Thursday, December 27, 2012

Redwood Gulch

After a spring and summer dominated by cycling, my fall was quiet. Far too quiet. With a newly-packed, reality-oriented schedule, I hadn't found time to take a nice long ride in a couple of months. Or even a nice short ride, for that matter.

So it was that on Christmas Eve, given a nice long weekend and a one-day respite from the rain, I climbed back on my bike.

View Redwood Gulch in a larger map

Despite two months of Brownian dispersion, I managed to find all my clothes and gear and water bottles and whatnot. I decided that the recent rain, especially the very heavy rain of the day before, precluded the Los Gatos Creek Trail, so if I wanted to head into the Santa Cruz Mountains (and I did), I needed to head toward Saratoga. Recently a neighbor told me about his favorite cycling route, which took him out that way. I was familiar with the whole thing except Redwood Gulch, which I've never ridden. Today would be that day.

Stevens Canyon Road, next to Stevens Creek
As I rode over Kennedy Road toward Los Gatos, I got an idea of what the rest of the day would be like. First of all, I had lost any fitness I ever had, but that was no surprise. Second, the roads had mounds of leaves and twigs, left behind by the flowing water of the past few days. Slowly going up was fine, but on fast descents the twigs and slimy leaves could be tricky.

On the Saratoga/Los Gatos Road I got a flat in my rear tire. No obvious cause, but there was a hole in the tire. I think water on the road makes flats more common, possibly by lubricating an object that would otherwise have stuck in the rubber. No problem; I always have an extra tube, so the replacement was easy.

I passed through Saratoga and started up the lower part of Congress Springs Road, enjoying the sunshine and the relatively light traffic. I took Pierce, feeling pretty good while climbing up to the Mountain Winery entrance. After descending to Mt. Eden Road I remembered that there's a steep little hill in the middle of that road, but I managed to get up there with little drama. Still, this ride had some pretty steep sections, considering my weak legs.

At Stevens Canyon Road I took the left turn, following the heavy Stevens Creek and enjoying its roaring. Stevens Canyon Road climbs very gently to meet Redwood Gulch at about 800 feet. I took the left on Redwood Gulch, and began a very slow climb up a very steep road.

Redwood Gulch Road
Being so out of shape I managed to let my heart rate get out of control, and had to stop to catch my breath. It was then I noticed that my front tire was now going flat. Since I had already used my one spare tube, I was going to have to patch this one, which is rare for me. So rare, in fact, that my glue had completely dried up. I was going to have to nurse this back, at least into cell phone range. I could have turned around right there, but that would put me near Stevens Creek Reservoir, where there might not be coverage. So I decided to head up to Highway 9, at the bottom of which was Saratoga.

I pumped up the tire and headed up. The road wasn't quite as steep at this point, and in any case I wasn't putting much weight on the front tire. It lasted pretty well. I stopped to put air in a couple more times (nothing to do with my heart rate on the steep hill, I'm sure). I topped the tire off again when I reached Highway 9 at 1550 feet of elevation, then descended into Saratoga. At this point the tire seemed to be holding up pretty well, so I decided I could make it home, only pumping air into it every 10 minutes or so.

Elevation profile
In that way I made it back home, after a ride of 33 miles with about 3000 feet of climbing. It was a short ride, but with some steep stuff that left my poor legs aching. The most difficult kilometer was the upper part of Redwood Gulch, which seemed quite steep but only registered a 10.8% grade. Compared to the rides of the summer it wasn't much, but it was something, and I even managed to cover some new ground. A very enjoyable morning.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Summit Sideroads

On Sunday I spent some time exploring an area I normally buzz right through.

View Sideroads off Summit in a larger map

In what appears to be a developing bad habit, I didn't manage to get out on Saturday, and my time was constrained on Sunday. I've been meaning to take a real bruiser of a ride, but I wouldn't have time on Sunday, either for the ride itself or the inevitable recovery. I don't remember how I came up with the idea of exploring around Summit Road, but I was immediately excited about it. I used to ride around that area a bit, but once I got enough range to ride to Santa Cruz, the Summit area became just a place to pass through. Sunday, I decided, I would turn that on its head, and just poke around until I was beat.

The day started off deep in fog, but I got going in the late afternoon when it was just clearing. I took the usual route. On the steep ramp near the dam I had to walk up almost the whole thing, annoyingly.

The bridge at Wrights Station
When I got up to Summit I headed east, then took a left on Morrill Road, heading for Wrights Station. I've been down this way before, but it was a long time ago, and I had forgotten how beautiful it this road is. Morrill runs into the deep woods, then when you head down Wrights Station Road it gets deeper into the woods and even more isolated and quiet.

At the bottom of the road you find the Los Gatos Creek. The bridge across the creek is the only reminder that there used to be a little town here. The buildings are all gone without a trace.

Wright’s Station, Santa Cruz Mountains, c.1902
Wrights Station in 1902
As you can see from the old photo, the current bridge (which corresponds to the bridge on the left, in the photo) basically points at the tunnel entrance. These days there's a fence along the bend in the road, and once beyond that you can climb down to the tunnel entrance.

The path runs along a ridge, because the area next to the hill, on the right side of the old photo, has long since collapsed and washed down the creek.

The Wrights Station tunnel entrance
Looking out from the Wrights Station tunnel

After poking around the tunnel for a bit, it was time to climb back to Summit. This climb turns out to be about 1.5 miles long, and averages a stout 7.9%. Not too bad, and worth the visit.

Morrell Cut-off
Morrill Road takes you to Summit Road, at which point you can cross the street to Morrell Road. I'm reasonably sure they're both named after the same family, who spelled their name Morrell. The sign says Morrell Road, but most places call this Morrell Cut-off, apparently built by Hiram Morrell to route dusty Santa Cruz Turnpike traffic away from his vineyards.

