August East Bay Road Update

August 12th, 2017 by tony

It’s well into summer, it hasn’t rained in months, and you’re thinking, “All those closed roads in the East Bay should be open by now!” Unfortunately that is not the case and for some roads, if the end is in sight the counties are being very mum and not willing to announce an expected completion date. So here’s the skinny.

Calaveras Road. Absolutely no word. Are the seismic issues anywhere near being resolved? Who knows. Calaveras is closed 24/7 to all traffic for the indefinite future.

Redwood Road. No word at all. On the Valley Spokesmen listserv there has been mention of members circumventing the K barriers and then getting ticketed. If you need to get through Redwood, then take the Brandon Trail, which connects with Marciel Road, to get around the closure. The Brandon Trail is a road bike friendly fire road and it’s short.

Alhambra Valley Road. The repair is underway but there is no recent update and the only word is “end of September”.

Palomares. Work on the landslide is proceeding but slowly because of the hazardous conditions. The latest word is repairs will continue “through August”.

Canyon Bridge/Pinehurst. The City of Moraga will be receiving Caltrans/FHA emergency funding to construct a temporary one-lane bridge. But the timeline for funding/bid out/start date is unknown. Don’t hold your breath. The ad hoc diversion through East Bay Regional Parks land just might get you a ticket if the rangers are around. If you must ride Pinehurst, consider using Skyline/Redwood instead. Update here.

Morgan Territory Road. The repair is underway and consequently the road is closed to all traffic through mid-October. There is a diversion, Leon Drive, but it is technically for residents only. You need a pass issued by the Sheriff’s Dept. to use the diversion because the road crosses the Detention Facility. Use at your own risk. For more info go here or here.

Maybe they’ll be open just in time for another wet winter!

Ride Recap: Year Of The Cock—Finger Licking Good!

July 31st, 2017 by tony

Oh, Bite Me!

The Year Of The Cock Ride managed to combine pain and pleasure in the best way possible. Our C-paced ride ended up being a D-pace, which at my age is a hard thing to do. Neville from England, a mere whippersnapper, likes to go fast and he showed it. We were climbing at a 10+ mph pace and the flats were 20+ mph. When we had a headwind, Roger showed us what his e-bike could do: at one point we were doing 24 mph as he dragged us along literally in his wake. Don’t ask me about the downhills because David and Neville bombed down them and disappeared in the distance leaving Roger and me in the dust. Despite the literally breathtaking pace we managed to have lots of delightful conversation but mostly when we had regrouped. The day was forecast to be hot but it never materialized: it wasn’t even 80 degrees in Yountville! The negative of the day was the robust traffic on Highway 121 and 128, boaters heading to Lake Berryessa. We also took in an amazing Porsche rally on Sage Canyon Road—there must have been 50+ cars that passed us (at least they know how to drive).

The highlight of the day was lunch at Addendum. Yes, the buttermilk fried chicken lives up to its reputation: cooked perfectly (i.e. not dry!) with a breading that was crumbly, flavorful, and ample. The side dishes were an uninteresting macaroni salad and a really delicious slaw. Yum! For some reason that I did not fathom neither David nor Neville had chicken, opting instead for pork. Hmm, Year of the Pig perhaps? I think next time I’m going to order a small bucket of chicken; after all it was only eight flat miles back to the car. Lunch at the outside picnic tables at Addendum under the trees was most pleasant! Either a short nap in the shade or a stroll down the street for an espresso would have topped off the afternoon.

The postprandial ride section took in the new bike path, the Vine Trail, which parallels Solano Avenue and Highway 29. It’s excellently executed and worth doing. We also got to race the Wine Train (it doesn’t go very fast). We ended with post-ride refreshments at Starbucks and more juvenile conversation on the patio.

A Big Sur Adventure

July 25th, 2017 by tony

Big Sur Coast

As you know a sizeable section of Highway One along the Big Sur coast has been closed to traffic due to massive winter landslides and the destruction of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge. Last Thursday we went down to Big Sur to ride Highway One before everything opens and the full onslaught of traffic hits what is now a strangely placid tourist zone. The reconstruction of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge is the northern closure. To the south Paul’s Slide near Lucia and the Mud Slide near Gorda are the southern closures. We were hoping to go before Paul’s Slide was cleared, resulting in the opening of the southern end of the Big Sur area to traffic coming over Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. Caltrans originally planned to have it open by the end of July; then it was moved to July 20. But they managed to have it open two days earlier! We were pretty sure that despite this good news that there wouldn’t be much car traffic coming from the south and it turned out we were right.

