Saturday, November 26, 2011

Loma Prieta and Mount Madonna, again

On this Thanksgiving weekend I decided to ride across Loma Prieta, which I haven't done since this spring. It rained a bit on Thanksgiving, but Friday looked clear and relatively warm. I set out at about 9:30 in the morning, this time taking my road bike.

View Loma Prieta and Mount Madonna in a larger map

The start of the ride followed the usual path down the Los Gatos Creek Trail and up the Leniham dam, then around Lexington Reservoir on Alma Bridge Road. At the bottom of the reservoir I took Old Santa Cruz Highway up to Summit.

On Black Friday I suppose the world is divided into people who go shopping, and people who avoid shopping. Neither of them show up on these mountain roads, which were therefore relatively quiet. Actually, there is apparently a third group: those who go out to get Christmas trees. There are lots of Christmas tree farms up here, and it seemed like half the vehicles had a neatly wrapped tree on top. I wonder how they keep them fresh so long?

Loma Prieta Avenue
I stopped at the Summit Store for an early lunch. Properly fueled, I backtracked to Loma Prieta Avenue, and headed up the ridge. Immediately on top of the ridge was the last tree farm on this ride, which had the largest crowd I've ever seen up on this road.

This part of the road runs straight as an arrow through orchards and vineyards, climbing from 1700 feet to 2400 feet. The average grade is about 7%, but it ratchets up in distinct ramps. At this point in the season the fruit trees and the vines are all losing their leaves, and while yesterday may not have been their peak, they were beautiful nonetheless. There's something luxurious about riding through autumn scenes in bright sunshine. Another small thing to be thankful for, I suppose.

Eventually Loma Prieta Avenue begins winding, then suddenly emerges on the southern flank of the ridge with an amazing, expansive, unobstructed view of Monterey Bay. Unfortunately that view was directly into the low sun, and I didn't manage to get a good shot of it. You'll have to take my word for it.

Loma Prieta Avenue, with
a handy bike for scale
At 2400 feet Loma Prieta Avenue turns to dirt. Or on this day, mud. It drops 200 feet to meet up with Loma Prieta Way. Considering the puddles, mud patches and the usual ruts, it was an especially attentive descent.

The dirt portion of Loma Prieta Avenue,
with puddles, bathing birds, and Monterey Bay
As I mentioned in my post about data, I recently wrote a few programs to look at the GPS data I've collected in various ways. Among them was a program that identified distinct climbs. It's trickier than it may seem, since the desired result is fundamentally subjective. When I first ran the program on the data from a previous ride up Loma Prieta, I was surprised that it didn't just emit a single long climb, from the Summit Store to the top. Instead, it identified four very distinct climbs:

  • This section along Loma Prieta Avenue, climbing from about 1800 feet to 2400 feet in a little over 1.6 miles, with an average grade of 7.6%.
  • The first ramp up Loma Prieta Way, from 2300 feet to 2500 feet. Just a half mile, but about 9%.
  • The climb on Loma Prieta Way from 2500 feet to 3000 feet in a little under a mile, with an average grade of 11.2% (Roads to Ride South says that much of this section averages 12.4%).
  • The last push up to the summit area, from 3100 feet to 3300 feet. A little under half a mile at 10.8%.

On this ride, I could see the wisdom of this interpretation. The first climb is separated from the second by a 100-foot drop down the muddy path. After the brief second climb, there's a mile that's either flat or slightly downhill. Then after that steep climb to 3000 feet, it's mostly level to the intersection with Summit Road.

Looking northeast from the "dirty bump"
The last climb goes up something that used to be called the "dirty bump" before it was paved, but in the pavement has deteriorated to the point that the name might be appropriate again. The recent rain heightened the contrast between the dirt and the dirty pavement, showing just how little of the latter remains.

Mount Umunhum, as seen from Loma Prieta
At this point in the ride, I was still deciding whether to head down to Mount Madonna, or to try either Loma Chiquita or Casa Loma. In either case, I wanted to get around the north end of the Loma Prieta peak to get some pictures of the valley on this lovely, clear day. All that ended when a ranger drove by and kicked me off the mountain. Now that's never happened to me before.

It's just not acceptable that this road -- from the intersection of Loma Prieta Way and Summit, up to (or at least near) the Loma Prieta Peak, and then over to Mount Umunhum -- isn't open to bikers and hikers. I realize that budgets are tight, but this stuff will likely be (officially) off-limits during my entire lifetime. At some point I have to wonder whether MROSD are really on my side, or just their own. Grrr.

A burned-out tree on Summit Road
I dutifully descended through the minefield of potholes, back to the intersection with Summit Road. I headed southeast on Summit toward Mount Madonna. Summit Road is more dirt, and more puddles. Certainly no trouble for my skinny-tire road bike, but it's not exactly relaxing, either.

Among the bogus signs that claim Summit is private and closed, one finds a sign that specifically forbids bicycles. It's hard to know how to read that -- the road is private, and even the locals can't ride bikes? Or maybe the no-bikes sign is a backup? In any case, why specifically forbid something that's quiet and incapable of causing harm, as opposed to (for example) motorcycles?

Looking over Morgan Hill, from Summit Road.
In the middle ground are the mountains along Uvas Road
Summit Road, still recovering from its most recent forest fire
Summit, as the name implies, has nice views all around, but the road itself is pretty ugly. Apart from the various work-in-progress construction sites, the area is still recovering from the fire of a few years ago.

Summit Road
Shortly after the road drops to about 2000 feet and exits the supposedly private section, there is a welcome return to pavement. After a thousand feet of descending with careful attention to potholes, puddles, mud patches and all sorts of ruts, it's nice to be able to look around at the sights while you ride. And indeed this section is much more rewarding, with healthy woods surrounding the road.

At one point I came across about a dozen wild turkeys, who seemed happy to have survived Thanksgiving.

After that it's a quick descent to Mount Madonna County Park. I rode into the park a little looking for water, but I realized that it was getting late and I couldn't dawdle.

In fact, the last time I tried this route, I got to this point in the ride and realized I wasn't going to make it. This time it was 3:30 PM, the sun sets at 5, and I was a long way from home. But I felt good and was going to make it.

Mount Madonna Road
I went down the north side of Mount Madonna Road, which is yet another dirt road. This ride had an unusual amount of dirt riding, but this was the last of it. The road was damp but not as rutted as the others. Still, I was on the brakes the whole time.

From there I took Redwood Retreat Road to Watsonville Road, then took that north to Uvas. As I passed the Uvas dam I took stock: 20 miles from home, about 45 minutes of light, no lights on the bike, and I was a good 15 miles from the nearest streetlamp. Oh well, nothing to do but press on, as quickly as possible.

As it turns out, I got under streetlamps (at least) with some light remaining, but by the time I got home it was pretty dark. Slight miscalculation, but next time I'll have lights.

In all it was just over 69 miles, with 5100 feet of climbing. That's a big ride for me, but I think the reason I'm sore today has more to do with the tempo at the end of the ride than anything else. Well, that and getting kicked off of Loma Prieta.


  1. Is the "private" section of Summit Rd too rough for rode bike going other direction? -- Mt Madonna to Loma Prieta? Got intimidated by signs today but considering trying again

  2. Summit Road is definitely suitable for a road bike, in either direction. And don't be intimidated by the signs -- there are lots of bogus "private road" signs around here, but this is the only one (that I know of, at least) with a judgement specifically allowing access!