The cut-off involves a few hundred feet of climbing, so in the past I've always avoided it. It's a skinny little road, not exactly smooth, but just as pretty as you might expect. And the climb's nothing to worry about; again, I should take this road more often in the future.

The remains of Laurel
Morell Cut-off climbs to the Soquel Road. I took that south to Redwood Lodge Road, and then took that down to Laurel, another ghost town on this ride. Laurel was briefly a town, but now it's just a couple of houses at the intersection of Redwood Lodge and Schulties Roads.

Somewhere around here are two more tunnel entrances, but they're inconvenient. One is pretty obvious, but it's inconveniently behind a house. The other one, actually the southern end of the Wrights Station tunnel, is supposedly approachable but I've never managed to find it. It's down here somewhere, but I didn't see it from the road. According to this runner's account, you can find it by descending into the area on Summit Canyon Road, from Summit Road. I might try that next.

The only other time I've been here was just over a year ago, and Schulties Road was undergoing major construction. Looks like that's done now.

Schulties Road, October 2012
Same area of Schulties Road, September 2011
Excellent work. Schulties climbs gently up to Old Santa Cruz Highway, which I took southward toward Highway 17, once again enjoying the 80 year-old concrete highway in virtual solitude. After that it was back home the same old way.

Elevation profile
Sunday's ride was 50 miles, with 4700 feet of climbing. The Summit area has lots of odd little historical sights, still within reach. Lots of fun to explore; I'm glad I got the chance to do that again.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Kennedy Trail

Yesterday I took the mountain bike out for a ride up the Kennedy Trail, and over El Sombroso.

View Kennedy Trail in a larger map

I didn't have time for a long ride, and it has been a long time since I visited these trails. Plus, I had a score to settle.

I got out at about 9:30, and trudged up to the base of the climb. I was thinking back to one of my first rides in the area, when I rode to the top of Kennedy Road... and then back home. Back then, that was plenty. This time, the same route just took me to the start of the real ride.

Midway up Kennedy Trail
The Kennedy Trail is very steep, and sufficiently broken-up and dusty that it's impossible to stand up and ride without spinning the back wheel. You just have to sit there and grind. I felt pretty good, but was still going very slowly. I was happy to stop at the mid-way tree for a rest.

After the midway point, there's a steep climb followed by a long flat section. After that, this ride for me is a series of ramps I can't seem to climb. The tread on my ancient tires is pretty good for riding on the street, but doesn't have enough bite for some of these hills. Plus, I think my geometry is off. And I'm pretty weak, to cap it off. Given all of that, I spent a good portion of the ride walking up hills.

Looking north from the Kennedy Trail

When I got to the top of El Sombroso, I went up the side trail to the highest point on the ride. At this point, I had to confront some demons. The last time I descended El Sombroso on the Wood Road toward Hicks, I fell three times in the loose shale. As you might expect, that shook my confidence in my meager descending skills. So this time, I prepared. I lowered my seat, and made sure I was wearing a couple of layers of clothes to combat road rash.

Wood Road
I think my earlier problem was that I had to use too much front brake, which caused the front tire to dig into the soft surface. This time my rear brake was working correctly, so I didn't have to rely on the front to keep me from hurtling off the cliff. Plus, it looks like they've graded the road since my last trip here, because it certainly didn't seem as rocky. Nonetheless, I descended gingerly, and stopped a few times to plan my line. I arrived at the bottom of the steep part without incident.

At the end of the trail I crossed Hicks Road into Quicksilver park, basically continuing on the Wood Road toward the mercury furnaces it once fed. I rode up to English Town, then descended on the Mine Hill Trail, which previously I've only ever descended. After that it was home on the Alamitos Trail.

Elevation profile
A short ride yesterday, just short of 30 miles. I'm glad I managed to slay, or at least wound, my descending demons. I'll have to try this again a few more times to get comfortable.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Corralitos, the other way

On Sunday, I took a bike ride on a familiar route, in an unfamiliar way.

View Corralitos, the other way in a larger map

We're running through a hot streak here in Silicon Valley, and Sunday was one of the hotter ones. It was a good 10 degrees hotter than Saturday. I thought it was hot last weekend, but this was worse. On the other hand, I'd be riding among the shady redwoods, rather than the barren eastern range.

I got started around the usual time, rolling away from the house at 9:30. I took the usual route up toward the Lexington Reservoir, and I was happy to be able to ride up the notorious steep dusty ramp, despite spinning my slick back tire a bit. I continued up Old Santa Cruz Highway, feeling pretty good, and continued southeast on Summit.

Highland Road
The plan was to go to Corralitos for lunch, but I decided to mix it up ever so slightly by reversing the direction I normally go. I have climbed Eureka Canyon Road and descended the southern side of Mount Madonna Road several times, but I've never gone the other direction. So Sunday morning, when I got to the intersection of Summit and the Soquel/San Jose Road, I continued onto Highland, heading toward Eureka Canyon.

Roads ridden in an unfamiliar direction are complete strangers. One so rarely looks backward when riding that the sights are fresh, and the character of climbs are unfamiliar. In this case, I found the small climb up Highland to be very pretty, and the descent down Eureka Canyon Road wasn't as terrifying as I thought it would be. The potholes near the top are bad, but shortly afterward the road is really smooth the whole way down.

Highland Road
In Corralitos I got the usual sausage sandwich, then headed off toward Mount Madonna. Except for my over-full belly, this was a great part of the ride; the little rise on Brown Valley Road is wooded and shady, and there was very little traffic. On the descent, the road surface was bad enough to eject both my water bottles at one point, but otherwise it was a quick ride to the bottom of Mount Madonna Road.

It seems like all the roads around Mount Madonna are steep. The approach is no different, but on Sunday it was especially bad because the steep ramps were also exposed to the sun. I had to stop several times to cool down. In the past I had to do that frequently, but I thought I was past that; as it turns out, it's just a question of the prevailing temperature.

As I weaved up those hot steep ramps, I looked forward to the shade I knew was higher up. As it turns out, the shady part near the top is relatively flat; all the hard work is in the sun.

