Archive for the ‘Ride reports’ Category

Russian Ridge Open Space dazzles

April 25, 2018

Ridge Trail about a mile from Alpine Road, looking northwest.


Nothing beats a ride along Skyline on a weekday in the spring, wildflowers in bloom. I checked out Russian Ridge Open Space by mountain bike. My plan was to ride the Ridge Trail to Rapley Road and then make a loop via Crazy Pete’s Road and Alpine Road.

Ridge Trail about a mile from Alpine Road and Skyline Boulevard has views of the Pacific Ocean on a clear day. It’s mostly single-track for lovers of that kind of riding. The trail is narrow and there’s a vertical drop-off to keep your attention.

All the trail junctions are well marked. I headed down Crazy Pete’s, having ridden this road since about 1981. It’s a bit gnarlier than it used to be, but still rideable, except for one steep climb.

Seeing Alpine Road in its current condition depresses me. It used to be a real dirt road, maintained by San Mateo County. It was last graded in December 1989. Why San Mateo County insists on keeping a claim on the road is beyond me. It’s a trail today, lined with poison oak, rutted, a disaster. A washout higher up was “repaired” with a steep trail into the creek bed.

Years ago, the county proposed a recreation trail, but I haven’t heard of any movement to make it happen. The road maintained a grade of 8-10 percent, not bad compared to Page Mill Road.

After the massive landslide in the early 1990s, the road became much less pleasant to ride. So much for Alpine Road. I’m glad I had a chance to ride it in its glory days.

I took Meadow Trail uphill, and wished I hadn’t. It’s rocky, STEEP, and doesn’t have anything to offer in the way of views. Skip it.

Russian Ridge Preserve has some nice trails. Nothing too steep, although there are always those short stretches of hard riding. Charquin Trail certainly was a ranch road at one time. It seemed more like the kind of dirt roads I used to ride in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Russian Ridge preserve offers some nice dirt rides.

Santa Clara Valley Open Space Rancho is Golden

April 4, 2018

Bald Peaks Trail from the summit, looking southeast.


Today I toured the Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve by bike, and it reminded me that the mountain bike can take me to interesting places I would never go on a road bike.

As parks go, Rancho Cañada del Oro isn’t all that old, opening in 2004. Still, it took me long enough to discover it. Since 1993 I’ve been paying taxes toward the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, but I’ve never had the occasion to visit a preserve. I’ve read the occasional story about the authority buying up land somewhere south of San Jose, but that’s the extent of my awareness.

I’ve always been a Midpen user, even though I’ve never paid taxes toward that open space authority.

I’m not much of a mountain biker, not counting the hundred of miles of dirt roads and trails I’ve covered on my road bike. My biggest complaint is the gnarly climbs and descents most mountain bikers prefer. My two favorite mountain bike rides are easy stuff for most riders. Rancho Cañada now ranks as my second favorite ride after Almaden Quicksilver.

One of my least favorite routes is the nearby Santa Teresa County Park. I’d wager more than half of the trails are “rocky.” Rocky Ridge Trail says it all.

The preferred route is a clockwise loop that starts at the parking lot and goes west on Mayfair Ranch Trail, left at Longwall Canyon Trail, up Bald Peaks Trail to the summit, then all downhill on Catamount Trail. It’s eight miles, and about 1,800 feet of climbing. Ride time is about two hours.

Mayfair Ranch Trail starts out steep with several short switchbacks. All but the strongest riders will have to walk some sections, especially if you’re a senior citizen like me. This is decidedly single-track riding on a man-made trail. It goes on for about five miles. After about 1.7 miles of climbing and some level riding, there’s a brief downhill to Llagas Creek. It’s not technical and not all that steep.

The ride up Longwall Canyon Trail will test your gears and your fitness. If I were young and strong, I could probably ride all of it. The views of the valleys are spectacular, and you’ve got Mt. Umunhum looking down on you.

Some nice single-track on Longwall Canyon Trail just before Bald Peaks.

Bald Peaks Trail follows an old ranch road. At the water trough, catch your breath. There’s a short, steep climb that I don’t think I could have ever ridden up in my youth. It’s about 25 percent. But then the climbing is over and it’s all flat or downhill. You’re on top of the world here with a 360 degree view of the valleys and mountains. Well worth the effort.

