Saturday, December 31, 2011


So far I've been able to make good use of this Christmas break to get in a lot of riding, on my trip and here at home. For yesterday's ride, it was time to return to the Santa Cruz mountains, for a few reasons. First, because it's a great place to ride. Second, there won't be any Christmas tree traffic. And third, I could really use a break from the dry and barren rides in the Diablo range and in Phoenix.

View Zayante in a larger map

If my recent rides were in dry conditions, this was certainly a change. Thursday night it rained, and Friday dawned overcast and foggy. It wasn't raining anymore, but the roads were quite wet. The clouds had held the temperature in check, so it wasn't cold when I left the house at about 9.

I took my normal route through Los Gatos and around the Lexington Reservoir. Instead of taking Old Santa Cruz Highway all the way to Summit, however, I instead turned onto Mountain Charlie Road, which I've only previously descended. That's a pretty steep stretch of road, but it's short. Once I got to Summit I crossed Highway 17 and descended the west side of Mountain Charlie Road, down into Scotts Valley. Mountain Charlie Road is a much better road to climb than to descend, but having said that it wasn't as bad as I expected.

The covered bridge in Felton
In Scotts Valley I took Mt Hermon Road west into Felton, where I stopped at the grocery store for a warm, freshly made sandwich. I ate that at the covered bridge park, then slowly made my way to Zayante and headed north.

The trip up Zayante would have been uneventful, except that on a downhill immediately before the Zayante Market, I hit a bump. I heard an odd sound, but didn't notice until a few seconds later that my Garmin Forerunner 305 had bounced out of its plastic clip. I went back to retrieve it, and on this lonely, lightly traveled road I saw a car round the corner and snap the thing into pieces. What are the chances?

That's the second 305 I've lost. The first popped out while I was descending the Quicksilver trail. I'm sure that computer survived, but I couldn't find it. This one was toast.

Well, damn. As a fallback for recording ride information I turned on the MotionX application on my phone, which is pretty good but drains the battery too quickly to be used on long rides. Unfortunately MotionX can't display my heart rate, so my recent strategy for pacing myself was suddenly useless. I like to think I'm not overly dependent on gadgets or technology, but I immediately missed being able to see my heart rate and the altitude.

A hairpin on Upper Zayante Road
Zayante climbs fairly steeply to the intersection with Eagle Tree Lane, where it turns into Upper Zayante Road and immediately drops a hundred feet or so. The rest of the climb averages just over 7%, but has lots of very steep sections, and seems relentless. Despite not being able to see my heart rate I apparently paced myself reasonably well, because I felt good all the way to the top. Maybe I'm not dependent on the technology after all.

I was thinking about heading north to take Black Road down, but the day was running out so I cut the ride short by taking Bear Creek Road down to the Lexington area. Bear Creek Road is a pretty fast descent, and I followed a car down to pace myself.

The rest of the ride was uneventful, but I felt good enough to take Kennedy back toward home.

Now, normally I look at the GPS track to learn a bit about the ride and produce an elevation profile, like the one below. I had data from the latter part of the ride courtesy of MotionX, but the first part was lost with the crushed 305. I was surprised to find that this worked: first, I drew a map on Google Maps, then downloaded it as a KMZ file. Then I ran that through the GPS Visualizer, which not only converted it to GPX (which was my only goal), but also was kind enough to add elevation data based on USGS and/or NASA data. Well, that's a bonus, and was enough to produce the profile below. I didn't have my timing or heart rate data, but I don't pay much attention to that retrospectively anyway.

Elevation profile... estimated.
According to the reconstructed data, it looks like the ride was about 53 miles with 3800 feet of climbing. The lost computer was a bummer, but the ride certainly met my wish to be among the lush trees for a few hours.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

South Mountain

Over Christmas I visited Phoenix. For my gift this year, my wife arranged for me to rent a bike for the trip. On Christmas Eve -- a little early, now that I think about it -- I went for a ride.

We got the bike, a Giant Defy 2, at Arizona Outback Adventures. One of the thoughts behind the gift was that I could try out a Madone or some other better-quality bike, but in the event that didn't seem particularly motivating. The Defy 2 is cheap and serviceable. Actually my only complaint was that I completely forgot to check the horizontal size of the bike, and therefore got one that was at least 5 cm too short. Good enough for one day, though.

Looking north over Phoenix, from South Mountain
The family was getting together in the late afternoon, so I had to get going early. I rolled away at 8:15 and made my way from Scottsdale down to Tempe, along the so-called Greenbelt path. The Greenbelt is a drainage system that takes the form of a string of parks, emptying into the Salt River. Throughout the system there's a bike path, with no streetlights to wait for and few roads to cross. On Christmas Eve, there weren't even many pedestrians.