I continued down the other side of Mount Madonna Road, then turned left on Watsonville Road, heading toward Uvas. As usual, there was a little headwind, but it never grew too strong.

By this time I was basically empty of energy, and so I struggled up Uvas road past all the reservoirs, and then home.

Elevation profile

Sunday's ride was 75 miles, but with only 5200 feet of climbing. The most difficult kilometer was on the climb up Mount Madonna Road. The difficulty is measured entirely in terms of grade, but on Sunday, with the sun bearing down, it was definitely the hardest part of the ride. It's been a very pleasant summer, but it's October already, and I'm ready for some autumn.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mount Hamilton

Last Saturday I set out to ride the Hamilton/Livermore loop, but ultimately only did the first part.

View Mount Hamilton in a larger map

I drove to the Berryessa community center reasonably early, and set off on the bike just after 9 AM. It was a lovely day, and I headed down White Road to McKee, then Alum Rock Avenue, then up Mount Hamilton Road.

By the time I was getting to the flat and open part of the first climb, it was already warm. On the second climb it was getting pretty hot, and considering that I was planning a 100-mile ride, I was already feeling uncomfortable in the saddle.

On the upper part of the climb I had nearly finished my two water bottles, which wasn't a good sign; it wasn't even noon yet, and would it would be getting a lot hotter in the dry valleys behind the mountain. The fact that I had finished two bottles meant that, try as I might, I'd be completely dehydrated at the end of the ride. So I punted; I'll do the loop when it gets a little cooler.

From the Lick Observatory, looking north.
This was taken with the new iOS 6 panorama mode.
On the way down I enjoyed the newly repaved road on the last hill. It's now quite smooth, and those two bone-jarring ruts midway down are gone. The other parts of the road that were gravelly a few weeks ago are now solid, although much rougher than that smooth top section.

Elevation profile
This ride was just 44 miles, less than half of what it should have been, with 4900 feet of climbing. The most difficult kilometer was midway through the top climb at 6.2%, just slightly steeper than the average of 5.9%.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Big Basin

On Sunday I took a long bike ride through Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

View Big Basin in a larger map

Like most days around here, the morning was chilly but the afternoon would be quite warm. I didn't want to bring any cold weather gear, so I dawdled a bit, waiting for the sun to assert itself. At about 9:30, I set out.

I've done this route several times, but it's been a while. It's one of my favorite rides, partly because it passes through one of the prettiest parks in the area and partly because the length and climbing are a good challenge for me.

I took the familiar route down the Los Gatos Creek Trail, this time having to walk my bike up the steep section because I spun out in the dust. I think that section becomes dustier and more difficult as the dry season wears on, and we're nearing the end of that cycle. I hope so, anyway, because I'm starting to loath that ramp, going up or down, but it's the only way through.

Old Santa Cruz Highway
Old Santa Cruz Highway took me up to Mountain Charlie Road, which I slowly climbed to Highway 17, and across to Summit. I descended Bear Creek Road nice and fast into Boulder Creek, where I had my customary lunch at Foster's Freeze. The owner surprised me by asking if I knew "Jobst". I don't, but as an older cyclist in the Santa Cruz mountains, it was a fair bet that I would know Jobst Brandt by reputation. Or perhaps by legend. The owner lamented Jobst's absence, both from the Foster's Freeze and as a familiar sight riding through Boulder Creek. Yeah, me too.

After lunch I slowly set off, up Route 236 toward Big Basin. There's a bit of a hill in between Boulder Creek and the park, so when I enter the park I'm normally coasting down the hill. Coasting down a quiet road, on a warm day but in the cool shade of giant redwoods... this is basically why I ride the bike. I'm very lucky to be able to do this.

North Escape Road
At the park HQ I filled up my bottles, then headed up North Escape Road. Initially this road passes through additional parking lots and picnic areas, and folks walk along the road. A little later, I saw a troop of kids on a hike. But after that, I had the whole road to myself.

North Escape Road is largely flat until it crosses a creek, at which point it's pretty steep. In fact, the most difficult kilometer of the ride was in this section, with an average grade of a little over 10%. The lush setting, including a road covered with a soft bed of pine needles, somehow makes that grade much more enjoyable than similar climbs on sun-drenched roads. In fact, North Escape Road ends back at Route 236, which then becomes one of those shadeless roads for a mile or so.

I followed Route 236 to its junction with Highway 9, which I climbed to Saratoga Gap. After a pleasantly fast descent into Saratoga, I took the normal route over Kennedy back home.

Elevation profile
This ride was just short of 72 miles, with 6600 feet of climbing. It's a big ride for me, and I was pretty sore at the end of it. I think part of that is just because it was warm, and consequently dehydrating. Still, it's a great way to spend a day.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


I've always admired people who manage to organize their lives such that they can commute by bike. On Tuesday I decided to pretend to be one of them, taking a pleasant (but flat) ride in the morning traffic.

View Mountain View in a larger map

... but not exactly early morning traffic. After my morning errands, I only hit the road around 9, after the peak of the rush hour. I was heading up to Mountain View, so I started on Camden and the San Tomas Expressway. Normally my rides are focused on climbs, so this was one of the few times when I could really try to ride quickly on a flat road. I was surprised to be able to maintain 20 mph or more reasonably easily, although it's apparently slightly downhill in this direction so I shouldn't get too excited.

Bone dry wetlands in Sunnyvale Baylands Park
I didn't really have a path in mind. When I got to Monroe, I thought the San Tomas Expressway was going to peel off eastward soon, so I took a left. Almost immediately I came upon the San Tomas/Aquino Creek Trail, and decided to see where that went. As it turns out, it goes quite near the bay, crossing 237 up toward Alviso. At that point I headed west through Sunnyvale Baylands Park, stopping briefly to look out at... well, not much, really.

