Transcontinental railroad completion celebrates sesquicentennial

May 7, 2019

Tunnel 8 west portal at Donner Pass summit, 2015.


Back in 1869 the Utah desert became the scene of a remarkable achievement in railroad engineering with completion of the transcontinental railroad.

What used to take months crossing the United States by wagon and risking life-and-limb could now be done in less than a week by train.

Building the railroad is the stuff of legend. I haven’t seen a movie that captures the grand spectacle, although the highly fictionalized TV show Hell on Wheels had its moments.

Thousands of Chinese toiled for more than seven years to make the dreams of the Robber Barons come true. All the work was done by hand.

Even the granite tunnels through the Sierra were cleared out by hand after each explosion. Pneumatic drills had just come on the scene but were not used.

I decided to write a novel, China Grade, about the building of the railroad as seen through the eyes of a Chinese character. I’ll admit it’s not elegant writing, but it does give some historical background on what it must have been like working on the railroad.

To top off the celebration in Promontory on May 10, Union Pacific invested a ton of money to restore one of their enormous Big Boy steam locomotives, built from 1941-44, and retired in 1959.

The train is making a U.S. tour, so it may pay us a visit. Worth a see.

And to give this some connection to bicycling, Thomas Stevens on his around-the-world bike tour, starting in San Francisco in 1884, took his penny-farthing through High Sierra train tunnels, and basically followed railroads cross-country.

Haul Road Memories

April 30, 2019

Beautiful day on the Old Haul Road. Note the colorful new trail sign next to the old brown.


I didn’t sign up for this — 48 degrees and a strong breeze that gave me the shivers on Skyline Boulevard.

But it was Monday, time for a longer ride. There’s no worse experience than descending at high speed while shivering. Must be something wrong with the bike.

Nope. It’s just the body creating disharmony.

As I descended Portola State Park Road, its steepness reminded me of why I haven’t ridden up it in 20 years. Only for the crazies.

The descent has its appeal. I coasted into the park, riding past the headquarters, crossing a creek bridge and turning right for the access road to the Old Haul Road, as I have been doing since 1980.

I arrived at the new steel bridge and took the obligatory photo of Pescadero Creek where Jobst Brandt always lamented the absence of big fish.

Jobst steered dozens of us his way onto the Haul Road, which today would be the wrong way. We turned left after climbing the hideously steep access road past Iverson’s Cabin (gone) onto the Haul Road.

In three-tenths of a mile we arrived at a gate (never took photos there) and continued on our way to the fabled Gate 10 road. Today it has decorative road signs to guide the logging trucks, but back then you had to know your way around.

Never photographed, the end of public access to the Haul Road going east.


It’s no ride for the faint of heart. We faced three miles of unrelenting climbing on a dirt road that could be muddy or dusty. It had sections of 16 percent, probably more in places.

When we rolled up to Gate 10, it meant the hard riding was over (Gate 10 was gone in 2009). Time for a celebration photo. Jobst took many over the years.

Hard riding to Gate 10, around 1977. Jim Westby, (rider hidden), Smokey, Rick Humphreys. (Jobst Brandt photo)


These rides drew Gary Fisher, Tom Ritchey and other elite competitive riders. No doubt the rides inspired them to pursue their dreams of winning races, building the ideal off-road bikes.

Gate 10 ride about 1977. ?, Keith Vierra, ?, Marc Brandt, Peter Johnson, Gary Fisher, Bill Robertson, Tom Holmes, ? (Jobst Brandt photo).


Why the Gate 10 route? Jobst liked to avoid Highway 9. He preferred off-road riding whenever possible to reach a destination — Big Basin Redwoods State Park in this situation.

Celebrating the climb at Gate 10 circa 1981, Ted Mock, Keith Vierra, Dave McLaughlin, Sterling McBride, Dave Zanotti, Tom Ritchey, John Pinaglia. (Jobst Brandt photo)

Jobst scoffed at the notion of a mountain bike, but he was like that. He figured a road bike was good enough.

You’re not welcome here now. The signs say it all. It wasn’t as bad back then, but Jobst and his cadre hid from the logging trucks on rare occasions.

