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2002 Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge Ride Report
(Saturday, August 3 in Aptos, CA.)

See also my photo album from this ride

Kristin arrived at my place in Fremont from Berkeley at around 5:00, and we hit the road by 5:30. An uneventful hour's drive later, we pulled into the parking lot at Aptos High School. We checked in, got ready, and rode out at 7'ish.

It was pretty chilly, and very foggy, not at all unusual for this time of year in Aptos. We rode south on Freedom Blvd. for a brief warmup before starting our climbing on the lovely and rural Hames Rd. Hames Rd. This is a mostly moderate climb, and before long, we descended to the tiny town of Corralitos, and began our first large'ish climb of the day, Eureka Canyon Rd. Shortly into this climb, I caught up to a rider, and after talking to her for a few, realized it was Brenda, a friendly Eureka Canyon Rd. Grizzly Peak cyclist whose club ride up King's Mountain Rd. I'd done last August. We rode together up Eureka Canyon, chatting and enjoying the lovely views of the fog-shrouded hills. The climb is mellow enough and never particularly steep, although the road surface is pretty awful. Not too much of a problem when climbing, though. We passed the back entrance to the Forest of Nicene Marks, then descended Highland Way (same road, new name) past the Soquel Demonstration Forest's parking area, where a good number of mountain bikers were unloading their cars in preparation for some nice, technical mountain biking. Highland climbs gently from the demonstration forest entrance, past a huge landslide that kept the road closed for several years, then gets re-named yet again to Summit Rd. after crossing Mt. Bache Rd. After a brief jaunt on Summit, we arrived at rest stop #1 at a fire station (21mi).

I waited to let Kristin catch up, while Brenda took a short stop, and quickly hit the road again, never to be seen again. I ran into Felix hanging out with some Tri-City Triathon club members and briefly spoke to him, and then ran into my friend Amy, who was riding with her friend. It was nice to run into so many folks I knew this early on! After getting some food and using the Foggy Summit Rd. facilities, Kristin & I went to head out, and I noticed that my rear tire was squishy. After a quick top-off, we hit the road. Felix had already left, also never to be seen again :) Amy and her friend had left shortly before us, and we caught them before long and talked for a few until .... my rear tire went totally squishy - argh. I pulled off and changed my tube, failing to find what had caused the flat in the first place (I hate it when that happens, as it all too often means more flats until you find and cure the problem!). Kristin and I then continued north (along with a large number of cars) on the gentle rollers of Summit Rd., crossed Highway 17, and climbed a much less gentle, but short, hill. Summit Rd. at this point is a very narrow 1.5-lane road that winds its way along a christmas tree farm where my family used to get their tree every year. It was even more foggy here - the ground was very wet, and the fog was heavy enough to make splattering noises as it hit our windbreakers. It was lovely and peaceful nonetheless, and there was very little traffic on this section. We T'd off at Bear Creek, turned left, and climbed a little bit more before a good, solid downhill. Unlike last year, Bear Creek was actually open to traffic, and the descent was pretty fun, though slowed by the wet pavement. This would be a truly wonderful downhill in drier conditions! In short order, we turned south on Highway 9, into the town of Boulder Creek, and arrived at rest stop #2 at a town park (39mi).

Rest Stop #2 Amy and her friend were again just leaving as we pulled in. There was a very friendly and cute Rottweiler being extra-nice to anyone who had food in their hands :) Alas, this rest stop had just run out of boiled potatoes, which sounded quite appealing to me at this point! Fortunately, they did have some yummy coffee, as well as GU's, trail mix, hard-boiled eggs, and other tasty edibles. Kristin and I didn't stay too long here, having already lost unanticipated time fixing my flat tire. We headed back northward on Highway 9 at a fast pace. This stretch of Hwy 9, though more-or-less uphill, isn't steep at all, and we easily maintained around 20mph. A small paceline passed me, tempting me to hop on, but I resisted, wanting to save my energy for the upcoming climb of the dreaded Jamison Creek Rd. A bit more climbing later, and I arrived at the junction of Hwy 9 and Hwy 236 (AKA Big Basin Way) and took the opportunity to wait for Kirstin and re-hydrate a nearby conifer. 236 is a marvelous climb from either direction, passing through groves of manzanitas, redwoods, and various other trees. Going north-to-south is especially nice, since almost all automobile traffic heads from the south to Big Basin Park Headquarters, and doesn't generally continue beyond that. It was still quite fogged in, and the redwood trees were creating their own precipitation that rained down on us heavily. The climb is pretty gentle, and very scenic. As I climbed, a fellow passed me, looked over, then slowed down until I caught up. He asked, "is your name Adam?" which rather surprised me, being as I didn't know him. It turned out he had read my report from last year's SCMC, and recognized my bike (there are rather few Habaneros on the road...). Woo hoo - I'm web-famous! ;-) A couple of false summits later, and Kristin & I started descending towards the park Headquarters. There was a brief window where I could see across the fog-capped mountains, so I stopped to take a picture. I soon caught Kristin, having an insurmountable weight advantage over her, and enjoyed the fast, semi-technical descent into the park. I was again somewhat slowed down by the dampness on the road (real or imagined, it doesn't much Redwoods on
Hwy 236 matter when you can't see around the corners!). The tailend of the descent wound through lovely redwoods before winding up at the basin in the middle of Hwy 236 (55mi).

