3.1.8 – Rocks, Dust and Sun Drenched Hill – Mountain Biking At Santa Teresa Park

Rocks, Dust, and Sun Drenched Hills

Mountain Biking At Santa Teresa Park

Read About Our Ride From Lexington To Buzzard Lagoon
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st overviewSan Jose is the most populous city in the Bay Area.  On the south end of San Francisco Bay, the city sits on top of the Santa Clara Valley , once known as the Valley of Heavenly Delight.  This valley, once an agricultural treasure-house, is now paved over.  The self-styled capital of Silicon Valley is the bedroom community for the tech industry of the moment.
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Mountains and bay bound the the valley.  To the east, Mountain Hamilton, 4000 vertical feet above the valley floor, sprawls in a south-easterly direction.  To the west, the Santa Cruz Mountains, climbing over 2500 feet high, parallel their eastern cousins.  Down the valley, the Santa Teresa Hills, a harsh, rocky outcrop, juts out from the Santa Cruz Mountains, impinging on the farmland.  The County included the hills in a park, Santa Teresa County Park, along with other open spaces, forming a green belt on the south edge of the city.
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To celebrate the end of our training, Marian and I returned to our mountain bikes, just as we did in 2012.  We selected Santa Teresa Park because it was nearby.  I had just repaired my mountain bike, and needed a test ride.  In the event something went wrong, Santa Teresa Park had many easy access points that we could drive to and retrieve my bike.
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Our Plan
rideA rider can use Santa Teresa Park from a number of points.  We chose the Fortini Trail Head, just off McKee Road, south of San Jose.  (N 37°12.195′;  W 121°48.355′).  We planned to ride the Fortini Trail, a gentle single track, to the picnic area.  From there, we would climb Hidden Springs Trail / Coyote Peak Trail, a very steep dirt road, to Coyote Peak.  From there, we expected to have good views of south San Jose, and the open spaces beyond the city.  From there, we intended to either retrace our steps.  Once at the top, we decided, instead to try a different way down, the Rocky Ridge Trail, a technically difficult single track.
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elevationsOur ride was only 6.1 miles long, with 993 feet of climbing, all on dirt.  The Fortini Trail, single track, was a gentle climb.  The Hidden Springs / Coyote Peak Trails were extremely steep in many places.  On our descent, the Rocky Ridge Trail, was a steep, technical single track down to the Fortini Trail.  From there, we returned on the Fortini Trail.
Our Ride
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blank Turn-By-Turn Directions
blank 0.0 Miles – STRAIGHT on Fortini Trail from Fortini Trail Head
blank 0.8 Miles – STRAIGHT on Mine Trail
blank 1.1 Miles – LEFT on Mine Trail
blank 1.2 Miles – RIGHT on Mine Trail
blank 1.5 Miles – RIGHT on Hidden Springs Trail
blank 1.7 Miles – STRAIGHT on Hidden Springs Trail
blank 2.1 Miles – STRAIGHT on Coyote Peak Trail
blank 2.5 Miles – LEFT on Coyote Peak Trail
blank 2.6 Miles – STOP at Coyote Peak
blank 2.7 Miles – STRAIGHT on Coyote Peak Trail
blank 3.0 Miles – RIGHT on Rocky Ridge Trail
blank 4.8 Miles – LEFT on Fortini Trail
blank 6.1 Miles – END at Fortini Trail Head
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Our Ride
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p3We started from the Fortini Trailhead, one of several entrances to  Santa Teresa Park.  We could have driven to the Pueblo Picnic Area, for a fee.  Had we done so, we would have continued our usual mountain biking luck of always beginning with a steep climb, straight up the Hidden Springs Trail.  Instead, we elected to start with a gentle climb.  And, it was just as well.  We had not ridden our mountain bikes, on dirt, in a year.
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At the Fortini Trailhead, the rider has two choices.  The rider may go left, taking the Stile Ranch Trail.  The climb consists of seven switchbacks on this steep, narrow, very rocky trail.  From time to time, I have seen the twenty-somethings bop up the trail.  In years past, when I rode my mountain bike on a daily basis, I attempted the climb.  The grade was steep, with a precipitous drop down the face of the hill.  At one of the switchbacks, I dismounted to make the turn.  From there, with such a steep trail and rock strewn surface, I could not get started again.  So, I walked.  On two other occasions, coming back down, I walked again.
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p4To the right lay the Fortini Trail.  We knew the grade was gentle, and the single track not particularly technical.  As we prepared to start, the overcast lifted.  What had, earlier, offered us a cool ride on a cloudy day, slowly changed.  The sun came out as the overcast dissipated.  The scene brightened, and the brown hills slowly, magically, shifted to golden hues.  While the sun came out, the temperature remained in the 60’s.  I had no need of the long sleeve pull-over, and could ride in short sleeves and shorts.
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After some last-minute adjustments, we pedaled down the trail.  Hugging the left side of the hill, above a farm road, we were gently reintroduced to single track.  Here and there, harsh, sharp rocks protruded from the dirt, some in the path, more further up the hillside.  I learned to ride Red all over again.  My handlebars were much wider.  My gearing gave me far more mechanical advantage than my Surly could offer.  My shifting was more restricted, allowing me to jump only three gears at a time.  As I rode, I evaluated the repair to the rear suspension.  I noticed a little squeaking, but soon forgot it as I became more involved in the ride.  Marian noticed nothing untoward.
