Archive for the ‘Ride reports’ Category

New Idria ride breaks tradition

April 4, 2016

Off to a gloomy start.

Off to a gloomy start.


We don’t take our traditions lightly when it comes to bike rides and New Idria is no exception. We had done the same route since 2003, but it was time for a change.

Clear Creek Road has become a rutted spoor, not worthy of being ridden on a road bike. We found two alternative roads. More on that later.

Our ride got underway at 8:20 a.m. from Paicines on Hwy 25, called the Airline Highway because it’s so straight and flat that a Boeing 707 could make an emergency landing here, or so it would seem.

We finally recruited a new rider to join us, Matthew Forrester, who rides a steel frame with 25mm Continental tires. John Woodfill and Brian Cox completed our four-rider team.

Need permits
As a side note, to do this ride you need to sign up on a BLM website and carry your permit. There’s a $6 processing fee, which does not go into BLM coffers, but some company that manages the website. Get the Serpentine ACEC permit on Recreation.gov.

As we rolled along there wasn’t much to see through the dense valley ground fog, temperature a cool 51 degrees. However, we heard the song of red-winged black birds alongside the marshy areas next to the road. The fog burned off after about an hour to be replaced by warm sunshine and calm air.

When we arrived at Willow Creek Road where Willow Creek crosses Hwy 25 we briefly entertained the thought of taking this route, but that would involve hopping fences, encountering bovine, angry dogs and crossing San Benito River, which we already had to look forward to on Old Hernandez Road.

Highway 25 near Pinnacles.

Highway 25 near Pinnacles.


The ride through the San Andreas Rift Zone passes scattered vineyards on a winding road that speaks to why so many people enjoy living in the Bay Area. After passing the Pinnacles National Park entrance we began a climb of 8 percent and noticed at the summit a brief road closure due to a rock slide. It was easy enough to walk through the slide, but I rode around.

Old Hernandez Road and San Benito River
We turned left onto Old Hernandez Road 21 miles into the ride to be greeted by rocky cliffs glowing brown in the morning sun, overlooking the San Benito River valley. We passed the Jefferson Elementary School in this remote setting and continued south, passing the first sign indicating the road was closed 5.5 miles ahead.

Ready to cross San Benito River, but where?

Ready to cross San Benito River, but where?


The road hugs the hillside overlooking the lush river valley where ranchers raise cattle and horses. It’s an idyllic setting and one enjoyed from the saddle as we rolled along the mostly flat road. Brian suggested we take this route in 2005.

The road ends at Smoker Canyon Creek where there’s a ranch house and barn with a threatening sign that this is private property and the road is closed. After about a half-mile on a flat alluvial plain we reached the mighty San Benito River, which never fails to surprise us with its depth and ease or difficulty of crossing.

This year, unlike years past, the river had a thick layer of mud both sides of the shore. I proudly removed my slippers from bike bag and took off my shoes, not wanting to get them wet. The others ventured upriver a short distance and crossed. However, I charged directly into the river and immediately got stuck. My feet sank a foot into the muck and when I tried to remove my foot, a slipper came off. I spent minutes extricating myself before fording the river upstream.

Washing of the feet in San Benito River.

Washing of the feet in San Benito River.


We washed off our feet and remounted for the ride ahead, an undulating dirt road that goes for four miles before reaching pavement. In this secluded valley we came across cattle outside their fence. When they saw us they began trundling ahead of us, uncertain what to do. Eventually they headed off to the left and took refuge in the shade of an oak tree, realizing that there was a cattle guard just ahead.
Can't you read?

Can’t you read?


Without a car to be seen, this road gives a nice break from the routine of traffic on Hwy 25, as well as a flatter route to Coalinga Road.

We headed left onto Coalinga Road following the San Benito River, a section that looks a lot like the backside of Mt. Hamilton.

At this point you can’t help but notice the wildflowers: California Goldfields, purple Owl’s Clover, Blue Lupine, California Poppies. These flower displays kept us entertained until the steep climb through Lorenzo Vasquez Canyon. At the summit there’s Sweetwater Spring, 2900 feet, where we have on occasion taken a drink to get our dose of arsenic.

It’s a quick descent followed by a short climb and another descent to arrive at Hernandez Reservoir and Valley, which may or may not have water depending on the amount of rainfall. This year there has seen rain (9 inches in Panoche). We crossed San Benito River for the last time on a concrete spillway.

