San Jose to Santa Cruz, via Highway 9. 47 miles, from sea level to 2700 feet to sea level. According to my GPS unit I burned seven thousand calories, but I think that thing must be lying. My Mac tracking software claims a more believable 2400 calories. The truth is probably somewhere between.
Starting out. Photograph by Pit-Crew La.
This is the road I had to climb to get up over the mountain. Highway 9, southwest of Saratoga. It's in decent shape and only a few parts are scary, but for someone "in training" like me, it is extremely long. If I had a full compliment of gear and more time I would have probably tried to camp halfway up it instead of doing it all at once.
I was passed twice by more in-shape cyclists. Both had lightweight bikes and skin-tight clothing, but I'm sure that with all factors being equal, they'd leave me in the dust. I also saw a lot of cyclists passing the other way. Either they started out early in the morning, or they trucked their bikes to the top (the cheaters!) and were only going down. Most likely they just started earlier.
Passing through Saratoga made me feel slightly nervous that I might run into an ex-girlfriend, but the chances were vanishingly small. I did end up speaking to one person, though: A jogger who was trudging up towards the base of the mountain. I kept pace with him and then said "6.5 miles per hour. Not bad!" He grinned back.
Here's the Google Earth view of the whole route. You can see how indirect it is, compared to Highway 17.
My lunch stop, about a quarter of the way up the hill. I propped the camera against a rock on the opposite side of the road. The sandwich and chocolate soymilk that La packed for me disappeared instantly. About this time I noticed an increase in joyriding motorcyclists zooming up or down the hill. Many more than I'd seen back in town. I'm not one to judge about the relative safety of travel ... I just wish they would install proper goddamn mufflers. The noise they made was deafening.
A couple turnouts further along, I found a phone that must have crapped out on its owner one too many times.
A pleasant bridge about halfway up. While stopped for this picture I began to worry about my remaining daylight time.
A couple dozen turns later. You only get this sort of light around sunset. I was not looking forward to a ride through Boulder Creek, Ben Lomond, and Felton (the connective towns along Highway 9 between me and Santa Cruz) in the dark.
About this time a carload of girls (and one embarrassed guy who hid his head under a jacket) stopped and asked me if I knew where Skyline Boulevard was. I replied, "I've got a map thing here I can look it up on, but it takes a while to load, so you might want to pull over." It took less than a minute to locate it on the iPhone map, which I held out for the girl driving the car to inspect. "Thank you!" she said. "Good luck!" I said. "Have a nice ride!" squealed the girl crammed in the middle seat. "Thanks, it's been good so far!" I replied.
About a mile later I rolled to a turnout and just stood there, breathing hard. My brain began swimming around in my head. I think I might have hyperventilated a bit from all the oxygen. "Is this what they call 'The Wall'?" I asked myself. "Have I hit the point where I just can't go any more?"
My mouth wanted salt, so I ate a bunch of Tings (vegan equivalent of Cheetos). That was a mistake, because then I got very thirsty, and I'd run out of water a few turns ago. But I pulled out the tupperware of soup La cooked earlier in the week, and slurped the thinnest layer of liquid off the top of that. It tasted fantastic. Things always taste great after vigorous exercise, and this soup was great already.
I sat still for a long while, propped against a mailbox, breathing and listening to music. I contemplated calling La and asking for a pickup. After almost half an hour, I felt alright again, and decided to keep going.
Finally I made it to the top. This, just a few turns after I began yelling out loud, "I am so damn tired of hills!!!"
Stopped at the lookout point just west of the 9 - 35 intersection. At this point I'd only gone about 22 miles total. The downhill trip to Boulder Creek heaped another ten miles onto that in half an hour. On the west side of the mountain, the sun hadn't finished setting, and the light coming through the trees drew reddish stripes across the road.
Somewhere before Boulder Creek I began passing signage for summer camps. The trees got really big and became proper redwoods. The sunlight faded away. The air got cooler and wetter than I'd felt in San Jose for months. I turned my headlamp on.
As I coasted silently down the road I became aware of the smell of the trees. I realized that I'd become so accustomed to the smell of the city that the smell of the forest was novel again. It's a wet, dusty, earthen smell, with a highlight of mint or menthol, somewhere between the smell of the pine trees up in the mountains and the smell of crushed clay. I breathed huge gulps of it as I descended. Eventually the daylight left entirely, and the forest canopy merged overhead, enclosing the road in a darkness so complete that the columns of trees on either side became the columns of a cave, and I was riding my bike deep into the silent core of the earth.
I suppose that to many people this effect is a little frightening. But it fills me instead with a deep nostalgia for the years I spent growing up here. This vast, dark, space becomes a barrier that blocks out the noise, rush, confusion, and even most of the pollution, of the outside world. Each of the houses set back from the road becomes a tiny universe of warmth, broadcasting squares of yellow light which flicker amongst the trees as you pass. If I was wealthy enough to retire I would probably keep a cabin here. But nowadays I am too interested in travel.
Anyway, it was pitch dark by the time I arrived in Felton. A guy behind the counter of a liquor store was kind enough to refill my water bottle. I called La on the phone and gulped water, and once again considered asking for a pickup. I couldn't remember the distance between Felton and Santa Cruz. I assumed it was all downhill, but I was worried that La and I wouldn't make it to our movie on time. "Ah well, what the heck, I've come this far. I should finish the run."
Actually I'd misremembered... There was almost a whole mile of uphill climbing between me and Santa Cruz. By the time I arrived at the 7-11 at the end of Ocean street we had only ten minutes to spare. I devoured the chocolate soymilk La brought me, as well as half a bottle of carrot juice and an entire bottle of tea. Then I chomped down half a bag of chips. That set my stomach a little off balance, so a few hours later when we sat down at the Saturn I listened very carefully to what my stomach was telling me, and ordered a big salad with some tahini dressing. That hit the spot.
Next day I was pretty sore, but not unmanageably so. If I ever do this ride again, I'll start MUCH earlier in the day.
Things I learned on this trip:
- My bike doesn't have a good enough gear for hills. Most of the difficulty I had with this ride was because I was pedaling too hard. Perhaps there's a way to add a really low gear (a "granny gear") to the drivetrain.
- Once again, the iPhone really does need a battery pack. At the end of my six+ hour ride it flashed a low battery warning. This shouldn't surprise me ... I used it heavily the entire time.
- Having a headlight powered by a hub is great for city driving because the only place I tend to stop is at crosswalks, which are usually lit. But out in the country, on a steep hill, the situation gets scary. Between Felton and Santa Cruz I had to pedal up a large hill at night, and though I was tiring, I couldn't drop below about 3 miles per hour or my headlight would die and leave me in total darkness.
- People in cars like to ask people on bikes for directions. I was flagged down twice today by lost drivers. One wanted to know where some hostel was. What do I look like, an internet kiosk? Oh wait. I am one.
- Half a gallon of water for four hours of hills is a fair ratio. Too bad I only had a quarter.