Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Bike riding in the Big Apple

September 23, 2019

Williamsburg Bridge on a mild September day in NYC.


My plan was to visit Dave Perry, author of Bike Cult, who lives in Brooklyn near Williamsburg Bridge.

I’ve never visited New York City, but I’ve watched enough YouTube videos to have a good idea what it’s like riding a bike there, and getting around Manhattan where I was staying.

After touring the Statue of Liberty (a must see), I could rent a Citibike and pedal over the bridge, a five-mile ride.

With mild weather, there was nothing to prevent me from a quick trip to visit a Jobst Rider from way back (mid 1970s) who I had never met.

Dave lived in Palo Alto near Keith Vierra, Tom Ritchey, Bill Robertson, and others. He raced and had some success, but then Greg LeMond came along and gave all of these talented Northern California riders reason to pause. “And I thought I was hot stuff.”

I downloaded the Citibike app on my Android phone and proceeded to stumble through the registration process. That wasn’t so bad, but when it came time to unlock the bike, I had to read the instructions printed on the rack to figure out how to enter the five-digit code sent to my phone.

There is a keypad with “1, 2, 3” and LED lights next to each number. You punch in the combination to unlock the bike.

As soon as I pulled the bike out of the rack located in Battery Park, I knew I wasn’t going to be speeding around town. These bikes weigh about 45 pounds. They’ve got fenders, a bell on the left twist grip, and automatic-gear twist shifting on the right hand grip.

The seat was too high, so I lowered it using the convenient quick release. It could be difficult to adjust for someone with weak hands.

I shoved off and noticed the sluggish steering. At least the tires are wide and thick, because you wouldn’t want a flat.

Compared to riding in San Francisco, NYC has a lot going for it. There’s a comprehensive bicycle network, including protected bike paths on some streets.

I followed a bike path along the East River, although it doesn’t go all the way to Williamsburg Bridge. I had to take Clinton Street, but it has a protected bike lane.

There’s no relaxing while riding in NYC. I had to watch out for other riders, walkers, joggers, cars. Most cyclists knew what they were doing. The boldest of the bold weave in and out of traffic with a death wish.

They make a sport of it and hold races through Manhattan, which you can watch on YouTube.

I was just trying to keep out of everyone’s way and make it in one piece to my destination. It’s intimidating riding in crowded cities, especially when you’re old and riding an unresponsive tank. In my youth it wasn’t a concern.

Riding over the Williamsburg Bridge, I appreciated the lengths that the city went to to accommodate walkers and cyclists. It has a separate lane above the cars and next to the subway/train that whizzes by every few minutes.

I enjoyed the ride in mild weather and saw nice views, but I wondered what it would be like to deal with snow and ice.

The one comparison between the Bay Area and NYC that stands out is the kind of cyclists I see. In NYC it’s utilitarian riding with an assortment of bikes, no helmets. Riders are dressed in street clothing. I saw a young woman wearing stockings and a miniskirt.

Bike lane on 8th Avenue near Central Park, minus the bollards.


Downtown I witnessed something out of a magazine advertisement — a Wall Street “suit” riding on a Citibike!

In the Bay Area it’s all Lycra and Spandex, sunglasses, and shiny helmets.

I made it to my destination and had a brief conversation with Dave, who had been out riding. He looks fit.

After sharing memories of days gone by, I headed back the way I came, this time feeling more comfortable with the riding and the bike.

At least I didn’t get lost and survived the ride. The cost came to $13 for a 10-mile ride. The day pass is the best option. It can get expensive if you pay for a 30-minute ride and go over the time limit.

Considering the difficulties of getting around in Manhattan, riding a bike can be a good option in some situations.

Since car traffic was banned in Central Park, there has been an explosion of cycling here. However, that doesn’t mean it’s safe. There are daily bike-to-bike and bike-to-pedestrian accidents.

Best way to see Central Park is via a pedicab. Look for the guy who hails from Uzbekistan.

