A road too narrow

November 1, 2014

Scene of the bike accident on McCllellan Road. Images taken from Google maps. Yellow speck represents a cyclist. (Click on image for larger size)

Scene of the bike accident on McCllellan Road. Images taken from Google maps. Yellow speck represents a cyclist (Click on image for larger size).

The death of a 15-year old cyclist on Monday, October 27, on McClellan Road in Cupertino bothered me. I’ve ridden that stretch of road many times, mostly during weekend rides.

The fact that a double-trailer big rig was involved didn’t surprise me, although the location did. I’m sure those trucks are not supposed to be on McClellan.

I’m guessing the driver was shuttling between a construction site and the Permanente Quarry on Stevens Canyon Road and got lost or tried to take a shortcut.

I took a screen capture (to scale) of a similar truck and overlaid it onto the scene of the accident. It’s immediately obvious what could have happened. There’s just not enough room for bike and truck on that stretch of McClellan. The driver was turning right onto Bubb and was probably moving right after passing the cyclist.

What happened next is what has happened on more than one occasion. The second trailer struck the cyclist.

From what I’ve read, the Monta Vista High School student who died was an avid cyclist. No doubt that’s why he rode his bike to school.

If you think a double-trailer truck is bad, imagine a triple-trailer. They’re allowed on highways in 10 states, fortunately not California, although the truck industry has lobbied for it. Let’s keep them out of California.

While Cupertino has a great reputation for accommodating bikes on its streets, every community can do better. What happened Monday morning on McClellan shouldn’t happen again.

Halloween bling better than ever

October 26, 2014
A medical student must live here.

A medical student must live here.

Spiders keep getting bigger.

Spiders keep getting bigger.

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

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

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

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

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

Summit Road a ribbon of endless dirt

October 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you want change at MROSD, you’ve got to vote

October 13, 2014

Are you frustrated with the way things are over at the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD)? If you’re someone who feels shut out from the district’s “open” space, you should be. Now you can do something about it.

Two candidates, Mike Buncic (Ward 1) and Brandon Lewke (Ward 6) have made their positions clear: They want more open space opened and they’re proud to say they ride bikes.

If there’s ever a time when your vote matters, it’s here and now. MROSD board elections for four of seven wards are on the Nov. 4 ballot. Unfortunately, two are uncontested.

I’ve seen what a grassroots campaign for change can do. No entrenched elected official is safe. I was one of a small group of local residents in Menlo Park who banned together to vote out the city council incumbents in the mid-1980s elections.

One evening we showed up at a city council meeting, upset by a plan to increase traffic on our local streets. It was all a misunderstanding, but that wasn’t what mattered that evening. We were told by several entrenched city council members to take a hike. Big mistake.

I was so upset I took out an ad in the local paper and endorsed a candidate over the incumbent, who happened to be a cyclist. Didn’t matter. It was out with the old and in with the new. I could not have been happier that election evening. We said goodbye to the old guard and welcomed in the new.

If you want to learn more about Buncic and Lewke, check out their Facebook sites and read an article by San Jose Mercury News columnist Scott Herhold.

Lewke wants to preserve the Mt. Umunhum concrete silo. I’m all for that, just as long as we can get the road open to the summit, ASAP. None of us is getting any younger. I’ve been waiting nearly 30 years. It’s time for a change at MROSD. Go and vote!

Be sure to vote Nov. 4, especially if you're in a MROSD Ward with elections.

Be sure to vote Nov. 4, especially if you’re in a MROSD Ward with elections.

MROSD Elections
Ward 1
Pete Siemens (Incumbent)
Mike Buncic (I endorse)

Ward 2
Yoriko Kishimoto (Incumbent)

Ward 5
Nonette Hanko (Incumbent)

Ward 6
Larry Hassett (Incumbent)
Brandon Lewke (I endorse)

Hwy 9 widening makes progress

October 5, 2014

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

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

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

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

Attack of the giant arachnid

October 5, 2014

While tarantulas look frightening, by all accounts they're quite docile.

While tarantulas look frightening, by all accounts they’re quite docile.

This furry eight-legged creature lives on the San Francisco water district lands off Calaveras Boulevard. Let’s hope it isn’t polluting our water.

It’s mating season so this guy is out looking for a companion. We ushered him off the road so he wouldn’t mess up someone’s car tires.

On our Mt. Hamilton ride last week (perfect weather) we also saw a giant tortoise behind The Junction store munching happily away on lettuce and carrots. At age 17 it’s just a teen-ager in tortoise years. Let’s hope its owners mention who gets it in their will. It could easily outlive all of us.

