Archive for the ‘Ride reports’ Category

Adventure ride in the Ventana Wilderness

April 20, 2015

A Big Sur moment at Carmel Highlands.

A Big Sur moment at Carmel Highlands.


And you thought bikes weren’t allowed in wilderness areas. They aren’t, but the forest service allows bicycles on Indians Road, which heads through the Ventana Wilderness Area in Los Padres National Forest — 98,000 acres of some of the wildest, most scenic California coastal mountains imaginable.

While I am late to the party, I finally made it, April 17-18, with several riders, two of whom rode extensively with Jobst Brandt on a ride similar to the one we took.

Jobst rode here in 2007 and 2008, and finally his last ride in 2010 (age 75), toward the end of his illustrious cycling days spanning more than 55 years.

Two-day loop
After trying various loops, John Woodfill, the primary ride sponsor, settled on a route that starts in Carmel Valley and ends at the Hacienda Lodge on day one (92 miles), a former hideaway of William Randolph Hurst, now located inside the Hunter Liggett Military Reservation, the largest Army reserve at 160,000 acres.

Day two (71 miles) took us on Indians Road over the rugged Santa Lucia Range and down to Arroyo Seco Road, then up Carmel Valley and back to our starting point.

While we are by no means the first cyclists to ride here, we may well be the some of the last. Landslides closed the road in 1994 and it’s now only open to hikers, equestrians and cyclists. I give it another 5-10 years before it becomes impassible by bike, assuming we have some wet winters.

Off to a good start
Our ride started around 9:45 a.m. after a drive from the Bay Area. Clear skies and moderate temperatures made for short-sleeve jersey riding. The ride to Hwy 1 on the busy Carmel Valley Road can be avoided for several miles by taking a left onto Rancho San Carlos Road and continuing on South Bank Trail and Palo Corona Trail to Hwy 1, avoiding several miles of traffic (had I only known).

Hwy 1, even on a Friday morning, has plenty of traffic, but it comes with the territory this time of year when tourists enjoy the fog-free coast, whale sightings and spectacular wildflowers. The high surf and strong wave action this day made for some inspiring views of the rocky shoreline below. While there wasn’t much of a tailwind, atypical for this time of year, at least there wasn’t a headwind.

The coast road stays in view of the ocean most of the time, with the inland excursion to Big Sur and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park being the lone exception.

Beautiful bridges
Along the way you’ll enjoy some scenic bridge crossings over deep canyons cut by creeks flowing from the insanely steep mountains on your left. The iconic Bixby Bridge 13 miles south of Carmel never disappoints on a clear day, nor the look-alike Rocky Creek Bridge. Dozens of visitors milled about taking photos, selfie sticks now de rigueur. It was a far cry from 2011 when we had this stretch of Hwy 1 virtually to ourselves due to road closures.

At Big Sur we regrouped and had some food and drink from the local grocery store. Then the flats started. Ned Black had a flat and then another (bad tube). To assuage our bad luck we stopped at the Loma Vista Big Sur Restaurant next to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park for more food, before continuing a short distance to the 700-foot summit, our highest point on Hwy 1.

Bob Walmsley enjoys the view on the Pacific Coast.

Bob Walmsley enjoys the view on the Pacific Coast.


Bob Walmsley and I traded off riding out front as the miles ticked by at a rapid clip despite the many ups and downs.

At Lucia we gathered once again, outdoing one another for who purchased the most expensive item from the only store around. There’s also a small hotel and restaurant for the well-heeled traveler. At 4 p.m. we still had plenty of time to reach the Hacienda lodge before dark.

Here's one way to keep rocks off the road. South of Lucia.

Here’s one way to keep rocks off the road. South of Lucia.


South of Lucia we came across one of the more remarkable road projects in California, a tunnel that’s only about 300 feet long and shaped like a square house. Pitkins Curve has seen many landslides, and a rock shed was the state’s elegant, if unconventional, solution.

Steep climb
Four miles from Lucia we turned left up Nacimiento-Fergusson Road to begin an arduous climb to the summit at 2,664 feet. The first 1.5 miles is the steepest, with one section of 14 percent. After that the grade becomes a more manageable 8-12 percent, with a more level section halfway up. The last mile is a continuous 10 percent grade, but there is little traffic.

On a day like today with clear skies and mild temperatures, the climb didn’t seem so bad, especially with the ocean views for half the distance. On the way we passed a motorist burning wood next to the road, a truly bizarre activity this time of day, around 4:30 p.m. Burn pits are in evidence in many locations with ocean views two thousand feet below, no doubt a popular spot to enjoy a warm summer night under the stars.

