Archive for the ‘Once Upon a Ride’ Category

Been there done that: San Francisco Watershed inches closer to public access

February 12, 2015

San Francisco watershed. Imagine the possibilities.

San Francisco watershed. Imagine the possibilities.

If you believe what you read in the newspaper, there’s a move afoot to open roads in the San Francisco watershed, but don’t hold your breath. It will be years, maybe decades, before it happens.

The 23,000 acre parcel bordered by Hwy 92 and Interstate 280 is managed by the San Francisco water department, but the federal government and San Mateo County have a say in any move toward public access.

Currently the only way you can go there is on a docent-led tour, legally that is.

Back in 1980 I rode through the watershed with Dave McLaughlin, an indiscretion I will long remember not for getting away with it, but for the beauty of Fifield-Cahill Road and the original Pilarcitos stone dam.

Note that the map says it’s a trail, but don’t be fooled. It’s a fine dirt road and it’s used by maintenance vehicles all the time.

Back then I was working at Palo Alto Bicycles and had just started going on Sunday rides with Jobst Brandt, who had a unique riding style that I immediately found appealing. He had a following of bike racers, for the most part, who also enjoyed riding their racing bikes on dirt roads and trails in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Jobst rode everywhere, public or private; it didn’t matter. He grew up in Palo Alto at a time when the sight of a bike on a dirt road seemed downright crazy. The mountain bike, even in 1980, had yet to become a fixture.

I had been studying topographic maps of the area and had my eye on riding through the SF watershed, something not even Jobst had attempted. I’m not sure why. Maybe he didn’t want to take a pack of riders into harm’s way.

Dave was more than willing. Still a teenager, he had a special talent on the bike that would take him to numerous victories on the racing circuit. We both knew about Old Cañada Road, which ran behind the Filoli estate, and where we rode on occasion.

I noted on my rides on Hwy 92 a rock quarry near where Old Cañada Road meets 92. The topo map showed a road leading into the watershed. Dave and I headed out from Palo Alto on a beautiful fogless day, probably in the early fall after bike racing season.

It was easy to get over the fence, and once inside we quickly found our way onto Cahill Road. How we wound up at the old Pilarcitos dam is lost in the fog of time. Here was a dam made of bricks nestled in a steep canyon, surrounded by dense stands of cypress, Douglas fir and redwoods.

I recall tall trees with lots of hanging moss. It looked like something out of Jurassic Park. We couldn’t get over the pristine condition of the area, with only an incredibly well maintained dirt road to show that people ever visited here.

From the old dam we made our way past the much larger Pilarcitos Reservoir where we saw the water department’s impressive vacation house and other public works.

At some point the dirt turned to pavement. We didn’t have any idea where we were headed, but we continued north, figuring we would come out near Skyline Boulevard eventually.

That’s exactly what happened. We exited at the north end of San Andreas Reservoir on a fast downhill. As fate would have it, water department officials had just opened the pearly gates (they must have known we were coming) and we quickly sped by onto public roads.

I was so jazzed by the experience that I called the SF water department and asked about bike access. I figured it was a hopeless gesture, to take the high road and ask permission, and I was right. The supervisor said, “If I give you access I’ll have to give every cyclist access.”

When you look at it from the perspective of the SF water department, there is nothing but downside to opening the area. Would you want to have to deal with the public and the inevitable hassles? Of course not.

Public agencies have the burden of making things “safe.” In our litigious society though, there is no such thing as safe. Think of all the items that need to be addressed: parking, enforcement, restrooms, signage, on and on.

I have a different take on open space. Open it and don’t provide facilities. Take down the signs and let people roam. Maintenance crews can enforce.

I recently saw a sign on Overlook Road that winds into the hills above Los Gatos, and it made my day. “Private road. Use at your own risk.”

I just want to ride my bike and enjoy the scenery. That sign is what all private property signs should say. The world would be a better place for it.

Further reading:

Open SF Watershed (Facebook)

Once upon a ride: A crank that cracked

November 27, 2014

One of my favorite photos of Jobst, taken on Butano Ridge Trail looking toward the Pacific Ocean. 1981.

One of my favorite photos of Jobst, taken on Butano Ridge Trail looking toward the Pacific Ocean. 1981.

November 21, 1982
Riders: Jobst Brandt, Ray Hosler, Peruez, John
Route: Alpine Road, Rapley Road, Skyline Blvd., Hwy 9, Hwy 236, China Grade, Butano Ridge Trail to Cloverdale Road, Pescadero Road, Alpine Road, Page Mill Road
Weather: Cold and hazy, then warm.
Tire/mechanical failure: broken crank

Jobst didn’t have much of a turnout for this pre-Thanksgiving Day ride. It was just me, Strange John and an HP co-worker of Jobst, Peruez from Iran.

While Peruez was something of a novice, Jobst never discriminated and welcomed all who turned up, just as long as they could keep a decent pace.

This Pied Piper of the Santa Cruz Mountains headed out on yet another adventure. I often wondered when this aging rider would lose his following. It looked like it had already begun. When would the day come when nobody showed up, and would Jobst still ride? [I don’t know the answer, but Jobst almost always had someone show up for his Sunday ride until well into the 2000s.]