Pedicabs ply the streets of Manhattan, offering rides after Broadway shows, etc.

Loma Mar Store – open at last

August 18, 2019

A view of Loma Mar Store from the patio. Spacious.


The colorful sign posted on 8150 Pescadero Creek Road outside Loma Mar Store sums it up best — Open at Last. It took 5 1/2 years, but the wait was worth it.

I stepped inside and marveled at the spacious, open floor plan. Every detail said quality. Anyone can see that the owners put heart and soul into their store and brought a dream to life.

Over the years since its closure, I’ve stopped by from time to time and watched the store being rebuilt. I think all that’s original is the tree out front.

The store became a favorite way station for Jobst Brandt since he started cycling in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the 1950s. He was joined by a cadre of riders in the 1960s. They were engineers, bike racers, programmers, machinists.

This band of Merry Pranksters, minus the drugs, explored the Santa Cruz Mountains by bike. Jobst knew every trail and abandoned road in the area, and all roads led to Loma Mar, eventually.

Jobst Brandt sits outside the store in 1987.


Jobst became our Pied Piper, our bard, our Francis Bacon in the saddle as he made astute observations about the world around us. In the 1970s-80s he liked to stop at Loma Mar and visit owner Roger Siebecker, who served as the town’s postmaster, store owner, and volunteer firefighter.

On one occasion in the 1970s, Roger came to the rescue of Jobst and several riders who crashed on the frozen Wurr Road bridge one winter day. Bones were broken.

I got to meet the gracious owners, Jeff and Kate, this Sunday morning as they greeted local residents come to see the beautiful store that opened six days ago. It has always been the heart and soul of Loma Mar, a tiny community tucked away in majestic redwoods.

Fuel for the return ride.


It’s hard for me not to feel nostalgia about this place, as I’ve been riding here since 1980. Jobst’s adventure rides became the highlight of every weekend, an escape from the pressure cooker atmosphere of Silicon Valley.

Visiting the store gave me a feeling that “community” really means something. The appeal of the small town hearkens to simpler times when people knew each other by first name and life moved at a slower pace. I enjoyed that feeling every time I stopped by, if only briefly.

Jeff encouraged me to return and I promised I would try. But it’s a long way from where I live and the miles aren’t getting any easier. Cyclists heading down to the coast may want to stop and pay a visit, enjoy a coffee, pastry, sandwich. You too can be part of the Loma Mar community.

Loma Mar Store, open for business.

Saratoga’s brick road has that Paris-Roubaix feel

June 8, 2019

Saratoga’s brick road can be ridden on Austin Way, just off Los Gatos-Saratoga Road.


Next time you’re cycling to Los Gatos from Saratoga on Los Gatos-Saratoga Road (Hwy 9), and you’re interested in riding “the bricks,” turn right on Austin Way.

It’s also called Heritage Lane. The brick portion goes for several hundred yards. I was going to post a video but the footage was so shaaakkkyyyy that I decided against it.

I don’t know the road’s history other than the brick has been in place for about a century. This was the main road back in the early 1900s. Hwy 9 was straightened to its present alignment in the 1920s or so.

Peninsular Railway, an electric car line, ran by here in the early 1900s. Throughout the day, passengers could take the light rail between Los Gatos and Palo Alto, service ending around 11 p.m.

Southern Pacific ran its steam trains on the same track. Peninsular folded in 1930.

I don’t know the exact alignment of the rails, but it generally followed Los Gatos-Saratoga Road.

The road has several hills that would make it difficult for a train, but back then they built trestles to level things out.

Hwy 84 straightening marked progress back in the day

May 31, 2019

Western exit for the abandoned section of Hwy 84, and MROSD trail access


As the automobile gained a stranglehold on the American psyche, California road planners responded in the 1960s with freeway proposals that sound crazy today, like Highway 84.

On the Pacific Coast side, Hwy 84 is known as the two-lane La Honda Road, winding through pastoral farmland and woodsy nooks where redwoods reign.

