Tag Archives: Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge

Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge … Epic Ride

This year, for the first time in a couple of years, the Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge was delivered as an actual event. No virtual this time, but an actual event, with actual volunteers, sign up, food, and riders … actual riders. It’s as epic, and enjoyable as I remember it to be.

In years passed, some people referred to this as the local Death Ride. True, it did not have the altitude acclimation that you need for the Death Ride in Markleeville, but this included steep climbs.

I met up with my friends Amanda and Marshall, and we decided to do “just” the century option, which was just 101 miles, and 9800 ft of climbing. There was a double metric option, with 120 miles, and something like 12,000 ft of climbing … but if we did that, most likely, by the time I would finish, there would be no post ride meal. That’s no bueno!

I was hanging in with everyone, up until we did the long climb up Zayante. It’s a 10 mile, 1660 ft climb, but as with most long climbs, it kicks up at the end of the climb. I was definitely falling behind, but at least I wasn’t passed by too many people, which is always a positive sign. I was able to catch up to Amanda and Marshall just before reaching the next rest stop. All that work, and I probably could have just reunited with them at Bear Creek and Skyline. Oh well.

Was able to meet up with friends Shawnery and Yvonne (really strong riders). It was great just to say hi for a few minutes, because that’s the last we would see of them … until they passed us speeding through Ice Cream Grade near the end of the ride. Then I met up with my friend Cha Cha … and at first, I saw her face, and just couldn’t put my finger on it … I knew I’d seen her before on some other ride. Funny how that all works out … how could I forget Cha Cha … especially with a name like that! She’s a hoot! She saved me from going the wrong way later on in the ride. Cha cha hung in with us as we descended down Hwy 9 into Boulder Creek. While in Boulder Creek, we caught up with some Western Wheelers friends … Dang, we’re meeting up with everyone on this ride, that we haven’t seen in a while. Cool!

The marquee climb for this ride is Jameson Creek. Oy vey! This climb reminds me of the Decker Canyon climb on the Mulholland Challenge, that I did in April. Tough climb, with 15-17% grades … The strava segment shows it’s only 2.9 miles, but average grade is 9.8%. My friend Adam passes by me like I was standing still. I was wondering if he would be on this ride. He’s another really strong, good climber.

I finally get to the top, and my legs felt the same way when I got to the summit of Jameson Creek, as I did when I summitted Decker Canyon … like jello!

Ok, next is lunch. But lunch is all the way down in Bonny Doon, right? But Adam says it was just over the next hill. Well, Adam was wrong, it was down in Bonny Doon, but it’s mostly downhill, with a few rollies. I then saw Cha Cha, point me to a right turn. It’s a good thing, because I would have flown past that. So we ride together, looking forward to lunch, which should have been at the 77 mile mark. One problem … we get to the 80 mile mark on our Wahoo/Garmin … wait, did we past it? We then see a sign pointing us to go left for 100 mile … Lunch would have been good, but then, I started thinking .. lunch at 77 miles, and post-ride meal at 100 miles? Almost seems pointless. At this point, what I want more is water, because I have plenty of energy food to munch on.

We were a little worried that Amanda and Marshall might be wondering where we are, and start looking for us. We decided to just head over to the next rest stop, which is not that far away, and text them to tell them we went to the next rest stop. We get to the rest stop, and who do we find??? Amanda and Marshall. Apparently, they missed the lunch stop too. In fact, at least 6 riders missed it. Hmm … I wonder if the lunch stop is wondering why they have so much extra food!

The group is all in good spirits, despite missing lunch. We head down to Santa Cruz, and we could feel the nice ocean breeze from Santa Cruz.

From here, we head up the hill back to the start. We got back, and it’s only 9800′ (according to my Wahoo). We’ve done 101 miles, and we’re only 200′ from 10,000, so we gotta do an extra 200′ … There’s just something magical about a 5 digit elevation gain.

After doing some extra hills, we got back for the post ride meal. Hmm … burritos are so good after a hard ride.

The actual stats for what I rode was 103 miles, 10,300 ft climbing. Woohoo … that’s a nice ratio.

Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge 2018

The 2018 edition of the Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge was this past Saturday.  It’s one of my favorite organized ride … this is the 4th time I’ve done it.  In years past, it used to start from Scotts Valley, and was set so that you do a base route, then if you wanted to, you can do optional “spurs”, or extra hill climbs.  A few years ago, they moved the start location to UCSC campus, and hence, different featured climbs, and a more traditional ride, with 4 lengths (with no “spurs”).  The latest design is kinda nice, as the later portions of the ride runs parallel to Hwy 1, and you ride along the Pacific Ocean coastline.

