Our Second Week End Training Ride from San Jose to Montery
|Read about our first weekend training ride from San Francisco to Santa Cruz|
Our second cycling tour was from San Jose to Monterey. We pedaled down this piece of the Pacific Coast Highway on 19-20 May, 2012. We rode in two stages, San Jose to Santa Cruz, and then on to Monterey. We rode about 70 miles and climbed about 4500 feet. We based our route from San Jose to Santa Cruz on our own knowledge of the local roads. We based our route from Santa Cruz to Monterey on ACA Map 4. We recommend this route without reservation.
We were more confident on our second foray into touring. We knew more, we were, physically and mentally, better prepared. We were far more used to heavier loads. By moving the front panniers back, our bikes handled almost like a dream. Still, the wind surprised us. Unlike the NW winds of our first trip, we encountered SW winds on the second day, bucking a headwind all afternoon.
Between the first and second trips, we tweaked our bikes and our techniques. Moving the front panniers behind the front axle made a huge handling difference. On Pat’s bike, we replaced the Blackburn rear rack with a heavier, steel, Surly rack. We also moved the handlebar brake levers, allowing for a proper mounting of his handlebar bag.
We worked to change our bike loads. Marian reduced her load to 90 pounds, down two pounds. We off-loaded the food for the first day, planning on buying it in Santa Cruz. The addition of a dedicated Kryptonite lock and cable, and a tire repair kit largely ate up any savings. Pat’s weight went up to 95.5 pounds, up two pounds. The Surly Rack addition more than made up for reductions in clothes, and a lighter sleeping bag.
Our first leg, from Lexington Reservoir to New Brighton Beach State Park was about 22 miles, with 2047 feet of climbing. We based our route from San Jose to Santa Cruz on our knowledge and experience of the roads in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The ways to the coast are few, and most are not bike friendly. We loved the idea of riding out of our driveway and going over the top, but that wasn’t practical. Instead, we chose to start at Lexington Reservoir, riding up the Old Santa Cruz Highway, along Summit Road, and down the Soquel San Jose Highway. We used the following route: 0.0 miles – Start; 8.2 miles – RIGHT onto Soquel San Jose; 19.5 miles – LEFT onto Soquel; 20.7 miles – RIGHT onto Park; 21.1 miles – LEFT onto McGregor; 21.3 miles END at New Brighton State Beach.
Our ride from San Jose to Santa Cruz had one major climb. Since we started at Lexington Dam, we avoided over a third of the climb. After reaching Summit road, there was a long descent on Soquel San Jose Road to Soquel.
Our second leg, from Santa Cruz to Monterey was about 42 miles, with about 2000 feet of climbing. We built up our route using the ACA Maps and Vicky Spring’s route. Where the two did not agree, we used our best judgement. We used the following route: o.o miles – START; 0.1 miles – RIGHT onto Park; 0.6 miles – RIGHT onto Soquel; 4.8 miles – RIGHT onto Freedom; 5.0 miles – LEFT onto Bonita; 6.2 miles – RIGHT onto San Andreas; 13.2 miles – LEFT onto Beach; 13.4 miles – RIGHT onto Thurwacher / McGowan; 14.4 miles – RIGHT onto Trafton; 16.0 miles – LEFT onto Bluff; 16.8 miles – LEFT onto Jensen; 17.5 miles – RIGHT onto Pacific Coast Highway; 23.1 miles – RIGHT onto Molera / Nashua; 26.5 miles – LEFT onto Monte; 28.2 miles – LEFT onto Del Monte; 28.4 miles – RIGHT onto Bike Path; 36.9 miles – RIGHT onto Metz; 37.1 miles – RIGHT onto Tioga; 37.3 miles – LEFT onto Bike Path; 40.3 miles – LEFT onto Camino El Estero; 40.4 miles – END at Visitor Center
Our ride from Santa Cruz to Monterey had no major climbs. In the early part of the ride, we had four significant rollers. After that, our route had few climbs until near the end, when we discovered more rollers in the dunes near Monterey.
First Day – Saturday, 19 May 2012
Preparations @ Lexington Reservoir on 19 May: The Romantic in me is in love with the idea of rolling down my driveway, fully loaded, setting out on a grand adventure. Unfortunately, there is no easy and safe way to ride through the Santa Cruz Mountains to Santa Cruz. Most auto traffic uses Highway 17. Bike are barred from sharing that road. The cyclist has a number of alternatives. Highway 9 offers a way over the top, but has long, steep grades. Roads go to Watsonville to the south, with a detour by way of Hollister. The Los Gatos Trail runs to Lexington Dam, and would be perfect, were the last mile or so to the dam paved, and something could be done about a very sharp grade that could never be ridden with a loaded touring bike.
Rather than brave that grade, we decided to start at the top of the dam. It felt a little like cheating, but we could not see a reasonable way of dealing with that steep slope. We would not have minded the 90 minute ride to our starting point. It was just that a part of the trail is, for us, too much to deal with.