John mentioned riding up Rapley Road and Jobst took up him up on the challenge. We climbed to nearly the end of the Alpine Road pavement before turning right onto a dirt road, crossing Corte Madera Creek and then heading straight up the hill, destination Skyline Boulevard. [The road goes to Thomas Fogarty Winery property.]

So steep is the road that no matter how good its condition, it is an extremely difficult climb. On this Sunday the road condition could be called “perfect.” Rains the day before had removed the dust and made traction as good as pavement.

John pulled ahead with his 30-tooth rear cog while Jobst muscled his way up using the power of his mighty legs and extra-long crank arms that gave him additional leverage.

Halfway up, when it seemed the agony could not be endured any longer, the riders saw that they were a long ways from Skyline. Jobst circled while he waited for me and Peruez. He warned us that the road gets steeper and to ride as slowly as possible. How about walking? That worked.

At the top Jobst opened a gate and let us through. To our right was a newly planted vineyard and the Rapley home. On one occasion Rapley himself (I have no idea of the name) met Jobst and his band of merry riders. Rapley expressed his displeasure in blunt terms.

As we climbed on Skyline, Jobst looked down to see Tom Ritchey preparing for a ride with the Palo Alto gang. Later that day Tom would lay bleeding on Haskins Hill following a spill behind the wheel of Keith Vierra.

As the riders descended Hwy 9, Jobst waited for everyone to follow along.

We made our way on China Grade to a logging road that took us down to Butano Ridge Trail, a roller-coaster dirt road that runs along the spine of a ridge overlooking Portola State Park to the east.

We pushed and lugged our bikes up the steep spots, except for Jobst, who managed to ride every hill.

Rather than take Dearborn Park Road down to Pescadero Road, Jobst decided to take a chance following the ridge trail all the way to Cloverdale Road, crossing all-too-private property and residences.

On the first of three magnificent hills, Jobst showed he still had legs strong enough to snap steel. As he pushed mightily on his right pedal, the alloy metal of the Campagnolo Record crank finally had enough. It snapped, throwing Jobst off his bike. [It might have been a left crank, but my journal says right, so it stands.]

It was not until the long downhill to Cloverdale Road that I caught up to Jobst. He rode with his right leg dangling, like someone with a paralyzed leg. And yet he rode with purpose, unfazed by adversity, in full command of his crippled machine.

[By 1982 the land owners already had plans to pave the road, which they did a few years later. They made every effort to keep cyclists out. One irate owner chased after Jobst and friends, who took refuge in Pescadero. They later saw the owner, but with other cyclists mingling at the local store, he had no idea who to finger.]

While riding to Loma Mar for food and to call on the pay phone for a ride home, Jobst came across two cyclists who were searching for mushrooms on the roadside. Jobst stopped to help them look. Mushroom hunting was one of his favorite winter activities.

After striking up a conversation with the married couple, Jobst learned that they had a spare crank back at their house on Pescadero Road. A plan was hatched. Jobst would remove his broken crank and install the owner’s.

I rode ahead with Peruez to Loma Mar for a bite to eat. After Jobst arrived, I remarked about the steepness of the hills on Butano Ridge Trail.

Jobst said with a touch of remorse, “There were days when I rode up those. Keith was right next to me.” I had a hard time believing he could have done that. But then I thought back to the hill and considered the force required to snap that crank. I realized that back in the day when Jobst was young, even those hills gave way to legs as powerful as locomotive pistons.

[Jobst broke at least a dozen cranks in his long riding career. He finally solved the issue by developing a simple remedy based on the car lug nut. It has a tapered end that fits snug against the wheel frame. It was only when that innovation came to pass that car lug nuts stopped unthreading.]

Jobst solution for crank failure at pedal eye. There's a 2-piece washer that fits into the drilled indent. One half is shown on the crank; both halves shown on the pedal thread.

Jobst solution for crank failure at pedal eye. There’s a 2-piece washer that fits into the drilled indent. One half is shown on the crank arm; both halves shown on the pedal thread.

Once Upon a Ride…Bear Gulch Road

September 10, 2014

Jim Westby enjoyed Native Sons Cutoff on a warm day in October 1982.

Jim Westby enjoyed Native Sons Cutoff on a warm day in October 1982.

Time once again to turn back the clock and enjoy an adventure ride in the Santa Cruz Mountains with Jobst Brandt and friends.

November 29, 1981
Riders: Jobst, Jim Westby, Tom Sullivan, Sterling McBride, Dave McLaughlin, Ted Mock, Bill Robertson, Rick Humphries, John ?, Paul Mittelstadt, Tom Ritchey
Route: Up Bear Gulch Road, down Swett Road, Star Hill Road to Native Son’s Cutoff, Tunitas Creek Road to Hwy 1, Stage Roads to Pescadero, Pescadero Road, up Alpine Road, down Page Mill Road
Weather: Cold, then cool, mild on the coast. Clear to partly cloudy
Tire/Mechanical failure: Sterling – flat

It has been said that a dog is man’s best friend. That may apply to bird hunters, but not to cyclists, especially when riders are on their bikes flying downhill.

Dogs and bikes have a nasty habit of colliding, like a magnet to steel. Jobst has had more than his share of encounters.

