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.

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