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.