Thursday, August 25, 2005

Mount Hamilton Ride

Warning: dial-up users take note: many pictures (26).

Was a trifle bored on Monday, so I decided to do some road cycling.

Go to a mall? I don't do malls. In the words of my housemate, The mall??? WTF are you? Thirteen?

And so, to Mount Hamilton I go. From Wikipedia: one of the tallest mountains overlooking the Silicon Valley at 4,213 feet above sea level (and above San Jose); only the nearby peaks of Kepler, 4230-foot Isabel, and 4360-foot Copernicus, are higher, but there is no road access to these peaks. Lick Observatory sits atop the mountain, for which its 19-mile access road was constructed.

A view of Mount Hamilton (4213 ft / 1284 m) in the distance (red arrow) from outside my apartment.

A map of the route (courtesy of UCO).

A higher resolution map of the route (highlighted in red).

Elevation profile of the route. The two valleys encountered along the way are also represented: the first involves a descent of 329 ft over 1.91 miles (3 km), and the second goes down 226' ft over 1.05 miles (1.7 km).

Making a right from Alum Rock Avenue on to Highway 130 aka Mount Hamilton Road. It's 19 miles (30.4 km) and 4213 ft (1284 m) of climbing to the summit from here.

Someone's brand of humor: the sign says, "KEEP GOING!" Distance accrued at this point is 2 miles.

A view of Alum Rock and the city of San Jose as I make my way up the foothills of the Mount Diablo range.

Another funny sign at mile 3: "ALMOST THERE! A LITTLE MORE!" Strangely enough, there are no more signs after this. Maybe the joker ran out of energy or something.

The road begins to hug the side of the slopes from here. Here's a paranoma of the valley. After this, the grade steepens somewhat and enters the forested and shaded region (a relief in the 90F heat).

1 hour of climbing later, before the first descent into Halls Valley. Mount Hamilton (tiny red arrow) looks relatively close, but is actually quite a distance at 14 miles away and 3350+ feet of climbing (taking into account the elevation lost by the 2 descents into the 2 valleys).

Mile 8. Joseph D. Grant County Park sits at the bottom of the 1st descent, Halls Valley, formed by the still active Calaveras Fault. There is a water fountain for refilling water bottles / Camelbaks here. It is actually possible to drive here, park, and cycle up Mount Hamilton (although you won't really have cycled up the mountain then). Plenty of mountain biking trails here as well.

Lick Observatory at the summit of Mount Hamilton looks deceptively close (click on picture for a better view), but there is actually 11 miles more to go and 2800 feet to climb, and one more descent into another valley before the final climb begins.

After traveling 9 miles from Alum Rock Avenue.

View uphill. Ordinarily, this will be cause for joy on the return trip, but not on this particular day. Why? Read on.

Turning 180 degrees, the view downhill.

If you ever want to re-enact the finale of Thelma & Louise, you know where to go. Make sure you hook up your stereo to an iPod though. Having your swan song skip as you, your car, and your buddy/lover tumble to the valley floor, thousands of feet below, will be anti-climatic.

At the bottom of the 2nd descent. As a stream runs through this valley, a fire station is strategically located here. The road to the summit switchbacks through multiple hairpin turns.

2 miles from the summit. Feeling pretty tired now. Ran out of water 45 minutes ago. The sun has almost set, and I haven't reached the summit yet.

The signs announce the end of Highway 130, that the city of Livermore is 50 miles away, and there is no gas until then. A right turn and 200 yards brings one up to the Lick Observatory.

Me, my bike and myself on the summit of Mount Hamilton. Lick Observatory's official link. A picture of one of the five telescopes: the 36 inch. It has quite an interesting history. For instance, do you know Mount Hamilton Road was constructed with a grade under 7% so that horse-drawn carriages could pull up the huge 36-inch telescope lenses in 1888?

Took this picture for Scooby: panorama of sunset over Silicon Valley.

