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.