The riders showed up at Jobst’s doorstep well dressed for the cold weather. Sterling and Mack wore their new baby-blue foot warmers, inspired no doubt by the blue-footed booby commonly found on our Pacific shores.

Paradoxically, they dressed in shorts to face the numbing cold. I dressed more conservatively with a wool long-sleeve jersey and plastic bags for foot warmers. Everyone else suffered in regular cotton socks.

We took Sand Hill Road heading west on the newly paved and striped bike route. Jobst held a steady, yet conservative pace. He had already done some long rides over the Thanksgiving holiday. It was easy to tell because his red bike had a coat of mud, a bit more than you would normally see.

On Highway 84 outside Woodside, Jobst and Robertson became involved in a discussion (one often heard from Jobst) about nuclear weapons, overpopulation and the movies Alien and Wolfen. Jobst noted that the reason homes cost $100,000 on average around the country is because we are feeling the effects of a burgeoning population.

When people talk of head counts, they usually look to Bombay or Hong Kong. Overpopulation in the U.S. with its miles of empty prairie and high plains? No way.

The real riding began on Bear Gulch Road, a steep paved grade that never lets up all the way to Skyline Boulevard. Bear Gulch Road is also a very private road, so private in fact that a big steel electronic gate keeps out the curious near the base of the hill.

The road has a long and murky history involving wheeling and dealing, payoffs and greedy landowners who want their very own road. They paid to have it paved if San Mateo County would make it private and maintain it. [More on this later]

The county agreed but retained half-ownership. None of this ever stopped Jobst from riding on Bear Gulch Road, however. He grew up here and he continued doing what he had been doing since his youth, exploring the Santa Cruz Mountains by bike. Private property be damned.

We all followed along willingly, letting him deal with irate landowners when the time came. This Sunday was one of those times.

A mile past the gate we were stopped by a landowner driving an orange van. Maybe because Jobst is the tallest of the bunch, or because he looks like a natural born leader, he got tagged for a discussion about trespassing on the nicely paved road. The conversation went something like this:

“This is a private road, you know, so why don’t you turn back?”

“I know that,” Jobst said. “But look, we’re not trying to cause any trouble. We just want to ride our bikes through here.”

“But if somebody gets hurt, there could be trouble,” said the landowner. “We have to insure the road.”

“Well, the county technically owns half of this road. If it wasn’t for Mortimer J. Skinflint pushing the county supervisors so hard, this road would still be public.”

“That’s not true. This is a dangerous, narrow road. Some riders come flying down here and are a real hazard. [and we thought we were the only ones using the road]

“We’re not riding down and we never do,” Jobst claimed. “We just ride uphill. Besides, Old LaHonda Road is narrow and dangerous, and school buses drive it all the time. It’s a public road.”

“I don’t think you have all your facts straight about what this area is like,” the landowner argued. “What’s your name?”

“Brandt, Jobst, J-O-B-S-T.”

“Where do you live? What’s your address?”

“In Palo Alto. I’m in the phone book.” [they were still used back then]

“Well, the insurance is the real problem. We have to pay for it and we don’t want anyone hurt on this road and suing us.”

Jobst continued. “But I’ve been using this road even before it was paved. I know all about it. I bet I’ve used this road a lot longer than you.”

The landowner shot back, “I’ve lived here for 20 years.”

Jobst countered, “I’ve lived here longer than that.” [40 years]

The landowner never got upset during the conversation, but it wasn’t clear what he had in mind as he drove off.

We continued our ride, passing the landowner on the way as he worked on his house next to the road.

Jim, Tom S., and I fell off the back on the hard climb, no doubt a bit wasted from the previous evening of wine tasting.

After heading north on Skyline, we turned left onto the steep, pot-holed Swett Road and continued down to Star Hill Road, which turned to dirt soon enough.

But it was on a wide, gently sloping paved section where Jobst met his fate. A mongrel dog weighing at least 40 pounds dashed toward us, Jobst seemingly protected in the middle of the pack.

This dog didn’t pull up as dogs usually do. He barreled into us despite an angry chorus of commands from the riders. We all scattered and somehow Jobst tangled with the dog.

His bike fell out from under him and he rolled once, using his right hand to break the fall. He lay on the pavement for several seconds before moving. Then he sprung up and said, “I’m all right.” He only complained of a sore wrist and the shock of falling.

But Jobst’s bike wasn’t so lucky. I noticed that the paint had buckled in the downtube and top tube where they meet the head tube. Tom Ritchey came over to inspect his handiwork and determined that it was only warped, not broken, still safe to ride.

Jobst said this was his second dog collision. He had his other one 22 years ago with the same result — a broken frame.

Meanwhile, a motorist wearing his Sunday best drove up and honked at us to get off the road.

We continued the ride on Star Hill Road, peeling off onto the bumpy, leaf-covered Native Son’s Cutoff, a route only known to Jobst and friends. It turned out to be a muddy spoor after recent rains, so we slipped and slid down the road as our hands froze on the brake levers in the dark, dank forest.

Giant gray and and brown mushrooms covered the trail, which brought howls of delight from Sterling and Mack: “Shrooms!” Sterling then flatted, right where Tom R. had flatted a week ago, ruining an expensive silk sewup. That had proven enough for Tom, who was riding on new clinchers. [It was about this time that everyone switched to clinchers]

Back on Tunitas Creek Road we headed downhill, while Jobst turned back home, feeling the effects of the fall.