We stopped for just a minute here to get some extra sustenance in us (I had a double-caffeine Power Gel myself). From the Park HQ, it was an easy climb, then descent to the bottom of Jamison Creek. They'd apparently just Jamison Creek Rd. re-gravelled the road, and we worried that we'd have to climb the 2.9mi in gravelly loveliness. Thankfully, the gravel didn't extend much beyond the bridge that marks the start of the tough stuff. There was a helpful sign, reminding us to go slow - a good thing too, else I'd surely have sped up to the top at a reckless speed ;-) As usual, Jamison is a tough climb. I didn't see very many riders on the road - 2 passed me, and I passed 2, and that was it. After 38 minutes of steepness, I finally arrived at the top and waited for Kristin, who showed up a couple minutes later. According to my heart rate monitor, my average HR for the climb was 156bpm, max of 175bpm, which I thought was pretty good. While we caught our breath at the summit, several other riders arrived. One of them grumbled "never again!" and lay down in the middle of the road! After a few, Kristin and I continued climbing albeit at a much gentler grade, on Empire Grade to the lunch stop at a CYA camp (66mi).

Again, Amy and her friend were just leaving as we arrived, but this would be the last we'd see of them. Lunch was great, with DIY sandwiches, pre-made PB&Js, boiled, seasoned potatoes, V8, nuts, cookies, hot chocolate, etc - very nice! I pigged out, eating a large turkey & cheese sandwich, 1/2 Pine Flat Rd. of a PB&J, 9 potato halves, a couple handfulls of nuts, and a V8. Guess I was hungry! Kristin and I stayed here for about half an hour or so, talking to other riders. Unfortunately this was just long enough to get cold, and when we hit the road again, it felt shiveringly cold. The fog was still very much with us as we continued climbing a little bit on Empire Grade, then endured a very cold descent to the turnoff onto Pine Flat Rd. Pine Flat Rd. is a lovely descent, and fortunately, it warmed up considerably as we descended. After 2 miles on Pine Flat, we turned onto Bonny Doon Rd. This is also a lush descent, passing orchards and vineyards. The road looked like it was in great shape, but in fact, the surfacing was quite rough so we Smith Grade stood up a lot. Another 3 miles, and we started the descent of Smith Grade. This is possibly the prettiest section of the course. The road is very narrow and curvey, with very little traffic, and fantastic scenery. There were huge ferns and small trees lining the side of the road, and we passed by a solitary apple orchard. After several miles of verdant wonderfulness, the road turned upwards, and we climbed the few hundred feet back to Empire Grade. Empire Grade undulates, trending downwards, before a short, steep, and fun pitch to the entrance to UC Santa Cruz (my alma mater). A brief descent on High St. later, and we crossed Hwy 1 on a pedestrian overpass and arrived at rest stop #4, next to a large church at the Mission Santa Cruz site (87mi).

Santa Cruz church We didn't stay too long at this rest stop. I was still pretty full from lunch, so I just snacked on some trail mix and drank some water. From here, we jogged on a few downtown Santa Cruz streets, then turned onto Market, which turns into Branciforte Dr. Branciforte is yet another pretty, green climb, and a nice gentle one at that, winding its way past groves of eucalyptus and, of course, redwoods. My butt was starting to feel the effects of 90 miles of bumpy, rough backroads by this point. We made pretty good time here, and soon turned off on Mountain View Rd., the last climb of the ride! We met a nice woman from San Jose, also a UCSC alum, and rode with her for a ways. The climb on Mountain View is pretty short, but also pretty steep, and by this point, my legs didn't have much left to give the hills, although I felt fine on the flats. The three of us eventually got to the top, turned on Laurel Glen, and descended to Soquel San Jose Rd. There were a TON of cars/pedestrians on one stretch of the road. It looked like there was a 7th Day Adventist convention going on. There were literally thousands and thousands of people! Our companion from San Jose developed rear derailleur trouble, and stopped to see if she could fix it, while Kristin and I rode on. Once in downtown Soquel, we headed south on Soquel Drive, past Cabrillo College, through Aptos Station, and back to the Burrito-making staff ride start. This final stretch, 7'ish miles, is nice, as its essentially flat. We pulled into Aptos High School at around 5:50, changed, checked in, and got some tasty burritos. Kristin won one of the raffle prizes, a headband from the Bicycle Trip store. We hung around for a little while, then drove back to the Bay Area.

This was another great Mountain Challenge, I thought! The food wasn't quite as good as last year (no bread/muffins at the 1st rest stop, otherwise it was great). It would have been nice to see the sun at least once, but at least it wasn't too hot!

Ride Stats:
Distance: 107.15mi
Total Time: 10h 57m
On-bike Time: 8h 43m
Average Speed: 12.2mph
Average Speed,
including stops:
9.8mph
Maximum Speed: 43.4mph
Total Climbing: ~10000 ft

Ride Rating:
Difficulty: 5
Support: 5
Food: 4.5 - no muffins/bread at first rest stop, and they ran out of potatoes at the second before we got there, but otherwise, it was great.
Route: 5
Overall: 5 - do this ride!


Last modified 08 February, 2011 MST
Copyright © 2009 Adam R. Paul
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