After that I continued around Caribbean Drive, past the Yahoo! headquarters, and then took Moffet Park drive past the airfield on the way to Middlefield Road. I continued west to Shoreline, then took that up to, and around, the Google Headquarters.

I took Rengstorff south until it ends at El Camino Real, then took Springer south through Los Altos to the Foothill Expressway. Then I took that around to Stevens Creek, Blaney, Bollinger and then back on San Tomas Expressway and home.

Elevation profile, with especially exaggerated elevations.

This ride was a little under 50 miles and basically flat, with just 700 feet of climbing. But it shows that in a commuting scenario I can maintain a decent speed, which may just come in handy in the next few months.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Umunhum and Metcalf Road

Saturday I took a short bike ride around some pretty steep hills in the area.

View Umunhum and Metcalf in a larger map

My bike's rear tire was flat, which conspired with normal morning stuff to get me out a little late. As it turns out, the hole was on the bottom side, so I suspect that I must have pinched it last time I changed the tire. I've been riding on Serfas Seca 25 mm tires since just before I went to France. That was perhaps 700 miles ago. The back tire was worn quite flat, but worse yet had lots of cracks and cuts and whatnot. I swapped it for the 23 mm Ritchie slick that had previously been on the front, and was still noticeably round. I set out at 10 AM, hoping that I hadn't pinched this tube, too.

The currently-legal top of Umunhum, the highest point you can legitimately go, happens to be almost exactly 10 miles from my front door. I headed that way, passing from noisy suburbia to the very quiet, isolated Hicks road. Six miles into the ride I crossed the bridge that marks the start of the climb up Hicks.

The first time I rode up Hicks on my road bike, I weaved all over the road. When another rider passed by, offering encouragement, I remember saying that while I was familiar with the climb, I had only previously done it with mountain bike gears. I guess I must be a little stronger now, since I don't weave (much) anymore. Still, it's a slow and difficult climb for me.

This time I saw no other riders, either on Hicks or after I had turned up Mount Umunhum Road. This road always seems manageable because although it is very steep, it's not as steep as Hicks. I got up to the top in good order, and ate a Clif bar near the little forest of signs at the top. Then I made my way slowly and carefully down, dodging potholes and patches and gravel on this awful road. I took Hicks road south, toward New Almaden.

Normally on a ride like this I just head back home, for a quick 25-mile trip. This time I wanted a little more, so at Harry Road I took McKean south to the Calero reservoir, then took Bailey Road over the hills. I had ridden on this section of Bailey Road a long time ago, shortly after I moved to this area, and I knew there was a climb before the descent into the Santa Teresa Valley. But my memory was playing tricks on me; there's practically no climb from this direction, although there's a good descent on the other side.

Looking back at Santa Teresa Valley
from Metcalf Road
When I got near the IBM facility, I looked at a map to think about where I ought to go. One glance showed that Bailey heads west to the base of Metcalf, which was basically perfect. I hadn't done enough climbing today, so Metcalf would help. The problem was that I was nearly out of water; on the ride so far, there is zero water.

I climbed up Metcalf with creaking knees, wondering what I had got myself into. On the way up I was thinking that the motorcycle park must have water available, and when I got there I found not only a fountain but three vending machines. I enjoyed a "sports drink" before heading down the other side of the mountain.

Along San Felipe Road
The only other time I came up this way, I ended up going to the end of San Felipe Road, then returned back the way I came, over Metcalf. This time I took a left on San Felipe Road and descended into San Jose. Well, first I actually had to climb a little, which was rough on my now-tired legs. Then it was a quick descent toward San Jose.

I took Farnsworth Drive over to Silver Creek Valley Road, a little disappointed to find that I still had a bit of climbing to get to the top of the hill. Silver Creek Valley Road is wide, with two wide lanes in each direction, plus generous bike lanes. It's pretty steep and straight and doesn't get much traffic, so on the descents you can really get some speed. In my case I got to 45 mph heading down the west side of the road, taking up the right lane because the dusty bike lane's not quite enough at that kind of speed.

After that it was a quick trip home on Blossom Hill Road.

Elevation profile
This was a relatively short ride, coming in at 49 miles and 4800 feet of climbing. But pretty stiff climbing, I must say; both the Umunhum and Metcalf climbs average a 10% grade. The most difficult kilometer was near the bottom of Hicks, where it averaged over 14%. Not bad for a short ride.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Mount Hamilton, both sides

Yesterday I got back on the bike for a long ride over Mount Hamilton to The Junction for lunch, then back again.

View Mount Hamilton, both sides in a larger map

In June I tried this same ride, but stupidly did it on a Monday, when the damned restaurant's closed (except tomorrow, a holiday). I must say it's a much more enjoyable ride with a nice meal in the middle of it.

I got a late start, setting off from Alum Rock Road at 10 AM. Although the parking lot was full, I didn't see many riders on the road. Not much to report on the way up, except that they're repaving the road around Grant Park, so there's a lot of loose gravel. Nearer the top, there has apparently been a small recent fire, which is certainly awful and to be avoided, but which has left a really pleasant scent.

San Antonio Valley Road, climbing
back toward Mount Hamilton
After a little rest and fruit juice at the observatory, I headed down the east side of Mount Hamilton into the isolated valleys beyond. This late in the season, the valley is bone dry. Even the cattle, numerous in my previous trips through here, were scarce.

I found my way to the bar, just about the only speck of civilization between Mount Hamilton and Livermore, at a little after 2 PM. I had a BLT (the B was great, the L was fine, but the T were underripe) and various drinks, then headed back the way I came. It was only at this point that I saw any other riders on this road, when the passed headed toward The Junction.

The rolling hills on the way to Mount Hamilton are steeper in this direction, and since by now it was the hottest part of the day, it seemed even harder. As I got nearer the mountain, however, the shade grew deeper, and I could watch the thermometer on my computer drop from about 95 down to 85 as I began the long climb back up toward the observatory.