We had to get up pretty early to make the drive—almost three hours from the East Bay—and avoid the South Bay commute madness. Traffic was light until we got to Monterey, whose commute hour we managed to hit. We decided to go on a weekday because we surmised that the weekend would, despite the closure, bring out a horde of visitors to enjoy the scenic coast. Nonetheless we were only mildly surprised when we encountered a fair amount of car traffic heading south out of Carmel. Where could they all be going except Big Sur? There’s not much else south of Carmel Highlands. Despite a winter that brought no less than four major slides to Highway One, Big Sur is still a busy area—it’s just the busyness is confined to Highway One only so far as Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, where the bridge is out. A quick scan of license plates showed that some of them were definitely from out of state. But so many tourists have rental cars, that having a CA plate is no guarantee it’s being driven by a local. By the time we got to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park traffic had mostly petered out. However the crowd must have been there because the Park campground was completely sold out.

We weren’t exactly sure where the Community Bypass Trail started. But a visit to the Big Sur Station Visitor Center, which is conveniently right where the road closure starts, quickly answered that question: it starts not at the road closure but inside the State Park. We were able to park the car by the side of Highway One and ride into the Park to the trailhead.

The trail is about a half-mile long and it’s almost entirely a series of switchbacks up a steep hillside. It’s hard to believe that locals were hiking up and down the trail with groceries and goods for months before the State Park improved the trail. It’s now fairly safe to walk even with your bike: it’s wider, has a level surface for the most part, and has steps and rails. We started up the trail at about 9:30 a.m. and we encountered little foot traffic. We did however run into a couple of cyclists from Santa Cruz whose intent was exactly the same as ours. After about 200 vertical feet of ascent you’re back on Highway One where the construction is taking place; two large cranes were at work and lots of cars were parked there, no doubt belonging to the Caltrans crew. Were they really driving all the way around over Nacimiento-Fergusson Road? That’s a long commute!

We headed south and were immediately struck by the quiet; Big Sur is a different experience when there are almost no cars and you have the entire road to yourself. In the summer time Highway One is a non-stop parade of tourists zooming down the road, a mixture of RVs, rental convertibles, and pickup trucks. It’s not exactly conducive to a peaceful bike ride but perhaps more in line with a near-religious experience as one contemplates being edged off the cliff by yet another punishment pass. But this time was entirely different: the only cars were an occasional local, Caltrans vehicles, and a few who apparently came over Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. That isn’t to say things are fine and dandy: one pickup came zooming up the road at 70 mph, and one car seemed to think it had the road all to himself as it strode up the middle of the road.

But overall it was a glorious ride. The day was sunny and clear, a bit of wind but not too strong, about 70 degrees. The Pacific was placid—no white caps and just the rhythmic waves coming from the horizon. It was quiet enough to hear the elephant seals barking far down on the rocks. Caltrans had taken the opportunity to do a host of minor repairs to the roadway. The repairs weren’t the typical fill-a-pothole type but substantial repaving of sections, making the roadway rideable along sections that no doubt were damaged by winter rains. That section of Highway One will probably never be in such good shape again! There are plenty of vista points to pull over and take in the view and a few snapshots. Without the terror of riding next to cars, the lack of exhaust fumes and the incessant drone of engines, riding in Big Sur was a joy!

Not that everything is easy-peasy: Highway One rolls up and down all the way down the coast with only a couple of “flat” sections. None of the ramps is especially steep but there are plenty in the 7-9% range, none of them too long. By the end of the day we had about 4,700 feet of vertical from riding down to Lucia and back (about 50 miles altogether). About 200 of that was from walking up the Bypass Trail. The uphills may have been challenging but those downhill sections were awesome!

Big Creek Bridge at Big Sur

Things To Know About Riding Big Sur

Once the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge is completed—currently expected at the end of September—the opportunity to ride your bike down Big Sur mostly free of car traffic will almost certainly end. At that point car traffic will be able to flow south and over Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. So set aside a day to go there before it’s too late.

