Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Boulder Creek and Crumbling Shoulders

It's been way too long. Too long since I've written here, and too long since I had a ride worth writing about.

As it turns out we had a long weekend, so I decided to make time for a long ride. I've been irregularly commuting, and through that I've been getting lots of miles on the bike, but it's been far too long since I enjoyed the mountain roads. So after watching the Tour de France stage this morning, I started off just before 09:00.

I didn't have a fixed plan, but I did want to see what was happening at the washout on Highway 35, which at the time looked impossible to repair. Toward that end I headed up Black Road, then turned right on Summit until I saw the "Road Closed" signs. As it turns out the construction crew also had a vacation day, so it was quiet.

Construction at the Highway 35 washout... I think.
Looking at the original shots, it wasn't clear whether they would reconstruct the road in place, or reroute since so much of the hill had disappeared. This construction clearly rebuilds the road in place, but the area is so transformed that it's hard to believe it's the same place. Where there two major construction areas on 35? In this area there's already a single lane running through, and major drainage improvements going on.

One of several washouts awaiting repair,
this one on Bear Creek Road.
I didn't expect to be able to pass through, and I stuck with the loose plan to head down to Boulder Creek for lunch. Bear Creek Road had several areas in which the road narrowed to a single lane, which obviously was going to be a theme for this ride.

When I got down to Boulder Creek I learned that Foster's Freeze is closed on Mondays, which was certainly a disappointment. I wanted to head up via either Zayante or Mountain Charlie Road, so I headed down Route 9 in the company of much traffic. I got a flat (steel belt wire) near Brookdale.

I stopped in Felton at Mountain Roasting for a very good consolation sandwich. I decided to continue down to Mountain Charlie Road, in part because I had recently looked up where the Laurel tunnel exits under Glenwood Drive, and wanted to see that. I headed that way on Graham Hill Road, which until then I hadn't known was a steep climb out of Felton. My commuter legs were definitely feeling it.

The Laurel Tunnel entrance under Glenwood Drive.
It's just north of Eagle Road, for the record.
I enjoyed Bean Creek Road, then continued on Glenwood past Mountain Charlie Road to see the tunnel entrance. Except, despite knowing what to look for, I rode right past it. I ended up seeing much more of Glenwood Drive than I intended, but that was interesting on two counts: first, the road surface became the twin of Old Santa Cruz Highway just to the north, skinny and concrete. That's fitting because this was indeed part of that path before Highway 17 was built. The other thing I noticed was that there were lots of cyclists on this stretch of road. That part I don't understand; to my knowledge this road, while quite pretty, dead-ends at Highway 17. What's the attraction? What have I been missing all these years?

I went back to Mountain Charlie Road and headed back toward home, the heat now conspiring with the length of the ride to drain my already-meager energy. Among all the damaged roads I had been riding all day, Mountain Charlie Road was a survivor, with relatively little damage despite its many overhanging hills and trees.
Ride profile
Today's ride was just over 70 miles, with 6100 feet of climbing. The most difficult kilometer of the ride was in the second half of Black Road, which averaged about 11%. The kilometer of Graham Hill Road, leaving Felton, was close at nearly 10%, but felt worse due to the heat, the traffic, and the recently-eaten lunch.

It was great to get back into the mountains, but what became clear to me is that I'm not in the same kind of shape at all. First, I haven't done any climbs recently, and no long climbs for ages. Second, my commute is less than two hours of riding, so I can easily ride full-out. That's a lousy strategy for a longer ride, and one with climbing. Pace is the key for old, slow rider.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Progress on Mt. Umunhum

Opening up access to the summit of Mt. Umunhum seems to be making progress, however glacially. In a recent Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District Board Meeting (minutes), the board addressed an issue that's been discussed on this blog before: access to the road leading to the summit. Specifically, MROSD is working on plans to re-pave and partially rebuild the road, and have initiated proceedings to acquire rights to the road through eminent domain.

Planned work near the Bald Mountain Trail Head

The road passes through private land. That's not necessarily a problem; lots of public roads do that. Normally the public holds an easement, a right to use the road. That's a restriction on the landowner's rights, but in exchange they get the use and maintenance of the road.

