The Laurel train tunnel has never been easier to see from the road. Someone cleared out the brush leading to the tunnel. If you want to see what the original Old Santa Cruz Hwy looked like, cross Summit Road and continue to Hwy 17. It’s in amazingly good shape for being so old.
Archive for the ‘Ride reports’ Category
Today’s ride was nothing special, but here’s what makes cycling fun:
- Riding across Silicon Valley early on a Sunday morning. Not much traffic.
- Picking up Coyote Creek Trail on Tully Road and knowing someday it will make it to the Bay.
- Riding past Hellyer Park Velodrome
- The crunch of sycamore leaves on a remote section of Coyote Creek Trail
- Santa Clara County Model Aircraft Skypark
- Hawks soaring
- Seeing the windsock at the Metcalf 600 megawatt power plant blowing north
- Riding up to Anderson Reservoir
- Watching migrating Canadian geese land in Anderson Reservoir
- Crossing Hwy 101 on Burnett Avenue with no ramps
- Riding north on Hale Avenue at 24 mph with a tailwind
Enjoy your ride.
Since so few people have traveled the length of Loma Prieta Road, and probably never will the way things are going, I’ll give you a tour.
I’ve been riding on the road since 1981 and in that time it hasn’t changed much. When Jobst rode it in the early 1960s it wasn’t much different either, except for the gates.
Two iron gates were added where Loma Prieta Road joins Summit Road. One or more were added where Loma Prieta Road joins Soda Springs Road and one at Mt. Umunhum Road.
This is speculation because not even Jobst mentioned when they went in, but it was probably in the late 1960s at the height of the dirt motorbike boom.
The gates are still there, but the ones at Summit Road are open all the time for residents from Loma Chiquita Road. That’s right. They can drive their vehicles on the road, but bicycles are banned. At numerous locations MROSD recently added big red “keep out” signs.
Over the decades we would see on average one vehicle. In the 1980s, especially after the Lexington fire, we were verbally harassed. “This is a private road,” was the mantra. In the 1990s we saw vehicles only occasionally and they usually didn’t stop.
Approach from south
We almost always approached from the southwest on Summit Road. Loma Prieta Road is well maintained as dirt roads go. It starts out with a fairly stiff climb that gets steep, around 16 percent. In the late 1990s that short, steep section was paved, thus eliminating its affectionate name — dirty bump.
Once over the dirty bump the road levels and heads through thin chaparral and brush. There’s a road junction at the base of Loma Prieta, which has radio antennas on the summit. Off to the right is Loma Chiquita Road, which is gated, paved and private. Workers occasionally drive to Loma Prieta summit to maintain the radio towers. One time they asked me the way to Loma Prieta as I was riding up Mt. Bache Road.
Spring watering hole
Staying left on Loma Prieta Road, passing a MROSD keep out sign, the vistas open up looking north toward Mt. Umunhum. It’s spectacular countryside broken by drainage basins. In a quarter mile there’s a spring and a small stone basin, used by early cars that needed to fill their radiators.
A modern water tank, which supplies the spring, can be found a short distance up the hill. The spring is always running.
The road follows a ridgeline so there’s not much climbing or descending. There’s one junction at a sweeping left turn you need to avoid. Heading straight and downhill would not be a good idea because it descends steeply to Alamitos Road. A couple miles farther on, the road smooths out and there’s a former chestnut orchard. Up until around 2005 the only residence next to the road was a trailer here. I never saw the owner but I did see his black dogs. They were none too friendly, but they kept their distance. Shortly after that there’s an MROSD gate with its usual access signage, including the “bikes OK” symbol.
After a long descent, the road levels and there’s the Cathermola Road junction on the left. Keeping right, the road climbs and gets steeper until it’s about a 10 percent grade for a half-mile or so. The only residence near the road is just before Mt. Umunhum Road on the right up a short hill. I know the owner, but he shall remain nameless.
