Archive for the ‘Ride reports’ Category

Bohlman Road a good test for Sierra Rides

July 5, 2015

View from Quickert Road overlooking Saratoga.

View from Quickert Road overlooking Saratoga.

If you can ride up Bohlman Road in Saratoga, you can probably make it over Sonora Pass. They’re both painfully steep.

I couldn’t find out how the road got its name, but no doubt it was named for a Bohlman or Bollman. Road was paved in the early 1950s.

Interestingly, John Brown’s (the abolitionist) second wife, Mary, lived on Bohlman Road for a time in the late 1800s.

The grade is steep for all except the last mile. I saw a maximum 23 percent on my cyclometer and that matches closely with what was recorded by Lucas on his website measuring grades of local roads.

I turned left on On Orbit Drive and descended Quickert, Kittridge Roads, fortunately with no traffic as the roads are barely wider than a large SUV.

It was a muggy, warm day with a fair amount of smog. Imagine what it would be like today if we hadn’t enacted smog regulations, Clean Air Act, EPA, etc.

A fair wind blows

June 27, 2015

Windsock says ride north young man. So I did.

Windsock says ride north young man. So I did.

Note the windsock located on Hwy 1 near Waddell Beach. Winds are from the south. Huh?

Yes, winds do come from the south on the coast, especially when a tropical storm moves in from the Gulf of Mexico.

You can be sure I knew in advance which way to ride today. I motored on the flats and downhills as fast at 30 mph. Not bad for a geezer.

Meanwhile, during my brief stop for victuals, a local resident of Davenport bemoaned the potential naming of the Coast Dairies as a national monument. He sees it as a magnet for more crowding in the form of traffic.

On the bright side, more government money may be shaken out for buying land as open space and that’s always a good thing. I’d rather see our money go here than being spent on needless high-tech weaponry like the F35. Cyber security, now that’s another matter. But I digress.

Jobst Brandt Memorial Ride brings back memories

June 20, 2015

Jobst Riders prepare to set off on the celebratory ride from Palo Alto. (Chuck Morehouse photo)

Jobst Riders prepare to set off on the celebratory ride from Palo Alto. (Chuck Morehouse photo)

On Saturday we gathered at the hallowed steps of the house of Jobst on Middlefield Road in Palo Alto for a tribute ride and gathering to celebrate our friend’s adventuresome life.

I can’t begin to identify everyone in the photo, but we had Jobst Riders there going back to the 1960s!

Many riders braved dirt Alpine Road, Jobst’s favorite route to Skyline Boulevard, even though they hadn’t ridden there in decades.

Everyone managed to make it up the narrow, bumpy trail with plenty of time to spare for the celebration.

The big yellow bike in the front is Jobst’s old one with a repaired rear stay, owned now by Richard Mlynarik.

So now it’s time for everyone who isn’t riding to get back on and pick up the pace. Jobst wouldn’t have it any other way.

Once Upon a Ride: Crested Butte 1985

June 13, 2015

Only known photo of my Ritchey mountain bike in 1985.

Only known photo of my Ritchey mountain bike in 1985.

When the mountain bike craze took root, Crested Butte, Colorado, became a focal point. It wasn’t long before riders from all over the country gathered in September for a bike-fest.

The big ride called for a day-trip over Pearl Pass to Aspen on a gnarly road. It was more than I could handle, but many do it annually.

I ventured out there in spanking-new Amtrak cars in September 1985 and had a great time with photographer David Epperson (Mountain Bike Hall of Fame) and friends of triathlete Sally Edwards.

It was a chance to ride my new Ritchey mountain bike, one of the most advanced at the time. While I enjoyed the experience, it didn’t take me long to realize mountain biking wasn’t my strong suit and I sold the bike shortly thereafter.

While the event has been moved to June, the Rockies in September can’t be beat for scenic beauty with the turning aspen.

David Epperson, an outstanding action photographer, rides in Crested Butte, 1985.

David Epperson, an outstanding action photographer, rides in Crested Butte, 1985.

Mt. Hamilton Road Race brings out the hammerheads

May 25, 2015

Leaders in the Mt. Hamilton Road Race. Not far ahead of the peloton.

Leaders in the Mt. Hamilton Road Race. Not far ahead of the peloton.

