Archive for the ‘Ride reports’ Category

Flow Trail – like an amusement park ride

September 19, 2018

Flow Trail, a ribbon of single-track through Demonstration Forest.

Thanks to Soquel Demonstration Forest rangers and Santa Cruz mountain bikers for collaborating to create one of the most enjoyable off-road single-track trails in Northern California. And it’s legal.

The name Flow Trail evokes images of a smooth path with endless downhill, whoop de doos, and banked turns. I read about it online, so I had to find out for myself. Dream come true or fake news?

I headed off on the kind of day that makes Northern California weather nervana: Clear skies, temps in the 60s, a gentle breeze. My ride started six miles away so I could become accustomed to the wider tires, 26 x 2.0 nobby monsters. Talk about sluggish steering.

Riding on Highland Way is never a sure thing. In one place the road has caved, narrowing it to one lane. I’ve clambered over a huge slide on a vertical slope. But views sublime: The forest across from Soquel Canyon looks so three-dimensional.

Sulphur Springs Road, logging site and helicopter pad.

I arrived at the Demonstration Forest entrance on Highland Way and saw four parked cars. It’s a zoo on weekends.

Having ridden here since 1980, I knew the routine. I headed up Highland Way to Buzzard Lagoon Road and hoped for hard-packed dirt. It was so-so, plenty of dust. The grind up Buzzard Lagoon with eight to 12 percent grades tested my legs.

Not much has changed since 1980. The road is graded from time to time, which is a good thing because otherwise we’d be riding through a boulder field.

I turned right onto West Ridge Trail with fear and loathing. This ride conjures up the best and worst of off-road riding. Worst: the trail is Rut City with rocky sections that even a pro would find challenging. As for me, I’m not proud. I walked in places.

Tribute to a mountain bike trail builder.

I remembered little from my last trip here in 2007, just that it’s gnarly. My rides always took me down the oh-so-tame Aptos Creek Fire Road. However, I remembered the helicopter landing site cleared by loggers in the early 2000s or so. It’s also where Sulphur Springs Road heads downhill.

I continued on past more trailheads — Braille, Tractor Road, destined for Flow Trail. Sadly, or maybe blessedly, Sawpit Trail at the west end of the forest is closed for logging operations. This is still an actively logged forest, thus the name Demonstration Forest. I heard chainsaws in the distance.

In just over two miles I arrived at Flow Trail. Orange netting blocked the way to Sawpit Trail.

Start of Flow Trail. Sawpit Trail access cut off.

Did the videos lie? Would Flow Trail be manageable for an aging tenderfoot like me? My fears evaporated in a flash. I found myself gliding effortlessly on the well-designed trail. Many turns are banked.

Some steep drops of 35-40 percent left me screaming for joy, and fear. The trail has held up well since opening in 2015.

As for uphill, there isn’t any. The short segments of uphill were put there for your enjoyment, easily ridden with momentum coming off the steep stuff.

The trail is signed Segment 1 through 6, mostly at intersections with Tractor Road and other logging roads, not that you’d ever become lost since Flow Trail is all single-track.

Start of the long grind up Hihn’s Mill Road.

I arrived at Hihn’s Mill Road after 3.6 miles and headed back to the entrance. I had forgotten how steep it was, or maybe I was much stronger back then. It’s a grind, with grades of 8-12 percent. A few flat spots let you catch your breath.

I must confess I’ve ridden a few other trails that rival Flow Trail, but they shall remain nameless. Flow Trail is legal.

I measured the route using a pre-calibrated CatEye wireless bike computer. Note that GPS fails miserably on this route. Canyons and trees degrade the satellite signal. My Garmin Edge 500 clocked in 1.3 miles short.

CatEye Mileage:

Start ride at entrance to Demonstration Forest on Highland Way.
1.93 Right onto Buzzard Lagoon Road
2.47 Open gate
2.87 Keep right at junction, continuing climb on Aptos Creek Fire Road.
4.16 Gate.
5.08 Right onto West Ridge Trail at post. Kiosk visible from fire road.
5.7 Corral Trail
6.64 Sulphur Springs Road
7.15 Braille Trail
7.25 Right onto Flow Trail
9.3 Segment 4.
9.37 Logs across trail
9.62 Segment 5
10.11 Segment 6
10.88 Right onto Hihn’s Mill Road.
11.1 Keep left at junction with Tractor Road.
11.4 Braille Trail
12.34 Sulphur Springs Road.
14.63 Gate and toilet.
14.81 End ride at Demonstration Forest entrance.

