Awake, but barely, I navigated the darkness of the bedroom with my cellphone backlight, trying my best not to wake up Alicia. Wolfed down my 5:30 breakfast, kitted up with my warmest accoutrements, rode to Caltrain, got on, got off at Millbrae, and rode to Keith’s house. His cat, Mahoney, greeted me at the screen door, fascinated by any object or human being that enters the apartment from the outside world. Keith and I surveyed the day’s route ahead, Americano coffees in hand; a 120 mile ride with a huge amount of dirt riding and climbing through Big Basin State Park. Everything was set for an Epic Thursday.
Setting off through the morning-hued streets, we took a few brutally efficient climbs (steep) up to the ridgetop where Highway 280 runs north and south. We descended from the overlook of Crystal Springs Reservoir down to the climb up HWY 92, which took us over to Half Moon Bay. We railed the descent, full-tuck, dropping all of the cars behind us.
Highway 1 southwards along the coast was most excellently cool, but not cold, and traffic was sparse for our weekday morning ride. Briney mist blew off of the beaches, collecting in steamy bunches at the foot of the coastal cliffs. Passing fields of brussell sprouts all ready to go for Thanksgiving, I slammed a couple Clif bars. Passing Pescadero beach, we ventured off of Highway 1 for one of my favorite cutty backroads, Reservoir Rd. The road itself is all dirt and climbs slightly up towards a copse of cypress a couple of miles away. On the right side there are big fields of kale, onions, brussell sprouts, and artichokes with the pacific ocean glittering in the background. On the left side, you see the coastal grassy hills, with shrubbery, undulating to the foot of the Santa Cruz mountains, which launch upwards abruptly from the coast and are covered with redwoods.
Passing an interesting millpond, called Lake Lucerne, we regained Highway 1, which we left again to check out Pigeon’s Point Lighthouse. The Lighthouse was built in 1871, and its construction is similar to that of a giant brick chimney, with bricks perfectly masoned. Its beacon, which is a massive serries of hundreds of mirrors which dramatically magnify a small lamp run by whale-fat, has since been removed and placed in a barn beside it. Visitors can go inside and check it out, it was designed and built by the French and its super rare. Keith’s friend, who we completely randomly ran into at the lighthouse, because she works for the State Parks, gave us some water and we continued on our way to the real beginning of our ride: a precipitous dirt climb.
This is where I must offer a disclaimer, that I, nor Keith, in any way condone the momentary trespassing of private land to access what could potentially be the coolest road of all time. The choice is always yours.
And since there was no gate, we rode around a packing house with crates stacked outside for the brussell sprout harvest. Chaulk Rd began steeply, and the road was covered with Eucaplyptus detritus, but luckily it had been driven somewhat recently, so we stuck to the furrowed dirt tracks. After hopping a gate, we continued upwards some more, long sweeping switchbacks took us into the forest and then out again, revealing a view of the Pacific below. We were shocked by the relatively good quality of the dirt surface, previously we had tried a road called “Old Page Mill”, which turned out to be 100% overgrown with brambles, eroded, and blocked intermittently by fallen douglas firs.
It was an absolute pleasure to ride, if a bit challenging to pick a line of firm dirt. Eventually the forest around us changed from more common coastal conifers to pines you usually only see in chaparral and higher elevations, except they were draped with Spanish moss; a symptom of the marine climate all across the Tahoe-looking trees.
We reached the top of the climb, which afforded an incredible view of the ocean and the mountains east of us. I swear you could see the curvature of the earth in the horizon line because we were so high above the plane of the sea.
I tried climbing the radio tower antennae at the top to get an even better view, but a huge lizard wriggled out a crack in the wood spar-pole and freaked me out.
After we absorbed the view and turned eastward, descending a short access road composed mostly of shale – my legwarmers fell out of my pocket partway down, so I scrambled back to them, picked them up, folded them into my pockets, remounted, and surfed through the slushy rocks to the bottom.