We headed to Pescadero on Stage Roads, stopping at the local grocery store for a bite to eat and to see Miss Pescadero 1981. We headed home over Haskins Hill and Alpine Road bathed in the late- afternoon sun on a November day.

Once Upon a Ride… Star Hill Road

July 5, 2014

Star Hill Road at Hwy 1. This section of toll road was abandoned by San Mateo County back in the late 1800s upon purchase.

Star Hill Road at Hwy 1. This section of toll road was abandoned by San Mateo County back in the late 1800s upon purchase.

On my many rides with Jobst Brandt, we often took roads that weren’t exactly public, but that didn’t seem to faze Jobst in the least. It wasn’t out of arrogance.

Jobst grew up in Palo Alto in the 1940s-1950s. Life was different then. The community was small and with the exception of Hewlett Packard and Varian, there wasn’t much in the way of a technology industry.

When he started riding in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the late 1950s, the sight of a bicycle was considered an oddity. Jobst rode wherever he pleased, including Star Hill Road.

He got to know the Markegard family and he would stop and chat with Erik Markegard’s father. Erik has gone on to start his own family and sells range-fed beef, chickens and more from his ranch, which is administered by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. You can find out all about the ranch and business on their excellent website.

Back in 1982, I wrote about one of those rides in my personal diary. So let’s turn back the time machine..

July 11, 1982
Riders: Jobst, Ray, Ted Mock, Peter Johnson, Jan Causey, Bob ?, Tom Ritchey, Gary Holmgren
Route: Up Page Mill, down Alpine Road, Pescadero Road to Pescadero, Stage Road to Tunitas Creek Road, up Star Hill Road, down Kings Mountain Road.
Tire/Mechanical Failure: Ray/flat; Jobst/flat; Bob/flat

The Santa Cruz Mountains are home to a good number of wealthy people who like to preserve their privacy on isolated ranches accessible only by private roads.

Some of those people have made their fortune in entertainment. As much as they love their followers, they still like to enjoy some alone time. Star Hill Road crosses one of those entertainer’s property and rest assured, you are not welcome. The last thing they want to see is some grimy bike riders using their roads.

The morning started with the usual fog, but it was warm and humid. By the time we started up Page Mill Road, it was already warm and everyone dripped with sweat. We met a bunch or riders and Jobst engaged them in conversation during the climb.

At Shotgun Bend I went ahead. Jobst said as I departed, and he said it often, “Ritchey is always stronger than the rest of the riders because he doesn’t have to climb this hill to Skyline.”

Ritchey met us at Skyline, having just returned from a Super Tour in Canada. He wasn’t impressed. “There’s nothing but pine trees. You can’t see through them, they’re so thick.” [I had the same experience on my trip to Vancouver Island.]

Jan followed us down Alpine Road at high speed, showing her excellent descending skills. She headed up 84 to finish her ride.

On Haskins Hill Jobst and Ritchey rode hard, although they would never admit to being competitive about it. We stopped at Loma Mar store for food and drink. We enjoyed the descent to Pescadero but as we arrived at the city limits, one of the town’s upstanding citizens took it upon himself to give us a warm welcome: “Get the hell off the road!”

Before hammering up the climbs on Stage Roads, a bit of levity ensued. Fresh with thoughts of “Sexercise,” a term coined by the Runner’s World publisher for a new book, I blurted out, “Sexerride.” Then Peter added, “This is what you call erotic cycling.” And Jobst, just ahead, chimed in, “What, do I have a hole in my shorts?”

Never one to pass up the opportunity to use his alluring peacock call, Jobst bellowed in his most convincing voice to the denizens of Willowside Ranch, “Aaarrrrr! Aaaaarrrr!”

I commented, “Better watch out Jobst, they’re after you now.” To which Jobst replied, “They know who their master is.”

At San Gregorio, Gary turned up Hwy 84, having done one too many rides up Tunitas Creek Road in recent weeks.

We started up Star Hill Road, me with some foreboding because I heard it was hideously steep and rutted. Not true.

Tom Ritchey, Peter Johnson and Jobst Brandt discuss the meaning of life. Note that Jobst was riding a Ritchey bike at this time. Later bikes were made by Peter.

Tom Ritchey, Peter Johnson and Jobst Brandt discuss the meaning of life. Note that Jobst was riding a Ritchey bike at this time. Later bikes were made by Peter.

After the long climb we had a short downhill to a farmhouse, but the only residents appeared to be some lonely peacocks strutting their stuff. We stopped at the beautiful concrete fountain and watched the goldfish swimming around. Jobst began telling some stories of past rides, one of those reflective moments when all seems right with the world.

After Jobst fooled me by pointing to some clay pigeons, we headed off on the steep road, which was paved for a mile.

For unknown reasons everyone started flatting, Bob first. Peter noted, with complete accuracy, “It seems like this road goes forever.” Star Hill Road is a long climb, made the more so coming off Tunitas Creek Road. It’s no shortcut.

The pavement ended and we began the long climb on dirt Star Hill Road past the last gate. [The road has since been paved.] Then Jobst and I noticed we had flatted. Jobst fixed his tire at a drainage trough.

