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    2001 Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge Ride Report
    (Saturday, August 4 in Aptos, CA.)

    Catherine & I arrived at Aptos High School at about 6:15 after an uneventful (if sleepy) 1 hour drive from Fremont, and hung around for a few waiting for the staff to get registration set up (we were 15 minutes early). It was a cool, foggy morning, typical for Aptos. I had fond memories of the few weeks I lived in Aptos in the summer of 1991. After waffling on whether or not to put on knee and arm warmers, I decided that I'd probably be much happier if I did, so I donned those, we checked in and got our identifying string around our wrists (which I thought was somewhat amusing - most rides have jersey numbers or somesuch. No doubt string is considerably cheaper though!). Catherine was a bit nervous about completing the ride, as it was listed as 105.6 miles and around 10,000 ft. of climbing, but I knew she'd do fine :)

    We started riding right around 6:30, and headed towards Corralitos on Freedom Blvd. It was cool, but not too chilly. We turned off of Freedom Blvd. onto Hames Rd, a very pleasant rural road that I'd never been on before, and continued to the base of Eureka Canyon Rd., the first of many, many climbs of the day. I'd ridden Eureka Canyon several times before when I lived in the Santa Cruz area as training for the 1999 Death Ride. Its a lovely climb - not too steep, but relatively long (5.5 miles). The fog started to lift (from both the mountains and my head) as we headed up the west side of the Santa Cruz mountains. Before too long, we were at the junction of Eureka Canyon and Highland (and near the upper entrance to Nicene Marks State Park - great mountain biking there!). We descended Highland for a ways down to the entrance to the Soquel Demonstration Forest (another great place for mountain biking), then climbed our way up to Summit Rd. This is a rather gentle climb, and very scenic, with the hills and valleys of the mountains all around. After reaching Summit Rd., we continued on for a short ways to the first rest stop at the fire station on Summit Rd (20.7 miles). They had lots of tasty fruit and nut breads (yay!) and very cheerful volunteers (some of whom sounded like they may have had a bit of trouble finding the place).

    After chowing down on bread and such, we continued north on Summit Rd. We met a nice fellow from the Berkeley area and rode with him for a few miles. Summit north to Hwy 17 is mostly rolling hills, more up than down, but nothing particularly steep, so we maintained a moderate pace, talking as we headed towards Boulder Creek. Once we reached Hwy 17, Summit Rd. turned sharply upwards for a bit, and our companion went on ahead, being apparently, in more of a hurry than we were. The route was supposed to go up Bear Creek Rd., then head south on Hwy. 9 to Boulder Creek, however, when we reached the junction of Bear Creek Rd. and E. Zayante Rd, there was a police officer directing everybody to go down Zayante, as there were power lines down on Bear Creek Rd. I didn't mind this at all, as I've driven on Bear Creek a bunch of times en route to Boulder Creek, and its pretty heavily trafficed, and has no shoulder at all. As it would turn out, we gained several miles, and about 500 ft. of climbing on this detour. I was also glad to ride on Zayante, as I'd planned several rides on it, but never gotten that far, as most of the rides in that area are extremely hilly (the SCMC being no exception!). Zayante descended for what seemed like an eternity on the very curvy, bumpy road. Fortunately there were very few cars on the road at this early hour, as the road was barely wide enough for one car and one bicycle! I was happy that I generally know the roads in this area, as some folks were expressing concern at how to get to the next rest stop since we'd been detoured. We turned off on Quail Hollow and then to Glen Arbor to Hwy. 9 near Ben Lomond. The detour we'd been lead on required descending well past Boulder Creek, so we had a few miles of climbing up Hwy. 9 to Boulder Creek from Ben Lomond. Hwy. 9 would be one of the greatest roads ever, except that its heavily trafficed, but it is still a really pretty climb. Before we knew it we were in Boulder Creek, and turned off to the second rest stop at a nice city park (mile 39). While in line for the loo, I heard my name called out and turned to see Winston, a fellow Sun employee whom I'd met on the I Care Classic. We talked briefly, and I didn't see him again for the rest of the ride (he's a much stronger climber than I!). I stretched for a bit, chowed down on some PB&bagels, and refilled my water bottles.