After scouring around for a water source, I finally located an outdoor tap. Since there was no sign warning, "Not for drinking" or "Non-potable water," I filled up my 2 water bottles for the return journey. A left at this junction takes one back to San Jose. (Yes, it's dark). Climbing Mount Hamilton via Livermore is more difficult, with longer distance of 50 miles (80 km) and a steeper grade. The remoteness and scenery is worth it though. Check out these pictures by another cyclist: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

As I grossly underestimated the amount of time it took to ascend Mount Hamilton, I didn't bring along any proper lights (and it's dark now). All I had was this US$20 Gerber Tracer Headlight with two tiny LEDs (none of those gorgeous Luxeon 1W babies), and a 2-AA Maglite. As the Maglite was pretty much useless without some form of mount (I only have 2 hands, and they are both needed for braking on the long, twisty descent), all I could really use was this headlight. Oh joy.

Anyways, I discovered that my new helmet fits over the headstrap of the headlight; and that the slim form factor of the Gerber Tracer headlight (official product site) fits under the slightly-higher-lid of the bicycle helmet. Ah, desperation and improvisation.

The start of Highway 130: the descent from 4213 feet (1284 m) begins; 19 miles (30.4 km) to go. If my tiny LED headlight had only 1/10 the power of that camera flash. Gerber claims that their Tracer headlamp had an effective range of 30 feet. That was not what I experience. Maybe the battery was low or something. I could see 20 feet ahead (of roadmarkings) at most. And I was doing 25-30 mph most of the time. Just treat it as a high-stakes video game where you only have one life.

One more picture of Silicon Valley at dusk at this elevation.

The return journey was, in two words, "worrisome" and "tiring." As the entire park and general area of Mount Hamilton, CA 95140 (until I reached civilization) was isolated (population 35) and a habitat for mountain lions, I couldn't stop and had to maintain speed, even though I was exhausted. Getting eaten by a hungry cat wouldn't be a fitting end to my bike ride. The two 329 ft and 226 ft uphills (remember the two descents earlier?) were the worst. My thighs were burning from the lactic acid, but I decided against getting off my bicycle to walk noisily--and slowly--in my cleated bicycle shoes up a pitch-dark road, alone, at night. Once I completed the 2 ascents, all I needed to do was to avoid crashing (the weak LED light only revealed road markings--20 feet ahead), or going off the road. Empty space and asphalt tend to look alike in the dark. Geronimo.

Covered 15 miles so far on the return leg, the worst is over. I'm 4 miles from my car. An unsuccessful close-up picture of Silicon Valley at night. Elevation here is about 1000 ft.

Located beside Mount Hamilton Road, this house is for sale. Anyone have change for a twenty?

It was 10 PM when I reached my car. Oh, yes, I did this ride solo, but you already knew that, didn't you?

*Chalking this one up as another epic to remember.*

The average grade of Mount Hamilton Road is 5.8%. Next time I attempt to assault Mount Hamilton, I will try it via the fearsome Quimby Road. It climbs from San Jose's Capitol Expressway at a relentless 9.5% grade before kicking your ass at 11.5% for a quarter mile, and then backing off to 8.3%, before dumping you on Mount Hamilton Road with 2800 feet worth of climbing left to go. A short description.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Mega Loop Ride

Warning: dial-up users take note: many pictures (33).

Decided to take a good ride through the birthplace of mountain biking: Marin county. Today's ride is known as the "Marin Headlands Mega Loop." Total distance covered is 18.9 miles (30.24 km). Feel free to click on any of the maps, graphs, or pictures for a larger view.

Being the nerd/geek that I am, first, the maps and distance/elevation graphs. Muahahaha! You know what they say: you gotta quantify your pain! *Evil laughter*

The red dot with "S" marks the Marin Headlands Visitor Center and parking lot. It is also the starting and ending point of the ride. Access to the Pacific Ocean is via Rodeo Beach, which is a half-an-hour hike west from the visitor center.

The black dot with "M" marks the location of Muir Beach, and the half-way point of the ride. Map copyright is owned by Bike Map Dude Productions. Do not replicate.

Distance and elevation graph of the first half of the ride.
Distance in miles (1 mile = 1.6 km).
Elevation in feet (3.28 feet = 1 meter).

