Thursday, December 24, 2015

Mountain Charlie Road

It's another holiday, so I get another ride. This time it was down to Santa Cruz, and back on Mountain Charlie Road.

The last couple of days have been rainy and we're traveling after Christmas, so today was basically my best chance. I was concerned that the the Los Gatos Creek Trail would be a mess, but it was wet and firm, with lots of puddles but no ruts forming.

I once again took Rodeo Gulch Road, mostly to enjoy a little extra isolation. As usual I stopped for lunch at Betty Burger, where it was just barely warm enough to sit outside, if you were in the sun.

Seabright Beach
After lunch I made sure I got a good look at the ocean, then headed up Glen Canyon Road to Bean Creek Road, and took Mountain Charlie Road home.

Elevation Profile

Today's little ride was just over 70 miles, with about 5700 feet of climbing. The toughest kilometer was the top part of Laurel Glen Road and the first part of Rodeo Gulch Road, where it averaged 9.8%. All the other climbs are much easier. It was a great day for a ride, and if I'm lucky I may get one more ride in 2015.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


Yesterday I took advantage of the long weekend to sneak out for a non-commute ride up Mount Umunhum.

Normally I try to fit in a long ride on these long weekends, but the day after Thanksgiving I woke up pretty late and was lazy, so I only had a few hours. Meanwhile, there's been a lot of work on the mountain since the last time I saw it, so I wanted to see what was up.

As far as I can tell, the last time I did this ride was April 2014. Since then they've constructed a little parking lot at the gate on Mount Umunhum Road, the highest point cars are currently allowed.

Plenty of parking
Basic facilities
There's a nice little parking lot and bathrooms, but no water that I could see.

No change in the road surface
If I understand it correctly there are plans to re-pave the road when they open access to the top, so it's no surprise that it hasn't been worked on yet. It's not a problem when climbing, but when descending the 10%+ grades it can be tricky.

I'm sure the quality of the road hasn't changed much, but this time I found myself unable to dodge several large potholes. It's nerve racking, but then again a smooth road surface might encourage reckless descending.

Even more emphatic signs
The next change one notices is that MROSD has put up new signage blocking the road that's even larger, 100% redder, and generally more emphatic. Before too long we'll be able to ride (and even drive) to the top; why they still can't allow bike and pedestrian traffic even one foot further than this is a mystery to me.

New facilities at Quicksilver
After a long cold descent I rolled through New Almaden, and saw new construction at the Hacienda entrance of Quicksilver park. There too they've erected a little bathroom and they appear to be in the process of building a bell tower for some reason.

What I learned from this is that, in building a bell tower, one apparently installs the bell before even finishing the exterior. Who knew?

I had a few extra minutes of sunshine and no interest in riding along Almaden Expressway, so I took Harry Road past the entrace to the IBM Almaden facility, where it winds through a hilly little residential area on the way back to Camden.

Elevation Profile
All in all a really enjoyable ride -- perfect weather, I felt good on the steep climbs, and it fit neatly into the afternoon. It was just under 25 miles, with a little over 3000 feet of climbing. The most difficult kilometer was the lower part of the climb up Hicks, which averages well over 14%.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Big Basin and Zayante

During an unusually complicated weekend, I had a rare chance to go out for a nice long ride.

I've been doing my evening 25-30 mile commute very regularly, but I've only put together a couple of longer rides this whole year. Once I realized I was going to have a free day, my thoughts drifted to the top of Black Road. I haven't been there in... forever. Then thinking a little more, I remembered that I've never climbed Gist Road, so that got in the plan, even though it meant cutting out the prettiest part of Black Road -- the part that had inspired the route in the first place.
Gist Road, with a fabric-covered hill

The morning was heavily overcast but not terribly cool, and I got on the road at 8:30. I headed up to the Lexington Reservoir, negotiated the little dirt track next to Highway 17, and started up Black Road. There is no shoulder on any of these roads (Black, Bear Creek or Montevina), so while there's not much traffic it's all inconvenient.

Gist road was very quiet, mostly a winding single lane. Very pretty.

A Really Big Tree
I had forgotten to eat any breakfast, so the rest of my planning revolved around lunch. I decided to stop at the Foster's Freeze in Boulder Creek, so at the top of Gist I took a right and headed toward Route 9. As I was decending 9 I was a little early for lunch, so at Route 236 I headed toward Big Basin, to extend the ride and mostly to enjoy the woods.

Upper Zayante Road
With lunch managed I wanted to find a way to climb up Mountain Charlie Road, again just because I hadn't been there in a long time. I headed down Route 9 and took a left on Glen Arbor Road to avoid some of the traffic. Along that route, you see signs for Quail Hollow Road heading to E. Zayante. That would be a new route for me, and riding on Route 9 and Mount Hermon Road to Scotts Valley would be unpleasant, so: Zayante it is.

