Friday, November 13, 2009

Bike tour of the Stanford Campus

Forget that the calendar says November. It is a lovely, spring-like day, so I get a brainstorm: I'm take my new flat-bar road bike on a ride around the campus of Stanford University. In Palo Alto, California, Stanford is famous as one of the world's leading teaching and research institutions. Of course, in my day I wasn't, ahem, mentally gifted enough to gain entry here as a student, but it doesn't take a brainiac to know this is an awesome place to bike around.

I park at the car at Stanford Shopping Center, unhook the bike (so light, so sleek!) from the rack and cross the street to the campus' northwest corner at Arboretum and Quarry roads. At that point, I enter a peaceful, leafy world, where the air actually feels cooler and.. what is it.. rarefied?

First, I pass the memorials to members of the Stanford family (granite tombs that are alternately grand and heartbreaking) and then circle the Arizona Cactus Garden (it looks like one of the giant yuccas is about to bloom).

Popping out on the aptly named Palm Drive, I wheel beneath an avenue of giant palm trees, marching in twin, arrow-straight rows toward the heart of the campus. The road ends at the courtyard for the magnificent Memorial Church, where I pass under rows of arches and instantly recall events at the church that were happy (I once attended a friend's lovely wedding) or poignant (years later, I attended a funeral for a cherished boss).

On campus back lanes, I move eastward, past the dorm where my niece lived during her own college days (I visited her there once and was surprised at how they allowed students to decorate their rooms--enough said).

The campus appears generally flat, but there's a slight rise in elevation, so I gear down to climb to Lagunitas Lake. It's a dry lake bed, once used for the Big Game bonfires (or so I've heard) but its nonetheless pretty and ringed by a jogging trail that is busy this day. I imagine the joggers are actual brainiacs—students and profs alike. And then I think: but the brainiacs have to go back to work/class at the end of their run, don't they, poor devils? Unlike me, the doofus, who graduated from a lowly state school and retired young. I almost sprain my arm from patting myself on the back.

As the sun sinks, I work my way back downhill past the imposing Hoover Tower then circle back toward the Rodin Sculpture Garden. And there they are: the massive bronze Gates of Hell, and the famed Burghers of Calais, bent with cares. Others pieces are scattered around the small, tidy garden and I'm struck anew at how accessible they are. As I roll past, I almost feel the brush of one giant, expressive hand (Rodin's work on hands and feet is simply amazing). Inside the adjacent Cantor Arts Center are more works by Rodin--200 in all in a collection that is the largest in the world outside Paris.

I promise myself to come back for the docent tour--sometime when I'm not all helmeted and lycra-ed up and looking like a doofus.

Details: Docents lead free tours of the Rodin Collection Wednesdays at 2 pm, Saturdays at 11:30 am, and Sundays at 3 pm, rain or shine. Meet in the Cantor Arts Center lobby. It's a great place to bring youngsters. Nearby, Stanford Shopping Center has lots of parking, lovely flower beds year-round, and several good restaurants.

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