The road is overgrown with short grass, but there’s no difficulty finding your way. It’s obvious. All junctions are well-signed. Take a right down Catamount Trail and enjoy the steep stuff. One short section is 25 percent, and a tad more. Control your speed and all but the most conservative riders will have no difficulties.

At the junction with Longwall Canyon Trail, I met up with some rangers spraying milkweed thistle. The stuff has medicinal value, so I’m told, but it’s no friend of the outdoors.

At the end of the descent, there’s one more creek crossing, the deepest of several. I walked it.

All in all, it was a ride worth the trip by car. The route has something for everyone, single-track, beautiful views, a few stiff climbs and descents to get your blood circulating, but nothing daunting. Best done on a weekday in the spring.

I’ve also hiked here. My favorite trail is Little Llagas Creek. It goes through an abandoned orchard and uphill on a single-track. The route I took is the only one available for bikes. Note that some of the ride goes through Calero County Park.

Note: I measured the route using a Cateye wireless cyclometer and a Garmin 500. The Garmin was 0.7 miles short, but maybe that’s because I carried it in my back jersey pocket. I’ll check. I rollout-calibrated the Cateye, and based on the park map mileages, it’s accurate.

Follow-up: The Garmin 500 works fine in the pocket, after I tested it, so the issue with Garmin is that it doesn’t do a good job measuring on trails. That’s all I can think of right now.

The route I took. The park is off McKean Road.

Santa Teresa Park ride-through

March 12, 2018

Mine Trail and Fortini Trail in Santa Teresa Park offer a route between McKean Rd. and Bernal Rd.

One of the South Bay routes many riders enjoy includes Bailey Avenue, which bridges McKean Road and Coyote Valley.

Ideally, you would take Bernal Road and Harry Road to make a loop. There’s only one problem. Part of Bernal and all of Harry crosses private property, owned by IBM.

I’ve read many accounts where cyclists rode through and weren’t bothered, but that’s not always the outcome. The road is patrolled by IBM security. It’s a strange situation, to be sure, given that the property occupies mostly open space.

I didn’t let that stop me. I rode through Santa Teresa County Park on Mine Trail and Fortini Trail to finish my Bailey Avenue loop. Mine is a dirt road, but Fortini is single-track. On a road bike, it requires your full attention. It’s rocky in places, and rutted, but all downhill.

Alum Rock Park in the morning

March 9, 2018

San Jose’s Alum Rock Park from Penitencia Creek Road.


Alum Rock Park, after an overnight rain in March, clears the mind. On a weekday morning, there’s nobody around, the air is fresh, the grass green.

The perspectives from the park can be memorable, looking up at the steep slopes. On a mountain bike, you can make your way to Sierra Road. It’s a hike, literally for some.

I prefer the much friendlier climb up the service road.

Haul Road becomes a day’s labor

February 5, 2018

Brian checks out the Haul Road on our way to Loma Mar.


It used to be we’d ride from Palo Alto over the ridge and down to the Haul Road on our way to more distant venues. Today it’s a destination.

With temperatures more like May, I thanked Climate Change and headed up Page Mill Road. On the way, we saw a bike accident, the victim resting peacefully under the eye of a doctor cyclist. The rider was conscious.

In the next 15 minutes no fewer than four rescue vehicles drove by. We continued to Skyline Boulevard to check out the brisk winds, suddenly cool.

One of the best descents is Alpine Road and then Portola State Park road into the bowels of Pescadero Creek canyon. The air turned decidedly cold.

We rode over the creek’s new steel bridge, passed the aging ranger cabins, and walked up the steep section to the Haul Road. Back in the day some riders muscled up that slope. Not me.

We wondered what the railroad looked like in the 1940s when it was still operational. It reached from the mill at Waterman Gap to…where? Maybe all the way to a point just past Harwood Creek, near the road’s end. It followed the current Haul Road. Derek Whaley has details. Trucks took over log-transport duties and turned the dirt road into a highway. People who rode motorcycles could do 60 mph. Smooth, like pavement.

