Sunday, January 4, 2015

Mount Tamalpais and the Marin Headlands

Yesterday I took a brisk ride from San Francisco up and around Mount Tamalpais.

I've had lots of time off recently, and I was looking for something a little out of the ordinary for me. Mount Tamalpais sounded interesting, and I've only been there once, two years ago.

Starting off, looking at the road ahead.
Armed with only vague memories of the route from 2012 and an almost complete lack of any other planning, I set off early in the car. I was headed for the Vista Point just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. As I drove through thick fog on 280 (so thick that the sparse traffic slowed a bit), I remembered that the Golden Gate Bridge no longer has cash toll booths. I don't have FasTrak, and I couldn't remember whether that would be a problem (answer: no, not a problem) and couldn't easily check. I decided to find parking in San Francisco and cross the bridge on the bike. And having made that decision, it was obviously better in every respect.

As I neared the bridge a search for parking brought up Inspiration Point, a scenic spot in the Presidio. When I got there it was literally empty, so I thought I must be violating some rule. Nonetheless I parked and started riding in the cold morning air, just after 8:30.

Somebody has placed French-style markers on
hills in the area. This one was on Corte Madiera Road.
Everything's so much easier in the morning. I crossed the bridge, passed through Sausalito to the Mill Valley/Sausalito bike path, and made my way up to Mill Valley with little traffic, whether car, bike or pedestrian. From Mill Valley I took roads up through the little towns that surround the mountain (Corte Madeira, Larkspur, Ross, and San Anselmo). Finally in Fairfax I turned onto Bolinas Road (passing an inviting coffee shop already packed with cyclists) and began the climb.

Alpine Lake
The first part of the climb goes past a golf course, after which car traffic decreases noticeably. It climbs a little more until descending to the beautiful and quite full Alpine Lake reservoir.

After a snack on the dam in the warming sun, I began the climb up away from the lake. Cars were parked all along the narrow shoulder of the road here, but few people were in sight. I guess there are hiking trails around there?

After a beautiful section of thick, dark woods, the path continues on Ridgecrest Boulevard. On this section the trees give way to grassy hills, currently a gratifying green. It offers the first views of the Pacific, and eventually Bolinas and Stinson Beach.

Bolinas Bay, as seen from Ridgecrest Boulevard.

The Lookout Tower on Mount Tamalpais
After this section the road turns toward the north-east and heads up to the nondescript West Peak, and finally the East Peak. I enjoyed the views while eating my remaining food, then hiked up to the observation tower. I could do that because I wear "mountain bike" shoes with SPD clips, not enfeebling road bike shoes. I can't imagine why anyone would choose the latter.

After that I headed downhill... very briefly, because one must immediately climb back to the West Peak. But then it's all downhill into Mill Valley, and from there the bike trail takes you back into Sausalito.

Instead of heading directly back across the bridge, I stayed on the road (Conzelman Road, apparently) to enjoy the views west of the bridge. I hadn't been up here before. It was now mid-afternoon, and appeared to be a nightmare for many cars seeking few parking spaces. It was nice on the bike, although a little steep in sections.

Looking back on the bridge and San Francisco from Hawk Hill.
I crossed the now-busy bridge, and found that the once-quiet roads in the Presidio were now backed up with cars waiting to cross the bridge. The Inspiration Point parking lot was now overflowing and crowded, partly due to people taking up spots while on long bike rides, I suppose. Things look a lot different in the afternoon -- the lesson is that if you get a reasonably early start, everything's easy, and later it becomes a huge hassle.

Elevation profile
Yesterday's ride was a little over 62 miles, with 5457 feet of climbing. The most difficult kilometer was the final climb up toward the East Peak of Tamalpais, at 8.1%. That's it for the holiday rides; now back to work!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Hamilton via Quimby

Today I took advantage of a cold, clear day to visit Mount Hamilton.

Since the recent string of rainstorms we've been treated to views of green hills, which normally appear briefly in the spring but have been unfamiliar otherwise. I decided to enjoy those views by heading up to Mount Hamilton. And since I'd be setting out from home, I took the "short cut" up Quimby Road.

