Monday, August 27, 2007

The observatory at the end of the universe

If the world ended, and I was sitting on the edge of it, would I be howling at the moon? Apparently.

As is a tradition of mine going back several years, I do an annual moonlight/sunrise (bicycle) ride up Mnt. Hamilton, the goal being to be up there in time for sunrise. Mnt. Hamilton is the tallest peak in the Bay Area with the famous Lick Observatory at the top. The ride up isn't strenuous; about 4000' of climbing in about 20 miles. It's the getting up at 2am to be up there for sunrise that's getting harder to do as I age.

This year I did it with by good buddy D, and his two neighbours P and J. Though the 26th of August is close to a full moon, it wasn't perfect. Unfortunately, Sunday morning is the only day I can do it. The moon set at 4am rather than being overhead or mostly-overhead for most of the time, so bike lights were needed.

The valley was overcast when we left, but it was a low fog that hovered at around 1000'. Once we climbed through it, the air temperature rose to a very mild and pleasant 70F and stayed that way for most of the ride. I say "most" because if you're familiar with route (HWY 130) you'll know about the infamous dip around the CDF fire station, where the temperature drops a good 20F due to the relative location of the fire station. Brrrr .....

Despite the lack of an overhead moon, there was sufficient light to enable me to ride without lights, allowing my eyes to adjust to small changes in light intensity. I counted about a half-a-dozen shooting stars, which appeared to be moving really slowly and brightly, leaving long-lasting trails in their paths. And apparently human eye visual acuity is directly proportional to available oxygen. Stars appeared bright enough while riding in the dark, but when I stopped and stood still for a while, the "lights really came on", almost as if someone cranked up the stellar brightness knob.

There was a storm over the Central Valley, so the rising sun was obscured by clouds. The sun rose red and the cloud edges were burning golden.


We reached the top about 45 minutes before sunrise.


The valley was completely obscured, except for the peaks of well known landmarks. That's Loma Prieta just over my right shoulder.


And when the sun rose, Mnt. Hamilton cast a shadow over the valley below.


I blew a rear tire on the way down. According to J "It's because you were hotdogging, going too fast, jig-zagging between the Bot's Dots and leaning your bike over so much". :-) He lent me his CO2 inflater. Rather than spending 10 minutes fucking around with a manual pump, the whole operation took about 3 minutes. I'm a CO2 convert.

Attribution: All pictures courtesy of J and P. Thank you very much!

4 comments:

Weetabix said...

OK, I'll bite: How does proximity to a fire station make it 20 degrees cooler?

Beautiful country - I can see the attraction.

Felix Estrella said...

The firestation is in a local depression/valley ... cold air sinks. Brrrrr ....... :-)

Weetabix said...

That thought had occurred to me. I think I just misread you.

if you're familiar with route (HWY 130) you'll know about the infamous dip around the CDF fire station, where the temperature drops a good 20F due to the relative location of the fire station.

I think I turned the wrong way on the "due to." I thought you meant the temp dropped because the fire station was relatively propinquitous. As I read again, I see you meant the temperature drops near the fire station because the fire station is in the dip.

Different interpretations of words are funny things, and I get myself in trouble with them frequently.

Windy Wilson said...

Human eye visual acuity is directly proportional to available oxygen. This is why comet spotting is a young man's sport and the man who has discovered the most comets in the last 20 years uses bottled oxygen to increase visual acuity.
Interesting story. I'll have to find some sort of annual challenge/tradition/event down here in the land of Mayor Antonio Villa the former gang-banger
(do you think that now that his wife is separated because of his little foray into doing to the medial what the media do to so many Americans daily he will truncate his name again? Raigosa was his wife's name and he spliced them together when he married the woman).