Archive for the ‘Ride reports’ Category

Empire Grade a cyclist’s Santa Cruz Misery Spot

September 1, 2013

Jamison Creek Road at Empire Grade, a great place to be if you're headed down Jamison.

Jamison Creek Road at Empire Grade, a great place to be if you’re headed down Jamison.

I found a 100-mile route to Santa Cruz and back, something I’ve been searching for quite some time. Unfortunately it involves Empire Grade.

I can’t think of a less appetizing road in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It goes nowhere, it offers no sweeping vistas, it climbs relentlessly and there’s a fair amount of traffic, although nowhere near as bad as Hwy 9.

However, it stands between the coast and the bay, so there’s no way around it.

I headed up Hwy 9 on another humid morning with temps in the low 60s. Lately we’ve been seeing humid days, a reminder of how good we have it in the Bay Area with low humidity.

At Skyline I headed down 9, riding through the the occasional hot pocket of air. I hadn’t ridden between Boulder Creek and Santa Cruz on 9 in quite some time, for good reason. There’s traffic and narrow shoulders. It’s really too bad because there isn’t an alternative.

Tannery and bike saddles
I passed the Tannery Arts Center just before the 9/Hwy 1 junction, which has a little cycling history. Before becoming an arts center, this was the site of the Salz Tannery. Back in the 1980s and up until the tannery closed in 2001, Avocet — famous for its bike saddles — purchased leather saddle covers from Salz. Another claim to fame: Ansel Adams photographed the tanning process here in 1954.

Santa Cruz was world-renowed for leather tanning from the 1860s onward. It had a ready supply of tan oak, which has tannin, a vital ingredient in the tanning process.

I headed north on Hwy 1 into a gentle breeze and took note of the absence of fog, although thin clouds blocked the sun part-way on the 10-mile ride to Bonny Doon Road.

Another reason I haven’t pursued the 100-mile route is Bonny Doon. It’s a steep grind for a couple miles, although it eases up and becomes more civil at the Bonny Doon winery. You can go left, staying on Bonny Doon, but most riders continue straight on Pine Flat Road.

Correctional camp and summit
After 7.5 miles I reached Empire Grade (2,100 feet) and turned left with the Alba Road descent in mind. There’s more climbing to 2,530 feet at the Ben Lemond Conservation Camp, actually a correctional institution of sorts. Low-risk offenders are trained in fire fighting and do community service in the area, such as trail building.

I passed up Alba Road, which is one of those climbs you don’t want to miss — once. It’s unrelentingly steep from Ben Lomond to Empire Grade, about 3.5 miles. I needed more miles, so on to Jamison Creek Road.

Empire Grade dead-ends about a mile farther on, but not really. It’s the site of the Lockheed Martin Santa Cruz Facility. Back in the 1970s-80s Jobst Brandt rode through here and on down a dirt road to Swanton Road. The guards didn’t take kindly to Jobst, but he always managed to talk his way through. I’m told they no longer test rockets, but have moved on to munitions. I don’t doubt they have a few space aliens stashed away as well.

But I digress. I headed down Jamison Creek Road — another lung-buster of a climb — that takes you to Big Basin Highway where you can turn right and ride downhill to Boulder Creek in a few miles.

From there it was all uphill on Hwy 9. Fortunately our funky weather didn’t turn out to be so hot, only in the mid 70s. Mileage came to 101. That’s close enough for government work.

What, no weekly ride report?

August 4, 2013

While I’m not going to stop posting articles, you won’t be seeing a weekly ride report. I’ve already shown and written about every ride route, several times. However, I am posting panorama photos on my personal website (link found at “Blogroll” in right-side navigation of this page).

I will dedicate more time to writing about bicycling and attending events in the years ahead (not far off), so stay tuned…

Coast Ride avoids headwinds

July 28, 2013

Gary Westby rides toward the coast on Cloverdale Road.

Gary Westby rides toward the coast on Cloverdale Road.

Would we have headwinds on the Coast Ride to Santa Cruz? Lately the wind has been out of the south on the coast, which I think is a not unusual pattern in the depth of the summer.

We knew there would be the usual gloomy fog, but it keeps the temps down, so you can’t really complain.

Gary Westby met me at the base of Old LaHonda Road where, as fate would have it, along comes Ted Mock and Joe Terhar, veteran riders I’ve known forever.

We chatted about the latest events, and it was good to see that they’re still riding strong.

Gary, 39, is the champagne buyer at K&L Wine Merchants, an upscale store in Redwood City that’s known far and wide for its outstanding collection of wine, beer and spirits.

Gary often travels to France to select fine champagne, meeting vintners and trying their latest vintage. It’s a thankless job but someone has to do it.

