Archive for the ‘Ride reports’ Category

Mountains Behind Fort Collins Great for Cycling

September 22, 2012

Masonville artwork. “Eagle” and “bear” dominate road names in these parts.

How times have changed since the days I attended Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins, Colorado, in terms of cycling opportunities.

In the early 1970s many roads in the nearby mountains were dirt. This was before I knew sturdy tires could handle the dirt roads, although I recall the roads had a fair amount of gravel.

Fast forward to September 2012 and a beautiful day in the Rockies. I parked at Big Thompson Elementary School at Hwy 34 (Big Thompson Canyon) and rode north on County Road 27, Buckhorn Road.

It’s a gradual climb through a peaceful valley to Masonville. On the way you can check out the Arkins Park Stone Quarry on your left, where a lot of flagstone is taken out for building projects.

Masonville is one of those outposts from the 1890s back when there was still gold fever. Nothing panned out though. There’s a general store where you can stock up on provisions. Do so now because there aren’t any stores until near Fort Collins.

Turning left, I continued on Buckhorn Road through more lush valleys where you’ll find isolated, modern faux ranch homes scattered among the surrounding hills.

As the miles tick by you’ll start a series of stair-step climbs which get steeper by the mile, probably around 8 percent at their steepest. The elevation only goes to about 7,300 feet from 5,200 feet, with many ups and downs.

Buckhorn Canyon narrows

My favorite section comes where the road narrows as it heads through a rocky outcrop and passes a grove of aspen. If you leave early on a Sunday morning, you won’t see much traffic, although it picks up later in the day as the motorcycle tourists show up to enjoy the view. You will see a fair number of competitive cyclists riding out here.

A narrow section of Buckhorn Road brings you close to the Rockies.

The road name changes to Stove Prairie a few miles before the Rist Canyon Road junction and summit.

It’s also here where you’ll notice the effects of the High Park Fire that burned 87,000 acres, destroyed 259 homes and took one life. It started on June 9 from a lightning strike and was fully contained a month later.

Fortunately the fire skipped along the high peaks and left the valleys I saw unscathed, although I avoided Rist Canyon where most of the damage occurred.

Rist Canyon popular
Rist Canyon Road climbs steadily from Fort Collins at about a 6 percent grade. Coming from Stove Prairie Road there’s a steep climb of about a mile before the descent begins. (It was dirt in the 1970s.)

Final climb on Stove Prairie Road to the summit, 7,300 feet, at the Rist Canyon Road junction.

I continued downhill on Stove Prairie Road because I wanted to check out Poudre Canyon where I spent a lot of time in my youth. Watch out for the cattle guards on the way down. The second one has a wide gap where you can ding your rim.

It’s a brisk descent on the winding road through Roosevelt National Forest. Turn right at Poudre Canyon Road and you’ll have a spectacular view of Poudre River as you head downhill on a gentle grade. If only the traffic weren’t so bad!

Even in the 1970s it wasn’t pleasant, but today Poudre Canyon is the gateway for RVs and trailers going to the high country. I didn’t see a single cyclist on this gorgeous Sunday afternoon, and I’m not surprised.

Call it Karma: As I emerged from the canyon I passed the truck hauling its oversize camper that nearly ran me off the road. Its owner was changing a flat tire as I sped by.

Poudre Canyon, great for riding, if you get there early and beat the traffic.

Ted’s Place a memory
I stopped at the historic Ted’s Place store at the Hwy 287 junction. Today the store is gone and there’s just a cookie-cutter gas station. The original building looked like a Swiss chalet and stocked just about anything a camper could need.

After hours in the saddle on a dry, warm day in the Rockies, you’ll develop a powerful thirst. Bring plenty of water on these days to avoid dehydration.

I continued south on 287 for a short distance before turning right on W. County Road 54E, then left at Rist Canyon Road, which leads to Bellvue with its old buildings surrounded by farm land. There’s a state fish hatchery nearby worth a look.

Horsetooth Reservoir climbs
In Bellvue turn right and continue south on County Road 23, which is also called Centennial Drive. Horsetooth Reservoir’s narrow lake is nestled between two ridges and goes for miles. You’ll enjoy the ups and downs along the way, with grades of about 8 percent. From up here you’ll have sweeping views of Fort Collins. Hughes Stadium is also at the base of the mountain. It’s a nice spot, but too far away from the CSU campus, in the opinion of many.

