Sunday, July 17, 2011

Zayante and Felton

One thing I've never managed to do on my bike is ride over the Santa Cruz mountains... and then back again.  I'm not quite sure why.  I am by no means an accomplished cyclist, but I've survived rides with more total elevation gain -- Mount Hamilton, for example.  I suspect it has something to do with the total length of the ride, or else the fact that the climb back over the hill inevitably takes place after a long rest or a meal.

So it was that I made my most recent attempt yesterday, with the same result.

I took a by-now-familiar route to the ridge of the mountains. For me, that means first over to Los Gatos and then up the Los Gatos Creek trail.  You have to climb up a very steep, loose dirt ramp near the end, which isn't easy on skinny tires. Then it's up the face of the dam, and around Lexington Reservoir on Alma Bridge Road. The very pretty Old Santa Cruz Highway takes you to Summit.

Vineyards along Summit Road
I've ridden that route many times, but at the intersection with Summit I've always turned left, toward the Summit Store and Loma Prieta. This time I went the other way. Since Summit/Skyline always goes up, it went up. In this case there's a short ramp that lifts you from 1600 feet at the intersection to about 1800 feet, at about a 10% grade. Ugh. After another ramp, not quite as steep, you drop down quite a bit and cross I-17. But then you have to immediately climb up the other side to meet the top of Mountain Charlie Road. Ugh, again.

A little more climbing brought me to what turned out to be the peak of the ride, along Summit Road. At this stage, with the road roughly level, you could really enjoy the beautiful day and the scenery. Summit Road here is a one-lane country road, with a Christmas tree farm, vineyards, puffy clouds and layered views. Here I was riding in the middle of summer, and when I started out I was wondering whether to bring a jacket. Not too bad at all.

The intersection of Summit and Upper Zayante Roads

Upper Zayante Road
The road falls quite a bit to the intersection with Upper Zayante Road, my target for the day. I'm going to have to remember that if I come back up this way. I went down Upper Zayante, which is a lovely, windy, one-lane path through some deep woods.

The top part of the descent is fairly steep and twisty, and I stopped several times to let my rims cool. I suppose that means that coming back up this way is difficult, but that's a concern for another day.

Upper Zayante Road drops down the ridge until it meets Zayante Creek, which it follows all the way down into Felton. Along the way it actually gains some altitude, and lower down the road it rolls a bit, as one would expect.

Felton Covered Bridge
I finally rolled into Felton about 2 in the afternoon. I stopped by a grocery store for a sandwich and some drinks, then went over to the part next to the covered bridge to eat.

I've been to Felton a few times, mostly for the Big Trees Park, but I had never seen the bridge before. I guess my expectations were pretty low, but I must say it's an impressive bridge. It's much larger than I expected, and much taller than any other covered bridges I've seen.

Well, now, it's time to go back. My plan, at this stage, was to ride back to Summit on Mountain Charlie Road. I finished my sandwich and hopped back on the bike, but then as soon as the road tilted upward I knew I was toast. There was no way I was going to make it back up there. I slunk back to the park and awaited a rescue from my wife.

The Garmin registered about 30 miles and  3100 feet of climbing, which is probably a little generous. It also reported an insane number of calories consumed, which I don't really understand. But maybe it knows something I don't; maybe that's why I didn't have the energy to back up to the ridge. Who knows. In any case, it was a lovely afternoon.

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