Today, not so smooth. We had to get around some mud holes the first part of the ride going northwest. Things improved about a third of the way along. Washouts from last winter’s deluge were fixed.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will the Loma Mar store.

We stopped at the new Loma Mar Store to check on progress. We’ve got a wager. Will it be finished in one million years, or two million? It’s going to be a palace compared to the old store.

The fun part was riding up Pescadero Road. Along comes Tom Ritchey and wife Martha on a tandem, bound for Pescadero. We stopped and talked about riding our favorite off-grid roads, mostly griping, and continued on our way.

On the climb up Alpine Road, the temperature warmed in the late-afternoon sun. Looking down at the peaceful redwood forest and the blue Pacific, all seemed right with the world.

First ride to Mt. Umunhum Cube — Legal or otherwise

December 5, 2017

The concrete cube at Mt. Umunhum, up close and personal.


Mt. Umunhum summit, bathed in warm December sunshine and light winds to push away the smog proved too much of a lure, so I set out from Santa Clara and headed for New Almaden and the southeast climb of Horrible Hicks.

As I had planned, there was virtually no traffic, just the occasional car and a few bicycles. Hicks from New Almaden is less of a grind with sections of 16 percent. It goes on for a mile to the Mt. Umunhum Road intersection.

Riding on the newly paved road, I would appreciate the improvement during the descent, one of the most dangerous I know of in the Bay Area, after Hicks Road, where a cyclist died in 2004.

Summit shelter offers views of the Bay Area that can’t be beat.

The first mile climbs relentlessly with long stretches of 13-15 percent. It lets up at the Bald Mountain Trail parking area for a half mile before resuming its leg-burning grade of 13-15 percent for a mile. Beyond the point where the road was closed to the public for an eternity things get more civilized with the grade of 7 percent.

I stopped at Loma Prieta Road junction to pay tribute to past rides there. One of these days.

From here it’s a delightful downhill and flat ride with the blue waters of Lake Elsman visible far below in the deep redwood canyon where Los Gatos Creek originates.

At a junction I turned right and started climbing steeply once again, the final assault to the summit and the now ugly concrete cube. Surrounded by the elegantly manicured hilltop it truly does look out of place.

As I walked around enjoying the spectacular views of Santa Clara Valley and San Francisco’s building spires I could appreciate why this mountaintop offers a better view than Mount Hamilton. It has the shining blue waters of the Pacific to its credit, but also it’s much closer to the valley, making for a more memorable view.

Contemplating my past rides here, I came to realize that this was my first time to the cube. In 1982, 1985 and other times we rode through the lower base, never up to the cube.

As my cycling days wind down, I can take satisfaction in making it to the summit. Best done on a weekday, or leave early in the morning on the weekend.

Jobst Brandt shows good form on Mt. Umunhum in 2007, age 72.He started riding there in 1957. It was on one of these rides up Umunhum when he realized childhood scarlet fever had damaged his heart. He got a new heart valve.

That sign on the road. Now a memory.

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.

Chestnuts worth the ride to Skyline

October 19, 2017

Chestnuts ready for the ride home. Chestnut knife shown at inset.


Although the Bear Fire is not yet out, I didn’t notice any smoke this morning, so I headed up Hwy 9 to Skyline to fetch some chestnuts.

Aside from all the garbage accumulating on the roadside, I didn’t notice anything out of place. In fact, for the first time in months, there isn’t any road work, at least not work with stoplights to control traffic.

At Skyline all I saw was a sign saying the road is closed four miles to the south. Is that due to the road repair from last winter’s slide? I figure that’s it and not the Bear Fire, although I wouldn’t recommend going that way until it’s officially extinguished.

Skyline Chestnuts is four miles north just off Skyline Boulevard, on Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District land. Follow the sign.

I had already visited last Saturday, the official opening, and noticed the trees were yet to be dropping all of their giant, prickly seed pods. Today was a different story. Peak season is upon the orchard.

I purchased three pounds along with a knife used for scoring the chestnut. What a fantastic tool! It’s a must have for anyone who likes chestnuts.