The descent of Kings Mountain Road went without incident, but Peter had one more trick up his sleeve. While riding behind me he clicked his brakes as hard as he could. It sounded just like someone crashing. Then Peter sped by and yelled, “Fooled you!”

[I never took private Star Hill Road again without Jobst present. Not recommended. The story has more interesting twists and turns, but I’ve left out details out of respect for privacy, if that’s even possible in this day and age.]

Star Hill Ranch flat repair. A later ride. The Peter Johnson (Ritchey decal) bike is yellow here.

Star Hill Ranch flat repair. A later ride. The Peter Johnson (Ritchey decal) bike is yellow here.

Gavia Pass memory

April 27, 2014
Jobst Brandt on Gavia Pass, in the late 1980s. A tunnel was built about 1991 and this part of the road abandoned. This perspective does not compare to the one made into a poster, but still nice.

Jobst Brandt on Gavia Pass, in the late 1980s. A tunnel was built about 1991 and this part of the road abandoned. This perspective does not compare to the one made into a poster, but still nice. Photo by whomever was with him on that ride.

Once Upon a Ride…Ward Road

March 7, 2012

Jim Westby rides down Ward Road in 1989, back when it was still a road.

Jim Westby rides down Ward Road in 1989, back when it was still a road.

November 16, 1980
Riders: Jobst Brandt, Tom Ritchey, Ray Hosler, Bill Robertson, Bill Fallis, Mel?, Keith Vierra, Tim Nicholson, Matt?, Bob?
Weather: Cold and partly cloudy
Route: Up Page Mill Road, south on Skyline Boulevard to Hwy 9, Ward Road, Haul Road to Loma Mar, Stage Road to Hwy 84 and home.
Tire/Mechanical: Tom – front flat; Matt – gear slip; Jobst – chain clunk

On a cold November day, temperature hovering around 40 degrees, we set off not knowing where we were headed. Jobst led the way up Page Mill Road and then south on Skyline Boulevard. By the time we reached Skyline, several riders had peeled off.

I had been studying topographic maps of the area (no Google maps) and wanted to try out Ward Road, which looked like it would take us down to the Haul Road. Jobst wasn’t interested, but Tom was, so the two of us took a right at the Jokoji Zen Center (Ward Road).

I didn’t bring a map, so I wasn’t exactly sure how to get there as we came upon several dome homes and the Zen center. We stopped to ask directions and a Zen-looking elder showed us the way. We traded words with several “students” soaking in the filtered sun and hazy air. They looked so mellow.

We headed off, not really sure where Ward Road would take us. We came upon a patch of old pavement while continuing to descend (probably Long Ridge Road) and saw some summer cabins. At a vantage point we took in Portola State Park, Portola Road and the Pacific in the distance. This didn’t look right, so we headed back up the steep road.

After a few more wrong turns we figured we were headed the right direction. Tom and I stopped again at an overlook and peered into the heavily forested Oil Creek basin. Tom decided we needed to take the right fork (he was right), so we headed down the steep dirt road absent of houses, going through a couple of gates on the way.

At one point we came across some old, long-abandoned cabins in a level area [long since removed]. A “state park” sign told us we were in the outer reaches of Portola State Park.

Finally, we arrived at Pescadero Creek and knew were headed the right direction. After a short steep climb we emerged onto the Haul Road. “Look at that,” Tom said. “Tracks.” Sure enough, Jobst and friends had taken the Haul Road from Hwy 9 at Waterman Gap.

Tom headed home on Portola Park Road, while I continued on the Haul Road, searching for Jobst. The tracks were still easy to follow. I noticed one rider took a wrong turn (it was Keith). I came across Bill Robertson at Wurr Road as I left the Haul Road.

He said Jobst and the other riders headed to Loma Mar, where I found them stopped for food. We headed back home via Stage Roads and Hwy 84.

[Ward Road offered quite a few adventure rides in the ensuing years. I’m pretty sure Tom and I were the first cyclists to take Ward Road. There was a cadre of pre-mountain-bike klunker riders in Cupertino, but I don’t expect they ventured that far out. ]

Brian Cox clears debris on Ward Road. We also removed invasive thistle.

Once Upon a Ride…Wool Jersey Gang

February 17, 2012

Jobst and the Wool Jersey Gang Terrorize Portola Valley

Date: Jan. 1, 1981
Riders: Jobst Brandt, Rick Humphreys, Ray Hosler, John Porcella, Jan Johnson, Peter Johnson
Route: Sand Hill Road, up El Mirador Farm Road, to Old La Honda Road, down Windy Hill back to Portola Valley
Tire/Mechanical failure: John – flat

On a lazy, hazy New Year's day John, Jobst, Rick, Jan and Peter take a break on Windy Hill before the bumpy descent.

Once again, Jobst and his band of wool-clad hell-raisers ran into a landowner who stood in the way of plans to rape and pillage. As we were being accosted, Freddy Krueger and Charles Manson drove by.

A New Year’s ride brings out the best, or at least the most sober riders. A few of us made it to Jobst’s house without hangovers.

We set off through the quiet streets of Palo Alto under hazy skies. A couple of drunks hung out downtown. Yes, ritzy Palo Alto has homeless people too.

