Category Archives: Backroads

A Wedding to Remember on Mt Hamilton

Six and a half years ago when Dick and I were planning our wedding, I was having trouble getting motivated. The only thing decided was a wedding date of January 1st, which I liked because New Year’s is the perfect day to start something new, like a married life together. Plus we’d always have our anniversary off from work and nothing happens on New Years anyway except football games that we don’t really care about.

Dick wasn’t helping either. Whenever I asked for his opinion about wedding plans, he would say, “Make sure the ceremony isn’t too early in the day, you know I always ride Mt Hamilton on New Year’s.” So the inevitable happened: we ended up with a bike wedding. The plan was to ride up Mt Hamilton with an entourage of friends (and select family in cars), have a simple ceremony, and then ride down on a tandem.

The weather turned out to be wet with dangerously high winds, so we skipped the ride and performed the ceremony at the bottom of the hill at Grant Ranch. It was still very special, even without the ride.

Now we celebrate our anniversary with the ride we couldn’t do on our wedding day. This year the weather was more spring than winter with clear skies, no wind and warm temperatures. I was worried about the 11 mile, 2800′ climb since I’ve been doing more cross-town trips than hills, but I surprised myself. Still, the climb goes on forever, with the observatory on top remaining in view so seemingly close and yet so far away, taunting you.

The best part of a long climb is the long descent, and Mt Hamilton was even better this year due to large sections of fresh pavement. On the top third we had it free and clear until we caught up with a Prius who had too much pride to pull over for a couple of bikes. My hands were hurting from all the braking, but it gave us more time to spot Brian climbing up the hill and call out a quick “Hi Brian, Happy New Year!”

That evening we went out to dinner dressed as we did for the formal dinner that followed our bike wedding. I am grateful that my dress still fit (ditto for Dick and his suit). But mostly, I’m grateful that after six years we still enjoy each other every day and still enjoy celebrating the beginning of our life together as a committed couple.

What traditions do you have to remember and celebrate the big days in your life?

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Posted by on January 4, 2012 in Backroads


Reservoirs and Water Temples in Calaveras Valley

There’s a famous quote: “The history of the West is the history of water.” In semi-arid land like California, those who controlled the water controlled the population. When we planned our ride around Calaveras Reservoir, it was for the scenery, however, not because it was a major water source for San Francisco dating back to the mid-1800s.

From the outskirts of Milpitas, we climbed straight uphill through horse farms and a county park with a green golf course that stands in sharp contrast with the surrounding brown hillsides just starting to recover from the dry season. After the final assault up a steep wall, we got our first glimpse of the reservoir. The water level was surprisingly low, given the exceptionally wet previous rainy season. I later learned that due to seismic concerns for the dam since the 1989 earthquake, the reservoir is restricted to 40% capacity.

Calaveras Road wends itself in and out among the canyons high above the reservoir. Since the road doesn’t directly connect anything, its travelers are all joyriders: bicycles, motorcycles, sport car enthusiasts and Sunday drivers. Beautifully remote and an ideal route for a rouleur like me with its rolling terrain.

From there we followed Calaveras Creek down to the town of Sunol, home of the Sunol water temple, which preceded the Pulgas water temple on Canada Road by 20 years. Who woulda thunk there was more than one water temple? And what’s the point of a water temple anyway?

Well, in an area that gets less than 15 inches of rain a year, a water temple honoring a carefully planned and expensively built aqueduct makes a lot of sense. Water is life, and therefore worthy of veneration. This particular water temple is located at the nexus of three aqueducts that once provided San Francisco with half its water supply, before the famous Hetch Hetchy aqueduct was built. (Look carefully to see the temple)

These days more people visit the Sunol store, home of all kinds of junk food and a customer-only port-a-potty. I’ll just write off my Drumstick ice cream cone as a small price to pay for a bathroom access.

From Sunol we headed back up to the reservoir, with a side trip to the Sunol-Ohlone Wilderess, yet another fabulous, but underutilized county park. It’s worth a visit if you’ve never been there: wildflowers, golden eagles, and large rocks in Alameda Creek deemed “Little Yosemite”, all feeding into a remote feeling you’d never expect so close to the East Bay.

