The Mountain

by Dan Hinz, Jr. on 12Jun2010 Print This Post Print This Post

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Earlier today, Saturday June 12th, 2010 the team assembled at coach Jim’s house at 9:30. We planned to take advantage of the Black & White limousine service but had to call in the “re-enforcements” and it became the Black, White and Blue (at least it wasn’t the black and blue service). My suburban had 8 girls, Jim’s had 6 and Asst Coach Shellie and Brett had 3 and likely got better gas mileage than the other two of us combined. However, rating us on passenger miles per gallon we’re probably all about the same. My suburban gets about 12mpg unless I get on the interstate and cruise. (9 * 12 = 108; Jim’s: 8 * 14 = 114; Brett: 4 * 27 = 108)  Leaving his house, the temperature was already 81°F!

The Lick Observatory website says that it takes about an hour to get there and it was more like 50 minutes from the time we turned onto Mt Hamilton Rd (CA Route 130) from Quimby Road. Mt Hamilton Rd was built in the late 1800′s for horse cart traffic so it is not particularly steep, but there are a gazillion (highly technical term) switchbacks on the way to the top. Turning onto the road there is a sign saying that trucks with a length of greater than 38ft from the kingpin to axle are prohibited. There are other signs saying no services for lots of miles. There is a photograph in the exhibits that shows a tractor trailer hauling some of the “big Iron” for the domes and the tires appear to be half on and half off of the road at one of the hairpins. We saw several cyclists climbing the road and fortunately did not get stuck behind them for very long. We encountered several cars coming down the mountain, one of which was taking up all lanes so they could go faster. Fortunately I was “wide” to the right at that point and they “dove” back into their lane. I’m all for using all of the road if you can, but don’t do it when you can’t see the oncoming traffic.

Some of the later enhancements to the observatory were done much easier by using helicopters to drop material at the site of the original kilns (about a mile from the top). Trivia: during construction they fired over 3 million bricks at a rate of 10,000 per day. They were lucky to find a spring at the top use for water in the bricks and power too. This saved them the trek down to Smith creek 6 miles down the mountain.

Arriving at the top we drove over to the other side, and take a gander at the 120inch telescope building. After finding a suitable place to turn around, we returned to the observatory. The temperature was a much cooler 64°F. Also going on was a 50 mile bike ride from Patterson, about 50 miles to the East. This was the Canyon Classic Century sponsored by the Modesto North Rotary Club. Talking to a couple of riders they felt the ride to the top from the East was a little more challenging than from the San Jose side only because there are fewer level spots and descents en-route to the top. The ride coordinators had 6 communication stations set up along the route including one at the top. Communications was provided by the Stanislaus Amateur Radio Association. I spoke with one of the operators Paul, W6UHF, who told me even though they are all one side of the mountain it’s challenging to get the communications setup because of the terrain.

After parking and pottying it was time to get down to business. Lots of cone work and agility drills. Only a couple of ball drills because there was no dirt to work out on and we didn’t want to ruin the balls. The girls looked sharp in their practice jerseys and we answered lots of questions from many of the onlookers. There was a group of 8 or 9 Corvettes that came up from San Jose. They parked in the lot right next to us, very pretty. The oldest was a ’90. Lots of motorcycles came and went and even a couple of families with kids.  Cell phone coverage even though we were up so high was spotty as was text coverage.

After the agility drills, the pièce de résistance was the 15 40yd sprints UP the driveway. The girls would do five and then get water… After they had done a few they looked sort of well, tired and not into it. (Can you blame them? Sprinting UP the hill? I can only relate to doing bleachers for football practice. I decided to make it funner(?) for them. I started racing them up the hill and I’m proud to say that everyone I raced beat me. I tried every trick I could think of, starting before saying go, taking a 3 or 4 yard head start, nothing worked! Good Job girls, but get ready next time I’ll catch one of you… ;)

Warm down was two easy laps around the observatory and then it was time for lunch. Some ate next to the bust of Rev Hamilton others on some shady steps. None sat in the fountain like a couple of the cyclists did. After lunch, we took a tour of the observatory. Wandering about on our own for 15 minutes, we waited for our turn in the 36inch refractor dome. It was very impressive to think that it was built by hand and that the entire floor of the building ~57feet in diameter was an elevator. Just as we were getting ready to go, Jim dropped his cell phone and it went through the gap between our platform and the elevator floor. My fat, old, Treo wouldn’t have fit. Everyone except Jim left the room and the door was locked. He got to go under the elevator floor with the guide and get his phone. He also got to see the tomb for James Lick in the base of the telescope pedestal.

After the tour, it was time to start down the mountain.  Back into the cars and with radios blaring we were off.  I put the car in 2nd in an attempt to minimize brake usage and overheating.  While my efforts were well intended, they were insufficient for the notoriously undersized brakes on my Sub.  About 4 or 5 miles down the mountain one of the girls mentioned a “funny smell” I could detect a slight hint of plastic smell I associated with swimming pools.  The smell evolved and within another couple of minutes it had the smell of overheating phenolic resin.  The brakes!!! I immediately downshifted to 1st and the smell quickly subsided. Whew!!

And the culmination of a great day was the pool party and barbeque hosted by Gary & Marisa, thanks for your generous hospitality!

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