Substituting Eureka Canyon Road for a Smoke-Filled Calaveras Road
|Read about our Elena Ride|
There is an old adage in engineering. Plans are nothing, planning is everything. Serendipity gave us our chance to find this out. We had enjoyed our rest week, letting our battered muscles heal. We began our training week, expecting to ride up Calaveras Road. The fire fighting teams were practicing on Calaveras Road. We needed to find an alternative.
Our plan, for the week of 10 June, had been to ride Calaveras Road, north of San Jose. This road would have provided a step up from the Elena ride of two weeks earlier. However, controlled burns of the grass lands around Fremont, with the prospects of turning the clear air into a smoky haze, made that ride unattractive. We reversed the order of our rides, doing a loaded flat ride first. Then, for loaded climbing, we rode from Aptos to Corallitos, and part way up Eureka Canyon Road.
The Santa Cruz Mountains stretch in an arc, south of San Jose, creating a barrier to the sea. There are few ways from the Santa Clara Valley, that San Jose sets in, to the foggy, wooded coast. One of the few ways between San Jose and Santa Cruz is via Eureka Canyon Road. This road, with an average grade of 5%, offers a lightly traveled way between the two cities.
We started at Aptos, near Aptos Station. On the outward leg, we avoided busy Freedom Boulevard, instead taking Trout Gulch, Valencia, Day Valley, and Hames Road to the little town of Corallitos. From Corallitos, we turned north, riding up Eureka Canyon Road. We decided we would either climb for an hour, or stop at a point where the road becomes particularly steep, actually reaching that point at 58 minutes into the climb. We coasted back down to Corallitos, and then took Corallitos Road to Freedom. From there, we climbed up to the top of a hill, and then coasted down to Soquel. We then biked beside the busy Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, back our starting point.
The controlled burns on Calaveras Road forced us to change our plans in two ways. First, we switched the order of our rides, doing the loaded flat ride first, followed by the loaded hill ride. Second, we selected Eureka Canyon Road.
We switched the order on Wednesday morning, as we were beginning preparations to drive to Calaveras Road. Marian noticed, by accident, on a local news site, that fire fighters were conducting controlled burns Wednesday and Thursday. Rather than cast about for an alternative, we did our loaded flat ride. We biked the Guadalupe Trail down to Gold Street, and then added enough distance to get 30 miles.
We considered alternative rides, including Highway 9 from Los Gatos up to Skyline, part of Mount Hamilton, or doing the Summit – Highland ride. We decided they were all too steep. Then we remembered Eureka Canyon Road, with an average grade of 5%. Uncertain if we could bike the steep upper part, we moved the start to Aptos, with the back roads, rather than slogging up Freedom Boulevard.
From the very start, this ride was different. We got a later start than usual, and wound up doing an afternoon ride, shortly after eating lunch. Riding after lunch and afternoon rides are typical, for us, when touring. As a test, we ate at a Taco Bell. We had a fast food meal that was lighter than others that can be purchased. My meal hit the spot. And, I felt no ill effects, such as food resting heavily in my stomach during the ride.
We loaded out bikes down, to the curious observation of some teenagers, apparently at Aptos Station to learn to do tricks on X-bikes. We rolled down Trout Gulch, remarking on its charming name. We turned onto Valencia, and got into our first, small climbs. My legs seemed strong, with little evidence of having done a long, loaded ride the day before.
The roads became less well-traveled, the further away from Aptos we rode. The shoulder was spotty, sometimes broad and inviting, sometimes not. Some of the cars were courteous, giving us a wide berth, others were not. Much of the time we were on well-shaded roads, slowly riding past a rural mixture of farms, stables, and orchards. At one point, as we stopped, two curious horses trotted over to us, perhaps expecting treats. Alas, we didn’t think they would like banana chips or luna bars.
I had ridden this route many times, but never with my Surly. Nor had I carried anything like the 60 pounds of sand in my panniers. I was curious about how difficult the hills would be, knowing that some steep slopes lay ahead of us. I enjoyed the pastoral setting, putting the thought of hard climbing from my mind. On Day Valley Road, for the first time that day, I pushed my bike up about a hundred yards to the top of a hill. Further on, at the start of Hames Road, I pushed my bike. And, just before Corallitos, I pushed my bike up a very steep hill. I had seen Garmin estimates of 16% grades. I was initially dismayed, but reminded myself that, even with my mountain bike, that hill would have punished me.