Once past the southern end of the reservoir, there’s one more long climb before the road levels and it’s mostly downhill back to Masonville on W. County Road 38E, then south to Hwy 34 for a 60-mile trip. An alternate route is to go left on County Road 25E, Glade Road and miss Masonville.

There’s plenty of nearby adventure riding in this area on dirt roads, as documented by Bicycle Quarterly.

Horsetooth Reservoir could use some water. Enjoy the ups and downs here.

Lick Skillet Road: Can You Say Steep?

September 17, 2012

Is Lick Skillet Road outside Boulder, Colorado, the steepest county road in the U.S.? Let’s just say it’s steep. This view is looking downhill.

As a veteran Jobst Rider, no ride is complete without some dirt. I had heard there was dirt aplenty in the hills overlooking Boulder, Colorado, from the always reliable Bruce Hildenbrand, so I decided to have a look.

First though I met with Ray Keener to catch up on old times, he being a veteran of Palo Alto Bicycles when I was also working there in mail order back in the mid 80s. Ray is a wheeler and dealer, so to speak. Does Facebook stop counting after 1,000 friends? Ask Ray.

Today he’s preparing for the upcoming Interbike trade show in Las Vegas where he is representing the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association (BPSA), a professional advocacy organization.

Ray mapped out a route for me that called for a ride going east away from the mountains but I’m sure he realized this was just a warmup. Ray was nursing a separated shoulder from a recent bike spill, but some medication took the edge off and he could ride.

We caught up on the old days as the miles flew by. Briefly I rode his wheel and I can’t tell you what great memories that brought back. Jobst and Ray are both 6’5″ and make great drafts. I continued on while Ray returned to Boulder. Nelson Road took me back to the alluring Rockies, as I passed a large Amgen facility. This being Boulder, I saw not one but two organized bike rides.

Lefthand Canyon Drive
Lefthand Canyon Drive looked like the place to go to test my gears, as confirmed by Ray. I had ridden across Colorado in the mid 80s from Durango to Denver and the high passes failed to impress. Way too easy.

I was looking for something with a little more inclination. Lefthand Canyon climbs steadily, but once again I was not impressed. However, I was told by a rider I met on the road that the last two miles before Ward is 12-15 percent (it’s about 9%). At 9,000 feet altitude that’s up there with Sonora Pass in difficulty.

Lick Skillet Road
But I was looking for Switzerland Trail, which Bruce said is worth checking out. I found this squiggly line on the map called Lick Skillet Road that could take me there. As I turned left onto the smooth dirt with plenty of washboard I saw a sign that warned “Steep, Narrow Road.” They were wrong about the narrow part.

Now here was something I could relate to. I climbed OK for about a half mile but at 7,500 feet and having only arrived in Denver two days ago, breathing came with difficulty. I knew there was only one way up this grade that averages 14% (sadly my bike computer with inclinometer had a dead battery), so I used my legs in other ways.

At the top of the climb I discovered the site of the oldest gold mine in Colorado at the town of Gold Hill. It looks like a ghost town but it’s not. People live here, lots of people.

According to Wikipedia, Lick Skillet is the steepest county road in the U.S. I’m not so sure, but I’ll give it some well-deserved respect.

Switzerland Trail being farther up the hill and not flat, I decided to head down Gold Run Road (becomes Fourmile Canyon Drive), which I knew to be all downhill. While dirt roads in the Rockies can be a nightmare on a road bike if they have lots of gravel, Gold Run was relatively smooth and an inch of rain two days before knocked down the dust.

On my way down I saw about 10 riders heading up. It’s not as steep as Lick Skillet, but you’re looking at sections of 10 percent and maybe even steeper. With so many elite riders in Boulder, I was not surprised to see most of the riders on road bikes.

Of course, finding my way back to Ray’s place near the CU campus had me taking the steep 9th Avenue to reach Baseline Road. I have a knack for finding steep. (This ride is officially Jobst Approved.)

Gold Run Road heading to Boulder winds through a pine forest, but recent fires have devastated the area.

Highline Canal a Cyclist’s Delight in Denver

September 14, 2012

While the real riding is in the Rockies, the way there from Denver is made easier by the Highline Canal, which winds through the city for miles and miles and miles. This is the intersection with the Cherry Creek Trail, which heads downtown.

