Archive for the ‘Ride reports’ Category

Old Pedro Mountain Road a recreational gem

February 22, 2015

Old Pedro Mountain Road overlooks the Pacific between Montara and Pacifica.

Old Pedro Mountain Road overlooks the Pacific between Montara and Pacifica.


Old Pedro Mountain Road summit looking north to Pacifica.

Old Pedro Mountain Road summit looking north to Pacifica.


Is it possible that Global Warming has forever changed Pacifica’s weather from foggy and damp to sunny and insanely nice? Sunday’s ride made me think so.

On top of the sunny skies, Frank-Sinatra-blue-eyes Pacific and rugged hills, there’s the Old Pedro Mountain Road rolling over them, one of the finest multi-use trails this side of Paradise.

On today’s ride I set out from the seaside community of Montara and headed across some brief single-track in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area before finding the road and beginning a long but not-so-steep climb to the summit where there’s a view of Pacific and — just barely visible in the distance — the red spires of the Golden Gate Bridge.

I’m told there are miles and miles of trails running along the coastal hills between Half Moon Bay and Pacifica.

If access to the San Francisco watershed ever becomes a reality, this slice of the Pacific coast will easily become one of the finest recreation areas on planet Earth. I’m not exaggerating.

Lake Ranch Reservoir in Sanborn Park. It's so, so, so legal for bikes.

Lake Ranch Reservoir in Sanborn Park. It’s so, so, so legal for bikes.

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)

It’s never foggy in Pacifica

January 25, 2015

Jim Sullivan shows the way as we stop to admire San Pedro Point and Hwy 1. Faithful Tanga looks on.

Jim Sullivan shows the way as we stop to admire San Pedro Point and Hwy 1. Faithful Tanga looks on.

That was my conclusion Wednesday as I visited the coastal community in San Mateo County, only a 20-minute drive from San Francisco.

On my ride with Jim Sullivan, the patron saint of multi-use trails in the nearby San Mateo County open space, we were drenched in sunshine and warm temperatures.

Jim has been maintaining trails here for more than eight years and in that time he and friends have accomplished a lot, all through volunteer efforts.

I hadn’t ridden in this area for more than 30 years and had only a hazy recollection of how I managed to make it to the Portola site on Sweeney Ridge overlooking the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. In November 1769 Captain Gaspar de Portola and his expedition discovered the bay from the hilltop. Earlier naval excursions missed the Golden Gate, which is usually shrouded in fog.

Devils Slide
But today our route took us in the opposite direction to the now famous Hwy 1 Devils Slide where a 4,200-foot-long vehicle tunnel opened in 2013 after eight years of digging. The notorious old stretch of road recently opened as a recreation path.

After winding through Pacifica and taking a dirt road uphill, we made our way to the north parking area of the Devils Slide road/trail, then through an open gate onto the original coast highway, called Colma-Half Moon Bay, built in 1879. Bring your mountain bike.

We didn’t stay on the old road for long, opting instead to climb higher onto Pedro Mountain and follow the ridge east before descending the old Highway 57, otherwise known as Old Pedro Mountain Road to today’s trail users. This paved road opened in 1931 and it’s still in pretty good shape, considering its age.

Jim showed me the old Colma alignment from a vantage point near the 1,000-foot summit. “We brushed back the existing trail making sure we stayed on the 100-plus-year-old alignment,” Jim said as he pointed to a barely noticeable cut in the hillside. “It’s a fun ride.” Fun that is if you’re an intermediate to advanced mountain bike rider who enjoys rocky spoors. (It’s not clear to me the exact route of the old Colma Road. It could be the dashed line below our route shown on the map.)

Old Colma Road alignment looking west.

Old Colma Road alignment looking west.

Old Colma Road alignment looking east.

Old Colma Road alignment looking east.


Once on Old Pedro Mountain Road, things became more civilized as we coasted slowly downhill on pavement. Jim pointed to places where his friends cleared out pampas grass, planted native pine trees and removed mudslides. “You’ve go to move it off right after it rains, otherwise it turns to concrete,” he said.

