Remote Panoche Valley not so quiet now

April 1, 2019

A welcome sight no matter which direction you’re riding.


When we started riding to New Idria in 2003, we didn’t see too many cars as our ride group headed home to Paicines via Panoche Road.

Sixteen years is a long time in Silicon Valley years, so it came as no surprise that I saw a fair amount of traffic on the way home today. The 12 p.m. departure from Panoche Inn in the heart of Panoche Valley made it peak travel time, which didn’t help.

So what’s going on here? Well, for one the dirt bikers have switched their riding from Clear Creek to New Idria and environs, where county roads are still open, free of BLM harassment. Quite a few of the trucks driving by had dirt bikes.

I must have seen 20 big RVs driving the narrow, bumpy road. Where did they come from?

I’m sure some motorists driving sedans were looking for the mythical Super Bloom. Sorry, it did not materialize, but I saw plenty of wildflowers after a wet winter.

Owl’s clover on Panoche Road, at Panoche Valley looking west.


Finally, ConEdison’s 247 MW solar farm is taking shape. It probably doesn’t generate much traffic on a Sunday, but I can imagine it would on a weekday.

Panoche Valley solar farm in the distance, or is this a mirage?

As I sat in a Panoche Inn lounge chair looking at the distant emerald green hills, contemplating life and how it’s constantly changing, I saw what looked like a shimmering mirage, or a lake. I looked closer and, sure enough, it was solar panels. After years of environmentalists throwing up roadblocks, ConEdison finally started building, albeit it’s greatly reduced in size from the original plan.

Panoche Inn, under new ownership.


In the bar, I talked with the new owner. The dollar bills still hang from the ceiling.

The weather gods showered me with mild temperatures, sunshine and fair breezes. The hillsides burst with colors. There’s a narrow window here for best bike riding. Once the rains go away, the land turns a drab brown.

Green hills, the way you want to see them on this ride.


I finished riding at 2:30 p.m., 55 miles in the saddle. Such is life in the slow lane.

After the ride I learned that Judy Garland’s third husband owned a ranch in Paicines, and the “town” used to be called Tres Pinos, which today is now three miles up Hwy 25.

Parents of Lieutenant General Janet C. Wolfenbarger, the highest-ranking woman in the United States Air Force, live in Paicines. It’s a small world.

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.

Skyline Boulevard slide near Skylonda

March 24, 2019

Work continues on Skyline Boulevard slide west of Skylonda. (Mobius image)


I decided to check out the slide on Skyline Boulevard that’s 0.87 miles west of Skylonda.

The damage to the upslope is substantial, so there’s a lot of equipment in place to fix the hillside. That’s why there’s a stoplight. Half the road is taken up by heavy equipment.

Looking at November 2017 Google Map images of this location, there was already sagging in the hillside. I don’t know when it got worse.

The good news is that Kings Mountain Road is free of mudslides, although I rode through Huddart Park, so I didn’t see the lower section.

I think traffic drives too fast on Skyline, but that’s just me. Also, I thought the days of muscle cars came and went in the 1960s.

Many cars I saw qualified as souped up Hemi-engine growlers.

Old La Honda Road succumbs to winter’s rain

March 18, 2019

Old La Honda Road west had a culvert meltdown. Culverts can be blamed for many road problems.


As you already knew, Old La Honda Road (west) took a hit this winter when a chunk of road 0.3 miles south of Skyline Boulevard fell downslope.

Two concrete barricades make it impossible for cars to get through.

This slide resembles the one in 2017, 3/4 mile downhill.

I had other plans, so I continued south on Skyline Boulevard. I was none to happy to see the yellow markers installed down the middle of the road at the scenic overlook. Is this necessary?

Now cyclists have to ride through a narrow section that will make car encounters unpleasant. Drivers often hit 60 mph on this stretch. Let’s hope they slow down here.

Today was one of those days when you wish you were young and strong again. Such lovely weather and so little traffic.

Whoever approved this abomination has no empathy for cyclists.

Add black ice to your list of cycling hazards

March 17, 2019

Black ice sign on Moody Road deserves your attention. Shade, freezing cold, wet is a recipe for black ice.


It’s too late now, but a few weeks ago this sign served as a reminder that black ice lurks in the Santa Cruz Mountains on cold mornings.

If you hit black ice while riding, in all likelihood you’ll fall. It’s so slippery that it takes just a few inches to bring you down.

My black ice encounter went as you might imagine. On a cold, frosty morning climbing Page Mill Road, about a mile up from Moody Road, I was following right behind Jobst Brandt.

He yelled, “Watch out for black ice!” One second later, I hit the ground. Jobst turned and berated me. “I told you to watch out for black ice!”

Hey, I didn’t see anything. That’s why it’s called black ice. You don’t see it until you’re on it.

Follow this precaution: It’s more likely found in shady or wet areas when the temperature drops to freezing. In my case it was not all that shady, but it was a steep spot where water oozed out of the road.