Thankfully the Hwy 84 freeway scheme got shelved along with a dozen other crazy freeway proposals, but efforts were made to straighten Hwy 84.

The straightening I know about (there may be others) occurred sometime between 1955 and 1968, according to USGS topo maps. If anybody knows a more exact date, please let us know.

Old Hwy 84 alignment in 1955, map on right, and after straightening, 1968.

Jobst Brandt pointed out the straightened section decades ago during a ride. I finally got around to taking a photo. It’s at milepost 5.50.

What’s interesting is that this section of abandoned road, a mere quarter-mile, is used by Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. Signage is visible from the road behind a gate.

It turns out this land is part of the La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve, kind of. The land where the old road runs is still privately owned, but there’s equestrian only trail access to Harrington Creek Trail from here. Use permit required.

Hikers wanting to visit Harrington Creek Trail start at the staging area off Sears Ranch Road. Bikers, you’re out of luck. There’s no access to this preserve, a lot of which is still a working ranch.

When age ends a tradition, it hurts like hell

March 25, 2019

Jobst Brandt is all smiles as he nears the summit on the New Idria ride in 2003.


With April just around the corner my thoughts turn to the New Idria ride, which I started doing in 2003 with Jobst Brandt and friends.

Bruce Hildenbrand, no stranger to adventure rides, turned me on to the 115-mile route through the wilds of San Benito County.

I was young and strong enough back then to finish the ride before dark. Jobst, despite being 68 years old, had no difficulties making the arduous trek that included a climb on a gnarly dirt road to 4,450 feet altitude.

Where Jobst got his strength is a mystery, but his massive legs could power his 185-pound frame up the steepest roads, including three-week rides in the Alps.

Memories are all that’s left for me. I’ve lost so much leg strength that a ride of such rigor would be impossible. It happens to everyone, eventually.

It happened to Jobst on a foggy morning in January 2011. The effort of a ride to Santa Cruz and home — 120 miles — was his idea of a fun day. He crashed early in the ride, his body and mind unable to cope with the demands.

I often thought about just when and how I would accept old age. It’s not an easy thing, accepting that your mind is willing, but your body is not. In 2017, after riding 118 miles on the Mt. Hamilton loop, I decided I had had enough.

It wasn’t fun anymore. My body ached in so many places I can’t name them all. It wasn’t for lack of fitness. It was just old age.

Unlike Jobst, who often said he would continue doing the same rides until the bitter end, I decided to ride fewer miles.

A hit and run accident in 2018 told me that not only was I getting old, the odds were running against me, like the front-line soldier who wonders when the bullet with his name on it will find him.

Now when I go for a ride, I think about the distance and traffic. With a little planning I can cover most of the routes I used to do, after a drive to Skyline Boulevard, a bus or train ride.

New Idria I miss you. But a shorter ride from Paicines to Panoche Valley and back…wouldn’t that be nice.

Notable road closures in the Santa Cruz Mountains and beyond

March 14, 2019

Highway 17 work at Summit Road overpass following the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989.


Since this is the season for road closures, I thought I’d list all that I can remember over the past four decades.

Highland Way – Too many years to list them all. It’s closed every few years due to mudslides, and a couple of times due to forest fires. Around 2000 it was closed for months. We had the road to ourselves, but clambering over a vertical slope wasn’t my idea of fun.

Old La Honda Road (west) – Closed in 2017 and now. That’s all I can remember. When it was dirt, until 1986, I don’t recall any closures.

Hwy 84 Niles Canyon – In 1983 it was closed for a short time after a mudslide. We rode through and enjoyed this beautiful canyon minus cars.

Mt. Hamilton Road – It was closed in early 2017 for several months due to storm damage just before the summit of the first climb about a mile before Grant Ranch Park. When there’s a heavy snow the road is closed briefly. It didn’t used to be that way. In the mid 1980s the authorities started closing the road at Grant Ranch County Park.

