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.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Following Jobst Brandt

I never met Jobst Brandt.

I moved to the Bay area in 2008, and soon developed an interest in cycling in the Santa Cruz mountains. As I sought more interesting routes through the mountains I inevitably became aware of Jobst Brandt and his extensive experience, writings, and influence.

Jobst Brandt on nearby Umunhum Road
The first way Brandt influenced me was describing some of the great rides around here. Brandt's adventurous spirit and disdain for arbitrary restrictions inspired many of my exploratory rides. In my case, the influence often came second hand. For example, one of my first rides to Loma Prieta was directly inspired by Bill Bushnell's route, which in turn was suggested by Brandt. Many other rides were directly inspired by Ray Hosler, who carries the same spirit. Brandt also contributed to catalogs of climbs like the Stanford cycling routes page, which I used to rely on extensively.

We're lucky that Brandt's later career coincided with the rise of the Internet, and specifically Usenet. I don't know where this sort of memoir, interesting and useful but without the polish or audience required for magazines, could have been published otherwise. Having said that, it's worrying how many of the reports are filled with broken image links.

Jobst Brandt simultaneously testing
theories of slick tire grip, cornering
technique and helmet use.
Another of Brandt's legacies is his extensive writing on bicycle-related engineering, including his strong opinions on myriad topics on, and of course The Bicycle Wheel. I'm an engineer (software, anyway) and appropriately skeptical of marketing disguised as innovation in the cycling industry, so I have a natural affinity for Brandt's attitude. But I'm also an indifferent and lazy mechanic, so I read it only as a spectator.

Just climbing the sign is impressive
for an older guy.
For me, Brandt's most direct influence was his annual cycling trip in the Alps. Every year he undertook a trip similar in scale to the Tour de France, carrying his gear on the bike and staying in hotels. That style of touring directly informed my trips in 2012 and 2014. Of course his days and his trips were vastly more arduous than my own; maybe someday I'll work up to that level.

The influence continues. Brandt also often rode across the Sierra Nevadas and back; I may try that this summer. And he described a long ride through New Idria that sounded really interesting to me, but it was later closed by the Bureau of Land Management. It is reported to be open again; maybe I'll try that some time.

Finally, I'm pretty old, so Brandt's example is especially inspirational to me. He routinely enjoyed long, all-day rides through the mountains well into his 70s. In 2010, for example, he reported a typical ride up Bonny Doon. A ride of 110 miles and 8000 feet of climbing at 75 years of age? It would be impossible to believe from anyone else.

Note the smile (from Bill Bushnell's blog).
I'm sorry I never met Jobst Brandt. He's gone, but I continue to appreciate and benefit from his wisdom and his example. Rest in peace.

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.