We rode up Old LaHonda at a friendly pace and greeted the fog at Skyline. After descending Hwy 84 we hung a left on Pescadero Road and continued over to the coast via Cloverdale Road and Gazos Creek Road.

The much feared headwinds did not materialize on the coast. It was pretty much calm the whole way to Santa Cruz.

Dogged by the all too frequent leg cramps, I couldn’t make much speed, but Advil, coffee and a banana kept me in the saddle.

I showed Gary the best route out of Santa Cruz, taking El Rancho Drive parallel to the south side of Hwy 17. We took Bean Creek Road from Scotts Valley, a nice route to Glenwood Highway.

Of course, we took Mtn. Charlie Road to reach Summit Road, where Gary headed home via Skyline and I rode down Old Santa Cruz Hwy. My ride totaled 108 miles.

Sometimes summer rides down the Coast can be uncomfortable, but this one turned out to be a delight, worthy of a champagne toast. Gary…

Gary rides past the blue silo house on Mtn. Charlie Road. You've got to love the owner's creativity.

Gary rides past the blue silo house on Mtn. Charlie Road. You’ve got to love the owner’s creativity.

Skyline Boulevard gives perspective

July 21, 2013

Skyline Boulevard view overlooking Old La Honda Road west.

Skyline Boulevard view overlooking Old La Honda Road west.

After several weeks away from the bike, making it to Skyline Boulevard becomes the goal. Today’s ride up Hwy 9 reminded me why living here is the cyclist’s paradise.

As I rolled through Saratoga I saw lots of gleaming vehicles gathered for a car show, including my favorite — the Jaguar XKE.

Mild temperatures brought out the crowd as I had plenty of company on the 7-mile climb. While it felt a bit warm on 9, a cool breeze greeted me at Saratoga Gap, 2550 feet. I continued north on Skyline Boulevard, where lots of motorists enjoyed a drive on the scenic route.

Skyline views never fail to impress. Look left and there’s the fogged in Pacific. Look right and you see Silicon Valley. What a way to spend a Sunday morning.

Eucalyptus trees burn brightly

July 14, 2013

Large eucalyptus trees lined Arastradero Road until a 1985 fire.

Large eucalyptus trees lined Arastradero Road until a 1985 fire.

Thanks to the Australian gold miners in the 1850s, we have eucalyptus trees in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some residents of Los Altos Hills and Oakland may take a dim view of these highly flammable trees.

When they catch fire they act as an accelerant. In 1985 a stand of giant eucalyptus lining Arastradero Road were engulfed in flames from a grass fire. Nine homes burned on Liddicoat Lane.

After the fire, the trees were cut down. They might have recovered, but would you want eucalyptus trees in your back yard?

Over the years in Portola Valley and elsewhere large eucalyptus are gradually being removed.

Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of the trees back in the 80s, although there are still quite a few on Portola Road cutoff. Even these are disappearing though.

Bike art comes in many forms

June 16, 2013

I'm not sure what it all means, but I still prefer bike art over modern art.

I’m not sure what it all means, but I still prefer bike art over modern art.

On a perfect 10 weather day I rode up Hwy 9, where I met a couple of riders willing to slow down enough to hold a conversation. Eric Gray and his brother duked it out. Turns out Eric had recently ridden down Hwy 17 with Fast Freddy Markham. “We hit 58 mph at the Lexington Reservoir descent,” he said. I believe it.

According to Wikipedia, in 2006 Fred set a one-hour record distance of 85.99 km (53.43 mi) on the track at the Nissan Technical Center, near Casa Grande in Arizona. He’s a rocket on the bike.

I continued down Hwy 9 to Boulder Creek, one of those rare days when you won’t freeze while wearing a short-sleeve jersey. I continued up Bear Creek Road. Over the years I’ve grown accustomed to the climb. It’s on the verge of being annoying at 8 percent for long stretches and traffic is more like moderate than light.

At least the first four miles is mellow and the road has a wide shoulder here. There’s even some bike art at the side of the road. It’s not really clear to me what it symbolizes, but what the heck. It’s a bike.

I continued up Summit Road to Skyline and enjoyed delightfully refreshing cool air under sunny skies. We have a fair amount of weather like today’s, but when you’re only riding on weekends, you learn to appreciate them.

David Bruce knows how to make a fine wine. End of the climb on Bear Creek Road.

David Bruce knows how to make a fine wine. End of the climb on Bear Creek Road.

Guadalupe River path paves the way to Alviso

June 9, 2013

Wow, talk about a great ride: be sure you do the Guadalupe River Trail from San Jose to Alviso now that it’s paved the entire way.

I’ve been waiting years to see it happen and today was my chance to do the ride. I started using the river’s unpaved levee in 2006, and watched as short sections were paved, anticipating the big day when it was paved beginning to end — downtown San Jose to Alviso.

Guadalupe River Trail near Hwy 237 is newly paved.