I’ve done limited riding in Denver and this was my first time riding on the Highline Canal, which did not disappoint. This ditch was dug eons ago for irrigation and fortunately it has been left intact all these years.

For anyone wanting to ride from Denver into the mountains, a good way to go is the Highline Canal, at least until Colorado Boulevard where you’ll take Dartmouth Avenue over to Bear Creek Bikeway and then into the mountains via any number of roads.

There are a few major roads that require stopping for lights, but most of the other crossings, while at grade, don’t see all that much traffic.

There’s a great bike map issued by the Denver Bicycle Touring Club that shows the many trails through Denver as well as identifying the good roads to ride. It’s sold at the better bike shops in Denver.

As with most multi-use trails, it’s best to ride here early on weekends or on a weekday. Note that the trail is lined with plenty of puncture vine. Beware.

Little Basin and Beyond

August 19, 2012

Brian Cox begins the long climb on Eagle Rock cutoff at Little Basin. It was hot and dusty, but par for the course in August. Mountain bikers occasionally frequent the road these days.

Where to ride in the dead of August in the Santa Cruz Mountains? The air is hot, the trails dusty, and those annoying gnats…

I suggested Eagle Rock and it was my good fortune to have Brian Cox along because I hadn’t been there in 25 years. My compass was broken. In addition, you won’t find this road on most maps.

After waiting 10 minutes, Brian finally showed up, slowed by a flat. We buzzed down Hwy 9 under clear skies. Quickly enough the temperature dropped from the mid 70s to the mid 60s as we entered the redwoods, a refreshing relief. We made our way up and down Hwy 236 and then took the Escape Road into Big Basin Park, which of late has seen some welcome improvements in facilities.

We downed an ice cream bar from the local store and then continued on Hwy 236 in search of Little Basin Road. Jobst Brandt and friends frequented this road and Eagle Rock for decades. It had a special meaning for Jobst because he worked for HP and enjoyed group picnics at Little Basin.

In 2011 after lengthy negotiations with Sempervirens Fund, Peninsula Open Space Trust and the state of California, HP sold the land and facilities, which in turn became the newest addition to Big Basin State Park. Cabins and other facilities in the meadow area are now operated by a non-profit in cooperation with Big Basin State Park. Anyone interested can make reservations.

But I digress. Right turn on signed Little Basin at the top of the hill. It’s a narrow, bumpy paved road. Suddenly we’re passing a dozen or more cars leaving Little Basin! That’s right, the campgrounds are alive and well.

We passed the overhead Little Basin sign that looked like it had been there 50 million years. No trespassing signs from a long-ago era remain. A short distance farther along Brian perked up when he saw the W 73 state highway sign. I’m sure it means something, but it remains a mystery. There is a route 73 but it’s in Southern California.

After about a mile and a half the road split at two gates. Right goes to the Little Basin campgrounds and left goes on a flat unsigned dirt road, our destination. After another half-mile we arrived at the dreaded yellow gate where beyond we had a long grind of 20 percent grades ahead.

When we were young and strong, some could ride non-stop, Jobst included. Today though the road was dusty, our engines aging and lacking power. Brian made a try and managed some long pulls while I walked and kept about the same speed as Brian. We carried on this way as the inclinometer ticked off 22 percent in sections. Did I mention the flies? They kept us company.

At one point in a slide area where walking is required we came across a couple hiking. We exchanged pleasantries and carried on as the grade eased to a more manageable 6-8 percent. In about two miles we arrived at another gate. Beyond the gate we took a hard right and continued another quarter mile to Empire Grade. If you go right on Empire Grade in a short distance you’ll reach the missile test sight owned by Lockheed. I don’t think they test missiles there anymore, but it’s still private.

Going left on Empire Grade, we rolled along, passing Crest Ranch’s Christmas tree farm to our left. There’s also a state correctional facility nearby on Empire Grade where inmates learn the intricacies of firefighting.

We headed left at Alba Road for one of the longest and steepest grades around. Fortunately we were descending. I’ve ridden up this road two times and I’m thinking that’s enough. After several miles we wound up on busy Hwy 9 at Ben Lomond. We tanked up on a quart of Orangina at Johnnie’s market in Boulder Creek and headed up 9 and home.

Are Your Favorite Trails Getting Rockier?

July 22, 2012

Mt. Tamalpais Railroad Grade in 2007. Erosion washes away topsoil to reveal rocks, rocks, and more rocks.