What I like about this, is that you can check-in the day prior, in Campbell (for those of us who live in Silicon Valley area, who intend to do the ride).  That’s smart of the organizers, knowing that a bunch of the participants are from the San Jose area.

I treated this a little bit like a double century, where I would wake up really early, and I basically left the house by 5 am, to get to the start by 6 am.  I made sure I spent a minimum amount of time at the rest stops.

Because I started so early, I rode along with the 135 mile riders.  That meant, after going to the first rest stop, as I climb Zayante, I was basically the only one on the road.  Eventually, I would get passed by some of the stronger, faster riders.  It’s different riding Zayante first, which is nice.  At least I didn’t have to do the long slog up the hill with tired legs.

The one obvious benefit of starting so early is that the sun would stay down until at least the first big climb was finished. Actually, last year, it stayed overcast most of the day, but on this day, it did peep out right before we got to Alba, the marquee climb of the day. They made Alba a time trial.

It was interesting, because there were quite a few people that did not treat this like a time trial. Most were taking breaks here and there, taking pictures, stopping at scenic points … I just continued on, even though I know my time would be twice as slow as the top finishers.

During the climb, my Garmin would keep beeping me, because it would lose a GPS signal.  Later, I found out my Garmin tracking was so off course, it didn’t even know I was riding the Alba segment … so my Strava didn’t have an Alba segment.  It’s not a big deal … not like I would be competing against anyone.

When I finally got to the top, I saw my friend Lorri there.  She had been there for a little bit, and I was just trying to catch my breath.  At least lunch was just a couple miles up the road, so there’s that to look forward to.


They had a pretty nice spread for lunch. I made pretty good time, as it was just after 11 am by the time I got there.


The ride then went down to the coast, and it was a screaming descent, with 30+ mph speeds going down Bonny Doon. We then hit Hwy 1 north to Swanton Road, where we had a nice little climb (nothing like Alba or Zayante) … then back south on Hwy 1. The next part of the 101 mile route would be to go back up Bonny Doon … the same stretch where we were descending 30+ mph. No way! That’s a little silly, so instead of doing that, I just followed the 76 mile route, where we go straight into Santa Cruz, and then cruise along the Santa Cruz shoreline.


From here, we made to final grinding hill climb back up to the UCSC campus, and onto the finish.  It’s always that last 5 mile grind to the finish that gets annoying, but glad I made it through.  It wasn’t a full century .. it turned into a 95 mile, 8500 foot climb ride.  It was a fun ride, and I’ll probably do it again next year.


Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge with a modified 3 Spur Option

Saturday, we did the Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge.  The original plan was to do the 200k, with 3 spurs (basically additional loops), which was supposed to have a total elevation gain of < 15,000 feet of climbing.  However, with lack of long rides leading up to this (2 weekends prior were shot), I didn’t have too much confidence that I would last.  I rode with Karen and Ramon, and we pretty much stayed together the whole ride.

Started the day leaving at 6:30 am, and on the way over, we drove through a bunch of fog, so it was still misty at the start, and a little chill in the air.  I only brought a vest and arm warmers, and that should be sufficient, since we are doing a bunch of climbing.

This is one of my favorite rides (can you tell?  I’ve only done it the last 4 years consecutively).  The views are spectacular, with lots of tall trees, but you pay the price with steep 15-20% grades.  Of course, with the fog bank, it was kinda hard to see much of a view.

Old Santa Cruz Hwy

The first spur was a loop out to Hwy 17, straddling Old Santa Cruz Highway, then up Summit Road.  We seemed to be the only ones doing the spurs, until a few of them came up and passed us a bit later on in the spur.  Then, we saw more come up … they must have been the 7 am starters.

There is one thing about doing the spur … the rest stop comes at mile 33 … that’s a pretty long stretch to go without a potty stop, especially at the beginning of the ride.  It might have been good to include a potty stop at Old Santa Cruz Highway, after making that long descent down Bear Creek Road.  It was easy for me to just pull over, but for Karen, that’s a little more of an issue.  We got to the corner of Bear Creek and Skyline, and saw a porta potty there … but unfortunately, it was locked.  Oh, how cruel.  Guess we’ll have to hold it, but there’s another 1000 feet to climb before we descend into Saratoga Gap for rest stop 1!

First Rest Stop

First Rest Stop

After a few rollies, we finally rolled into rest stop 1.  We probably spent a bit too much time at rest stop 1 … Looking back at Strava, we were there a good 20 minutes.  Dang .. we should have a rest stop timer, especially since the next 10 miles or so is a downhill descent.

Fresh faces before climbing China Grade

Fresh faces before climbing China Grade

We descent down Hwy 9, and we break off to the 2nd spur, while the rest of the group continue into Big Basin.  Actually, we end up taking a different route to the same rest stop, then doing the climb up China Grade, for the 2nd spur.  Karen kept urging me to do at least the 2nd spur, so I caved in, and said I would.

