Sunday, November 02, 2014

Home roaming

Beat laughed we he caught me poring over Strava's heat maps again. "You're obsessed with this now," he said.

"I'm just trying to set a route for tomorrow," I said, wide-eyed as I scrolled over thin blue lines drawn across an area of the map that for me, until now, was entirely blank. Where I reside — in a metropolitan area of 7 million people that is surrounded by a patchwork of open space — finding new places to roam isn't as simple as just looking at a map. There's so much private land, watershed easements, gates, extensive and often convoluted use restrictions. It's easiest to just find routes that work and go to these places again and again. After all, once you've seen one oak-dotted hillside or redwood grove, you've seen them all, right?

 And yet ... I need new spaces. I recognize that I travel at a higher-than-average rate while enjoying the spoils of settled life. I don't think I could handle a fully itinerant lifestyle, and yet ... I need new spaces. Just when I think I've tapped out my immediate geography and there's nothing else to explore, new wrinkles and folds come into view. The heat maps revealed a slew of new trails that were close enough to shoot for from my house. I traced the map and then went out looking for them.

My fitness is not stellar right now. Interestingly, and opposite of my usual status quo, I have decent power for cycling in short bursts, but the power meter drains out quickly rather than kicking into good ol' endurance mode. I'm good for an hour, and then I suck. Perhaps this is what five weeks of inactivity, one week of semi-smart rebuilding, and two weeks of turning it up to eleven will get you. Muscles get tired, who knew?

But yes, my ride plan called for immediate 15- to 20-percent grades up the thick clay of Fremont Older, followed by pretty much carrying my bike down the hill when bricks formed around the frame and the wheels wouldn't turn anymore. (It rained Friday and Saturday. Yay! This makes me happy, but it also makes for a wet and muddy ride, for which I am embarrassingly out of practice.) Ten minutes were spent chipping away at concrete, then another twenty or so finding my way out of the steep, rolling maze of Saratoga. Then it was time to climb again, nearly 3,000 feet up to the crest of El Serreno.

 I pretty much spent my day's allotment of energy in the first six miles at Fremont Older, and had little to give for what was only the first of two huge climbs — that I knew about. By the time I dropped off the ridge, legs searing and shoulders aching, I considered the just descending all the way to Los Gatos and forgetting this whole silly exploration thing. But this path, this nondescript side road veering off a quiet neighborhood street, beckoned in a hypnotic way. It was a powerline access road that was overgrown with grass, strewn with deadfall, and eaten away by mudslides — calling out to me as though it was the most desirable trail ever cut into a mountainside.

And then it just kept on climbing. Like any good contouring powerline access road, it cut up one small drainage and down the next, direct and steep, up and down. I only acknowledged the ups. Climb and climb. Mist billowed around the forested mountainside. Curtains of rain fell through sunbeams thrown by a clearing to the west, and there were rainbows and sparkling raindrops. It was a beautiful afternoon on this most secret of trails, so close to home and yet so far away.

I turned a corner at the bottom of the drainage, into an enchanted woods with lush pines, real fall color, and a glassy secret lake. I exited the woods onto a paved road and saw the first trail sign of this secret trail, forbidding bikes. Oh, that explains it. I didn't see a single other person out there on a Saturday afternoon, in seven miles. It always irks me when public spaces that are clearly not frequented by anyone carry these restrictions. But I try keep it legal and don't intentionally poach trails, so I guess if I want to go back to this enticing place, I'll have to plan a long run.

 I couldn't dwell on my misdemeanor for long, because it was time to climb again. Climb and climb. My heart was developing that dull achy feeling that sometimes crops up when it's been beating too hard for too long. Climb and climb. I checked my watch and although I'd only ridden 23 miles thus far, I'd already climbed 5,000 feet and was still climbing. Argh. Climb and climb. Veered onto the Saratoga Gap trail, powered over some roots, more climbing. The sun went down. I turned onto Grizzly Flat with about twenty minutes to spare before twilight turned to darkness. Some mountain bikers who had just emerged and were packing up their car asked me, "Are you going in now?"

"I have to," I said. "It's the only way I can get home from here."

"You'll never make it," one of the mountain bikers said — presumably also aware of the no-trail-use-after-dark, you'll-almost-certainly-get-a-ticket rule. "We just finished, it's far."

"It's quick, mostly downhill; I can make it," I said.

"And there are bobcats," he warned, as though ranger danger wasn't scary enough.

I thanked him and turned into the dark forest in the fading light. Twelve miles and fifty minutes later, I was home. As far as I'm concerned, that entire ride was climbing.

Beat gave me a hard time for riding for six hours on Saturday when we had our official longish weekend ride planned with friends on Sunday. We met Pavel and Jan at the mouth of Steven's Canyon and headed back the way I came out just fourteen hours earlier.

Ugh, I was feeling the miles. Beat completed a long run yesterday, and Pavel is more of a short-range guy than an endurance cyclist, but Jan didn't take sympathy on any of us. He planned a punishing route — lots of singletrack and power moves and steep rollers that always feel like all climbing. Fun, of course; no one would argue that it wasn't fun. I certainly wasn't arguing. It's more enjoyable just to roll with it, and apologize when your tired legs cause you to drift farther and farther behind.

 All in all, it was a fantastic weekend of overdoing it — some bikesplorations, some social riding with friends, some sauna time for the sore muscles. I've got the heat maps out again and am already dreaming up the next adventure. Once I get my running legs back, there's almost nothing on there I can't cover. I'd love to see the whole Santa Cruz mountain range light up on my own personal heat map. After all, there's really no such thing as being stuck in one place.


  1. Life is a journey and you make it count !!!

  2. Ooh bobcats! The terror! (Wonder if they meant mountain lions?)

  3. Not sure. But this reminded me of something funny that happened while I was walking in Rancho San Antonio a few weeks ago. This boy, probably 9 or 10 years old, was walking ahead of his family when a buck deer stepped out of the woods. The boy screamed and started sprinting back towards his group with this genuinely terrified look in his eyes (he ran right past me. His family was behind.) The deer just stood there looking his way as though to say, "What's your problem?"

  4. Nice meeting you and Beat on top of Black Mountain, Sunday. (I was the guy on the orange Vaya.)

    Thanks for the inspiration and stoke.

    1. Thanks for saying hello. Hope you had a great ride!

  5. Sympathy? I was betting on you guys being tired from your Saturday activities so we could all ride together at a "Sunday" pace. You forgot to mention that at the end, you and Beat climbed more hills while all I could do was to go downhill :)

    1. Ha, true. I was getting to the point with knee wobbliness and muscle fatigue that a moderate, well-graded climb up Bella Vista followed by effortless coasting down Montebello sounded more palatable than the two or three short, steep pitches in Steven's Creek Canyon. I struggled with the steeps on Sunday; you probably didn't notice because you were so far ahead. ;) But thanks again for inviting us along for a great ride. Hope we can do it again soon.

  6. New grips and pedals look great!

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  8. Yes, the heat maps are addictive! ...and I know those El Sereno "no bicycles" signs you mentioned. I was going down that steep road and was not about to turn back!


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