Los Altos Hills has a history of posting bad road signs, but this one gets a big thumbs up.

Skyline Boulevard closure just about over

March 15, 2019

Skyline Boulevard repair is almost complete about a mile southeast of Page Mill Road.


Skyline Boulevard, closed since February 4 due to a road washout 5 miles northwest of Highway 9, will open on Monday, April 18, or thereabouts.

I checked it out today. The road had just been paved. It needs time to settle and the crews need to clean up.

It sure looks like the newly repaired road is narrower. Steel beams reinforce the downslope that washed out and undermined the road.

I’m not sure if the traffic signals were there before the repair. It makes me wonder if this is a temporary fix with a one-way traffic light. It might explain why the road is so narrow.

Skyline Boulevard closure. Note the traffic signals.

If you want to visit the site, you can. Skyline is only closed where the repair crews are working. There’s access to a MROSD trail that borders a Christmas tree farm on the south side. Look for a locked gate before the road closure.

The gravely dirt road has ups and downs for a quarter mile.

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.

Palms swaying in the Cupertino breeze

March 11, 2019

Palm Avenue in Cupertino lives up to its name.


Most of the time streets named “Palm Avenue” don’t live up to their moniker, but not so with this so-named street in Cupertino, close to Cupertino Bike Shop on S. Foothill Boulevard.

I counted 30 palms, although a few of them were the lower California fan palm, as well as the Sago palm.

I’m not sure about the tall palms. They look like coconut palms, but it’s too cold here, so it’s more likely a variety of the California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera). Maybe somebody knows.

Cameras capture memories to last a lifetime

March 8, 2019

Sony’s RX100 pocket camera takes great pics with plenty of megapixels.


In the age of digital everything, progress doesn’t stand still and that applies to pocket cameras. For the past seven years I’ve been using a Sony RX100. In camera years, that’s about a century.

The camera works flawlessly and at 20 megapixels it’s all I need for resolution. What came before the Sony is a series of cameras dating back to December 1980. Here’s the history.

Previous to the Sony, I used a Canon PowerShot SD850 starting in 2007, which at the time offered everything I could ask for. At 8 megapixels it could take photos large enough for my needs. However, it suffered in low light.

Canon SD850is, my go-to camera before the Sony RX100


It was small, durable, had a viewfinder, panorama mode, and took great photos. It was a sophisticated camera with a lot of adjustability in its day. That’s good and bad.

When you’re out on a bike ride you typically don’t want to fuss with settings. I shoot in manual mode on occasion, but I find myself using the Auto setting most of the time.

This camera also had excellent 640×480 video. However, don’t forget that wind noise will ruin the audio, and there’s plenty of wind while riding.

Days of Film
I’m going to turn back the time machine to the days of film. Remember film? I started taking photos on bike rides in December 1980 when I bought an Olympus XA pocket camera. By no means was it the first pocket camera, but it was one of the first mass-produced, affordable, lightweight pocket cameras on the market. It took great photos.

Olympus XA2 was a fantastic value and one of the best film pocket cameras ever made.


No discussion of pocket cameras would be complete without mentioning the Rollei 35. Introduced in 1966, the German-made (later Singapore) camera was revolutionary in its day. It took superb photos, however it was dogged by a light meter needle that broke. Later versions went to LED light meters, but they had their own problems.

I use a long neck strap and put the camera in my jersey pocket, protected in a sandwich bag to keep out the sweat. These pocket cameras are so easy to handle I can take photos while riding no-hands.

In the days before digital, I shot mostly Kodak 64 color transparencies. We had a Kodak lab in Palo Alto that could give a quick turn-around at a good price. I’ve scanned many of my slides using a Konica Minolta Dimage Scanner, no longer made.

Contax T disappoints
In 1985 I decided to upgrade, so I spent a whopping $400 on a ContaxT. It was supposed to be the best pocket camera in the universe. By any measure, it was a finely crafted pocket camera, but I can’t say it was worth the price. I got comparable results with the Olympus. Photos of my Europe trips were taken with the Contax T.

Contax T promised the world in film but didn’t deliver. A fine camera, but prone to breaking.


What was worse, my dream camera broke, not once but twice. I returned it and paid $135 each time for a repair, neither which lasted long. I would get back clear slides. The shutter must have been sticking.

My next camera was a Pentax IQ Zoom. It was bulky but it had a powerful zoom. I didn’t use this camera long before I switched to digital. I also shot a lot of print film with it, for some odd reason.

Enter the digital world
Around 2004 I switched to digital, starting with a Fuji Finepix a303. At 3 megapixels it was fine for the Web. The camera was easy to use and took great photos.

Fuji Finepix was my first digital camera. A great workhorse that delivered fine pics.