In the case of Mt. Umunhum Road, I'm under the impression that the road was built to support the Almaden Air Force Station, and clearly the landowners benefited from its construction. Five years ago I assumed that whatever easement was in place was still in force, and the Open Space District may have agreed, but the homeowners construed the easement to apply only to official use. The Open Space District has been trying to negotiate with the owners but they haven't budged, so the last resort is condemnation. Don't feel too sorry for those landowners; they will get an improved and well-maintained road, practically zero new traffic, and about $400k each.

The plan to pursue eminent domain was made late last year, and it was covered in the Mercury News and by Ray Hosler, too. What's new (to me, anyway) is that the process has actually begun. The agenda for the MROSD Board Meeting for May 25, 2016 reads, in part:
In order for the District to construct road improvements during the 2016/2017 construction season, condemnation proceedings for Mount Umunhum Road rights have been initiated with the Santa Clara County Superior Court to obtain possession of the necessary rights.
Woohoo! I don't know much about law, but I'm pretty sure that in order to finish a case you have to start it at some point, so that seems like a milestone. More seriously, I'm sure it would go more quickly if the landowners would settle, but if they were reasonable we'd have had access long ago.

The minutes linked above are a pretty interesting read, as meeting notes go. The plan is not only to repave the road, but also to address drainage and stabilize slopes along the road. The new road will also have pull-outs and improved guard rails. The minutes include detailed drawings like the one included above for the whole route, from Hicks to the summit.

When I started riding my bicycle up Mt. Umunhum I wanted to see the old Air Force station in its "ghost town" state, before it was torn down. I guess that ship has sailed, but perhaps the consolation prize will be a legal ride up to the summit some time before I'm too old to make it.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Kona, Hawaii

On December 30th I got a chance to go cycling on the Big Island of Hawaii. I didn't reach my goal, but I had a great time not getting there.

We planned a week-long trip to Hawaii, staying on the Big Island, and it looked like I might be able to get in a couple of days of riding. Then the plans changed a little, and it turned out the bike shop was closed on New Year's Day, so my time was becoming constrained. Nonetheless, I packed some bike gear along with my swim trunks.

There are lots of pretty roads around Kona, but there's one unusual feature: a road that goes up to 13,800 feet, starting at sea level. Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano, and there's a road to an observatory at the top. After a little investigation, I realized that the observatory was not going to be possible for me, but the visitor's center, at 9,200 feet, might just be possible. So that was the goal.

The starting point in Kona
One of my constraints was that I didn't have a full day; I had to pick up the bike after the bike shop opened, then return it the next day before it closed. Therefore, best case, I only had about 8 hours of riding available. That wouldn't be enough to get me up and back, so the plan was for my wife to meet me somewhere up the mountain as dusk fell.

I was at Bike Works Kona before it opened, and was on the bike by 9:30. I rode down to the water, mostly to zero the elevation on my Garmin to zero. As it turns out, I started right at the swim and run start of the Ironman triathlon.

The Garmin was already reading 90+ degrees, so I bought an extra bottle of water and strapped it precariously under my seat. I had read that there was no water on my chosen path, so I was hoping this would be enough.

The road out of Kona is immediately a climb, reaching about 1600 feet before becoming more gradual. At that point the temperature also dropped into the high 70s, and I began to hope that my plan might be feasible after all. Unfortunately the temperature quickly rose back into the 90s, and I was consuming water at unsupportable rates.

Looking down toward Waikoloa
There are few roads on the Big Island, so those few roads tend to be pretty busy. The Mamalahoa Highway that I was on had a serviceable shoulder and only moderate traffic. Eventually I turned onto a highway that led across the island -- two lanes in the uphill direction, and one on the downhill. The climb became a little more pronounced, there was much more truck traffic, all signs of trees or other potential shade disappeared, and the vast expanse of asphalt amplified the heat noticeably.

Needless to say I was beginning to struggle a bit. I also realized that I had entirely forgotten to put on sunscreen, so I was going to have a price to pay for this climb. Eventually I realized that it just wasn't to be, and turned around. The visitor's center could be a goal for another day.

Elevation profile
My ride ended up at just about 60 miles, with 4700 feet of climbing. The most difficult kilometer was that last one, on the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, but the grade there was only about 7.3%.