Garmin GPS mileage:

1.88 Right onto unpaved Buzzard Lagoon Road
2.78 Keep right at junction, continuing uphill on Aptos Creek Fire Road.
4.91 Right onto West Ridge Trail at tall post. Kiosk behind bushes.
5.45 Corral Trail.
6.28 Sulphur Springs Road.
6.74 Braille Trail.
6.81 Flow Trail.
9.74 Right onto Hihn’s Mill Road.
9.92 Keep left on Hihn’s Mill Road at Tractor Road junction.
10.31 Braille Trail.
11.18 Sulphur Springs Road.
13.49 Gate and toilet.
13.51 End ride at Demonstration Forest entrance.

Cheating old age

July 29, 2018

Bean Creek Road has it all for remote country roads. Cool and refreshing in the morning.

Yes, I took a bus to Scotts Valley this morning so I could enjoy my ride. That means fewer miles.

In the days of yore, we’d ride from Palo Alto over to the coast, then back up Mountain Charlie Road, Summit Road, Skyline. It was a long day. Jobst Brandt led the way and kept things interesting.

Taking the Highway 17 Express from Diridon Station was a close thing. It carries three bikes. I was bike number three. A fourth rider wasn’t allowed to bring on his bike. Rules are rules.

I can’t tell you how much more enjoyable it is riding up steep roads with fresh legs. I could enjoy the climbs without suffering.

Silo house on Mountain Charlie Road.

After the Mountain Charlie Road climb, I can say with certainty that the hardest part is the section before the blue silo house. The Old Japanese Road section is not as difficult.

Summit Road has some stiff climbs, but they’re a shade easier than Mountain Charlie, topping out at 15 percent. The first 0.4 miles after leaving the Bear Creek Road junction have been paved, long sections of guardrail added and hillsides reinforced.

One of the reasons I like this ride is the lack of car traffic. It’s sparse, but I’m seeing more cars than I did 30 years ago.

The real problem with cars in the Santa Cruz Mountains is Highway 9, which has become a gateway road where all the traffic goes. Castle Rock State Park is the biggest magnet. Parking lots keep expanding along Skyline.

I headed down Hwy 9, but if you’re planning on turning left onto Redwood Gulch Road or Pierce Road, hope for a break in traffic. It’s bad enough now that there’s no guarantee you can make a safe turn.

A grim reminder that Mountain Charlie Road needs ongoing maintenance.

All of this reminds me of Marin County and Panoramic Highway. If you want to see the future on Hwy 9, this is it. Panoramic Hwy is lined with cars for miles, everyone trying to get to Muir Woods.

Looking out to the Pacific Ocean and a layer of brown haze reminded me of how lucky we are here. Forest fires are a rarity in the Santa Cruz Mountains, thanks to the fog. Let’s hope it stays that way.

You’re gonna need a bigger parking lot

July 21, 2018

Skyline Boulevard road repair south of Castle Rock State Park. Looks nice.

On what is becoming an increasingly rare occasion, I made it up to Skyline Boulevard to check out the road. This being a Saturday, I didn’t have much hope for minimal traffic, and I was right.

Weekend traffic is becoming so bad on Hwy 9 that the break in car platoons is becoming less and less frequent. So where are these people driving to and who are they? They’re hikers and cyclists going to recreate in our mountain parks.

If I had my way, I’d ban cars in the Santa Cruz Mountains, except for local residents, and make everyone headed to a park take a shuttle bus.

Which leads me to the new visitor center under construction at Castle Rock State Park. Not that I’m against it, but they’re gonna need a bigger parking lot. Visitors are already unable to find parking on weekends. It’s only going to get worse.

Castle Rock State Park’s new parking lot and visitor center under construction.

I headed to see the Skyline Boulevard public works project a mile or so beyond the park. It’s a masterpiece of road repair where a year and a half ago heavy rains washed away the road. I’m sure a culvert was involved. They always are. It looks like it was designed against such a catastrophe. There are actually two repairs, a smaller one close to Las Cumbres.