The Community Bypass Trail. The trail starts in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, in Campground 4 near campsite 31. The trail is about a half-mile long and ascends about 200 vertical feet over a series of switchbacks to Highway One. The trail is dirt but has been improved to a Class I trail, i.e. flat surface, steps, and railing when necessary. To find the trail, enter the park and go straight past the entrance kiosk (do not go left or right at the first intersection inside the park—go straight). If you’re driving in, you will have to pay a day parking fee of $10 to park in one of the lots (if you can find a space). The entrance kiosk also has directions to the trailhead. Take the bridge on the right across the Big Sur River and enter the campgrounds. At the T-intersection, go left to Campground 4 and look for site 31 on the right. There should be a trail sign there. Dismount and walk up the trail. Depending on the time of day you may run into trail traffic. Early morning the trail seems rather deserted. But as the day progresses more people get up and decide to check out Nepenthe. The shuttle service from Andrew Molera State Park also drops off groups at the trailhead. In the afternoon workers are dropped off at the top of the trail to walk down and take the shuttle back to their cars. Although the trail is improved, it can still get tight with walkers passing each other. Be sure to step aside when possible to let those faster pass you and your bike. If you have a regular road bike, you won’t have any problems getting it up the trail. You can roll it on the ramps but you’ll have to lift it up the steps. If your bike is heavy—let’s say you decided to bring your e-bike—then you are in for a workout. We got Roger’s 40-pound e-bike up the hill but we were both pretty sweaty! You may not want to walk up the trail in your cycling shoes. If you’ve got MTB shoes, they’ll work fine. However I brought tennis shoes and simply switched shoes for the hiking portion. Another cyclist did the same and he was even brighter: he stashed his shoes in his daypack at the top so he didn’t have to ride all day with a pack on.

Where to Park. Day parking in the State Park is $10 per vehicle. On weekends it is likely to fill up before noon. You can park on the sides of Highway One as long as your car is not in the roadway, and then enter the park by bike and avoid the fee too. But on weekends you will probably not find much parking by the road unless you arrive early. The safest bet is to park at Andrew Molera State Park. The shuttle to the Community Bypass Trail uses the Molera parking lot even though the park itself is closed. I’m not sure if there is a parking fee (but there probably is). From Andrew Molera it’s about a 4-5 mile ride to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and the trailhead.

Bikes on the Trail. Technically bikes in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park are allowed only on the roads and not the trails. And this may be the belief of many passersby. However Big Sur Station clearly stated to me that bikes ARE allowed on the Community Bypass Trail as long as they are walked and not ridden. Do NOT ride your bike on the trail even at the beginning where it is flatter!

Services. Once you are south of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge construction site there will be very few services. As time goes by and the word gets out that Paul’s Slide is gone, more businesses south of the bridge may open especially on weekends. Of note: Nepenthe is indeed open for business! Uncharacteristically it was not crowded and therefore made for a truly pleasant lunch. The inns south of the bridge and their associated restaurants do not appear to be open at least during the week. The only place we found to get a snack is Lucia, which is just before Paul’s Slide, at the Lucia Lodge store, 23 miles after the bridge. Note that there isn’t anywhere to get water before Lucia—Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is closed—so bring all you’re going to need.

Cars. There should be very few cars. The few that you will see are likely to be locals going back and forth. But the word is getting out and some tourists are braving Nacimiento-Fergusson Road to get to the coast. There is also some truck traffic related to the bridge construction but it is infrequent. So the good news is that you have all of Highway One mostly to yourself. I say “mostly” because the fact that there is little traffic means that some idiots in cars think they have the road “mostly” to themselves. Like the numbskull who passed us in his pickup doing over 70 mph. And then there was the bright bulb in a SUV who drove down the middle of Highway One, clearly relishing his moment of anarchy and freedom from the Man. Speaking of the Man, it seemed there aren’t any police or fire stations let alone towns, so you are unlikely to get assistance of the legal or EMT kind if you should have a run-in with one of the aforementioned harebrains. So exercise caution!