The next portion of the ride was unlike anything I have ever ridden. Surfaces of the road were a bit sandy, resembling the strada bianca in Italy that is raced early in the spring. Our route stuck faithfully to a saw-toothed ridgeline, descending the strada bianca was quite treacherous at times because there has been no rain since before the summer and everything is silty and slippery. In the winter, after a few good rains, this road should be a treasure. Either way, to the right and left are jutting mini-mountains with runs of chalk sand visible among the pines, it was all such an unusual sight from what I knew of the Santa Cruz Mountain Range. Eventually the ridge-route ended and we began climbing upwards alongside 40 foot walls of shale, quite sheer, a bit like some of the Alpine climbs you see in the Tour de France. We were in and out of copses of woods until we finally reached an intersection we were familiar with. Up above us was an amazing luxury treehouse and below it were two train boxcars. Completely inexplicable. Maybe a railroad line used to snake through this part of Big Basin. Another mystery of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Keith and I started the next great portion of the ride that winds and rolls through quiet, dense, redwood forest. We passed by a shelf of rock which marks the nearby origin of Berry Creek, which not only provides a very nice waterfall downstream, but was an important stopping point for early motorists who used the road. Their cars would overheat badly on the steep pitches, and no doubt, the challenging surfaces, so they stopped and drew water from the creek to cool down their jalopies.
A series of gradual climbs followed by flat sections lead us to increase the pace, and eventually we were racing, which is predictable really. You see, because Keith is a cyclocross racer, you are never allowed to appear as though you can be faster than him on a dirt surface, and because I like shooting narrow gaps around him occasionally, it appears as though I’m challenging him. Maybe I actually am. Yeah I am. Either way, we destroyed the Strava KOM on this portion by at least 40 seconds, and its only a mile long.
After descending down into the park crossroads for Big Basin, we refilled bottles and checked the time of day. I was going to be late for work. Undoubtedly. Oh well, and off we went again.
Climbing up 236, a sparsely traveled one lane highway, Keith set pace and I followed. I was starting to struggle, I ate another bar, and another. I was hoping I could avert the oncoming bonk. We reached Hwy 9, which is 6 miles of steady 5%. I was really blowing up. I was light-headed and ate another bar, a little improvement. I tried to settle into a good tempo and re-blew myself by accident, losing all of my progress against my bonk. I sort of wanted to barf, but knew I needed to keep the calories in. Keith hung out on his phone and looked at maps on his Garmin while I pedaled super slow up the climb.
We reached Saratoga Gap at the top and went north to a mountain firestation, refilled bottles, and pressed on. This was getting ridiculous, every once and a while I just started laughing. Finally we reached Page Mill and descended. At this point, apparently, Keith was starting to bonk, so as I rode my legs off through Palo Alto, trying to make the next train and salvage my workday, he started to run completely out of fuel. Needless to say, we were not going to complete all 120 miles.
The trainstation again, last time I was here was 6:00am, now it was 3:00pm. We were halfway drunk with caloric depravity. A dude asked us about our kits because he was from Truckee and loved Wild Cherries. Keith just looked over to me, his face saying, “I cannot say anything coherent right now, this is all you.” So I tried my best to chat with the guy, but I think he was a little weirded out by how destroyed we were.
Once we were on Caltrain, we sank into the seats. Time to finally relax a bit. But wait, no. I still needed to endure the obligatory harassment from the conductor because my Clipper Card wasn’t working properly. So I struggled, bleary-brained through a discussion with the conductor. Intermittently he would ask me if I just wanted to be kicked off the train.
At last, we reached Keith’s house and he prepared sandwiches that we devoured, as we sat at his kitchen table beneath the clock, which I resigned to ignore. Keith drank plenty of mineral water with his food, following Bjarne Riis’ totally crazy method of losing weight in which you make your stomach feel completely full by drinking bubbly water. Keith wants to get light like Sven Nys and J-Pow, which reminded me how thin the line between supremely methodic and completely insane the racing cyclists’ inclination to lose weight is. Ultimately, I was only an hour late to work, and my supervisor is super awesome and didn’t really seem to care. Her first bike ride she ever did was 50 miles in Marin on a group ride and she didn’t eat anything the whole time, so she knows the debilitating results of a bonk.