Riding through Portola Valley, Jobst decided to head uphill through the the quiet El Mirador Farm entrance across the road from Parkside Grille in “downtown” Portola Valley. It was on this very hill in the 1860s that Andrew Hallidie developed the cable car. It worked and there was no better place to put it to use than in hilly San Francisco.

We passed through the pastoral walnut orchard that leads uphill to where it meets the redwoods and a few houses. We passed a couple of mongrels and their owner while climbing slowly uphill. The woman pleaded, “Watch our for my dogs.”

A minute later along came trouble. A white truck came barreling down the road. “He’s cutting us off at the pass,” Rick said. The Midas muffler poster child blocked our path and we had to come to a stop on the steep hill. A burly man wearing a bathrobe stepped out, a stern look on his face.

Jobst wheeled up to the driver’s feet, standing eye to eye at 6’5″. Fists clenched, the driver yelled, “What are you doing on private property!”

“We’re just riding through! Look, we’re not throwing beer cans, we’re not making noise, we’re not tearing up lawns,” Jobst responded.

The landowner wouldn’t back down. “You got permission to be here?”

“Yes!” Jobst said. “We know Neal Hoffacker. He lives up here.”

“Well, do you have written permission?”

That was enough for Jobst. “No, what da ya mean, we don’t need written permission!”

“Well you do now,” the landowner said. “Next time you come on this property, you have a note from Hoffacker!”

“Look, I’ve been up here since I was a little kid, this high!” Jobst shot back. “I used to swim in that lake over there.”

Eventually the landowner backed off. Jobst would not be deterred. “I should have told him I swam in that lake 40 years ago,” he said as we rode on. [We would later attend company picnics at the lake, guests of the Hoffackers.]

It’s a nice ride on ancient logging roads up to Old La Honda Road. We emerged onto Old La Honda Road just yards shy of Skyline Boulevard and then headed south.

We turned left onto Spring Ridge Road (unsigned back then and just a trail) overlooking a hazy Silicon Valley. Jobst took our photo and complained that soon the developers would tear into the hillside, bring more homes, more landowners, more dogs…[the land is now part of Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District]

We went bouncing down Windy Hill, bumpity bump, rattling frames and bodies. It was a great way to start the New Year.

Once Upon a Ride…Dishing it Out

January 21, 2012

Shoutout at the Stanford Corral

Dish Hill around 1980. One of Jobst Brandt's many excellent photos taken with a Rollei pocket camera. This photo was used in a Palo Alto Bicycles mail order catalog.

(Back in the day, cyclists could ride on the paved roads around the radio telescope located behind Stanford University. That all ended around 1987; today we see hundreds of hikers using the roads.)

Date: November 30, 1980
Riders: Jobst Brandt, Olaf Brandt, Keith Vierra, Rick Humphreys, Ray Hosler, Jim Westby, Tom Ritchey, Bill Robertson
Weather: Cloudy, cool, rain
Route: Alpine Road, up Stanford Dish Road, back on Alpine Road, Portola Valley
Tire/Mechanical Failure: Ray- flat; Olaf – flat; Keith – flat

At 8 a.m. the scent of rain in the air was about as strong as a skunk in heat, but rain would not stop the Jobst Riders. We rolled into a mist and two hours later made it home in a soppy rain.

Tom’s encouraging words spurred us on. “Come on you guys, it’s clear up on Skyline.” Yeah, right.

With young Olaf along, Jobst’s son, the ride assumed more humane levels. Nobody was dropped and we had normal conversations. The chatter died down as we started the climb up Dish Hill Road behind Stanford University.

Jobst led the way up the winding road through majestic oaks (free of cars), young Olaf spinning madly to keep up.

Things turned nasty on Dish Hill. Even the cattle looked like they weren’t having any fun munching on soggy grass. The road went from pavement to dirt with a top layer of dust that quickly got muddy. Then Keith flatted and the fun began.

As we were talking about the previous night’s premier of Breaking Away, Olaf discovered he too had a flat (we were riding sewups). Olaf’s clincher flat occurred on a wheel without a quick release. Not to worry: Jobst removed part of the tire, located the flat, then patched it.

Meanwhile, Keith was covered in mud from changing his flat. When he caught up to the group, he said, “I know this is a nightmare and I didn’t wake up this morning.”

Our dreams took a turn for the worse. We rode through the Interstate 280 cattle underpass on the dirt road and then passed Felt Lake before arriving at a gate. Behind the gate was a rancher’s barn and corral.

Inside the corral Rancher Bob looked like the ornery type, and he was. He took one look at us and bellowed, “I don’t want any bike riders on this property!” Seeing there was no use stopping us as we rolled to Alpine Road, the rancher repeated his demand.

Jobst replied in an equally loud voice, “That’s right, bikes start fires!” A war of words ensued, but there was no reasoning with Rancher Bob. Just then a trio of runners passed our way, but Rancher Bob had nothing to say to them.

With the rain coming down hard, we headed around the Portola Valley loop and called it a day.

Quite by accident, I found a group photo that was the start of the Dish Hill ride shown above. It was not the ride described in the story.

