Pretty much since I had arrived in California, I was intrigued by the plethora of outdoor activities there are in the Bay Area. I got into mountain biking right away and did quite a few rides, a lot of them with the MidPen Open Space guys. A few months ago however, I found a new love: road cycling. Initially I had set my sight on touring, wanting to get a proper touring bike so I can, one day, to maybe a bike ride across the United States. Back to reality, I realized that I might not be able to take 3 months off work any time soon, so maybe we should start small. I test-drove a few bikes and eventually settled on a Specialized Secteur Elite, a proper road bike. Boy, compared to riding a heavy mountain bike, it is like switching from a semi to a Ferrari.
And so I started to dabble at road cycling. Not by watching the 7-disc DVD set of Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France. No. But rather by doing some more or less casual rides around the South Bay, including a 50 mile ride in June.
I really got to love road riding more and more, simply because of the fact that you are moving quite fast on a very light piece of equipment and that you can see so much along the way, powered (and limited) by your own muscles, your motivation and willpower. About a week ago, I set out on a ride to put said willpower to the test. I wanted to take the train up to San Francisco, then ride along Hwy 1 down to Santa Cruz and then, over the Santa Cruz Mountains, back home to Sunnyvale. Considering that my longest ride that I had done previously was maybe 60 miles, doing about 120 miles was very ambitious. But I can be quite the stubborn person, after setting my mind on something.
I took the earliest Caltrain up to San Franciso and started my epic journey around 9am. The city by the bay embraced me with it’s most charming summer weather: cloudy and foggy (up to a point where it felt more like rain than fog). I couldn’t help but think of Mark Twain’s quote (regardless whether that quote was incorrectly attributed to him or not). While riding on John F Kennedy Drive through Golden Gate Park, I encountered not only wet weather, but also a lot of people already out and about: jogging, running and people on bikes as well. It takes a lot more than weather like that to discourage a San Franciscan, so it seems. Eventually I made it to Ocean Beach. Without any beach weather mind you.
Pacifica & Half Moon Bay
My bike was already cursing at me because I had to ride along the Great Highway, next to the sandy beach, which is like poison for every mechanical piece of equipment. Nevertheless, we made it through that point and then moved up on Skyline Boulevard and meandered around Hwy 1 for as long as I could. But eventually, I had to merge into it, being confronted with quite some traffic, shortly before descending down to Pacifica. Weather still crappy, just in case you are wondering. Leaving Pacifica behind was only possible by climbing up a little towards McNee Ranch State Park, on a very narrow part of Hwy 1. This is one of the times where you are secretly praying that the motorists speeding up on the uphill will eventually see you and make enough room when passing. Luckily, this happened, although some give you less space than others. Much less in a few cases. But after every uphill, there is a downhill. Most of the times anyways. So I got rewarded by a nice downhill ride into Half Moon Bay. At this point I was about 35 miles into my ride.
Here Comes the Sun
Not much time to stop and rest, I continued my journey on Hwy 1, aka Cabrillo Hwy with lots of little towns along the way and a few spots that I recognized from driving this stretch in a car. The weather was still very cloudy and foggy, which made me unsure whether I should put my light jacked back on for the downhill parts, only having to take it off again for the uphills. But then, luckily, 3 things happened which turned out to be in my favor. All of a sudden, about half way between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz, the clouds disappeared and the sun came out. Not soon after, I was hugged by plenty of sunlight and not a single cloud in the sky. In addition, the, in parts, narrow shoulder on the highway became very wide, almost like a real bike lane. And thirdly, maybe the best thing of all: a quite substantial tailwind pushed me considerably towards Santa Cruz. As a cyclists, aside from going downhill, having tailwind is probably the best thing that can happen. So I was able to power along at some decent speed and making good time. My initial goal was to average about 20 km/h (about 12.5 mph), which would have meant that I could be done with the whole thing in 9.5 hours. And, at that time, I was on track.
I celebrated my first metric century by taking a little break to have lunch. And I could not have picked a better spot, with gorgeous views of the ocean. I had a little snack, a banana and I also tried an energy gel for the first time. Not too bad, actually.
Finally, after 6 hours and 40 minutes and about 130 km, I got to Santa Cruz and parked myself and my bike in front of Cafe Brazil, which I highly recommend if you ever go to Santa Cruz. Sadly it was past 3pm, which is when they close, but they have a couple of benches outside, where I sat down and had another Clif bar and another sandwich and a good rest for a few minutes. That was about the time I realized 1) that I had run out of Cytomax and 2) that it was probably a bad idea to leave the Santa Cruz Mountains for the end of the ride. Well, I couldn’t really do anything about it at that point, so I simply found a 7 Eleven, restocked on Gatorade and started with my ascent.
Flat and ascent never ending
My legs felt really tired at that point, but luckily the grade at the beginning is not that steep. So I was slow, my lower back was hurting, but overall I felt ok. Then something happened that, inevitably, has to happen on a 120 mile ride. I got a flat. Luckily though, at a spot where it was kinda convenient to sit down (it was some sort of driveway with chair-sized stones) and fix the problem. It took me some time, but eventually I got going again. The grade picked up in steepness though and my energy level was slowly but surely moving from orange to red. Truth be told, I had to stop 3 or 4 times to rest for a few minutes before battling on in the lowest gear, hoping the turn off point on to Old Santa Cruz Highway would be around the next corner.
Eventually, I made it and got rewarded by a nice downhill to Lexington Reservoir. The sun was starting to set and I realized that I will probably not make it home before dark. Anticipating that I would, I only carried a taillight with me (that I had kept turned on pretty much since foggy San Francisco). Lexington Reservoir was a bit of a pain, with lots of ups and downs—poisen for my legs. Then down the Creek Trail to Los Gatos, when it finally got dark. Just a little bit to go, so I hoped no cop would stop me and continued on via Saratoga to finally reach my place around 8.45pm, after being out on the road for almost 12 hours.
- Ride data on Garmin Connect
- Photo set on Flickr
- Bike Forums: Best route from San Jose to Santa Cruz?