"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?
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.
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 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.