The Mount Hamilton trickle
Almost exactly halfway up the climb is a spring, one that was especially welcome on my last trip. This spring is very similar to the fountains in the middle of all the french villages, with water flowing into a small pool, presumably for animals. This late in the dry season, the flow was down to a trickle, but I stocked up nonetheless.

By the time I got to the top I was exhausted. My legs were sore and shaky, and my back was troubled by the relatively steep sections. Partly due to that, and partly because the day was getting a little chilly (the computer was reading 70 degrees), I passed by the observatory and just headed straight down.

This late in the day there were very few cars on the road, so I made good time. The new gravel makes for flat roads, but I don't really trust them, so I took my time on those. When I finally got back to smooth roads after Grant Park, I gratefully let loose again.

Elevation profile
Since I've been riding less often lately, this was a big ride for me. It ended up just short of 75 miles, with 8200 feet of climbing. The hardest kilometer was right in the middle of the backside of Hamilton, with an average grade of 9.6%.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Yesterday I took a long ride for a sausage sandwich.

View Corralitos in a larger map

Mount Madonna Road turns to dirt
I take this route down to Corralitos pretty often, although it's been a while since the last trip. In fact, it's been a while since I've ridden the bike at all; more than a week, I think. That's the longest layoff I've had in a while, and it showed.

I rode down McKean to Uvas, then up Redwood Retreat and the north side of Mount Madonna Road. The lower part of Mount Madonna Road, the paved part, is steep and exposed to the sun. I was going up slowly, too slow to outrun the bugs. I was certainly happy to get into the shade.

The last time I was up here I found the road pretty rutted, but this time it seemed very smooth. Maybe it's been graded in the meantime?

I dropped down the south side of Mount Madonna Road, then took Hazel Dell around to Corralitos. After the obligatory sausage sandwich (cheesy andouille), I headed up Eureka Canyon Road. The woods were lovely as usual. This late in the season there was very little water running in the various streams; I think I only saw running water in one stream, near the top of Highland Way.

I took my usual route home, down Old Santa Cruz Highway to Highway 17, then up the Los Gatos Creek Trail. There's an infamous steep pitch on the creek trail that gets dustier and more treacherous as the dry summer wears on. One of these days my front wheel will dig in, and I'll tumble down that thing. Not yesterday, though.

Elevation profile
Tuesday's ride was just short of 73 miles, with a little over 5000 feet of climbing. The steepest section was on the paved section of Mount Madonna Road, where the average grade was 10.8%.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Santa Cruz and Bonny Doon

Yesterday's long ride was to Santa Cruz, and then up Bonny Doon, a first for me.

View Santa Cruz and Bonny Doon in a larger map

I was planning to get started early, but with one thing and another I left when I normally do, at about 9 AM. I went up Los Gatos Trail in the normal way, but had to walk my bike up the steep dirt ramp when I saw about a dozen people coming down the trail, leaving no path for a wobbly climber. That's what I get for not leaving early, I suppose.

Grey skies in Santa Cruz don't
deter the surfers
I climbed Old Santa Cruz Highway, and on Summit I could see the fog rolling up from Santa Cruz meeting the blue skies of the San Jose side. I descended the Soquel/San Jose road, and the new pavement I saw them laying a few weeks back made for a smooth, fast descent.

Capitola and Santa Cruz were grey and chilly when I got there. I rode along East Cliff Drive, as usual, and stopped at my usual place for an unhealthy lunch. I then continued west, past the boardwalk and pier, and picked up West Cliff Drive, a first for me.

Near the surfing museum, sea lions
rest on the rocks
By this time I was riding under blue skies, but could still see the low clouds hanging over Capitola. I stopped in the Lighthouse Field State Beach, near the small surfing museum, to look out over the rocks. I could hear, but only barely see, a bunch of sea lions lounging on a tiny island, watching the people watching them.

I continued along Cliff Drive until it entered Natural Bridges State Beach, at which point I hopped onto Route 1 and continued west. On the beach the wind had been intermittent, but on Route 1 it was strong and consistently in my face. Again I am reminded that, when taking Route 1, you always want to be coming from the north/west. And yet I'm always heading the opposite way....

Bonny Doon Road
At Bonny Doon Road I turned right, and momentarily enjoyed the respite from the wind and the warmer temperatures. Then the road turned sharply upward. The Stanford cycling page notes that the road gains about 1000 feet in 2 miles, after which the grade eases. That's quite accurate, and the point at which the grade eases is very clear on the road.

Ice Cream Grade
I took Ice Cream Grade toward Empire Grade. Ice Cream Grade drops toward Laguna Creek, then winds its way through a beautiful wood to meet Empire Grade. I crossed the road to descend Felton Empire Road, again through a lush redwood forest.

By this point I was feeling a little spent. I stopped in the Felton covered bridge park and refilled my water while I ate a Clif bar. Then I started up Zayante, which is also largely wooded. After the treeless climbs in France, and with the recent warm weather here, I was feeling lucky to have such a lovely, shaded roads.

At the top of Zayante, now fully spent, I sidled over to Bear Creek Road and descended to Highway 17, then into Los Gatos and home over Kennedy.

Elevation profile
Yesterday's ride was 84 miles, with just under 7000 feet of climbing. The most difficult kilometer was near the bottom of Bonny Doon, where the grade averaged 9.7%.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Traveling with a bike

As previous entries in this blog attest, I recently returned from a cycling tour in France. I brought my bike with me, so I learned a (very) little about travelling with a bicycle.

Here's the short version:
  • Regardless of whether the airline has a limit for the size of a bike box, pack the bike as compactly as possible so it will fit in the various trains, cars and buses you're going to use.
  • The TSA will unpack your box, so make it simple to repack.
  • It used to be different, but these days the airline's bicycle fee keeps you from having to pay the (much higher) oversize bag fee. If the box is overweight, you'll pay an additional penalty.
  • Apparently flying with a bicycle remains unusual enough that you're likely to run into a airline employee who is unfamiliar with the process.
With that out of the way, I'll describe my experience.

