Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Once Upon a Ride… An Epic Ride to the Big Basin Waterfalls

March 31, 2010

The fun begins on Whitehouse Canyon Road. More photos available in the Coast Range slide show on my website.

July 31, 1988

After the go-go days of Jobst Rides in the 1970s, it was sometimes just me and Jobst out for a ride. Jobst Brandt always had a way to make things interesting. This one is high on the list for adventure.

Route: Up Alpine Road, south on Skyline to Hwy 9, 236 to Big Basin Park, Gazos Creek Road to Whitehouse Canyon Road, down to Sunset Trail, Berry Creek Trail to Golden Falls, Cascade, Silver, and Berry Creek Falls, Skyline to the Sea Trail to the Pacific; Highway 1 north to Bean Hollow Road, up Pescadero Road to Loma Mar, Wurr Road to Haul Road, up Bridge Trail and Tarwater Trail, Alpine Road to Skyline, down Page Mill.
Weather: Warm and sunny after morning fog
Tire/Mechanical failure: Ray, flat.

One of the major attractions deep in the redwoods of Big Basin Park is a series of waterfalls: Golden, Cascade, Silver, Berry Creek. Reaching them calls for a long hiker over a high ridge from park headquarters or a gradual climb from the ocean on an old railroad grade now used as a park service road.

On this day, Jobst and I set off to explore a less traveled route, descending from above on Whitehouse Canyon Road and down a narrow, steep trail. We left under foggy skies toward the Santa Cruz Mountains as Jobst has done for the past 30 years. On the way we saw a procession of cars with bicycles attached, going to the event called Women on a Roll.

We passed a regular customer of Palo Alto Bicycles riding slowly up Alpine Road, moving about as fast as a snake on a cold rock. He wore heavy clothing and bulky hiking boots, the stuff of slow riders. His sweaty beard dripped like a leaky faucet. I waved and said hi. He recognized me from the shop.

On the way up Alpine Road we noticed the sign “All Must Walk” had been ripped down. We’re not the only ones who objected. Jobst pointed to a bush he said did not belong on the road. Next spring he’ll return and cut it down without prejudice. This is Jobst’s road now. He cares for it. It is his path to adventure in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a trail to Sunday celebrations.

At Big Basin we grabbed a bite to eat (don’t forget to turn in your cans for the nickel deposit) as we’ve done so many times in the past.

Gazos Creek Road started out in good shape, a bit loose but nothing to slow us down. However, conditions took a turn for the worse at the county maintained portion of road. All those thoughts about my life being on fire, sinking in the quicksand of sorrow, were replaced by a struggle of a different sort.

The dust was at least several inches deep – fine dust through which our tires sank and sucked us down until we could barely move. A tractor had plowed the road and Jobst complained bitterly about such a foolish act. After our bikes had turned to dust, we finally arrived at the aptly named Sandy Point Ranger Station where we met two men dressed like Sunday golfers, white T shirts and shorts. They had inexpensive mountain bikes and looked to be out of shape. They had ridden up Gazos Creek Road and were contemplating their next move. We suggested Whitehouse Canyon Road. They followed.

About 0.3 miles down Whitehouse Canyon we turned off at a service road with a gate and trail sign. It took us steeply down to Sunset Trail Camp, where we discovered the trail was closed. We turned around and headed up a short distance to the main camp where I noticed I had a flat. After making a quick repair, we headed back up the trail to a wood structure.

The trail took off from behind the building – loose and steep. Quickly, we entered the bowels of the canyon. Vegetation changed from chaparral and pine to redwoods. After a few switchbacks we arrived at a massive rusty, golden-hued rock over which the waters of Berry Creek cascaded into a liquid pool. Two men sat at the edge of the pool studying the park map.

Jobst dismounted and walked to get a drink from the cool waters splashing down the rock’s smooth face. This was the stuff of fairy tales, a fern-covered redwood forest, golden waterfalls, a burbling creek and waterfalls – mystical, magical.

