Charcoal Road stirs recollections of a gnarly gnightmare

Charcoal Road at Skyline Boulevard. Three miles of dirt and hard climbing from Stevens Creek.

On my Skyline Boulevard ride from home — a rare event — I stopped at Charcoal Road and thought back on my previous life when I could actually ride it, up or down.

But first a traffic count on Hwy 9. From Hakone Gardens to the summit 67 motorized vehicles passed me, and four cyclists. At least 120 cars headed downhill. I’ve had as few as 25 cars pass me on cold Sundays, but that was years ago.

Bicyclean! has done great work on Hwy 9. There’s no garbage visible from Saratoga Springs event center to the summit. However, the span between Saratoga and Pierce Road needs another cleaning.

At Skyline I headed north, stopping at Charcoal Road to snap a photo and think back on those crazy hard rides in the 1980s.

One ride took place on April 12, 1987 with Jobst Brandt. As I look at my notes, I’m amazed that we didn’t let a little dirt slow us down. That day we rode to Big Basin State Park and then headed to Whitehouse Canyon Road for an incredibly bumpy dirt descent to Hwy 1.

How did we get home? Last Chance Road! We weren’t done yet. We decided to drop down into Stevens Canyon via Charcoal Road. I’m glad it was downhill because it’s three miles of hard climbing (13-20 percent sections). There’s a nice single-track at the end, but this trail is one-way only uphill. We didn’t worry about it back then.

We weren’t the only ones riding Charcoal Road back in the 1980s. On May 31, 1987, I had one of the more bizarre small-world encounters, on Alpine Road. It had been a decade, but I noticed Rich Karlgaard when I saw him. As I started working at Runner’s World magazine, he was exiting to go on to much bigger publishing gigs.

Like publisher of Forbes magazine after co-founding Upside magazine.

We exchanged words briefly. Rich told me he had ridden UP Charcoal Road!

It’s best ridden in the winter after poison oak leaves have fallen. The narrow section used to have its share of the nasty plant. Enjoy your ride.

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