Nice view four miles up on the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road.

Nice view four miles up on the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road.

We sped down the eastern slope of Nacimiento-Fergusson, a twisty road that’s narrow and not conducive to building up speed. In a few miles we entered the drainage for the Nacimiento River. This is one of the more scenic roads in the area under a canopy of trees and a burbling creek on the right, all the more so as the sun began its descent and things cooled off on the warmer eastern slope of the Santa Lucia range.

We exited the canyon and entered the base (entry station closed here) to be welcomed by a broad grassy valley covered with giant oaks. It’s ideal terrain for military training, but the 60-ton M1 Abrams tanks (too heavy for the area bridges) that used to rumble over the hills are a thing of the past due to environmental restrictions.

A nice tailwind pushed us on the downhill to the base, crossing the metal grating bridge over the creek that feeds into Lake San Antonio nearby.

After a left onto Mission Road we entered the military base where we showed our ID as military personnel ran our names through a security database (presumably).

Hacienda lodge gives riders a respite.

Hacienda lodge gives riders a respite.


It’s a short ride to the hotel, a bright white mission-style building with Spanish tile roof perched on a hill. But first we headed to the PX for some food and drink, frequented mostly by military personnel.

Shangri-la in the wilderness
At the hotel we were greeted warmly by a manager who helped us find our keys in a lockbox, for which there was a combination provided in the email.

At $50 a room, complete with a queen-size bed, microwave, coffee maker, satellite flat-panel TV and fridge stocked with our morning breakfast, there wasn’t much to complain about! These less expensive private rooms came with a shared bathroom and shower, but the water was plentiful and hot.

For a sit-down meal the only place on the base — the hotel restaurant is now just a bar — is the nearby bowling alley, which serves delicious pizza, beer and soda. Highly recommended, but at 7 p.m. it was already too cool to eat outdoors on the patio and the mosquitoes buzzed with delight over having us for dinner.

Sleep came easily after covering 92 miles, climbing 7,470 feet, in nine hours.

Day 2 begins with Reveille

Around 7 a.m. we heard the sound of Reveille, but we were already up and about. After eating our breakfast we headed out around 8:10 a.m., clear skies and temps in the mid 40s, but within 30 minutes it would be short-sleeve jersey weather.

John Woodfill and Ned Black discuss next steps on Milpitas Road before the descent.

John Woodfill and Ned Black discuss next steps on Milpitas Road before the descent.


Heading north on Mission Road we passed the Mission San Antonio de Padua, founded in 1771. It became the foundation for a thriving community of 1,200 residents, but by the 1840s it had fallen into ruin.

We saw a reconstructed mission modeled after the original, but it still looks old.

We could have headed straight onto Del Venturi Road, but John had pioneered Milpitas Road and chose that as our route, a wide dirt road that took us gently uphill most of the way before a brisk descent back to Del Venturi Road.

As we approached a grove of trees we saw a large tan military vehicle parked and a solider outside waving us back. We immediately made an about-face.

However, to our good fortune an officer in a pickup truck following had radioed ahead and cleared us to pass a military exercise being held by Navy Seabees, who use this landlocked area to test their collective motto of Construimus, Battuimus or “We Build, We Fight.” Who knew?

Basically they spend time in the field practicing building structures while under fire. We saw numerous places where this activity was underway. One soldier warned us that they work with tear gas on occasion and need to close the public road.

While most of the roads on the base are “public” they can be closed at any time for military activities.

After repairing a couple of flats, we continued on the mostly smooth dirt road and entered Del Venturi just beyond the San Antonio River ford, which can be quite high after a rain. It can also be slippery.

Del Venturi Road climbs gradually through an oak-covered valley.

Del Venturi Road climbs gradually through an oak-covered valley.


We continued ever higher into the hills at a gradual climb through a spectacular valley filled with giant oaks. The scenery only got better as we passed exposed sandstone formations. I fully expected to see Captain Kirk and the Gorn battling it out because it looks just like the Vasquez Rocks in southern California.

We stopped to enjoy the scenery before plunging steeply down the paved road to the wooded Santa Lucia Memorial Park Campground. It was here that Ned took a spill when his wheel caught a rut in the dirt road. Fortunately he suffered nothing more than a sore hand and cuts on his right knee.

John leads the way through the Roosevelt Creek narrows.

