Monday, November 7, 2011

Mountain Charlie Road

In Silicon Valley the dry season is over and the rainy season has begun. After six months in which it rained perhaps once, the forecast now shows rain about half the time (and centered on weekends, once again).

It rained Friday and it was supposed to rain Sunday, but since Saturday morning looked pretty good I decided to squeeze a ride in. If it didn't work out, I could try again the next day. The plan was to ride Mountain Charlie Road again, this time toddling through the hills rather than going down through Santa Cruz.

View Mountain Charlie Road in a larger map

When I woke up this morning my temperature gadget read 43° F, which is a few degrees below what reliable sources were reporting, but either way it's awfully cold. I dawdled for a while (and watched the temperature drop to 42°, ominously), and put on lots of clothes. Just last week I bought a new cycling jacket with removable sleeves, so this looked like a good day to try it out. I finally got on the road a little after 10 AM.

I started with the usual route down the Los Gatos Creek Trail and around the Lexington Reservoir. On the way up Old Santa Cruz Highway I tried something new, for me. Last week, my riding partner stressed the importance of keeping your heart rate in a reasonable range, whereas my standard technique is just to push as hard as I can manage at any given moment. So for the first time, I made the heart rate show up nice and big on my Garmin, and moderated my effort to keep my heart below a certain number.

Old Santa Cruz Highway is a good place to try this sort of thing, since it's not very steep and doesn't even have any steep ramps. I was quite pleased with the result, I must say. I've been riding for decades, and even riding with a heart monitor for more than a year, but this is the first time I've really used it on the ride. I felt great on the whole ride, didn't feel at all tired near the top, and all-in-all I probably didn't even go too much slower. Since I rarely dug into my reserves, I wasn't trying to both recover and climb on the hills.

At this point I don't think I could moderate my pace like this without seeing the heart rate on the device. I always try to pace myself, but my natural reaction to a steep section is to try harder, rather than slow down. It's easy with the feedback at hand, though. I'm wary of becoming overly analytical in my riding, since I'm out there to enjoy myself, not to meet goals or even improve. And as an engineer, it would be easy for me to fall into that trap. But I do want to undertake longer rides through the mountains, so if this will help, I'll try it.

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I stopped at the Summit Store for a lovely sandwich and some coffee to warm me up, then dropped down the Soquel/San Jose road. I normally take this right down into Capitola, but this time I turned up Laurel Glen Road.

Somehow Laurel Glen seemed to have more traffic than Soquel/San Jose had, and the broken asphalt makes it difficult to stay in the right-hand margin.

But the traffic quickly died away, which made the road quality a non-issue, and I was left largely alone to ride a bike on a beautiful, isolated road through towering woods. I'm awfully lucky.

Laurel Glen Road
A bridge over Branciforte Creek
Laurel Glen climbs a bit, and I continued my heart rate experiment. This time the road had a few steeper pitches, but I was able to stay in my range (and I thought I was slow before!). At its peak, Laurel Glen turns into Mountain View road, which drops down to an intersection with Branciforte Drive. I took a left and continued down the road, which in this area is rural and quite charming.

At Granite Creek Road I took a right, and headed up the road toward Scotts Valley. As you can see from the profile below, there were a few steep ramps, but once again I did a reasonable job keeping my heart rate below my target, mostly by riding slowly. Anyone seeing me would think I was practicing track stands. As Granite Creek Road reaches its peak it emerges from rural isolation to thoroughly suburban Scotts Valley. It crosses Highway 17 and meets Scotts Valley Drive right at the intersection with Glenwood Drive. After topping off my bottles at the gas station, I headed up Glenwood.

There's a train tunnel entrance near the intersection of Glenwood and Mountain Charlie Road, and last time I came through here I missed it. So when I got to Mountain Charlie Road and once again hadn't seen it, I backtracked down Glenwood, still couldn't find it, and looked further down Glenwood, past the intersection. No dice, again. I'm going to have to do more studying before I come up this way again.

Mountain Charlie Road, all one lane of it
The submarine house on Mountain Charlie Road
Mountain Charlie Road was thick with fallen pine needles of a bright orange color that doesn't seem realistic, even as you see it before your eyes. The lower part of this road has just a single rough lane, and appears to rarely see cars. It climbs steadily but not steeply through thick, silent woods. At about 1300 feet you start running by houses, and gradually the road acquires another half lane and shows signs of more frequent use. Apparently the locals skew north, toward Summit.

At about this point I started to see a drizzle, which quickly built up to a full-on rain. My new jacket seemed to be reasonably waterproof, and the whole ensemble was warm enough.

The upper part of Mountain Charlie Road has lots of steep ramps, each of which threatened my heart rate limit, and most of which broke it. I tried various random things to keep it in check, like breathing heavily at the beginning of climbs and other nonsense, all of which I'm sure had little effect. Nonetheless, apart from one notable ramp, I was pretty close, even on the long sections.

I got to the top of the hill, the intersection with Summit and also the high point of this ride, feeling a little cold but otherwise great. I was thinking about riding up Summit to get more time on these single-lane roads that I enjoy so much, but I happened to notice that it was nearing 4 PM. I suppose that's the downside of the heart management technique. So instead of lengthening the ride I headed directly home, taking the remainder of Mountain Charlie Road to Old Santa Cruz Highway, and that down to Highway 17 and Los Gatos. With a little left in the tank, I took Shannon over the hill.
Elevation profile. See a note about data for details
In the end it was just slightly over 60 miles, with 4200 feet of climbing. By monitoring my heart, I never really suffered, never had to recover, and felt great after the ride. It was slow, but... maybe not. The previous ride up Mountain Charlie Road was shorter and had less climbing, yet on this ride I had a (slightly) faster moving average. Of course that ride was hot and this was nice and cool, but in any case it shows that the overall speed isn't affected much, regardless of how pokey it feels on the bike. Learn something new every day, I guess.


  1. ZIASUS...can you help me locate the Submarine House? I'm a reporter for the Mercury News. Would like to see the house. please help meL

  2. Hi, sorry I missed this earlier. I'm sure you found it already, but it's right about here:'40.4%22N+121%C2%B059'31.1%22W/@37.111215,-121.994153,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x0?hl=en