Tag Archives: Saratoga Gap

Exploring Montevina, an Epic Climb

I haven’t done Saratoga Gap in a while so I decided to do that today.  I was also planning on doing Big Basin today, as I haven’t done that in a while either.  However, when I’m out on a solo ride, plans can change really quickly.


I set out to do the Hwy 9 climb right at the base in Downtown Saratoga.  I didn’t want to do the Redwood Gulch.  After a quick stop for water at the fire station, I headed south on Skyline, with all good intentions of going all the way to Bear Creek, then heading over to Big Basin. However, I always pass by Black Road, and never ride it.

Today, I decided to take Black Road. It’s a nice descent, with many Redwood trees and was thinking thank God I’m descending not climbing this beast. This road took me all the way down to Hwy 17.


I could just cross over too the other side of the highway, then take the gravel bike path back to Los Gatos, but I decided I didn’t want to do that. No, instead, I remember Montevina connects up to Bohlman, and I can take that back through Saratoga. Nice plan, right?

Montevina runs parallel to Hwy 17, but then it cuts up into some steep hills. How steep? Well let’s say it’s in the double digit altitude gains. This road was totally exposed, with a few trees here and there. It was noon, so the temps were high … not quite 100 … but 99°F.

There was absolutely no one on this road, with the exception of a few residents and a mail truck going up the hill. The grade was consistently staying at double digit numbers. There were a number of fantastic views overlooking Lexington Dam, but it was so hot, and the climb so tough, I couldn’t afford to stop to take a picture.

As it turns out, the hill got the best of me and I ended up going for a breather a few times, particularly when there was a shade with a slight breeze. I definitely was not going for any records (since this was my first time going up). I could see one last stretch before the paved road ends, and I had to stop one more time, take a deep breath and push it.

Finally made it up, but I still had 0.7 more miles off-road, but hard packed. I had to stop a few more times and even had to walk it for a while, more to get traction. But then, right before reaching another gate, there was a little steep descent, still on dirt. That was scary, especially on a road bike.


Reaching the summit, someone left a cooler with water. Oooh that’s so nice. Thank you!


I still had a little ways to go still on dirty but the hard part was over. I was so relieved to be back on pavement, but more importantly, on the other side of the mountain. Now all I had to do was negotiate the steep descent down Bohlman.

Got into Saratoga, and I was, hot, I was tired, and there’s a Starbucks. Ice froappuccino time. I think I’m dinner, 5300 feet climbing in this heat … that’s enough for me.


Back into Climbing Shape

I think I’m back, or at least on the road to climbing shape again.  I guess I was trying to regain confidence that I can do those long climbs again.  Last week, I did do Page Mill, but I feared I didn’t quite have the confidence that I can repeat this, like I did on my weekends, where I did consecutive climbing rides on back to back days.

I definitely was going to do Mt. Hamilton on Sunday, so I figured on climbing Hwy 9 to Skyline would be good to do on Saturday.  Actually, my original plan was to go south on Skyline (after climbing Hwy 9), and go out to Gish, then Black, then turn back to Hwy 9 again.  The “back” route does include an extra 1000 feet of rolling hills.

I didn’t want to push it too hard, so it was a grind it out pace.  It wasn’t fast, and I was careful to ease the pace, the moment I found any slight tweak in my back.  By the time I made it up to Skyline, I just decided to just turn back.  I’d still get in just under 40 miles, so that’s a good number to start with.

Sunday, I did the meetup ride, going up Mt. Hamilton.  This is 19 miles straight up, to elevation of 4000 feet.  I was originally going to ride to the start, but when I woke up, I can tell I needed some food, as my head felt pretty light.  Look in the fridge … gah … empty.  Looks like I gotta rely on Starbucks for breakfast.  As I was preparing everything, I quickly found myself running out of time (due to forgetting to bring one thing or another).  This always seems to happen when I drive to the start of a ride.  Maybe that’s why I always prefer to ride to the start.

The meetup ride had a really good turnout.  Since this is a 19 mile climb, I had to make sure I didn’t go too hard in the first 10 miles (very easy to do).   I was content to just let a large number of people pass me by … they all seemed to be stronger and fitter than me anyways.  The key here was to make sure my back didn’t feel any extra strain.  I eventually hooked up with a group of 3 other riders, and we were doing a conversational climbing pace (yes, that is possible).  That kinda helped pace myself, and make sure I didn’t blow myself up.

At around 17 miles up, I started to feel my back flare up a little bit … but then I realized, I was only in my middle chainring … damn, I’ve got another chainring to shift into.  Ah, that felt better.  I knew when I was at the last switchback, and that’s when I started to push deep down.  The good news is my back wasn’t aching, so I just had to concentrate on pushing the pedals, and getting my heartrate up.