Today while on my 10-mile loop ride through Almaden Quicksilver County Park I thought about the condition of Mine Hill “Trail” and other “trails” open to bikes here. They’re really roads previously used for mining operations. Are they better or worse than when I started riding in the park 10 years ago?

And what about the rest of the trails and dirt roads I’ve been riding on the past 32 years in the Santa Cruz Mountains? Better? Worse? Same?

On the whole, they’re about the same, with some notable exceptions. Locations with heavy bike use are noticeably worse, in my opinion. I can’t pull out a ruler and measure the difference, can’t show you pictures of then and now.

As we know, erosion is a 24×7 process — rain, wind, ice, earthquakes, and other natural forces change our landscape. Humans on foot, horse, and bike erode roads and trails, but to what degree is open to interpretation. I’ve read some studies, but they leave you with this “what does it all mean?” feeling.

Bikes also erode trails to varying degrees depending on the location. I’ve noticed trails through the redwoods where there’s a lot of topsoil, leaves and branches erode the least, while trails in dry, rocky areas with lots of trail traffic are worse for wear.

My time on the bike came at a pivotal moment in cycling — the birth of the mountain bike. It was only a few years riding with Jobst Brandt and friends on trails with our racing bikes before I started seeing mountain bikers. Trails have changed since then, but I can’t tell you how much is due to mountain bikes and how much is just erosion over time and lack of road maintenance.

I don’t have a laundry list of locations where I can see the change, but here are a few:

Long Ridge Open Space Preserve
Hickory Oaks Trail and Peters Creek Trail used to be an easy ride on a racing bike. Not so anymore. They’re much more technical now with rocky sections and ruts. If you’ve always ridden a mountain bike, you won’t notice the difference. But having ridden a road bike, it’s noticeable.

Monte Bello Open Space Preserve
Canyon Trail has become much more rocky, with ruts created by runoff. Montebello Road, which used to be an easy road ride, has become more of a challenge. This is partly from rock ballast dumped on the road for maintenance. It all circles back to increased use, as when I started riding here in the late 1970s there was no traffic and no maintenance. There is a trade-off though. When it wasn’t graveled, there were more ruts.

Santa Teresa County Park
I can’t imagine anyone riding on Rocky Ridge Trail, up or down. What little soil there was is gone, exposing sharp and round rocks that make riding treacherous. It was bad enough when I rode here for my Bay Area Bike Rides book in 2007. I’m told it’s even worse today.

Aptos Creek Fire Road

The fire road beyond the green gate from the Buzzard Lagoon Road approach isn’t all that bad. However, the approach to the green gate has become a rocky moonscape. When I rode here a year ago I was on a mountain bike and had difficulty. It used to be doable on a road bike; albeit somewhat technical, it could be ridden non-stop.

Mt. Tamalpais Railroad Grade
When I last rode here about four years ago, after a long absence, I immediately noticed the road had gotten rockier. It’s still doable on a road bike, but less comfortable than 30 years ago when the road had no bike traffic to speak of.

Trails and dirt roads need maintenance or they’ll wash away. I’ve notice considerable degradation on the Toll Road and I don’t have to tell you what I think about the loss of Alpine Road at Coal Creek.

I’ve compensated by riding a mountain bike more often. That’s not such a bad thing, and what was 30 years ago is but a memory.

Heat Stroke by the Numbers

June 17, 2012

Triple-digit fun. Fortunately the cyclometer is usually 10 degrees over, so it was only 93 degrees (33.9 Celcius).

While the West burns, the Bay Area isn’t so bad, even after yesterday’s scorcher with temps going triple-digits in some locations.

My ride took me to Palo Alto where it wasn’t as hot as the South Bay. Humidity here isn’t a factor, so 100 degrees is doable.

Ups and Downs on Sheep Ranch Road

April 30, 2012

Sheep Ranch Road looking toward the community of Sheep Ranch. (Click on image for more photos)

I used to fancy myself a pretty good climber, and so it came as no surprise I would one day want to ride on Sheep Ranch Road. Nestled in the Sierra foothill Gold Country, it’s known far and wide for its steep climbs.

Like the gold miners of the 1840s, I sought something precious — a challenging day riding through California’s glorious countryside, cloaked in pines, oaks, grassy slopes and wildflowers. Ah, the beauty of it all.

