Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Yosemite - Tuolomne Meadows to May Lake trailhead and back

Riding a bicycle on Tioga Pass Road in Yosemite National Park was a bit like riding in a dream. Generally good pavement, stunning scenery, good sight lines and wide curves, it was a great experience. Going in I thought drivers might be distracted, but instead it seemed they were paying more than usual attention to the road and to an unexpected cyclist. I like to think this state of grace was a beneficial side effect of drivers being awed by nature.

Measuring effort with the elevation consistently in the 8,000-plus foot range set me back a couple of gears while climbing, but I was in no hurry for the ride to end so it didn't really matter. A highly, highly recommended bike ride for strong riders comfortable in traffic with no shoulder and confident handling a flat or other common potential mechanical issue. Here's a map of the route.

We camped at the Tuolumne Meadows campground, with online reservations made at website. The campsites are small and packed together, with a long walk to the faucet and bathroom for most, but we felt lucky to have a camping spot in Tuolumne Meadows.

Bears would seem to be a common sight. A mama bear snuck up within a couple of feet of our open bear locker while I was making coffee an arms reach away. She scared the living daylights out of me, but I followed the advice of making myself big and making a lot of noise by banging a frying pan on a rock. Mama bear retreated a few nonplussed steps then sat down to scratch herself while looking around to see if I might provide another shot at the food. She wandered away after a bit and her cub was chased out of the tent cabins a minute later. Over the next half hour we heard evidence of their encounters with many other campers.

The store at Tuolomne Meadows sells snacks and refreshments. There is a water faucet at the entrance to Tuolomne Meadows campground, just west of the stone reservations building, and another faucet NE of the wilderness permit building next to Tuolomne Meadows Lodge. There are bathrooms at each trailhead along Tioga Pass Road, including Sunrise and Tenaya Lake, but I did not see any water faucets. There is a bathroom but no drinking water at the May Lake trailhead.

The side road up to May Lake trailhead is pretty bumpy and pot-holed, with gravel and sand washed across the road in many places on the steeper sections. The uphill was a challenge after only 1 night of acclimation, the recovery sections helped a lot. Downhill I stayed well in control so as to weave a relatively flat and debris-free path.

Temperatures ranging from high 90's in summer to sub-freezing in fall can pose additional challenges. The road is closed for the winter once the snow arrives, usually around mid-October. This ride was in late September, just posting late.

I'm planning on coming back next year and looking into a ride from TM down to the Yosemite Valley and back. Riding a bicycle through Yosemite lets you glide through the sights, sounds, and smells in a way you just can't do either by car or walking.

We hiked up to an un-named lake to the north of May Lake the day after the ride. Here's a terrain map showing the route .

Take the well marked trail up to and around north-east shore of May Lake. At the northernmost point start going cross-country, taking a diagonal route uphill toward the saddle to the north of a prominent rock escarpment, then stay roughly on the 10,200 foot contour around the back side of the spur to a long, thin scenic lake up against a cliff. Didn't see any fish here, but did catch some nice brook trout in May Lake on the way out.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

San Francisco (Embarcadero BART) to Guerneville and back

New asphalt! Highway 1 along Tomales Bay is getting repaved. Looks like they will do at least 20 miles, from Point Reyes Station up through Tomales. On Labor Day new blacktop was in place from Tomales (mile 45) to just north of Marshall (mile 35.5), with about half of that northbound.

New pavement, lush scenery, great food, and challenging profiles make for great riding in West Marin. Today's 2 routes offer an easy and a hard option to get from BART in San Francisco to the Russian River, and there's plenty more pain available if you want to seek it out.

This northbound Embarcadero BART to Guerneville route is 95 miles with maybe 6,000 feet of climbing. It's definitely no picnic, with Bolinas-Fairfax and Joy Road added to rolling terrain and prevailing headwinds. The first time it may be wise to use a flatter route north and leave harder options for the return.

Elevation profiles in West Marin are downright deceptive. I enjoy climbing something long like the north side of Diablo on a consistent grade where you can get a rhythm, but I always find myself cursing out loud at some point while riding north along the "flat" section by Tomales Bay against the wind. Although the profile looks pretty flat the rollers are nonstop and it's impossible to find a steady rhythm, you're always punching it to get over one more crest. If you are also fighting the wind it's very taxing. The few times I have cramped up on a bike have almost always been on long, windy West Marin rides.

This route ends at Coffee Bazaar on Armstrong Redwoods Road, a good spot for rejuvenation. Guerneville has long been a weekend getaway for San Francisco, and offers a range of lodging ranging from house rentals to motels to camping. We like the Creekside Lodge on Neeley Road when our in-laws place gets too crowded.

This southbound route is about as flat and quick as possible (85 miles, about 4,000 feet), starting at Coffee Bazaar in Guerneville.

The stretch of Highway 1 through Stinson Beach and Muir Beach to Sausalito is a beautiful route but very narrow. A lot of tourists drive it with their eyes on the scenery, so I tend to avoid it on busy weekends.

Some tips on bike friendly sections, organized south to north.

Crossing San Francisco early in the morning you can stay on the waterfront using Jefferson Street to a shoreline path next to the Maritime Museum, or use the bike lane on Northpoint all the way to Van Ness if you don't mind the small incline. Take Van Ness to the water's edge and follow the path up and over the hill, then along the marina and through Crissy Field.

Follow the bike path off Lincoln to the bike lane on the west side of the Golden Gate bridge, then drop through Sausalito to catch the Sausalito-Mill Valley path that traverses the bay shore for a couple of miles east of Mill Valley.

From Corte Madera to Larkspur a bike path by the freeway connects Lomita Drive to Meadowsweet Drive with very little climbing. Camino Alto does more climbing but the consistent grade, decent shade, and nice scenery make it worth the effort.