MROSD does not own the entire road, but it’s close. As I’ve noted before, all roads cross private property, but we have easements so people can get around. Public roads are roads that have been in use by the public for long stretches of time. Determining what makes a road public is where attorneys make their living.
Once at paved Mt. Umunhum Road, a left turn takes you to the former radar base. There’s a camera mounted above a high gate. I haven’t been there in eons. Presently the District is removing all the toxic waste from the base. They planned to do that work in 1986, but a lawsuit and a host of other obstacles stood in the way.
Turn right and it’s all downhill on the aging road with some deep fissures hidden in the shade of pine trees. A gate about two miles down is the official “keep out” location where nobody is allowed to pass. The road is steep in many locations, although not as steep as Hicks Road.
I’ve ridden this route about 16 times and only once saw other cyclists, riding mountain bikes.
As we age, saddle comfort becomes more of an issue. Muscles weaken and can no longer provide the padding that protects the ischium from getting sore. The same goes to the hands. I used to never wear gloves. Now I have to.
I’ve been experimenting with saddles, but I keep coming back to the Avocet Gelflex. Even though my saddle is 25 years old, it’s more comfortable than anything else I’ve used. I think it’s the gel, which is similar to silicone rubber. It seems to last forever.
So what hasn’t worked? I gave up on the Avocet Racing II by Sella Italia. It has the same shape and size as the Gelflex, but it didn’t have the silicone. It’s fairly comfortable, but caused minor pain on long rides.
WTB’s Pure V looked promising, but it’s a little too wide and after a 60-mile ride both ischium were more sore than any saddle I had tried.
Bike saddle comfort is an individual decision. Everyone is built differently.
I think gel is the way to go. Selle Italia makes a gel saddle that look promising. The problem is that you really need to test a saddle on a long ride before you’ll know if it’s for you. Does anyone want a WTB Pure V?
Unfortunately cyclists will never experience Hearst Castle by bike, and what a ride it would be. It’s five miles from park headquarters to the footsteps of La Cuesta Encantada at 490 meters (1,600 feet) overlooking the rugged Santa Lucia Range. The first mile climbs gently but after that it’s a lung-buster with sections of 15 percent or more.
Well there’s always the coast highway. Highway 1 offers some spectacular views of the rugged Pacific coast, but that would not be a 20-mile stretch heading north from Cambria. It’s mostly flat. On a gloomy cool day with the hills shrouded in fog, the ride does not inspire. You’ll have to visit Hearst Castle for that; you will not be disappointed.
Not to be missed are the elephant seals that reside on the beach five miles north of San Simeon. Nearly hunted to extinction for their oil, they’ve made a healthy comeback. Now at least 10,000 seals live in the vicinity. They don’t seem to mind humans behind fences peering down.
In my 33 years riding the Mt. Hamilton loop I have always found something to make my day, whether it be wildflowers, elk or maybe the occasional tarantula ambling across the road.
Last Sunday it was the tarantula. The hairy brown arachnid paid me no attention as I took its picture and some video footage. I’m sure he didn’t appreciate the flash as he made his way to the other side of the road looking for someone to share a web with.
And then there’s the history. One of the high points riding with Jobst Brandt was when we went past Arnold Ranch. He could let out a cry that would make a peacock blush. They usually responded with a cry of their own.
When I stopped at the Junction store I inquired about the ranch and its long-forgotten food stand, which closed in the mid to late 1970s. Jobst often mentioned it on our rides. It turns out one of rancher Tom Arnold’s granddaughters runs the Junction store. Tom, who is long since past, did indeed have a store alongside the road, along with a campground. However, he did not sell hamburgers, only chips, soda and cookies.
The previous day’s soaking cleared the air and made for yet another beautiful ride on the backside of Mt. Hamilton where you can lose yourself in open space. I took the Hwy 84 shortcut just to be sure it was a shortcut. It is, lopping about 3 miles off the usual route along Stanley Boulevard through Pleasanton. 99 miles, which is enough to call it a day.