I set out early Sunday morning for a one-day blitz, driving across the Central Valley, through Stockton and then Highway 4 to Murphys (2,175 ft., 663 m). Much to my surprise, Hwy 4 is nothing like the congested Hwy 120/108 I had come to know from my many Sierra rides starting in Sonora. It’s a relative wilderness driving Hwy 4 across spectacular rolling hills, once past what little there is in the way of orchards at the far northern perimeter of Central Valley.

I parked at the modest Murphys Park on S. Algiers Street a stone’s throw south of Main Street. It has bathroom facilities and there’s plenty of parking just down the street at the Black Bart Playhouse.
I started off right on time at 8 a.m., stopping to take a photo of the historic Murphys Hotel, serving the public since 1856. Under clear skies and crisp cool air I went a short block to Church Street on Algiers, hung a left and then hung a quick right onto the signed Sheep Ranch Road.

Immediately I started climbing on smooth pavement, passing houses among a forest of oaks, toyon, and pines. It wasn’t long before I started seeing the patch-quilt road for which Sheep Ranch is known. There are patches on patches on patches. At least there weren’t any wheel-sucking holes.

Mercer Caves
After a mile I reached the first summit (2,400 ft., 731 m) and started a bumpy descent, passing the Mercer Caves, at one time a sacred Indian burial site before being discovered by miner Walter J. Mercer in 1885. More teeth-chattering descending took me to San Domingo Creek, a scene I would learn to fear as the ups and downs took their toll.

I started another climb of about a mile, with the grade gradually increasing to as much as 13 percent, but I was fresh and in the cool air the climb didn’t faze me. A beautiful ranch house occupied an idyllic narrow canyon to my right.

At 2760 ft., 841 m. I started another descent. I would discover throughout the ride that the altitude never went above 2,800 feet and never went below 1,000 feet. How much climbing can there be in such a narrow span? Indian Creek, with its couple of played out mines, came next.

I started another climb. It was much the same, long stretches of 10 percent, punctuated by short sections of 13-15 percent. The miners no doubt carved a trail with horse and mule and later widened the path for horse and wagon, not giving much thought to gradient.

Passing Fallon Road on my right I told myself I would make a side excursion and come back down this way; there are uncompromising views higher up at 3,000 feet.

At 2,728 feet I crested the hill and started down the steep road to San Antonio Creek. This was a more serious descent with plenty of sections of 13-15 percent. The next climb is no less forgiving as it took me to Sheep Ranch, a community of sorts — mostly a collection of houses at an intersection.

Beyond Sheep Ranch the road improved and took on a civilized appearance with white fog lines and double-yellow center stripes. As I climbed the side of a rock wall I enjoyed a slightly less steep climb that eventually broke out into a lush, valley studded with oak trees and the occasional ranch house.

After 13.8 miles I arrived at Railroad Flat Road and told myself it wasn’t that bad even if all the climbs were well over 10 percent. I was fresh.

Heading north on the wider Railroad Flat I enjoyed smooth pavement and light to moderate traffic. Railroad Flat had a nice descent dropping 100 feet into another wide valley.

Jesus Maria Delights
In four miles I arrived at my designated left turn onto Jesus Maria Road. It reminded me of a mish mash of roads in my area – Old La Honda, Carmel Valley’s upper reaches, and later even Ebbetts Pass. Each climb, and there were quite a few, jabbed up. No let up here. I finally reached the big descent where I stopped to take in the panorama of the Sierra foothills. I rested my bike against one of those flimsy reflector poles, where the road dropped straight down 20 feet. All it would have taken was a gust of wind…

Jesus Maria Road before the big descent.

I continued down the bumpy road for several miles before it leveled out in a secluded valley carved out by Jesus Maria Creek. Now this was my kind of riding.

Hawver for the Dogs
My next turn came on Hawver Road at the base of a steep hill occupied by the Blue Jay Mine. I knew Hawver was dirt. I downshifted after crossing the creek and started climbing. The road had gravel but it wasn’t too bad. Quickly the road steepened, 13-14-15-20 percent. When I was young and strong…no problem. Not today. This went on for 0.3 miles before the grade became more civilized.