Clear Creek Road
The ride complexion changes dramatically with a long ascent following Clear Creek on a dirt road. Four off-road motorbikes passed us coming down the hill. ORV and motorcycle users took issue with the BLM closing the road in 2008, but to date it is still closed. That may change if the Clear Creek Recreation and Conservation Act is passed by Congress.

Traditional photo at the summit.

Traditional photo at the summit.


We continued uphill on the road, which crosses Clear Creek 10 times on concrete pads. Each time I crossed, I accumulated dirt in my front fork/brake area, forcing stops to dislodge the mud from my Ritchey Break Away. About three miles up the narrow canyon we came to a locked green gate that prevents motorists from continuing on to New Idria without a permit. BLM provides a combination after registering. Mostly rock hounds use the permit process; this area is rich in minerals. Mine tailings can be seen everywhere.

The temperature had been climbing in the canyon until halfway up when clouds moved in and cooled things down nicely. Wind had not been much of a factor and would not cause us difficulty until Panoche Road.

The real climbing begins at a signed junction where we turned left and began a 2.7-mile grind to the summit at 4,450 feet. It’s about a 10 percent grade and the road is covered with loose rock and sand, making going tough if you’re someone who doesn’t have a lot of leg power. However, stronger riders will make it up the road with relative ease.

Aurora Mine breaks tradition
At the summit we took the obligatory group photo and then decided on breaking tradition. We had always gone down Clear Creek Road, but over the years it has become deeply rutted. We agreed to take an alternate route that passes Aurora Mine to the south 0.4 miles on a flat stretch of dirt road. It was a wise decision.

Fabulous descent on the Aurora Mine route.

Fabulous descent on the Aurora Mine route.


The road condition was such that descending proved straightforward, even for road bikes as the road snaked its way down an exposed ridge with spectacular views of Panoche Valley in the distance. The route adds a few tenths of a mile to the the ride, but it was well worth it.

We reached the New Idria holding pond with its distinctive blue-green water that holds a plentiful supply of toxic water.

Back on Clear Creek Road we ran into many places where the ORV users had churned up the road when muddy, turning it into an obstacle course with watery mud holes. I ventured to ride around one of those holes, but found myself descending into the water hole and bouncing out, my bike covered in mud.

Mine entrance on lower Clear Creek Road a mile from New Idria.

Mine entrance on lower Clear Creek Road a mile from New Idria.


We descended steeply for a mile on the rutted road before reaching another junction where we broke tradition again. I noticed a road to the north that followed a ridge and then plunged down to New Idria. I let the others take that route, while I took the traditional route past the mine entrance. There’s one section that requires walking before the mine, but is otherwise rideable.

The other riders reached New Idria only seconds before me and said the road is vastly better than the traditional route.

In New Idria there’s slow progress to dismantle the smelting plant and clean up this Superfund site. It’s hard to believe that this was at one time a thriving community with around-the-clock mining operations to extract cinnabar and other ores. The mine closed in 1972 after 118 years of use.

It was already 3:30 p.m. so I realized that I’d be riding in the dark once again.

The ride complexion changes dramatically leaving New Idria. The road descends steeply on mostly dirt for a mile before finally bottoming out. From here there’s a nice descent through Vallecitos Valley where you’re greeted by wide-open spaces occupied by cattle, windmills and grassy plains.

Griswold Canyon
New Idria road climbs gradually and then descends gradually into Griswold Canyon. Along the way we found ourselves riding on the dirt shoulder, much smoother compared to the pavement, patched time and again. John saw some tri-colored blackbirds among the red-wing variety, a much less common bird.

Griswold Canyon, cut by the same named creek, gives riders a chance to pick up the pace, especially so since we had a nice tailwind that blew us into Panoche Valley for the run to Panoche Road.

A left turn here put us into the teeth of a headwind that blew constantly until we reached Panoche Inn five miles later. This is the only store, so we stopped for an ice cream cone, the store’s specialty. Owner Larry and his wife lovingly care for the store, living out back.

New Idria Road open spaces.

New Idria Road open spaces.


John enjoyed talking with Larry about their chance encounter in downtown Palo Alto last year, his wife visiting Menlo Atherton high school for the class of 1965 reunion. It’s a small world.

Speaking of a small world, we were passed several times by a man and his wife on an off-road motorcycle. They took a different route from us, but we kept running into one another. Things got really weird when we saw them once again in the same Hollister taqueria later that evening! We exchanged stories about our adventure rides.