The rental bike on South Mountain
I made good time to the river, then followed it west to a bridge across the riverbed and into Tempe. I went south on Hardy so I would pass by my first apartment at school. I must say, it brought back zero memories. It was the right place, but hardly looked familiar at all.

I took Hardy to Baseline, then Baseline west to Central, and finally Central south into South Mountain Park.

When I lived here 20 years ago I rode up South Mountain a few times, but my memories of the climb were dim. As it turns out, it's long but not at all steep.There's no shade, which wasn't a problem on this cool day. The road winds up the northern face of the range, and since there are no trees you get unbroken views of the hill and the valley beyond.

The bulk of the climb is a 2.6 mile section that rises from about 1550 feet to 2250, for an average of 4.8%. At that point it levels out for a while, then climbs another 100 feet to the first stop: the summit. The summit area has a parking lot and a lovely view of almost the whole valley, from Avondale on the west to the eastern edge of Scottsdale. As the sign says, this area sits at about 2300 feet, perhaps 1100 feet above the valley floor.

The TV Towers on South Mountain
After taking a few pictures, I went back down and followed the signs for the TV Towers. This brings you around to the southern face of the range, and to its highest point (as far as I know). When I rode this in the 80s, I seem to remember that this road went past the towers, then just ended at a gate. Now it runs up to another parking lot, this one with views to the south and east, at 2600 feet. I'm pretty sure it wasn't here before.

Ahwatukee, from South Mountain
Here, at the high point of the ride, I stopped to eat a bit and enjoy the view. The last time I was up here I remember seeing construction to the south of the mountain and not knowing what it was. Well, now I know, but all the growth in this view -- Gilbert, Chandler, Ahwatukee -- is nonetheless a mystery to me. In multiple ways.

Refueled, it was time to descend. The road is in great shape. It twists a bit, but you can see along the road for miles since there are no trees. In other words, it's a great road to descend. I made good time, despite having to wait for a bit before I could pass a van.

I didn't have any other destinations in mind, so once I got on Central I just kept heading north. I ended up riding straight through the heart of Phoenix, which wasn't busy on this holiday.

The southern edge of downtown Phoenix
Central has a sporadic bike lane, but in any case traffic was light. My trip through town was pleasant but not especially memorable, which I guess one could say about Phoenix as a whole.

I followed Central to Glendale, then took a right toward Scottsdale. Glendale turns into Lincoln and goes by Squaw Peak (yeah, I know) and Granada Park, where I occasionally used to participate in the Sunday Morning Breakfast Ride. We would get up insanely early, wake up some friends, ride like crazy for a few miles, eat a big breakfast, then ride some more. Apparently that's still happening, which is great to know.

The remainder of the ride was an uneventful and straight shot back to Scottsdale.

Elevation profile. See a note about data for details.
In the end it was just slightly over 63 miles, so I met my goal of 100 km. There was about 2100 feet of climbing, which isn't much for a ride of that length. It was great to see South Mountain again, and although I don't remember my long-ago rides well enough to compare, I was happy with my ability to climb it. In all, the rental thing worked out well, and it may become a regular part of these sorts of family visits.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mount Hamilton

In my continuing effort to explore the hills east of the valley while the Santa Cruz mountains are overrun by Christmas tree hunters, today I rode my bike up Mount Hamilton. I rode up Mount Hamilton a couple of months ago, so to change things up a little I started from home. All previous times I've climbed the mountain I've parked on Alum Rock Avenue, so this was a twist for me. But last week's ride was similar, so I was inspired.

View Mount Hamilton in a larger map

The weather so far this winter has been remarkably consistent: no rain, about 35 F in the morning, and a high in the low 60s. It was that way today, too. As has been my habit recently, I dawdled until about 9 AM to avoid the really cold air, then set off.

The ride through town was entirely uneventful. I took the Highway 87 trail up toward downtown, then took various minor roads until I got to Santa Clara, which later turns into Alum Rock. For the first time, my climb up Mount Hamilton started at about 200 feet on Alum Rock, rather than 400 feet at the intersection.

Joseph D. Grant Park.
Compare this to the same view in March.
This is probably the right season to be riding in the Diablo range. It's nice and cool, so the lack of shade is actually welcome. The only problem is that it's awfully brown; there has been no meaningful rain for six months now, and everything is dry, dormant and unrelentingly beige.

More brown landscape
Somewhere on this second climb I managed to get a flat. Not trusting my patching abilities, I always carry a spare tube. In this case the spare had a hole in it, so I patched the original tube. It held air the rest of the ride, so I guess that was a success. As for the bum spare, I'm guessing I damaged it at some point when jamming the tube, some levers and patch kit into the tiny bag under my seat.