John leads the way through the Roosevelt Creek narrows.


The Indians Road route is not so clear here, but we knew to take a right and cross Roosevelt Creek, with water up to the bottom bracket. A narrow canyon greeted us as we continued climbing away from the creek ever higher.

The road wasn’t all that bad, with the occasional loose spots and gravel to keep your attention.

At the final campground, Escondido, we turned right and started the real climbing, going around a closed gate in about a quarter-mile. Immediately ahead there’s a water tank where water can be tapped.

Testing our gears on Indians Road. Start of the steep stuff.

Testing our gears on Indians Road. Start of the steep stuff.


This began the steepest section of Indians Road for climbing, with some sections of 13 percent, loose and rocky. To make things harder, tall brush grows either side of the road, severely limiting your maneuvering.

I had to put a foot down in a couple of sections, but otherwise managed to keep riding at a slow pace.

Yucca plants seem to like it here.

Yucca plants seem to like it here.

Ticked off
At the 2,800-foot level at the end of the steep climbing, we stopped under some shade to regroup and check ourselves for ticks. We found plenty, probably the ubiquitous Pacific Coast tick. Between us we must have removed 15 ticks and there would be more to come as we stopped farther along.

But there was still more fun riding ahead. At 2,800 feet near the summit the road mellows out and goes straight across a high plateau where public works can be seen in the form of nicely done rock culverts.

Ned revels in the zen of tube patching.

Ned revels in the zen of tube patching.


As the road heads back into the mountain’s crevasses it twists and turns around every corner, narrowing to 10 feet in places where there are thousand-foot vertical drops. On top of this the road is littered with scree that demands your full attention.

Flats, flats, flats
As we began a gradual descent Ned flatted once again (a half-dozen flats in all). I stayed behind and helped with repairs while John and Bob continued on. When we didn’t show up at the infamous Adit slide they walked back minus bikes to see what was up.

Ned masters the Adit slide.

Ned masters the Adit slide.


Once repairs were complete Ned and I joined Bob and John at the slide where a bike portage is essential. It’s only 30 feet of narrow trail, but it’s a steep pitch of about 20 percent. The best way to get over is to push your bike from behind on the left side. Or have someone else do it, which is what happened in my case.

Adit slide close up. What's all the fuss?

Adit slide close up. What’s all the fuss?


At the north end of the slide there’s a spring in a rocky hollow where water drips constantly. At the base of the cave you’ll find some Stream orchids, the California state orchid. We refreshed ourselves and Bob filled his water bottle. Temperatures at this point were on the toasty side in the mid-80s.

While we didn’t see any rattlesnakes, we did come across a beautiful horned toad. It quickly left the road and hid in the bushes, but in full view of us. I was more accustomed to seeing a much less colorful version, so it was a special treat to see one so colorful.

We continued downhill on the rocky spoor hoping that we wouldn’t slash a tire or take a spill. Jobst slashed a tire on one ride, but had a spare. The descent was continuous at about 8-10 percent and not too bad for a road bike.

At the bottom we crossed a fork of the Santa Lucia Creek. As a final reminder that this is a challenging ride, we climbed 200 feet in 0.4 miles, grade about 13 percent. Then we hit pavement and the ride took on a new complexion.

Dirty water
At the Arroyo Seco Campground we found the water fountain, but a big sign said water needed to be boiled. Ned offered some iodine pills, so we had water for the long climb back to Carmel Valley 35 miles distant over a 2,200-foot mountain.

It was already 2 p.m. and we had covered a mere 35 miles. One 5-mile section took 1:16, stops included.

As we climbed out of the Arroyo Seco River drainage in the baking heat, it was our good fortune to find the Country Store open this year. We went inside to discover they had air conditioning and some interesting antiques for sale, but more importantly they had lots of cold Gatorade for the ride ahead. We traded stories with the store owner; dressed in cowboy hat and boots, he looked like someone out of the Wild West.

Filled with delicious cold fluids, we turned left shortly on E. Carmel Valley Road and began an 11-mile climb through some spectacular countryside with almost no traffic.

The climb begins gradually and steepens near the summit, but it’s never more than 10 percent. At the summit I continued on alone and enjoyed the long descent, one of the best in the region. The country road passes secluded creeks and dense trees as it winds down toward the Pacific Coast.

All the better, cool ocean air had made it into the valley, setting us up for a delightful ride in the late-afternoon sun.