Of course, no ride to Skyline is complete without a descent on Page Mill Road. I flew down, although not nearly as fast as Jobst Brandt used to do it when he was in his prime. There was no keeping up with him.

After trying toaster oven, boiling, and steaming, we prefer steamed chestnuts. They get softer that way. The ones from Skyline are super sweet, better than the Asian variety and equal to the European, of which some of these trees are of the lineage, in addition to the North American native.

As for the Bear Fire, I once rode down from Skyline starting at Las Cumbres right into the present location of the burn. That was back in 1994. More on that ride next.

Shoulder widening a welcome addition on Watsonville Road

July 30, 2017

Widening on Watsonville Road is a welcome improvement.


I’ve never been a fan of riding on busy county roads like Watsonville Road between Morgan Hill and Hwy 152, and it looks like Santa Clara County road planners know why.

It’s narrow with no shoulders and traffic moves at the speed limit — 45 mph — which translates to 55 mph in the real world.

Imagine my surprise this morning when I saw a two-foot wide shoulder addition to each side of Watsonville Road. It’s mostly between Uvas Road and Sycamore Drive, popular routes for weekend cycling.

I’m not sure if Uvas Road got the same treatment, but from what I can find online, it’s a countywide effort. I also noticed some widening on one side of McKean Road near Oak Glen Ave.

Autonomous vehicles will one day make all this street widening unnecessary — we’ll need much better road striping — but for now it’s a welcome change. At this rate though it will be decades before all the roads are widened so, as I said, it won’t be needed as we slowly adopt autonomous vehicles that will forever make cycling safe on our busy roads.

I don’t think this is pie-in-the-sky thinking. For sure, it’s going to be much more difficult than making all commercial airlines autonomous, but it’s doable as long as people go along with the plan.

My fear is that, just like gun owners, there will be a large segment of the population that believes their personal freedoms are being robbed and they’ll swear, “over my dead body I’ll give up driving.”

I’m optimistic that this sentiment will not play out to any meaningful degree. Once people see the advantages of driving without fear on roads with smoothly flowing traffic and the ability to sit back and snooze, they’ll be on board in a heartbeat. I hope I live to see the day.

Everything is “under construction” these days

July 22, 2017

Panoramic view of Dumbarton Bridge. Will the railroad bridge ever be used?


I figured I’d ride over to Dumbarton Bridge this morning, taking my familiar route along the Sunnyvale-Mountain View-Palo Alto baylands — but things didn’t turn out that way.

Everything in the Bay Area, as we all know, is “under construction.” I’m seeing buildings being torn down and new ones go up at a dizzying pace, reshaping what used to be known as Silicon Valley. The Valley is no longer about silicon, but social media, search engines, virtual reality and iPhones.

The San Francisquito Creek Trail, starting at the Baylands Athletic Center in Palo Alto, is closed until January for flood control improvements.

I had to take one of the least desirable streets in Palo Alto, E. Bayshore Road, then north on Pulgas Avenue back to familiar territory.

After taking some pics of the Dumbarton Bridge, I decided to make my way back on the north side of Hwy 84, not quite sure what it offered in the way of a side road. There’s a dirt road for a ways, but you’ll need to get back on Hwy 84, which has a wide shoulder.

In a short distance you can turn right at the light onto a path that dumps into the Facebook parking lot. I wound my way through here and decided to check out the famous sign at the main entrance.

Sure enough, a steady stream of Facebook users had the same idea, so I waited for my time to snap a photo. That sign is nothing more than the old Sun Microsystems sign with some panels slapped over it.

Facebook. It’s a love-hate relationship for many people.

As I headed back to Menlo Park and Palo Alto, it was hard to believe that start-up Facebook occupied the old Avocet headquarters on University Avenue once upon a time. Not the building owned by Palo Alto Bicycles, but the one right across the street. It’s a small world.

At least one thing hasn’t changed — the charm of riding through tree-lined streets in Menlo Park and Palo Alto. It brought back memories. Sigh.

I took the always popular Bryant Street — Ellen Fletcher’s legacy — we call Bike Boulevard and headed home through the remnants of Silicon Valley on Central Expressway.