We headed down the trail over a series of log steps cut into the narrow, rocky canyon. Huge logs, the remnants of the flood of 82-83, lay across the narrow, rocky canyon like so many matchsticks. To reach Silver Falls we rappelled down a steep, rocky cliff. With our slippery plastic-soled shoes and bike in hand it wasn’t easy. We hung grimly onto the wire cable for support and made our way down.

At Silver Falls I took a photo. We rode the rest of the way down to Berry Creek Falls, passing about a half-dozen hikers. Berry Creek Falls is a 30-foot drop with an observation platform. From here it was a short distance to the Skyline to the Sea Trail. The road to the ocean had been repaired since the floods of 82-83.

We passed dozens of hikers and cyclists on the old railroad grade. One cyclist, a young boy on a small bike, pedaled merrily along. Jobst said, “He has to come back you know. Will he make it?”

We reached Highway 1 after four miles and headed north with a strong tailwind. How unusual. Heading south, into the wind, was none other than Erik Garfinkel.

Farther up Highway 1 we saw a Dusty Roads Tour van and then the two mountain bike riders we had seen earlier. We stopped and talked. They said some loggers had told them they were trespassing on Whitehouse Canyon Road, but let them pass. The riders looked beat and they still had to ride back to park headquarters.

We continued north with the tailwind and stopped at the newly renovated Beach House restaurant. We looked around inside and checked out a painting of old Pescadero.

Next we turned right on Bean Hollow Road (old Coast Highway) and headed into Pescadero, where we encountered a heavily loaded British tourist. His red hair gleamed in the afternoon sun. He was heading north to Half Moon Bay on a tour of California. We chatted before he headed off.

In Loma Mar we said hello to Roger [former store owner and postmaster] and had a bit to eat before taking the Haul Road. We met a couple of mountain bike riders on the road. As we headed up Tarwater Trail, I showed Jobst the former mill site and boiler.

Tarwater Trail isn’t so bad, but the paved road up to Alpine Road is something else: with some sections as steep as 20 percent. After that grunt work, Alpine Road seemed tame.

Near the Tulgey Woods we joined a cyclist walking his bike. Jobst urged him to remount and ride. “It’s not any easier walking. You can do it.” The rider finally got started. In the woods Jobst, as is his custom, began reciting Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky.

After a fast downhill on Page Mill we finished the ride with 100.5 miles on our cyclometers. An epic Jobst Ride had ended at 5:30 p.m.

Bike technology: More than the Ordinary

February 15, 2010

Albert Pope introduced chainless bikes in 1897, but they were expensive and had other issues. Now they're back.

In my last column I asked “is bike innovation chasing its tail?” Probably so, but that doesn’t mean engineers have given up trying to make improvements. New materials and technologies will continue to be discovered and benefit cycling.

Here’s my technology wish list, and some that were invented, then abandoned.

Flat-free tires. OK, they’re already here (also tubeless) but the rub is reduced performance. I’m not sacrificing rolling resistance for flat-free riding, at least not on my performance bike. I once met an elderly fellow retracing the route of Thomas Stevens and he had his tires filled with expanding foam. No flats, but a bumpy ride.

36-spoke rims. Wait, didn’t we used to have these? And weren’t they so reliable that if you broke a spoke it was no big deal? And didn’t Mavic make the reliable MA2? (a rim that I still ride and has 100,000 miles). Leave those 16-spoke wheels for the pros.

Direct drive. Chains are a filthy nuisance. We have the elegant direct drive today, popular for a short time in the 1890s. Belt drive is another option, from Trek. These technologies have their issues, but they work reasonably well for around-town riding.

Biometric handlebars. I’m thinking of monitoring heart rate, oxygen uptake, etc. I’d also like to see speed, distance, grade, etc., built into the handlebar.

Safe cranks. They break all too often at the pedal eye. A tapered pedal opening (like car lug nuts) will fix this.