At 5 p.m., 71 miles later (17 miles of dirt) we finished our ride and grabbed a bite to eat at the Carmel Valley grocery store, which makes some of the best sandwiches around.

Indians Road with its alluring scenery has high potential for things to go wrong. Be prepared. Bill Bushnell took his recumbent on the same route with a friend in fall 2009. They had their own kind of adventure ride, and a good time was had by all.

Santa Cruz ride puts a spring in my day

March 28, 2015
Isn't it time to take down these signs? Seen on Cloverdale Road and Alpine Road.

Isn’t it time to take down these signs? Seen on Cloverdale Road and Alpine Road.

There’s nothing better than a spring ride down the coast to Santa Cruz because in all likelihood you’ll have a nice tailwind. Thursday was no exception.

I don’t recall ever riding this loop on a weekday. It’s almost always on Sunday or Saturday. Now that it’s over, I can tell you Sunday is probably the best day for riding, although “Friday Light” lives up to its reputation, even in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

On Thursday I saw enough Santa Cruz Mountain commuters to last me a while. Because they drive roads like Page Mill daily, they’re aggressive and fast. They don’t anticipate seeing cyclists.

On Moody Road I missed being run over by inches. A Chevy Volt came up from behind while a Tesla came down the hill and I immediately knew that, according to the Law of Convergence, we would all meet at the same place in the road.

I was so far to the right that my front wheel ran off the pavement into the gravel. Just another close call in the life of a cyclist.

But I digress. Things got more civilized on west Alpine Road where I saw only a car or two.

At the Portola State Park Road junction I saw a sign warning cyclists not to ride on Alpine Road due to gravel.

San Mateo County road maintenance might want to include cars in their warning. Loose gravel can be equally hazardous for cars, especially ones in a hurry like those daily commuters.

The sign has been there for many months and the loose gravel is long since gone.

Loma Mar Store under repair. Lots of memories here.

Loma Mar Store under repair. Lots of memories here.


As I passed the Loma Mar store, a place full of memories of past Jobst Rides, I noticed it was jacked up. Erik Garfinkel informs me it’s receiving a new foundation and will be back in business.

I got my tailwind on Hwy 1 and enjoyed the ride into Santa Cruz. I took the usual route through the city via the San Lorenzo River path, over the bridge to Felker Street, Plymouth, Fernside, Emeline Avenue, El Rancho Drive.

Riding up Mountain Charlie Road I noticed about the same amount of traffic I would see on a Sunday afternoon. Nothing to speak of. Even a few cyclists rode by.

Nice bike bridge over San Lorenzo River. There's also a path under Hwy 1 to Hwy 9.

Nice bike bridge over San Lorenzo River. There’s also a path under Hwy 1 to Hwy 9.

New Idria’s siren call leads to new adventures in San Benito County

March 21, 2015

John climbs back to Hwy 25 from Willow Creek Road

John climbs back to Hwy 25 from Willow Creek Road

John Woodfill and I headed south to Paicines on Thursday morning for the second New Idria ride in as many years. It became a tradition in 2003, but a closure of Clear Creek Road by the BLM shut down the ride until 2014 when they re-opened the road with restrictions.

The 114-mile loop, going through Panoche Valley, was pioneered by Bruce Hildenbrand.

We headed into a mild breeze with temps in the mid-40s at 7:50 a.m. and a brilliant sunshine that strained the eyes on this last day of winter. We seem to be doing this ride earlier in the year, mainly due to the drought. Even with the early departure date this would be our warmest ride, temps in the high 70s.

At mile 10.8 we crossed Willow Creek bridge on Highway 25 and took an immediate left onto Willow Creek Road, 112 in the San Benito County registrar of roads. Whether or not it’s still public remains to be seen (I have a question in to the county).

The pavement ended after a mile as we continued on a good dirt road, passing a ranch and several barns next to the road, nobody around.

The sun highlighted brilliant green hillsides and a flat valley where cattle grazed behind barbed-wire fences. Wildflowers put on a show in some locations, but it’s still early. As I looked down I found a clam shell fossil, evidence that this land was once under the ocean.

Willow Creek Road deadend
After about three miles of riding on the undulating dirt road, which varied from smooth to a bit bumpy, we arrived at a fork, the well-used left going steeply uphill at about a 20 percent grade. We saw a road going straight, overgrown with grass, and then noticed a barbed-wire fence across the road.