I’m seeing a few vineyards picked, but most still have grapes, big beautiful dark blue grapes. Yum.
I checked out Redwood Retreat Road, one of my favorites. I always take Mt. Madonna Road and climb steeply on dirt, but this time I wanted to check out the road going straight. It ends in another mile, but not really.
The road turns to dirt and, while not signed, I’m sure it’s private and bikes would not be welcome. It can take you up to Summit Road. Back in the day…
OK, it depends on where you rode and time of day. In Stevens Canyon this morning it was 55 degrees. Chillin…
I found a 100-mile route to Santa Cruz and back, something I’ve been searching for quite some time. Unfortunately it involves Empire Grade.
I can’t think of a less appetizing road in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It goes nowhere, it offers no sweeping vistas, it climbs relentlessly and there’s a fair amount of traffic, although nowhere near as bad as Hwy 9.
However, it stands between the coast and the bay, so there’s no way around it.
I headed up Hwy 9 on another humid morning with temps in the low 60s. Lately we’ve been seeing humid days, a reminder of how good we have it in the Bay Area with low humidity.
At Skyline I headed down 9, riding through the the occasional hot pocket of air. I hadn’t ridden between Boulder Creek and Santa Cruz on 9 in quite some time, for good reason. There’s traffic and narrow shoulders. It’s really too bad because there isn’t an alternative.
Tannery and bike saddles
I passed the Tannery Arts Center just before the 9/Hwy 1 junction, which has a little cycling history. Before becoming an arts center, this was the site of the Salz Tannery. Back in the 1980s and up until the tannery closed in 2001, Avocet — famous for its bike saddles — purchased leather saddle covers from Salz. Another claim to fame: Ansel Adams photographed the tanning process here in 1954.
Santa Cruz was world-renowed for leather tanning from the 1860s onward. It had a ready supply of tan oak, which has tannin, a vital ingredient in the tanning process.
I headed north on Hwy 1 into a gentle breeze and took note of the absence of fog, although thin clouds blocked the sun part-way on the 10-mile ride to Bonny Doon Road.
Another reason I haven’t pursued the 100-mile route is Bonny Doon. It’s a steep grind for a couple miles, although it eases up and becomes more civil at the Bonny Doon winery. You can go left, staying on Bonny Doon, but most riders continue straight on Pine Flat Road.
Correctional camp and summit
After 7.5 miles I reached Empire Grade (2,100 feet) and turned left with the Alba Road descent in mind. There’s more climbing to 2,530 feet at the Ben Lemond Conservation Camp, actually a correctional institution of sorts. Low-risk offenders are trained in fire fighting and do community service in the area, such as trail building.
I passed up Alba Road, which is one of those climbs you don’t want to miss — once. It’s unrelentingly steep from Ben Lomond to Empire Grade, about 3.5 miles. I needed more miles, so on to Jamison Creek Road.
Empire Grade dead-ends about a mile farther on, but not really. It’s the site of the Lockheed Martin Santa Cruz Facility. Back in the 1970s-80s Jobst Brandt rode through here and on down a dirt road to Swanton Road. The guards didn’t take kindly to Jobst, but he always managed to talk his way through. I’m told they no longer test rockets, but have moved on to munitions. I don’t doubt they have a few space aliens stashed away as well.
But I digress. I headed down Jamison Creek Road — another lung-buster of a climb — that takes you to Big Basin Highway where you can turn right and ride downhill to Boulder Creek in a few miles.
From there it was all uphill on Hwy 9. Fortunately our funky weather didn’t turn out to be so hot, only in the mid 70s. Mileage came to 101. That’s close enough for government work.
While I’m not going to stop posting articles, you won’t be seeing a weekly ride report. I’ve already shown and written about every ride route, several times. However, I am posting panorama photos on my personal website (link found at “Blogroll” in right-side navigation of this page).
I will dedicate more time to writing about bicycling and attending events in the years ahead (not far off), so stay tuned…