I heard there was also some public works going on at McKenzie Reservoir, so I headed down that way on Black Road. Sure enough, the road has been smoothed out from lots of heavy truck traffic. San Jose Water is doing something to improve the reservoir’s outlet. The water level is low, although I’ve seen it even lower.

McKenzie Reservoir is undergoing maintenance to improve outlet structures that meet dam safety standards.

Finally, the last public works project was a couple of slides fixed on Sanborn Road.

Road repairs continue from the previous winter’s storms. Schulties Road, I’m told, is being fixed, but I haven’t heard about Redwood Lodge Road’s slide. Cyclists can still walk through, but cars can’t make it.

I’ve only mentioned a few roads that took a hit in the El Niño storms two winters ago. Santa Cruz County has pics of all the damaged roads in a PDF file.

Angel Island no picnic

July 20, 2018

Nice view of San Francisco from south side of Angel Island.

I don’t know where I got the idea, but I always assumed the paved road circling Angel Island was flat. Wrong.

A visit to the island made my bucket list, so we headed for Tiburon to pick up the ferry; it’s a 10-minute ride to the island, which costs $15, plus $1 for hauling the bike. Tiburon is preferable to San Francisco when driving from a distance.

I considered renting a bike, but the cost of the rental, around $50, convinced me the logistical inconvenience was worth it. However, if you’re interested in renting an electric bike, this is a good time to try one out.

With beautiful weather, the bay crossing couldn’t have been smoother. We exited the ferry and I started riding on the fairly steep and unpaved single-track trail that climbs up to the perimeter road. It’s not a very friendly route for a tourist.

What’s odd is that there’s a paved road at the wharf that goes to the perimeter road. I’m guessing the park service doesn’t want to deal with yahoos blasting down the steep paved road into crowds of tourists.

I took a clockwise route so that the view of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge would be my reward on this five-mile loop.

There’s a climb of about 7 percent for a ways before the road levels near the immigration station. A lot of history comes with the island, but I won’t bore you with the details.

The road begins climbing once past the somber-looking buildings of Fort McDowell. The south side of the island has the steep spots. I didn’t sign up for a 16 percent grade, but that’s what I read on my Garmin. It’s followed by a steep descent.

The best views of San Francisco are at the Battery Drew pullout, followed by Battery Ledyard. Skies were clear, so I enjoyed the spectacle.

In less than an hour I finished the loop, after another descent. I didn’t check out the dirt road higher up that circles the island, but based on what I saw of it, it’s best suited for a mountain bike.

While the ride itself is no picnic, I can recommend Angel Island as a place for a picnic.

Maybe in another dimension where bikes rule the land, this island is the site of a bike race. I can see that happening. It would be an interesting course.

View of Angel Island using a heightmap.

Old Railroad Grade a rocky road

June 27, 2018

Gerbode Valley was going to be developed into a condo haven, but environmentalists rebelled in the 1960s. Good for them.

I hadn’t been up the Old Railroad Grade to Mt. Tamalpais since 2007, so I decided to pay a visit one last time. Maybe it’s age, but back in 1981 I’ll wager the road wasn’t as rocky.

There’s no denying the grade is rocky. The crookedest railroad in the world, built in 1896, reported 90 percent bedrock. However, they must have used ballast and aggregate to smooth out the road.

After all these decades, rains have washed away the topsoil, and everything else laid down, and now we have bedrock.

Another difference between now and the days of old is that West Point Inn has turned into a hangout for just about everyone living in Mill Valley. It was downright crowded.

The last grind to the summit was in a pea soup fog, so for the first time I was disappointed by the view. Because I was on a road bike, I headed back down Ridgecrest, Pan Toll, Panoramic, Hwy 1. Full suspension mountain bikes have their place, and one of them is riding down the Old Railroad Grade.

I knew Panoramic Hwy could be a zoo on a Sunday, but I didn’t expect it to be quite so bad with the fog. I gave thanks I wasn’t riding uphill.

Rather than taking the crowded Sausalito road back to the Golden Gate Bridge, we opted for Tennessee Valley and Marincello Trail, Bobcat. Because I had never tried the Baker Tunnel, we took Bunker Road, hit the tunnel light perfectly, and blasted through on a fast downhill. So fun.

Old Railroad Grade in 2007. Rocky road.

