Monday, October 17, 2011

Bear Creek Road and Saratoga Gap

Last week I tried to climb up Route 9 to Saratoga Gap, but what with the length of the ride, possibly the early stages of a cold, and last but not least my lack of fitness, I didn't make it. I abandoned, and called for a ride home.

My wife is very generous about coming to get me, reasoning that having the rescue option easily available means I can consider more ambitious rides. Nonetheless, it's disappointing and embarrassing to have to make the call.

Yesterday I wanted to salvage some ego, if I could. I wanted to climb that road, but if I tried the same ride it would likely have the same outcome. So what went wrong last week? I think the main problem was that I was facing the last climb after 60 miles of riding. I don't have that kind of stamina. So the big change today would be to cut out the whole first part of the ride by taking Bear Creek Road over the ridge, directly into Boulder Creek.

View Bear Creek Road and Saratoga Gap in a larger map

First, I had to get to Bear Creek Road. That meant the same ol' route to Los Gatos, down the Los Gatos Creek Trail, up the dam, then down the dirt trail next to Highway 17 to the overpass.

Looking east from Bear Creek Road
I was a little worried about Bear Creek Road, since the unofficial Stanford cycling page describes it as both "steep" and "busy". I sat for a few minutes at the base of the hill, trying to get a sense for how many cars were heading up. At this point it was a little after 10 AM on a Sunday, and in the few minutes I sat there no cars went up at all. OK, now it's just the "steep" part to worry about.

Bear Creek Road is indeed steep, but at this early stage of the ride, it was manageable for me. I just went very slowly, standing up on the especially steep parts. There was very little traffic on the way up, but enough that I couldn't weave across the lane, much as I would have liked to.

The road grinds up to about 2000 feet, where it levels off and meets Summit. Then it climbs gradually to 2200, where it meets Skyline. I think part of my problem last week was that I didn't eat any quick energy food, although I did eat a real lunch, which should count for something. In any case, trying to do everything right this time, I sat at the top of the road and ate a Clif bar.

Bear Creek Summit
As I coasted down the other side of Bear Creek Road, I was thinking back to my last time on this road. It was nearly a year ago, and I had meant to go from Skyline to Summit. But for whatever reason turning right seemed appropriate, and I had descended to 1400 feet before I started to think "This can't be right". Now, with much more familiarity with the roads up here, that seems especially laughable.

Waterman Gap
Eventually I rolled into Boulder Creek, and stopped at Johnnie's Market to refill my water bottles. Then it was time to start retracing my steps from last week. On that ride, the part of Route 9 just north of Boulder Creek was very quiet, with almost no traffic. That was also a Sunday, but about 5:30 in the evening. This time it was closer to noon, and traffic was much heavier.

Immediately north of Boulder Creek, Route 9 climbs gradually, gaining only about 300 feet in five or six miles. Suddenly, at about 800 feet of elevation and perhaps a mile short of the intersection with 236, it begins climbing at a very steady 5%. That's a pretty reasonable climb, but man, it just goes on forever. Finally at about 2500 feet it levels off a bit, and slowly climbs to about 2600 feet at Saratoga Gap, the summit.

Looking South-Southwest from the Overlook
That was the high point of the ride. I flew down the east side of Route 9, comfortably exceeding the 30 mph speed limit most of the way. I took the Saratoga/Los Gatos road, which is also Route 9, to Los Gatos, then Blossom Hill home.
Elevation profile for this ride.
See a note about data for details
The whole ride was just about 54 miles, with about 4200 feet of climbing. Both Bear Creek Road and the top of Route 9 were first-time climbs for me, which is always great. I'm still working on the stamina to have more adventurous rides in the mountains, so this is progress.

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