I rode on climbing past occasional houses, wondering if I would be accosted by our four-legged friend. One house even had a sign for “Dog Crossing.” It was not far beyond this house where I had one of those moments of dread. Two Great Danes dashed from my left down a driveway, barking like crazy. I had a steep climb ahead and knew I couldn’t outrun them. As fate would have it, Danes are passive beasts and they didn’t run beyond the end of the driveway. I was spared.

More climbing with occasional flat sections through the countryside brought me to a brief descent on a section of pavement, followed by more dirt and then pavement again. As is typical for this area, the climb quickly turned into a slugfest with sections of 17 percent. I peaked at 1,656 feet and began the swift descent to the uninteresting Gold Strike Road.

San Andreas Rest
In less than 2 miles I arrived in San Andreas (1,008 ft.), 38 miles on my cyclometer, where I stopped for food and drink at a gas station. I bought a quart of Gatorade and figured that would see me back to Murphys. With the temperature hovering in the upper 70s it still wasn’t all the bad with a cooling breeze.

After a brief stretch of riding on moderately busy Hwy 49 I turned left onto Mountain Ranch Road and then right onto Calaveritas Road (little skulls). Each climb started seeming like it was too steep at this point as fatigue set in.

I arrived at the community of Calaveritas and had to stop to take a photo of the railroad trestle in the middle of nowhere. Lovely. This ancient mining town used to be hopping but the gold played out eons ago and the town burned down.

Fricot City Road’s Dirt

More climbing brought me to Fricot City Road, which headed uphill inexorably. At some point I knew it turned to dirt. Many sections of 14 percent punctuated the climb. By now it was getting annoying, especially considering I wasn’t gaining all that much altitude.

In all this wilderness I came upon yet another community in the middle of nowhere — a state-managed reform school, Rite of Passage, home of the Rams. I can think of worse places to be held. As I passed by this most unusual location high in the foothills, I saw teens working out on the well-manicured football field.

Fricot City Road at its most civilized shortly before pavement and Sheep Ranch Road.

Not far beyond the school the pavement turned to dirt. This time the climbing wasn’t so bad and I had high hopes I could make it to 2,700 feet without any steep stuff. As I rolled along looking at steep hillsides I was struck by how familiar it all seemed compared to Loma Prieta Road.

Pedaling along in the bright sunshine with smooth dirt under my wheels and wildflowers everywhere, what more could I ask for? Pretty soon the climbing became more serious with stretches of 10 percent. Finally, in what I later discovered would be the last of the climbing, some sections of 14 percent made life difficult.

At the crest of a hill with what looked like more climbing ahead I stopped and took a photo. I knew I was fairly close to pavement and Sheep Ranch, but I wondered if I could make it beyond that as the leg cramps were starting.

After less than a mile I reached pavement and raced down to Sheep Ranch Road, turned right and plunged back down to San Antonio Creek. From here the climbing took on a different complexion as the leg cramps took hold. Advil did not come to the rescue this time. I dipped my hat in the creek and brushed off a tick looking for a meal.

With temps in the low 80s I climbed back up the road I had raced down earlier in the day. At the summit of the climb I heard a hissing sound. Flat. A chance to rest.

Eventually I made it back to Murphys and rehydrated at the local food market. It was at this market on several Sierra rides we stopped for refreshments under the burning sun on our way back to Sonora.
Sheep Ranch Road lived up to its reputation in every respect. In only 63 miles I had logged 9,230 feet of climbing. (The Mt. Hamilton ride of 102 miles is only 7,800 feet of climbing.) But I didn’t see a single sheep.

Mushroom Ride

January 22, 2012

Recent rains brought me out to look for mushrooms.

With wet weather in the forecast, I decided to search for chanterelles. Friends have been finding them under leaves even in this dry weather.

I headed up Old La Honda Road and then south on Skyline. One bonus of rain riding is the lack of traffic. I found a fair number of chanterelles, and they’re the firm, small ones that I prefer. Even with the rain, the ground is still dry.

Stocking Stuffer: Adventure Rides in the High Sierra

December 17, 2011

Available now on For anyone interested in riding through the Sierra.

Looking for a memorable Christmas gift, I managed to finish Adventure Rides in the High Sierra in time for the holidays. Anyone who has been on a Sierra ride with Jobst Brandt will want to check it out on

But there’s more. I included some history of the passes and a little about the amazing Super Tour, multi-day journey that has been alive and well since 1976! The tour often goes through the Sierra, and takes in other venues out West.