Light, strong frame. Of course I want my frame to be supple, as strong as steel, and to weigh two pounds. That would be unobtanium. Carbon fiber comes close but doesn’t last.

We all want our bikes to work flawlessly and without maintenance. It’s a pipe dream, like unobtanium, so enjoy your rides with what’s available now.

Bike innovation: Chasing its tail?

February 5, 2010

Campagnolo index shift lever

When we talk about innovation, what does it mean for the bike? I wonder. How much innovation has there been in the past 20 years? 30 years?

Not much, beyond frame materials. Index shifting came along in 1984, and so did clipless pedals. I think they’re the last two meaningful innovations in recent history.

Headsets have come a long way from threaded to internal. It’s one of those hidden improvements. If pressed to name the most innovative change in the past decade, I’d say it’s the internal headset.

Let’s face it, the bike hasn’t changed much since the diamond frame and gears. You can ride a bike from the 1960s and get the same enjoyment as a bike made yesterday. You sure can’t say that about electronics.

This isn’t a bad thing. The bike’s simplicity is a blessing, not a curse. Marketing does its best to put the “new” into bike equipment, but I don’t think it helps sell bikes. Marketing would do better promoting the joy of riding.

Next time I’ll give my wish list for what engineers can work on. There’s always room for improvement.

Machinists Turn Wheels of Progress

December 24, 2009

Brian Spitz works with a block of aluminum

Brian Spitz is a machinist, an increasingly rare job skill in the U.S., and certainly in Silicon Valley. It’s rewarding work, but global economics comes into play here.

As with many machinists, Brian has a close connection to cycling. A bike is a relatively simple machine. With the exception of the chain, the aspiring machinist could fashion an entire bicycle. Today there’s a modest industry of U.S. built bike components.

I’ve known Brian since his days as an eager teen working at Palo Alto Bicycles. As a mechanic, he quickly took an interest in frame building. It wasn’t long before he found out about Peter Johnson, a well known machinist and frame builder in Redwood City. “I would hang around Peter’s shop and watch him work,” says Brian. “He never tried to hide what he was doing. He’s why I’m a machinist today.”

Peter Johnson -- racer, frame builder, machinist

The machinist is crucial for building the things that make the world go round. Every part starts with the machinist, who fabricates from raw materials the prototype, which will be duplicated hundreds, thousands, or millions of times over. He works with expensive, computerized machinery that control the machine to drill or cut with incredible precision.

I visited Brian in a San Jose industrial area, a mishmash of warehouses filled with machinery and raw materials. Brian and co-worker Harold Wheeler, also a cyclist, were working on blocks of black acrylic. Jets of water cooled the drill bit as it cut the hard resin. A lot of the work machinists do in Silicon Valley is done for companies in biomedical, solar, computer, and other technology industries.

When he built frames, he lived at home and worked out of the garage. Frame building has never been a way to get rich, but machining is in strong demand in the markets he serves. He loves his work and the freedom it brings, something cyclists know only too well.

Brian still rides his bike to and from work, an easy two-mile commute. He fondly recalls the days when he could ride up Old La Honda Road with the best of them. In one memorable ride, he raced Dave Faust, an accomplished Category 1 racer, and won handily in 16:20. “I thought Dave was saving himself so I rode as hard as I could the whole way,” Brian recalls.

That was then. Today, Brian’s Spitz Design & Machine is building the parts that will make the world a better place to live. We wish him well.

He Made a Business Out of Bikes

December 11, 2009

Bernie Hoffacker talks with Jim Sullivan. Craig Maynard, center, hired me in 1979.

I consider the 1980s the Golden Age of modern cycling. While it’s true I was at the peak of my game, consider this: Greg LeMond became the first American to win the Tour de France. Campagnolo reached its zenith as the manufacturer of the best bike parts in the world. Shimano was coming on strong. Mavic introduced the MA2 clincher rim, the best ever. The mountain bike became a household name.

