The difference between a hill and a mountain
The difference between a hill and a mountain
Hills are what we have in Somerville. 50 feet of elevation, maybe 75. Then, there's what we rode today. We headed out of Santa Cruz, relaxed and refreshed at 11am. It was later than planned but hey, after the first 20 mi, it would all be flat and easy, we would hop the BART in Fremont and be at my Aunt and Uncle’s.
The map showed all our climbing for the day to be within the first 15-18 miles, while we were still fresh. We retraced some of the roads into Scotts Valley from two days ago. Not quite as brutal, but the long, graded slopes were tiring. Just when you thought one ended, it switchbacked and rose again. Trying to remember to be good about it, we stopped an hour in, where we finally hit a plateau, for water and snacks, the first break of many. We split from 17 onto Glenwood road, which ever so gently started winding it's way upwards through the redwoods, with views that were positively prehistoric. We had covered a third of the “big peak” so far. If it was like what we had just done, as we turned off onto Mountain Charlie Road, we would be fine. Famous. Last Words.
For a while, we were fine. With loads of switchbacks zig-zagging up and around the face of the hill, it put me in mind of the lessons of simple machines in school. Because there were no cars, the going wasn't easy, but we could still catch our breath. But as we got further up, the straightaways got steeper and I, having no low gear like Nick, was wheezing and howling enough for both of us. Several times, I begged to walk, and he obliged. A few times, unencumbered cyclists, with the proper gearing and clipless pedals passed us, but mostly we were alone. I stopped in a driveway to catch my breath and the homeowner tried to encourage us, “You've only got three more miles, but lots of folks turn around here. It gets flatter though.” How could we? My thighs were ready to succeed from the Union and I'd left my calf muscles behind some time before. And then it started raining.
A gradual drizzle at first, refreshing and encouraging, while Nick streamed some funk to help us push. The drizzle turned into a downpour, we hid under a tree so as not to have to raid our bags for rain gear, and another cyclist stopped to offer us route advice. We ate a 3rd or 4th snack, I'd already lost count. But slowly the sun came out, so we remounted and headed up again. From here, it did, in fact, flatten out. What a miracle. We rounded a turn and there was a STOP sign and no more road. At 2.45, we summited, taking lunch at 2800 ft above where we started. If you're following at home, that's Mt Monadnock, or almost TWO Mt Major’s. It was warm, the road already dry. So down we went.
The cyclist that stopped to talk to us warned us that the roads were steeper on this side, and they might be slick after the rains. The biggest thing we noticed, zooming through the curves and wishing we had Nico’s speedometer, was how cold we became. We pulled over at the end of Mountain Charlie to don more layers and carried on, riding the brakes through tight turns and clearly exceeding posted speed limits for cars, and descended through more gorgeous ancient redwoods. 3000 feet to the top- 4 hours. To the bottom of the other side- 40 minutes. Wow.
The further advice of that cyclist was that we could avoid circumnavigating the Lexington Reservoir where we were ended up at the bottom by jumping onto a “bike lane” on CA 17 for a few hundred yards. Well, the highway had a traffic jam, but we were definitely on a shoulder and not a marked bicycle lane, so that was a bit dodgy. But we were off as soon as we got on, further descending beside the dam on paved and gravel paths and along crazy concrete spillways. These opened up into the gorgeous Santa Clara Valley bike path system from Holy City through Los Gatos and Campbell into San Jose.
Along the way we saw a tiny, child sized passenger train and Nick stopped us so he could jump around on one of the exercise stops that popped up every half mile or so. The air smelled of freesia, a dramatic change after the calming forest and rain scents earlier in the day. We called home for Mother's day. And then we were riding again, back on more paths, cruising past the airport.
When the path ended in San Jose, there was brutal headwind. Our destination in Fremont was about 20 miles at this point, but it would take us far longer than expected. I hadn't understood that we were in the heart of Silicon Valley, and most of the remainder of our ride for the day was on wide, flat roads through abandoned tech complexes. It was lucky that we were riding on a Sunday afternoon. If we had camped and tried to finish the ride Monday, there would've been incredible congestion. The mountains rose up all around us as we turned into Fremont. Traffic appeared around us moving quickly,and the sun sank low in the sky as we saw the first sign for BART. Oh, we were saved! Nick's toes and mine had long gone numb, and my thighs were uncomfortable from so many hours in chamois shorts. The last two miles were hastened by the speed of traffic and nearness to our destination, and suddenly we were at the station!
Tickets in hand, the wait was short as we ate spoonfuls of peanut butter and jelly on the platform. An empty train presented itself and the ride to MacArthur stop disappeared before our eyes. It was a short 1.2 miles to our beds for the night, and my gracious aunt made us a wonderful quick dinner, while we regaled my family of our adventure thus far and going forward.
Bellies sated, we’ll be asleep in no time. Tomorrow will probably be largely bike free, we are planning to explore Lake Merritt and Berkeley and exercise different muscles. Goodnight Oakland, it's been a long day.
Total miles: my phone says 50 by bicycle/27 by BART , but it misses all our switchbacks and Google maps had said 58 mi starting out, so we guess somewhere around 60 by bike.