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.
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.