Do you want to bring a bike?

The first question to ask yourself is whether you want to bring a bike at all. You could, for example, rent a bike. I was under the impression that it's hard to rent a road bike in France in July, but my wife found one in Paris easily enough (I would have needed it in Grenoble). Obviously you're limited in choice and likely to get a lower-end bike, but in my case that would have been fine. It would likely have been cheaper, and vastly less hassle, to rent.

Another option I considered was buying a bike, likely in Grenoble, then selling it for whatever I could get in Paris. This would give me a little more choice, and since I'd be looking at relatively low-end bikes probably wouldn't cost much more than the other options. But that's a big "probably"; I have no idea where to sell a bike quickly, so if I got 50% of the purchase price I'd consider myself lucky.

Boxing the bike

Since I settled on bringing a bike (with one of the other options as a plan B, if my bike were lost or damaged), I needed to box it. People who do this a lot buy dedicated containers, but since I would be touring partly by bike alone, I either needed something disposable (ie cardboard), or I needed a place in Grenoble to store a bike case for 10 days. Cardboard it is.

Searching online, it became clear that Air France would sell me a box. But when I called them, they said they would only sell me a box immediately before my flight, as I was checking in. That hilariously silly policy may have been a figment of some customer service drone's imagination, but in any case I wasn't willing to put off packing anything, let alone the bike, until the last minute.

Amtrak sells boxes, as it turns out, so we visited the local train station. They had a used box that they gave me for free. This box was giant, and entirely unwieldy. I'm not sure whether there are size limits for bike boxes on airplanes, but this box was just too big to lug around. I ended up cutting off the side of the box and turning it sideways, then cutting off the opposite end and using it as a removable top. Since I knew the TSA would have to open the box, I bought nylon straps to close it, instead of tape. The box ended up measuring 46x29x11 inches.

To pack the bike, I removed the pedals, seat and wheels, then removed the skewers from both wheels. The pedals and skewers went into a ziplock bag. I then removed the handlebars and the forks, and the rack from the rear. The bolts went back on the bike, the spacers into the ziplock. I put some paper padding in the box, wrapped some of the dangly bits on the bike, and stuffed it in. Then I squeezed the wheels and seat in, and found a place for the ziplock bag. The hubs of the wheels formed the widest part of the box, so I made a couple of columns of cardboard to support those areas, and arranged them among the spokes.

The cool thing is that, on my bike, I could do all this disassembly with just three hex wrenches: 4, 5 and 6 mm. And since I happen to have a Y-shaped hex wrench with those three sizes, I could disassemble and reassemble the bike with one tool.

Flying with a bike box

The first test of the trip was getting the box to the airport. We took a SuperShuttle, and because we had lots of luggage but especially because we had a bike box, we had a van to ourselves. Had my box been much bigger (like, say, the original Amtrak size), there's no way it would have fit. I could just barely squeeze the box into the van sideways.

When we got to the airport I found that the box was about 33 pounds, which was well under the lowest airline limit of about 50 pounds. My first leg went from San Francisco to New York on Virgin America. They charged me $50.

While I was in New York I rode the bike a few times, partly to figure out whether everything was still working. If it was broken I'd certainly prefer not to pay to bring it to France. What I found when I opened the box was that while everything had survived, the TSA had repacked the whole thing quite carelessly. One of my hubs had punched a hole in the box itself, but there was no damage to the bike. The lesson I learned, but have found difficult to apply, is that however clever your packing job, one important factor was making it easy for an indifferent employee to repack, without instruction. I certainly didn't master that, but the next time I packed the bike I made it much simpler.

Delta charged me $75 for the flight to Paris, and the bike miraculously appeared among the odd-sized luggage at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Getting to our first hotel, near the airport, just meant getting the box on an airport shuttle, which was no trouble. The next day, I had to catch a train from Paris (Gare Lyon) to Grenoble. We rented an Opel Meriva, which again could just barely fit the bike box in back, after we lowered the rear seats.

When I booked the train tickets, I specifically chose the 3:37 PM TGV train to Grenoble because on the booking web site there was a little bicycle icon next to that particular leg. I have no idea what that meant, even now, because the train had no special accommodation for bikes that I saw. The train had a small luggage section in the middle of each car. I had hurried to my car as soon as I could, and when I got there the floor portion of the luggage rack was still empty. I took up the whole width of it with my box, then found my seat before anyone could associate me with it. No one asked about it. I have no idea what I would have done with either a larger box or an unboxed bike.

This box's lifetime ended in Grenoble. The next day I left Grenoble on my bike, with no ability to carry the box nor anywhere to store it in Grenoble. I therefore left it in the hotel room, along with a 10 euro tip to partly make up for doing something so rude.

Carrying the bike around France

My general plan was to do a loop of the Alps near Grenoble, then drive down to Mont Ventoux. So after 10 days on the bike I returned to Grenoble, rented a car, and drove to Carpentras.

The car was a Ford hatchback, maybe a Fiesta, and the bike fit easily. If I remember correctly, I didn't even have to remove the front wheel. After Mont Ventoux I drove up to Tours to meet the rest of my family, and then a few days later we all drove back to Paris.

For this leg of the trip, I needed some way to carry the bike. It wouldn't fit inside the car, since there were now three kids and all of our bags. I gave some thought to just lashing the bike to the roof using those nylon straps from the box, but that seemed embarrassingly jury rigged. If I had been alone I would have done it, but not with the wife and kids looking on. I ended up visiting the one bike shop in our village, which had exactly one bike rack for sale. For 70 €, I was set.

In Paris, the bike spent all of its time locked up. I cycled in Paris quite a bit, but always used the rental bike system Velib, which was much more convenient.

The return

When it came time to come home, I needed to find another box. Again, I could have relied on Air France, but I didn't want to leave it until the last second. So on the day before we left, I visited the nearest bike shop (directly across the street), and asked if they had a bike box they could spare.