Skyline Boulevard – 2016 just southeast of Castle Rock State Park, and now two miles east of Page Mill Road. The 2016 closure lasted nearly a year. Heavy rains washed out the road.

Gazos Creek Road – Not a car road since the 1960s, but in 1982 one mile of dirt road washed away from heavy rains. We were there on our bikes. Epic ride.

Summit Road – After the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, Summit Road had issues with broken pavement. I don’t recall if the Hwy 17 overpass was closed, but there was some activity on the highway after landslides.

Alpine Road (east) – Starting in the mid-1980s the road had major slides from plugged culverts, mostly. San Mateo County stopped maintaining the road in 1990 and today is in the process of officially abandoning the road after nearly 130 years. Alpine Road west of Skyline has had very brief closures.

Pescadero Creek Road – Closed briefly March 4, 1983, to clean up a mudslide near Loma Mar Store.

Highway 84 between Woodside and Skyline Boulevard – Every few years a tree will fall and in the 1980s and 1990s the road had mudslides that closed it temporarily. Highway 84 west of Skyline had a few brief closures in the 1980s after mudslides a couple of miles east of La Honda.

Highway 9 (north) – It has closed for brief periods over the years, 2017 and 1983 for sure. Mudslides and downed trees are cleaned up quickly since the road has lots of traffic. Of course, snow sometimes closes the road, along with Skyline Boulevard.

Redwood Lodge Road – Closed in 2016 after the road washed away near Laurel. Still not repaired.

Schulties Road – Closed in 2016 after a section of road washed out near Laurel. Still not repaired.

San Jose – Soquel Road – Closed near Amaya Ridge Road for months in 2017 after heavy winter rains.

Zayante Road – Closed briefly at the upper end in 2017 due to mudslides.

Bear Creek Road – Closed in 2017 due to mudslides and repairs.

Highway 236 – Closed in 1982 due to mudslides.

Mountain Charlie Road – Closed for a few weeks in 2017 to fix a slide.

Calaveras Road – I only mention it because it’s a vital route for the 100-mile Mt. Hamilton loop ride. It was closed in 2016 due to mudslides and ongoing dam construction issues, finally opening a month or so ago. The road also had a washout/closure in 1986 at a creek that runs into Calaveras Reservoir. We had fun riding on the closed road.

Roads that haven’t closed, as I recall, include Page Mill, Montebello, Kings Mountain, Tunitas Creek. Old La Honda Road (east) might be on the short list as well. I don’t have a record of riding there when it was closed.

Powder Works a novel idea

February 14, 2019

Pipeline Road overlook, with Santa Cruz in the distance.


Once upon a ride, May 28, 2006, on a fine spring Sunday, Jobst Brandt led us onto a trail deep in the redwoods alongside the San Lorenzo River. It took us from Graham Hill Road over to Highway 9 and Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

So-named Pipeline Road headed down, paved at times, past an overlook where we stopped to drink in the view of the blue Pacific and Santa Cruz shimmering in the distance. It was a magical moment.

Little did I realize that only a short distance away, California Powder Works made gunpowder in the late 19th century. The company supplied the transcontinental railroad (Summit Tunnel and other tunnels), and just about every other public works project out West.

At one point they installed some heavy-caliber naval artillery to test the powder. That must have been quite a boom coming from the canyon. Heard for miles around no doubt.

Everything from those times is gone — the tunnel, the flume, and the dam to supply water vital for the manufacturing process. One historic artifact still standing is a covered bridge spanning the San Lorenzo River.

Most workers lived in company housing, in what is now Paradise Park.

We exited onto Hwy 9, bypassing the narrow parts of the road leading out of Santa Cruz.

It’s history worthy of a novel, Powder Works. In the “works” right now.

Historic USGS maps added to online archive

February 6, 2019

National Automobile Club map from circa 1937.


Thanks for jamesRides for pointing out some interesting history of Montebello Road, which has become a popular cycling route.

Not all roads are county, city, or state owned/managed/right of ways. Montebello Road and parts of Stevens Canyon Road were always on private property. I’m not sure when Santa Clara County took over maintenance and established a right of way on these two roads.