Nepenthe. Nepenthe is the logical, if sole, place to get a meal on the south side. Before the bridge went out, a typical weekend lunch at Nepenthe would perhaps mean having to wait a while for a table and the tables on the outside deck overlooking the cliffs were bound to be full. With the bridge gone, the clientele was much reduced and we were able to get a table on the deck immediately. Keep in mind we were there on a weekday. There did seem to be foot traffic from the Bypass Trail, which is only two miles north of Nepenthe. There is also a shuttle that ferries people to the trail and back. The food is as good as ever—and as expensive as ever: remember you’re paying for the ambience, and now you’re paying for their high cost of getting supplies. Keep in mind that Nepenthe, like all the other businesses along the Big Sur coast, has taken a huge economic hit with the closure of Highway One. People parked and locked their bikes in the lot. But we saw a couple of cyclists park their bikes on the restaurant level within easy eyesight. The restaurant staff didn’t seem to mind but it also wasn’t packed with a crowd either. There is also a handicap access parking lot in the back and it is possible to park your bike there where it is out of sight and less likely to be nicked.

What if you don’t want to bring your bike? The prospect of schlepping a bike up the hill can be daunting. It’s really not that hard. But if you don’t want to bring your bike yet still want to ride, you can instead rent an e-bike at Big Sur Adventures, which is just south of the bridge closure. We saw plenty of folks riding them down the coast. And they make going up the rolls much easier. What a cool way to explore Big Sur!

Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. You might be tempted to ride down Big Sur and go up Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. In other times this would be a great if challenging ride. But the characteristics that make this road most excellent for cycling are now a liability—it is narrow, steep in sections, isolated, and has plenty of curves. Heavy trucks bringing construction earth and supplies for the bridge repair are using the road. Tourists are starting to come over because it’s the only way to access the Big Sur coast due to the Mud Slide near Gorda. If it is not obvious, this is a dangerous mixture and I would not recommend it: more car traffic, heavy trucks, crazed tourists not paying attention to the road, very narrow road—you be the judge! Nacimiento-Fergusson Road is unlikely to return to its quiet isolation until after the Mud Slide is cleared and Highway One fully reopened from Cambria to Carmel. The Mud Slide is so massive that the current Caltrans estimate for reopening is summer 2018, presuming that it is not worsened by another horrific winter. David Gaus’s already long-delayed tour down Big Sur and over Nacimiento-Fergusson now looks to be postponed yet another year. Sigh.

Hell Froze Over: Mt. Umunhum to Open-Finally!

July 18th, 2017 by tony

Mt. Umunhum and the Cube

Wow. Believe it or not, the road up Mt. Umunhum is actually going to be open to the public on Saturday, September 16. This has been so long in coming that I thought it was never going to happen in my lifetime. Mt. Umumhum is the site of the old Air Force radar tower, the “Cube”, which can be seen throughout the South Bay. It’s been closed for decades after the Air Force abandoned it, and it ended up being a hazardous waste site that needed to be cleaned before it could be opened. Then locals opposed opening the road. I won’t go into the entire history of delay–it’s now over!

Although some, ahem, have been riding on Mt. Um for years, it’s not been legal and some of the locals were downright dangerous. Now we can all go up there on our bikes without fear of being ticketed or shot. The big deal about Mt. Um is that it’s at the top of Hicks Road–you know, that road that has a four-mile section that is over 10% and a half-mile that is 14%. Surmounting Hicks is a private victory and now you can add another 2,000 feet of vertical by turning right and heading up Mt. Um. This threatens to enlarge the Three Peaks In A Day challenge to four peaks!

You can read a bit more about it here and here. I think this calls for an official Different Spokes venture, don’t you think? Stay tuned to the DSSF Ride Calendar for the date!

Ride Recap: West Sonoma County

July 17th, 2017 by tony

Well, you missed a really hot one yesterday. By the time we rolled back to John and Randy’s house at 2 p.m. it was over 100 degrees. Riding up their long gravel driveway with the heat pulsating off the ground, I felt like my head was going to explode. My legs had already exploded a few miles back after the last short uphill when Roger punched up it with 350 watts of e-power. Although I might ride in 100-degree weather in the East Bay, I’m always doing it adagio, not presto as in this ride. Both John and Daryl took turns setting a blistering pace during the day, John mostly on the flats and Daryl mostly on the uphills. Combined with the punishing heat, the tempo made the day a blur—mostly I remember following somebody’s wheel!

