Saratoga Gap – My New Fallback Ride

This weekend, most of my friends are out of town doing the Death Ride, and I’m not about to subject my body to more pain in high altitude conditions.  So on weekends like this, where I’ve got no one to ride with, I usually do an out and back on Montebello Rd, but it is just an out and back.  I rode a loop that goes up to Saratoga Gap, then over to Page Mill, and that is a really nice short but challenging loop.  I think it’s starting to become a favorite.

The loop basically goes out to the usual Foothill / Homestead intersection, then goes south through Stevens Canyon … sometimes I mix it up, but going over the Cupertino / 280 bridge, then over to Stevens Creek.  This avoids the 280 on/off ramp traffic, which can be unnerving sometimes, with cars breathing down your neck.

I like this route because it gives you a nice warmup before doing the long climb.  Stevens Canyon gives you some good rollies, so it gives your legs a good warmup.  I’ve actually done this ride once the easier way, going up Mt. Eden, or the really difficult way by hitting Redwood Gulch, which has stretches of 13% grades.  Redwood Gulch gets you a little higher up the hill once it bleeds you out onto Hwy 9.

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Today I took the Mt. Eden route, and took a scenic detour on Damon, before taking the right turn on Pierce, which is a short but steep hill.  I took a scenic detour on Damon, which still gets you some steep climbing, but you do get to see some scenic vistas, and amazingly expensive homes.

What I didn’t realize was they were doing some construction on Hwy 9, installing some rumble strips.  By taking Mt. Eden, and Pierce, you start on Hwy 9 closer to the bottom of the hill.  About 1 mile below where Redwood Gulch intersects Hwy 9, there was a stop sign, indicating that only one lane is passible.  This stop sign comes at the most inopportune time.  I had to wait for the red light, then as soon as it went green, I decided to wait until all the cars passed by, then gun it … now this was probably a 6% grade, and this made me have to sprint to get past the one lane section, and onto the two lane section.  I think this sprint took a lot out of me, as I started to struggle on the rest of the 2000 foot climb.

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One thing to realize on Hwy 9 is it attracts a lot of Harley and crotch rocket motorcycle riders.  Hey, it’s part of the territory.  What I quickly realized I need to hold my line, because if I drift over to the shoulder, those motorcycles will take up that space that you just occuppied.  I would expect to be buzzed by crotch rockets, but I wasn’t expecting to be buzzed by Harley riders.  This is something to take into consideration if you climb Hwy 9 on a weekend morning.

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Hwy 9 is pretty, but it is a major highway.  The only drawback is the constant flow of cars in both directions.  It does have nice wide shoulder for you to work with, and I have yet to be driven off to the side of the road.  I hope I haven’t jinxed myself now.

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After reaching the top, I usually stop by the parking lot on the left (or southeast corner).  This is where the motorcyclists and cyclists hang out just to rest and enjoy the scenery, while you have the chance to.  Many riders will climb up Hwy 9, then immediately head straight down.  I saw a few riders who passed me, then saw then descend down the other way.

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Other riders can hang a left, then climb Hwy 35 some more and eventually get to Big Basin.  You can also do the same by going straight down Hwy 9, and it gives you a screaming downhill.  But remember, where you go down, you always must come up too!

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I hung a right on Hwy 35, or Skyline Dr.  There is a firestation shortly after making a short climb, and they have water there where you can fill up.  This is a popular spot for cyclists to stop by, no matter what there destination is from this point on.  There are not very many places to get water, so this is a good spot to hit.  I continued on Skyline till I got to Page Mill, where I descended back home.

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Page Mill is the major path to get down off the hill.  The top is at about 2000 feet, but it’s not all downhill.  There are some slight uphill sections, enough to make you grunt and groan just before you yell weeeee going down hill.

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