Other than that, not much drama on the way up. I was watching my heart rate, so I made steady but slow progress. Actually, it was awfully slow. Even considering the leisurely tire repair, it was much slower than my last trip up, when I was ignoring my heart rate and consequently running 10-15 bpm higher.

Once at the top I filled my bottles, bought some potentially ancient peanut M&Ms, and walked around a while snapping pictures. The views toward the east were good, but the valley was very hazy. As usual, the summit was windy and quite cold, so I put back on all the clothing bits I had removed on the way up.

Looking southwest from Mount Hamilton.
The valley looks foggy, but it's just a haze
I rolled over to Mount Copernicus, to see if I could get any decent shots to the east, but not much luck. So I turned and headed down. Just before I got to the Lick Observatory, an SUV pulled out and headed down. I used that SUV to pace my trip down. I could have passed it, but having it in front of me meant that I could take the lane with confidence, and it wasn't slowing me up too much. I enjoyed the decent more than I usually do.

Poultry on Quimby
When I got to Grant Ranch I decided to take advantage of the fact that I didn't have to get back to my car. I heading back over Quimby, rather retracing my steps. This east side of Quimby climbs about 600 feet at over 8%, so it's a hike but much easier than the cruel west side.

After a long and fast decent down Quimby, I defaulted to the Capitol Expressway for the trip home. If I'm going to be doing this sort of ride with any regularity I need to find better options. Capitol Expressway has a bike lane, but it's busy and crossing highways is nasty.

I got home shortly before sunset. It was nearly 63 miles, with something like 5600 feet of climbing. Not nearly as long as last week, but more climbing. I definitely prefer riding from home, so this was empowering for me, and lots of fun.
Elevation profile. See a note about data for details.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sierra and Calaveras

In the interest of avoiding Christmas tree choppers in the Santa Cruz mountains, this week I decided to explore some new territory for me. Specifically, I wanted to see what was on top of Sierra Road.

View Sierra and Calaveras in a larger map

Chris Horner
Chris Horner climbing Sierra Road
Courtesy of flickr
I'm not especially interested in checking off the major climbs in the area, in the sense that I record "personal best" times or such things. But I'm certainly interested in exploring new roads, so it amounts to the same thing, but at a relaxed pace. In this case, I've seen these hills for years, and was looking forward to seeing what was on the other side of them.

For me, as a casual fan of bike racing, Sierra Road is most notable as the site of Chris Horner's amazing attack on stage 4 of the 2011 Tour of California. After climbing up the backside of Mount Hamilton as a warm-up, Horner had an amazing ride up this difficult road, and essentially won the tour with that effort.

My ride would look a little different.

I started out at about 9:30, bundled up a bit against the sub-40 degree temperature.  I headed toward the east valley on Blossom Hill. Blossom Hill crosses all the north/south highways, then climbs up a little hill before it drops into the east valley. Maybe not such a little hill -- although it only climbs a few hundred feet, there's a half-mile stretch with a grade over 11%. I don't know how steep the other side is, but my speedometer was north of 40 mph as I was heading down. A good warm-up, I suppose.

The first ramp of Sierra Road
After a few miles on unremarkable suburban roads, I finally reached Sierra Road and turned east, toward the hills. The first ramp is immediately in your face, and so preposterously steep that I laughed out loud. I took a picture and deep breath, and headed up.

Like all these eastern hills, there's very little tree cover. That was actually welcome on this mid-December day, but on a hot summer day I'd be boiling on this climb. The road heads straight up the hill through a residential neighborhood, then takes a sharp left turn and begins winding through increasingly sparsely populated hills.

The data I collected told me that the main climb -- from the bottom to the first peak -- was about 3.6 miles at 9.5%.  It was steep everywhere, with some especially tough ramps. If I remember correctly, the only streches with an even moderate grade were very near the top.

Looking south from Sierra Road.
Umunhum and Loma Prieta in the background
Sierra Road is famous for its views, but yesterday there was a haze over the valley that, looking into the sun, made it look like a thick layer of fog.

After reaching about 2000 feet, the road undulates at that level around the east side of the hill. The views of the valley give way to views of Mount Hamilton and the rest of the Diablo range. After Sierra Road turns into Felter it starts dropping.

At the intersection of Felter and Calaveras, I stopped to plan a bit. I was about 30 miles into the ride. The road to the left led back into the valley, and practically speaking would mean that I would just head home. To the right, the road led to the Calaveras Reservoir, then north for a few miles before crossing into Felton. In all, it would add another 25 miles to the ride.