But I digress. We still had 27 miles to ride and it was already after 6 p.m. Fortunately I brought my trusty EagleTac LED light.

The headwind continued for the next hour and a half, but once climbing it was no longer a factor. John stayed behind to ride with me while Matthew and Brian went ahead, anxious to reach Paicines before dark. Neither had a light. They almost made it, arriving at 7:50 p.m.

Night riding
We crested Panoche Pass at 2,100 feet and from then on the climbs were brief and easy. It was mostly downhill following Tres Pinos Creek through a canyon and then into a valley.

This time of day is my favorite. The setting sun brings out vivid colors and puts valley oaks in stark contrast to green meadows populated by wildflowers, a riot of yellow, blue and purple. We especially enjoyed the deep blue Larkspur covering the hillsides. With temperatures dropping into the low 60s, it was ideal weather for riding at a brisk pace.

By 7:40 p.m. it was time for the light, which is every bit as powerful as a car’s headlight. We could see potholes during long descents. Another benefit of night riding is that it seems like you’re going faster than you really are.

In pitch darkness we arrived at Paicines, 8:20 p.m. and 114.5 miles on our cyclometers.

It’s good to see that others are taking up the quest, including Stefan Eberle and his Dutch friend. We have Bruce Hildenbrand to thank for pioneering the route, one of the best adventure rides you could ever ask for in the wilds of San Benito County.

Recommended route to New Idria from summit.

Recommended route to New Idria from summit.

Mt. Hamilton backside road stories

March 28, 2016

The old road followed Arroyo Bayo.

The old road followed Arroyo Bayo.


One of the most wild and scenic roads in the Bay Area is Hwy 130, San Antonio Valley Road, on the backside of Mt. Hamilton.

I’ve ridden there since 1980 and it never fails to impress. Over the years I’ve wondered about that dirt road alongside Arroyo Bayo after the hill out of Isabel Creek.

Jobst Brandt, who rode on the backside of Mt. Hamilton more than any cyclist, may have mentioned riding there, but I’ve forgotten.

But Peter Locke has not forgotten, and he rode with Jobst. He told me recently by phone how they rode through the creek. He had fond memories of fording the creek numerous times, as well as crossing a reservoir. Here’s Google Maps after the Isabel Creek climb.

Red line shows where the road went.

Red line shows where the road went.

I looked at a USGS topographic map from 1955 and sure enough the dirt road that you see today along the creek was the main road.

It’s fast disappearing, but it’s still used by landowners in some sections.

I wouldn’t want to try riding there today, but back in 1956-57 when Jobst, Peter and others rode it, the road was maintained.

The road enters a narrow section.

The road enters a narrow section.


Here's where the first section of road returns to present Hwy 130.

Here’s where the first section of road returns to present Hwy 130.

USGS topo map from 1955.

USGS topo map from 1955.

Good Friday for a ride over Mt. Hamilton

March 26, 2016

More wildflowers in San Antonio Valley this year.

More wildflowers in San Antonio Valley this year.


I’ve never ridden over Mt. Hamilton on Good Friday, so I thought I’d give it a try. I was not disappointed, until Calaveras Road, but more on that later.

I left at 7:20 a.m. under sunny skies, negotiating moderate traffic on Pruneridge, Hedding, Berryessa to get to the base of Mt. Hamilton Road, Hwy 130. I can’t say enough about the value of turning Hedding into a bike boulevard. It makes the ride across the Valley so much more enjoyable, or at least tolerable.

During the climb, ground and valley fog boiled up, reducing visibility to 100 yards in the first few miles, but once above the fog it was clear skies and mild temperatures the rest of the way.

I saw no cyclists and only a few cars heading to the summit. Same for the backside of Mt. Hamilton.

I noticed the pipe two miles down is not flowing. It must be plugged, but the creek was running, so I got some water. I would have hiked up the trail to fix it, but I had a long ride ahead.

When I stopped to take pictures in San Antonio Valley, I removed my long-sleeve jersey and gloves. One of the gloves fell out, so now I have to go back next week and find it. I can’t imagine anyone would stop to pick up a lone glove.

At The Junction store I stopped for a bite to eat and watched as workers continue the renovation under guidance of the new owners. I have no idea when it will open. April 1 was mentioned, but these things usually take longer than anticipated.

On the ride along Mines Road I was happy to see that the two traditional creek flows across the road are finally waiting for cyclists who don’t want to get their bikes wet. I rode through at a slow pace. It has been at least three years since I saw them flowing.