I made it to the top in 2:17, about 10 minutes slower than my personal best.  It actually surprised me how well I did … if it weren’t for that potty stop, mid-way on the climb, who knows how close I would have come to my personal best?

At this point, I feel more confidence in my climbing.  I think I’ve built up my core strong enough that I can go more aggressive on climbs.  Now all I have to do is bump up the mileage.  Strange how confidence can really change the way you ride.

LKHC Hwy 9 Time Trial Boulder Creek to Saratoga Gap

I couldn’t decide if I should ride to the start or drive to somewhere along the route.  The start of the climb is in Boulder Creek, and usually, when I do a ride through Boulder Creek, it is the far end of the ride.  In order to ride there, I would get in about 35 miles and 3000+ feet of climbing, before actually doing the climb.

I decided to drive, and park at the finish of the climb.  I rode down to the start (not too difficult, a mostly downhill descent to the start).   I didn’t realize that they posted each rider’s start time online.  It’s a good thing I got there a half hour before the start … it turned out my start time was 10:18, so nothing to worry about.

I saw my friends Sandra and Mark (they came out from Livermore, on Team Fremont).  Funny how Sandra was saying how I would pass her up … Nice … I guess she was overestimating my climbing prowess.  It turned out she had a better time than I did, but who’s keeping track?


Photo courtesy of Ron Brunner

The start of it wasn’t too steep, just very gradual.  Very strange to start off a LKHC in my big chainring, but that’s how it was until just before making the right turn at the Hwy 236 junction.  At least it got me into a good rhythm, before the real climbing began.

As I was climbing, I kept thinking about how this is a climbing time trial.  What was constantly on my mind was seeing how many I can pass, and more importantly, limiting the number of people who pass me.  Much to my dismay, after about 4 miles in, the guy behind me passed me up.  He gained 1 minute on me, in about 4 miles.  All I can say was, ugh.

I wasn’t keeping track, but I think I was passed by 5 people, and I past 5 people (although two of them were under 18), but I’m still counting that.  One that passed me was on a recumbent (don’t see too many of those on LKHC).  I could hear his breathing, as he was approaching me from behind, and the next thing I knew, he was passing me up, and there was no way I could reel him back in.  I know my limits …

Photo courtesy Dick Brown

My official time was 70:28 (Strava showed it as 70:10 … pretty close).  It was a PR, but I don’t do this climb too often … but I guess that still counts as a PR, no matter how many times I climb it.  What’s amazing is I beat my previous time by 23 minutes … but maybe I wasn’t really pushing it the last time.

Sequoia Century … lucked out without a spot of rain

Western Wheelers put on the Sequoia Century Sunday, and it is one of the tougher centuries around.  But the one thing about doing a hard ride, like a century, or double metric century on a Sunday, is the recovery.  You end up limping and walking like a handicapped in the office on Monday.  I guess this is one day where I won’t be riding into work.

Over the weekend, they were anticipating 1-2 inches of rain, in California, in June!  I mean summer is supposed to officially start at the end of the month, and we are talking rain like it’s January.  It was pouring heavy Saturday morning, and hopefully it will just dump all morning and clear by the afternoon … and that’s exactly what it did.  Whew!  But just to give you an idea, San Jose, which normally doesn’t see a lot of rain, got 0.78 inches on Saturday alone.

Saturday, I went out to buy a small light rain jacket (had to shop 4 different places till I found it).  Then, I put on fenders on the bike.  I also planned to ride with my fleece long sleeve Cervelo jersey, so I went ahead and pinned the bib number on that, and planned to wear weatherproof boot covers on my shoe.

When Sunday came around, there was no threat of rain, so I ditched the long sleeve jersey, and went instead with short sleeve, and arm warmers … removed the bib number from the long sleeve, and re-attach to my short sleeve … that’s quite an ordeal at 4:30 am.  I didn’t go with boot covers, and went with just toe warmers, and I didn’t bring the rain jacket that I shopped around all day Saturday for … and just used my normal jacket that I have been using for couple of years.  I also ended up removing the fenders.  So much for preparation, huh?

I got to the start at 6 am, but couldn’t find my other riding buddies, so I decided to just go on the ride.  I did receive a tweet from Ramon saying he is running late, but I couldn’t find Richard.  Oh well, maybe I’ll see them on the route.

I rode out at moderate pace, keeping my heart rate at 130-140 bpm.  Get to Redwood Gulch, and I felt good … but little did I know that I completed this in my fastest time ever.  I posted a personal best of 14:39, about 1:16 faster than my previous best.  How did that happen?