Distance and elevation graph of the second half of the ride.
(Yes, I like to climb).

A clearer view of the Mega Loop. It kind of looks like a squashed infinity symbol, doesn't it? The center of the loop is the end of Tennessee Valley Road, and the location of Miwok Livery Stables. Blue portions mark the fire roads, and the red portions mark the singletracks. The first singletrack is a fun downhill and the second singletrack is a punishing uphill. (Map credit: Scott Kendall).

Marin Headlands Visitor Center and parking lot. Behind the large white building on the upper left is the Marin Headlands Hostel, a good place to crash for the night at $18 a head if you are too tired to ride to the San Francisco CalTrain station @ 4th and King (960 feet climb + 12.5 miles away) or drive home.

Where the fun begins: Miwok Trailhead. Only 18.9 miles (30.24 km) to go before we return to the same place! Higher res picture here.

Miwok trail ascending into the mountains (observe the trail carved on the side of the mountain on the upper left). The 40+ year-old lady rider in front, a resident in the area, left me in the dust on the long ascent.

Snaking down the mountain range, from the left to the lower right, is Bobcat Trail, the grin-inspiring return journey to the Miwok Trailhead at the end of the ride.

After the steady climb up Miwok Trail, it is time for some sweet payback by taking a left on to Old Springs Trail. Alas my bike didn't stay vertical long enough for me to snap a picture. Seven of these plank bridges across an equal number of gulches lead to a fast-paced singletrack descent to Tennessee Valley and Miwok Livery Stables. You can spot two other mountain bikers in the center of the picture.

A view from one range to the next. The 2 arrows mark the next trail after Old Springs Trail. The arrow on the right marks the end of Tennessee Valley Trail. The arrow on the left indicates the Coastal Trail. Together, they make for one long grind up to the next mountain range.

Miwok Livery Stables

A large sign reminds mountain bikers to slow down: "WHOA! Bicycle Riders. Please dismount & walk your bike through the Stable area.

Further along, there are two more signs (highlighted by the red circle). The yellow one says, "WATCH YOUR SPEED!" The white sign continues the friendly message, "THIS IS NOT A @#%!ing FREEWAY!" I guess the stablehands have been spooked one too many times by speeding mountain bikers.

The red arrow on the upper right hand corner highlights the steep and tricky descent portion of Miwok Trail back to the stables. Having good brakes, a helmet, and medical insurance (with a low deductible) will go a long way in inspiring confidence here.

Tennessee Valley Trail.

Still on Tennessee Valley Trail. The trail eventually forks, with a branch off to Coastal Trail, which will reach the peak marked by the red arrow.

Tennessee Trail continues on the left to Tennessee Beach. Coastal Trail forks to the right to the summit of the range.

Took this picture specially for daftbitch.
Tennessee. Tennessee Valley. Tennessee Valley Trail. Tennessee Beach.
Get it?

Anyways, here's a prettier picture of Tennessee Valley by Bill Mains.

At the summit of Coastal Trail, looking northwards, and a view of the Pacific Ocean. The red arrow marks the location of Muir Woods Overlook.

Looking southwards now, the red arrow reveals the location of Point Bonita. Here's a nice picture. San Francisco is barely discernible in the distance.

The arrow on the right indicates the "Hikers Only" portion of Coastal Trail. Mountain bikers and equestrians have to take a detour further inland via Coastal Fire Road.

The arrow on the left points to the bay of Muir Beach.

Heading inland (and slightly uphill) on Coastal Fire Road.

5 minutes into the descent of Coastal Fire Road to Muir Beach. The houses of Muir Beach Community are clearly visible. After spot marked by the red arrow, the descent becomes steep and fast. Weekends are not a good time to bomb down this trail as there are numerous hikers and equestrians (running down hikers is bad juju, and trying to run down a horse on your mountain bike is suicide).

The half-way point of the ride: Muir Beach and community.

The return trip now. To get to Middle Gulch Green Trail one has to pass through 2 small farms. There are 2 gates that keep out foraging deer. The honor system is employed: in exchange for access (i.e. to pass through) you agree to close the gate behind you.