Trail sharing
We came across hikers, equestrians and people walking their dogs, but none of it fazed Jim, who looks forward to trail encounters. “When people know what to expect, they learn how to adapt to other trail users. Equestrians who have trained their horses to be around people have no difficulty.” Jim firmly believes multi-use trails are usually the best way to go on the expanse of publicly owned trails above Pacifica. He also likes using a handlebar bell on high-use trails.

It’s Jim’s mantra at the many public agency trail meetings he has attended over the years. “Pacifica has a lot to offer for trail users,” Jim offers. “Every time cyclists come here and ride they’re blown away by the beautiful views and trails.” I couldn’t agree more.

If you want to get involved:

Friends of Devils Slide Trail
Friends of Rancho Corral de Tierra

Click on map to enlarge

Click on map to enlarge

Vindication 34 years later

January 24, 2015

On a beautiful spring day in 1981 I was out riding my bike around McKenzie Reservoir (also called Lake Ranch Reservoir) with John McDonald when we came upon some motorcycle sheriffs ticketing kids for fishing in the lake. Of course, we had to wait for our trespassing tickets as well.

Today I rode there and didn’t break any laws as I joined dozens of other cyclists and hikers to enjoy John Nicholas Trail, which wraps around the lake starting at Black Road and heads up to Skyline Boulevard.

My trespassing ticket from 1981. I'm sure the cops had fun riding their dirt bikes.

My trespassing ticket from 1981. I’m sure the cops had fun riding their dirt bikes.

Back when I was riding, the San Jose Water Company didn’t take kindly to renegade cyclists traipsing across their land, even though Jobst Brandt and friends had been doing so for years undetected. I wrote a letter to the judge and my ticket was dismissed for “good cause appearing.” That same year through a land deal, the reservoir became part of Sanborn County Park, but that wasn’t the end of the story.

The reservoir, built between 1875-79 and named after the water company’s founder Donald McKenzie, remained off limits to cyclists until 2014. It took a lot of effort on the part of cyclists to reassure the county parks department that everything would be all right. Master plan

John Nicholas Trail amazes
Thanks to some forward-thinking parks people working for Santa Clara County, they went one step further and not only opened the road around the reservoir, but teamed with local bike groups (SVMTB) to build a magnificent trail linking Skyline Trail and now part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.

The four-mile trail climbs steadily but not too steeply from the lake, with many switchbacks to keep the grade fairly constant. There’s one breathtaking view of Santa Clara Valley that adds to the enjoyment of a well designed multi-use trail.

John Nicholas Trail overview.

John Nicholas Trail overview.

When I rode downhill today I saw dozens of cyclists going up and down and just as many hikers, everyone on their best behavior. The key here is multi-use. When the expectation is set that you’ll see all types of users, people watch out for other trail users. Equestrians can also use the trail, but with the crush of other trail users here on the weekend, it’s probably more realistic to ride here on a week day. Still, it can be done.

Alpine Road depression
Compare this “Kumbaya” moment to what I experienced the same day on Alpine Road, the poster child for agency neglect in San Mateo County. As I rode uphill, eight of nine riders coming down were time-trialing. Having already been hit head-on once and knocked unconscious by a downhill rider, I made it known they were out of line.

I lay the blame on MROSD and San Mateo County for dropping the ball and allowing the road to become a downhill free-for-all. This road was at one time a beautiful route from Palo Alto to Page Mill Road. It’s present condition is so depressing it’s hard to think about it.

Some agencies better than others
After following local trail developments for more than three decades, I’ve come to the conclusion that some agencies are better than others. I rank Santa Clara County parks highly, with San Mateo County and Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) lagging behind, but still well ahead of the regional water departments. I would characterize the local California state parks as benign. Not good, but not bad.

It all comes down to a mindset. Santa Clara County officials seem to genuinely care about letting people use our parks and they go out of their way to accommodate all users. San Mateo County, in my opinion, is much less accommodating. While it’s not the only reason, there’s a strong contingent of equestrians who put up roadblocks at every opportunity against multi-use trails.

MROSD is another story. Their issue is that their charter was dedicated to purchasing land for open space and they have done great work in fulfilling that mission. However, because that was their primary focus, public access has lagged. Had the agency’s bond measure not passed in 2014, they would have been facing insolvency, so it’s no wonder they spend as little as possible on public access.