Wildflowers bloom in profusion along Mines Road, mostly yellow, and blue lupine in the rocks. It’s a good thing to see after heavier winter rains than we’ve seen in years.

I noticed the usual swirling winds as I headed to Livermore. I’ve only had a few rides here with no wind or a tailwind.

I took the College Avenue, Murrietta Blvd. route through Livermore, the best route by far to reach Stanley Boulevard, unless you’re into riding bike paths along Arroyo Mocho Creek.

Now that Stanley has a bike lane all the way to Pleasanton, it’s a breeze and by that I mean winds from the north.

Business was booming at Meadlowlark Dairy, the traditional stopping place to grab an ice cream cone or the like. Is it the only drive-through store in the area? Maybe.

I was warned about Calaveras Road during the rush hour, but I had to see for myself. Besides, this was Friday Light, Good Friday Light no less.

It didn’t help, or is it worse on other weekdays? Narrow Calaveras Road was not built for a congo line of commuters driving like it was Laguna Seca, not when every corner is blind. Anyone who rides here on a weekday has a death wish, and the same goes for drivers going against rush-hour traffic.

I made my way back home across the Valley and thanked my lucky stars I had survived.

Work continues on The Junction store.

Work continues on The Junction store.

17-Mile Drive a cyclist’s dream

March 24, 2016

After a few rounds of golf at Spyglass, nothing beats a bike ride on 17-Mile Drive.

After a few rounds of golf at Spyglass, nothing beats a bike ride on 17-Mile Drive.


You haven’t lived in California until you’ve ridden on 17-Mile Drive along the Pacific Coast between Carmel and Pacific Grove.

That applies to car and bicycle, as well as golf cart. I rode part of it along the coast as well as the less traveled upper 17-Mile Drive.

The upper drive winds through tall stands of pine trees mixed with houses perched on hillsides with ocean views. It’s a stiff climb for a couple of miles, although a cyclist riding a fixed gear and lugging a surfboard seemed to be doing just fine as I struggled to hold his wheel.

The ride down to the ocean goes swiftly on Ronda Drive. About the only cyclists who take this route are those who get lost, myself included.

Once back on the ocean drive it’s a flat ride passing famous golf holes to one side and the roiling ocean on the other, assuming it’s after a storm moves through.

It’s best to ride here on a spring weekday, as opposed to a weekend in the summer when the coast is socked in with dense fog and there’s lots of traffic.

Another little known fact about this area, the hills in Pacific Grove/Monterey rival anything you’ll find in San Francisco. Stay away from Prescott Avenue and nearby streets going north-south, unless you enjoy really steep grades.

Santa Cruz ride awash in sunshine

March 18, 2016

Molino Creek just past the Smith Creek drainage.

Molino Creek just past the Smith Creek drainage.


I had never ridden to Santa Cruz on a Thursday, so I gave it a try, this being the nicest day of the week.

I was not disappointed with the weather. It was short-sleeve jersey all the way from Page Mill Road home. It even got warm riding through Scotts Valley.

It’s hard not to notice all the rain that has fallen in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Tributaries are gushing, swelling the big creeks, like Pescadero.

Across from Sam McDonald County Park on Pescadero Road, the remains of a tree that fell last week were being cleared from the house it fell into.

As I headed south on Cloverdale Road I was struck by the lack of any noise, including the wind. It stayed that way heading down the coast until Davenport. The new pavement helped reduce car-tire noise.

After Davenport the tailwind picked up to 10-15 mph, enough to make the ride go easier. I checked out West Cliff Drive, where all was quiet for a Thursday. Same for the Boardwalk.

On Mountain Charlie Road I saw only three vehicles, about average even for a Sunday. Things changed once I got to Los Gatos as the rush hour was well underway at 4:30 p.m. That’s the only drawback to riding long on a weekday.

Pescadero Creek a mile past Loma Mar. Lots of water.

Pescadero Creek a mile past Loma Mar. Lots of water.

More rain brings out the fenders

March 6, 2016

Muddy Llagas Creek flows into Chesbro Reservoir.

Muddy Llagas Creek flows into Chesbro Reservoir.


I figured I’d get wet today, so I dragged out the fender bike. It came in handy on Watsonville Road.

The rain is nice, and the local reservoirs have plenty of capacity for more.

