Alpine Road closures an encouraging “sign”

October 10, 2021

Work underway on Alpine Road will mean weekday closures.

It looks like the promised makeover for Alpine Road is underway, based on the sign I saw today.

I rooted around and found the Alpine Road environmental impact report done by LSA, an environmental consulting firm based in Richmond, Calif. It was published in October 2020. If the link doesn’t work, you can download the file from my site, below.

I rode to the green gate and waited for riders coming down. They said there is no indication of repairs.

Riding to the green gate I didn’t see anything either, beyond a couple of signs saying the road is closed during weekdays.

Reading the report, it might be the job site is at Joaquin Road and Alpine Road junction, not visible at this time.

The report is exhaustive, and exhausting to read. As much as I value a thorough plan, I wonder if we need every little detail accounted for.

Back in the day, huge construction projects were completed in a flash. Now it is true that some catastrophes (think St. Francis Dam) occurred, there are also construction disasters even with environmental impact reports.

The report points to completion in three months — at least that’s the goal. That could mean construction begins next summer?

Let’s hope so.

(I don’t know all the agencies paying for the work, but it’s our tax dollars. Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District is the primary sponsor.)

LSA report download

Fatigue Limit available now

October 5, 2021

Just in time for the holidays, Fatigue Limit is ready for printing or Kindle.

Contest winners have been alerted. Congrats to the lucky ones.



Alpine Road’s “muddy” history

September 28, 2021

Upper Alpine Road between Page Mill Road and Portola Valley got its start in the mid 1800s as a trail, then a crude wagon road.

In 1893 San Mateo County declared the road a public right of way and made improvements.

It was all about the economy. The county supervisors thought they could siphon away business going to Santa Clara County by having a better road down the east slope of the coast range.

And so began the road’s tortured history of closures caused by earthquakes and storms that wiped out culverts and bridges.

Look at these photos taken by Jobst Brandt around 1974. The road turned into a muddy mess during wet winters.

Laurence Malone struggles up Alpine Road in the mud.
Dirt bike and cyclists find the mud hard going on Alpine Road. Jobst Brandt photos.

According to Peter Johnson, a cyclist who rode Alpine Road on many occasions, he walked up it faster than half of the cyclocross competitors could ride/walk that day.

The race was hosted by the Palo Alto Bicycle Club, fulfilling a United States Cycling Federation requirement that a club hold one race a year.

I don’t know who won the race, or where it went after reaching Page Mill Road. Maybe someone will read this and post a comment with the information.

For certain, five-time U.S. cyclocross national champion Laurence Malone entered and is shown. Other names mentioned as possibly appearing in the photos are Joe Ryan and Tom Hill, according to Dino Ride on Facebook.

Jobst knew to stay off the road when wet, but we almost always encountered the gooey stuff at “Mud Turn.”

Viva Calle 2021 in downtown San Jose

September 19, 2021

Viva Calle San Jose at the SAP Arena.
A lot of work went into these bikes.

We couldn’t have had nicer weather for Viva Calle 2021. The event started in 2015.

The city works with cycling organizations and other civic groups to choose a loop through downtown San Jose.

This strictly low-key affair brings together people from all walks of life, walking, cycling, roller skating, through city streets closed to cars.

It’s a welcome change to enjoy our urban habitat without cars.

Freestyle riders showed their skills next to St. James Park.

A coin worth its weight in gold

September 16, 2021

Pikes Peak Marathon commemorative coin from 1971

As I reflect on life’s adventures, one event stands out 50 years later, but all I have to remember it by is a tarnished commemorative coin. I keep it in a small cardboard box where it never sees the light of day.

On the back, the coin reads “Pikes Peak Marathon,” circling an outline of a tall peak.

The front shows a runner, who depicts the then record holder, Steve Gachupin. The Jemez pueblo from New Mexico ran up and down the mountain trail in 3:50.

He went on to win the race six times. I remember him flying past me going down as I struggled to the summit at 14,115 feet.

Our race drew 187 entries, and most finished. That was a big turnout for a marathon in 1971. Due to its uniqueness, the race drew entries from all over the U.S., and was one of the oldest, starting in 1956.

Today the marathon is always sold out and there’s a limit of 1,800 competitors. Entry fee is $200. I think I paid $5, or less.

I was the first of a wave of runners that would grow into a tsunami by the 1980s. I rode the crest of the wave, working at Runner’s World magazine, the flagship running magazine of the day.

I look back on the race and wonder how I made it. I was 18 and had only started running a year earlier. My “coach” was a marathon runner from Manhattan Beach, California.

He had already run the Pikes Peak marathon a year earlier at age 18, and was one of the top finishers despite living at low altitude.

I set my sights on the race, having no idea what to expect, other than Jim’s advice.