Guadalupe River Trail near Hwy 237 is newly paved.

The paved path runs on the river’s east/north bank starting at the San Jose Airport. I’ve always ridden the path’s western/southern side, which is still open and still dirt.

Lots of people already use the path, which runs under just about every road along the way, the one exception being Airport Parkway where you ride over the bridge to stay on the path.

The only negative that will take some time to fix is that there’s flooding at low spots during heavy rain: Hwy 101, Trimble Road, Montague Expressway, Tasman Drive, Hwy 237.

Signs of the times
You’ll enjoy the interpretive signs as you ride past interesting landmarks. There’s Lupe the Columbian mammoth at Trimble Road. In 2005, Roger Castillo found the juvenile’s bones sticking out of the riverbank. Its remains were exhumed and given to the San Jose Discovery Museum a couple miles away. Also, a ramp was cut at Trimble Road for easy access. It was probably in the plan all along, but when I saw it the ramp hadn’t been added.

I learned a lot at the interpretive sign in front of the airport. Did you know the first flight took place in 1949? Pacific Southwest Airlines carried seven passengers and 2,550 chickens. How times have changed.

I’ll be riding this trail often in the years ahead. Now on to Coyote Creek Trail. Once that’s complete to the Bay, we’ll have a top-notch creek-trail network.

Progress is being made on the San Tomas Aqunio Creek path extension from Cabrillo Avenue to El Camino Real. The concrete barrier is done and the sound walls are about halfway complete. The sign says mid-July for completion.

Lupe the mammoth has an interpretive sign at Trimble Road.

Lupe the mammoth has an interpretive sign at Trimble Road.

Purisima Creek Trail – a culvert gone bad

June 2, 2013


Trail washout on Purisima Creek Trail. About halfway point.

When a culvert is blocked on a rainy day, watch out! Roads and bridges don’t stand a chance against rushing waters. Just check out the damage on Purisima Creek Trail.

I’ve been riding this “trail” since 1980, so I have some knowledge of its history, its good times and bad. This was a well used logging road up until the late 1970s. The canyon has been logged many times.

The road was better maintained then than it ever has been since falling into government hands. It all comes down to money. The logging companies had a vested interest in keeping the road serviceable. Today, not so much. It is, after all, a trail now.

But on with the ride. I left early to avoid the heat, although it wasn’t nearly as hot today as Saturday. On the ride up Kings Mountain Road, I joined participants in the Sequoia Century. Yesterday’s baking heat had hardly dissipated from the road, despite the fog that moved in overnight. I noticed temps climb into the upper 60s from the cooler valley.

After a short ride north on Skyline it was time for a left turn onto Purisima Creek Trail, where I saw a parked hydraulic excavator, and a sign next to it saying a bridge was out.

The first half-mile of steep descending had the usual layer of unpleasant rock ballast to hinder the ride. Heavy use, especially from riding in the wet, hasn’t done the trail any favors. At least I can say I took this road when it offered unspeakable pleasure — smooth and fast with a layer of redwood needles — that’s how I like my dirt roads.

Before the area of devastation, I came upon a couple of roadies making good time up the steep grade (17% in places). It’s nice to see the Jobst Rider creed hasn’t entirely disappeared.

At the last sweeping bend that marks the end of the steep stuff, I came across the blocked culvert. It’s so sad to see.

Farther down on the usually smooth flat section I noticed quite a bit of rutting. It wasn’t all that wet this winter, so it’s hard to fathom a cause.

Back on pavement I continued on Purisima Creek Road (53 F) through a wide valley marked by the occasional ranch house. One rancher has a pumpjack running. Water or oil? Next time I’ll stop and ask. He lives near a rusting oil well that sits forlornly on a hill overlooking the road. This is part of the Purisima Formation and Half Moon Bay oil field, which has yielded 58,000 barrels over 100 years.

On Hwy 1, heading south, I picked up a cavalcade of pedalers on their way from San Francisco to Los Angeles, raising money for AIDS research.

I decided to check out Lobitos Creek Cutoff as an alternate route to Tunitas Creek Road. It has a little extra gratuitous climbing, and the scenery is nothing appealing, but it offers variety.

Tunitas Creek Road gave me a chance to warm up and leave the fog-shrouded coast behind. Quite a few riders joined me and I cursed my bike as each one passed by. “If only I had bought a Trek, a Specialized, a Klein…”

I sped back down Kings Mountain Road and headed home on Foothill Boulevard to call it a day.

big oil

A little bit of extra income from Big Oil at the ranch on Purisima Creek Road?

Drippy days a welcome occasion

May 26, 2013

A brief break in the clouds allowed in some filtered sun on Tunitas Creek Road.

A brief break in the clouds allowed in some filtered sun on Tunitas Creek Road.