Eureka Canyon Road and Highland Way endure the rainy season

February 28, 2016

Eureka Canyon Road near the summit. Could this be the most patched road in Santa Cruz County?

Eureka Canyon Road near the summit. Could this be the most patched road in Santa Cruz County?


If there’s one route in the Santa Cruz Mountains that consistently has issues in the winter it’s Highland Way/Eureka Canyon Road.

The narrow, bumpy road routinely experiences landslides, but this year, so far, no slides. (Eureka Canyon Road becomes Highland Way at the top of the climb, Ormsby Cutoff intersection.)

Back in 2000 a huge slide closed the road. We walked our bikes across, carefully. The county eventually fixed the road, but there was another big slide a few years later.

Cyclists who explore the Demonstration Forest on Highland Way drive these roads all the time.

Big Basin rainfall at 37 inches so far

February 26, 2016

From this vantage point on Hwy 236, Eagle Rock, 2,488 feet, stands tall.

From this vantage point on Hwy 236, Eagle Rock, 2,488 feet, stands tall.


While you’d think 37 inches is a lot of rain for Big Basin State Park so far, maybe. The rainy season isn’t over. The average is 48 inches. In 1993 they had 59 inches.

I’m seeing a lot more Sunday traffic on Hwy 236 than in the old days. Yes, times have changed.

How long will it be before the paved North Escape Road into Big Basin State Park becomes a trail? Eventually. It gets worse every year.

Far from the Madden crowd

February 7, 2016

Tailgate party on Mt. Hamilton summit, Super Bowl Sunday.

Tailgate party on Mt. Hamilton summit, Super Bowl Sunday.


I had the bright idea to ride up Mt. Hamilton on Super Bowl Sunday because, you know, everyone and their brother would be glued to their TV set eating ten pounds of Doritos, each.

Turns out there was an unannounced tailgate party at the Lick Observatory parking lot that nobody told me about, but it was all over the Innernet on one of those ride group postings we call Social Media.

As I churned my way up the 19-mile climb under clear skies and gentle breezes, I noticed a heck of a lot of riders flying by. So while I did avoid the Madden crowd, I ran smack dab into the madding crowd. They no doubt, in addition to blood doping, are mechanical doping. I felt like a dope as I had to rely on my own two aging legs, capable of generating about 60 watts, enough to power our feeble kitchen light bulb.

I had a long conversation with the owner of a new carbon-fiber Colnago. Of course, I had to tell him how I bought a new Colnago frame off Greg LeMond back in 1980. He won it in a race and already had a half-dozen new bikes, so he gave it to Palo Alto Bicycles for safe keeping. Paid $400.

Mostly when you’re riding up Mt. Hamilton people are in a big hurry, like they’re late for the train or something, and don’t want to slow down and have a conversation. It’s not that way with the slower riders, who seem more willing to exchange pleasantries beyond “on your left.”

With 3 million, 218 thousand millimeters to go before the summit, give or take a millimeter, I passed a young woman who was being so nice to everyone as they passed that they had to slow down and be nice back. She just bubbled with enthusiasm, the kind of chipper attitude that makes life a little more tolerable.

That kept me in a good mood until I reached the summit and saw a mob of cyclists. There must have been a thousand, maybe more. They stood around jawing about everything under the sun, some recounting their near-death encounters with cars.

I edged closer as one guy described being run over by a Chevy Suburban, which is only slightly smaller than a bus. The driver admitted he had been drinking and, amazingly, stopped to check to see what that object was caught under his wheels. Turns out he ran over the cyclist, who broke a bunch of bones and now has so much metal in him he sets off the airport metal detectors every time he flies.

After downing a Clif Bar product, I headed back down Mt. Hamilton and noticed that all the riders who blasted by me on the way up, also blasted by me on the way down. I even got passed by guys riding mountain bikes with those enormous tires that look like they belong on a monster truck.

I’m now in the market for one of those motors you stick in your seat tube and churns out 150 watts without anyone being the wiser.

Just don’t tell anyone.

Flooding on Guadalupe River recreation path

November 25, 2015

FYI, the mighty Guadalupe River has submerged parts of the Guadalupe River recreation path.

I saw it beneath the Hwy 237 overpass. While it might have been less than a foot deep, I wasn’t going to risk submerging my bottom bracket.

I can imagine other locations are also under water, such as at the Trimble Road overpass and Hwy 101.

San Tomas Aquino Creek trail is OK with the exception of a wet section beneath the Great America Parkway overpass.


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