And, Palo Alto Bicycles thrived. I had the privilege of working there. I can’t tell you I got rich: nobody does in the bike business. I had fun and adventures to last a lifetime. That’s the payoff.

Palo Alto Bicycles isn’t any bike shop. It has been around since 1930 (moving to University Avenue in 1973). That’s a long time for a business much less a bike shop. It’s family-run, which has its good and bad points. Do your job well and they treat you like family. It’s an intangible job benefit that can’t be measured in dollars and cents.

Bernie Hoffacker – The Owner
The driving force behind the shop was Bernie Hoffacker. He was well into his 60s when I started working there in 1979 as a fumbling “mechanic.”

Bernie had a way about him that left an impression. Nothing escaped his attention. A child of the Great Depression, he never let you forget every penny counts and no job is too insignificant or unworthy of being done just right.

One of my jobs was taking out the trash. Every night Bernie made the rounds and he always asked me if I had emptied all the cans. “Make sure you press it down real good,” he’d say. We had only one dumpster and sometimes it was a chore cramming in all the discarded bike boxes.

Bernie didn’t ride a bike, but he was athletic. I’d watch in amazement as he headed up the stairs, taking two steps at a time. In his youth he played baseball for the San Francisco Seals. One day we had a company picnic and Bernie showed up to play shortstop. When a hard-hit ball came his way he scooped it up like a pro. He had the moves!

Bike shops draw all kinds of people to work there and shop owners can tell you it’s a challenge keeping everyone in line, maintaining a professional manner, handling the dark side of owning a retail business. Bernie had that down in spades. His commitment and drive made Palo Alto Bicycles what it was and is to this day — a thriving business. Now Bernie is gone, age 92. He lived not just a good life, but a great life. I’ll miss him.

GM Architect of Light Rail’s Dismantling

November 3, 2009

Light rail tracks on The Alameda in 1984 near Santa Clara University

As GM gets its multi-billion-dollar government bailout using taxpayer dollars, let’s take a look back in time and see what this goliath did to assure its climb to power at the cost of public transportation.

GM began by funding a company called National City Lines (NCL), which by 1946 controlled streetcar operations in 80 American cities, including San Francisco.

“Despite public opinion polls that showed 88 percent of the public favoring expansion of the rail lines after World War II, NCL systematically closed its streetcars down until, by 1955, only a few remained,” writes author Jim Motavalli in his 2001 book, Forward Drive.

They went on to back a powerful lobby for an interstate highway system. The money we poured into building freeways could have gone toward bullet trains crisscrossing the country.

The freeway-building madness finally ground to a halt in the late 1960s when the cost became too high and the environmental movement got underway. Let’s not forget:

Freeways were slated for Highway 84 from Woodside to San Gregorio, Highway 17, San Francisco (several), Highway 1, Highway 29 Napa Valley, Highway 121 Sonoma Valley, Highway 35 Skyline Boulevard, San Tomas Expressway, Lawrence Expressway, Capitol Expressway, and that’s not all.

Mt. Hamilton Road An Engineering Marvel

August 29, 2009

As I was riding up Mt. Hamilton last week, I checked out the number of feet climbed per mile in the last several miles. Amazingly, the road climbs almost exactly 300 feet per mile. I say amazing because the road was built in the day of horse, mule, and wagon, finished in 1876.

As you may know, the road was built for the express purpose of providing access to Lick Observatory, which started operations in 1889. Santa Clara County built the road for $70,000. Such a deal.

Check out these links to see what the road looked like when built. It would be a hard ride even with a mountain bike!

Smith Creek construction site

Road near summit?

Color post card – muddy

Mt. Hamilton Road when built. Bring your mountain bike.

Mt. Hamilton Road when built. Bring your mountain bike.


Mt. Hamilton Road today. Carbon-fiber approved.

Mt. Hamilton Road today. Carbon-fiber approved.

Bike Shop Ads for Traffic Jams

August 25, 2009
Would this ad get your attention?