The Force Who Rides

September 30, 2014

Laurence Malone hustles during a cyclocross race in Santa Cruz in December 1985. (Ray Hosler photo)

Laurence Malone hustles during a cyclocross race in Santa Cruz in December 1985. (Ray Hosler photo)

It was only fitting: Back in May 1980, Laurence Malone wrote the definitive article about Jobst Brandt for Bicycling Magazine.

He never rode with Jobst, but as the country’s best cyclocross rider (6-time national champion, counting his Masters 35+ win), he knew exactly what it was all about.

It is offered here in its original wording as The Force Who Rides.

Laurence lives in Chimayo, New Mexico, where he rides on the area’s miles and miles of dirt roads. You can learn more about him by reading Cyclocross Magazine.

Crater Lake’s rim ride an Oregon gem

September 23, 2014

Crater Lake west shore looking toward Wizard Island.

Crater Lake west shore looking toward Wizard Island.

If you’re in the area with bike, don’t miss a ride around Crater Lake in the mountains of central Oregon for a welcome change of pace from the nearby forested roads.

It’s one of the more spectacular rides in the Western U.S., which has a lot to offer from the Sierra to the Pacific Coast and Bay Area roads.

I rode there on Sunday, Sept. 14, which turned out to be a beautiful day for a bike ride, with the exception of the morning smoke from forest fires burning to the west and north. The smoke wasn’t bad and it cleared out by mid-morning.

My ride started at Crater Lake Lodge, altitude 7,100 feet, about 9:30 a.m. The only hotel with a view of the lake, it’s pricey and reservations need to be made months in advance.

We stayed in Klamath Falls about 1:15 away and, yes, there are no falls in Klamath. It would be more aptly named Raptorville. We saw dozens of hawks looking for a morning meal, perched on irrigation wheels in meadows by the roadside.

But I digress. My ride took a clockwise route, the obvious direction as you’re closest to the lake. There’s some huffing and puffing in the early going for someone used to sea-level riding, but soon enough I adjusted and the altitude didn’t bother me.

With 3,700 feet of climbing ahead, it came as no surprise that I had a long climb early on. Grades average 4-6 percent, so it’s nothing serious.

Because it’s late in the season, traffic was almost non-existent. If you’re really intent of avoiding cars, the road is closed for bikes only later in September.

With so many great views, the temptation to stop and take pics can add minutes to the ride, so count on at least three hours for the round-trip.

In the alpine setting, memories of past Sierra Rides rattled around. It’s easy to make the comparison, although the lake reminded me that this was Oregon and I didn’t have to worry about any 16 percent grades.

It’s almost impossible to get lost on this ride. I didn’t even bring a map. Just keep right at all the junctions. Over on the east side there’s a right turn to the Cloudcap Bay overlook, which adds two miles to the ride, for a total of 35 miles.

The east side is also where you’ll find the steepest descent where speeds of 40 mph can be reached if you’re willing to put up with the rough road.

While it’s all paved, there’s constant roadwork. Don’t be surprised to see short sections of dirt and construction. I’m sure lots of cyclists visit here, but I saw only two on my ride.

After driving on some of the approach roads, I can envision some long two-rides for hard-core riders. The roads are relatively free of traffic or have good shoulders. Hwy 97 out of Klamath Falls would be the lone exception. It has a narrow stretch bordered by lake and a cliff.

There’s a lot to see and do at the lake, including a boat ride, so plan on a day-long stay at minimum.

It's a nice view from the lodge.

It’s a nice view from the lodge.

Asphalt Bungle – the road to Bear Gulch is paved with bad intentions

September 21, 2014

I wrote about the road many years ago. Here's a little history.

I wrote about the road many years ago. Here’s a little history.

Some wonderful scenic country roads course through the Santa Cruz Mountains and Bear Gulch is one such road, about a mile south of Kings Mountain Road at Hwy 84.

It bridges Skyline and 84, looking a lot like Old La Honda Road, but a bit steeper and straighter.

Surrounded by redwoods and a canopy of madrone and tan oak, it passes by the California Water Service watershed to the north and Wunderlich County Park to the south. As with many roads in the area, it was built for logging redwoods in the mid-1800s, before being purchased by San Mateo County in 1899.

As local cyclists know all too well, it’s closed to the public. Electronic gates block both ends to keep out all but occupants of about 25 residences near the road, tucked between watershed and parkland.

