Ride Recap: San Juan Bautista-Elkhorn Slough

“David, that looks awfully steep!”

David Gaus’s annual visit to his old stomping grounds took place this past weekend. Despite having relocated from Hollister years ago he loves to show the club the roads he haunted when he was a wee Spoker. Boy, is it a schlep from SF: about a hundred miles or more than an hour and a half of freeway driving in good traffic. Other than some weekend tours in the early days of the club, the only other club ride I had been on that was further away was a Chris Thomas ride in Fresno. So, for the first time we drove down to check out the scene in rural San Juan Bautista. Apparently the curiosity of others was piqued as well: besides our leader and the two of us we rode with Donald, Omar, Roger Sayre, Parker, Gary, and Tom. All of us were either from the East Bay or SF.

The weather was near-superb: bright sunshine the entire day with moderate temps with just a tad of heat at the end of the day. The only minor bummer was the constant coastal headwind that made riding in the Salinas flatlands a bit challenging. But that comes with the territory and although not endearing at least it wasn’t brutal. San Juan Bautista, is a dinky town of just 2,000 folks and is probably most famous for its mission, used in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo for Kim Novak’s demise (twice!) The edge of town is the beginning of the vast ag land in San Benito County and crossing the highway we almost immediately lost civilization and entered the beautiful countryside. Fortunately spring heat hadn’t yet diminished the still verdant grasses of the hills.

Crappy Road Summit!

There were just two climbs of the day and the first one up San Juan Grade is right at the start. We were a chatty little group, climbing together. At the top Monterey County begins and you are made aware of it by the transition in pavement from crappy to decent chip seal. These are isolated county roads with nary a center line. That they get any love at all from the county road departments these days is miraculous. We dropped towards Salinas and re-entered Car Hell, with lots of SUVs and pickups zooming into town. The lack of a shoulder at times made dancing with cars even more fun. The farm roads were more devoid of death monsters and a relief to ride on but being beaten to death by farm trucks and starved for maintenance we had a rough ride until we got to Castroville.

David had planned this ride around a generous number of re-fooding/re-caffeining stops, making it a schizophrenic day: race like the dickens, then relax and refresh leisurely. We stopped at a Starbucks in Salinas and then later stopped for a more substantial lunch at the Artichoke food truck at Pezzini Farms near the coast. Needless to say their speciality was artichokes, grilled, fried, deep fried. I had their Po’ Boy filled with deep fried ‘chokes. Yummy!

A big portion of the middle of the 55-mile ride was touring Elkhorn Slough, a vast, meandering tidal slough full of wildlife. You would think it would be dead-flat being a slough. But it wasn’t—it squiggled and rollercoastered up and down making it delightful to ride except for the occasional terror of being passed cars on the narrow road with no sight line. Eventually we ended up in the little town of Aromas for our final snack stop at a local minimart. The fave seemed to be ice cream bars of various sorts washed down with sugar drinks and bags of chips and Cheetos. Isn’t cycling a healthy activity? For some reason Tom seemed to like to read the ingredient lists aloud, as if we cared how much high fructose corn syrup we were downing. Any port in a storm!

The final push was over Carr Road, a climb that reared its ugly head just a couple blocks away from the minimart. It’s not a long climb but I did hear someone scream, “It’s 14%!!” at one brutal moment. Then it was just a long descent back to Vertigo Coffee Roasters in SJB for more refreshment before the long drive back to the Bay Area. Thanks David!