Monday, December 5, 2011

Black to Black (road to mountain)

Yesterday I took advantage of a lovely winter's day in the bay area to take a bike ride through the Santa Cruz Mountains.

View Black to Black in a larger map

When I got up in the morning, the thermometer was reading about 35 F, so it took a while to get motivated. I told myself I was waiting for it to heat up a little. I ended up setting off at just about 10 AM, when the temperature was still low but the sun felt great.

Lexington Reservoir from across Highway 17
I took the usual route through Los Gatos and up the Leniham Dam. I wanted to climb up Black Road to Skyline, so I took the dirt path next to Highway 17 to the Bear Creek Road overpass, then went over to Black Road and started climbing.

Traffic on Black Road,
hunting the wily Christmas tree
Well, almost; first, I waited behind a traffic jam of 4-5 cars stopped just after the turn. I mentioned that last week I saw a lot of traffic going to the area's many Christmas tree farms, but this week was much worse. Black Road itself has several tree farms, and leads to others on Skyline. There was more traffic on tiny Black Road than there was on Blossom Hill or Skyline. And worse yet, it's almost all trucks and SUVs.

The lower part of Black Road climbs at about 9%, which is manageable but uncomfortable in traffic, given my tendency to weave a bit. You would weave too, if you climbed as slowly as I do. I was thinking that this would make a great opportunity to try Gist Road, which is reputedly tiny but carries only local residential traffic. I gave that up when I passed the road and a sign indicated four Christmas tree farms ahead on Black, and another four on Gist. That's literally a bad sign. As if to emphasize the point, there was a truck exiting Gist as I passed. As bad as traffic on Black was, traffic on a skinny road like Gist would likely be worse, so I stayed on Black.

Looking south from Skyline over (nearly)
endless hills. Monterey Peninsula in the
Black Road levels off for a mile or so, then resumes climbing. After I passed another two tree farms, the traffic thinned out significantly, and I could relax a little and enjoy the sights.

At Skyline I took a right, heading north, which meant I just kept on climbing. Eventually I got near the peak just short of 3200 feet. The map says this is something called McPherson Peak. Near the top were breathtaking views toward the south and west, across layered mountain ranges all the way to Monterey.

Up on the ridge the air was naturally much cooler, and it was largely shaded. I bundled up and descended down toward Saratoga Gap, where I passed up a chance to buy a soda and continued north on Skyline.

Black Mountain from Skyline
At this point my plan was to head up to Page Mill Road, then take that down to Foothills and have a long flat ride home. But as I was riding along, seeing Black Mountain on my right, I thought that it might be fun to ride that way, reversing an earlier ride up Montebello.

On Page Mill I turned right. I've read that Page Mill Road retains scars from its crossing of the San Andreas fault, but while I was on the lookout for signs of shifting or sagging, I didn't notice anything. Maybe next time. I picked up water along the road. The entrance to the Montebello trail is gated and largely unmarked. The only reason I recognized it was from a previous ride. Signs at the entrance indicate authorized vehicles only, but there are no similar signs coming from the other direction, and the map indicates that the trail is open all the way to the road. So is MROSD teaching me to ignore these signs or not?

The antenna farm on Black Mountain
Approaching Black Mountain from the north is steep. The first section is a paved driveway, and steep. After that is a steep dirt trail. Apart from the grade it's a fine trail for a road bike, and I think about half of the bikes I saw on the trail were road bikes.

At the top is a nest of antennae and a few surrounding trails. The last time I was up here was the Fourth of July. It was very hot, and I didn't spend much time looking around. This time I searched around a bit, looking for a nice clear view of the Santa Clara valley. In person, and especially on a clear day like yesterday, the view is spectacular. It's a little hard to convey in a photograph because trees are in the way. In person you just move a little.

Having drunk in the scenery, I headed off for the long descent. After a little more dirt trail, Montebello Road appears, along with a more accessible view of the valley. After I took a few pictures, I dropped down the mountain to the Stevens Creek Reservoir.
San Jose, every sprawling inch of it, from Montebello Road
Normally I would have turned right toward Saratoga and then home, but I've done that a lot lately and was looking for something different. Shortly after I moved here, while still living in temporary housing in Cupertino, I came up here on my very first bike ride in the area. I retraced those steps back to McClellan, near my old apartment, then headed across town toward Almaden Valley. In  doing that, I was retracing part of my second ride in the area, although before too long I got off track. Riding in suburban sprawl doesn't invoke much nostalgia.

Elevation profile. See a note about data for details
In the end it was just over 57 miles, with a little under 4000 feet of climbing, and another day among the trees on quiet mountain roads. Although sometimes the trees were bundled up on top of cars. Nothing's perfect.

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