Bay Area Ridge Trail Day 3
Waking up in Los Gatos we made breakfast - coffee, oatmeal and breakfast burritos and got on the road around 7:30. We donned knee warmers and jackets, snapped a group shot and joined the morning rush hour that was already in full effect. It was a quick 4 miles on Los Gatos Saratoga Rd before we hung a left on Big Basin Way and began the seven mile climb on Hwy 9.
This was the theme of the trip: start the day with a big road climb to get into the hills. Some days I love a good long road climb. Today, loaded on the last day of the trip – not so much. For whatever reason I was leading the group and I felt like I was setting a decent, but not hard pace. My heart rate indicated I was on the upper end of endurance pace and I had zero desire to push harder. We were passed by cars loaded with squishy bikes as the road wound higher and higher. Oh! To drive to the trailhead for a morning shred!
At the top we found Saratoga Gap Trail, which quickly crosses Skyline and feeds into Hickory Oaks Trail which feeds into the Long Ridge Open Space Preserve on the other side. That point was the only time we had a question navigating. There is a point where Hickory Oaks becomes Long Ridge and we tried to turn Left onto Ward Rd. and then right onto Peters Creek trail, when we really wanted to continue on Long Ridge. We figured it out eventually. We did end up on Peters Creek trail though shortly thereafter, which after some fun switchback descents through the woods, spit us out again on Skyline.
After another quick road section we began the Skyline Ridge section on Sunny Jim Trail. This might have been one of my favorite sections, with wide rollercoaster trail with big views over dried grasses towards the Pacific. We briefly met an older couple who were hammering out their morning ridge miles - hubby a good half mile ahead of the wife. So it goes… He didn’t have much time to chat. It’s funny – you think three guys loaded with bags would make you pause to ask what the heck are you guys doing. But hard morning workouts seem to trump curiosity and conversation in these parts - at least for this couple. No worries! We pushed off and enjoyed the roller coaster ride.
I’m always torn between stopping for the shot and enjoying the ride. I usually end up stopping, deciding you can’t quite capture the feeling, and then playing catch up to Steven and Kurt. I’d been keeping my trusty Yashica T4 in a side pocket of my backpack, so I could whip it out without having to pull off the backpack for a shot. In hindsight I love the image quality of the T4 and the light weight and simplicity of use, but you do need to carry rolls of film, and it does force you to be more selective with your shots. Maybe I don’t feel like I have the bikepacking photo thing sorted yet. I’m still experimenting. Sunny Jim feeds into 3.6 miles of Russian Ridge and then you’re back on Skyline.
At close to mile 30 for the day we hit San Gregorio, where Hwy 35 meets 84, it was lunch time. La Honda! That’s Ken Kesey’s neck of the woods. Merry Pranksters, LSD. There are lots of options here, since it seems to be a hot spot for folks out cruising for the day, whether by bike, car or moto. Alice’s Restaurant seems like a nice sit-down spot. Not wanting to linger too long, we hit San Gregorio General Store, which is well stocked with packaged stuff, as well as cold/hot deli items. I went for some pasta and a couple hard boiled eggs. We sat outside at the tables and chatted with fellow travelers. Kurt struck up a conversation with a stylish older gent who owned a barber shop and had a long history riding motorcycles.
Before inertia and the easy San Gregorio vibe got the best of us, we saddled up and hit Skyline again. Maybe it was my full belly, but this felt like the hardest part of the day. You’ve still got about four and a half miles of climbing before the big ten mile descent that will take you to 92 or San Mateo Road.
Now if you were able to get permission from the rangers you’d head right and traverse Cahill Ridge through the State Game Refuge. If you’re like us and were unable to get permission, you’d head West towards Half Moon Bay.
After a quick 7-11 stop where Kurt went big on a hot dog with everything, we decided to paceline (follow Kurt’s wheel as he charged into the headwind) up Highway 1 and hit up McNee Ranch State Park. This part is also called “Planet of the Apes.”
It’s a cruel, steep climb but once on top you wind your way across abandoned roads with gorgeous views of the ocean.
I loved this section – it really does feel like it’s own zone up there. Once you’ve soaked in the sunshine and hard-earned views, you rip down a beat up narrow pavement path and past eucalyptus trees down to finally meet civilization again in Pacifica. But you’re not home yet! At this point we took Sharp Park Road to 35 (yes, Skyline Blvd. again) to John Daly Blvd., which becomes Mission Street. You’ve still got a mean climb to get up top, but you’ve come this far, why stop now? You can feel the city pulling you back in as the sky starts to get into the orange and pink end of the spectrum. This is the point in the ride, where I feel surprisingly strong and I get those nostalgic feelings for everything we’ve just been through the last three days. I know I’ll miss the camaraderie we’ve shared on this trip. I’ll miss the constant motion and the exploration of new roads and trails. I’ll miss our life on the Bay Area Ridge Trail.
While I’m being nostalgic and trying not to get stuck behind city buses Steven’s rear blinky light falls off and explodes on impact, quickly bringing me back to the moment. I’m struck by the excitement and chaos of the city. It feels both thrilling and disappointing to be back. We race each other and squeeze into quickly closing gaps as the neon sign of St. Mary’s Pub beckons.
We ate pupusas and drank beer here four days ago as our pre-ride hangout down the street from Kurt and Heather’s place. We posed for a celebratory photo, before we waved goodbye to Kurt as Steven and I blended into rush hour on Valencia, passing skaters and fellow cyclists. I marveled that I wasn’t wrecked, but glad to finish the same way we had the last two nights…safely and just at sunset.
This was truly one of those unique trips where the universe conspires to give you a good ride. Not perfect in any sense, but perfect for what it is…a new kind of ride - a loop that takes you to quickly to the edges of city life, gives you a quick hit of trail and brings you back in just as quickly.
The Bay Area Ridge Trail will grow and continue to connect itself. It gave us a lot to think about…how cities can give access and what organizations like the Bay Area Ridge Trail association can do to connect one town to the next via nature preserve. They remind us that adventure can be right out your back door. They remind us that trail access is a process that takes work and letters and maintenance and mapping. Thank you to the Bay Area Ridge Trail Association for all of your hard work that brought this route into existence. Thank you to my riding buddies, Steven Hunter and Kurt Wolfgang for your endless positivity, can-do attitude and impressive strength on the bike. Thank you to Austin for the pre-trip intel and meeting us in Berkeley. Thank you to Hans and Kelly for hosting us in Berkeley. Thank you to Meaghan for hosting us in Los Gatos. We appreciate your kindness and really enjoyed your company. We had a blast!