The maps and profiles of five major passes will give some insight into how steep the passes can be in places. Thanks to John Woodfill and Vance Sprock, Cupertino Bike Shop owner, for photos; and Perry Stout for Super Tour information. Enjoy.

Big Sur Gets Surly – Part 3

May 12, 2011

A fine day at the Big Creek Bridge viewpoint, Big Sur.

We rode back to Gorda and sat down to contemplate our next move. The longer we sat in the warm sun, the less we wanted to ride. Finally, at 3:30, we decided to enjoy the weather and head north 37 miles to Big Sur on this uniquely windless day.

Once we got going, the miles ticked by. Most of the climbs are short along the Big Sur coast, with the big one coming just south of the town by that name, reaching nearly 1,000 feet.

We passed a couple of slides still being repaired, with a stop light and one-lane traffic. Just before Big Creek Bridge we pulled over at the scenic view to take some pics. Along came some riders headed south, with sag support.

Whale Spout
We got to talking and while we were there a rider called out a whale spout. I’m sure the whales were enjoying the day as much as we were.

We watched the sun settle low over the ocean, hardly a car to be seen. For short periods we rode in shadows, soaking in the cool Pacific air. The long climb before Big Sur took away our remaining reserves. We coasted down the gently curving highway into Big Sur, stopping at Ripplewood Resort, 6:30 p.m., which I remembered from my 1989 ride, although we stayed at Glen Oaks right next door.

Our cyclometers recorded 97 miles for the day and 7,200 feet of climbing.

After freshening up, we had a satisfying dinner at the restaurant next door and called it a day.

Friday Headwinds
Friday morning we had breakfast at the excellent Ripplewood Resort restaurant before heading north. All seemed fine as we rode through the shelter of redwoods and downhill.

However, two miles into the ride the redwoods gave way to open vistas of the blue Pacific, and white caps. Our next 20 miles would be spent plowing through 15-25 mph headwinds.

At the old Coast Road we contemplated heading inland on the dirt road, but I wanted nothing of it. I would rather take my chances with the wind, knowing that at least we had a smooth road ahead.

One of the most interesting views leading to Bixby Bridge is the Point Sur Lightstation, which sits 361 feet above the surf on a large volcanic rock. Point Sur is the only complete turn-of-the century Lightstation open to the public in California, but only by docent-led tours.

We stopped for the obligatory photos at Bixby Bridge, the iconic bridge of Big Sur.

Just beyond Bixby Bridge there’s another one-lane traffic-light section, although it’s shorter than the other two we encountered.

Traffic was moderate to heavy most of the ride into Carmel as we wondered where it was coming from. Are there that many tourists going north?

Once into the shelter of Carmel’s forest, we made better speed, turning right at the first stop light onto Rio Road. We jogged left and then right onto Carmel Valley Road, suffering through heavy traffic for the next 11 miles into Carmel Valley Village. The traffic hasn’t changed since my 1989 visit.

Valley Tailwind
We stopped to restock with food and drink at the town grocery store about noon. We were still enjoying a strong tailwind, which would be with us throughout the day.

While the first 11 miles of Carmel Valley Road is insufferable, the next 43 miles to Hwy 101 make it worth the misery. Traffic quickly thins until you hardly ever see a car.

We continued a long, long climb up a wide valley. It takes about 20 miles to climb to 1,500 feet, so you hardly notice the grade. The road narrows and widens as it passes through valleys.

The final several miles to the summit where Finch Creek finally passes behind is a series of short up and downs that make you wonder if the 2,450-foot summit will ever be reached.

The summit comes abruptly, followed by a swift descent through wilderness broken by the occasional ranch house. With the wind at our backs we raced down the valley at 25-35 mph.

Once at Arroyo Seco Road, the pace slowed as we negotiated side winds to the green Elm Avenue bridge over Arroyo Seco, which had plenty of water.

After some more climbing we leveled out and began the run into Greenfield with vegetable fields on both sides. The wind howled. I thanked my lucky stars it wasn’t a headwind.

We passed over Hwy 101 and had to ride a couple more miles east to reach Metz Road for the final 11-mile straightaway into King City. The tailwind pushed us up hills like we were young bike racers. I remembered suffering on the same road pushing against brutal headwinds for more than an hour.

At King City we found our car and headed home at 4 p.m. in plenty of time to be home for dinner, 92 miles and 4,500 feet of climbing on the cyclometer.


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