Although it’s smack dab in the middle of a major watershed, the park has to truck bottled water in for campers. That’s how water is in a dry land. It flows uphill to money, and unfortunately a county park doesn’t have much pull.

How much do you know about the water that flows through your tap? Where does it come from? Where does it go?

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Posted by on October 26, 2011 in Backroads, Local History


The Great Pumpkin Ride

After a stressful week at work and a busy Saturday coordinating volunteers at a bike race followed by my own ride with friends, I knew I needed to give my body a rest and spend some quality time with my sweetie. The solution: renting a big Harley cruiser and taking a ride to the coast.

The only thing that compares to a bike ride over the hills to the coast is a ride on the back of a motorcycle, especially when you need to chill. So when I asked my dear husband to take me out to Half Moon Bay so I could get a pumpkin, he gladly obliged with a ride on a Hawg.

Careful to avoid the heavy traffic on Hwy 92 for the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival, we took Hwy 84 up and over the hill, then turned off on Pescadero Road ’cause I was craving coastal cuisine: artichoke bread at the bakery and pepper and artichoke soup at Duarte’s Tavern. The added bonus was hanging out with bikers at Duarte’s tasting “French fries with eyes,” aka fried smelt. (They were ok, but would have been better with a Southeast Asian sauce)

With full bellies in us and half-full saddlebags on the bike, we motored north, past the San Gregorio Store up to Arata’s pumpkin patch. We passed on the corn maze, the gladiator battle, the hay ride and even the pumpkin pie. Instead, we picked out a bright orange pumpkin and a couple of little white ones, for no good reason except to make me smile. And then we hopped back on the Harley and carved our way back over the hill, which made us both smile.

Do you ever wish your bicycle had a motor so you could enjoy the scenery and just chill?

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Posted by on October 18, 2011 in Backroads


Making the Grade the Low-Key Way

With coastal mountain ranges that ring San Francisco Bay, most Bay Area cyclists are blessed to live within 10 miles of a road that climbs to a thousand feet or more. Mt Tamalpais, Mt Diablo, Mt Hamilton. Old La Honda, Palomares, Sierra Road, Tunitas Creek, the Three Bears. There’s a tough climb within riding distance for anyone prepared to face the pain and feel the glory.

For those who crave new hills and want to go head-to-head against other climbers, the Low-Key Hill Climb series was born. The stated goal of this grassroots, volunteer-driven series of events is to “allow each cyclist, no matter what his or her level, no matter what his or her speed, to establish goals and meet them. It’s all about the hill, the rider and being at one with the bike.” Of course, for competitive cyclists, this means pushing your body and spirit to the limit to crush the field. The organization may be low-key, but the competition is not necessarily.

When Dan, the series organizer, asked me to be the coordinator for the Page Mill Low-Key Climb last Saturday, I had to chuckle a little inside. I’ve raced a few Low-Keys with friends before, but I’m not really a climber. Well, at least not in the Low-Key sense. I don’t seek out new hills with evil steep grades. I don’t track my personal best times on Strava. And I rarely find myself waiting at the top for anyone. I climb because I love riding the quiet backroads, which are all hilly. And because I love descending.

But I can appreciate the passion for the challenge and the joy within the pain as I watch these hard men, women and yes, children, busting a gut to make the grade with a peak a week. They just can’t get enough, while I’m happy to just get over it. For me, veni, vidi, ascendi will have to be another day, when I’m not volunteering.

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Posted by on October 16, 2011 in Backroads


Roadside Attractions: The Hidden Grotto

If you’re a roadie living on the San Francisco Peninsula, I’m sure you’ve ridden over this little stone bridge and I bet never noticed anything odd about it. Like me, you were probably focused on the climb ahead, perhaps hitting the lap timer on your bike computer or heart rate monitor to record your time up the hill.