MROSD made a concerted effort to be all-inclusive in their recent vision process, but in my opinion they need to re-think how they work as an agency. They should stick to what they do best — buy land for open space — and let other agencies with more experience handle the rest. In other words, they should turn over acquired land to state, county or city agencies for public access and enforcement. That’s how other land preservationists like Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), Sempervirens Fund, Save the Redwoods, etc., operate and there’s no reason why MROSD can’t do the same.

When the levee breaks..

January 18, 2015
Moffett Field Trail has what appears to be a broken levee.

Moffett Field Trail has what appears to be a broken levee.

After a quick check, I noticed the Moody Blues still haven’t been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located in Cleveland, Ohio, of all places.

I thought that was an oversight, but maybe not. I recently mentioned this band to someone, age about 40, and the name drew a blank. If I had┬áreferenced “Nights in White Satin” that may have rung a bell.

Before I end my digression, have you heard of the band “The Stooges”? They made it into the hall of fame, but probably because their lead singer was Iggy Pop.

Now here’s the point: What happens when the levee breaks? I’m talking about the Moffett Field Bay Trail bordering the NASA Ames research center in Mountain View.

It brings to mind a song of the same name by Led Zeppelin (in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). Here’s a short clip for those who have never heard the song.

That stretch of trail opened in September 2010 and I was there. It’s a great place to ride and avoid cars.

Meanwhile, I tried out the Permanente Creek Trail overpass at Hwy 101, gateway to the Google Mountain View campus. It’s a straight shot over the freeway — a great way to go as opposed to Shoreline Boulevard.

A towering redwood memory in Big Basin State Park

January 11, 2015

A tree dedication thanks to Sempervirens Fund efforts.

A tree dedication thanks to Sempervirens Fund efforts.


In 1998 I dedicated a redwood tree located in Big Basin State Park to Jobst Brandt. It was done through a fund-raising effort created by the Sempervirens Fund and backed by the park.

After all these years I finally had a chance to stop by and see the tree. Jobst led many rides through the park starting in the early 1960s, notably Gazos Creek Road, but he also visited more remote locations in and around the park.

Jobst fondly remembered the time he drove his car with his wife Helga on Gazos Creek Road back in the 1960s before the dirt road was closed to traffic. That must have been some drive.

Of course these days the road is closed to cars, although the rangers still drive their trucks on it for routine maintenance.

The tree is located about fifty yards southwest of the Barnes Kiosk on North Escape Road at Opal Creek.

It’s a medium-sized redwood in the grove, but still a fitting tribute to Jobst, who loved taking North Escape Road on his way to Gazos Creek Road. My dedicated tree isn’t the only one in Jobst’s name.

Sempervirens Fund, located in Los Altos, is the state’s oldest land trust. Photographer Andrew P. Hill was instrumental in the organization’s founding, which ultimately led to the establishment of Big Basin Park by the state of California in 1902.

Andrew pushed for the park based on an all-too-familiar incident that still goes on today. A landowner accused Andrew of trespassing while he was out taking photos one day in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Andrew and Jobst had a lot in common there. It’s a big reason why Jobst gave generously to Sempervirens, POST, and Save the Redwoods.

I’m not sure what was going on this Sunday, but hikers filled the parks. Castle Rock and Big Basin had full parking lots. Maybe it’s the “New Year’s resolution” effect.

On my way home I discovered I had only 65 cents and had forgotten to bring food. I stopped in at the gas station at Hwy 9 and Hwy 236 in Boulder Creek to see what pennies would buy. These days, not much.

A Tootsie Pop goes for 19 cents. Such a deal. It was fuel enough for the long climb up Bear Creek Road, Summit Road and home on Skyline.

My Jobst Redwood is just off North Escape Road at Opal Creek.

My Jobst Redwood is just off North Escape Road at Opal Creek.

Gazos Creek Road never fails to delight

January 6, 2015

Brian clears debris from Waddell Creek to improve drainage.

Brian clears debris from Waddell Creek to improve drainage.


Intent on trying out my newly renovated rear brake bridge (increased clearance), I contacted Brian for a Sunday ride with dirt.

Gazos Creek Road couldn’t have been a better choice, although I wondered if it would be muddy from the recent rains.

Hardly. It hadn’t rained since Dec. 24, plenty of time for the road to dry.