One of these days the Haul Road might be open to the public, extending from Highway 9 to Pescadero Creek Road. It’s going to take a lot of negotiating and public pressure, but it could happen.

I turned around and headed northwest toward Loma Mar. Note that Pescadero Creek County Park added new trail signage. Bridge Trail is now Baker Fire Road. They need to update their online map.

Over the years the road has seen its share of trauma from heavy rains. This past winter left the road rutted in places, but otherwise in good shape.

At Loma Mar I greeted the bearded fellow, Steve, doing all the hard work to build a fabulous new Loma Mar Store, soon to open. It has been closed for eons.

Jobst liked to stop here and talk with previous owner Roger Siebecker. Roger was also a volunteer fireman, and on more than one occasion, helped Jobst Riders who had taken hard falls, most notably the Wurr Road Bridge disaster.

I continued on up Highway 84 and Old La Honda Road to check out the slide. Still no repair underway, but the road is open for bikes.

Riding southeast on Skyline Boulevard the temps turned favorable as I ground my way back to Saratoga Gap. The temporary road repair past Horseshoe Lake has a stoplight. It could be a while before it’s permanently fixed.

At the end of my ride I reflected on the day’s effort and counted myself lucky that I could still do all the climbing. It doesn’t get easier with age.

Old Haul Road map

Mt. Hamilton blows on Monday

April 22, 2019

Lick Observatory summit on a clear day. Nothing beats it in the South Bay, except Mt. Umunhum.


Nothing beats a ride up Mt. Hamilton on a weekday, although Sundays are a close second. Not much traffic.

I started from Alum Rock Avenue about 8 a.m. in time to greet the commuters living on Mt. Hamilton Road rushing to work. For the first several miles there’s a fair amount of cars, but traffic thins out after that.

I noticed county crews clearing chamise (greasewood) across from the Grant Lake parking lot in Grant Ranch County Park. Don’t quote me on the type of bush, but it looks like chamise.

In the past, wild pigs rooted around in this area.

The crews certainly wouldn’t be doing controlled burns on a day like today with high winds in play.

I enjoyed mostly tailwinds climbing to the summit where 25 mph gusts made for shaky standing at the observatory parking lot.

On the way up I did my civic duty by tossing large rocks off the road and saved a young bull snake from certain death by car wheels. The critter refused to budge as it sunned itself on the road.

Three miles from the summit. Glorious views.


Considering the cool breeze, it took a while to wake the snake from its torpor.

In the last section before turning up the observatory road, Caltrans workers were installing a large culvert, which is always good to see. Preventative maintenance pays off.

I counted my blessings that I can still ride to the summit in this my 40th year.

My numbers pale in comparison to Jobst Brandt, who holds the record for most 100-mile loop rides around Mt. Hamilton. Starting around 1957 he must have done well over 120 rides, ending the tradition when he was in his 70s.

Mt. Hamilton Road opened in 1877 to immense fanfare as more than 5,000 valley residents flocked to the summit for a grand celebration. Here’s a view of the road in 1876, shortly before it opened. I don’t know the location.

First Cyclists
As reported in the Oakland Tribune, the first cyclists to the summit were Ralph Coxhead and Al Bouton of Oakland, Jan. 1, 1888, on safety bikes.

Imagine a modern mountain bike bombing down that dirt road right after it opened. If only we had time machines.

Mt. Hamilton Road in 1876 looking more like a mountain bike trail than a road.

Miles to go before I flat

April 16, 2019

Sidewall gives out. The tube bulges here and rubs against the brake.


To take a line from Robert Frost, I had miles to go before I flatted, literally.

I’m eating my words about that tire with 7,080 miles. I knew it was about to go, but I pushed it just a bit too far.

I heard a pop, then a hiss and immediately sensed I had a front flat. Fortunately I wasn’t going too fast down Redwood Lodge Road.

I stopped and took off the tire. I found the flat after a short search — a half-inch tube split. Odd. I looked at the tire and didn’t see anything wrong. So I replaced the tube and inflated the tire. All looked normal.