If I were to make an attempt at this ride in the future, I would either need a cloudy, cooler day, or more support -- there's no way for me to carry enough water otherwise. Bike shops in the area recommend a number of climbs, but not this one. I suspect that's just because this ride isn't particularly pretty or otherwise rewarding, except in altitude. Next time I might be tempted to follow their advice.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Mountain Charlie Road

It's another holiday, so I get another ride. This time it was down to Santa Cruz, and back on Mountain Charlie Road.

The last couple of days have been rainy and we're traveling after Christmas, so today was basically my best chance. I was concerned that the the Los Gatos Creek Trail would be a mess, but it was wet and firm, with lots of puddles but no ruts forming.

I once again took Rodeo Gulch Road, mostly to enjoy a little extra isolation. As usual I stopped for lunch at Betty Burger, where it was just barely warm enough to sit outside, if you were in the sun.

Seabright Beach
After lunch I made sure I got a good look at the ocean, then headed up Glen Canyon Road to Bean Creek Road, and took Mountain Charlie Road home.

Elevation Profile

Today's little ride was just over 70 miles, with about 5700 feet of climbing. The toughest kilometer was the top part of Laurel Glen Road and the first part of Rodeo Gulch Road, where it averaged 9.8%. All the other climbs are much easier. It was a great day for a ride, and if I'm lucky I may get one more ride in 2015.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


Yesterday I took advantage of the long weekend to sneak out for a non-commute ride up Mount Umunhum.

Normally I try to fit in a long ride on these long weekends, but the day after Thanksgiving I woke up pretty late and was lazy, so I only had a few hours. Meanwhile, there's been a lot of work on the mountain since the last time I saw it, so I wanted to see what was up.

As far as I can tell, the last time I did this ride was April 2014. Since then they've constructed a little parking lot at the gate on Mount Umunhum Road, the highest point cars are currently allowed.

Plenty of parking
Basic facilities
There's a nice little parking lot and bathrooms, but no water that I could see.

No change in the road surface
If I understand it correctly there are plans to re-pave the road when they open access to the top, so it's no surprise that it hasn't been worked on yet. It's not a problem when climbing, but when descending the 10%+ grades it can be tricky.

I'm sure the quality of the road hasn't changed much, but this time I found myself unable to dodge several large potholes. It's nerve racking, but then again a smooth road surface might encourage reckless descending.

Even more emphatic signs
The next change one notices is that MROSD has put up new signage blocking the road that's even larger, 100% redder, and generally more emphatic. Before too long we'll be able to ride (and even drive) to the top; why they still can't allow bike and pedestrian traffic even one foot further than this is a mystery to me.

New facilities at Quicksilver
After a long cold descent I rolled through New Almaden, and saw new construction at the Hacienda entrance of Quicksilver park. There too they've erected a little bathroom and they appear to be in the process of building a bell tower for some reason.

What I learned from this is that, in building a bell tower, one apparently installs the bell before even finishing the exterior. Who knew?

I had a few extra minutes of sunshine and no interest in riding along Almaden Expressway, so I took Harry Road past the entrace to the IBM Almaden facility, where it winds through a hilly little residential area on the way back to Camden.

Elevation Profile
All in all a really enjoyable ride -- perfect weather, I felt good on the steep climbs, and it fit neatly into the afternoon. It was just under 25 miles, with a little over 3000 feet of climbing. The most difficult kilometer was the lower part of the climb up Hicks, which averages well over 14%.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Big Basin and Zayante

During an unusually complicated weekend, I had a rare chance to go out for a nice long ride.

I've been doing my evening 25-30 mile commute very regularly, but I've only put together a couple of longer rides this whole year. Once I realized I was going to have a free day, my thoughts drifted to the top of Black Road. I haven't been there in... forever. Then thinking a little more, I remembered that I've never climbed Gist Road, so that got in the plan, even though it meant cutting out the prettiest part of Black Road -- the part that had inspired the route in the first place.
Gist Road, with a fabric-covered hill

The morning was heavily overcast but not terribly cool, and I got on the road at 8:30. I headed up to the Lexington Reservoir, negotiated the little dirt track next to Highway 17, and started up Black Road. There is no shoulder on any of these roads (Black, Bear Creek or Montevina), so while there's not much traffic it's all inconvenient.

Gist road was very quiet, mostly a winding single lane. Very pretty.