China Grade

Once again, we were the only ones out there, until we get passed by one big guy … and I mean big.  Later on, we find out he’s 250 pounds, and he was on a 58 or 62 cm frame.  I end up later passing him.  I was stuck trailing, and then I saw him, and that was my target.  He was a good uphill climbing target, and that kinda helped me up the hill.

Ok, back down the hill, back to the same rest stop before we started the climb.  However, we had a big wake up call.  They were starting to tear down the rest stop!  One of the support workers asked us “is there anyone behind you”?  Wow, are we that slow?  We started thinking about whether or not we should cut short the ride, should we do the last spur … but then I said, we still have to do Jameson!

Re-fuel, then get on the road, and do this Jameson climb.  Since I had done this as a training ride about 4 weeks ago, I figured I’m prepared.  It was all business, just concentrate on smooth pedaling, getting efficient power into my drivetrain.  I notice the switchback that every falters on, and just power from the heels.  I felt pretty good about this climb, and I was averaging around 5 mph, dipping at the lowest at 4 mph.  I still didn’t beat my PR from the 2011 SCMC, but at least finishing it felt good.

Lunch came after Jameson, and by the time we were about to leave the lunch stop, it was about 2:10 pm.  I noticed the sign saying lunch closes at 2:30 pm.  Wow, we are really behind.  Now if we went straight back on the 100k route, we would get in only 90 miles, so we decided to continue onto the 3rd spur, then finish off with the 100k once we got back to Felton.  Sounds like a good plan, right?

It was a long descent down before we hung a right onto Smith Grade.  I think Jameson plus lunch did me in, and my legs had no strength for Smith, which really is not that bad, if your legs are fresh … mine weren’t.  I was way behind Ramon and Karen, and when I finally re-grouped with them at Bonny Doon, “I’m all spurred out”.


Still a few climbs more before we get to Ice Cream Grade.  Before getting there, we cross over the charred remains of a fire from a few years ago, and the charred remains are still present.  Kind of eerie coming through here … reminds me a little of Yellowstone when I toured there after their big fires.

Ice Cream Grade is the last significant climb we do before we make the descent down Felton Empire into the town of Felton.  We did get the ire of a local, who didn’t like the idea of cyclist being on the road.  Just can’t please everyone.

We got into Felton, and it was about 4 pm.  At this point, we were at the 94 mile mark.  Now if we continued on the 200k route, we would climb up Zayante (a long 18-ish mile climb), going over to Summit, loop around on Soquel San Jose Rd, before coming back to the school.  That would be a hard climb, especially since my legs felt like jello, with no zip in them at all.  We decided to take a more direct route, climb Mt. Hermon Road, before getting onto Scotts Valley Road.  This was a direct route back to the start.  However, Karen’s Garmin had 1-2 miles less than mine, and she had to get at least 100 miles (because she was advertising to everyone she’s doing the 200k).  So we ended up doing a few extra miles, before I ran into some thorns, which flatted both my front and rear tires.  At that point, after fixing both flats, I just told them go on ahead, and I’ll just ride back to the school.  It turns out, I would end up with just over 100.

More importantly, we got back, just in time to take advantage of hand rolled burritos back at the school, and a couple scoops of ice cream too.  You can’t climb Ice Cream Grade without having ice cream at the end!

It was a long, hard, painful day, but it all felt good.  This is one reason why I prefer the long hard ride on a Saturday, instead of a Sunday.

Links to more pics: https://plus.google.com/photos/107775104280723216283/albums/5908256887341515889?authkey=CNvg7JbC3bXbkgE

Strava data : http://app.strava.com/activities/71996600#

Climbfest Continues in NorCal at Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge

So if Baldy and Crystal Lake wasn’t enough, we had to continue with Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge.  Actually this was Karen’s idea … asking if I would do it … well, I’ve never done the ride before, and I knew it would be tough, but sure, why not.  Since Mt Tam Double is next week, and Ramon is out of town, I wasn’t expecting many other rides to come up.

I met with Karen and Mike (crazy fixie man).  I still had to check in so they went on ahead.

There wasn’t much of a warmup on this ride.  Mt. Charlie was the first climb, coming in after only a few miles in.  The weather, for the time being was cool, and fog was omnipresent.  We’ll see how long before the sun comes out.

Mt. Charlie is a stair step type of climb, where you do get some relief, then climbs again.  Because of the fog, there were some damp stretches, but nothing really hazardous.

After Mt. Charlie, we turn left onto Riva Ridge with grade up to 21%.  What a way to start a ride.  Near the top of this climb, I met up with Karen and Mike briefly, until I climbed on ahead.  We would be climbing at our own rate for the first half of the ride.