Would Burma-Shave ads get their attention?

A thought while passing a traffic jam on 101: If you’re a student of advertising, you’ll know of the Burma-Shave ads.  It was a series of six small signs posted at intervals along the road with expressions about shaving. The last sign was the product name – Burma-Shave.

Find a busy stretch of freeway with regular backups. That won’t be hard. Post the signs, something like this:

Daily exercise

No traffic jams

Gas bill zero

Fresh air

Cheap transportation


My Tour to Nowhere

August 11, 2009
My Roold ready to ride

My Roold ready to ride

When I was young and naïve I thought I could ride from Colorado to California by bike. So I tried, and failed. If you’ve ever ridden in Wyoming or Nevada, you’re probably thinking – “He doesn’t know how lucky he was!”

True, but failure taught me a thing or two about touring and those lessons were not forgotten on my Alps tours of 1985-86.

My trip lasted all of two days. Having just graduated from college and with nothing better to do, I set off one summer day from Fort Collins, heading north on Hwy 287. Everything went well until I reached Laramie, Wyoming.

Then, like a chapter out of A Series of Unfortunate Events, things took a turn for the worse. I continued riding west on Interstate 80 (it’s legal) through mile after mile of sagebrush. The road stretched to the horizon, an endless ribbon of pavement.

A rainstorm blew by and cooled me off, I almost rode into the back of a parked moving van, and when I finally stopped for the night, I had no place to sleep. Without a tent all I could do was lie down next to the road in my sleeping bag as 18-wheelers roared by through the night. Mosquitoes from miles around came to check out the crazy cyclist.

Morning couldn’t come soon enough. I got up and ate a candy bar and set off, already tired. This was just the beginning. I would have thieves try to steal my touring bags  at night and 105 degree temperatures in Cache Creek Canyon outside Woodland, California.

Hurricane winds
Wyoming is famous for its cowboys, its antelope, and its wind. As I headed west, the wind headed east. This was not just any wind. It was a steady 40-50 mph hurricane. Even on the descents I had to pedal. My thumb came out and fortunately someone took pity.

I got a lift into Rawlins and climbed aboard the Train from Hell. This was 1974 in the early days of Amtrak, when freight had priority. My train arrived in Sacramento 24 hours behind schedule.

Lessons learned
After that disaster, here’s what I learned about distance touring:

1) Bring your credit card. Ride long and hard, then find a hotel where you can take a hot shower and have a good meal.
2) Go with a friend or two. Consider the savings when the cost of the hotel room is divided two, three, or four ways.
3) If you choose to ride across the country, start in California and follow the winds east (for the most part).
4) Ride through lush green countryside where there are plenty of hotels and towns along the way. That would be Europe and some parts of the U.S.

Catching Up with “Q”

August 2, 2009
Ray Hosler and Jerry Quiller at his home

Ray Hosler and Jerry Quiller at his home

I’m taking this ride down Memory Lane to recount my recent visit with cross country coach Jerry Quiller.  As a freelancer, I wrote a story about Jerry in the October 1974 issue of Runner’s World magazine, where I worked (1977-84).

Jerry is well known in collegiate athletics and to those who follow his sport. However, track and field/cross country and cycling share one thing in common: They’re not mainstream sports in the U.S., even though we have plenty of Olympic gold and winners of the Tour de France.

Outside of Bill Bowerman, who co-founded Nike, track and field coaches live their lives away from the media spotlight.

Marathon days
I met Jerry in 1971 at the AAU 15K national championship (won by Tom Hoffman) held in Littleton, Colorado, but he was already familiar to me through a high school runner he coached at Aviation High School in Redondo Beach, California  — Jim Barnett. Jim ran/runs marathons and convinced me that I could too during my first days as a student at Colorado State University (CSU). Following his training advice, I was soon running five miles pain-free through the streets of Fort Collins, Colorado, where Jerry was raised and attended Colorado State University.