Check the map for the bike routes that parallel Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from Larkspur through Fairfax, there's many zigs and zags. Be aware that Sausalito, Larkspur, Ross and other towns along this heavily used bike route tend to care more than average about cyclists running stop signs.

On the northbound map, Bolinas-Fairfax (or Bofax) Road rolls up and down through some secluded and scenic woodland alongside Lake Alpine. The road meanders up and down for a long while, then after crossing the dam at the end of the lake the road turns sharply right and tilts uphill for a long, grinding climb. Lots of shade, and recovery sections following the steepest parts take the edge off this hard climb. Watch out for bumpy pavement around the corners on the downhill after the saddle. There's not much traffic but any vehicles tend to use the whole road so keep your ears open.

On the southbound map, San Geronimo Valley Road is a relatively well shaded 2 1/2 mile alternate to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard between Woodacre and the hill. It is not as level as the main road, but there is less traffic, some shade, and quiet.

A key discovery for me has been the full length of the Sir Francis Drake bikeway - a mixed dirt and paved path with the eastern end at a footbridge on the north side of the road about 1/2 mile west of Lagunitas. On the map Park Road running out of Lagunitas should connect to the trail, but there's a chain link fence blocking the access as of Labor Day 2010 so you still need to take SFDB through the first narrow, winding section with no shoulder. The first 3 miles or so of the trail are dirt fire road, but after you cross the bridge into the campgrounds it's paved to the end.

Platform Bridge Road is a slightly longer way to ride to Point Reyes Station versus going over the hill to Olema and along Highway 1, but there's much less traffic.

Smooth and wide Mesa Road in Point Reyes Station takes you around the back side of town, bypassing over a mile of highway.

Heading west out of Tomales on Dillon Beach Road then north on Middle Road adds a bit of climbing versus staying on Highway 1 with much less traffic. At the north end of Middle Road the Marsh Road spur is little-used and saves about half a mile on the highway. Coming home, southbound the climb out of Valley Ford on Middle Road is steep and hot but mercifully short. The grade is mellow on the southern section until the 100 yards before Dillon Beach Road.

The Joy Road climb is steepest near the bottom, but it is shaded most of the way up. Bohemian Highway is a much easier option up to Occidental but gets more traffic and sun, and has virtually no shoulder.

After the descent from Occidental continue straight on Main Street into Monte Rio, it is wider and straighter than the stretch of Bohemian Highway on the right (east) side of Dutch Bill Creek.

My favorite food stops out here include Bovine Bakery in Point Reyes Station (vegan whole wheat scone, pizza slices), Tomales Bakery (mini-pizza/focaccia, oat cakes, coconut-chocolate-pecan bar), Wild Flour Bakery in Freestone (double chocolate espresso scone), Marshall store (oysters!), and Fairfax ice cream shop. Stinson Beach, Point Reyes, Tomales, Valley Ford, Freestone, Occidental, Lagunitas, Olema, Woodacre, Fairfax, and Marshall all have little stores for drinks and snacks.

There's a water fountain in the park by the stop sign in Stinson Beach. In Point Reyes I fill up my water bottles at the bakery, fire station, or a faucet on the NE corner of the bakery building near the phone booth. I've seen a sign for public restrooms pointing south down Mesa Road but I haven't tried them. Other bathrooms along the way included Mill Valley Community Center  and Samuel P Taylor park, both next to the path, and Bear Valley Visitor Center near Olema about 1 mile west of Hwy 1.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Albany Bicycle Master Plan walk-in workshop - Sept. 14th, 4-8pm, 1249 Marin Ave

The Pedestrian Master Plan and the update to the Bicycle Master Plan are currently ongoing and the City needs your input on ideas for making Albany a more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly City. Please attend an informative walk-in workshop on existing pedestrian and cycling conditions where you will have an opportunity to voice your concerns and generate ideas to enhance the pedestrian and cycling environment. Here are the details:

When: Tuesday, September 14
Where: Recreation and Community Services-Main Hall at 1249 Marin Avenue.
Time: Walk in format from 4 to 8 PM.

For more information contact:
Aleida Andrino-Chavez

Aleida Andrino-Chavez
Transportation Planner
City of Albany
1000 San Pablo Avenue
Albany, CA 94706

Ph:  (510) 528-5759
Fax: (510) 524-9359

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Alhambra Valley, Morgan Territory, Tassajara, Wildcat Canyon loop - access from EC, WC, Concord, Dublin, Lafayette BART

This 90+ mile loop (approx. 5,000 feet climbing) takes in remote and scenic Morgan Territory Road on the back side of Mount Diablo. You can access the route from BART stations in El Cerrito, Walnut Creek, Concord, Dublin, Lafayette, Orinda and Berkeley. Here's a map of the route.

Morgan Territory is one of my favorite roads in the Bay Area. Don't get to see it much because going around the back side of Mount Diablo is a big commitment from the East Bay.

If you are leaving from El Cerrito you want to get an early start. If it's hot in Walnut Creek it will be scorching on Diablo, and there's no shade for 20+ miles from the top of Morgan Territory into Danville.

My day starts with a nice flat warmup out through El Sobrante. If it's early take San Pablo Avenue to McBryde as there's little traffic before 7 am on a weekend and it's a nice smooth ride.

Once we get over the hill on Castro Ranch Road we follow a creek up a valley of sun-parched golden grasslands and old gnarly oaks casting oases of shade. It's a mellow incline all the way to Bear Creek Road, then it stiffens by the ostrich farm until the road pitches up at Pig Farm hill. This is a short, brutish climb from the west side.

The second, longer steep section is around the curve.