Our son, David, was gracious enough to give up sleep on Saturday morning to see us to our starting point. He was very helpful, moving us along, wanting to make sure we got off in good time. After finally leaving us, he headed home to breakfast. And then he was off to work.
Lexington Reservoir on 19 May @ 0900 – Distance – 0.0 Miles: We had ridden this segment many times. Our time to the top was slower than our training runs. But, we weren’t pressing, knowing we had more riding to do. My bike was “nervous”. When I pedaled, the bike seemed to flex. Perhaps it was because of the differences between sand and a live load. Perhaps it was poor packing.
Summit Store on Summit Road on 19 May @ 10:40 – Distance = 8.1 Miles: We have ridden and drive by this store many times over the years. We had never stopped before. On earlier rides, we had preferred to return to our car and drive to refreshments, rather than stop.
We had been presented with an early opportunity to get into the spirit of touring. So, we stopped. We basked on the warm, sunlit patio. While we were there, other bikers came and went. Some looked at our panniers, obviously curious. But no one commented on them..
Soquel – San Jose Road on 19 May 2012 @ 11:00 – Distance = 8.1 miles: The descent was uneventful. When I checked my pads and wheels, the Kool Pads lived up to their name. Marian’s pads and wheels were much warmer. We passed on two restaurants immediately at the bottom, looking for a place where we could easily watch the bikes. We rolled on past the road to New Brighton Beach.
Much further down than we intended, we found a large shopping center, with restaurants and a Safeway. We ate a late lunch and discussed going on to Sunset Beach, perhaps 12 miles down the road. Had we gone on, that the extra distance and climbing would have been a grind. We elected to buy food at Safeway and return to New Brighton Beach for the night. Having explored both, we knew that New Brighton Beach was more pleasant.
New Brighton Beach State Park on 19 May – Distance = 26.6 miles: We back-tracked up Soquel, returning to to the gates of the Park. The sign said the campground was full. We waited patiently in line until it was our turn. We were the first biker / hikers, so we had our pick of five sites
Camping at New Brighton Beach State Park
The hiker / biker site was in a wooded area at the end of a lane. Convenient showers were nearby. The trees, the shade, and the sounds of the ocean made for a very pleasant campground. We set up our camp, having been warned by rangers that theft was a problem. We took care to lock our bikes, and not flash our items about. The shower was welcome, costing only 50 cents for four minutes.
We set about making an eclectic supper – canned chili, potato chips, raw carrots, bagels, cherries, and bananas. We remembered the fuel canister at Half Moon Bay, and hoped our cooking was more efficient. Whether we were better, or the first canister had been defective, we had no trouble cooking everything. We finished off with cocoa.
Gregory and Carol, a Swiss couple, joined us a short time before the sun went down. They had quit their jobs, flown to Miami, and started out at the end of February. They crossed the southern tier, cutting north at Phoenix to Las Vegas, and across California to Cambria. They were friendly. Their English was good, which was fortunate because of our lack of German or French. They were considering biking up to San Francisco, in a single shot, the following day.
We cleaned up. We decided to trust Gregory and Carol, and grabbed our camera. We wandered through the final curtain of trees to the edge of the cliff, and gazed out on the Pacific Ocean, the Mother of Oceans. It is amazing how something as immense as an ocean needed context. The waters stretched out, defining the horizon. The vast expanses dwarfed boats. Unless the ocean could be framed by something, it made no sense.
A path led down to the beach. We strolled down it, our legs protesting slightly. They would let us know, on the way back up. We paused to look at the flora. Marian was the guiding hand, as Pat would have been destination focused, determined to get down to the sand.
After the sun went down, we slipped out of the chilly wind, into our tent. I slid into my down sleeping bag for the first time, finding it generously warm. Surprisingly, I did not sleep as well as I expected, considering how tired I was.
Preparations on Sunday, 20 May 2012: We turned out at 06:00. We broke down camp. We wanted the tent to dry, but still wound up stowing it wet. We bid farewell to Gregory and Carol. They were more casual about continuing their journey. We were eager to set out, into the unknown. All things seemed possible
New Brighton Beach State Park on 20 May 2012 @ 08:00 – Distance = 0.0 miles: Our legs were a little tired. We felt the full weight of our panniers as we retraced our route down Soquel. As we passed Cabrillo College, hoards of riders swung onto Soquel Road. I thought this was a club ride, at first. The riders made us cringe. They poured through intersections, giving no thought to red lights or stop signs. Some rode three and four abreast. Happily, as the ride progressed, the groups that continued to pass us seemed to have less adrenaline and testosterone. We began having five second chats, starting with Marian, and continuing with me. They were more friendly, interested in our bikes, gear, and destination. Some struggled, desperately, to pass us. Had we passed them, in turn, we would have crushed their fledgling spirits.