The valley, from Quimby
This is a trip I've done a few times before, but not recently. In this case it would be a straight out-and-back trip, heading up Blossom Hill until it morphs into Silver Creek Valley Road, then over to the base of Quimby. That road is as steep as ever, but the cool air made it bearable.

There weren't many riders on the road today. This ride was notable because, for the first time, I think I passed more riders than passed me. There were basically two groups, one slightly slower than me and the other much faster, but the faster group was slightly smaller.

Grant Park, surprisingly green for December
Lick Observatory
On the last climb I pulled off my jacket so I'd have something more-or-less dry to put on for the descent. Once at the top I dawdled for long enough to dry a little, then put on my jacket and headed down. By the bottom I was shivering; I have no idea why I didn't take extra clothes.

On the way back I stopped at the little square on Ruby Avenue for a tasty and welcome latte. On Silver Creek Valley Road I made good use of the smooth pavement and steep grade to get some pretty considerable speed, for me, then continued reversing my course toward home.

Elevation profile
Today's ride was a little over 60 miles, with nearly 6700 feet of climbing. The most difficult kilometer was near the top of Quimby, which came in at 13.6%.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

La Honda

Yesterday I enjoyed a rainy holiday ride to La Honda.

December 23rd was sunny and actually quite warm, and this morning there isn't a cloud in the sky. But yesterday was overcast, foggy and drizzly all day. So you can guess which day I picked for a long ride.

Alpine Road
The target was actually San Gregorio, which I thought might just be within my range. To get there and back in the daylight I'd need to get an early start. I almost did; I rolled away from the house shortly after 8.

The roads were wet and largely deserted as I crossed into Los Gatos and then into Saratoga. For the first time in a long time I climbed Route 9. My memory of that climb had apparently softened; it was longer and (in parts) steeper than I expected. Near the top the wind picked up and the ever-present mist briefly turned to rain. From that perspective it seemed like I might be riding in the rain longer than my clothes and innate heat generation could bear, so thoughts of alternative routes danced in my head.

Nonetheless I continued up Summit Road in the rain. The plan was to head down Alpine to La Honda, then 84 to San Gregorio, then Stage Road to Pescadero and back in some indeterminate way. At Alpine I was wet but still warm, so I thought I could at least see what the weather was like on the Santa Cruz side of the mountains.

Alpine Road
Alpine Road was so foggy that I was worried about overcooking corners that I couldn't see coming. Near the bottom the road is absolutely gorgeous, winding through thick woods. At this point it was no longer foggy but quite wet. I felt like I was going to consume my brake pads before I got to the bottom. At the junction with Highway 84, I cut the ride short by heading right toward La Honda instead of left toward San Gregorio.

Old La Honda Road
There's not much to like about climbing Highway 84, but I wanted to get to the west side of Old La Honda Road. That's a very pretty, very isolated climb. On Highway 84, even on Christmas Eve, you're constantly being passed by cars and big trucks. On Old La Honda I didn't see any cars at all, despite stopping and eating lunch. While I was eating a large group of cyclists passed by; otherwise I saw no one.

Arastradero Road
I don't get up this way very much, so I decided to descend Highway 84 to Portola Valley Road, after which I headed to Alpine and Arastradero. I took Arastradero because I was unfamiliar with it, and it rewarded that curiosity by winding through a lovely open space.

After a quick jog on Page Mill, a separate Arastradero Road crossed over 280. As I was looking at a map the group of riders I had seen on Old La Honda Road passed by and turned on Purissima Road. I figured they must know where they were going, so I followed.

That was a good decision, because after a bewildering set of turns on nondescript roads, we ended up in downtown Los Altos, which I had never seen before. I celebrated with a coffee, and as a bonus the sun came out.

It's amazing what a little sun will do. I put my jacket in my bag and within a few miles I was entirely dry. And then a few minutes later, as I passed by Stevens Creek Reservoir, the sky closed in and it was raining again. I was once again soaked.

Elevation profile
Today's ride was a little over 80 miles, with 7200 feet of climbing. The most difficult kilometer was near the top of Route 9, at 7.8%. San Gregorio will wait for another day.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Monte Sereno

At the start of an extended holiday, I took a short ride exploring the hills between Los Gatos and Saratoga.