You can't really avoid going in the red, but save what you can for later in the day since Morgan Territory and Wildcat come at 40 and 80 miles. The run down the other side is fast, we skirt Martinez and Pleasant Hill into Walnut Creek.

Water fountain in front of the Larkey swim center if you need it. In back of the center a bike/hike trail heads southwest up to Acalanes Ridge open space, that's for another day. We continue east on 1st street to catch the Contra Costa Canal Trail. Although it's congested with runners and other users I think it is one of the better options for non-locals to cross Walnut Creek from the northeast to the west since there's really not much room for bikes on the main roads through town.

We peel of our warmers for an exposed section up Ygnacio Valley Road. This is a grim but efficient route. With a bit more time I'd try Canal trail east to the end, then catching the California Riding & Hiking trail to Newhall Park. I did this once before but got waylaid by goats-head thorns, leaving at least 7 holes in my tires. I got lucky, a local stopped to give me a second tube and then led me to the local bike shop, but if you see those darn things give them a wide berth unless you're on some kind of armored tire.

Pine Hollow Road is a quiet and smooth alternate to busy Clayton Road. We stop to fill our water bottles in the park at the intersection of Marsh Creek Road and Main Street, one block off Clayton Road. This is just about the last opportunity for water for a hot 25+ miles so don't forget.

Clayton Road climbs up to a low pass at Divide Reservoir, then drops down a long hill. Morgan Territory Road takes off to the right at the bottom. The first 3 1/2 miles are fast rolling through old ranches and new ranchettes. Then the road narrows, from here it slowly gets rougher and steeper for 6 1/2 miles of fairly well shaded stair-step climbing. I first learned of this ride from a short but sweet ride list on an obscure UC Berkeley computer-nerd website (International Netrek League?), where the description and this picture hooked me.

Photo credit I've done pretty much all the roads on that list except the main section of Tunitas Creek, and (fingers crossed) that one is coming up in 2 weeks.

After Morgan Territory Road narrows there's virtually no traffic. I saw about a half-dozen cars total in 2 times climbing it. Did see a tarantula the size of a salad plate that spooked the living daylights out of me near the bottom, and a four to five foot snake slithering into my path on a slow, steep hairpin which accelerated my already racing pulse up another notch.

The first four miles of this uphill are classic stair steps, a steady diet of 2 or 3 steep hairpins followed by a flatter recovery section. You can maintain a good pace by attacking the steep bits. But, be aware, around mile 7 the conveyor belt of short steeps is broken by a section of 8 or 10 hairpins with the steepest grades yet. Heart attack time. After that it flattens out again until the parking lot around mile 9, then there's a last couple of short steep pitches before the climbing is all over around mile 10. It's been dry as a bone both times I've gone, but I don't carry a camera and all the pretty pictures I can find online are from spring.

Photo credit Rene Rivers

As long as you don't tangle with the few cars the downhill is awesome. Long sight-lines so you know what's coming, high speeds, and challenging corners near the top that smooth out as you descend into twisty sections through the trees. After a right turn on Manning and 20 minutes into the wind through hot, open country on Highland Road, Dublin BART is about 5 or 6 miles off to our left at the intersection with Tassajara Road.

After the right on Tassajara it's hot with no shade, but the grade is not bad and it's still fairly scenic. We stop for water at Diablo Vista School and sit for a snack in the deep shade across the road on gated Hansen Lane. Tassajara continues slightly downhill and we make good time in the heat. The road pinches at Crow Canyon and the bike lane is shunted onto the sidewalk for a quarter-block on the north side of the intersection before rejoining the shoulder.  Strange routing, but the rest of the way along Tassajara the shoulder is wide so maybe it's a fair trade.

A left on Sycamore Valley Road to Iron Horse Trail gets you into Danville, or you can continue on Tassajara to a left on Diablo Road. There's a Peets in Danville at Railroad Avenue, just 1 block from where Iron Horse Trail hits Danville Boulevard.

San Ramon Valley Boulevard is a false flat going slightly downhill but your speed is generally limited by the countervailing wind. Depending on traffic I sometimes take a left on Las Trampas to use the Iron Horse bike path to bypass downtown Alamo, rejoining SRV Boulevard at Ridgewood.

Today we use the flat and relatively safer Castle Hill - Lancaster - Lilac  - Newell route rather than the shorter Hillgrade - Tice Valley option.

Through Lafayette we take a back route on Brook Street to avoid a couple of tight, congested blocks near the Safeway. Peets and Noahs Bagels are next to the Safeway if you need refreshments, and Lafayette BART is 2 blocks off our route. Most days I'd take the Half-Happy option back to Orinda, but I'm tired and instead opt for the easiest bike route from Lafayette to Orinda: up Mount Diablo Boulevard to Hidden Valley to the St Stephens path. Stop for water in town if you need it, there's nothing from Camino Pablo in Orinda until you are over Wildcat.

Wildcat Canyon Road is my backyard climb, and I leverage my experience to cajole my cramping legs up the the steep sections near the bottom. After the turnoff for El Toyonal it starts to ease and before long I'm at the top layering up for a last plunge back down into foggy Albany/El Cerrito. Awesome day, I wish Morgan Territory Road was just a bit closer because I could get used to the solitude and scenery.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Tour de BART - El Cerrito - Butters Canyon - Redwood - Palomares - Fremont - Alameda Creek Trail - Bay Trail loop

Highlights of this long loop around the East Bay hills and the bay shore include low traffic, scenery and long segments with no stop signs or lights. Route includes remote Redwood Road, rustic Palomares Road, bike trails across Fremont and Union City, and a long return up the Bay Trail with waves breaking so close you have to dodge the spray in a few places.