A Really Big Tree
I had forgotten to eat any breakfast, so the rest of my planning revolved around lunch. I decided to stop at the Foster's Freeze in Boulder Creek, so at the top of Gist I took a right and headed toward Route 9. As I was decending 9 I was a little early for lunch, so at Route 236 I headed toward Big Basin, to extend the ride and mostly to enjoy the woods.

Upper Zayante Road
With lunch managed I wanted to find a way to climb up Mountain Charlie Road, again just because I hadn't been there in a long time. I headed down Route 9 and took a left on Glen Arbor Road to avoid some of the traffic. Along that route, you see signs for Quail Hollow Road heading to E. Zayante. That would be a new route for me, and riding on Route 9 and Mount Hermon Road to Scotts Valley would be unpleasant, so: Zayante it is.

At the top I headed right, descending to Los Gatos on Old Santa Cruz Highway. All day I had felt pretty great, up for any options, but by now I was feeling the unusual (for me) distance and climb, and just headed back home over Kennedy.

Elevation Profile
This little outing was 77 miles, with 7300 feet of climbing. The hardest kilometer was Gist Road, at nearly 11%. I'm happy that I managed to see my old haunts again, and indeed that I still have that range. But I hope to have a few more open days during the upcoming holidays.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Santa Cruz and Big Basin

Yesterday I took advantage of the holiday weekend to take my first long ride of the summer.


I've been riding a lot lately, but it's all in the form of my daily commute between Mountain View and Almaden. I don't seem to be able to make time for a long, all-day ride on the weekends anymore, but on a long weekend I can normally fit one in. This weekend is Independence Day, so it fits the bill.

Rodeo Gulch Road
I didn't really have a plan, but since it's been so long since I've seen Santa Cruz I decided to head down that way. On a day destined to be pretty hot I got an early start, rolling into the cool (but definitely not cold) morning at 7:30. I took my normal route over Kennedy to the Old Santa Cruz Highway, rolling through the redwoods on a cloudy morning.

After a quick descent on a quiet San Jose-Soquel road, I took the turn onto Laurel Glen Road to enjoy the woods a little more. At the northern edge of that road I decided to take Rodeo Gulch Road, which was new to me, toward Santa Cruz. It turns out to be a pretty little one-lane road.

Crossing the San Lorenzo river
I meandered through town mostly aimlessly, except that I wanted to see the ocean before heading back into the hills. I ended up crossing the San Lorenzo on the old railroad bridge next to the Boardwalk, as I often do.

The river trail took me to Graham Hill Road, which in turn took me to Felton. Graham Hill was busy with traffic and steep, but the sun was tamed by clouds and I continued to feel great.

At Felton I turned on to Route 9, and continued north to Boulder Creek. I detoured onto Glen Arbor Road to try another road new to me, not to mention get away from traffic, but it seemed like there were a lot of cars there, too.

A redwood along North Escape Road.
After lunch at the friendly Foster's Freeze I headed toward Big Basin State Park, this time taking Park Avenue to avoid a traffic a little more. As I continued on 236, the clearing skies allowed the sun to beat down and the effort on the climb began to tell. My morning of pleasurable cruising was becoming an afternoon of work.

The park headquarters was crowded, and an overflowing parking lot meant that the road was clogged. I topped off my water and rested a bit, then headed off on North Escape Road for a little peace in the shady forest.

North Escape Road
One of the advantages of North Escape Road is that you don't have to contend with the traffic on the skinny side of 236, but on this trip I actually encountered my first-ever traffic on the upper part of North Escape Road, in the form of a park ranger heading the other way.

Once I got back on 236 I was exposed to the sun for the rest of the climb, but enjoyed the brief relief offered by the shade of occasional trees. As I continued up Route 9 I was calculating whether this ride would end up being 100 miles. Calculations done on the bike are always comically difficult. I suffered up the climb, but enjoyed the descent. I went back home the usual way, following part of my daily commute, and went home a slightly circuitous way to go over 100 miles.

Elevation profile
Yesterday's ride was just over 100 miles, with 8100 feet of climbing. The most difficult kilometer, on this day of moderate climbs, was on the upper part of North Escape Road. I'm pretty exhausted today, but if these long rides are going to be rare, I suppose I ought to make them count.