We didn’t want to risk a potentially long walk ahead, assuming this was Willow Creek Road, probably washed out years ago in the narrow canyon ahead, so we turned around. John noticed a well-worn dirt road going uphill and figured that would take us back to Hwy 25, which it did.

A mile of some fairly steep climbing took us to a ranger station where we saw a parked helicopter, about two miles south from where we turned off at Willow Creek Road. We burned 45 precious minutes on a ride that usually ends just before dark (10 years ago we finished at 6:30 p.m. and left at 8 a.m., so age is catching up).

I thanked my lucky stars I brought a headlight and tail light, as did John.

Rush hour traffic over, we saw only the occasional car. We motored along the relatively flat road, passing Pinnacles National Park and after a mile climb coasted downhill to Old Hernandez Road and hung a left. In a mile we came to the junction with Willow Creek Road, where we had hoped to come out.

San Benito River crossing
Passing private property signs, obviously put there by the land owner, we headed onto the dirt road that follows an alluvial plain created by the once mighty San Benito River, now a healthy creek.

Once again we had to figure a way across the river without getting our feet wet. Using the skills of cave men, we tossed large rocks into the water hoping we could create a stepping-stone path. It worked, sort of.

We continued south on the fine dirt road that follows the San Benito River for another four miles before finding more pavement and riding another four miles or so to Coalinga Road.

From here the road continued through a wide canyon cut by the San Benito River, reminding me of the backside of Mt. Hamilton.

We passed a shuttered ranger station as I began wondering if two water bottles would be enough for this long ride. It wasn’t, but fortunately John brought plenty of GatorAde.

After the climb to the Sweetwater Spring camp with a 14 percent grade, we plunged down and climbed steeply again before the final descent and flat ride to Clear Creek Road, marked as always by the American flag. Nearby Hernandez Reservoir was nowhere to be seen, a victim of the drought.

BLM permits for Clear Creek Road
We had excellent traction on Clear Creek Road, a big improvement over last year when a road grader had just plowed the muddy, wet road.

Clear Creek Road cuts through BLM land in San Benito County.

Clear Creek Road cuts through BLM land in San Benito County.

Last year we saw a couple of off-road motorbikes, but this year we saw nothing. The only sounds we heard were chirping crickets and the trickling Clear Creek.

The road is gated about three miles up. Motorists who pre-register are given a combination to open the gate. After checking with the BLM, I learned that there is no charge for bicycles to use the road. A $5 fee applies only to motorized vehicles. Anyone using the road, cyclists included, must register online.

Summit at 4,450 feet. It's all downhill from here.

Summit at 4,450 feet. It’s all downhill from here.


To break the routine of a long climb up a narrow canyon lined with mine tailings, we rode through Clear Creek at least eight times. At a junction where the road turns steeply uphill to the left we began the challenging 2.6-mile climb to the 4,450-foot summit, with a grade of 10-12 percent and loose dirt.

It went much more smoothly than last year when my rear wheel constantly jammed with mud at the brake bridge (had the brake bridge raised). We reached the summit around 3 p.m., barely halfway into the ride.

The steep road down to New Idria, with some sections of 20 percent, gets worse every year, to the point that I had to walk in numerous sections. We reached the toxic holding pond in one piece and took a left at the junction. Now the road became more civilized, but some sections have become so rutted that more walking was called for.

Panoche hills as seen from high above New Idria.

Panoche hills as seen from high above New Idria.

The hard riding doesn’t end at New Idria, where the lonely rusted out town has only a few buildings standing. No water or facilities of any kind here. Even the friendly pig and its owner are gone.

The next mile of steep descending has become a real test of bike and rider, with insanely deep ruts to negotiate. It was with welcome relief that we reached the better paved road and continued the long ride to Panoche Valley and our one stop at Panoche Inn.

The ride complexion changed dramatically with New Idria behind us. Spectacular views of the distant Panoche hills were replaced by broad vistas of ranchland and grazing cattle. The occasional windmill interrupted the otherwise featureless countryside.

We made good speed with only gentle headwinds on occasion. The road is a patch-quilt of repairs, except one stretch of signed experimental county road. The county tried out a machine that grinds up the old road and immediately uses that material to create the new roadbed. I have no idea about the fate of the project, but it sounds like a great idea.

With about 10 miles to Panoche Inn my inner thigh started cramping. A quick stop to take some Advil and stretch staved off further cramping, and we even picked up the pace with a nice tailwind.