    After the Boulder Creek stop, we continued north on Hwy. 9, and picked up a paceline. It was sort of weird pacelining up a hill, and the folks we were following were rather fast - they were going about 20mph UP Highway 9! I was glad that it never got to be my turn to lead, as I don't think I could pull that fast! After a few miles of pacing, I had to back off, as it was hurting me to keep up with the line. 7.6 miles past the rest stop, we turned on the north end of Hwy. 236 (AKA Big Basin Way). I've ridden on 236 many, many times, and its just beautiful! This was the first time I'd taken it north-to-south, however, and it was nice seeing everything from the opposite direction. A relatively gentle climb to the summit, then a lovely, fast, sweeping descent into Big Basin State Park, where we stopped to have a bite in preparation for the huge upcoming climb on Jamison Creek, and to apply some much-needed sunblock. It was another gentle climb out of Big Basin park on the south leg of Hwy. 236, then a brief descent to the turnoff to Jamison Creek. I'd been dreading this climb, as I've done it several times before, and its a killer, only this time, we were climbing it after 61 miles of hilly riding! As I knew it would be, Jamison Creek was truly vicious! Its only 2.9 miles long, but climbs about 1500 feet in that distance, with the grade getting gradually steeper as you go along. I bet Catherine that we'd see riders walking up the hill, but alas, I lost. There was a semi-stop about halfway up the hill, offering ice water and Coke, which I didn't stop for, but Catherine did. Before too long I was wishing I'd taken a cup of Coke for the caffeine jolt if nothing else! This hill is HARD! After a good, long while, we reached the top of Jamison Creek. I stopped, but Catherine wanted to continue onward, as she wasn't feeling well after the climb (and probably not eating quite enough). After I regained my breath, I caught up to Catherine and we briefly headed south on Empire Grade to the lunch stop at a CYA Camp (65.6 miles).

    Lunch was great, with V8, DIY sandwiches, and boiled, salted potatoes - what more could you ask for? We hung around for a little while, ate tons of potatoes, chugged lots of V8, stretched, and headed back out. After lunch the route continued south on Empire Grade. This leg of the ride was the only portion that I wasn't very familiar with, which was extra nice. We turned off on Pine "Flat" Rd. (not very flat at all, but fortunately we were descending it!), and enjoyed a lovely descent through the trees towards Bonny Doon. We then looped north on Old Bonny Doon Rd. and rejoined Pine Flat (AKA Bonny Doon at that point). We went by the Bonny Doon Vineyard, which I'd gone looking for a couple of times before, but had never found. At least now I know where it is (they have some great wines!). Shortly, we turned on Smith Grade. I'd heard at lunch that Smith Grade was a real killer (I didn't tell Catherine that, though :-), but it started out with several miles of beautiful, shaded downhill. I was worried that we'd have to pay back the downhill with interest, as I knew that Smith Grade rejoined Empire Grade, and we were far below where we'd turned off of Empire Grade onto Pine Flat. As luck would have it, however, the climb wasn't bad at all - just over a mile of climbing, with only the last few hundred feet being particularly steep. It turned out that Smith Grade rejoined Empire Grade nearly at the bottom of Empire Grade, so there wasn't so much climbing to re-do afterall. Once we hit Empire Grade, we continued south/down past UCSC, my alma mater. We continued on High St., and across the Hwy. 1 overpass to the last rest stop at the church next to Mission Santa Cruz (87 miles). They had soda, potatoes, and other munchables. We stretched and talked to folks for a bit, then headed out on the final leg of the ride.

    We cruised through downtown Santa Cruz and then headed up Branciforte Dr., a lovely 4-mile gentle climb up through the redwoods. Though the climb was gentle, I was really starting to feel all of the climbing by this point, so we took it at an easy pace. The route turned onto Mountain View Rd, which I'd heard was the last climb of any consequence of the ride. It wasn't too bad of a climb, and before too long, we turned onto Laurel Glen, then enjoyed a couple of miles of descending on Soquel/San Jose Rd. into Soquel. From there we headed straight back to the start via Soquel Dr. We pulled into Aptos High School at around 6:20pm, almost 12 hours after we'd left - pheewww! We got some more liquids in us, and then went out to sushi at one of my favorite sushi joints, Takkara and feasted miso soup, sashimi, and maki - yumm!

    This was a great ride - very tough, well-supported, and gorgeous. It definitely deserved the "Challenge" in its name!

    Ride Stats:
    Distance: 112mi
    Total Time: 11h 54m
    On-bike Time: 9h 23m
    Average Speed: 12mph
    Maximum Speed: 46mph
    Total Climbing: ~9800 ft

    Ride Rating:
    Difficulty: 5
    Support: 4 - the road markings could have been a bit clearer, but otherwise, it was superb
    Food: 5 - muffins, bread, and V8 - what more do I need?
    Route: 5
    Overall: 5 - do this ride!

    Last modified 02 November, 2021 MST
    Copyright © 2009 Adam R. Paul