Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Covering ground

When it comes to preparing for a long-distance bikepacking event or tour, long days in the saddle are a requisite part of physical and mental training. I'm not sure anyone has figured out an effective way around this yet — at least, not without significant butt, back, and leg pain. No matter how meticulously fine-tuned your machine of a body is, it still needs to adjust to being all hunched over and turning pedals continuously hour after long hour. But ... I've found ... eventually they do. And the results are wonderfully freeing. You find yourself thinking increasingly about "where can I ride today?" The sky (and daylight hours) are the limit! 

For obvious reasons of daylight hours ... and money ... relative proximity to where I reside is also a limit. But my goal for the next few weeks is to put in at least one, hopefully two longish rides every week, with a sub-goal to explore as many corners of the Santa Cruz Mountains as I can manage. I don't want to just ride the same two worn-out routes every week. I want to see new places. Enjoy some day tours. That's what bikes are for. The map shows the three routes I rode since last Monday — the left is my "Santa Cruz Century," the middle is a gut-buster of a gravel extravaganza that I called the "Quicksilver Grinder," and the right is a somewhat failed exploratory loop around Loma Prieta summit. I was able to cover quite a few new-to-me miles, not to mention a large cross-section of this little mountain range by the sea. 

Liehann joined for the Quicksilver Grinder. I warned him that at our comfortable day pace, this 70-mile loop was going to take nine or ten hours. I'm not sure he believed me, but meanness sets in quick. Two 2,500- and 3,000-foot climbs are packed with 16-percent-plus grades, and the second is on loose gravel, exposed to the hot sun, with rapacious little flies hovering in an insanity cloud. Six miles up the Priest Rock Trail in Sierra Azul took two hours, and I only actually hiked about a hundred meters — most of the time I was pedaling at < 3 mph. I relish in this sort of thing — spun out on some hot dirt road, drenched in sweat, clawing at the flies buzzing my ears, only to arrive at the summit with a cool breeze wafting through the brush, look out over the valley, and think, "Ah, that was so worth it!" Why do I think it was so worth it? That's a bit more difficult to articulate than the reasons why I thought it was hard. 

My accurate time estimate put us in Quicksilver in the late afternoon. I've been to Quicksilver once before and I remember the park having hills. Compared to El Sereno and Sierra Azul, Quicksilver is pancake flat, and Liehann and I thoroughly enjoyed our evening spin. We still had to ride 25 miles back through hilly suburban streets to get home, and that was admittedly less fun. We did, however, navigate the entire route solely with paper maps that had no street or trail names listed. I managed to keep the GPS turned off the entire time. It was a win on multiple levels. 

On Sunday I went for a run with Beat. He is not so interested in long day rides or tours right now (I'm still working on him in this regard), but it's still nice to get outside together. I am still adjusting — I would say not well — to California heat. I suppose I could adjust my habit of working out in the late afternoon, but morning workouts have never gone well for me, regardless of temperature. Still, I struggle when the mercury climbs above 80, and Sunday's run kept me drenched. I managed to suck down two liters of water in two hours. Drinking lots of water is one of the things I do to cope with heat, and it's not necessarily a positive thing. My head feels better but my body has to slosh through a lot of liquid while shedding salt. I basically need to figure out a strategy of not carrying so much water that I drink too much, while still having enough to stay hydrated and not run dry (which tends to freak me out.) Still, it was a beautiful afternoon, and Beat was happy with a mellow pace. 

I blocked out Monday afternoon for my second long ride. Luckily this afternoon was overcast and cool, and I had mapped out an exciting new route near a 3,700-foot mountain called Loma Prieta. The problem with creating new routes from maps and quick Google searches is that I can never be certain if my route is passable. In Alaska and Montana, the question was always, "Does this road or trail still exist or is it completely overgrown?" In California, the question is, "Is this road or trail open and legal?" The answer is usually no.

I ran into several closed signs (somewhat vaguely worded, I decided to interpret them as just prohibiting vehicles rather than bikes), and then finally a locked gate on Loma Prieta. I wasn't even planning to go to the top of the mountain, just around it. But my whole loop depended on that connection, so I had to revise. Without a GPS line to follow or maps, I struck out along a sandy road that rolled along a ridge. The steep up-and-down with sweeping views of Monterey Bay and the Salinas Valley proved to be a lot of fun despite a "no bikes" sign that someone had dubiously posted on their own property next to this public road. I descended a long way through a redwood canyon and ended up in the valley somewhere near Watsonville, meandering aimlessly because I didn't have a map. The only thing my GPS was really good for at that point was outlining the location of the sea. Luckily, vague memories pushed me toward Corralitos and Eureka Canyon, where I was able to find my way back up to Highland. I considered a quick jaunt around the downhill trails at Demo Forest, but remembered that even one loop there takes 90 minutes, and this ride was already pushing six hours, which is all I had blocked out for it.

I do love day touring. Exploring new places helps all of the hours and miles pass quickly, and before I know it, my butt is in excellent shape for some real distance. 


  1. Can I just say that I LOVE the inclusion of the terrain map with your route on it? I haven't done too many runs in your area so most of the time when you describe a route, I can recognize some place names or trail names but don't really have a good idea of exactly where you're talking about or how those places fit together. The map is a big plus.

  2. Hey, I recognize those roads on Loma Prieta -- I explored them on my motorcycle several times. There's something a bit creepy about the area.

  3. Up here, I'm afraid to take on some of the really rural roads up here for runs because of all the large scale illegal grows. I came across one on an edge of the state park once and was very closely watched by people working and driving by until I ran out of the area. It's pretty much scared me away from unmarked/unnamed roads for good. Don't want to get caught somewhere they're doing something illegal and packing guns. I'm not sure if it's like that near you, but up here in Humboldt, we're pretty much famous for that kind of thing.

    1. When my friend Leah and I toured through Humboldt in 2012, her friend who mapped the route for us blocked out several areas where he said we shouldn't leave the road under any circumstances — not to camp, not to look for water, nothing — lest we happen upon an illegal grow operation. That kind of thing exists in the Bay Area, but I get the sense it's more heavily monitored and much more underground. Lots of MPOSD rangers, higher density populations, and extremely expensive property (often held by uppity land owners) would likely dissuade most growers away from this area.

      From observing others, I think my own creep-dar is less sensitive than most. It's rare for me to pick up stranger danger vibes; call it naivety, but I'm usually fine with being alone in backwoods/rural areas. That said, ElZo is right ... there is something vaguely creepy about that area around Loma Prieta and the Summit Road. Mostly, I just sense a lot of unfriendliness toward outsiders and cyclists specifically. I probably won't go back.

  4. G'day Jill,

    For the curiouser, which bike are riding?

    Do you upload any of these routes to places like RideWithGPS, MayMyRide, etc?

    Ride Long and Prosper

    1. My mountain bike is a Moots MootoX YBB, a 29" softtail, titanium frame. I've had it for two years and love it.

      Also, I'm on Strava: http://www.strava.com/athletes/243615. I'm making an effort to track most of my outings this year, because it's a fun record to keep.


Feedback is always appreciated!