The next significant climb is Bear Creek then Skyline.  This also happens to be when everyone decides to pass me on the hills.  Then, out of the blue, my friend Jim, from Stockton, says hi, and we proceed to speed on into the 2nd rest stop at Saratoga Gap (Hwy 9 and Skyline).  Just as we are ready to leave, I see Mike and Karen.  So it looks like we’re going to be on a schedule where I’m ready to leave just as Mike and Karen roll in.

I went on with Jim and proceed to hammer down Hwy 9 to Big Basin Park.  I forgot how fast Jim is.  I could descend fast enough to keep up, but somehow I ended up in front of him.  There weren’t any really significant climbs on this stretch … just some annoying rollies.  I decided to roll into the next rest stop to wait for anyone to show up.  I spent a bit of time there but I wanted to move on, and prevent my legs from freezing up, and also anxious to do Jamison Creek … yeah, right.

I reached the timing table, letting them know I really don’t expect to put on some killer time, but they timed me anyways.  What the heck …  ready set, go.

I kinda wonder, with this being 40 miles into a 100 mile ride, with at least 4000 feet climbing already in, how hard do they expect everyone to push it?  We still have 6000 more feet of climbing to do.

I don’t know what the official time was, but according to Strava, I got in 32 minutes.  Not bad.  I did pass a couple of people, as well as getting passed by several.

While waiting at the top, I met my friend Laura, from Western Wheelers.  She is one strong woman, but even she told me she wasn’t turning herself inside out for this.  We still have 6000 feet climbing left to go, and there’s still Zayante.

I rode into lunch with Laura and the group she was riding with.  Lunch is only 3 miles on Empire Grade … cool.

At the mid-way point, I’m not feeling too bad.  I kept hearing horror stories about Jamison Creek, and all in all, my feeling is … not bad.  It ranks up with the rest of the difficult climbs I’ve subjected my body to.

Just as I’m ready to leave the lunch stop, guess who I see rolling in … Mike and Karen.  They mention they may be opting for the metric instead of the century, but we’ll see.

We roll on, and meander through parts of Bonny Doon … we turn off from Pine Flat onto Bonny Doon, but it’s very easy to miss that … in fact, I missed it, and had to make a U-turn, just 100 feet past.  As soon as I get back on the route, I hear at least 5 or 6 others wizz on past it.  They did say it was easy to miss … they weren’t kidding about that.

We wind our way through Felton, then a left onto Zayante, and this is where the fatigue sets in.  Zayante is a long long climb … it is unrelenting, and it seems to go on forever.  This is one of those roads where you expect to be riding this solo, and you start to wonder if you are on the right road … then suddenly, you see the water stop, and there are other people there too.  About a mile after the water stop, I see Mike and Karen again.  Woohoo!!!  We are reunited again.

Zayante is a beast.  It lulls you to thinking that we just have a few rollies, then it kicks us in the ass with some 15% climbs, and we cannot wait till we get to the end … but where is the end?  This is almost like Mines Road, except with 15% climbs.  This sure tests your will.

Finally, we turn onto Summit Road, then onto the next rest stop.  This will be the last rest stop, aside from the water stop, 9 miles from the end.

There’s a lot of long descents in the last 20 miles of this, which makes it interesting for Mike, since he is riding this on a fixie … again, when is that guy going to get a normal bike???  Anyhow, we proceed onto Soquel-San Jose Road … wow, this has a long fast descent.  It’s a long way to get back to the start, but it’s a fun descent.  Only one problem … this is a fairly heavily traffic’d road, so we always have to be mindful of staying as far to the right as possible.  We are warned of a large pothole … actually it’s a ditch.  Now I mention this, because with the fast descent, we are going in excess of 35-45 mph … before I could alert myself to avoid it, I’m going right into it, and the only thought I have on my mind is to hold on tight.

Whew, survived that.  However, I do see some others off the side of the road, tending to flats.  They were not so lucky.  Mike and Karen made it through fine too, and on way go to Laurel Road to the home stretch.  Suddenly, I hear a familiar voice … well it’s Marco and Ruth.  Woohoo!  This is one hell of a ride, meeting up with so many friends.

The last 9 miles was not without hills.  One thing’s for sure on this ride … there are no junk miles.  One terrific sight to see was the Scotts Valley city limit sign, but I’m not rejoicing until I get to the finish.  I finally roll in, just before 5 pm, and luckily, they still have food at the end.

Totals:  101 miles, 10,802 feet of climbing.  This was one hell of a ride … a ride that yes, is 10,802 feet of climbing, but the climbs were intense, and no junk miles at all.