Doh! That was my mistake. All was not normal. Don’t change a tube until you know with certainty what caused the flat.

A quarter mile down the road….hsss! bang! Schiesse!

No cell connection out here, I knew I had to get it right this time. Once again I tried to find the source, carefully inspecting the tire. There it was — a blown sidewall at the bead. Those are hard to see unless you carefully inspect the tire after inflation. Look for a small bulge.

Fortunately I always carry a boot. I wrote about the importance of carrying a boot in a previous post.

It’s tricky to get it positioned just right over a sidewall failure. Be sure you don’t see a bulge during inflation, which means that the boot is properly seated.

I prefer an old piece of tire (minus the wire bead) versus an inner tube, although I also carry a piece of inner tube, which works well for holes on the top of the tire.

I’ve had a sidewall failure before, but I don’t recall the details. It almost always happens on old tires with too many miles.

In addition to a boot, bring money. In a bind I could have gone door to door and begged for a tire off someone’s bike. I’ve also seen dollar bills used as a boot. Bills are stronger than regular paper.

Serves me right. I kept the tire pressure around 50 psi and took it easy riding home.

I added two new Continentals, an UltraSport II ($17) economy tire made in China and a Gatorskin. I’ll rotate the tires and give the wear results in a couple of years. I’m not concerned about performance these days, just tire life/wear.

Two roads immortalized on Jobst Rides fading away

April 14, 2019

Today I headed into the Santa Cruz Mountains to look for another newt crossing sign and to find out what was up with Redwood Lodge Road and Schulties Road, both closed by washouts in the 2016-17 winter.

Most cyclist have never heard of these roads. They’re not popular with road riders because they’re either unpaved or pothole city. Mountain bikers don’t ride them because they’re just dirt roads. Boring.

Nice sign. Located on Alma Bridge Road near Soda Springs Road junction.


That left Jobst Brandt, who loved riding them. He had his reasons, mostly because he could check out the Laurel tunnel where the South Pacific Coast Railroad snaked through the Santa Cruz Mountains into Santa Cruz.

These roads were instrumental in helping build the railroad and for hauling out redwood from the Laurel sawmill in the early 1900s.

But today they’re only used by people whose homes reside there.

I turned off on Morrell Road, another goat path ignored by cyclists. It cuts across from Summit Road to San Jose Soquel Road, offering a steep descent and climb, but it’s delightful if you like riding without cars.

Once onto Redwood Lodge Road I saw the “road closed” sign and sped on by. I had tire problems, but more on that in the next blog.

When I reached Burns Creek I found that the road had partly washed out and the county has gated the road. The sign says private property, which can only mean that the county has abandoned the road. The right of way reverts to the land owner. The county website says it’s under review. We’ll see.

Location of the slide that closed Redwood Lodge looking east.


I was reminded of another ride here in August 1982. The road just before Burns Creek was blocked by a landslide. As Peter Johnson braked for the landslide on a steep descent his front tire burst.

But I digress. I continued on up the road and found the section that was closed off in 2017, unchanged. The landslide has not been touched.

I walked my bike up the stairs and headed to Laurel. A sign warned me that Schulties Road was closed a mile ahead. That road had a slipout and now there’s a narrow ledge with a down power line. It too had not changed since my visit in 2017.

Schulties Road slip hasn’t changed since 2017.


I walked across the ledge and picked up the road. Schulties was paved eons ago, but it’s mostly dirt now. I noticed that the landslide I came across in 2017 has been fixed, but a little farther on there’s another small slide, mud oozing across the road. I dismounted again and then picked up the road, in good shape the rest of the way to Old Santa Cruz Highway.

Another small slide on Schulties Road.


It’s sad to see roads go away, especially when they’ve provided so much pleasure. Santa Cruz County has suffered so much road damage in the past three years that it has appealed for more funding, state and federal.

Folk art on paved Schulties Road. Someone has a sense of humor.


I saw a couple of locals walking on Schulties Road, under clear skies and warm weather in the redwoods. I told them that this is probably my last time riding here. It’s been fun.