These days I only seem to make time for longer rides on holidays, so since I'm taking the whole week of Christmas off I should be able to get in at least one good ride. Today was not that day, but I did get in a short ride exploring some unfamiliar roads around Los Gatos and Saratoga, and mostly Monte Sereno.

I started off at about 10 bundled up against the damp morning but almost immediately thinking I had overdressed. As I climbed up Kennedy I got comfortably warm right away, but if the clouds burned off as they so often do, I would be left steaming in my kit. The roads were wet as I took the steep and perhaps not quite legal route up Teresita and around to Cypress. Along the way you spend quite a while on a one-lane road marked as private, which adds a few BPM to your heart rate if the 20% ramps weren't doing enough already.

Withey Road
Most of the route through Los Gatos reversed my normal evening commute. It seemed quite new to me partly because it was reversed, but mostly because it was daylight. I took the I've-always-wondered-where-that-goes Withey Road, thinking it would link up to Overlook. It just dead-ends. After that I went back down to Route 9, then skipped over to more side streets that I hadn't visited before.

In Saratoga I started up Route 9. I've ridden down Route 9 from Redwood Gulch or Pierce most evenings this year, but this may have been the first time this year I was headed up.

Ojai Drive
At Tollhouse Road I climbed the comically steep ramp, again reversing part of my commute. Then I headed over to Pierce to visit a little side road I've passed 100 times, only to find it too has scary "private driveway" signs a little ways up. Oh well. It was beginning to rain a little, too, so I turned back toward home.

Along the way I headed back up to Overlook, reversing a route I'd taken once before. This involved riding up Lucky Road, which has "private" signs that aren't quite scary enough, apparently. Lucky Road is a barely one-lane winding road that today was damp and slick with mud and fallen leaves. It's steep the whole way, so I kept spinning my back tire.

On Los Gatos Boulevard they were doing some road work, I think, so I took the proffered detour up Stacia and found a new way to Kennedy, via Worcester Park. And then the short trip home.

Elevation Profile
Today's ride was just 32 miles, with over 3400 feet of climbing. The most difficult kilometer was the private road at the top of Teresita (maybe Paseo Carmelo?), speaking strictly of the 13% grade and not the legal jeopardy. A good day, and with any luck preparation for a much longer day quite soon.

Friday, November 28, 2014


Today I took advantage of the long holiday -- and some perfect weather -- to take a long ride for a sausage sandwich.

Lately it seems like I never have time on the weekend for a long ride, so I've been getting what cycling time I can by riding home from work. That's pretty good exercise, but since it's in the cold and dark, it's not exactly ideal cycling. So on these long weekends I try to fit in a nice ride during which I can actually see the sights.

Today I decided to work off some of the Thanksgiving meal by riding down to Corralitos for a nice lunch. I got started just before 9, dressing warmly against the morning chill. Los Gatos was very quiet as I passed through, and the Los Gatos Creek Trail was virtually empty. I'm happy to report that I made it up that dusty ramp near the end despite much sliding, largely because the trail was empty.

Schulties Road

The Laurel train tunnel, from the road.
I climbed up Old Santa Cruz Highway to Summit, then dropped down into the Laurel on the way to Soquel. I've never caught a glimpse of the Laurel side of the Wright's Station train tunnel, so this time I kept track of where I was relative to the opening, at least according to the maps. I definitely couldn't see anything from the road. I continued down to Laurel, got the best glimpse I've ever had of the opening of the next tunnel in line, and then started up steep Redwood Lodge Road.

I descended into Soquel in good order, then took McGregor toward Aptos. After a quick stop at Seacliff State Beach, where I finally stripped off my jacket, I headed back into the hills.
Seacliff State Beach, looking west.
... and looking east.

Trout Gulch Road
The plan was to take Valencia to Day Valley Road, but at the turnoff I decided that continuing on Trout Gulch Road to Valencia School Road seemed like a bright idea. Valencia School Road turned out to be a tiny road with mighty steep ramps. It was in this section that my legs started to remind me that, while I ride 25-30 miles most weekdays, the ride so far today was already longer and had more climbing. After more steep ramps on Hames, I finally sat down for lunch at the Corralitos store. I ate outside in perfect weather.