We were grateful to coast down into the little community of Corallitos. It boasts a few houses, a small park at the cross roads, and a small market. We took advantage of the tiny park, smaller than our backyard, snacking and hydrating. We watched a Sheriff Volunteer, complete with night-stick, writing a ticket on an improperly parked car. I had seen him as I approached the crossroads, and had been careful to come to a complete stop.
While we lounged, we met another biker. Something about a loaded bike, and our obvious ages, seems to invite people to talk to us. When I first ran into this at the start of our touring career, I was wary. Now, I assume people are genuinely curious.
He asked us what our destination was. As usual, we disappointed him by telling him we were only training. But we fed his imagination by telling him we were training for the California part of the Pacific Coast. We talked about bikes. He just bought a Navarra from REI, but did not know if it was steel or aluminum. We told him we thought steel bikes were best for touring. He is a builder, commuting from Watsonville to Santa Cruz, and doesn’t have time for touring, although he wished he did. After talking for a few more minutes, we parted ways. We wish him well.
We then turned north, up Eureka Canyon Road. If the rider follows it to the top, it connects with Highland Road, and then Summit Road. From there, it is a short descent down to Lexington Reservoir. I have done that ride, on my Mountain Bike, several times. I had never ridden it on my Surly.
On that day, we were there to put in time, and get miles and feet into our session. I knew that Eureka Canyon Road is really two rides. The first half has fairly gentle climbs, often in the 3 – 5 % range. The second half is steeper, pulling the overall average of the road above 5%. We decided, since is was already later in the afternoon, that we would climb for an hour, or until we got the steep part. I was under no misconception that we could ride to the top in one hour. we would have needed at least two hours to get to the top.
The beginning of Eureka Canyon Road, for the first quarter-mile, is steep. It brought back memories of other rides, where I wondered if I would have the strength to get to Summit Road. From there, we did gentle climbs and descents, passing houses and orchards. Shade made our riding easier. The road was not very wide. However, most of the cars gave us a wide berth. I did not let several brush backs diminish my enjoyment of the ride.
We made good time. My Garmin was usually reporting 2% – 4% grades. The occasional 8% climb did not last long. We welcomed the odd short descent. Just short of an hour, at the 58 minute mark, we hit the start of the steep section of the road. I saw numbers in the range of 15%. Rather than push onward, we agreed we had hit our training goal. We had to also consider the lateness of the hour, the prospect of commute traffic, and worsening sun angles for drivers.
We quickly coasted down to Corallitos and then took the road over to Freedom Boulevard. End-of-day traffic greeted us as we made the turn. The traffic was noisy, heavy, and many drivers were rude. I still wonder what they think would happen if they actually brushed a cyclist with their car?
We climbed the last hill for the day. While it was only a little over 200 feet, it seemed like it went on for ever. In fact, it took us about 20 minutes. We zipped down the hill, turned right onto Soquel Road, and were soon back at the starting point.
I had hoped this ride would be a full substitute for the Calaveras Ride, offering us an increase distance and elevation from Elena Road. Elena had been 23.4 miles, and 1742 feet of climbing. Calaveras is 27 miles and 2327 feet of climbing It turned out that Eureka Canyon was 25.3 miles and 1641 feet of climbing. The ride we are preparing for, Summit – Highland, is 37 miles and 3740 feet climbing, a very big jump.
Overall, we were satisfied with the Eureka Canyon Ride. It was about the same distance and elevation as Elena. However, we were not nearly as stressed or worn out by it. True, we had walked some parts of this ride, but so to, Elena. Overall, the rides seemed comparable, but we manage it in better shape.
I suspect that we will go to Calaveras Road, next week, if the air is clear. Summit – Highland Road more than doubles what we had done at Eureka Canyon. Calaveras offers a better intermediate step.
|Read about our ride up Calaveras Road|