Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hecker Pass to Corralitos

When I ride my bike to Santa Cruz, or just into the mountains, I normally head through the so-called Patchen Pass (aka the Summit area) just south of Los Gatos. But since I live in the Almaden area, there's a somewhat less popular option available: Hecker Pass.

View Hecker Pass in a larger map

Uvas Reservoir

The Hecker Pass Highway, or Route 152, links Gilroy with Watsonville across the southern end of the Santa Cruz mountains. It has a poor reputation as a road for bicycling, but it's hard to know how to take that, since some bicyclists are just uncomfortable around traffic. My only experience with Hecker Pass was a sightseeing drive I took several years ago, and I remembered it as a twisty, narrow road.

I started out about 8:30 AM yesterday. The fog was burning off as I went down the Almaden Expressway to McKean, which turns into Uvas Road. It was nonetheless a cool, beautiful day for a ride, and this opinion was apparently shared by the dozens of riders out there with me. Today was a day for club rides, which meant riders passed me in ones and twos on the hills, and then in large groups on the flats.

It was on Uvas Road that I saw the day's closest encounter between a car and a bike. One of the club riders was just ahead of me and a champagne-colored Cadillac brushed by a few inches from him. From my vantage point I was sure he was hit. No oncoming traffic; it just looked like the Cadillac didn't feel like moving over.

The last time I came down here I explored all the side roads, so this time I was a little surprised to find myself down by the Uvas Reservoir after only 20 miles of riding.

Uvas Reservoir and the lone Twin Peak
I took a right on Watsonville Road, stopped at the Chitactac Park to top off my water, and then paused at the intersection of Watsonville and 152 to eat a few bites of a Clif food pellet. When I got back on the bike, I heard something that sounded like an out-of-tune banjo; sure enough, I had broken a spoke on my rear wheel. No idea how that happened. The wheel was a couple of millimeters out of true, and might get a lot worse. I was near enough to Gilroy that I could probably find a bike shop, or I could call it a day. Or none of the above: I opened my brakes all the way (who needs rear brakes anyway?) and continued on, up the Hecker Pass Highway.

Hecker Pass Highway
The first mile or so of Route 152 passes through the typical vineyards and farms of the area. Right at the turnoff for Sprig Lake, it changes character entirely. Most noticably, the sparse trees give way to full, deep, enclosing woods. The grade also increases distinctly, although it's still mild.

The road, I must say, is not a bicycle road. Aside from the rare turn-off area, the shoulder is a consistent 6 inches, all the way up (the shoulder shown in the photo is typical).

On the positive side, I don't recall any stretches with no shoulder at all, or especially skinny lanes. There was a fair amount of traffic; I'm guessing I got passed by a hundred or so cars. I had no close calls, honking or other drama. This is all actually OK for me, but if you're ever uncomfortable on roads, you should probably find an alternative.

The road climbs to Hecker Pass at 1309 feet, as the sign tells us. The plaque in the background tells us that the pass is named for Henry Hecker, who advocated the construction of the road in the 1920s. It turns out he was a Santa Clara County Supervisor for the Gilroy area, and wanted a road from Gilroy to the sea without having to go all the way down to Route 129 a few miles south.  OK Hank, you got it.

Just beyond the marker is something called the Mt Madonna Inn. There was also a path leading toward a great view of Watsonville, near some decaying cabins.

Cabins behind Mount Madonna Inn,
with Watsonville in the background
Mt Madonna Inn looks like it's being rennovated, and with any luck it'll match it's heyday in the 1970s.

Pole Line Road
Here at the peak is also the intersection with Pole Line Road, the main entrance to Mt. Madonna Park. I decided to head up through the park to enjoy the scenery. Pole Line Road is short but quite steep, especially in contrast with the mild grade of Route 152.

The fog was still thick on Mount Madonna, visibly rolling over the trees onto the road. It was condensing in the trees and then dripping, creating a reverse-rain effect: wet under the tree canopy, but dry elsewhere.

I rode through the park and my legs were really starting to feel tired. Well, there would be a lot of downhill on which to recharge, at least.
Fog in Mount Madonna Park

The giant redwood in the
intersection of Summit,
Pole Line Road, and
Mount Madonna Road
Mount Madonna Road
At the four-way intersection on the other side of the park, I went the only direction I had never been before: Mt. Madonna Road. Mt Madonna Road is a twisty, one-lane, not-recently-paved road. It seemed pretty steep. The rough pavement combined with my fat keister could result in a lot of energy hitting my wheels, and with my broken spoke that could lead to additional deformation. Of the wheel, not my keister. So I was a little cautious on the descent.

By this point it was about noon, and my target was lunch at the Corralitos Market. At the bottom of Mt Madonna Road I took a right onto Hazel Dell Road, which runs through the woods, climbs a bit of a hill, and at some point turns into Brown Valley Road. Brown Valley Road runs right to the market. There were dozens of cars parked up the road from the market, apparently for some sort of reunion.

My legs were awfully sore, and I still had to get back over the mountain to get home. So I took my time eating lunch.

I got back on the bike and slowly headed up Eureka Canyon Road, feeling very weak on the climbs. Eventually I got to the intersection with Buzzard Lagoon Road, where Eureka Canyon turns into Highland. This is a high point in the road at nearly 1900 feet. Highland immediately drops about 300 feet before climbing right back up to 1900 feet very near the site of this spring's mudslide. This was the peak of this ride. After this high point Highland wiggles along, mostly level, then drops 200 feet or so to meet Summit.

I stopped at the Summit Store for a drink, then went down Old Santa Cruz Highway to Los Gatos, and finally over Blossom Hill Road toward my house.

After a day on Uvas Road and Hecker Pass Highway and all sorts of one-lane roads, it was here on Blossom Hill Road that I had my closest encounter with a car. And not on the skinny part of the road thats heads over the hill, either -- it was east of that, on the four lane road with generous parking lanes. The car was following an SUV pretty closely, so they probably never even saw me. The suburbs are murder.
Elevation profile
See a note about data for details

The ride was a little over 76 miles, which is awfully long for me. The Garmin gave me 5800 feet of climbing, although the real number of probably closer to 4500. Still, the Garmin result shows the value of the elevation correction done by the Garmin Connect web site. Out on the road the elevation reading was a random number generator, fluctuating by 100s of feet on steady climbs. The raw data, with the elevation correction turned off, gave me 14000 feet of climbing.

I suspect the estimate of calories burned is based on the raw data, because it thought I burned 12000 calories. If I had done that, I'd be dead.

Today was a great ride. It was my longest ride in years, and one of the few times I've managed to cross the mountains over and back. I'm getting to the point where I can get a little more ambitious in my routes. My options are expanding.

No comments:

Post a Comment