Longing for something with more pixels, I purchased a Pentax Optio S60. Pentax has long been my favorite camera maker, but I discovered a drawback. I had to compose the photo without a viewfinder. The LCD screen was large, but in bright light I couldn’t see what I was shooting.

Pentax OptioS60 was good, but not great as a digital camera.


Still, it was a fine camera and I used its special panorama setting often. Software that came with the camera could stitch together three photos.

It’s amazing to see all the excellent pocket cameras on the market. No matter which brand you choose, you can’t go wrong. These magic boxes preserve memories and that’s about as close as we’ll ever get to being young and strong again.

Today’s best cameras
I recommend two cameras: the Sony RX100 Model III and the Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II. I think Sony overreached with its latest RX100 Model VI. It sacrifices low-light performance for zoom. Canon’s G9 Mark II is easily the best value. Both cameras are the smallest on the market.

Finally, a word on smartphone cameras. They’re great, but I sometimes like to preserve an image in RAW format. RAW has huge advantages over jpeg for preserving image quality. Some phones will capture in RAW, so check it out if you don’t want a dedicated camera.

Santa Clara Bicycle Master Plan spinning its wheels

March 5, 2019

A main street in Zurich. This is how our main streets should look in Santa Clara (Google Maps).


Santa Clara’s traffic engineering department issued its latest bicycle master plan and it’s more of the same.

We need to shake up the system, if we’re going to fix our transportation problems. Instead of a bicycle plan, we need a Public Transportation Plan, and the bicycle plan would be a subset of the transportation plan. I couldn’t find a transportation plan, but there is a General Plan.

I wrote this response to the city:

“The Bicycle Master Plan [2018] is professional in all respects. In general, I agree with all its recommendations, if we are to follow down the current path, the status quo if you will. What will that get us in five years? 3 percent ridership? Maybe even 5 percent, according to the bicycle plan.

That’s not good enough to warrant spending an estimated $15-30 million in project costs. We’re wasting our money on a lost cause, as things stand now. (That’s cheap considering that the Mary Avenue I-280 overpass cost $14 million.)

We have another choice. Spend our scarce dollars on programs that will incentivize the public to ride bikes. Take $10 million and use it to subsidize bicycle commuting. Money talks. There’s no greater incentive to getting someone to change a habit than a meaningful financial incentive. With today’s GPS systems, mileage can be measured and monitored. The system can be cheated, of course, but most people are honest.

If asked, residents will tell you that riding a bike is onerous during commute hours. It’s not pleasurable in most instances for most people. They’re not going to start riding a bike to work or to the store because it’s the “right thing to do,” or “it’s good for the environment,” especially when it will get them to work 15 minutes slower, sweaty, and inconvenienced in so many ways I can’t list them all here.

That 2 percent figure cited in the report for bicycle commuting is exclusively those individuals who love cycling. They’re crazy in love with bike riding. The rest of the public is not in love with cycling, never will be, no matter how many bike lanes we have. Electric bikes will help though.

However, they might ride a bike, if it can put a dent in their commuting expenses. While it’s true we gain benefits by leaving our cars at home, it’s not tangible. If they see a check in the mail for their riding to work, that will be a little more persuasive. Current dedicated bike commuters would be encouraged to give up their earnings to help fund new bike commuters, or “pay it forward.” These benefits would tend to help lower income individuals who commute to work by bicycle because they can’t afford a car.

Now, this ride-for-dollars incentive is only half the battle. The other half is to build cycle/pedestrian paths. Bike lanes don’t cut it. Take the rest of our money and build a bike network like San Tomas Aquino Creek Path, only wider. Ideally, we need two north-south and two east-west corridors dedicated exclusively to bicycle/pedestrian traffic. It can be done. We just need to think differently.

Commuting is a hassle, whether by car, train, bus, or bicycle, but it’s a necessary evil. Nobody wants to give up his car, but the way things are going, it looks like that’s our future as traffic worsens. Bicycles can play a significant role, but only if we do something radically different. Staying with the status quo won’t cut it.

Remember the old expression. ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.’ Let’s stop the insanity.”

The city’s bike plan could just as well be the city golf course plan. Solving our transportation problems can’t be resolved by increasing bicycle usage a few percentage points.

Light rail would be huge. We used to have light rail throughout Santa Clara Valley.

Light rail ties visible on The Alameda at Camino Drive during road realignment for Santa Clara University in 1984.

Who’s going to pay for it? We are. All we do is shift our priorities and put most of our transportation dollars into light rail. The Green New Deal will help us prioritize. What’s crazy about shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy? Easy oil won’t be around forever.

Finally, it’s true our transportation issues are regional and require cooperation among cities, counties, state, federal agencies. Let’s not forget that Santa Clara has its own fantastic utility. It’s part of a larger power grid. We helped pay for a massive stadium. I think we can do more with transportation.

Peninsular Railway in 1915. From “Tracks, Tires & Wheels,” by Charles S. McCaleb.