Here's a map of the route. Unfortunately the mapmyride elevation profiler stopped displaying for me a couple days ago so I can't show the climbing, but it's all mellow grades maxing out around 6% and the route is very front-loaded, with all the climbing done by halfway. Hope they have the profiler fixed soon.

Map image copyright Terra Metrics, by way of

There's convenient BART access in many places, passing near El Cerrito, Berkeley, Ashby, Castro Valley, Fremont, South Hayward, San Leandro, Fruitvale, and West Oakland stations. Carry tools, food, water and a patch kit since you'll be on your own for quite a while for some stretches.

Riding the Bay Trail at a decent pace in strong wind on gravel and dirt is challenging, it may be flat but it is definitely not a recovery ride. It felt comfortable pushing relatively fast on the gravel since there's hardly anyone out here and you can see miles ahead, it would be very difficult to run into someone unexpectedly.

You can access the bottom of Butters Road from a foot/bike path just to the east of the Highway 13 off-ramp after you cross the overpass.

Crossing Castro Valley southbound I used Proctor, Rockhurst, and Seaview to a trail off Nash Court that connects to Columbia Drive and passes swimming and fishing facilities in Cull Canyon recreation area. Bay Trees park at the bottom of Cull Canyon has a good bathroom with running water.

At the bottom of Niles Canyon I took a left onto Old Canyon Road and joined the paved Alameda Creek Trail bike path which goes under Mission Boulevard. Even on a Sunday this was pretty fast riding, with nice scenery along the creek bed. Birds seen today included snowy egrets and white egrets.

I used Decoto to cross to the gravel path on the north side of Alameda Creek Trail. Pavement resumed after about 1/4 mile. Using Arizona Street to the bike trail next to Niles was very convenient, and it was great being out of traffic.

After riding the bike lane on Niles for a long block turn right on Tidewater ("no outlet") and go straight several blocks until it veers left at a small kids park. The path along the east side of the park goes through a gate to access the paved bike trail. If you access the trail earlier at the railroad tracks you'll ride a few blocks of gravel. You'll have to do a right and a u-turn at Whipple to cross.

There's a nice bike bridge over Highway 92 taking the Bay Trail from Salt Way. The Interpretive Center by the San Mateo bridge is a great stop. Clean cold water from the fountain out front, and if they are open you can buy sodas and snack bars inside plus there's bathrooms. A lot of derelict infrastructure around here from salt harvesting. This place is a photographer's playground - whether you like birds, flat land and seascapes, decaying industrial facilities juxtaposed against wilderness, or abstracts there's something for everyone. Shooting around dawn or dusk or on an overcast day with the right light it's a magical combination.

Salt flats from the air - caribb Making salt is a slow process. They flood a flat field with saltwater, seal it off, and let the sun slowly evaporate the water to leave a crust of salt crystals. The dirty salt is scraped up and used rough or cleaned up, depending on the market. The red color reminds me of the red salt ponds near Salt Pond park on Kauai

Old pilings - damada2

HDR effects - damada2

I got an adrenaline surge crossing a narrow wooden bridge over an inlet. I was focused on my line and all I could see was planks over opaque, swirling water and I got this spooky feeling of racing across a string of wood trying to reach dry land before getting inundated. Your mileage may vary.

Photo size8jeans

Bathrooms and water where Neptune Drive runs into the San Leandro Marina. Turning left from Marina onto Neptune is odd, I think you are not supposed to go left but instead have to go down the block and do a U-turn.

Going uphill to the right at the entrance to Oyster Bay park leads to trails with with lots of loose gravel and you eventually approach the bridge from the east. Next time I'll check out the paved trail that heads south-west to wind around the park and approach the bridge from the west.

Where East 7th street appears to dead end at 29th go straight across 29th using the crosswalk on the west side of 7th and take the path under the overpass, then continue straight on 7th towards the traffic lights. Next time I may check out Kennedy to Park Street bridge to see how that works instead.

Mandela Parkway has a good bike lane and is a nice way to get from Jack London Square in Oakland to Emeryville.

With all the climbing at the start and the low-traffic routing this is a relaxing long day's ride from Berkeley area. If I was starting from Fremont I'd probably do the loop in reverse to take care of the climbing early in the ride while it's still cool out.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Geysers Road - Dry Creek loop, Sonoma County

We stayed the weekend at the KOA up between Healdsburg and Cloverdale. The kids enjoyed the pool and biking around the campground. If you go there Google maps had the road incorrectly named Koe Road when it should be Asti Ridge Road or KOA Road.

Geysers Road is a long and remote ride, carry basic tools and some extra water. Here's a map of the route.

There's plenty of other descriptions of The Geysers loop out there, but there's a couple things I did not remember reading before I rode.

First is that Geysers Road includes gravel sections. You hit the first patch just after the turnoff for Pine Flat, and I thought for a bit that I must be on the wrong road. The first stretch is one of the longest, the rest range from about 100 to 300 yards. There's maybe 6 to 10 gravel sections on the route up from Cloverdale to Geysers Resort Road and 2 or 3 of them on the way from there back to Healdsburg. There did not seem to be rhyme or reason for them, some were downhill, a couple uphill, and others flat. A couple butted up against some pretty darn good pavement that would go for 1/3 mile before returning to the rougher old surface. At least all of them had a "Loose Gravel" warning sign. The only reference I could find was to regular seismic activity causing cracked roads, perhaps the gravel is where faults cross a road?

It seemed like Geysers Road has more than it's share of cattle grates, especially on the way down. You can't miss them. Unfortunately.

The last thing to note was the lack of options for water once I returned to the valley. There was a general store on Alexander Valley Road about a mile or two after the 128 intersection, and there's a campground where the road crosses the river that could have water.  Didn't see anything other than wine tasting options until another general store at the corner of Lambert Bridge Road. Probably should have continued into Healdsburg for refreshments then taken Dry Creek to Lamber Bridge Road, or Westside Road to West Dry Creek.