I finished my first marathon in late May in Denver at Washington Park, with a time of 3:29:58, my goal to the minute.

I ran a couple more races before Pikes Peak. What I didn’t realize at the time is that a marathon takes it out of you. Ideally I would have had six months for recovery before running another marathon.

Because I had no car, I couldn’t train on mountain trails. It would have helped.

I spent the night in Manitou Springs before the race (probably Van Horne Cottages), but I have no idea how I got to Colorado Springs. I just remember the spaghetti dinner hosted by the organizers.

Race morning dawned sunny and warm, perfect for hiking, but not so good for running.

I started with Jim and we stayed together on the early steep part, but he fell back and I never saw him again, beyond when we passed each other. It was not his day.

I didn’t think it was my day either. I started walking early on, exhausted. I’m sure I hadn’t recovered from the marathon.

I don’t remember anything about the course, other than near the summit where I had to pick my way through a maze of granite boulders. The view from the summit is breathtaking.

With a time of 3:27:56, I immediately turned around and headed back down. At this point I felt good. The relief of running downhill gave me hope that I would run a good time.

That didn’t last. I couldn’t drink water in those days while running. I became dehydrated. It got hot. I remember laying down under the shade of pine trees staring up at the sky and wondering if I could finish.

I got up and continued, dragging myself across the finish line in a time of 5:35.

For reasons I’ll never understand, the elderly Rudy Fahl (age 73), emeritus race organizer, declared that my time didn’t count. I suspect he didn’t think I was 18. I looked young for my age. He had this outdated notion that anyone under 18 (it’s age 16 now) was too young to be racing up the mountain. He said something to that effect. He must have decided on the spot that I violated his rule and refused to give me a time.

It wasn’t until decades later, when I stumbled across Matt Carpenter’s (holds course record) excellent website dedicated to the Pikes Peak Marathon, that I discovered my time had not been recorded.

Fortunately, my coin and Jim Barnett’s testimony, convinced Matt that I was a legitimate finisher and he added my time as I recorded it in my race results diary.

What I do remember better than anything about the race was the next day. Every muscle in my body ached. Getting out of bed took a supreme effort.

I returned to Pikes Peak in 1974 to pace Marie Kuo to the summit, which she completed in 3:58:55. I did not register, which you could still do back then.

My last time on Pikes Peak took place in the late 1990s, but this time my family rode the cog railway, much easier.

There are more adventures in store for this current generation now that the road to the summit is paved. Enjoy your ride.

Win a copy of “Fatigue Limit”

September 9, 2021

Fatigue Limit is due out in early October, so it’s time to start giving away copies.

If you want to be considered for a drawing of a print or Kindle edition (or PDF), leave a comment below.

No need to say anything other than mention which version you want.

One entry per family member, and one version per entrant. Outside U.S. – Kindle or PDF only.

Ongoing, anyone who finds a typo gets a free copy.

Entry must be submitted by end of day October 5, 2021.

I’m giving away three copies of each version. My Amazon books are printed in the USA, one copy at a time.

More giveaways later.

Coyote Hills quarry filled in

August 29, 2021

Can you imagine how much earth it took to fill in the quarry at Coyote Hills? Thousands of dump trucks for sure.

I don’t know how many years it required, but I snapped a photo in 2002 when the quarry was still in service.

It was shut down and an agreement was reached, in exchange for keeping it open longer, to fill in the quarry.

Now it’s done, although I’m not sure if it’s entirely done, but enough so that RVs and camp sites are in place thanks to East Bay Regional Parks.

Read all about it in your local newspaper.

Coyote Hills quarry filled in.
Coyote Hills quarry in 2002.

Road Scholar tutorial

August 13, 2021

Over the years I’ve ridden my bike on every kind of surface imaginable. Nothing beats a new coat of asphalt.

My fondest memory of a newly paved road is Hwy 236 through Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

That’s because the old road was badly broken when repaved in 2016, so the new road felt like heaven.

Here are the main types of road construction methods:

Dirt – Needs no explanation. Without maintenance, dirt roads degrade faster than any other surface. They can be muddy in the wet, and dusty when dry.

Alpine Road in 1990 after grading.

Gravel – Nothing more than a dirt road with a layer of gravel. Thick gravel is bad news for bikes. Gravel reduces erosion and improves traction in wet, versus mud.

Gravel road at Col de Tende in 1986. It’s still unpaved
on the French side.

Roman, Stone, Brick – I categorize these types as one. Roman roads are renowned for lasting millennia, although not without maintenance. Bumpy as hell. Think Paris-Roubaix.

Roman road near Naples.
Brick road in Switzerland.