Driving up to Santa Rosa we knew it was going to be a hot one. It was already 80 degrees at the start. Maybe it was the weather forecast that kept some of you away or perhaps it was the drive up north. But you missed a beautiful ride. The Gravenstein apples were ripening and we could see them on the few remaining  orchards. We rode through the West Sonoma farm roads to Occidental, on roads just north of Apple Blossom Ride territory but no less rolling. The big hill of the day came early, Harrison Grade at 8%, and fortunately it was partly covered by trees so we didn’t melt completely. I was expecting the temperature to cool down a bit in Occidental but I was completely wrong: it started to get hotter. The heat was made tolerable by the long descent on the Bohemian Highway, mostly in the shade. John, Daryl and Kevin were absolutely relentless and disappeared down the road; perhaps their knowledge of the numerous potholes allowed them to drive the pace. Randy, Roger and I were more timid and went down less headlong. Winter has not been kind to Sonoma roads, not that they were in great shape beforehand either. But the roads have definitely seen better days (mostly many years ago!) On the uphills that’s no problem but they present a problem going downhill. My lord, the potholes had potholes! And I swear we passed a pothole that looked like a bomb had gone off in it. Some dear soul had come along and marked many of them with white spray paint so that hapless cyclists could see them in the darkness before dropping into them.

We took a long (and needed) break at the new Creekside Park coffee stand just outside of Monte Rio. It definitely is the place to hang out and chill if you’re riding up to Guerneville or thereabouts. We were all in need of liquid refreshment and to take a break in the shade on their pleasant wood deck. After iced coffees, smoothies, snacks, etc. and lots of delightful chatter we got back to the business at hand. The Fearsome Foursome took off from the starting line leaving Roger and I to chase them up River Road. We were averaging about 20 mph. I’d like to say that riding into Guerneville was fun. But it wasn’t this time. Sunday traffic was out in force and the back up heading into Guerneville was two miles long. That and the prolific amount of broken glass on River Road had me worrying that one of us (hopefully not me) was going to flat and we’d have to stop in the sun and change a friggin’ tube while our skin melted off. Fortunately no such thing occurred. Guerneville was experiencing a major traffic jam and I was sooo glad to be on a bike despite the Arabian weather—we passed a very long line of cars! But every time we got out of the shade into the sun I could feel the intense heating radiating back at us from the pavement.

We got off River Road onto Westside and of course Daryl punched it up the short climb. By now the shade wasn’t helping a whole lot and I kept looking at my cyclometer wishing I was closer to the end. Right around this point I think everyone (except Daryl) gave in to the heat and slowed down. I certainly didn’t want to stroke out and wake up in an ice bath at the ER. With about three miles to go Roger decided he’d had enough of the heat and just wanted the ride to be over and took off. I gamely tried to follow but my body was shutting down so I ended up sputtering along.

We made it back to John & Randy’s house, which despite the outside heat was cozily cool inside. They plied us with ice water and PB&J sandwiches, but all I wanted was water, food being far from my mind. My skin was coated with a sheen of sweat and my jersey was white with salt. They kindly allowed us to shower up (perhaps the stench was too much to bear!) John checked the local weather stations. At the house it was about 100; at towns nearby—some that we had passed through—it was 104, 107, 102, etc. Yeah, that was one hot ride. But I have to say that it was pretty awesome; I don’t often kick out the jams like that on a ride. We’ll be back but hopefully not during another heat wave!

Big Sur Beckons Cyclists [updated 2x]

July 11th, 2017 by tony

Community Bypass Trail

Much of the Big Sur coastline on Highway One is closed…to automobiles but not cyclists! Highway One is shut from the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, which is just south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, down to about Limekiln State Park, a distance of about 23 miles one way. The north end is closed due to the demolition and reconstruction of the bridge, which won’t be done until sometime late September, and at the south end due to Paul’s Slide, which is expected to be cleared by the end of this month. Thus, there is no car traffic other than shuttle service on this section. However a week ago the so-called Community Bypass Trail, which was only open to locals willing to clamber around the bridge up a steep hillside towards Pfeiffer State Park, was opened to all visitors. The trail has been improved into a Class 1 trail, i.e. widened, stabilized, graded, and steps with rails installed. The trail is open during daylight hours only. A quick call to the Monterey District office of the State Park system confirmed that cyclists are allowed to walk (NOT RIDE!) their bikes on the half-mile trail over to the closed section of Highway One.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ride one of the most scenic sections of the Big Sur coastline completely free of automobiles. On the other side of the bridge some services are open including Nepenthe, which is a fabulous place to take lunch because of the fantastic patio view of the Pacific, and I’m sure they’re welcoming the business after this miserable winter. Keep in mind that after Paul’s Slide is cleared cars will be able to come up from the south, so the window of opportunity is narrow, about the next two weeks. But the only traffic coming from the south will be those willing to drive over Nacimiento-Fergusson Road from 101 because the massive Mud Creek slide has closed off Highway One from Cambria. That slide is so gargantuan that Caltrans does not expect to have it reopened until sometime in 2018 if not beyond. So even after Paul’s Slide is cleared there will be less traffic on Highway One.