From 1971-77, I got to know Jerry and joined him in a few of his many adventures. During this time I was going to CSU or working as a newspaper editor in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Jerry coached at CSU (1976-80) around that time.

Coaching is a 24×7 activity for Jerry, so I would see him on weekends or at races. He coached just about everyone on the Colorado Track Club in the 1970s. Even now when he is retired and battling cancer, he has been a volunteer coach at the Colorado School of Mines, near his home in Louisville just outside Boulder.

Poudre Canyon Marathon
As Jerry and his wife, Sandy, and my wife and two sons sat down in his living room swapping stories of days gone by (I had not seen Jerry since 1977), I raised the topic of the Poudre Canyon Marathon, now called the Colorado Marathon.

Here’s how it came about:  Jerry considered the canyon, northwest of Fort Collins, an ideal race location, and so did I.  I often rode my bike up the canyon while attending college and knew it well.

It’s a classic granite canyon, carved into the Rocky Mountains by the Poudre River. The two-lane paved road climbs gently from 4,980 feet to 6,108 feet at the current marathon start point.

In those days, marathons were mostly low-key affairs, especially in Colorado, which had only two marathons. Jerry wondered  just how fast Poudre Canyon would be as a marathon course. We got together one summer day in 1976 (?) with several runners, piled into his van, and headed up the canyon to do a practice marathon.

While it was a bit far-fetched to believe a world record could be set at this altitude, we had our dreams. Derek Clayton had the world record of 2:08:33 (1969), a time so fast that some runners questioned the course length. Unfortunately, the distance could never be corroborated due to construction on the route through the streets of Antwerp, Belgium. As Derek confidently predicted (during his time at Runner’s World), his record was broken, convincingly.

Jerry and I followed along while the runners, who were on his track team at CSU, headed down the canyon to the entrance at Hwy 287 some 26 miles away. I don’t recall if they ran the full marathon. It may have been 20 miles, far enough to get a sense of how fast the course would be.

As you might expect, the times were nowhere near what we hoped for. Altitude and winds worked against the runners. Winds typically blow up canyons as hot air rises. However, today’s race bills itself as the fastest course in Colorado, with a course record 2:25:55, set in 2004 by Dan Shaw.

We also ran into a rattlesnake that day at what would become the race finish line near Ted’s Place at Highway 287. Even without fast times, Jerry knew a marathon down Poudre Canyon would be a fun event, so he and his volunteers cranked up the race machine and held the first one in 1977. His brother, Stephen, an artist who lives in Creede, Colorado, designed the t-shirt, using images common to the canyon, minus that rattlesnake.

The current course finishes in downtown Fort Collins. The race had 686 finishers in 2008.

Road Trips
I had other adventures with Jerry and his famous van. He must have eaten a million sunflower seeds while driving runners all over the country. In December 1972, he drove me and several other runners (Skip Hamilton for one) from Colorado to the Fiesta Bowl Marathon in Phoenix, Ariz.  On the way, we stopped for a run at the Las Vegas, N.M., garbage dump. As I look back on it, I’m sure Jerry figured we would remember that day for years to come.

I could go on writing about Jerry’s career. He has coached dozens of All Americans and represented the U.S. as an assistant coach at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. He would be most proud of his three sons though.

What is unique about Jerry as a coach is that he treats everyone equally — great athlete, average athlete, it doesn’t matter.   Jerry has always been more interested in his athletes as people than as record holders or NCAA champions. His positive attitude and ability to motivate is off the charts.

Being a coach must have its own reward (monetary would not be one of them) and I’m sure if you asked Jerry he could give you a good answer. For now, I and all who know him are doing what we can to show our appreciation for his coaching skills and cheering Jerry on as he continues his cancer treatment.

Lance Armstrong is living proof the battle can be won.

(P.S. If you can help with details about the marathon or you have something more to add, just leave a comment. Thanks. Jerry died on Feb. 2, 2012. If you want to make a donation, there is a track and field scholarship in his name at Colorado State University.)


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