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I quickly got ready, and within mere hours of returning from breakfast I was on the bike, headed for Los Gatos. I had on a waterproof coat, and a sweatshirt that I immediately knew was overkill. I was cold inside the house, but as soon as I started riding, I was fine.
There was nothing more than sprinkles by the time I got to the Los Gatos Creek Trail, so I was a little surprised to see so many puddles on the trail. It's a nice hard trail, but I guess it doesn't drain particularly well.
Soda Springs Road is a five-mile climb that starts next to the Lexington Reservoir and climbs up the Thayer/Umunhum ridge. It's a two-lane, sometimes one-lane, paved road serving a few dozen houses, mostly near the top of the hill. At the top of the hill, there's a gate.
|Old stairs to Soda Springs Rd|
Nearer the top, the houses get more frequent. I got to the intersection with Weaver Road and caught a blast of cold fog coming over the hill. While resting I had a nice chat with a resident coming up to check his mail. Sounds like a peaceful life up there, but an 8 mile trip to the grocery store.
Shortly after the chat, the real rain started. I was immediately soaked, although I thought my sweatshirt might still be mostly dry. This section climbs about 600 feet in a mile and a half. I didn't want to stop in the heavy rain and I couldn't find any decent cover, so I just plodded along.
|The gate at the end of Soda Springs Rd|
You can't just climb over the gate, because they've covered it (and the nearby elements) with some something like pine tar -- incredibly sticky, and a little stinky. I learned that when I initially leaned the pictured bike against the gate. Yuck.
There are helpful signs as you approach the gate that tell you the road (and therefore your climb) are ending in 500, then 200 feet. So I knew I was close when I rounded a corner and... it was open! Holy crap! The gate was open! I rode right through, and immediately ditched my plan. Visibility by now was pretty poor, and I didn't expect people to be out, so I wasn't as worried about the main road. And that side road looked pretty sketchy.
This section of Soda Springs Road is a short, straight piece of road heading right up the ridge. In this close weather, it just went up into clouds. And it was damned steep.
It was at this point that my lovely wife called to check on me, and whaddaya know, I had service. I stopped next to a large bush, out of sight of houses, and told the Missus it was going great. I looked at a map, and realized that I had gone too far up Soda Springs Road. I wanted to go over Thayer and into the Umunhum area, so I needed to take Loma Almaden Rd, which branches off of this road at some point that I'd missed. I couldn't tell where, because at this point the phone locked up (moisture?), and I emergency-rebooted it. But it wasn't coming back, and was just getting wetter, so back in the pocket it went.
Side note: I'm under the impression that Mt. Umunhum has been called Loma Almaden in the past, hence the name of the road. And while we're at it, Mt. Thayer was once called Mt. Hooker (the same guy's name is also attached to Hooker Gulch, the valley and creek just to the south of this trail).
|Loma Almaden Road|
Off to my right was Hooker Gulch and the Los Gatos Creek Valley, with Lake Elsman at the bottom and Summit Rd on the opposite ridge. But I couldn't see any of it; it was just a cloud.
In one sheltered spot I decided to recharge by eating a Clif bar. Having mostly eaten them in the summer, I didn't know that they become approximately rock hard in cooler weather. I ate about half of it, and my teeth mostly survived.
|The first gate on Loma Almaden Road|
On the ride, I thought at this point I had passed Thayer and now would soon be seeing signs of the Almaden Air Force Station. I was tired and increasingly cold, and presumed there would be more climbing between here and there, but I was excited.
|The impassable gate on Loma Almaden Road|
I had high hopes for using this route to get to Umunhum. First, the climb is easier than Hicks. Second, it seemed like it came through a back door. Going up Hicks and Umunhum means that the camera gets a shot of you, which I suspect will summon a ranger eventually. So this gate is a real blow to my chances of exploring the area. Eventually it'll be opened up, but I won't live in this area forever. And to be honest, I want to explore the "ghost town" of the old Air Force station.
Ah well. Going back was downhill. Travelling a little faster (but only a little, because a slip in the mud could send me over) and putting in less effort meant that I immediately started getting cold. And here at 3300 feet, with wet wheels, and not yet on a steep road, I couldn't help but notice that I had to squeeze my (rim) brakes pretty hard to have any effect. That might be a problem....
I avoided the van turnoff, not because of the van but because the left fork was much better quality, and that right fork was steep. The left fork, as expected, turned into that side road that I had skipped earlier. It's a nice little road. When I got to the end I was happy to see the gate was still open, because I didn't have a plan B. Maybe I should have investigated my original theory, but it was raining quite hard at this point, and I was cold.
Squeezing the brakes and not pedaling, I eventually realized that I couldn't feel my hands or feet. In the 20+ minutes it took to get the bottom of Soda Springs Road, I had to stop several times to flex my hands and get feeling back again. Somewhere along the line the sweatshirt inside my waterproof coat had become fully soaked, so I was uncomfortable and unhappy on the very slow trip down the hill.
I got to Los Gatos, the nearest place convenient to cars, and sent up the flare. I used my now partly-functional phone to text my wife, who graciously agreed to pick me up. The sun was now shining, and while it was certainly warmer at this lower elevation the wind was blowing in the next round of rain. Waiting there on the sidewalk, I was hunched over and shivering, becoming increasingly aware that I was completely soaked through and looking like an idiot.
Car heaters, it turns out, are one of the world's great inventions. So while that last part of the ride was unpleasant, I was soon warm again. Later, after a long hot shower, I noticed that my bike clothes were still heavy with water.
The ride was about 28 miles, with over 4000 feet of climbing. I'm not so sure about that; the maximum elevation was only about 3340, which is 3100 feet higher than my house, and I doubt there was 900 feet of meaningful climb elsewhere. For most of the ride I had the Garmin 305 recording points every second, and I think that mode overestimates climbs. The other mode (smart something or other) does much better.
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