Calaveras Reservoir and Dam
The road toward Calaveras Reservoir headed up a bit, and I thought I'd see what could be seen from the top of that hill, but then turn around and return through town.

First, that little hill was a lot steeper than I expected -- about 10%, if only a quarter-mile long. Second, once I got to the top I didn't turn around. Seeing these (relatively) remote roads is the whole reason I came up here, after all.

It was definitely the right choice. Calaveras Road shrinks to a single lane and winds along the hill above the reservoir. It's quiet and wooded, and on this day a little chilly. There were a few bike riders, a couple of cars, and otherwise I had the whole road to myself.

After the dam the road drops down into a broadening valley floor, then heads mostly north toward 680. At that point the road turns into Paloma Way and turns west. Shortly afterward it heads into something called Niles Canyon, which manages to cross the mountain range without gaining any altitude at all. It's a very pretty road, running next to Alameda Creek and a railroad line, then surrounded by towering hills. Unfortunately it's also a two lane road with no shoulder and a lot of traffic, so it's hard to enjoy the sights (let alone snap a picture).

The canyon exits into Fremont. At this point it was about 2:30 in the afternoon, so I was about 30 miles from home with perhaps two and a half hours of daylight remaining. It looked OK, but I didn't have time to look for picturesque routes home. So I hopped on Mission Boulevard, a large road that at least had a bike lane, and headed south.

Mission San Jose in Fremont
After crossing 680 again, Mission Boulevard quite appropriately passes by the Mission San Jose. I would have loved to look around a bit, but as I was pressed for time I settled for a few pictures.

After that it was just a series of suburban roads, mostly with bike lanes, and crossing 680 two or three more times. I ended up getting home shortly after the sun set, just a little late.

Elevation profile.
See a note about data for details.

In all it was just short of 83 miles. There was only 3600 feet of climbing, but it seems like all of it was very steep. That's a long ride for me, but a very pleasant one. I'm glad I had the chance to see what was up there.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Black to Black (road to mountain)

Yesterday I took advantage of a lovely winter's day in the bay area to take a bike ride through the Santa Cruz Mountains.

View Black to Black in a larger map

When I got up in the morning, the thermometer was reading about 35 F, so it took a while to get motivated. I told myself I was waiting for it to heat up a little. I ended up setting off at just about 10 AM, when the temperature was still low but the sun felt great.

Lexington Reservoir from across Highway 17
I took the usual route through Los Gatos and up the Leniham Dam. I wanted to climb up Black Road to Skyline, so I took the dirt path next to Highway 17 to the Bear Creek Road overpass, then went over to Black Road and started climbing.

Traffic on Black Road,
hunting the wily Christmas tree
Well, almost; first, I waited behind a traffic jam of 4-5 cars stopped just after the turn. I mentioned that last week I saw a lot of traffic going to the area's many Christmas tree farms, but this week was much worse. Black Road itself has several tree farms, and leads to others on Skyline. There was more traffic on tiny Black Road than there was on Blossom Hill or Skyline. And worse yet, it's almost all trucks and SUVs.

The lower part of Black Road climbs at about 9%, which is manageable but uncomfortable in traffic, given my tendency to weave a bit. You would weave too, if you climbed as slowly as I do. I was thinking that this would make a great opportunity to try Gist Road, which is reputedly tiny but carries only local residential traffic. I gave that up when I passed the road and a sign indicated four Christmas tree farms ahead on Black, and another four on Gist. That's literally a bad sign. As if to emphasize the point, there was a truck exiting Gist as I passed. As bad as traffic on Black was, traffic on a skinny road like Gist would likely be worse, so I stayed on Black.

Looking south from Skyline over (nearly)
endless hills. Monterey Peninsula in the
Black Road levels off for a mile or so, then resumes climbing. After I passed another two tree farms, the traffic thinned out significantly, and I could relax a little and enjoy the sights.

At Skyline I took a right, heading north, which meant I just kept on climbing. Eventually I got near the peak just short of 3200 feet. The map says this is something called McPherson Peak. Near the top were breathtaking views toward the south and west, across layered mountain ranges all the way to Monterey.

Up on the ridge the air was naturally much cooler, and it was largely shaded. I bundled up and descended down toward Saratoga Gap, where I passed up a chance to buy a soda and continued north on Skyline.

Black Mountain from Skyline
At this point my plan was to head up to Page Mill Road, then take that down to Foothills and have a long flat ride home. But as I was riding along, seeing Black Mountain on my right, I thought that it might be fun to ride that way, reversing an earlier ride up Montebello.

