Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Over Hamilton and Back

Well, that was dumb. When I rode the Hamilton/Livermore loop, I met some folks who rode over Mount Hamilton to The Junction for lunch, then returned over Mount Hamilton. That hadn't occurred to me before, but seemed like a reasonable way to climb the back side of Hamilton. So I did that yesterday.

Did you know that The Junction isn't open Mondays? Well, I didn't.

View Hamilton, over and back in a larger map

I drove to the base of Route 130 and started riding a little before 9:30. I had both the parking lot and the road to myself, which I suppose should have been a hint of things to come. I made pretty good time (for me) up to the observatory, and stopped for a bit to eat a banana and drink a couple of cans of fruit drinks from the vending machine.

Looking west from Mount Hamilton
After dropping down the back side of Hamilton, the hills along San Antonio Valley Road looked particularly parched. The thermometer on my computer was consistently registering over 100 degrees, although it was probably no more than 90 in the shade. But the heat was certainly getting to me.

There were lots of cows along this stretch of road, sometimes grouped in the shade of oak trees, sometimes drinking from nasty looking pools. There were no people to be seen, apart from the very rare passing cars. There were no other cyclists.

A coyote near San Antonio Valley Road
Shortly after I rounded the bend to turn north, I saw a coyote crossing the road, entering a field of cows.  I'm sure healthy cows can't be bothered by coyotes, but what about isolated bike riders? I gave him a nice wide birth.

San Antonio Valley Road rolls a bit, and as I strained to climb these little hills I dreaded the idea of the 2000 foot climb in my future. If I was having a hard time on a short uphill, how would I ever get up that mountain?

Finally I got to The Junction, and found it closed. It shouldn't have surprised me, since I've seen the web site before. Ah well. Rather than enjoying a nice sandwich and stocking up on drinks, I ate two food bars and drank some of my suddenly precious water.

On the way back I conserved water, but nonetheless I arrived at the base of the climb with very little water remaining. Putting this in perspective, I had already drunk 3 bottles of water and 3 cans of fruit juice, so I wasn't in danger. But it was hot, my mouth was dry, and there wasn't much shade on the climb.

I had heard that there was a spring somewhere on this road, but I had no idea where. I had ridden down the road twice now without noticing it. I thought the most likely place was in the valley at the foot of the climb, but I saw nothing there. As I started up the hill I squinted into every corner, hoping to see something. Eventually I decided that I had either passed it, or it was no longer there.

The front side of Hamilton was built such that mules could haul construction supplies to the peak, so it's not too steep. I don't know when the back-side road was built, but it was not required to be mule-compatible, and is therefore much more steep. I measured the back-side climb as about 4.4 miles with an average grade of 8.4%, with about 2000 feet of climb. For comparison, the last climb up the front side also climbs 2000 feet, but in 6.4 miles with an average grade of just 6%.

I had dreaded these steep ramps, but in the event it wasn't so bad. I was going slow, but I think a large part of it was the heat, and not incidentally my worry about water.

The spring on San Antonio Valley Road,
a most welcome sight
The climb begins at about 2200 feet of elevation. By the time I got to about 3100 feet I had long since given up on the idea of finding the spring, so naturally there it was, sitting off in a corner next to a convenient pull-out. A metal pipe runs down from somewhere, probably heaven, and pours into a cistern, which then drains into a creek.

I was overjoyed. I drank a full bottle of water as I stood there, rested a bit, and left with refilled water bottles and confidence.

After the spring, there seemed to be more shade on the road, either from trees or because the afternoon was wearing on. With virtually no traffic on the road I could pick and choose from the left or right sides on which to ride.

Near the top of the climb the road gets a little steeper, and in fact the most difficult kilometer of the day was near the very top of the climb, with an average grade of 9.3%. I climbed back up to the observatory again, mainly to revisit the vending machine for two more fruit drinks. Then it was mostly downhill to the car.

Elevation profile
Yesterday's ride was 74 miles, with over 8100 feet of climbing. I think I would have enjoyed it much more with a nice leisurely lunch in the middle.

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