meager Trans-California project, since most of them have families and productive lives in addition to their running projects. But more importantly, I think if somehow I lived a thousand years and ran every single trail, the day I take the last step on the last trail would be a much sadder day than knowing that there would always be more out there to explore on the spinning mote in the corner of the universe we've made our home.

Cherries and Metal on Mt. Penn, Reading, PA

While back in PA I didn't have time to do much of anything fun outside, but I did get out for a run from Antietam Lake, up to the Pagoda. Key observations:

1) On the east side of Skyline Drive, between the Pagoda and Drenkel Field, there is a cherry tree and the cherries are just about ripe. (Blogger tested during the run.)

2) Kuechler's old wine cellar at the intersection of Gravity and Ferndale Trails is metal as hell dude.

(If you are so inclined, don't miss out on this other also very metal gate to the underworld, and a whole catalog here.)

3) Thanks again to the B. family for ongoing support, fajitas, boxes, and Tylenol BM. During times like these you find out who your real friends are.

I Have Now Run From Rucky Chucky to the Golden Gate Bridge

Contiguously, but not all in one go. Previously I ran around the entire Bay. And finally I've crossed the entire Central Valley, until I connected in Benicia with my Round-the-Bay track. I was met by DM and AD (scroll down to the last picture if you click on this), whose identities are being protected out of the misconception that details of their misconduct that day could somehow sully what remains of their professional reputations. Private Pyle and Shizad turned up for dinner as well.

Ultimately I'll be running across all of California from Nevada to the Golden Gate. I'm just about half done with with Western States Trail (but only contiguously from Sac as far as Rucky Chucky, see below):

Are you looking at this and thinking "what an archaic way to record this"? Me too! Now that I've gotten lost on the Western States Trail a few times (and seen 4 bears in the space of a year!) maybe it's time to get one of them thar GPS watches.

Other projects probably for after I retire: the whole CA coast (I already did San Diego County, now I only have 1,000 miles left!), the Siskiyou Trail, and of course the PCT. If I'm not bored and/or disabled by that point the Laurel Highlands Trail in PA might be nice too.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Mercury Concentration in Lower American River Safe for Swimming, Most Fish

Mercury is a concern in California waters. There was a lot of gold mining here in the central and northern Sierras, and lots of mercury was used to get the gold out of the ground. So what? Because mercury can cause neuropsychiatric problems, even at what might seem to be low concentrations, especially in developing fetuses that are exposed to it.

Because there were so many gold mines in the American River's watershed, there has been concern about mercury pollution in the river, including in the lower American River. "Lower" is the part below Lake Folsom, all the way down to the confluence with the Sacramento River at Discovery Park.

I looked this up because I was told it was unsafe to raft or swim in the river. And it turns out that despite these (not unreasonable) concerns, the lower American River's mercury concentration is well within EPA standards.[1] In another source,[2], even taking the upper range outliers, at five sites along the lower American River the highest reading was 18.51 ng/L, well within EPA freshwater standards of 50 ng/L. (By the way, if you look in those documents - American River, okay. Cache Creek? Not so good.)

Again, this means it's safe to swim. But fish have to live in that water all day long and some of them tend to concentrate any mercury that's there. Consequently, if you're planning on eating them, here's how the California Office of Environmental health Hazard Assessment bottom-lines it about how much you should eat, not just in terms of mercury but also PCBs:

(Broken down that way to decrease fetal or childhood exposure. Adult men's brains are a lost cause, having already been damaged beyond repair by prolonged exposure to testosterone.) So swim all you want, and eat according to these guidelines.


1. Domagalski J. Mercury and methylmercury in water and sediment of the Sacramento River Basin, California. Applied Geochemsitry 16 (2001) 1677-1691.

2. Lower American River and Lake Natoma Mercury Control Program, Straw Proposal. State Water Resources Control Board, 3 Sept 2010.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Who Knew EBMUD Had Land in the Sierra Foothills?

Not this guy, not until this past Sunday. The North Branch of the Mokelumne near Jackson is fantastic and isolated. Now one of my favorite foothills spots. QUESTION FOR HERBALIST/WILDFLOWER TYPES: ARE THE PURPLE ONES STICKY CHINESE HOUSES? (Marked with a caption.)

First, enjoy some frogs.

These purple flowers, above and below: sticky Chinese houses? (Comment or message, thanks.)