At the top I headed right, descending to Los Gatos on Old Santa Cruz Highway. All day I had felt pretty great, up for any options, but by now I was feeling the unusual (for me) distance and climb, and just headed back home over Kennedy.

Elevation Profile
This little outing was 77 miles, with 7300 feet of climbing. The hardest kilometer was Gist Road, at nearly 11%. I'm happy that I managed to see my old haunts again, and indeed that I still have that range. But I hope to have a few more open days during the upcoming holidays.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Santa Cruz and Big Basin

Yesterday I took advantage of the holiday weekend to take my first long ride of the summer.


I've been riding a lot lately, but it's all in the form of my daily commute between Mountain View and Almaden. I don't seem to be able to make time for a long, all-day ride on the weekends anymore, but on a long weekend I can normally fit one in. This weekend is Independence Day, so it fits the bill.

Rodeo Gulch Road
I didn't really have a plan, but since it's been so long since I've seen Santa Cruz I decided to head down that way. On a day destined to be pretty hot I got an early start, rolling into the cool (but definitely not cold) morning at 7:30. I took my normal route over Kennedy to the Old Santa Cruz Highway, rolling through the redwoods on a cloudy morning.

After a quick descent on a quiet San Jose-Soquel road, I took the turn onto Laurel Glen Road to enjoy the woods a little more. At the northern edge of that road I decided to take Rodeo Gulch Road, which was new to me, toward Santa Cruz. It turns out to be a pretty little one-lane road.

Crossing the San Lorenzo river
I meandered through town mostly aimlessly, except that I wanted to see the ocean before heading back into the hills. I ended up crossing the San Lorenzo on the old railroad bridge next to the Boardwalk, as I often do.

The river trail took me to Graham Hill Road, which in turn took me to Felton. Graham Hill was busy with traffic and steep, but the sun was tamed by clouds and I continued to feel great.

At Felton I turned on to Route 9, and continued north to Boulder Creek. I detoured onto Glen Arbor Road to try another road new to me, not to mention get away from traffic, but it seemed like there were a lot of cars there, too.

A redwood along North Escape Road.
After lunch at the friendly Foster's Freeze I headed toward Big Basin State Park, this time taking Park Avenue to avoid a traffic a little more. As I continued on 236, the clearing skies allowed the sun to beat down and the effort on the climb began to tell. My morning of pleasurable cruising was becoming an afternoon of work.

The park headquarters was crowded, and an overflowing parking lot meant that the road was clogged. I topped off my water and rested a bit, then headed off on North Escape Road for a little peace in the shady forest.

North Escape Road
One of the advantages of North Escape Road is that you don't have to contend with the traffic on the skinny side of 236, but on this trip I actually encountered my first-ever traffic on the upper part of North Escape Road, in the form of a park ranger heading the other way.

Once I got back on 236 I was exposed to the sun for the rest of the climb, but enjoyed the brief relief offered by the shade of occasional trees. As I continued up Route 9 I was calculating whether this ride would end up being 100 miles. Calculations done on the bike are always comically difficult. I suffered up the climb, but enjoyed the descent. I went back home the usual way, following part of my daily commute, and went home a slightly circuitous way to go over 100 miles.

Elevation profile
Yesterday's ride was just over 100 miles, with 8100 feet of climbing. The most difficult kilometer, on this day of moderate climbs, was on the upper part of North Escape Road. I'm pretty exhausted today, but if these long rides are going to be rare, I suppose I ought to make them count.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Following Jobst Brandt

I never met Jobst Brandt.

I moved to the Bay area in 2008, and soon developed an interest in cycling in the Santa Cruz mountains. As I sought more interesting routes through the mountains I inevitably became aware of Jobst Brandt and his extensive experience, writings, and influence.

Jobst Brandt on nearby Umunhum Road
Photo by Ray Hosler.
The first way Brandt influenced me was describing some of the great rides around here. Brandt's adventurous spirit and disdain for arbitrary restrictions inspired many of my exploratory rides. In my case, the influence often came second hand. For example, one of my first rides to Loma Prieta was directly inspired by Bill Bushnell's route, which in turn was suggested by Brandt. Many other rides were directly inspired by Ray Hosler, who carries the same spirit. Brandt also contributed to catalogs of climbs like the Stanford cycling routes page, which I used to rely on extensively.

We're lucky that Brandt's later career coincided with the rise of the Internet, and specifically Usenet. I don't know where this sort of memoir, interesting and useful but without the polish or audience required for magazines, could have been published otherwise. Having said that, it's worrying how many of the reports are filled with broken image links.

Jobst Brandt simultaneously testing
theories of slick tire grip, cornering
technique and helmet use.
Photo by Ted Mock.
Another of Brandt's legacies is his extensive writing on bicycle-related engineering, including his strong opinions on myriad topics on, and of course The Bicycle Wheel. I'm an engineer (software, anyway) and appropriately skeptical of marketing disguised as innovation in the cycling industry, so I have a natural affinity for Brandt's attitude. But I'm also an indifferent and lazy mechanic, so I read it only as a spectator.