Valencia School Road
Having achieved the goal of the ride, it was time to head home. I went up Eureka Canyon Road, ignoring signs that the road was closed a few miles ahead. There wasn't much traffic, but at one point near the top a giant dumptruck came down the other direction, occupying about 110% of the one-lane road. I pulled over and waved.

As it turned out the road was not closed, but obviously they're doing some construction on it, so I guess it's closed during the week on non-holidays. I'm not sure what they're doing, but one focus was re-doing some of the work done after the most recent wash-out.

At the intersection with Ormsby Cutoff I had a flat. Maybe a pinch, but it had only one slit, along a seam. Maybe a defect? I continued on, gingerly avoiding the many potholes to avoid another pinch.

The dirt trail that is Loma Prieta Avenue, from a little further up.
At Mount Bache Road I thought it would be clever to ride up to catch the dirt part of Loma Prieta Avenue, a pretty little ribbon of road that I missed on a recent ride. This involved a trip up Mount Bache Road, which starts out quite reasonable but gets steeper as it goes along, and then some steep climbing on the dirt road, considering its surface. Ultimately I found that the road is much more enjoyable in the other direction, since the slower climbing speed offers more chances to see the amazing views. As a decent, the poor surface demands all of your attention.

Not much else to report on the trip back through Los Gatos and home. I managed to get in before darkness fell, and I was definitely feeling the miles by the time I got there.

Elevation Profile
Today's ride was just over 80 miles, with over 7100 feet of climbing. The most difficult kilometer was on the climb up Redwood Lodge Road, with a 9% average grade. It was great to see the ocean again, great to spend a day on the bike, and likely the last chance I'll have for this kind of ride until Christmas.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Loma Prieta and Hecker Pass

Today I rode to... well, near Loma Prieta, then passed through Mount Madonna park before heading home.

Today was supposed to be hot, so after watching the finish of a very enjoyable Vuelta a EspaƱa (won by a fellow named Winner!), I got a reasonably early start. By 09:00 I was headed over Kennedy Road. On the Los Gatos Creek Trail I spun my back wheel on the dry, dusty ramp, and wondered how long it might be before rain firmed the trail up again.

Looking north from Summit Road. Loma Prieta, Crystal Peak and Mount Chual
are on the left. Mount Hamilton is just visible in the distance.
I stopped at the Summit Store for a half-sandwich, but since it was too early for lunch I dropped it in my bag and headed onward. In the past I've always visited Loma Prieta via Loma Prieta Avenue, but this time I decided to try Mount Bache Road. For some reason I thought it was a much harder way to get to Loma Prieta Way, but actually it wasn't especially steep until it neared the point where the two routes meet anyway. On the other hand, it means that I missed that great first view of the ocean from the lonely dirt part of Loma Prieta Avenue.

Summit Road
At the junction with Summit Road, the high point of this ride I stopped and ate my half-sandwich, in a rare shady spot. The heat was climbing, and the effort of the steep parts of this climb were getting to me. I also drank much of my remaining water, but reasoned that it was largely downhill to Mount Madonna, the next water.

The last time I passed through here, they had dropped loose stones on Summit Road, making it impassable by skinny-tire bicycles. That was well over two years ago, and in the meantime those stones had either been pounded into the dirt, or more likely ground into a combination of smaller stones and binding dust. Sort of a self-macadam process, which I suppose isn't accidental. In any case, the whole road is easily passable now, although still uncomfortably washboarded in places.

I missed the always-open gate and impotent private-road sign. It may be gone, but I suspect I was just distracted.

At Mount Madonna Park I refilled my bottles, then headed through the park to Route 152. As it turns out, 152 has a single-direction long-duration light, just like Route 9 near Saratoga. This one had traffic heading south backed up for literally miles, whereas northbound traffic (like me) waited just a couple of minutes. I wished I could have told them all how long the wait was.

By this time the bike computer was showing over 100° F, which is... hot. I headed up Uvas Road, stopping a few times to take pictures of the nearly empty reservoir.

Uvas Reservoir
It was about this point that the wind decided to punish me personally. The flat sections became hills, and the hills became... actually they weren't much changed. And given the wind and the heat, it seemed like no matter how much water I drank, my mouth was always dry. Ugh. Eventually I rolled home, drained.