If you’re driving down to ride Highway One, you can park at Andrew Molera State Park (which is otherwise closed) in the shuttle lot and cycle Highway One down to the trailhead. For more information:  https://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/570/files/Pfeiffer%20Big%20Sur%20SP%20Opens%20July%201.pdf

UPDATE: Someone else had the same idea and beat us to it. We’re heading down to ride Big Sur this week before Paul’s Slide is cleared. In the meantime before our report, you can read about Big Sur by bike here.

UPDATE 2: Paul’s Slide was officially cleared and that section of Highway One near Lucia was opened today (7/18). This means that traffic from Nacimiento-Fergusson Road has access to the Big Sur coast as far north as the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge. There still will be less car traffic but it won’t be as isolated as it has been for the past few weeks.

Odds And Ends

June 29th, 2017 by tony

Canyon Bridge. Instead of awaiting a new permanent bridge, the town of Moraga is planning on installing a temporary one-way bridge to replace the existing one that was irreparably damaged by earth movement and rains this past winter. This is not only good news for the tiny town of Canyon, which is now isolated from Moraga by the lack of a functioning bridge, but also for cyclists because the new structure is currently set to be up by mid-September. We shall see. Before the bridge can be constructed the plan will undergo environmental scrutiny and mitigation and also have to get clearance from Caltrans. Unfortunately this is long after the 2017 Orinda Pool Party is scheduled to take place, so we will have to go with alternate routes.

Morgan Territory Road. We’re getting into the hot season over here in Contra Costa and not ideal weather to take on Morgan Territory Road. Nevertheless we may have a repaired road by the end of July. The slide repair is scheduled to begin—finally!—in July. This will require that the road be shut down although a temporary access road is in the works using Leon Drive. Unfortunately this goes through the Marsh Creek Detention Facility and so the Sheriff is issuing temporary passes to those eligible to use it, namely residents, and whether anybody else can go through the Detention Facility grounds is unknown. But it looks like the general public will not have access.

Alhambra Valley Road. Repair to the major washout of Alhambra Valley Road started on June 12 and is expected to run to the end of September. A new 60-foot bridge with shoulders for cyclists and pedestrians will be included. Here’s hoping that the Three Bears will be open in time for the Fall Social!

Palomares Road, Redwood Road, Calaveras Road. All are still closed with NO estimate on reopening (and in the case of Calaveras, if ever).

Skyline Boulevard (HIghway 35). Several sections of Skyline Boulevard over on the Peninsula failed this past winter but by far the worst was at Mile Post 10.5 where a 50-yard length of roadway slid down the hill. There is no reconstruction of the old roadway planned. Instead a new alignment into the hillside will be constructed along with a robust retaining wall. Caltrans hopes to have the road open by the end of 2017.

SMART Train. So things didn’t go as planned and the Sonoma-Marin trainline didn’t open this spring as was hoped. Federal approval of SMART’s safety new high tech safety system, “Positive Train Control”, which automatically stops the train if it detects a potential collision, is not in place yet. The original plan was to have free fares from the spring opening until July 4. Now that that is impossible SMART is going to offer free preview rides. The first one took place today; the next two are on Saturday July 1 and Tuesday July 4. For those two days there will be three trips offered from the Sonoma County Airport station to the Marin Civic Center (for the Marin County Fair). You can see the schedule here. Additional preview dates for the subsequent weeks will be announced. Note that it’s first-come, first serve. There is no word on whether bikes will be allowed on these preview rides.

Go Around Canyon Bridge By Trail, Get Ticket

May 30th, 2017 by tony

Following up on the May 3 posting, East Bay Regional Park District rangers are issuing tickets to cyclists who use the closed Valle Vista trail to circumvent the Canyon bridge, which is closed indefinitely. From the Lamorinda Weekly:

“The East Bay Regional Parks District is serious about enforcing the closed trail from the Valle Vista staging area to 1700 School Street, warned Moraga Town Manager Robert Priebe in his report to the Moraga City Council at its recent meeting. The portion of the Lafayette Moraga Trail was closed as of Jan. 21, 2016 due to a mudslide. “The closure is causing people to trespass on private property on Augusta Drive and to cross EBMUD property,” said Priebe. “The park rangers are issuing citations.””