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we rode about 1.6 miles, and climbed about 250 feet, and arrived in the Pueblo Picnic Area.  We could have started at this point.  Like most Californians, I am averse to paying for parking, when I can find another place to park for free.  Besides, we would have missed the opportunity to shake down our bikes, and get ourselves back into a mountain biking mind-set.
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p5After clearing the parking lot, we rode down a pleasant, shady road, to a gate.  Marian announced that she remembered the hill we faced.  I did, too.  Ahead of us was an extended stretch of steep road.  Worried about the climb, I hoped my hard-earned touring climbing skills would give me the strength and endurance to get to the top.  After all, Red was lighter than my Surly.  And I had no panniers or the 60 pounds of sand in them.  Even out of practice, I hoped I could climb like a mountain goat.
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It was time to find out who well I could climb.  I attacked the first slope, riding up as far as my legs would take me.  This was my first serious climb of the mountain bike season.  Even leaning forward, I had trouble keeping my front wheel on the ground.  I fought to steer the bike where I wanted it to go, somehow managing to stay out of the worst of the ruts.  Still, the road was too steep, and I began to slow down.  With the worry that I would suddenly topple over on my side, into the harsh rocks and gravel, I stopped.
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My heart pounding, I waiting for my breathing to catch up with my needs.  Often, in these situations, odd things pop into my mind.  I wonder if this is my subconscious mind frantically searches for something, anything, to get me off the bike.  The thought that popped into my mind was that Marian’s sister was due to go into surgery at the beginning of the week.  She lives in the UK, eight hours ahead of us.  We should have called her before we left for the ride.  I we waited until the ride was over, it could be quite late, and we wanted her to get as much rest as she could.  So, while we pushed our bikes up one of the steeper stretches,  Marian Face Timed her.  It turned out we had misunderstood, and her surgery was on Tuesday, not Monday.  The connection was poor, and we finally signed off.  Happily, the surgery turned out well.
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We returned to the business at hand.  We still had 300 feet between us and Coyote Peak.  While we had talked, several hikers passed us.  At least we were standing still while they walked on.  Somewhere, up ahead of us, a group of teenage boys walked and rode.  I rode the first part of the road.  Again, I ground to a halt.  My climbing abilities, or lack of them, disappointed me..  I could not climb as well as I remembered from earlier years.
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p6Above us, the teenagers were already on top.  They noisily talked about school, classes, and football games.  I heard no commits directed to our own struggle up the hill.  We rode another stretch, finally reaching the top.  The County had upgraded the summit.  Where, once, logs warded the unwary back from the edge, regular park benches offered comfortable and secure seating.  We drank our water and chomped on a Luna Bar.
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p7Our hoped for sweeping vistas were fuzzy and indistinct.  San Jose spread out to the north and east of us, in the haze and remaining overcast.  The mountains to the west were blurry and indistinct.  And the southern view was vague.  I took photos anyway.  When I prepared this photo, I was happy the camera saw the landscape more clearly than my eye did.  With only a little manipulation, I was able to bring out more detail.  One of the blogs I follow has a raging debate about whether photo enhancement is cricket or not.  But, as Marian says, we haven’t changed anything.  Everything is there, whether we can see it or not.
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Our original plan had been to take the same road we had climbed, down to the picnic area.  From there, we could either explore the northern parts of the park, or return to the trailhead.  In the past,, we had always elected to shorten our ride.  Today, as we gazed about, the Rocky Ridge Trail caught our eye.  We had never taken that trail.  Looking at the map, we saw that it linked back up with the Fortini Trail.  We wondered at the name, knowing that names can offer clues.  We remembered China Grade at Big Basin, and Green Mountain Road on the Columbia River.  We thought it might be more interesting than slipping and sliding down the loose gravel road to the parking lot.  We chose the undiscovered trail.
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We rode down the dirt road, shaped like a roller coaster.  The road dropped and rose to a peak, followed by another drop, and another rise, ending on more level ground.  I was re-introduced to another difference between cycle touring and mountain biking.  On my Surly, I can and do control the speed on my descents.  Always, I retain the ability to stop when and where I please.  This steep, rocky road was far different.  Once I started, I could not stop, save at the bottom.  So, embracing the moment, I trusted my riding skills and let go of the brake handles.  I knifed through the sand with only a little fish tailing and popped almost all the way to the top of the next rise.  After the second one, I stopped and waited for Marian to join me.