Macadam – Named after John McAdam, a Scottish road builder. It’s basically different sizes of gravel, finest grade at the top. McAdam added compression to make the road last longer. Heavy cast-iron rollers were used to compress gravel, sand, and rock beginning in the 1800s. The U.S. completed its first macadam road in 1830 in Maryland, the Boonsborough Turnpike.

I know macadam roads were built in the Bay Area, but I’m not sure if there are any today.

You might say the improved Bay Trail between Santa Clara and Mountain View is a macadam road, using gravel and fine-grain sand. It’s well compacted and resists water better than any dirt or gravel road.

Tarmac – This is an early form of pavement, patented by Edgar Hooley in 1902, but McAdam made a similar material in the 1830s. Tar is mixed with gravel. It wasn’t used widely until the advent of the automobile.

I suppose some the old Bay Area’s roads paved today started as tarmac. I associate tarmac with chunky gravel. You see it on many old roads around here that have been abandoned.

Tarmac on Montebello Road.

Asphalt – It’s the most popular road surface in the world. Modern petrochemicals are mixed with sand, rubber, and all sorts of other materials, such as glass, to create a smooth surface. It dates back to 1870, with improvements in 1900 and 1907, when refined petroleum was used — modern asphalt.

Concrete – This material was all the rage for road building starting in the 1920s. It’s still popular today. It consists of Portland cement (clay and limestone binding agent), sand, and water, which hardens into concrete.

One of the best examples of a concrete road, about 100 years old and still in use, is Old Santa Cruz Highway.

Old Santa Cruz Hwy south of Summit Road.

First cyclist to reach Mt. Hamilton summit – 1882

August 9, 2021

Imagine riding one of these beasts to the summit of Mt. Hamilton in 1882.

I keep finding more accounts of cyclists reaching the Mt. Hamilton summit at earlier dates.

His name was F.M. Graham and the date was May 15, 1882, a Monday. No other details are available.

Thomas Fraser, a construction superintendent at Lick Observatory, said it was “the first vehicle of its kind we have ever seen here.”

Mount Hamilton Road was completed in December 1876, so there’s no guarantee that Fraser was the first cyclist, but certainly one of the first.

Previously I reported that A.A. Bouton reached the summit in January 1888.

I found another detailed account from April 1888.

Graham signed the guest registry book, which is mentioned in the excellent book James Lick’s Monument by Helen Wright.

If the bike had a 52-inch wheel, the gear would be equivalent to today’s 42/22. That’s not bad. However, the bikes weighed about 40 pounds. That’s not good.

If the bike was a 48-inch wheel, not unusual, it would be about a 42/24.

Descending had its own set of challenges for a high-wheeler.

Pullouts the new trend in road design

August 2, 2021

Pullouts installed on Kings Mountain Road

Look for more pullouts on narrow California roads in the years ahead. Is it a good idea? We’ll see.

I rode up Kings Mountain Road just to inspect the pullouts. In all my years riding here I never had a problem with cars.

That was then. Today there’s a lot more traffic, especially on weekends, and especially since Covid19 rearranged our lives and sent us into the hills and wide open spaces to escape ourselves.

Several pullouts were installed on Mount Diablo, South Gate Road, but correct me if I’m wrong as to exact location. Local government agencies will celebrate the pullouts on Monday, August 23.

Mount Diablo needs them more, mostly because enormous tour buses drive up and down the mountain. Personally, I think it’s a bad idea to allow those buses on the mountain.

I rode up on a Monday, so there’s no comparison to a weekend.

The danger of crossing the yellow line in a car only becomes apparent when descending on a bike. You experience the many blind curves firsthand.

Most motorists would never attempt passing at the blind spots, but it does happen.

Even though cars aren’t supposed to cross the yellow line, it happened to me today and it’s not unusual.

However, I didn’t take offense because they passed on straight sections where visibility is good. I don’t expect motorists to follow the letter of the law.

I counted seven or eight pullouts from Tripp Road to the Huddart Park entrance. The last pullout isn’t official, but it’s plenty wide, unpaved, before the final straightaway to the park entrance. Not sure why that wasn’t paved or designated.

After Huddart Park there are none, but the entire road was striped in recent months with the double-yellow line.

While we’re on the road, I leave you with one piece of old-timer’s lore. About a mile up from Huddart Park there’s a wide section of road, which has parking spots.

You may wonder, why so wide? Back in the 1950s or early 1960s (some old-timer can fill us in) a bridge at this location washed out or needed replacing. There’s still a gully.

San Mateo County repaved the road and widened it. This was at a time when Hwy 84 was going to be a freeway to the Pacific Coast, along with Highway 92.

Cantankerous old-timers will tell you the county made it wide in anticipation of widening the entire road. But that’s just heresay.

NOTE: Portola Road “Cutoff,” which links Sand Hill Road to Hwy 84, is closed to replace an old bridge. No bikes during the day. They told me it’s open after 4 p.m.