Once Upon a Ride…Big Dipper Ranch

October 2, 2011

Send in the cows. We rest before the ride and walk back to Alpine Road.

July 5, 1981
Riders: Jobst Brandt, Jim Westby, Ted Mock, Ray Hosler, Parker McComas, Marc Brandt, Tom Ritchey, Gary Holmgren, Kelly, Strange John
Route: From Palo Alto, California: Up Old LaHonda Road, south on Skyline Boulevard to Page Mill Road; down Old Page Mill Road to Big Dipper Ranch; return up hill to Alpine Road; Alpine Road, Pescadero Road to Pescadero; Stage Road to San Gregorio, up Hwy 84
Weather: Humid and warm
Tire/Mechanical Failure: Ray — flat.

It isn’t often that Jobst and his merry band are turned back on their adventure ride. Jobst usually manages to talk his way past distraught land owners. This ride was the exception, in more ways than one.

It all started at Jobst’s house one sultry summer morning. He sat at his dining room table playing Space Invaders with a newly acquired Radio Shack TRS 80 computer. His son, Olaf, would master the intricacies of machine-level programming on that TRS 80.

In the next 10 minutes nine riders rolled up to Jobst’s house, including his mercurial nephew, Marc. The talented racer occasionally joined Jobst on a ride.

Having recently read Sawmills in the Redwoods by Frank Stanger, I was convinced that Page Mill Road went all the way through to Portola State Park; Tom Ritchey thought so too, so Jobst was willing to give it a try. We set off under partly cloudy skies and muggy air, remnants of Hurricane Beatriz in the Pacific.

Along the way, Jobst complained about his Fourth of July meal. He said it was slowing him down, but nobody complained about the pace. Parker and Jobst had an eating contest and Jobst won. That evening they celebrated the 4th by dropping an explosive “bigger than an M80″ down the “No Parking” pole in front of Jobst’s house.

The ride up Old LaHonda Road went peacefully enough until Marc went off the front and everyone chased, including Strange John. We screamed mockingly, “Go John!” John was strong all right, but he lacked guile, a prerequisite for bike racing.

We were dripping like leaky faucets by the time we reached the top of one-mile hill on Skyline. Jobst stopped and rummaged around in a blackberry thicket. He found a spring and took a deep drink of the delicious cold water coming from a pipe sticking out of the hill; we joined in and filled our bottles before continuing.

At the Page Mill Road junction, we headed southwest into Skyline Ranch [now a Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District ranger station]. After a half-mile on an old paved road we made a crucial turn onto a dirt road − Old Page Mill. At last we would find out where this mysterious road went, or so we thought.

Bouncing along the rough road, we descended steeply over sand, rocks, and brush. We were headed down a ridge, with Lambert Creek and gorge on the left. At one point we passed a dirt road that went up to a house. Soon we were skirting the side of a ridge, with a grand view of the redwood-covered hills to the south. A few bulls munched grass on the hillside.

After a couple miles we came to a large wood gate plastered with “No Trespassing” signs, “Violators Will Be Prosecuted,” etc. They must have known we were coming. We climbed the fence and continued, like latter-day Lewis and Clarks. Another gate and more “no trespassing” signs.

Suddenly we came upon a scene that jolted our senses − a house deep in the redwoods, but not just any house [it was the Big Dipper Ranch]. It had a swimming pool and was lavishly landscaped. We rode past the house in the distance, below us and to our left, and a chicken coop on our right. We rode through another gate − the final gate for the Jobst Riders.

Coming up the dirt road was the Big Dipper [Cummings?] himself, putt-putting along on his tractor. We pulled our bikes over to the side as though to let him pass, like we were just out for a Sunday ride minding our own business. We wondered what would happen next. A growling dog sat behind the rancher.

The rancher stopped and asked brusquely, “Where do you think you’re going?”

“We’re lost. We’re trying to get to Portola State Park,” several riders replied innocently. “Well this road doesn’t go through,” the farmer replied, his eyes bearing down on us. “You can just turn around and go back the way you came.”

The riders asked if there was a way out ahead, not wanting to back-track. “No,” he replied. “The only way out is to go back the way you came. That’s how you got here in the first place, isn’t it?”

Jobst said nothing. I think he decided it was useless.

Send in the cows!

Realizing there was no use debating, we turned around. Tom tried to find a way up the hill behind the chicken coop, but that plan laid an egg. We imagined we’d have to go all the way back to Page Mill, but Jobst and Tom had different plans.

Old Page Mill Road beind us, we walk back to Alpine Road on a steamy hot day.

After a mile or so backtracking, Tom attacked up a field, with a small pond visible below. His plan was to ride straight up the hill over to Alpine Road. We dismounted and started our hike in the heat and humidity, flies buzzing our heads. We made our way successfully by another house without being accosted and then stopped to refresh ourselves at a cattle watering hole with an old iron bath tub. Tom said that those tubs sell for hundreds of dollars. Several riders dipped their caps in the slimy trough, while Jobst drank from a nearby spring.

Passing the house, a resident came out to watch us ride by. She must have been wondering, “Where did they come from?” Back on Alpine Road we sped down the hill and took a final look at the Big Dipper Ranch far below. Tom vowed that he would return and find a new way to Portola State Park.