On Page Mill I turned right. I've read that Page Mill Road retains scars from its crossing of the San Andreas fault, but while I was on the lookout for signs of shifting or sagging, I didn't notice anything. Maybe next time. I picked up water along the road. The entrance to the Montebello trail is gated and largely unmarked. The only reason I recognized it was from a previous ride. Signs at the entrance indicate authorized vehicles only, but there are no similar signs coming from the other direction, and the map indicates that the trail is open all the way to the road. So is MROSD teaching me to ignore these signs or not?

The antenna farm on Black Mountain
Approaching Black Mountain from the north is steep. The first section is a paved driveway, and steep. After that is a steep dirt trail. Apart from the grade it's a fine trail for a road bike, and I think about half of the bikes I saw on the trail were road bikes.

At the top is a nest of antennae and a few surrounding trails. The last time I was up here was the Fourth of July. It was very hot, and I didn't spend much time looking around. This time I searched around a bit, looking for a nice clear view of the Santa Clara valley. In person, and especially on a clear day like yesterday, the view is spectacular. It's a little hard to convey in a photograph because trees are in the way. In person you just move a little.

Having drunk in the scenery, I headed off for the long descent. After a little more dirt trail, Montebello Road appears, along with a more accessible view of the valley. After I took a few pictures, I dropped down the mountain to the Stevens Creek Reservoir.
San Jose, every sprawling inch of it, from Montebello Road
Normally I would have turned right toward Saratoga and then home, but I've done that a lot lately and was looking for something different. Shortly after I moved here, while still living in temporary housing in Cupertino, I came up here on my very first bike ride in the area. I retraced those steps back to McClellan, near my old apartment, then headed across town toward Almaden Valley. In  doing that, I was retracing part of my second ride in the area, although before too long I got off track. Riding in suburban sprawl doesn't invoke much nostalgia.

Elevation profile. See a note about data for details
In the end it was just over 57 miles, with a little under 4000 feet of climbing, and another day among the trees on quiet mountain roads. Although sometimes the trees were bundled up on top of cars. Nothing's perfect.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Loma Prieta and Mount Madonna, again

On this Thanksgiving weekend I decided to ride across Loma Prieta, which I haven't done since this spring. It rained a bit on Thanksgiving, but Friday looked clear and relatively warm. I set out at about 9:30 in the morning, this time taking my road bike.

View Loma Prieta and Mount Madonna in a larger map

The start of the ride followed the usual path down the Los Gatos Creek Trail and up the Leniham dam, then around Lexington Reservoir on Alma Bridge Road. At the bottom of the reservoir I took Old Santa Cruz Highway up to Summit.

On Black Friday I suppose the world is divided into people who go shopping, and people who avoid shopping. Neither of them show up on these mountain roads, which were therefore relatively quiet. Actually, there is apparently a third group: those who go out to get Christmas trees. There are lots of Christmas tree farms up here, and it seemed like half the vehicles had a neatly wrapped tree on top. I wonder how they keep them fresh so long?

Loma Prieta Avenue
I stopped at the Summit Store for an early lunch. Properly fueled, I backtracked to Loma Prieta Avenue, and headed up the ridge. Immediately on top of the ridge was the last tree farm on this ride, which had the largest crowd I've ever seen up on this road.

This part of the road runs straight as an arrow through orchards and vineyards, climbing from 1700 feet to 2400 feet. The average grade is about 7%, but it ratchets up in distinct ramps. At this point in the season the fruit trees and the vines are all losing their leaves, and while yesterday may not have been their peak, they were beautiful nonetheless. There's something luxurious about riding through autumn scenes in bright sunshine. Another small thing to be thankful for, I suppose.

Eventually Loma Prieta Avenue begins winding, then suddenly emerges on the southern flank of the ridge with an amazing, expansive, unobstructed view of Monterey Bay. Unfortunately that view was directly into the low sun, and I didn't manage to get a good shot of it. You'll have to take my word for it.

Loma Prieta Avenue, with
a handy bike for scale
At 2400 feet Loma Prieta Avenue turns to dirt. Or on this day, mud. It drops 200 feet to meet up with Loma Prieta Way. Considering the puddles, mud patches and the usual ruts, it was an especially attentive descent.

The dirt portion of Loma Prieta Avenue,
with puddles, bathing birds, and Monterey Bay
As I mentioned in my post about data, I recently wrote a few programs to look at the GPS data I've collected in various ways. Among them was a program that identified distinct climbs. It's trickier than it may seem, since the desired result is fundamentally subjective. When I first ran the program on the data from a previous ride up Loma Prieta, I was surprised that it didn't just emit a single long climb, from the Summit Store to the top. Instead, it identified four very distinct climbs:

  • This section along Loma Prieta Avenue, climbing from about 1800 feet to 2400 feet in a little over 1.6 miles, with an average grade of 7.6%.
  • The first ramp up Loma Prieta Way, from 2300 feet to 2500 feet. Just a half mile, but about 9%.
  • The climb on Loma Prieta Way from 2500 feet to 3000 feet in a little under a mile, with an average grade of 11.2% (Roads to Ride South says that much of this section averages 12.4%).
  • The last push up to the summit area, from 3100 feet to 3300 feet. A little under half a mile at 10.8%.