However, just because a road isn’t government maintained, etc., doesn’t mean it is not a public road. The way a road becomes “public” is through a pattern of use established over time.

The original owners of Montebello Road and Stevens Canyon Road probably saw no need to barricade their roads back in the day. The population was small and their neighbors were farmers and ranchers.

Things changed with the rapid growth of industry starting in the 1930s. By the 1950s, people had free time. The more adventuresome took up off-road motorcycling. Those abandoned iron gates, still visible in Stevens Canyon, were the result.

There’s more history of the Black Mountain area in Wikipedia.

Even better, a company called ArcGIS has made available most, if not all, USGS historic maps online. It’s easy to use and lightning fast to load maps, which can be downloaded.

My contribution above is a National Automobile Club map from circa 1937. There’s no date on the map other than 61237 in small numbers. It could be 1937, although Stevens Creek Reservoir is not shown, built in 1935.

Dream rides that will never be…in my lifetime

August 27, 2018

Last Chance Road in 1975, crossing Waddell Creek. Bud Hoffacker, in back, and Bill Robertson, far right.


As you grow older, you begin to think about unfulfilled dreams, like bike rides on roads that do not exist or are off limits.

I’ve compiled a long list, but these gems rise to the surface. At least we can dream about what might be. Some of these roads might come to pass, but too late for me.

Niles Canyon Trail. I stopped riding through Niles Canyon a couple of years ago. I’ve probably ridden it 30 times, and each time I swear is the last.

The good news is that there’s a way to build a recreation path through the canyon, and county officials have expressed their support. It’s just going to take money. It will happen, in a couple of decades. My guess.

Bear Gulch Road. Why, why, why did San Mateo County give up on this gorgeous road? It’s another version of Old La Honda, only it goes to the Pacific Ocean, almost. I’ve ridden it on the east side a few times, on the west side only once.

Old Cañada Road. Most people don’t realize there’s an old Cañada Road, hidden away in the San Francisco Watershed. It goes from Edgewood Road to Highway 92. But there’s more. It’s a short hop on Hwy 92 to access roads into the San Francisco Watershed north of the highway. I’ve ridden Old Cañada a couple of times, the watershed, just once. It’s magical, delightful, inspirational, beautiful. Sigh.

Loma Prieta Road. It spans the wild and scenic countryside between Mt. Umunhum and Summit Road in Santa Cruz County. The views from up there take your breath away. I’ve ridden it about 16 times since 1980. MROSD owns a lot of the road. The agency promises to open it one of these days. I’m guessing it will be open for bikes 30 years from now. What’s so frustrating is that the MROSD signs are already posted along the way.

South Pacific Coast Railroad right of way. The tunnels that cut through the Santa Cruz Mountains were blasted shut in 1942 by Southern Pacific. I often dreamed about those tunnels when climbing steep grades on the way to Santa Cruz. It’s such a tragedy, but the Santa Cruz Mountains can be a harsh mistress.

Mill Valley to Fairfax. Sure, mountain bikers can make the trek, but it’s a grind. Widen Camino Alto/Corte Madera or build a nice paved trail for the road riders.Long term, open the Alto Tunnel. So frustrating.

Last Chance Road. Still doable between Big Basin Redwoods State Park and the Pacific Coast, but it’s not legal and it’s a narrow trail today. I’ve ridden it about 20 times and watched the road degrade into a wisp of a path. It’s much better than taking Highway 9, but what isn’t?

Highway 9 from Felton to Santa Cruz. Speaking of Highway 9, it’s about time something was done to make cycling safer between these two towns. If only the railroad right of way would accommodate bikes. I’ve ridden lower Hwy 9 maybe 20 times, but each time I swear will be the last.

Alpine Road. I’ve ranted about the loss of Alpine Road (east) for years. It’s still rideable after a fashion, but I like to remember it as it was in 1990, the last time San Mateo County graded the road. So many great memories riding up Alpine.