No surprise here. Of course, they have to see you in order to issue a ticket. On the other hand, on Augusta you have to ride immediately next to someone’s house in order to get around the trail closure, which is legally trespassing but more importantly is just rude.

Road Recovery

May 27th, 2017 by tony

Highway 1 closed due to gigantic landslide

 

You probably are aware that a week ago there was a gigantic landslide on Highway 1 along the Big Sur coast covering a quarter-mile of the road with up to 40 feet of debris. Combined with the earlier destruction of the Big Sur bridge to the north, a sizeable section of the scenic route is now almost completely cut off to traffic including bicycles. You can read more about it here or here.

David Gaus has been planning a Different Spokes bike trip down Big Sur and over Nacimiento-Fergusson Road for several years. For one reason or another—conflicts with Double Bay Double, in particular—it hasn’t happened. This year was going to be it until winter storms had their way with NorCal and the bridge was irretrievably damaged. In March Caltrans estimated that a new bridge could be constructed in six months, putting the earliest reopening sometime in early fall if everything went well (though it never does). But this newest disaster is estimated to take at least a year to be corrected. Unless a miracle happens we shouldn’t expect the Big Sur coastline to be fully open before next summer—it is after all more than a million tons of earth that have to be removed (and it can’t be dumped in the Pacific) and the slide isn’t stable yet to be worked on.

However a club ride partway down the coast and over Nacimiento-Fergusson Road could take place after the new bridge is erected since the landslide is further to the south. We shall see. Doing the ride before Highway 1 is fully reopen would likely mean having to deal with a lot of car traffic also heading up Nacimiento-Fergusson, which by the way is a serious uphill grunt. I wouldn’t recommend it; car traffic is bound to be intense as everyone tries to skirt the landslide, and the road is very narrow with no shoulder. It’s a lovely ride especially if you like climbing. But doing it with a line of rental Mustang convertibles racing by you would kind of kill the buzz. After topping Nacimiento-Fergusson you end up going through Fort Hunter Liggett and then on to King City, or if you’re adventure minded you can take Indians Road all the way to Arroyo Seco Road. This latter route is serious backcountry cycling and Indians Road has had its own landslides in the past. There’s no help out there so you’d best be prepared. I’d like to hear a report from any daring soul who goes out there this year on its condition. I’m willing to bet that Indians has had some serious erosion and/or landslides as well.

Ten years ago Roger and I went down the Central California coast, starting at Asilomar and down Highway 1 to Cambria. From there we went up the infamous Santa Rosa Creek Road—on our tandem no less!—over to Paso Robles and then up Arroyo Seco Road to Carmel Valley. We were lucky and had a two fog-free days when we were on Highway 1. The views are incredible from a car (specifically, a Ford Mustang convertible, top down ‘natch!) and being on a bicycle allowed us to enjoy them even longer. And lunch at Nepenthe sitting on the outside deck with a view of the coast is always delightful (and delicious). Let’s hope Caltrans is able to get Highway 1 cleared soon.

Nimitz Trail slip mitigation

A couple of days ago I went on the Seaview Trail, which runs from the top of Vollmer Peak above Skyline here in the Berkeley hills down to Wildcat Canyon. I hadn’t been up there since last September; it’s completely intact although winter rains seem to have made the rock gardens in the trail a bit more challenging than I remember. I also checked out the Nimitz Trail, which I mentioned in the last post, and saw that EBRPD has done some reconstruction of the section that slipped a couple of months ago. As you can see in the photo, they simply plowed a dirt roadway around the slip. I was taken aback: wouldn’t they reconstruct the old asphalt roadway? Then I realized that despite the historic nature of the Nimitz it’s now just a trail, and rebuilding an asphalt road is a lot more expensive than plowing a dirt surface. I’m speculating that EBRPD decided that this was an expedient first move, and if it holds up it may be the last move as well. Perhaps they’ll slurry seal the dirt surface. Just like county roads, fire roads don’t get a lot of love these days. You may recall that Carquinez Scenic Drive was left to rot for 35 years and it was well on its way to Planet of the Apes status before EBPRD took it over a few years ago and rebuilt it into a lovelyl multi-use trail. It takes money to maintain trails and fire roads.

