Monday, August 29, 2011

Black Road

Yesterday, casting about for an unfamiliar road to ride, I fell upon Black Road. Actually I was looking for an unfamiliar and easy to ride road, but Black Road was only the former.

It's a little tricky to get to Black Road from my house in the Almaden area. First, I took the familiar route to downtown Los Gatos, over Blossom Hill road. Then I rode down the Los Gatos creek trail, which was uneventful except that, for the first time I can remember, my road bike's wheels spun out on the steep little ramp near the dam, and I had to walk the bike up. I guess the path is getting a little dusty this late in the dry season.

On the Leniham dam, looking north toward Los Gatos
The path to I-17

The tricky part comes after the climb up the dam to Alma Bridge Road, next to the Lexington Reservoir. Basically I want to get to the Bear Creek overpass over I-17, but Alma Bridge Road ends a few hundred yards north of the overpass. So I can either ride the wrong way on I-17 (doesn't seem wise), go the long way around the reservoir (too lazy for that), or (and here's the tricky part) ride up the dirt path between I-17 and the reservoir.

I've been on that path before, coming the other way, but at that point it was muddy and I was on my mountain bike. I knew that the path would be dry after months of no rain, but I was pleased to find that it was in fine shape, even for my road bike.

Trees still flooded in Lexington Reservoir
Once across I-17, you take a right and soon find yourself on Black Road. I had read that Black Road averaged about 6.3%, which sounded reasonable to me. I should have read more carefully: that average includes a substantial flat portion in the middle, and the beginning and end are much more steep.

Looking north from Black Road to many other climbs
around Los Gatos
Along the way you get several great views toward the north, including the view above. That view may not seem like much, but from this vantage point you can see lots of the other rides around the Lexington Reservoir area. On the far left you can see the top of Bohlman, which I have yet to climb. Toward the middle, on the same hill, is El Sereno. Further to the right is St. Joseph's Hill, with Mount Hamilton directly behind it. On the far right you can just make out the top of the Priest Rock Trail, where it meets up with the Kennedy Trail. Amazing view of an amazing area.

Affordable digs on Black Road
Black Road climbs up to about 1600 feet, then levels out for a mile or so. In this section there's a school where, rumor has it, you can refill your water bottles. After the road heads up again, it enters a lovely redwood forest and shrinks to a single-lane road.

In this section the road bends around quite a bit and, on this Sunday at least, it had much less traffic. The woods are dense and the road is largely shaded, making for a pleasantly cool ride on this nice warm day. This all made for glorious seclusion, the quiet spoiled only by the wheezing and panting of a lone cyclist (specifically: me).

At about 1900 feet is an entrance to Sanborn County Park. The trail here is labeled the John Nicholas Trail, but on maps it's called Sanborn Road, and apparently links up with Congress Springs, aka Route 9. Unfortunately bicycles aren't allowed.

Black Road climbing through the woods
At just over 2400 feet Black Road finally meets up with Skyline. I took a left, riding south toward Bear Creek Road. North of this point Skyline is a two-lane road, but here it too becomes a lonely single lane road as it winds, mostly level, among the trees.

Skyline, looking west
At Bear Creek Road I had to decide whether to ride down Bear Creek Road, or continue on the very charming Summit Road across I-17. I've never been on Bear Creek, and I decided to save that experience for later. I enjoyed Summit, including the little interstitial climbs, then dropped down Old Santa Cruz Highway and basically reversed my route.

The Garmin gave me 36 miles and 3270 feet of climbing, which I think should have been closer to 2600.

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