Bike Rally Rest Stop West of Watsonville on 20 May @ 09:30 – Distance = 14.0 miles: The organizers had set up a Rest Station for the bike rally. We knew we had no hope of passing as participants, but we hoped they would not begrudge us their facilities. We met, Dave, an organizer. He told us they were on a Ride for Diversity. He shared touring stories and experiences with us. He asked questions about our bikes, and our experiences. He generously offered us food and water, as well as the porta-potty. His daughter, setting beside him, obviously a bored teenager, never looked up. We wish Dave only the very best.
Back Roads West of the Pacific Coast Highway on 20 May @ 10:00 – Distance 14.0 miles: We continued to share the route with the racers. The Surly rep for Northern California passed us, giving us a shout out. We thought it odd he wasn’t riding a Surly. At the 17 mile mark, we turned right. The racers turned left. We will always remember our unplanned participation in their race.
The racers certainly noticed us, possibly thinking we were, intentionally, part of their event. Most probably, they thought us mad. A few may have marveled at the foolishness of an ancient touring couple. One day, some may graduate to the next level of cycling, applying their biking to something other than just going fast. Alone now, we settled into our routine, watching the fields slowly roll by. The roads we rolled over were choppy, in desperate need of replacement. Farm trucks occasionally passed us, giving us a wide berth. While we could not see the ocean, we were in an ocean of cool climate crops, mostly strawberries.
Pacific Coast Highway on 20 May @ 12:15 – Distance = 17.0 miles: We returned to the highway. The shoulder was wide. It was Sunday. Traffic was heavy. The noise was deafening. Shouted conversation were all that we could manage, even standing next to each other.
Moss Landing on 20 May 2012 @ 12:45 – Distance = 20.1 miles: We found a small place to eat, wolfing down hamburgers. The waitress was generous with her ice water, refilling our bottles. We were generous with our tip. As it turned out there was a Thai Restaurant a half mile further on. We would have eaten there, but it is hard to pass up the food you can see for the food that might be. Such is the luck of the road.
Pacific Coast Highway on 20 May 2012 @ 13:30 – Distance = 20.5 miles: We rode our last bit of Highway One for the day. We turned off the highway, riding a big “S”, one part west of the Highway, near the beach dunes. The other half was through many fields growing cool weather crops. The wind had come up. We were getting hit by steadily increasing south-west head winds.
Bike Path East of Pacific Coast Highway on 20 May @ 14:30 – Distance = 31.2 miles: We turned down a well maintained bike path, several miles from town. On any other day we would have appreciated it. Unlike the mundane road beside it, the path rose and fell, magnifying the little hills. In town, we stopped for water. We spent several minutes talking to a young man, just completing a 1000 mile trek. He was coming up from the south. He had broken a mount on one of his panniers, and was holding it together with string. We hope he made it to his hostel in Santa Cruz. He was planning on ending his tour in San Francisco, the following day, where he had a flight booked for late in the afternoon.
Bike Path West of Pacific Coast Highway on 20 May @ 15:00 – Distance = 34.5 miles: The path crossed to the other side of the highway. We had our choice of bike paths – one hugging the highway, the other across the tracks on old Fort Ord. The one closest to the highway, the one we chose, was noisy. We were uncertain where the other path went, and whether it would lead to a dead-end, or turn away, forcing us to retrace our steps. The hills became steeper. The wind, if anything, blew more strongly in our faces, forcing us to buck the headwind for the rest of the day. We tried to ignore the blowing sand.
We met fellow touring cyclists, easily recognizable with their panniers. We would exchange smiles, waves, and thumbs up, knowing we shared a common bond, if only for a few fleeting seconds. Monterey Bay was spectacularly bright blue, sharply contrasting with the white sand. The winds roared, forcing us to pedal down the hills. We had to curb our impatience. We had begun our ride nearly eight hours before, and were becoming anxious. The wind forced us to a crawl. We finally rode off the top of the dunes, and into their shelter. In that thin wedge of green, we could feel almost no wind. To our left was Del Monte, packed with cars, bumper to bumper, waiting for the next light.
Santa Cruz Visitor Center on 20 May @ 16:45 – Distance = 43.4 miles: We arrived, finally, at the Visitor Center. On a prior scouting expedition, with our car, we had explored leaving our truck parked in their parking lot. The people at the Visitor Center had no problem with doing that. However, these friendly, helpful people worried that something bad might happen to our truck.
So, rather than risk damage to our truck, we imposed upon Elizabeth, our daughter. A student at Santa Cruz, she agreed to come over and pick us up. It turned out that she had actually seen us, on the dunes, from the highway.
Riding into the parking lot, I began looking for her. How I missed her, and rode on past her, astonished us all. Fortunately she called me back before I rode off into the sunset.
SummaryWe were very pleased with this ride. We had made marked progress from the first ride. We had ridden yet another part of the fabled Pacific Coast Highway. I had met interesting people I would have otherwise never met, seen things I might otherwise have missed, and experienced one of the reasons for retiring to a passion, rather than retiring from a job.
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