Middle Gulch Green Trail is a steep singletrack. Mountain bikers are only allowed to go uphill on this trail, and only in seasons other than winter. The red arrow points to the trail winding its way up the mountain.

Half-way up Middle Gulch Green Trail and looking down. You can see a man on horseback riding down the same trail. Muir Beach Community is still visible, and so is Muir Woods Overlook.

On the right hand side is the farm in the preceding picture (where the climb began).

Took this picture for crufty.
The road is Shoreline Highway 1, the portion of Highway 1 north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I think an AWD would be awesome to blast up those curves, dude!

Having endured the brutal climb up Middle Gulch Green Trail, I am greeted by Coyote Ridge Trail and a foggy view of Marin City and Tiburon in the distance (left red arrow). Lower down, on the right is Miwok Livery Stables, my next checkpoint.

A picture taken by someone else on another--clearer--day reveals Marin City, and across the bay to the peninsular, Tiburon.

Getting off Coyote Trail, and on to Miwok Trail for the descent. Observe how the trail literally drops off the picture as it enters the steep section.

Sorry, no pictures of this section as I endo-ed twice (I was too sore).

While descending the steep section of Miwok Trail, I had to remind myself verbally and aloud during the technical portions to "LOOK WHERE YOU WANT TO GO! AND NOT AT THE GAWDDAMN ROCK / HOLE / RUT / PILE OF GRAVEL THAT YOU WISH TO AVOID!"

Of course, after flying over the handlebar twice, I got the hang of it. As a result, I am quite adept at somersaulting over the handlebars and landing on my back now. *BUMP!* *Boing!* *Aiyee!* *Flip* *SPLAT!* *Groan* *Taa-daa!*

After the steep and tricky descent down Miwok Trail to the stables, and across Tennessee Valley Road, it's time for one more climb: Marincello Trail.

It was 6 PM when I reached the juncture of Bobcat Trail and Marincello Trail. Notice the fog coming in. It's starting to get cold and windy. Luckily, with the exception of 2 short climbs, it is a fast and thrilling fire road descent from here. (With regards to the sign, I am actually headed in the opposite direction. I.e. bike-legal part of the trail).

Descending Bobcat Trail. Red arrow reveals my destination: Marin Headlands Visitor Center and parking lot. It looks really far away, but at 45 mph (72 km/h) downhill, down wide fire roads with long sweeping turns, I was there in under 4 minutes.

The black arrow points out a "Hikers Only" portion of Coastal Trail descending from Hill 88 (elevation 960 Ft), a vista point across the Golden Gate Bridge. Behind the range is the inlet to the bay, Golden Gate Bridge and the city of San Francisco.

In the final approach to the trailhead, a curious Gray Fox sitting in the middle of the trail greeted me. He retreated into the grass before I could get my camera on him though.

Back at the parking lot of Marin Headlands Visitor Center with my trusty steed, Ivy (with her NOS fork). The body of water is Rodeo Lagoon, which joins the Pacific Ocean one season a year--during the deluge in winter. The strip of sand between the lagoon and the ocean is Rodeo Beach, a popular area for local surfers. The cluster of buildings is Fort Cronkite. The Lagoon Trail leads to the sandbar between the lagoon and the ocean.

A comforting feature of doing rides in this immediate area is the proximity of Marin Headlands Hostel (less than a 1/4 mile ~ 300m away). I was tempted to shell out $18 and crash there for the night instead of fighting to stay awake and driving 90 minutes / 60 miles (96 km/h) home.

An old picture by Robert Campbell provides some sense of reference: the red arrow on the right points to the location of Point Bonita. Immediately below the red plus sign marks where the Marin Headlands Visitor Center is. Left of the same sign is the Marin Headlands Hostel. You can see Rodeo Lagoon and Rodeo Beach. The 3 rows of buildings make up Fort Cronkite. Golden Gate Bridge needs no introduction, and neither does San Francisco. Treasure Island is visible, and beyond is the east bay (Berkeley, Oakland, Union City, etc.)