If you think cold, drippy days on Skyline are something to bemoan in late May, consider the alternatives: tornadoes, hurricanes, furnace heat, etc.

I took the back entrance to Huddart Park on Greer Road. It’s too bad the signs say no bikes here, when they really refer to the trails in the park, not the paved road.

By the time I got within a half-mile of the Kings Mountain Road summit, the road turned wet and the redwoods cried their hearts out with joy. They love this stuff.

I headed down Tunitas Creek Road into more wetness as the temperature dropped to 50 degrees, but things warmed up on the Coast. Parked next to a farm was a Tesla model S sedan, and I saw another one later on Page Mill Road. I’m all for battery-powered cars. If only solar panels had higher efficiency, they could be mounted on the car and there would be no more worries about charging.

I took the tsunami evacuation route (Hwy 84). Halfway to La Honda a sad and frightening scene played out as a rancher tried to move some cattle across the busy road. Something for drivers to think about when taking 84.

I headed up Alpine Road and enjoyed the company of other riders on the way.

BART allows bikes always

BART is allowing bikes full-time for a five-month trial starting in July. I support bikes on public transit. Caltrain has special cars for bikes and BART needs to do the same. I understand they’re moving in that direction but it’s not fast enough. Ridership would go up, as it has for Caltrain. I remember the days when you couldn’t even bring a bike on Caltrain, then they only allowed folding bikes in a bag. BART has the same history.

We’ve seen progress, but with way too much foot-dragging.

Forest of Nisene Marks Park reveals a lost memory

May 19, 2013

Back in the 1980s we had to ride through the creek. Now there's a nice bridge.

Back in the 1980s we had to ride through the creek. Now there’s a nice bridge.

After my 2011 mountain bike ride on Aptos Creek Fire Road through the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, I wondered if I would ever take my road bike here again. I had difficulty negotiating a stretch of road leading up to the green gate marking entrance to the park on the high ridge overlooking Aptos and the Pacific.

I decided to give it a try. As expected there’s a short section that’s not rideable — for me at least — leading to the green gate. It’s not much walking though so it shouldn’t dissuade anyone from trying it.

On my way heading east on Summit Road (note that Summit Road runs east-west, not north-south as many, myself included, have believed) I saw dozens and dozens of riders going west as part of the Strawberry Fields Forever century ride. If only they would ride to work. We could save the planet from global warming.

Perfect weather made the ride go smoothly as I turned right at the summit of Eureka Canyon Road onto the dirt Buzzard Lagoon Road. It climbs steadily through madrone, oak and redwoods. The road was at one time paved based on the bits of pavement I saw along the way.

I took the crucial right turn (Buzzard Lagoon heads downhill steeply from here and it’s no fun to ride) uphill where soon enough the road became a boulder-strewn stretch that will test even the best mountain bike rider. Over the past 30+ year I’ve been riding here, I’ve seen the road deteriorate. It used to be graded, but that’s something I figure we’ll never see happen again.

Once I reached the summit, where a series of trails from Soquel Creek and Demonstration Forest connect, I came across a mountain bike convention. A dozen riders were contemplating their next move. I continued on Aptos Creek Fire Road and soon started the long, long descent to Aptos.

It was here in 1995 on the last small climb before the descent that a mountain bike rider slammed into me head-on. I was knocked out; he separated his shoulder. I rode home while he waited four hours for the ranger and a ride to his car.

But I digress. I continued on to a small bridge over Aptos Creek. Around 1982 Jobst Brandt took a photo of me and Peter Johnson, as well as Jim Westby and Tim Louis. I didn’t understand the location until I walked down to the creek to investigate. Then I realized this was the spot. The bridge over the creek wasn’t installed until the mid 1990s. According to my ride report at the time, the bridge was wiped out by heavy rains in the winter of 1981-82.

A couple miles farther along I rode by a small event commemorating the park’s 50th anniversary.

On San Jose-Soquel Road I made my traditional stop at the Casalegno Store. This ancient house turned store has a nice selection of snacks. I took a photo of four Strawberry century riders and continued on my way.

While riding on San Tomas Aquino Expressway I got into a conversation with a rider wearing a 7-Eleven jersey (you can still buy them) and he told me a sad story about his bikes being stolen off his apartment porch, 30 feet off the ground. The brazen thieves struck in the middle of the night, taking his Ritchey Break Away cross bike and a mountain bike, as well as his cycling clothing hanging out to dry.

How ironic that the first person I met who also owned a Break Away had his stolen (I know 2 others but they’re friends). And so ended a glorious ride through the Santa Cruz Mountains on a fine day in May.

Ray Hosler walks his bike through Aptos Creek on June 21, 1982. (Jobst Brandt photo)

Ray Hosler walks his bike through Aptos Creek on June 21, 1982. (Jobst Brandt photo)


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