I’ve been enjoying Gazos Creek Road through Big Basin State Park since 1980, following Jobst Brandt and friends on one of his regular clockwise circuits down Hwy 9, 236, Gazos Creek Road, home on Pescadero Road.

While the temperature never went much above the mid-50s, we enjoyed filtered sunshine and the late-afternoon sun climbing Alpine Road.

We stopped at a tributary of West Waddell Creek, which had been all but dry last winter. Now it’s a burbling stream where the man-made cut in solid rock channels water into an inviting pool.

Many a car stopped at this spot to tank up on water for the inadequate, always thirsty radiators of the day.

After passing the summit encampment where a ranger station once stood, we headed steeply downhill, thankful that the deep gravel dumped here in years past had all but disappeared. A few short stretches of gravel didn’t slow us down.

By now it was almost 2 p.m. and a quick calculation told me that it would be dark before I got home. In his later years, Jobst often descended Page Mill Road in near darkness, a feat I was not anxious to emulate.

We hustled up Alpine Road, discarding the Hwy 84 option because while less steep, it added four miles to my route, so it was a wash. Alpine Road is so much more fun anyway.

There’s nothing more beautiful than a late-afternoon climb on Alpine Road. We made it down Page Mill with plenty of light and then it was a fast ride home.
west-waddell-creek

Halloween bling better than ever

October 26, 2014
A medical student must live here.

A medical student must live here.

Spiders keep getting bigger.

Spiders keep getting bigger.


If you’ve been around for a while, you can’t help but notice that Halloween is beginning to rival Christmas for yard ornamentation.

Here are a couple I came across. Spiders and skeletons have a lock on Halloween.

Meanwhile, the new Apple campus continues to take shape, with four-story-high mountains of dirt. They literally have their own quarry operation.

How will they manage their fruit orchard? Will they plant Apple trees?

How will they manage their fruit orchard? Will they plant Apple trees?

Summit Road a ribbon of endless dirt

October 14, 2014

Mt. Madonna Road has never been paved its entire length. Check it out.

Mt. Madonna Road has never been paved its entire length. Check it out.


You can still lose yourself in dirt out in the wilds of the Santa Cruz Mountains on a road called Summit.

I’ve been riding here since the early 1980s when Jobst Brandt showed us the way from his home in Palo Alto. It’s a long ride from there, but distance never stopped Jobst from finding dirt roads.

Over the decades I’ve seen changes, the most important one being no more hassles. When the Redwood Empire logging company hired a fine East Bay attorney to plead their case back in 2000, they put to rest the notion that Summit Road was private. It’s anything but.

I prefer the northern approach, taking the paved Mt. Bache/Loma Prieta roads. Once at the top of the steep climb, Monterey Bay shines like a beacon to the west. Spread out on the flats there’s the agricultural mecca of Watsonville.

Summit rolls up, down, up, down for eight miles, staying at about 2,900 feet altitude. The climbs aren’t long or steep, just numerous.

You’ll be joined by 4-wheel-drives going by, a lot more than decades ago. People keep moving out here, living off-grid and enjoying their privacy.

How much longer this will last is anyone’s guess. However, with more people comes gentrification. One of these days Summit will be paved. You can bet on it.

One thing you’ll notice out here is the lack of dense tree growth. Blame it on frequent fires. Too many to count. The road is a vital fire break.

I headed down the paved Summit to Mt. Madonna Road, one of the nicest stretches you could ever hope to ride in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It’s worth the effort.

There’s another 1.3 miles of dirt on Mt. Madonna Road heading east. It’s darn steep and gravel. Use caution.

Heading back on Uvas Road I checked out the old road, fully exposed now that the reservoir has dried out. Let’s hope for rain.

Hwy 9 widening makes progress

October 5, 2014

The narrows, about a mile up from Saratoga on Hwy 9, has been widened. Good news for cars and bikes.

The narrows, about a mile up from Saratoga on Hwy 9, has been widened. Good news for cars and bikes.

Highway 9, Big Basin Way, has been under construction, with delays up to 10 minutes, but now both areas no longer have traffic signals. There’s still some finishing work.

I think there is more work to be done, but Hwy 9 is looking safer all the time.


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