Or at least I tried to. I used the word boite, which might translate as box, but it's not the right concept. The right word is carton, which means cardboard or a cardboard box. They didn't have one; they routinely cut up their boxes and store them flat. They pointed out that all bike shops in Paris do the same thing, since they're all short on space. What they had were very large flat sections, perhaps 5x3 feet, which they were happy for me to take away. I took four of them.

OK, I was getting closer. Earlier I needed a bike box. Now I just needed tape and a knife. As we all emerged from the subway I told my wife I was going to look for an appropriate store, but before I even took a step I saw an Office Depot. Problem solved!

I used two of the flat sections to make U-shaped box halves, which I taped together. I made a removable top from one of the other pieces. I had nothing to measure with, no straight edges, and was constructing the thing in a small apartment. It turned out not quite square, but it stood up on its own. I was pretty happy with it; my daughters were not impressed. The bike boxes (Giant brand boxes, incidentally) were double-thick, and because the way I made my box the bottom and sides were quadruple-thick. This box was incredibly strong, and slightly larger than the first one. The bike therefore fit pretty easily, and I threw in my 70 euro bike rack, too. It came it just under 20 kg, well under the 23 kg limit (and lighter than two of our other pieces of luggage).

We had a van bring us to the airport, and once again the box just barely fit.

When we got to the airport the Air France ticket person wanted to charge me 300 € for an oversized bag. I said out that the proper price was 75 €, and indeed I had to show him the Air France baggage page on my iPhone. He fetched a supervisor, who corrected me (it was actually 105 €, since I was travelling to Zone 3; the relevant page had been a 404 when I looked at it) and showed him how to enter the information on the computer.

But that was only part of it. I would have expected to pay the fee and move along, but it turns out that despite demanding payments at that counter, they don't accept payments. He printed me a voucher, to pay at the automated check-in stand. Then he said that he couldn't take the actual box -- I'd have to carry it to the other side of the terminal. Then he said I should put it on a cart behind me, and leave it there. I walked away with the voucher and zero expectation of ever seeing the bike again.

I tried to pay at the automated terminals, but couldn't make it work, even with help from an employee. He then told me I'd have to go wait in line at the ticket office, on the other side of the terminal. It was at this point that I started wondering what would happen if I didn't pay the fee. But rule-follower that I am, I dutifully waited and paid.

When I saw the bike box appear in the oversized bag area of SFO, I was relieved and quite surprised. To get home we once again used SuperShuttle, and wouldn't you know it -- the bike box just barely fit.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The packing list, revisited

A few weeks ago I described the packing list for my cycling tour in France. So, how'd that work out?

Pretty well, on the whole. I had everything I needed, and with only one or two exceptions made use of everything I carried.

I think the biggest problem was that I only had one set of non-cycling clothes, a pair of trousers and a shirt. Thus whenever I washed those clothes, particularly the shirt, I literally couldn't leave the hotel room except in cycling gear. Meanwhile, to cut down on the number of times I needed to wash them, I would remove them whenever I was in my room, which was just weird.

So I think I would have been better off with, at minimum, two shirts. I could have made room by leaving behind my swim trunks, which never got any use. Also, instead of long pants, I should have just brought shorts. I wanted to be presentable enough to eat pretty much anywhere, but everywhere I went there were guys in shorts. That makes space for an extra shirt, which would have made me much more comfortable.

The bag, as a whole, was very heavy. I didn't weigh it, but I definitely felt it on the steeper and/or longer climbs. The heaviest optional items were the laptop and its associated stuff. It's certainly true that I didn't need it, but it was very nice to have. I wrote some blog entries, watched some movies, and handled a few transactions that would have been awkward on the iPhone. Would I bring it again? I think if the trip were only a few days, then no. On a trip as long as this one (ie 10 days) or longer, then yes.

The Topeak MTX bag and its rack were perfect. The bag is flexible, perhaps a little heavier than necessary, but worked great throughout.

I didn't run into any rain during the day, although it rained at night a few times. My composable cycling gear (short and long sleeve jerseys, one undershirt, one adjustable light jacket) were plenty to get me through the varied weather, and I needed each item.

On this trip I had one flat tire, and zero other mechanical problems. That's partly luck, but also due to the fact that my bike is pretty mundane. It has lots of spokes, plain brakes, and a basic aluminum frame. It has a 9-gear cassette, which is more than is strictly necessary, but less finicky than a 10 or 11 gear configuration.

I think I did OK, considering that this was my first cycling tour. Maybe I'll get a chance to run the experiment again.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Summit to Saratoga Gap

Yesterday I went for my first bike ride since returning home, riding up to Summit Road and over to Saratoga Gap.

View Summit to Saratoga Gap in a larger map

I'm still somewhere between Paris and California time, so I got up early but waited until about 8:30 to head out, since any earlier would have been too cold.

I took the familiar route over Kennedy to Los Gatos, then enjoyed the ride up Old Santa Cruz Highway to Summit. It was great to be back in the fog and among the big trees. I didn't have enough time to head down to the coast, so I just rode up Summit all the way to Saratoga Gap, then quickly descended and returned over Kennedy.

Elevation profile
This turned out to be about 48 miles, with about 4500 feet of climbing. The most difficult kilometer was the one that included the segment of Mountain Charlie Road between Old Santa Cruz Highway and Summit, with an average of an 8.3% grade. A short ride, but a check-out ride for the bike (nothing apparently damaged), and a welcome return to the Santa Cruz mountains.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mont Ventoux

Today I rode my bike up Mont Ventoux, the Giant of Provence.

View Mont Ventoux in a larger map

I've been a little worried about this ride, especially since a guy at the top of Alpe D'Huez told me how tough it was. It's about the same elevation as Alpe D'Huez, but you start 600 meters lower. Depending on how you count it, it's between 14 and 20-some kilometers long, and it's got 9 straight kilometers whose lowest average grade is 8.6%. It's also famously exposed to the sun, and it was supposed to be pretty hot today. This could be nasty.