The riding was good in the morning, with some great scenery along the creek riding up from Cloverdale. It looked like you could get to the river for a swim where the bridge crosses the road about 10 miles up. The grade is a bit steeper after the bridge, but still very manageable. I was able to stay mostly in the shade by using the full road.

The road ramps right up after the right turn at Geysers Resort Road. Get in a good gear because it's about 1 1/2 miles of mostly exposed steeps before it eases up significantly. There were a couple of spots where you can catch your breath, but not many. The road continues up on a mellow grade for a mile or two before a gated fire-road climbs up to Geyser Peak on your right at around 2,650 feet elevation, then there's a long downhill followed by a moderate climb.

After the run down from the hills and across the sun-baked valley West Dry Creek Road offered some welcome shade. There's a "No Outlet" sign at the intersection with Joachim Bridge Road. I'd wager the sign is wrong but I was late getting back to the campground and couldn't afford to double back at a dead end so I headed back over to Dry Creek Road.

The chateaus and villas were beautiful but it all felt rather exclusive and oriented to one type of visitor. Also was hard to stop thinking of all the people tasting their wine and then getting back behind the wheel of their cars. I liked the Geysers Road climbing alright, but was not so fond of riding in the valley.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Union City BART to Soquel/Capitola via Alameda Creek, Coyote Creek, Guadalupe Creek and Los Gatos Creek Trails - crossing San Jose the bike friendly way

This trip took a southern route around the bay, using a variety of gravel, dirt and paved mixed use trails to cruise smoothly across the San Jose metropolis with only a relatively small handful of lights and stop signs for 50 miles between the end of Dixon Landing Road in Milpitas and Soquel (Santa Cruz). Ay-may-zing.

I rode on 23mm tires at 120 psi without any problems, but picked lines very carefully. Riding slower on mixed use trails is offset by the advantage of almost no stop signs or other impediments. It is a good option for connecting the Santa Cruz mountains and the East Bay while avoiding the nervy and perpetually wind-blasted Dumbarton Bridge bike path crossing.

Here's a map of the route.

The route starts out using the bike lane on Decoto down to the Alameda Creek Trail (west/south side of creek). After about 20 yards of gravel right by the gate the trail is 100% paved and quite smooth with few people using it mid-day on a Tuesday. I made pretty good time. Very relaxing being off the street. The name of the road is stenciled on most overpasses, but someone painted over the street names using light brown tan paint on the Ardenwood bridge so look for that paint job.

Paseo Padre Parkway is wide and smooth out by Coyote Hills open space as you approach the Dumbarton Bridge. Taking this westerly route to see how it connects to the northern leg of the route up to Oakland, Alameda, Berkeley, Albany etc. described in the Scotts Valley to El Cerrito BART post.

The road is fairly good all the way through Central, Cherry, Boyce, and Fremont. I crossed over the freeway to the East side on West Warren, then took the first right on Kato Road. It was an okay choice but not ideal, but I'm not sure there's many better options. I'll probably try Warm Springs next time, or maybe take Paseo Padre south instead of using the Alameda Creek Trail to get to the bay shore?

The short section after the right from Milmont onto Dixon Landing Road and over the freeway is ugly riding. It's a 3 lane segment with no shoulder and no room on the right, and cars are in a hurry. Try using the parking lot on the corner of Milmont and Dixon Landing to shorten the exposure. I did not see a Bay Trail segment from the southern end of Fremont to Dixon Landing, although the South Bay map does show a planned route for some future date. That will be nice.

After turning south on N. McCarthy road look for the north entrance to Coyote Creek Trail after a bridge. The gravel driveway with the locked gate before the bridge is for the old road, not for the trail. Cross the bridge on the south-side sidewalk with the yellow striped lines.

I took an old closed road much in need of maintenance from Coyote Creek Trail to Zanker Road. It's a good connector, but Highway 237 is just over the barrier to your left and I think next time I'll continue south on Coyote Creek a few blocks before crossing over to Guadalupe Creek Trail.

The trail on the West side of Guadalupe Creek dead ends at the highway just before the airport, make sure you use the trail on the East side. You can double back on the road if you are on the wrong side.

The bike path switches sides of the creek a couple of times through San Jose, just follow the arrows and striped lines. There are water fountains in Guadalupe Creek park, the ones by the tennis courts look like they get regular use.

Once you reach Willow Street you'll be on the road for a few miles with a decent bike lane. There's all sorts of food options as you cross town. At the end of Willow Street the Los Gatos Creek Trail entrance is on the right, up the curb. You'll go left and stay on this side of the creek for a  few under-crossings. The Los Gatos Creek trail is paved for about the next 6 miles through the town of Los Gatos.

There's water and bathrooms in several places along the way. Make sure you have water before you cross the LG-Saratoga Road undercrossing, I didn't see anything from there out. After you cross over to the south side one more time there's a museum at an old mill. The trail reverts to gravel for the rest of the ride to the base of the dam.

You ride up an incline above and alongside the creek for a couple of miles until a short, sharp hill just as the dam appears in view. I lost traction here and had to walk the bike. Next time I'll carry a bit more speed into it and try to stick it out a bit longer. It seems quite challenging to climb the whole thing with 23mm slicks and a 39x25.

Mercifully the surface is paved for the grind up the face of the dam. At the top Alma Bridge Road goes left and right. Left is a significantly longer and hillier route around the reservoir, the map says you can also go right and use another gravel section paralleling Highway 17 to reach the base of Old Santa Cruz Highway.