Last week, I gave the bridge an extra look and discovered that the stones were fake. Not fake like concrete-shaped-into-stone fake, which is pretty common in our landslide-prone hills, but fake as in thin-mortar-over-a-wire-mesh fake.

What’s more, under the bridge there is more fake rock, a grotto of sorts. A rider waiting for a friend encouraged us to go down and it check out. He said it was built as a movie set, but I don’t think he was right.

An Internet search led me to the story of the massive Schilling estate that included this bridge. August Schilling, best known for his spice and extract empire, was also a garden aficionado who reworked the redwood and oak forests on his estate to suit his sensibilities. That meant ponds, cascades, pergolas, manicured lawns, extensive flower gardens–and fake rocks built by master craftsmen.

Schilling employed up to 60 gardeners who made sure there wasn’t a leaf out of place on his 150 acre estate. But after Schilling died in 1934, the grand house fell into disrepair. It was torn down in 1952, but the rocks live on. And if you’re a Peninsula roadie, you’ve probably ridden through it all without realizing it.

For the locals: Have you guessed where this “stone” bridge is located? (see comments for the location)

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Posted by on October 8, 2011 in Backroads, Local History


The Pothole that Made the New York Times

It’s not every day when someone’s ride report makes the New York Times. Some writers obviously have connections. The gist of the story: rider crashes on a technical descent, hits his head so he can’t remember what happened, and GPS data helps him piece together the scant details. In the end, he fingered a pothole.

I don’t know if the typical New York Times reader found the article interesting, but as a cyclist who regularly descends this particular road I was intrigued. So on Sunday, when we headed down La Honda Road (known locally as Highway 84) I flipped on my GoPro camera and kept an eye out for the nasty pothole. I found this:

But was this the pothole? While I don’t have the author’s GPS data, the story featured a graphic showing where on the road the GPS data flatlined. And I had my video of the descent showing the road, turn by turn. After matching the turns, I think the newly repaired pothole at 1:52 in the video below is guilty as charged.

Do you think this is the pothole? If so, do you think it would have been filled so quickly if it hadn’t made the New York Times?

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Posted by on October 4, 2011 in Backroads


Where Buena Vista Doesn’t Mean Good View

A few weeks ago I wrote a letter complaining about “Keep Right” signs on downhill Page Mill Road near Moody Road. I had assumed the signs were prompted by drivers who wanted cyclists to “stay in their place” so they could pass more quickly, without regard for cyclist safety. The County Traffic Engineer responded that the signs were installed because residents on Buena Vista Drive complained they couldn’t see cyclists descending Page Mill when they turn left onto Buena Vista. Somehow, they believe that cyclists who keep right are more visible.

But the signs may come down soon, and not because cyclists like me complained. In their place, the residents now want a stop sign installed on Page Mill for the downhill travel lane only! Does this sound like a good idea to you? Not me. So I wrote back saying I thought a downhill only stop sign would be confusing and merely shifts the burden of safely yielding the right of way from the uphill traffic to the downhill traffic.

Today, I went up Page Mill to check the intersection out again. I took this series of photos as I walked up Page Mill Road toward the Buena Vista and Moody Rd intersections. The photos were taken from the vantage point of a car driver, at approximately 20 feet intervals.

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My take: Downhill traffic is visible to uphill traffic at the Buena Vista intersection if the uphill traffic slows to nearly a stop before turning, something I guess the residents of the eight homes on Buena Vista don’t want to do. After all, it’s far easier for them if all other traffic stops just for them. If they want a stop sign, I think it should be four-way stop, like the traffic consultants recommended in their report.

What do you think? Does a downhill-only stop sign make sense? What about a four-way stop?

If you care about this issue, let the county supervisors know about it! You can attend the meeting on Tuesday, September 27 or write a letter. Details on how are courtesy of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition.

Speaking of passing without regard for safety, while I was taking photos I also videotaped a driver passing a cyclist on this blind turn. What was the driver thinking? It’s a good thing that the white SUV that appears around 0:12 wasn’t there 10 seconds earlier!


Posted by on September 25, 2011 in Backroads, Issues & Infrastructure

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