On this ride, I could see the wisdom of this interpretation. The first climb is separated from the second by a 100-foot drop down the muddy path. After the brief second climb, there's a mile that's either flat or slightly downhill. Then after that steep climb to 3000 feet, it's mostly level to the intersection with Summit Road.

Looking northeast from the "dirty bump"
The last climb goes up something that used to be called the "dirty bump" before it was paved, but in the pavement has deteriorated to the point that the name might be appropriate again. The recent rain heightened the contrast between the dirt and the dirty pavement, showing just how little of the latter remains.

Mount Umunhum, as seen from Loma Prieta
At this point in the ride, I was still deciding whether to head down to Mount Madonna, or to try either Loma Chiquita or Casa Loma. In either case, I wanted to get around the north end of the Loma Prieta peak to get some pictures of the valley on this lovely, clear day. All that ended when a ranger drove by and kicked me off the mountain. Now that's never happened to me before.

It's just not acceptable that this road -- from the intersection of Loma Prieta Way and Summit, up to (or at least near) the Loma Prieta Peak, and then over to Mount Umunhum -- isn't open to bikers and hikers. I realize that budgets are tight, but this stuff will likely be (officially) off-limits during my entire lifetime. At some point I have to wonder whether MROSD are really on my side, or just their own. Grrr.

A burned-out tree on Summit Road
I dutifully descended through the minefield of potholes, back to the intersection with Summit Road. I headed southeast on Summit toward Mount Madonna. Summit Road is more dirt, and more puddles. Certainly no trouble for my skinny-tire road bike, but it's not exactly relaxing, either.

Among the bogus signs that claim Summit is private and closed, one finds a sign that specifically forbids bicycles. It's hard to know how to read that -- the road is private, and even the locals can't ride bikes? Or maybe the no-bikes sign is a backup? In any case, why specifically forbid something that's quiet and incapable of causing harm, as opposed to (for example) motorcycles?

Looking over Morgan Hill, from Summit Road.
In the middle ground are the mountains along Uvas Road
Summit Road, still recovering from its most recent forest fire
Summit, as the name implies, has nice views all around, but the road itself is pretty ugly. Apart from the various work-in-progress construction sites, the area is still recovering from the fire of a few years ago.

Summit Road
Shortly after the road drops to about 2000 feet and exits the supposedly private section, there is a welcome return to pavement. After a thousand feet of descending with careful attention to potholes, puddles, mud patches and all sorts of ruts, it's nice to be able to look around at the sights while you ride. And indeed this section is much more rewarding, with healthy woods surrounding the road.

At one point I came across about a dozen wild turkeys, who seemed happy to have survived Thanksgiving.

After that it's a quick descent to Mount Madonna County Park. I rode into the park a little looking for water, but I realized that it was getting late and I couldn't dawdle.

In fact, the last time I tried this route, I got to this point in the ride and realized I wasn't going to make it. This time it was 3:30 PM, the sun sets at 5, and I was a long way from home. But I felt good and was going to make it.

Mount Madonna Road
I went down the north side of Mount Madonna Road, which is yet another dirt road. This ride had an unusual amount of dirt riding, but this was the last of it. The road was damp but not as rutted as the others. Still, I was on the brakes the whole time.

From there I took Redwood Retreat Road to Watsonville Road, then took that north to Uvas. As I passed the Uvas dam I took stock: 20 miles from home, about 45 minutes of light, no lights on the bike, and I was a good 15 miles from the nearest streetlamp. Oh well, nothing to do but press on, as quickly as possible.

As it turns out, I got under streetlamps (at least) with some light remaining, but by the time I got home it was pretty dark. Slight miscalculation, but next time I'll have lights.

In all it was just over 69 miles, with 5100 feet of climbing. That's a big ride for me, but I think the reason I'm sore today has more to do with the tempo at the end of the ride than anything else. Well, that and getting kicked off of Loma Prieta.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


I normally ride my bike in the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains. This week I looked at a map and realized that I very rarely ride on the other side of Silicon Valley, in the Diablo range. In fact, I think Mount Hamilton is the only ride I've done over there. So yesterday I decided to explore over on that side of the valley a little.