Racers pursue the breakaway at Mt. Hamilton.

Racers pursue the breakaway at Mt. Hamilton.

Talk about cyclists with energy to burn — they all showed up for the Mt. Hamilton Road Race on Sunday.

As I inched my way uphill past Halls Valley, a motorcycle official warned me the peloton was on its way. The freight train arrived a few minutes later, giving me time to dismount and snap a few pics of the Cat 1, 2 riders.

Then they were gone, only to be followed by a hundred or so more riders in lower categories. They weren’t going nearly so fast, but it was still like race cars going by compared to my snail pace.

On the way down the steep backside I didn’t see any accidents, which is a good thing because it’s easy to get carried away going down. I heard of only one accident, at Smith Creek, and I don’t think it was too bad.

The women’s leader going past The Junction store had a lead of at least five minutes. I’m told she was a national champion, so I can only surmise she won handily in the race that ended at the junction of Mines and Del Valle Road.

The race used to finish at Wente Vineyards on Tesla Road, then at Mines and Tesla, now here. In 1987 it ended on the second long climb of Mines Road, call the Double S. Not sure why but it probably had to do with permission from local authorities.

As I plodded home through Pleasanton and Calaveras Road, a bevy of racers blasted by on their way back to Silicon Valley. Youth.

Still a few wildflowers on Mt. Hamilton - Elegant brodiaea

Still a few wildflowers on Mt. Hamilton – Elegant brodiaea

Haul Road has Wild Iris in bloom

May 17, 2015

So much beauty on the Haul Road.

So much beauty on the Haul Road.

What more could you ask for on the Haul Road deep in the redwoods than Douglas iris springing up everywhere?

I headed up Page Mill Road into winter-like conditions with thick fog and mist blanketing Skyline.

Fortunately the fog lifted while heading down Alpine Road, but it was still long-sleeve jersey weather riding into the deep canyon cut by Pescadero Creek. How does GPS make it there?

I had Camp Pomponio Road all to myself (Honor Camp Road), it being closed at least a dozen years now. It’s a cathedral kind of place with tall stands of new-growth redwoods.

On the Haul Road I stopped to admire Pescadero Creek, which finally has some water after last winter’s drought.

Farther on I came across lots of wild iris and stopped to admire their delicate beauty. They seemed to like one particular location that’s also one of my favorite places on the road.

Back on pavement I headed to see how the Loma Mar store is progressing. The concrete foundation is in. It’s looking great. Soon the store will be restored. I’ll celebrate some lasting memories of ageless Jobst Rides.

In Pescadero I checked out the town’s 115th anniversary of the Holy Ghost celebration. Flags hung over main street and people gathered at the local church for some fun activities. The bagpipers were a nice touch.

I couldn’t help but notice the sign in an open field — in the Moore family since the 1850s. That would be Alexander Moore.

That brought to mind another Moore who grew up in Pescadero – Gordon. Yes, the Gordon Moore of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel. Are these Moores related? I have no idea. Do Pescadero residents even know Gordon Moore?

I had that and more to think about as I checked out the Pacific Ocean from Stage Road for the hundredth time, an experience that never grows old.

Honor Camp Road's redwood cathedral.

Honor Camp Road’s redwood cathedral.

A delicate iris shows off on Bridge Trail.

A delicate iris shows off on Bridge Trail.

Loma Mar Store has a new foundation. Making progress.

Loma Mar Store has a new foundation. Making progress.

Drought update for the South Bay Reservoirs

May 2, 2015

Chesbro Reservoir in the South Bay is slightly less than half full.

Chesbro Reservoir in the South Bay is slightly less than half full.

Considering last year’s debacle, it’s fair to say that the “glass is half full” for the South Bay reservoirs in spring 2015.

I rode by Calero, Chesbro, and Uvas reservoirs to see how they’re doing. Calero is at 42 percent, but it looked that way through last year too.

Chesbro was empty last year. Now it’s 46 percent full. Uvas is doing much better, empty last year, and now at 71 percent.

The big winner this year remains Stevens Creek Reservoir at a healthy 94 percent of capacity.

What made this ride so enjoyable today was the wind. It was a mild headwind most of the way out, but a tailwind coming home. It’s usually the opposite.

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