Here’s the rub
The county spent $350,000 in public monies to help pave the road. In fact, ever since 1964, San Mateo County has done more than its share to help landowners build their dream homes on Bear Gulch Road. Residents got together to form an assessment district back in 1964 and over the years the county approved it and finally paved the road in November 1979 at a cost of $1.2 million, with residents chipping in about two-thirds of the cost.

But like several roads up and down the Peninsula, it is partially owned by the county — and remains exclusively private.

Before the road was closed, the county seemed eager to keep the area open to the public and provide a road for residents as well. It hired a Redwood City engineering firm to design a road 22 feet wide, broad enough for two fire trucks to safely pass one another.

The public didn’t go for it. Who needed a road as wide as Highway 84? And besides, it was too costly.

Residents continued to pursue the idea until 1974, when Martin Wunderlich made a generous offer to sell Wunderlich Ranch (now Wunderlich Park) bordering Bear Gulch Road at an extremely low price. If taxpayers didn’t want a huge road before, now, with this classy land addition, they would never approve.

Bill Royer, chairman of the county board of supervisors at the time, and himself a former real estate developer, helped find a solution.

The county said that the area was a headache, that it was impassable during winter rains and sometimes closed in the summer from fire danger. Residents complained about people shooting guns and raising a ruckus.

Bear Gulch Road property owners met with county supervisors and public works director Sid Cantwell in 1976. County officials decided to abandon the road, then pave it at its current width of 12 to 16 feet, installing gates to keep the public out.

Not only would the landowners have their paved road, it would be private. In return, the county got a bargain on a paved fire road and access to Wunderlich Park for park vehicles in exchange for turning it over to private use.

A month after the road was paved, county supervisors held a public hearing to see if anybody objected to abandoning the road. Since the road width was not up to county standards [are they ever?], the county supervisors declared it as unsafe for public use; the vote for abandonment was unanimous.

Today the road is one of the best-maintained roads in the county, partly because it has so little traffic. Its surface is as smooth as the day it was paved [it was smooth back in 1989].

Even though it is the same width as nearby county roads, it has been declared unsafe, not just for cars but for bicycles, horses and pedestrians.

Once Upon a Ride…Bear Gulch Road

September 10, 2014

Jim Westby enjoyed Native Sons Cutoff on a warm day in October 1982.

Jim Westby enjoyed Native Sons Cutoff on a warm day in October 1982.

Time once again to turn back the clock and enjoy an adventure ride in the Santa Cruz Mountains with Jobst Brandt and friends.

November 29, 1981
Riders: Jobst, Jim Westby, Tom Sullivan, Sterling McBride, Dave McLaughlin, Ted Mock, Bill Robertson, Rick Humphries, John ?, Paul Mittelstadt, Tom Ritchey
Route: Up Bear Gulch Road, down Swett Road, Star Hill Road to Native Son’s Cutoff, Tunitas Creek Road to Hwy 1, Stage Roads to Pescadero, Pescadero Road, up Alpine Road, down Page Mill Road
Weather: Cold, then cool, mild on the coast. Clear to partly cloudy
Tire/Mechanical failure: Sterling – flat

It has been said that a dog is man’s best friend. That may apply to bird hunters, but not to cyclists, especially when riders are on their bikes flying downhill.

Dogs and bikes have a nasty habit of colliding, like a magnet to steel. Jobst has had more than his share of encounters.

The riders showed up at Jobst’s doorstep well dressed for the cold weather. Sterling and Mack wore their new baby-blue foot warmers, inspired no doubt by the blue-footed booby commonly found on our Pacific shores.

Paradoxically, they dressed in shorts to face the numbing cold. I dressed more conservatively with a wool long-sleeve jersey and plastic bags for foot warmers. Everyone else suffered in regular cotton socks.

We took Sand Hill Road heading west on the newly paved and striped bike route. Jobst held a steady, yet conservative pace. He had already done some long rides over the Thanksgiving holiday. It was easy to tell because his red bike had a coat of mud, a bit more than you would normally see.

On Highway 84 outside Woodside, Jobst and Robertson became involved in a discussion (one often heard from Jobst) about nuclear weapons, overpopulation and the movies Alien and Wolfen. Jobst noted that the reason homes cost $100,000 on average around the country is because we are feeling the effects of a burgeoning population.

When people talk of head counts, they usually look to Bombay or Hong Kong. Overpopulation in the U.S. with its miles of empty prairie and high plains? No way.

