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.