Panoche Inn ice cream treat
Once onto Panoche Valley Road it’s only about four miles of mostly flat riding to the inn. Larry, the owner, who used to live in Menlo Park, served us some cold drinks and we purchased one of their specialties — ice cream in a big sugar cone served by Larry’s wife. It hit the spot!

While we would have liked to hang out at the friendly bar and hear more stories about the area, we had to leave. It was already 5:30 p.m. and we still had 28 miles of riding ahead. A quick calculation told me we would be riding in the dark since the sun set at 7:15 p.m.

Even after 90 miles or hard riding, the last 28 miles has to be the most enjoyable in my years of cycling. There is almost no traffic on a weekday evening and the road winds up and down through oak-covered hills. There’s nothing like riding through cool air and seeing the hills turn hues of gold and brown as the sun sets in the west.

We kept a strong pace back to Paicines riding in darkness on the empty road, arriving at the car at 7:50 p.m. with 119 miles behind us.

Past New Idria ride reports

Route for the New Idria ride

Route for the New Idria ride

Mt. Hamilton a tale of two climbs

March 13, 2015

Wednesday rain cleared the air. By Thursday morning the clouds burned off in Halls Valley.

Wednesday rain cleared the air. By Thursday morning the clouds burned off in Halls Valley.


We usually think of climbing Mt. Hamilton as one long grind to the observatory, an 18-mile celebration of breathtaking scenery, gears and lightweight equipment.

But there’s a dark side to Mt. Hamilton, the eastern climb, which was not designed with horses and telescope equipment in mind.

It’s a serious four-mile grind from Isabel Creek with the last half-mile the hardest at about 11 percent.

Thursday I decided to leave from home and ride to The Junction, the only store between Livermore and San Jose, located at Del Puerto Canyon Road where Hwy 130 meets Mines Road. Then I rode back via Mt. Hamilton.

The only downside is that the wildflowers were not yet ready to show themselves. I saw a sprinkling, but nothing to write home about.

The good news is that from Mt. Hamilton summit the snow-capped Sierra stood out, which is always a sight to behold.

Weather couldn’t have been nicer, with temperatures ranging from the low 50s to the low 70s by the end of the day.

While at The Junction I joined another Ritchey Break Away owner for a mini convention of sorts. As it turned out he and his friends were also headed back my way, and we happened to leave at the same time. They had started at Halls Valley Lake in Grant Ranch park.

As I started the last climb before the big one to the Mt. Hamilton summit I came across one of the riders I saw at the store. I stopped and asked what was up. He had a front flat, but not just any flat because he was riding those fancy tubeless tires.

Now there’s a cautionary tale. I’ve never been a fan of tubeless tires. I asked if he had a spare tube and he said he did, but that it was a major hassle to install it.

I don’t know the reasons, but from what I’ve read about tubeless tires, they’re not easy to mount and they rely on sealant to plug holes. He said he didn’t see any sealant coming out and couldn’t understand what was the problem.

I couldn’t help, so I said I would ride ahead and let the other riders know his situation, which I did. I don’t know the outcome because I made it back to the park before they did.

I do think airless tires have a future, just not the kind he was riding. The ones that look more promising, like Tannus, don’t rely on air pressure, just air gaps in rubber.

However, the lowly tube and tire may remain the best, most reliable way to go until new materials come along. I can fix most anything that goes wrong with a tube/tire: blowouts, puncture vine, glass, etc.

Another cautionary note about the backside of Mt. Hamilton. Your fancy smartphone won’t do much good because there isn’t any cell coverage. There isn’t much traffic either. At least most people driving by will be happy to help.

A tree house worth millions

March 8, 2015

Luxury tree house on Granite Creek Road.

Luxury tree house on Granite Creek Road.


What kid doesn’t dream about hanging out in a tree house on a nice summer day? Well, there’s a luxury tree house on Granite Creek Road that takes the cake.

I don’t know who uses it, but they must be privileged souls. Nice work.

Jobst Brandt always preferred riding up Granite Creek Road on return trips from Santa Cruz via Mtn. Charlie Road.

I hadn’t ridden on it in a million years, but I can appreciate why he liked it. It’s a not-too-difficult stair-step climb, with the steepest part coming before the summit, at around 15 percent for a short stretch, but no so long that it’s to be avoided.

Not much traffic and a gurgling creek to listen to on the way up. But where’s the granite?

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 McDonnell 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.

Riding my Colnago the day of the arrest at McKenzie Reservoir.

Riding my Colnago the day of the arrest at McKenzie Reservoir.

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.


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