A right up on Hwy 9 to Saratoga Gap, and the sun does make one of few appearances through the rest of the day.  We have a rest stop at the firestation on Skyline.  That’s only 18 miles into the ride.  Well, I guess considering we have done Redwood Gulch and have about 2700 feet of climbing in already, that’s a pretty good clip.  I waited some more for my friends, but to no avail.  Time to move on.

This is not the high point of the climb, as we go southbound on Skyline, we climb just a wee bit more to the highest peak, a little past Castle Rock, at 3100 feet.

We get a really nice descent before passing Black Road, and into the christmas tree farm area.  This is nice, because that’s where the two line highway ends, and you feel like you are in the rural forests.  The descent here can be tricky, with sharp turns … and oh, by the way, a few more short climbs.

A right on Bear Creek Road, and after a little climbing, we get a nice fast descent before coming into Boulder Creek.  Now this would be ideal to get into a paceline to charge onto Hwy 9 again, either everyone was too fast for me, or they were too slow.  Oh well, I guess I’m time trialing this.

The climb on Hwy 9 is slow and lonely, but the grade is not too bad.  It averaged about 5-6%, so not too bad, but just long.  Then, we get to the top of Skyline, then make a left turn, back on the same route we were on before the first rest stop.  The rest stops were in abundance, and I didn’t feel the need to stop at this one, so I went on ahead.

We have a fast descent down Alpine en route to La Honda, where lunch is.  Now I’m considered a slow descender … but today, others treated me like I was a bomber on the descent.  But maybe it’s because this is my backyard, and others may not be used to the terrain.

I caught up with Ramon at lunch.  I wasn’t feeling up to the full double metric, so I decided to just go on the 100 miler, and head up Tunitas.  Once we got to Hwy 1, I noticed a lot of cyclists heading the opposite direction … they were the Aids riders … Oh, I forgot .. they start the same day Sequoia is put on.  Very colorful, and very flamboyant outfits they have.  I wish them luck … some of them didn’t look too good, and this was only their first day.

I really did try to go as hard as I could up Tunitas (but how hard can you really, at mile 81, and 8000+ feet of climbing).  It does help having done this climb so many times, but it still took me 1:12:00 from Hwy 1 to Skyline via Tunitas Creek.  Tough 9.4 mile, 2047 foot climb.

Totals … 102 miles, and 9375 feet of climbing, with a total time of 8:53:02.

Have I Found my Climbing Legs?

After focusing so much on double centuries, clearly my focus has been on endurance.  You’ve got to admit, being able to sustain 200 miles, no matter how hilly it is, is quite an accomplishment.  So recently, I have been noticing my climbing has not been what it used to be.  For example, on OLH, I just barely eeked out 30 minutes (and I was really going for it), and on Montebello, I was only able to muster 56 minutes (personal best was 44 minutes).  Granted, I was doing a bunch of DMD training rides, and some really hard rides.

This weekend, I decided to go back to my normal rides (not a DMD trainer ride).  Suddenly, I found myself getting PR (Personal Records) on Strava.  Saturday, I did Kings Mountain (36 minutes) and West Alpine (54 minutes).

Sunday, I did Redwood Gulch (16 minutes) and Hwy 9 to Saratoga Gap (54 minutes).

Granted, those times suck compared to the KOM’s on the climb, but still, the fact that I registered PB’s … are my climbing legs back?  I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Timing Is Everything

Okay, so the last day of my PTO, and one last day to get a ride in.  So the original plan is to go up Redwood Gulch, then to Saratoga Gap, then north on Skyline to Skylonda, then down 84, then back home.  Great plan, right?

It had rained the night before, but by the time I started, I saw blue skies, and the sun was out.  However, as I look south, I see really dark dark clouds.  My route is heading straight for the ominous clouds.  By the time I got to the top of Hwy 9 and Hwy 35, it was pretty cold.  There was no sun, and I didn’t have my jacket with me … only my arm warmers.  I didn’t want to chance it, and headed for sun.  So this meant going back down Hwy 9 (where I had just climbed).  It was cold descending, then I decided to climb up Pierce, to warm up.  As soon as I reached the peak at Pierce, the sky opened up.  Oh well, I had gone down this far, I might as well, just head back home.  I should start looking at 1.5 weeks of emails.

Later in the day, I see it all clear, and actually pretty warm.  Damn … I guess I went out too early … but I waited till 10:30 am!  Oh well … I did feel pretty tired by the time I got up to Saratoga Gap.  I was climbing to the tune of Heart and Toto, so that helped pick up my pace, but that also meant spending lots of energy.  I guess this was my excuse to finish the ride.