View Metcalf in a larger map

The plan was to head up Metcalf Road, a notorious climb, and explore whatever was on the other side of the hill. Looking at the map, I thought there might be a few interesting roads back there, but then looking closer it became clear that at least some of the roads were private and blocked. It's a shame, because I'm sure the hills back there are lovely.

I started at about 9 AM under a crystal clear sky punctuated with puffy clouds. Metcalf is roughly west of my house, so I took Santa Teresa Boulevard over to Bernal, and then down Monterey Highway a bit to the intersection with Metcalf.

Metcalf Road snaking up the hills, from across 101
These foothills of the Diablo Range are utterly barren. The contrast with the Santa Cruz range's lush redwoods couldn't be more stark. I don't know whether that's a hangover from old logging or something about the geology, but in any case it doesn't make for much shade. On a hotter day I would have baked on this road.

On the east side of Metcalf
Metcalf Road is not especially long, but it sure is steep. It climbs 1000 feet in about 2.1 miles, for an average of 9%. And worse yet, from the bottom you can see it snake its way all the way up the hill. There's no shoulder on the road, and while it doesn't have a lot of traffic, virtually all of it is trucks with trailers, heading for the motorcycle park at the top of the hill.

Those cycles are fantastic. From the road you can see them popping into the air, one after another. Such amazing torque.

An old barn on Metcalf Road
The other side of Metcalf heads down a bit, through more of the same terrain. It passes by something called the Pratt & Whitney Space Propulsion Test Facility, which sounds intimidating. They pull rockets up these tiny roads?

Further down, the road passes by houses and finally enters some thicker woods with much more shade. Metcalf ends at an intersection with San Felipe Road. Heading west, San Felipe drops down into Suburbia, forming the other side of a popular Metcalf loop.

I went the other way, heading east on San Felipe into the hills. This is where the maps show lots of spindly little isolated roads, perfect for exploring on a bike. But the more I looked at it, the clearer it became that these roads weren't accessible. Sure enough, after a few hundred yards San Felipe meets Las Animas Road, and enters something called the San Felipe Ranch. End of the road.

Las Animas Road
I continued on Las Animas Road. Again, on the map, this looks like it makes a loop that comes back to Metcalf. I had already seen that the other side of that loop was blocked, and about a mile down Las Animas I came to another gate. This one had signs indicating its the United Technologies Chemical Systems Division. Something tells me these hills are superfund sites in the making.

My little exploration of these hills didn't go very far. I sat at the bottom of Las Animas, eating a Clif bar and considering where to go next. If I went down the other side of San Felipe I'd be back in town, with no destination in mind. I decided to head further south, which meant heading back down Metcalf.

Looking down Metcalf
At the bottom of Metcalf I took Malech Road, which runs right next to Highway 101 for about a mile until it meets Bailey. I took that over to the Coyote Trail, and then took that south into Morgan Hill. I don't normally like taking trails, since I think fast bikes can spoil an otherwise relaxed experience for other folks. But virtually no one was on the trail yesterday, which made for a quiet and pleasant run next to the creek.

Morgan Hill, from Anderson Dam

At the end of the trail I took Cochrane, heading southeast. At one point there's a sign for Anderson Dam, so I took a look. After a remarkably steep little hill, I got a good view of the valley, on one side, and the reservoir on the other.

Anderson Lake, from the dam
El Toro, from De Witt
It was about time to think about heading home, so as a start I headed across the valley on Main Avenue, into the charming little downtown area in Morgan Hill, and then down Dunne, De Witt and Edmunson, all heading around El Toro.

I took Oak Glen around the Chesbro Reservoir, where a couple of turkey vultures patiently waited for me to pass before they dug into some roadkill. I continued to Uvas, then headed north toward home on McKean and Camden.

In all it was just over 62 miles, including a couple of unnecessary turns near the end to ensure I covered at least 100 km (a small accomplishment, but an accomplishment anyway). It was just 2700 feet of climbing, although it seemed like more.

Wandering around the hills on roads completely unknown to me was great, and it's a shame there aren't more miles to ride over there. It looks like Coyote Lake, a little farther south, might have more miles in hills, but that's stretching my range quite a bit. Maybe next time.
Elevation profile for Metcalf and Uvas

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Alpine Road and San Gregorio

As much as I prefer starting and ending bike rides at my house, there are only so many roads to explore within my range. If I want to see new sights, I've got to pack up the bike, at least occasionally. With that in mind, yesterday I put the road bike on the back of my car and drove up the peninsula to start my ride near Palo Alto.

View Alpine Road and San Gregorio in a larger map

Alpine Road
It rained Friday night, but that's OK -- it just means that dirt roads were out. So where did I go? To a dirt road, naturally. I've often read of Alpine Road, and have been itching to see what it's like. But the top couple of miles is all dirt. The unofficial Stanford cycling page says that the dirt portion is fine for road bikes, apart from one bypass section and shortly after rains. We'll see.

