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One of the first times I ever climbed Mount Hamilton, I found myself riding the last couple of miles with another tired-looking rider. He told me that he had started out in Livermore, and while I didn't really know where that was, I knew it was pretty far away. Since then I learned that the loop over Hamilton and through Livermore was popular.
Last week I tried to do this same ride, but it was just too cold for me. Yesterday's weather looked perfect -- warm but not hot.
I drove my bike to the Berryessa Community Center, and managed to get started at just about 8 AM. The air was cool and especially clear, and I made my way up to the observatory with no incident. Despite the perfect day, there didn't seem to be many riders on the climb, although once I got to the top there were plenty of them.
|Looking west from Mount Hamilton, over the valley
There were lots of riders crawling up what I understand to be the more difficult side of Hamilton. The Stanford cycling page mentions that this descent is more challenging than the other side, but since I go pretty slow it didn't seem noticeably different.
The road levels off at about 2000 feet, which I hadn't actually expected. I had assumed that the elevation of the climbs on both sides of the mountain were similar, but it looks like the backside, while steeper, is more like 2300 feet, rather than the 4500 feet when coming from San Jose.
|San Antonio Valley Road
About 37 miles from the start of Route 130, I arrived at The Junction, the only food stop on this long road. I had a BLT in the company of perhaps a dozen other bike riders and several motorcyclists. The bacon was really quite good, so the sandwich was great.
I talked to a pair of riders who had also come over Hamilton, and who surprised me by heading back that way. I hadn't even considered such a thing, but now I may try that myself. If I ever want to climb the back side of Hamilton, it's certainly more realistic (for me) than a clockwise Livermore/Hamilton loop.
|Rock formations on Mines Road
Mines Road, north of The Junction, heads up. At first it's gradual, then a little steeper as it approaches 2700 feet. Then it drops a bit before climbing right back up, reaching the high point of Mines Road at a little over 2800 feet, five miles north of The Junction.
The wind continued to blow down the valley, which was an unusual experience for me. Riding in the Santa Cruz Mountains I'm normally sheltered from the wind. In this section, I found that I didn't really mind the wind, despite its strength. I was either headed uphill, in which case it didn't matter, or downhill, when it just slowed me a little (but I was in no hurry). Had I been riding on flat roads I suspect it would have been a different story.
|Looking northwest from Mines Road
As you ride north, you go from a scrabbily wooded valley to the familiar grass-covered, rounded hills, already dormant for the summer. The road turns from generally northward to generally westward, and as it did so the wind increased. But in this section the road also begins dropping more steeply, so I was able to marvel at it. I wonder if it's always this windy?
|The wind blows street signs in Livermore
I rode across town on Concannon, a generically suburban road, and stopped at Subway for some drinks. Then I headed south on Holmes Street, which turns into Vallecitos and then meets up with 84. This section was easily the most difficult part of the ride. Highway 84 climbs over a little pass on its way toward 680, and the wind blasted through it like a wind tunnel. The road climbs only a couple of hundred feet at a low grade, but this was easily the hardest climb of the day. So much for my idea that wind doesn't matter on the uphill. Between the wind and the loud traffic, I didn't like this section at all.
The gate was indeed open. At this point I was about 85 miles into the ride, in the cooling late afternoon. Calaveras Road, running along the east side of the ridge, was largely shaded, and finally free of the hateful wind. The whole run next to the reservoir felt like a reward, from the gentle climb to the twists and turns among the hills. I had dreaded the climb up to this road, but in the event it was perhaps the most satisfying part of the ride. By the time I got to the steep and surprisingly long descent into Milpitas, I was renewed.
I rode south on Piedmont to Berryessa, and was gratified to see that the odometer ticked over 100 miles before I got to the car. I was fully prepared to ride in circles if I had to, but I was spared that indignity.
I know there are plenty of folks who bang out this kind of ride on a typical weekend, but for me this was a big achievement. My last century was nearly 20 years ago, and it was dead flat. As I write this a day afterward, I'm a little tired but not completely drained. A good, long, day out.