Bay Bridge sparkles on a bike

June 26, 2018

Bay Bridge path looking west to San Francisco. It’s fabulous. My shadow thinks so, too.

I’ve been on a tear lately, driving all over the Bay Area going on bike rides. It’s not my style, but sometimes there’s no other choice.

On Sunday I tried out the Bay Bridge path from Oakland to Yerba Buena Island, a one-way distance of 2.2 miles. It has been fully open since 2016. I’m impressed. No doubt it cost millions, but it’s a trifle compared to the $6.5 billion cost of the bridge.

Having recently ridden over the Golden Gate Bridge (GGB), I can make a comparison. The GGB is to be avoided after 8 a.m. on the weekend. In the afternoon it’s a zoo. If the crowds aren’t bad enough, it’s narrow. There’s so much equipment on the path that passing riders going the other way is a chore.

The Bay Bridge is wide and I doubt that it sees anywhere near as many cyclists as the GGB. It’s about as scenic a place as you could ask for in the middle of the bay.

Of course the GGB is iconic and I would never discourage anyone from riding it at least once, but be sure to try out the Bay Bridge one of these days. You won’t regret it.

From what I’m reading, a bike bridge/path is planned for the existing Bay Bridge into San Francisco. It will be bolted onto the old bridge. Completion in 2025, so they say. Maybe too late for me.

Sonoma Valley intact, but hills burned

May 31, 2018

The land around Cavedale Road in the Mayacamas mountain range suffered extensive burn damage in the October 2017 firestorm. The road offers views of Sonoma Valley and San Francisco.

On a recent ride to check out Sonoma Valley, I did not realize the surrounding hills were so badly burned in the October 2017 wildfires.

I headed up Cavedale Road, a gnarly, steep climb that’s similar to Old La Honda Road, only steeper in places. Cavedale Road residents took a hit from the firestorm that ravaged the hills. I saw burned trees everywhere, but the fire skipped around, so some spots were untouched.

It’s a six-mile climb at a 10 percent grade, with some steep spots of 16 percent or more, peaking at 2,100 feet. The ride down Trinity Road tested my brakes. It’s about 12 percent the whole way down to Highway 12.

I’ve visited Sonoma over the years, enough to realize that Sonoma and Napa Valley have become commuter havens for people working in San Francisco. The traffic on Hwy 12 and Arnold Drive is unbelievably heavy during weekdays. I can only imagine what it’s like on a weekend during peak tourist season.

The county plan for a bike path along Hwy 12 from Sonoma to Santa Rosa can’t come soon enough.

I checked out the Napa Valley Vine Trail, starting in Napa and going north. Eventually it will extend north for 45 miles, starting in Vallejo.

The trail is nice for staying off Hwy 29, but there’s Solano Avenue right next to the trail, which doesn’t have much traffic. However, the trail cuts through downtown Napa, reducing the hassles of riding in traffic. There’s an impressive recreation path spanning Hwy 29.

Fortunately, you can still avoid traffic by riding up the steep roads in Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley. Just be sure to leave EARLY to avoid valley traffic.

Sign pollution spoils the view

May 20, 2018

Palo Alto has a thing about signs. Not sure we need one in Stevens Canyon.

I don’t think much about signs, until I do, and then I start seeing the pollution. Do we need a city limits sign at the bottom of Stevens Canyon?

I’ve been riding in the canyon since 1979. Over the years it has gotten rockier. This is, after all, the San Andreas Fault zone. Erosion brings down rocks, and over time they accumulate.

Still, I recognized stretches of trail that hadn’t changed a bit in terms of condition. As for riders, I saw several on a Saturday morning. The guy and gal blasting up the hill must be professionals. They were moving.

When I started riding here, Jobst Brandt and friends were the only ones cycling the canyon trail. All we had were road bikes. Those days are long gone.

Along with popularity comes enforcement. Imagine my surprise when I saw a ranger with a radar gun. It wasn’t far from the end of the trail. I stopped immediately and we had a friendly conversation. I wasn’t speeding.

One important change I noticed is that the Stevens Creek crossing no longer has an easier option. It’s overgrown. Now you go down a four or five foot vertical drop to reach the creek. I’m sure some ride off it, but not me.

The single-track section toward the end has plenty of poison oak, so watch out.

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.

Rancho Canada de Oro borders Calero County Park to the south.