I wanted to get an early start, but I had to move my stuff to a new room before I left. As it turns out, the room that should have been mine had a broken bathroom, so I was staying in a double room. But now they needed that double, so I had to move into a room whose bathroom was still in pieces, apparently in mid-repair. OK, not ideal, but they had all day to get it back together.

18th century aqueduct in Carpentras
I got moving at about 9:30, riding amongst traffic out of town on the Avenue du Mont Ventoux. Oddly enough, that wasn't the road I really wanted, but it intersects after a few hundred meters with D974, which would take me right over the summit.

I had looked at a ride profile generated by, so I knew that the road climbed very gradually and wouldn't descend at all until the summit. Often I don't like this sort of low grade climb because it just makes me feel slow. But in this case I was happy for every meter gained on this easy grade, since it was one fewer that would have to be earned on the steeper grades to come.

As I entered Bedoin, I started to see lots of cyclists, making these skinny roads very inconvenient for drivers. I stopped at the grocery store to get some drinks, then headed up the road. At this point the roads runs among vineyards and the grade is still slight.

Eventually the road gets much more steep, but as compensation enters the pine forest. As with the other climbs I've done here, there's a lot of car traffic on the hill, and today I was noticing that the Diesel exhaust was especially nasty.

Climbing through the woods on Mont Ventoux
Despite the traffic I rarely saw any incidents, but there was one on this section. A car behind me slowed, waiting for a descending car to pass so it could get past me. But the descending car, for reasons unknown, slowed to a crawl just as it reached the ascending car, effectively blocking the road. A descending cyclist had to go into a two--wheel skid to avoid the descending car's trunk. I couldn't afford to weave out of my line at that point, so I couldn't turn around to see what happened, but I didn't hear contact. I think the descending car got moving quickly enough.

About 6 kilometers from the summit is a little rest stop called Chalet Reynard, packed with cyclists on their way up or down. I had been worried about whether my water would hold out, so I stopped to buy two cans of tea and three little bottles of water. I left well hydrated, and lighter by (gulp) 12 euros.

Entering the moonscape just past the Chalet de l'Eau Très Chère
After the chalet, the ground is increasingly covered by chalky rocks, and trees are much more sparse. We're on the bald top of the mountain, and you can see the road wind up to the tower at the summit. There's nothing up here to baffle the fierce wind. As you change direction, it might blow at your back, making the grade seem easy. Turn a corner and the wind's in your face, forcing you to inch up a 10% grade in a full aerodynamic position.

The Tom Simpson memorial
Mont Ventoux has climb markers (almost) every kilometer, and again I got to the 1 KM remaining marker wondering how all that road I could see ahead of me could be just one kilometer. This time, I was right. Unless I'm missing something, the marker is off by at least a few hundred meters.

Within this elongated last kilometer is the memorial to Tom Simpson, who died somewhere along this section of the road in the 1967 Tour de France. There were plenty of people paying their respects, as well as a motley collection of offerings. Just today there was an interview with Paul Sherwen in l'Equipe, partly covering Simpson's influence and death, even though this year's tour isn't coming through here.

The scene at the summit
I had always pictured that scene with an unforgiving sun beating down on a rider in an alkaline landscape. I don't know what it was like on that day, but today the wind was so strong up there that it was disorienting. You couldn't hear anything but the wind, shouting in your ears. It was a warm day today, but you didn't feel the sun's heat at all. Of course the wind dehydrates you even more.

Eventually, you reach the summit. Apparently the building and its tower are some sort of weather observatory, but frankly I'm not clear on that. There's a little store, and at least on this day there were stands selling jellied fruits and sausage. Well, why not?

D974 snaking up Mont Ventoux
The views are extensive, but distant, like you're looking out of an airplane window. Unlike the other climbs I've done on this trip, this climb actually takes you to the summit of the mountain, not just a pass. And even more unusually, this mountain is relatively isolated, although technically part of the Alps. It's a little like how Mt Diablo relates to the rest of its range. In any case, this means you can see for miles all the way around, to the limits of the haze.

Looking north, over the orientation table.
Mont Blanc is out there somewhere.
To me, the two most interesting views were of the road I had just climbed, and the view on the north side of the mountain, which reminds you that this really is part of a range. I would have taken more pictures in that direction, but the wind was so strong that it felt like it could blow the iPhone right out of my hands.

I went down the north side of the mountain, toward Malaucène. The descent was pretty shaky until I got under tree cover, at which point there was really very little to limit my speed. The road is smooth and there's plenty of visibility. I'm a pretty timid descender but nonetheless comfortably maintained 45 mph, only slowing down to avoid interacting with cars too much.

Chappelle Notre-Dame du Groseau
Toward the bottom of the hill I noticed a little sign for a 13th century chapel. I suppose this kind of thing litters the landscape around here, but for me it's well worth burning some brake pad to stop and take a closer look. I looked around the front of the chapel for a while, and spent several minutes reading the brief tourism sign (my French ain't so bon). All the while I was, of course, the only person there. Amazing.

Shortly afterward you get to Malaucène, which is basically a few blocks of cafes catering to cyclists, surrounded by a very old town.

Outside of town you climb at a gentle grade for a little while, then basically descend all the way into Carpentras.

Elevation profile
Today's ride was about 48 miles, with over 6200 feet of climbing. My analysis program identified two distinct climbs: the first started just outside of Bedoin, and ran for almost 2 miles at a 5% grade. The second started at St. Estève, and ran 9.8 miles with an average grade of 8.6%, climbing over 4400 feet without much of a break. The most difficult kilometer was very near the top, with an average grade of 11.4%.

With this climb, I basically ended the challenging portion of my cycling vacation. All my climbs are done; any rides in my future will be for sightseeing only. That's a little sad, but my butt and my knees would be happy about it.