The real riding began on Bear Gulch Road, a steep paved grade that never lets up all the way to Skyline Boulevard. Bear Gulch Road is also a very private road, so private in fact that a big steel electronic gate keeps out the curious near the base of the hill.

The road has a long and murky history involving wheeling and dealing, payoffs and greedy landowners who want their very own road. They paid to have it paved if San Mateo County would make it private and maintain it. [More on this later]

The county agreed but retained half-ownership. None of this ever stopped Jobst from riding on Bear Gulch Road, however. He grew up here and he continued doing what he had been doing since his youth, exploring the Santa Cruz Mountains by bike. Private property be damned.

We all followed along willingly, letting him deal with irate landowners when the time came. This Sunday was one of those times.

A mile past the gate we were stopped by a landowner driving an orange van. Maybe because Jobst is the tallest of the bunch, or because he looks like a natural born leader, he got tagged for a discussion about trespassing on the nicely paved road. The conversation went something like this:

“This is a private road, you know, so why don’t you turn back?”

“I know that,” Jobst said. “But look, we’re not trying to cause any trouble. We just want to ride our bikes through here.”

“But if somebody gets hurt, there could be trouble,” said the landowner. “We have to insure the road.”

“Well, the county technically owns half of this road. If it wasn’t for Mortimer J. Skinflint pushing the county supervisors so hard, this road would still be public.”

“That’s not true. This is a dangerous, narrow road. Some riders come flying down here and are a real hazard. [and we thought we were the only ones using the road]

“We’re not riding down and we never do,” Jobst claimed. “We just ride uphill. Besides, Old LaHonda Road is narrow and dangerous, and school buses drive it all the time. It’s a public road.”

“I don’t think you have all your facts straight about what this area is like,” the landowner argued. “What’s your name?”

“Brandt, Jobst, J-O-B-S-T.”

“Where do you live? What’s your address?”

“In Palo Alto. I’m in the phone book.” [they were still used back then]

“Well, the insurance is the real problem. We have to pay for it and we don’t want anyone hurt on this road and suing us.”

Jobst continued. “But I’ve been using this road even before it was paved. I know all about it. I bet I’ve used this road a lot longer than you.”

The landowner shot back, “I’ve lived here for 20 years.”

Jobst countered, “I’ve lived here longer than that.” [40 years]

The landowner never got upset during the conversation, but it wasn’t clear what he had in mind as he drove off.

We continued our ride, passing the landowner on the way as he worked on his house next to the road.

Jim, Tom S., and I fell off the back on the hard climb, no doubt a bit wasted from the previous evening of wine tasting.

After heading north on Skyline, we turned left onto the steep, pot-holed Swett Road and continued down to Star Hill Road, which turned to dirt soon enough.

But it was on a wide, gently sloping paved section where Jobst met his fate. A mongrel dog weighing at least 40 pounds dashed toward us, Jobst seemingly protected in the middle of the pack.

This dog didn’t pull up as dogs usually do. He barreled into us despite an angry chorus of commands from the riders. We all scattered and somehow Jobst tangled with the dog.

His bike fell out from under him and he rolled once, using his right hand to break the fall. He lay on the pavement for several seconds before moving. Then he sprung up and said, “I’m all right.” He only complained of a sore wrist and the shock of falling.

But Jobst’s bike wasn’t so lucky. I noticed that the paint had buckled in the downtube and top tube where they meet the head tube. Tom Ritchey came over to inspect his handiwork and determined that it was only warped, not broken, still safe to ride.

Jobst said this was his second dog collision. He had his other one 22 years ago with the same result — a broken frame.

Meanwhile, a motorist wearing his Sunday best drove up and honked at us to get off the road.

We continued the ride on Star Hill Road, peeling off onto the bumpy, leaf-covered Native Son’s Cutoff, a route only known to Jobst and friends. It turned out to be a muddy spoor after recent rains, so we slipped and slid down the road as our hands froze on the brake levers in the dark, dank forest.

Giant gray and and brown mushrooms covered the trail, which brought howls of delight from Sterling and Mack: “Shrooms!” Sterling then flatted, right where Tom R. had flatted a week ago, ruining an expensive silk sewup. That had proven enough for Tom, who was riding on new clinchers. [It was about this time that everyone switched to clinchers]

Back on Tunitas Creek Road we headed downhill, while Jobst turned back home, feeling the effects of the fall.

We headed to Pescadero on Stage Roads, stopping at the local grocery store for a bite to eat and to see Miss Pescadero 1981. We headed home over Haskins Hill and Alpine Road bathed in the late- afternoon sun on a November day.


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