I got off 280 and parked just off Alpine Road. Despite the drive, I managed to get rolling on the bike shortly before 9, which is pretty good for me. It was very foggy but not particularly cold.

Alpine Road starts off as a busy two-lane road climbing imperceptibly. After Portola Road the traffic is much lighter and the road shrinks until it's just a one lane road, climbing a little more steeply. The road follows a creek much of the way, winding through full, lush woods.

Alpine Trail
Shortly after the intersection with Joaquin Road, at perhaps 1200 feet of elevation and thus about 800 feet remaining, the asphalt ends and the dirt begins. I was expecting that it would continue as an unpaved road, perhaps a fire road, but instead it immediately became a single-track trail.

Riding up the day after rain was not wise. There were a few puddles and mud patches, but the real problem was the wet leaves. I was spinning my back wheel trying to climb, and the whole bike was squirrelly when the mud allowed the wheels to slide left and right. At one point I stopped to take some pictures, and decided enough was enough -- I would turn around.

And yet, heading back down seemed worse, for all of the same reasons. So I continued up a bit, and pretty quickly got used to the conditions and started enjoying the scenery.

Midway through there are signs -- permanent signs -- telling you that the trail is washed out and impassable, and that you should use the bypass. How long does the bypass have to exist before it gets accepted as the new route? The whole bypass section is steep and no place for a road bike. I had to walk all the way through it. The rest of the trail was a very enjoyable ride.

Mindego Hill, from Alpine Road
Water vapor boiling off of Alpine Road
I emerged onto Page Mill Road quite muddy but otherwise in good shape, and rode up to Skyline and across to the west side of Alpine Road. The west side of Alpine climbs a bit more, up to 2400 feet, the high point of this ride.

The descent of Alpine Road was pretty, cold and uneventful. Eventually I reached an intersection with Pescadero Road, and made a tactical error. The choice here is to go down the road to La Honda and then to San Gregorio, or to take Pescadero Creek Road to Pescadero. I was going to do the loop either way, so it was basically a choice between counter-clockwise and clockwise. I chose clockwise by heading up Pescadero Creek Road, which immediately takes you over Haskins Hill.
Pescadero State Beach
Pescadero Creek Road takes you down through the teeming metropolis that is Pescadero. As I approached the town the valley spread out and the wind began to blow. I take it that the prevailing winds here blow from the north, which is why my route was a bit of a tactical error -- it would have been a little easier to head to San Gregorio first, then go south to Pescadero, rather than the other way around. Live and learn.

The road goes past a large marsh before rising to a beautiful view of the Pacific. I enjoyed the sea breeze for a few minutes, then headed north, up into the wind toward San Gregorio. The views along Route 1 are always spectacular, and took one's mind off the wind.

The San Gregorio General Store
At San Gregorio I stopped at the store for a sandwich and a drink. I must admit that I first became aware of this store when it appeared in a commercial than ran during the Tour de France. In the commercial, two riders show up at the store -- one pudgy, the other buff. The buff rider reviews his data from his iBike Dash iPhone application with a self-satisfied smirk. Meanwhile the pudgy rider struggles with his traditional computer, and by implication his manhood, before scurrying into the store after the buff guy.

It's an awful commercial on every level, but when I first saw it I thought that San Gregorio sounded like a California kind of name, and lo and behold it's right there on the fringes of my range. So in some way that commercial may have inspired this ride.

San Gregorio/La Honda Road
I finished my sandwich and headed inland, past cows and farms and rustic barns. The road climbs a few hundred feet in the seven miles to La Honda, after which it tips up a bit on its way toward Skyline.

After a few miles I peeled off onto the west side of Old La Honda Road, which like its counterpart on the other side of the hill is a very pretty single-lane road. It serves a few houses, but is largely a bicycle road.

Old La Honda Road
Up to this point, the whole ride was on roads new to me. When I got to the top of the hill I was thinking about descending Highway 84, which would also be new, but instead I headed down the east side of Old La Honda Road. It turns out that I had forgotten my helmet (a consequence of driving to the start, rather than leaving from my house), and I was thinking that I'd be tempted to descend 84 more quickly than I should. At the bottom of a long, busy descent, I took Portola Road back to Alpine and my car.
Elevation profile for this ride. See a note about data for details.
In the end it was just under 60 miles, with about 4800 feet of climbing. It's amazing to me that I can ride through suburbs, redwood forests, barren hills, marshes, farms and oceanfront cliffs, all in 60 miles.