Newt crossing a sign of the times

April 8, 2019

Is this a joke? About as funny as those defaced bike signs: “Share the Love”


It was not more than a minute or two after passing a smashed newt — flat as a pancake — while climbing Alpine Road that I came across an oh-so-cute “Newt Xing” sign.

A lot of good it did that poor fellow back there on the road.

Ever since the San Jose Mercury News published a feature about a scientist who is documenting the newt slaughter that takes place annually on Alma Bridge Road (and elsewhere), these signs have been springing up.

I’m told there is now a sign — like this one I presume — on Alma Bridge Road.

I’m not sure who’s behind the effort, but I question its efficacy. It’s well intentioned, but what is a driver supposed to do?

Newts don’t wear reflective vests in the dark. That’s probably when most of them meet their fate. Can’t we think of a better way than posting a silly sign?

It turns out Caltrans is working on it. So give it another 20 years before we have a plan.

Another sign that rankled just about as much is the San Mateo County warning for bikes: “Loose Gravel Bicycles Not Advised”.

I think it’s safe to take down these signs now.

I’m guessing Alpine Road and Stage Road were graveled about a year ago, or longer. There isn’t any gravel to speak of, except small patches on the roadside where wheels never tread.

When there is fresh gravel, watch out. I avoid freshly graveled roads when possible.

Although I used to think that traffic in the Santa Cruz Mountains wasn’t different on a weekday compared to a Sunday, I’m changing my mind. There’s way less traffic on a weekday, but that only applies to the west slope.

Stage Road lovely as always.


I’ve seen my share of drivers hurrying to work coming down Page Mill Road, Moody Road, you name it.

On my way into Pescadero I saw seven enormous tour buses blast by on Pescadero Creek Road, most of them chartered by Sierra Pacific Tours.

I wish they’d find a different road, like Highway 84. Pescadero Creek Road is too narrow for those giant tour buses.

One of these days the new Loma Mar Store will open. Jobst Brandt and friends always stopped there for food and drink on the way to far-off destinations.

It doesn’t have the funky charm of the old store, but new Loma Mar Store opening will be a momentous occasion for the locals.

Loma Mar Store November 1984 during “Bike Pile Ride.” Bob Walmsley, John Woodfill (wearing Bell), Bill Robertson, Dave McLaughlin, Sterling McBride, Tom Ritchey, Tom Holmes, Jim Westby, Jean Higgins, Mike Higgins, Ray Hosler (Jobst Brandt photo)


Meanwhile, sleepy Pescadero has an ATM machine and a new bank. At least I don’t recall seeing one.

Bike pile ride Nov. 4, 1984. Early mountain bikers join Jobst riders. Butano Ridge Trail.


This had to be the best day of the year so far for weather. No that was last weekend. Two weeks in a row. Delightful.

Stage Road overlook after the first climb going north. Breathtaking.

Continental tire has 7,080 miles and counting

April 7, 2019

This Continental Grand Prix 4000 S has 7,080 miles, and counting.


On March 20, 2017, I installed two new Continental Grand Prix 4000 S II 700c Road tires on my Ritchey, and they’re still going strong.

There’s only a tiny spot with sidewall fraying. That’s a sure sign that this tire’s days are numbered. I’ll only tempt fate so much to save a buck.

The tire has some flattening from wear, but I don’t think it’s all that bad. I’ve seen worse.

I’ve only had one flat. An increase in flats is another sign a tire is worn out.

I ride three other bikes, but those miles were omitted in my calculation.

My last tire with a record for miles was a Continental Gatorskin 700×28. It lasted 5,400 miles before I chucked it.

The Continental Grand Prix only cost $35, way less than the $52 I paid for the Gatorskin, back in 2014. So what gives? Why would a cheaper tire last longer?

I attribute most of it to how I’m riding these days — flat roads with little debris. In 2014 I rode a lot of dirt, mostly in the Santa Cruz Mountains, so the tires were stressed way more than they are now.

To be sure, the Continental Grand Prix 4000 S is a well made tire, one of the best. It’s still being sold, for $34-$40.

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.