These are niggling obstacles that should be fixed:

Diablo Road. This is the only route available for accessing Mt. Diablo’s South Gate Road from Danville. Is it too much of an imposition to give up a few feet of land for a bike lane? I guess so. The road is way too narrow for today’s traffic.

Highway 92. There’s no shoulder for three miles to Half Moon Bay. I rode it in 2010 on a weekday, thinking it would be better. Big mistake. Garbage trucks ply the road. On a weekend it’s a parking lot all the way to Interstate 280. A shoulder would help, but the best option to visit Half Moon Bay is to take the Coast Highway from the south. Residents refuse to widen the road, not even for a bike lane.

More rides later, maybe.

Last Chance Road in 2011. That little thread of dirt is the road, such as it is.

Bear Fire brings back memories of an epic ride

October 20, 2017

I head down upper Favre Ridge in fall 1994. Jeff Vance photo.


Back in 1994, almost 23 years to the day, I went on a ride that can only be described as “epic,” covering new roads, where the Bear Fire is located, and exploring a train tunnel from the previous century in a remote forest.

Fire fighters say the Bear Fire terrain is steep and remote. That’s an understatement. Having studied a topo map (no Internet back then), I suggested to Jeff Vance that we try riding down through Las Cumbres, a secluded housing development off Skyline Boulevard south of Castle Rock State Park.

We rode down a steep paved road and then got onto a dirt road (Favre Ridge) that was unsigned and didn’t look like it had been used in eons. At that point we were just letting gravity guide us. I figured as long as we kept riding south we’d wind up on Bear Creek Road eventually.

Jeff Vance follows on upper Favre Ridge.

The road was steep at first but then gradually got less so as we descended into the bowels of Santa Cruz Mountains, swallowed up by redwoods, oaks, manzanita and dense brush. At the time there were few houses and they were concealed up long driveways.

Eventually we wound up on Bear Creek Canyon Road, near where the Bear Fire originated, and from there climbed through the dust to Bear Creek Road.

But the fun had just begun. We continued over to Hwy 9 and rode up Zayante Road where we would search for the long lost Mountain Charlie tunnel, built for the South Pacific Coast Railroad in 1878-79. It’s not a long tunnel, but a strategic one as it dropped trains into the Zayante Creek drainage where they linked up with the Felton-Santa Cruz line.

I knew the general location of the tunnel, but finding it was no easy task. We got onto the railroad right of way that followed the creek, but it was covered with fallen trees and poison oak. We picked our way through for a mile before finding a rideable right of way deep in the redwoods.

From there the ride went smoothly (following a gentle grade) and before long we were staring at the tunnel entrance, lined with concrete and the year “1909” pressed into the arch. The tunnel was reinforced after the 1906 quake by Southern Pacific Railroad.

South Pacific right of way near Mtn. Charlie tunnel, in remarkably good shape.


We clambered into the tunnel as far as we could go and peered into a black abyss. The tunnel, and others, were blasted shut in 1942 for safety reasons after the railroad was decommissioned. A cave-in made any exploring out of the question.

Not wanting to backtrack, we followed a road uphill that eventually took us to Mountain Charlie Road. We had to ride right by several houses, but it was our lucky day.

We continued back home via Mountain Charlie Road.

Jeff checks out the tunnel entrance.


Looking back, the Las Cumbres route never became a regular ride for various reasons, mainly because it didn’t go anywhere interesting, the view was unremarkable after the first mile and it was not a “friendly” area.

The Mountain Charlie tunnel, I have read, had yet another cave-in and there is a huge slide over the right of way that makes access even more difficult than it was. With age catching up to me, it’s just as well.

The history of the South Pacific Coast Railroad tunnels has inspired me to write my second full-length novel, a continuation of my first, China Grade. The main character, after working on the transcontinental railroad, is hired to help build the Summit Tunnel (#2). The novel is called Wrights. Available in 2018 on Amazon.com.