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We reached the turn-off for the Rocky Ridge Trail, and discovered another group of riders.  These guys were twenty and thirty somethings.  They had expensive bikes.  I believe one of them was One of them was, a 29’er, the latest craze in mountain biking.  Standard mountain bike, for years, sported a 26 inch wheel.  The marketing geniuses have come out with a bigger frame with bigger wheels.  This bike had incredibly wide tires.  Unlike the two-inch tires on our mountain bikes, the other tires seemed like small motorcycle tires, perhaps three or four inches wide.
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p8We waited, while the group talked. Behind us, the teenagers roared down from Coyote Peak, following us.  Knowing both groups would be faster than we were, we waited for someone to lead the way.  The teenagers went on past us.  The pros finally sallied forth.  We watched and waited.  Finally, we followed them.  At first the grade was gentle, but I knew we had to give back over 600 feet.  The longer we waited to descend, the steeper the grade would, inevitably, be.  The trail was rocker than the Fortini trail.  The trail would be covered with several dozen yards of dirt.  Rocky outcroppings would rear their ugly heads, followed by more dirt.  I carefully picked my way through the rocks, sometimes with only one foot in the stirrup so I could quickly hop off when I needed to.
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p9We looked about.  The ground tilted gently down, with a drop-off further away.  The the dirt was thin, and rocks stuck through everywhere.  It was instantly obvious this stretch would never be farmed, ever.  Gradually, the dirt stretches on the trail got shorter and shorter.  Eventually, there was nothing but rock.  Even at my best, I was always cautious riding through a rock field.  I know that, to ride well, the cyclist must ride with skillful abandon, and let the bike fulfill their purpose.  The bike will go where the rider looks.  If I looked at the rocky points and crevices, that was where my front wheel went.  And, I also knew that I would ride where I looked, and I needed to avoid looking at the rocks and crevices.  The thought of how sharp, hard and unforgiving those rocks remained near the top of my mind.  If I spilled, I risked a scathing crash, or a broken collar-bone.  One by one, the teenagers began to pass us.  One roared past, narrowly missing me, without any warning.  Finally, giving in, I dismounted and walked.
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In earlier years, I would have been shamed at walking.  Not only had I walked up a good part of the Coyote Peak Trail, I was now walking down a big part of the Rocky Ridge Trail.  But, I did not see that I really had a choice.  If I went back, would have to push up the hill, at least as difficult a task as pushing it down.  The weather was cool, crisp, sunny, and dry.  We shared the hill with few people.  Rather than fume, I became one with the hiking part of the ride.  We passed two groups of hikers on the way up while we were on the way down.  Politely, they said nothing about us not riding, because it was probably obvious to them how difficult the trail was.  I enjoyed this part of Santa Teresa Park.  The walk changed my view of the park.  Before, it had been hot, dusty, dirt road.  Now, I could add narrow, rocky, single track to the list of features.
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p10After a time, we reached a point safe enough for us to ride.  We coasted down to Fortini Road.  We turned left and headed back to the trail head.  The path seemed far wider and much more tame than it had a couple of hours before.  We soon saw the farm road below us.  We passed a rusty metal barn just off the trail, a reminder of the continuing agricultural activity on Fortini Road.  Our path offered a sharp demarcation between the harsh rocks to our right, and flat, fertile ground to our left.
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Our Thoughts
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We enjoyed our first mountain bike ride in 2013.  As always we were thankful to finish a ride without injury or incident.  The crisp weather, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, was perfect for riding.  Few people were around, perhaps because of NFL football games.  I came to appreciate Santa Teresa Park more than I had before, perhaps because of the leisurely hike down Rocky Ridge Trail, something I would never have done had we come back down the Coyote Peak Trail to the parking lot.  While this park will never be a favorite, I left with happy memories.  Will we bike Santa Teresa again?  Yes, but not soon.
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I learned, again, many of the difference between mountain and tour biking.  Aside from the obvious, dirt trails instead of paved highways.  The skill sets are different.  Touring requires patience, strength, and endurance to ride long hours, day after day, with cars plucking at your left sleeve.  Mountain biking is violent, with sudden, steep climbs, and hair-raising descents.  Am I still a mountain bikers?  Yes.  But I need more practice.
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Read about our ride in the shadows of the Henry Cowell Redwoods
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Filed under Cycle Touring, Cycle Training, Mountain Biking, Travel

Let us know what you thought, we'd love to know. Thanks - Pat and Marian

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