[There was a logging road in the late 1880s that went all the way to a sawmill in today’s Portola Park. MROSD maps show a potential route into the park, but Big Dipper Ranch is still a private enclave.

MROSD bought Big Dipper Ranch in 2002, although it looks like the ranch itself is still private and the land is used for raising cattle. It’s off limits.]

I had this story on my website, but that’s gone so I’m re-posting.

Once Upon a Ride…Mt. Umunhum in the snow

January 11, 2011

Rick Humphreys, Ray Hosler, John Porcella enjoy a snow ride on Mt. Umunhum in 1982. (Jobst Brandt photo)

Jan. 3, 1982

Riders: Jobst Brandt, Ray Hosler, Paul Mittelstadt, Rick Humphreys, John Porcella

Route: From Palo Alto through Santa Clara Valley, Novitiate property, Alma Bridge Road, up Soda Springs Road, through Almaden Air Force base, down Mt. Umunhum, Hicks Road, Los Gatos-Saratoga Road, home. Jobst and Rick – Loma Prieta Road, Summit Road, home.

Tire/Mechanical Failure: Ray – flat

This winter in Northern California is one of the coldest in recent memory. Fall came early and so did the rain. Snow has fallen along the Coast Range. The ski resorts are enjoying a banner year.

We met at Jobst’s house dressed in heavy woolens. It wasn’t enough. You could see your breath and in Northern California that means COLD (high 30’s). The humidity at 79 percent didn’t help matters.

Despite the cold, Jobst didn’t wear a hat, as is his custom. John had only a junk pair of gloves. I wore three wool jerseys, wool mittens, three layers of socks, and plastic bags over my feet. Still, my feet froze.

Novitiate visit
We got through the Valley without incident. However, Jobst (who attended Bellarmine High School) wanted to get closer to God, so we made our way into the Novitiate over a bridge that had once been used to hold a drainage pipe. We passed a high gate with a gap and got through that.

A derelict sat on a bench overlooking Hwy 17, apparently also there to meet God. At another gate, we dismounted and walked through a narrow gap that put us onto a hiking trail. After a short distance we passed an old man (Lucifer?) who started yelling nonsensical stuff at us as we passed. With this weirdness behind us, we descended the steep Jones Trail to Alma Bridge Road.

The ride continued around Lexington Reservoir on dry roads, but after turning left on the Soda Springs Road that changed. The road is long and winding with a grade of about 8 percent, and some steeper sections. The terrain is mostly brush and manzanita.

We got colder as we climbed, and the road got wetter. About two-thirds of the way up we saw patches of snow; pretty soon we were riding through a blanket of crunchy white stuff with ice beneath. We stopped so Jobst could drink from an icy stream. Paul, not feeling well, headed back down the hill.

A motorist was trying to jump-start his snow-covered car. A handful of residents live off the road, but they were no doubt staying inside.

At a gate where the pavement ended, we put our bikes over and continued right on a dirt road, which wasn’t so steep. We broke out into the open and saw Almaden Air Force base, a collection of low buildings that had been empty for years, but not officially abandoned until 1980.

[Fortunately, we did not see Loren McQueen, whose family owns the land on which communication towers stand. The pistol-packing owner died in 2007, but his children still maintain the property. They’re amenable to allowing public access to the summit.]

At this point we were riding through several inches of snow. We inched along trying to avoid falling. Finally, we reached the paved road through the base.

Military police
Our luck was about to run out. As we rolled uphill to a final gate and Mt. Umunhum Road, a groundskeeper driving a military truck (probably a Federal agent) yelled at us. “You’re trespassing on government property. Why don’t you get off this land right now!” [Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) did not buy the land until 1986]

“All right, you don’t have to get upset about it!” Jobst retorted. “You’re trespassing and it’s my job to tell you to leave,” the man repeated. “OK, OK,” Jobst said. “You’re just doing your job. I don’t yell at people at my job.”

After another exchange of vitriol, we got through the gate. But our problems weren’t over. Several hundred yards farther, John and I came to the descent of Mt. Umunhum Road, while Jobst and Rick went right on dirt Loma Prieta Road.

About a dozen people, who had driven up Mt. Umunhum Road [it was still open, but closed later], started pelting John and me with snowballs. We zoomed by and began the descent. At this point, our hands and toes were frozen. It was an unpleasant descent — to say the least — on the steep, winding road.

If this wasn’t enough, I flatted, and had to fix my tire with frozen fingers. Fortunately, I had switched to clinchers from sewups in January 1981. John sped down the mountain, but came back five minutes later after realizing I might have crashed.

We continued down Hicks Road into Los Gatos and stopped at the first 7-11 to buy a warm drink and thaw out. On a final note of excitement, in Sunnyvale we nearly got broadsided by a man driving a station wagon. John and I would enjoy a few more fun rides before he joined the military to fly P3s. He went on to be a pilot with Delta airlines. Rick, a geologist, moved to the Sierra foothills.

[Last I heard, progress continues toward cleaning up toxic chemicals (PCBs) and removing all the buildings, except maybe the Cube. MROSD has signed sections of Loma Prieta Road, bikes allowed. Jobst and friends have been riding on that road since the 1960s. Use extreme caution riding down Mt. Umunhum and Hicks Road.]


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 64 other followers