The steepest section of the climb is from Alma Bridge up to Old Santa Cruz Highway on Aldercroft Heights Road . Be sure you do not go left on Aldercroft after the bridge.  The rest of the climb on Old Santa Cruz is a piece of cake. Yummy triple-chocolate with mascarpone cake, it's that good. Smooth pavement with moderate grades, mostly shaded and following a creek lined with redwoods. Lot's to like in this climb.

I took a left on Summit Road and then a right down Soquel-San Jose road. Next time I would take the Morell cutoff from Summit to Soquel-San Jose Road even though it appears to do some extra climbing after crossing the creek. Or, if I had more time, I'd get to the north side of 17 and take Mountain Charlie or Bear Creek Road down to connect to Glen Canyon Road then cut across Capitola, or take Summit south through Eureka Canyon (absolutely stellar remote riding) to Corralitos and then loop back up the coast.

After a little uphill at the start of Soquel-San Jose Road there's a 2+ mile long downhill starting just before mile 8, followed by rolling hills. After crossing Soquel Boulevard the route winds through a neighborhood to a nice bike lane on Portola. The trip finishes a few minutes later at Cole's BBQ, between 30th and 26th on the south side of Portola, with a heaping plate of tri-tip. You can't miss the smell, it's irresistible at the end of a long ride.

I can't say enough about how easy it was to cross San Jose staying almost exclusively on bike trails. I'd highly recommended this route if you are willing to ride dirt and gravel on a road bike, although it may be slow during popular times like weekends during the day.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Pinecrest Lake to Kennedy Meadows and back

We took a family camping trip up to Pinecrest Lake recently and I got a couple of rides in on Highway 108. The Sonora Pass road offers stunningly beautiful landscape, with good fishing and rock climbing. The granite here is excellent, but mostly without the crowds you get at Yosemite and along highway 50.

Here's a map of the route.

The road is smooth with mellow grades and low traffic. Although there's no shoulder to speak I did not feel crowded like I often do on urban roads, perhaps because the sight lines are generally very good.

I didn't take a camera but pictures can not convey the scale of the scenery. The highway cuts through miles and miles of classic high-Sierra granite carpeted with a mix of pine and sequoia forests on the lower slopes. Snow was still melting so the rivers were running high and all the little creeks and seasonal streams were flowing. The sounds were something else - bird calls, running water, wind in the trees - all as clear as could be. Many times I felt like I was just floating down the road.

There's a little store in Dardanelles for supplies, and Donnells Vista overlook has bathrooms that may have water but the area was closed when I rode by so I can't say for sure. There's not much else except a few campgrounds between Strawberry/Pinecrest and the store at Kennedy Meadows, so plan ahead and carry tools and supplies.

The round-trip ride from Pinecrest Lake up to Kennedy Meadows and back is highly, highly recommended.

The upper campgrounds at Pinecrest, closer to the lake, were great for families. There's bike paths connecting to the lake, where the snack shack has soft serve ice cream, good burgers, and excellent fries. The general store is well stocked in case you forget anything. It was a very relaxing week, even though there's a zillion people around everyone is cool and the kids were having a fantastic time.

Scotts Valley to El Cerrito Plaza BART

This route takes you from deep in the Santa Cruz mountains across the coastal range, over the Dumbarton Bridge, and up the Bay Trail on the east bay shore to the far northwest corner of Alameda county. Here's a map of the route

The first climb on Mountain Charlie Road is a gem. Very little traffic, shaded, good grade with the exception of 3 steepish ramps, decent pavement for climbing, and quiet. There's tons of recovery sections, and even some downhill. I'd hold back a bit doing this downhill though, a bit bumpy and there's some loose gravel/sand washed across a few curves on the lower sections. Charles "Mountain Charlie" McKiernan's road is one of the original roads from Scotts Valley over to San Jose, and you can feel it in the way the road runs along the contours to avoid steep grades and includes some downhills. In contrast highway 17, the nearby modern route, is just about all uphill to Patchen pass.

The section up Summit Road/Highway 35 after Mountain Charlie is shaded for the most part, with a few downhills in the mix. The road bears right after Bear Creek Road goes off to the left down to Boulder Creek, and it gets secluded and quite sylvan.

The pavement is very smooth after Black Road intersects from the right. Just in time too, because there's more exposed sections in the early afternoon and it's nice to be rolling efficiently on the intermittent uphills. After the parking lot for Castle Rock park (fun climbing area) it's downhill to Saratoga Gap, where we cross Highway 9.

The road continues rolling up and down along the ridge-line for the next 6 miles to the Page Mill road turnoff. There's water on the right about 1 mile down Page Mill, the fountain is next to a black metal gate on a short driveway on the south side.

The Page Mill downhill is excellent, although it pays to be cautious in the upper section where it gets quite steep in a few places. There's a tricky right-hand hairpin right across from a gate on your left (open space access #3).  After the road flattens a left on Arastredero Road leads to another open space on an exposed incline section. Right on Alpine and down to Sand Hill Road. The path/sidewalk on the right is shaded, but it's not good pavement.

Sand Hill Road has a decent bike lane all the way to El Camino Real, cross and continue straight to Willow Avenue via a bike bridge. The ride over the Dumbarton bridge is windy as always. I stay in the middle of the bike lane dodging occasional windblown empty plastic bottles.

I crossed over the freeway on the bike/pedestrian bridge towards Coyote Hills open space but didn't see an obvious way to drop back to Old Quarry Road and ended up scrambling down on the east side of the bridge abutment. Obviously not the first person to do this. It's sketchy in bike cleats. The map above shows the longer route on the road, following Marshlands Road SE to Thornton N, but on a windy day it was nice to cut out that bit. Once you turn left at Ardenwood the roads are fairly wide and smooth for several miles. Most days you'll be riding into or across a stiff wind on this northward leg by early afternoon.