Fire Roads Also Hit Hard By Record Rainfall

May 18th, 2017 by tony

Nimitz Trail Damage

Since Different Spokes is de facto a road bike club, it’s understandable that members are concerned about road closures caused by our epic winter rains. Roads such as Old La Honda, Skyline, Palomares, Bolinas-Fairfax, Mt. Hamilton, etc. are the meat-and-potatoes rides of our club. When they’re closed or obstructed, we all take notice. However mountain bike trails and fire roads have also had a hard winter; we just didn’t pay much attention to it. By this time of the year I’ve usually ridden a slew of the fire roads over here in the East Bay. But the incessant rainfall has kept me off the trails. I don’t like to churn up the trail and leave tire trenches, widen the trails when I try to avoid the lakes in the middle, and in general despoil them when they’re boggy. Plus, I hate cleaning my bike. When I was young I loved to clean it up after every ride. But now I have better things to do than hose down, dry, and regrease everything. Consequently I’ve stayed away from the dirt all winter.

I did manage to get in a ride on the Nimitz Trail when we had a dry week in April. Most of you probably don’t know about the Nimitz. It’s the remnant jeep road from Inspiration Point in Tilden Park that went out to the old Nike missile silos. It’s asphalt partway and then turns into a fire road which eventually ends up in Richmond. It makes a great mixed surface route, or if you don’t like to ride on dirt it’s a quick getaway into the Berkeley hills. Once you’re on the ridge there are great vistas in every direction, and with our verdant spring you feel like you’re miles away from suburbs when you look over the green hills and fields. As you can see in the picture the Nimitz didn’t make it through this winter without serious erosion.

This past weekend we rode off to check out Old Finley Road, which is east of Danville. I’ve written about this old farm road before. It’s a holdover from the early 20th century and it’s now part of the East Bay Regional Park District and Mt. Diablo State Park. If you’re ridden on Camino Tassajara—perhaps you coming back from going over Morgan Territory and were heading to Danville—then you’ve seen Finley Road. The part of the road that is still public and paved is Finley Road and it starts at Camino Tassajara. Finley deadends at some private land but the parks have a right-of-way for trail users to traverse it into the parks. This section is what is now called Old Finley Road it and it’s now a fire road that parallels Tassajara Creek up to a ridge and then drops down to Morgan Territory Road. It’s an interesting cut-through and a different way to do the Morgan Territory loop because it avoids the car traffic on Marsh Creek Road, which can be quite dangerous, yet you still get to do the most interesting part of Morgan Territory, namely the climb in the woods up to Morgan Territory Preserve.

Old Finley Road Washed Away

Old Finley has been in excellent shape and is doable on a standard road bike, although having a fatter tire certainly makes it a less bumpy ride as well as giving you a little bit extra traction on the short sandy sections. In any case, I hadn’t been on it since last summer. It was a big surprise for us to discover that Old Finley Road has been severed in half by the destructive power of Tassajara Creek! We entered the park, where Old Finley is under a canopy of trees, and a short distance later we were confronting a ten-foot drop into the creek. The road had been completely destroyed, cut in half. You can see the culvert that was under the road allowing the creek to run through. What you can’t see clearly in the pic above is that both ends of the culvert have been compromised, the upper opening has been partially crushed by a fallen tree trunk and the lower is partially blocked by a pile of large boulders. It’s easy to see what happened: when the volume of water in the creek rose, the culvert wasn’t able to handle it and the water backed up, rose, and eroded away the roadway, which was nothing more than dirt. Even the current creek flow, which is quite low, is running around the culvert.

It’s still possible to get up Old Finley but you have to portage your bike across a fairly deep chasm. Hikers have made a path down to the creek and over but it’s not easy and if your bike is heavy—Roger’s e-bike is over 50 pounds!—it’s a loathsome task. I rather doubt that the EBRPD has Old Finley Road high on its repair list given how isolated the fire road is. However the road appears to be a bona fide fire road, so you would think it will have to be restored enough for a fire truck to traverse Tassajara Creek again. For the time being you’ll have to dismount and carry your bike across. But it’s worth it!