Just climbing the sign is impressive
for an older guy.
For me, Brandt's most direct influence was his annual cycling trip in the Alps. Every year he undertook a trip similar in scale to the Tour de France, carrying his gear on the bike and staying in hotels. That style of touring directly informed my trips in 2012 and 2014. Of course his days and his trips were vastly more arduous than my own; maybe someday I'll work up to that level.

The influence continues. Brandt also often rode across the Sierra Nevadas and back; I may try that this summer. And he described a long ride through New Idria that sounded really interesting to me, but it was later closed by the Bureau of Land Management. It is reported to be open again; maybe I'll try that some time.

Finally, I'm pretty old, so Brandt's example is especially inspirational to me. He routinely enjoyed long, all-day rides through the mountains well into his 70s. In 2010, for example, he reported a typical ride up Bonny Doon. A ride of 110 miles and 8000 feet of climbing at 75 years of age? It would be impossible to believe from anyone else.

Note the smile (from Bill Bushnell's blog).
I'm sorry I never met Jobst Brandt. He's gone, but I continue to appreciate and benefit from his wisdom and his example. Rest in peace.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Mount Tamalpais and the Marin Headlands

Yesterday I took a brisk ride from San Francisco up and around Mount Tamalpais.

I've had lots of time off recently, and I was looking for something a little out of the ordinary for me. Mount Tamalpais sounded interesting, and I've only been there once, two years ago.

Starting off, looking at the road ahead.
Armed with only vague memories of the route from 2012 and an almost complete lack of any other planning, I set off early in the car. I was headed for the Vista Point just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. As I drove through thick fog on 280 (so thick that the sparse traffic slowed a bit), I remembered that the Golden Gate Bridge no longer has cash toll booths. I don't have FasTrak, and I couldn't remember whether that would be a problem (answer: no, not a problem) and couldn't easily check. I decided to find parking in San Francisco and cross the bridge on the bike. And having made that decision, it was obviously better in every respect.

As I neared the bridge a search for parking brought up Inspiration Point, a scenic spot in the Presidio. When I got there it was literally empty, so I thought I must be violating some rule. Nonetheless I parked and started riding in the cold morning air, just after 8:30.

Somebody has placed French-style markers on
hills in the area. This one was on Corte Madiera Road.
Everything's so much easier in the morning. I crossed the bridge, passed through Sausalito to the Mill Valley/Sausalito bike path, and made my way up to Mill Valley with little traffic, whether car, bike or pedestrian. From Mill Valley I took roads up through the little towns that surround the mountain (Corte Madeira, Larkspur, Ross, and San Anselmo). Finally in Fairfax I turned onto Bolinas Road (passing an inviting coffee shop already packed with cyclists) and began the climb.

Alpine Lake
The first part of the climb goes past a golf course, after which car traffic decreases noticeably. It climbs a little more until descending to the beautiful and quite full Alpine Lake reservoir.

After a snack on the dam in the warming sun, I began the climb up away from the lake. Cars were parked all along the narrow shoulder of the road here, but few people were in sight. I guess there are hiking trails around there?

After a beautiful section of thick, dark woods, the path continues on Ridgecrest Boulevard. On this section the trees give way to grassy hills, currently a gratifying green. It offers the first views of the Pacific, and eventually Bolinas and Stinson Beach.

Bolinas Bay, as seen from Ridgecrest Boulevard.

The Lookout Tower on Mount Tamalpais
After this section the road turns toward the north-east and heads up to the nondescript West Peak, and finally the East Peak. I enjoyed the views while eating my remaining food, then hiked up to the observation tower. I could do that because I wear "mountain bike" shoes with SPD clips, not enfeebling road bike shoes. I can't imagine why anyone would choose the latter.

After that I headed downhill... very briefly, because one must immediately climb back to the West Peak. But then it's all downhill into Mill Valley, and from there the bike trail takes you back into Sausalito.

Instead of heading directly back across the bridge, I stayed on the road (Conzelman Road, apparently) to enjoy the views west of the bridge. I hadn't been up here before. It was now mid-afternoon, and appeared to be a nightmare for many cars seeking few parking spaces. It was nice on the bike, although a little steep in sections.

Looking back on the bridge and San Francisco from Hawk Hill.
I crossed the now-busy bridge, and found that the once-quiet roads in the Presidio were now backed up with cars waiting to cross the bridge. The Inspiration Point parking lot was now overflowing and crowded, partly due to people taking up spots while on long bike rides, I suppose. Things look a lot different in the afternoon -- the lesson is that if you get a reasonably early start, everything's easy, and later it becomes a huge hassle.

Elevation profile
Yesterday's ride was a little over 62 miles, with 5457 feet of climbing. The most difficult kilometer was the final climb up toward the East Peak of Tamalpais, at 8.1%. That's it for the holiday rides; now back to work!