I picked up the Bay Trail off of Cabot Road in Union City/San Leandro. It's paved for about 1/3 mile, then turns to gravel and hard-packed dirt. The scenery is wonderful with the bay shore about five or ten yards to the left and lagoons, marshes, and grasslands on the right.  I see numerous black-necked stilts probing for dinner in the shallows, and get to see a Forster's or Caspian tern up close as it matches my pace for about five seconds ten feet to my right at eye level.

Riding on 23 mm tires but there's no issues with the trail, the bike will need a good cleaning though. The trail gets a bit hard to follow after an access point parking area near the end of Grant Avenue. The widest trail heads due north across a flat before veering slightly right (east) to run parallel to the tidal inlet. It joins a paved trail after about 1/2 mile, near Lewelling Boulevard (named after Henderson Lewelling the abolitionist, horticulturist, and grandfather of the west coast fruit industry), just before a bridge. It's smooth pavement again, with a wide gravel shoulder to the right coming in handy when the trail gets congested.

Neptune Drive ends at Oyster Bay park, where we take the dirt trail to the Bill Lockyer bridge (sponsor of SB100-1987 that established the Bay Trail). The trail winds past a golf course and through the Oakland Airport and across Bay Farm island. The bike route on the sidewalk on the west side of Harbor Bay Parkway could be a good tip on a windy day as the thick hedge may provide some shelter, but I stayed on the wide boulevard. Continue due north on the bike trail after crossing Doolittle Drive (named for Alameda native son Jimmy Doolittle who led a B-25 squadron on a daring one-way air raid on Tokyo early in WWII. That raid was launched from the USS Hornet, the same ship which later retrieved the Apollo 11 astronauts after their splashdown, and that ship is now a floating museum on the Alameda estuary).

 The bike lane on Fernside is very wide and I realize how relaxing it has been to be mostly off-street or on good bike lanes all afternoon. I take the sidewalk on the Fruitvale bridge, then wind along the Oakland estuary shore on rough and rutted Embarcadero Drive. Through Jack London Square area on 2nd. Too bad Blue Bottle coffee was closed, a shot of espresso would have been most welcome at the time.

After reviewing my actual route I think better routing would be on Mandela Parkway, where there's a bike lane. I was getting tired at this point and took MLK up to 14th instead. Not a recommended alternative, but functional. Then took 14th to Wood to Beach to Horton because I knew the roads, but Wood has a lot of railroad track to deal with on the right side of the street. Mandela is probably the better call, will have to try it out.

Back on a bike trail through Berkeley Aquatic Park and over the bridge, then along the Bay Trail again along Eastshore State Park and through the backside of Golden Gate Fields to the Buchanan street bike/pedestrian bridge in Albany and our ending point at El Cerrito Plaza BART station.

What a great adventure. Mountain Charlie is a keeper, the section from Scotts Valley to Saratoga Gap has to be on my top 5 list of Bay Area rides. The Bay Trail along the east bay shore is also something special, even though it's flat it's got great potential to extend my riding into new areas. I am imagining a loop down Grizzly, Skyline, and Redwood and through Palomares Canyon, then west across Fremont and back up on the Bay Trail. Coming in the near future.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Biking and Camping

Richard at Cyclelicious put up a post about bike camping sites in California state parks and I thought I'd add a few of my own favorite sites for biking and camping. All of these sites except perhaps Pleasant boat-in campground at Loon Lake are doable with kids.

Wildcat Camp and Coast Camp, Point Reyes National Seashore. Coast camp is about a 2 mile ride from the trailhead near the youth hostel, off the Limantour beach road. Wildcat camp is about a 6 1/2 mile ride from Bear Valley visitor center. More info and permits available at Bear Valley visitor center for either campground. You can ride from Embarcadero BART in San Francisco to make a weekend overnight.

Samuel P Taylor State Park, Fairfax, Marin County. Peppermill Creek flows through the middle of the park, and the campsites are situated among towering redwood trees. There's an off-road dirt hike/bike trail connecting from Fairfax, I ride it on a road bike with skinny tires no problem. The hike/bike path runs right through the park and continues another 3 paved miles to the intersection of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and Platform Bridge Road. Campsites are usually booked ahead, but after 6pm the day use area is used as an overflow campground until 9am. We used to do this a lot, but it's been a few years so call ahead to confirm the day use is still available for camping after 6pm.

Loon Lake campground or Pleasant boat-in campground at Loon Lake, northeast of Placerville. Loon Lake is at about 6,000 feet on the edge of the Desolation Wilderness. The main campground is drive-in, or you can bike to the boat-in campsites. You can circle the lake on a mountain bike, combining the southside hiking trail with some class V and VI off-road trails on the east and north sides of the lake (connect near Spider Lake). I could not believe they get 4x4's up and down these trails, I was having a heck of a time on a mountain bike. Suspension would have helped. This is a boat-in campsite which is also bike/hike accessible.

Sly Park/Jenkinson Lake is at about 3,500 feet in the Eldorado Hills near Pollock Pines off Highway 50. Campgrounds are drive-in, the attraction is an outstanding 7 mile loop that circles the lake. It's about 70% narrow single-track that flows extremely well, and about 20% wide dirt trail. Nothing too technical except for a few rocky sections where the signs say to walk your bike. The lands are part of El Dorado Irrigation District.

Mackerricher State Park, near Fort Bragg in Mendocino County. Drive-in campground with one loop reserved for tents (no RVs). An old (paved) log haul road is open to bikes and hikers and runs about 8 miles from the park to downtown Fort Bragg. You can also go north on the paved trail for about 6 miles to the dunes at 10 mile beach. The little lake in the park is stocked with trout. We once counted 15 osprey hovering over us, and saw one swoop down and grab a fish out of the water between us and our bobbers! Coin-operated showers.