Elevation profile
Today's ride was over 68 miles, with over 4700 feet of climbing. The most difficult kilometer was near the top of the climb to Loma Prieta, with a grade of 11.6%. Those last kilometers, on completely flat suburban roads but against the wind, certainly seemed harder.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Empire Grade

Yesterday I took a long bike ride, visiting Santa Cruz and Big Basin park, with Empire Grade in between.

View Empire Grade in a larger map

For one reason after another, I've rarely been able to take long, all-day rides in the past couple of years. But yesterday the stars aligned, so I set out to make the most of it. Accordingly, I got an early start, out just before 8 AM in the chilly morning air.

I took my usual route over Kennedy to Los Gatos, but at the entrance to the Los Gatos Creek Trail I saw that there was some sort of running event happening on the trail. It turned out to be the Dammit Run. The trail, which is the only route south through the mountains for miles around, was clogged with runners, and unusable.

I considered alternate routes, or just heading back home. But after a few minutes of sulking the density of runners eased, and indeed the runners coming by were now walk-running. Probably stragglers. What I would find out later was that the run had just started at the nearby high school shortly before I arrived, and so hadn't stretched out much when I first saw them. I waited a little while to give the race its peace, then headed down the trail myself, riding at a walking pace.

Watching the surfers at Opal Cliffs
At the dam the race and I separated, runners heading back over the Jones Trail while I continued on to Old Santa Cruz Highway and Capitola.

In the end I wasn't even delayed by the race. I wanted to eat lunch at Betty Burger, which meets all my picky needs for a mid-ride lunch -- outdoor seating, not too crowded, in view of the bike. Despite the delay from the race I arrived in the area before Betty Burger was open, so I dawdled along the coast between Capitola and Santa Cruz watching the surfers, then had my lunch.

After lunch I headed past the Boardwalk and up Bay Street to UCSC, where I turned on to High Street, which later morphs into Empire Grade. Empire Grade is an inconsistent climb, or perhaps series of climbs. The average is moderate, but the most difficult kilometer of the day was in this section, with a substantial 9.4% grade. Most of the climb runs through lovely shady woods, with moderate traffic.

A dragon near Empire Grade
At the intersection with Felton Empire and Ice Cream Grade I decided to take Ice Cream Grade over toward Bonny Doon. The only time I've ever come up Bonny Doon Road I cut over on Ice Cream Grade, so this would give me a chance to see the rest of Bonny Doon Road. I try to include new bits of road in my rides, so this was just a token.

Empire Grade climbs up above 2500 feet, then bounces along at that level for a surprisingly long stretch. Eventually I reached Jamison Creek Road and made the steep descent toward Big Basin Highway, and then to the park.

Big Basin park
At the park headquarters I bought a two sugary drinks and a Clif bar. This ride was becoming much longer than I had planned, and being out of practice for long rides I hadn't been thinking about nutrition at all. In fact, one of the reasons I got an early start was because I forgot to eat breakfast, a major mistake. I was thinking I would save the Clif bar for later, but I just sat down on a bench and finished the bar and both drinks.

The section of Big Basin Highway heading north toward Route 9 is one of the most beautiful roads in the area. Yesterday it was warm but not hot, most of the road is shaded as it passes through bucolic woods, and there was little traffic. Beautiful.

Big Basin Highway

After descending toward the junction with Route 9, I started on the last substantial climb of the day, up toward Saratoga Gap. I was definitely feeling the miles by this point, and realizing that this ride was going to be a surprise century, over 100 miles. I hadn't planned on that.

On the way down I passed by a recent motorcycle accident. Officials had yet to arrive, but perhaps 20 people were stopped, directing traffic and attending the rider. A somber sight. I continued my descent at a moderate speed, but to be honest that was only because I was held up behind a line of cars that were held up by another cyclist.

As I continued home I meandered a bit, trying to ensure that this ride was the longest I've recorded. That feels like cheating, so as a small penance I decided that any tacked-on distance would have to be uphill.

Elevation profile

This ride was a little over 104 miles, with over 9300 feet of climbing. Both records for me, and a nice surprise. A day well spent.