Sugar Pine Point, Lake Tahoe. The park includes a beach on the lake as well as many trails leading off into the Desolation Wilderness. Coin-operated showers are a nice amenity.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Albany Bulb and Berkeley Marina Family Ride

Today's ride is a 9 mile out and back on a mix of dirt, gravel and paved surfaces with views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate, and the bay. A mountain bike or hybrid or something similar is recommended, but you can do it on a road bike.

Click for an interactive route map

The ride is suitable for families and kids who can handle a busy bike lane and a couple of street crossings. If your unsure about handling, consider the 10 to 12 mile ride at the start of the Bay Trail trip to Point Richmond and back, all on paved bike/foot path.

Today starts by crossing the bike/foot bridge at the west end of Buchanan Street in Albany, at Pierce.

FROM EL CERRITO PLAZA BART: catch the bike path on the east (hill) side of the station and head south. Continue for about 3/4 mile, then go right on Washington. After about 6 blocks go left on Kains, then right on Solano. Cross San Pablo to the stop sign, left on Jackson, right on Buchanan. Lots of people use the sidewalk here, but the shoulder is wide enough and pavement just a little bumpy. Head towards the water about 6 half-blocks and catch the bike bridge entrance on your left after bearing right and downhill just past the intersection with Pierce.

Going up the incline

On the decline you loop all the way around to the right, then do a 180 left back under the freeway.

This avoids the 580/80 on-ramp with cars going right on red from Buchanan.

Cross towards the water the at the light, and continue up onto the sidewalk. Head west, keeping the Albany mud flats and the fence on your right. Here is an old early morning shot from this perspective.

The sidewalk turns into a bike/foot path and after about 1/4 mile we take a right at a big gate on our right, heading straight up a wide paved section then taking the second left on a dirt trail.

The fenced off area is set aside as burrowing owl habitat, but they have not taken a liking to it yet. We take a little single track drop back to the lower trail, with a nice view from the top.

We take the lower trail to the right, along the water's edge. You start to catch sight of the many outdoor wild-art works that have been built out of the abundant construction debris that the Albany Bulb is made up of.

We continue straight at the junction, up the little hill, then straight through the next set of intersections heading more or less due north. The trail dips and you confront what I think is the iconic piece at the bulb

A little further to the left a sculpture garden has bloomed

Lincoln wanted to know if this was somebody's bike (complete with cast iron hula hoop racks) or a piece of art. He was stunned that someone could intentionally leave a bike out to rust, and kept asking me why anyone would do that.

We double back to rejoin the bay trail bike route at the foot of Buchanan street, where the road does a loop. Looking south the gate is to the right, next to the port-a-potty.

Through the gate the path is on the left, next to the fence line

Up the hill and through the parking lot, take the far left lane on the downhill - it's reserved for bikes and pedestrians. At the end of the downhill veer left, on the east side of the trees and take the wide open if slightly lumpy bike path

View off to your right once again

Cross Gilman at the corner, and go left around the soccer fields. You can ride next to the field in the paved area, don't stay on Gilman. Take a right where the sign says "right turn only", onto the bike path. Go straight past all the playing fields, then take a right when you go through a pair of posts in the road.

This little dirt section (Virginia Street extension) avoids having to go down University Avenue on the gravel and glass strewn shoulder. This route is much safer and quieter, and the road surface is not that much worse. Linc flies along

At the end of the dirt you can go right to connect to a loop around Cesar Chavez Park, famous for kite flying, but today we go left on the paved path alongside the fence.

We cross the street at the entrance to Berth F

Up onto the sidewalk, the continue with the water on our right as the sidewalk bends around to the right. We see our crosswalk

After crossing the path winds around another corner and we go through the forecourt at Cal Sailing club (where you can learn to sail or windsurf)

We pass the one-of-a-kind Berkeley Adventure Playground - an excellent space for kids to basically do what they want with saws, hammers, nails, scrap wood, and paint. There's a zip line with a sand-pile for crash landings, and some structures that evolve daily with kids input. There's almost no rules, yet kids don't seem to get hurt in a way that tears and time won't fix. Highly recommended for kids 5 to 12 or so

There's a play area for younger kids right next door, with reasonably nice bathrooms and drinking water. This area is somewhat sheltered from the wind when it's howling along the waterfront

We cut through the parking lot at His Lordships restaurant and ride by the crashing waves to the foot of the Berkeley Pier. This 3 mile pier was a primary commercial artery in the early days, now only the first mile is maintained as a fishing pier (no California license required on a public pier, but be careful what you eat out of the SF bay)

We are late for dinner, so we hurry home on the North sidewalk along University Avenue, cutting back to the waterfront path next to the little convenience store where we always buy worms when we go fishing here. We take the same route home, completing a nice one and a half hours at a leisurely kid-friendly pace.

Morning Photos from Richmond Waterfront

Hazy light, nice crisp morning, perfect day for a leisurely ride around the waterfront. Albany beach, right by the old ferry landing at the foot of Fleming Point hill. Site of many dynamite factories in the 1880's-1890's.

Along the Richmond waterfront, a study in blue

A wider view from the shoreline

Giant car carrier docked opposite Craneway Pavillion. These giant ships navigate out through a channel by Discovery Bay, kind of funny to see them next to the sailboats and fishing boats in the same channel.

View from just after the Point Richmond tunnel. San Francisco to our left, Angel Island (and the top of a Golden Gate bridge tower barely visible), Tiburon, Chevron oil terminal, Richmond-San Rafael Bridge

View of SF from just to the left of Ferry Point