Long time members will recall that one of the annual events that the club put on was the Lake Tahoe Spectacular Weekend. This two-day event took place during the summer allowing for warm, sunny weather not only to enjoy cycling but also the lake itself. Members drove up Friday or early Saturday and spent two days of cycling in the Lake Tahoe area. We rented an odd house, “the Octagon” and cooked a group dinner Saturday evening.
The earliest versions of the weekend had riders drive half-way around the lake, park the cars, and then cycle back to the rental house; the second day we rode to the cars and then drove back, about 35 miles each way. This quickly evolved to riding around the lake in one day—70 miles—and then doing something else on Sunday, usually riding up Brockway Summit to Truckee and then back on Highway 89. Later when mountain biking became popular, some would instead do the Flume Trail.
The last time this trip was offered was around 2006. What killed the trip was the loss of “the Octagon”: it was taken off the rental market and there was now no easy way to house a large group inexpensively. The Octagon was an otherwise semi-decrepit ski house but it had one exemplary trait: it had a crapload of beds making a weekend at Lake Tahoe immensely affordable. There were four bedrooms that could sleep two couples each, a couple of bunk rooms that could accommodate four or so each, a hallway area with two beds (!), and then an upper seating area where at least a couple of folks could crash. It wasn’t uncommon to have more than 15 people attend; I recall at least one occasion when there were well more than 20.
A few years ago I attempted to rent the Octagon but was unable to get a response from the previous agent. About three years ago I accidently ran across it listed on VRBO. It had changed hands, had undergone a serious remodel and update, and of course was now a lot more expensive! But in its new incarnation it can still handle 12-16 people.
I ran the Tahoe Weekend at least once (and had even written a ‘how to’ document on how to organize the Weekend) but I no longer recall how much it cost back then. I think it was something on the order of $50-$75 per person for the entire weekend. That included two nights at the Octagon, breakfast Saturday and Sunday, a big Saturday dinner, and plenty of snacks.
To rent the Octagon for a weekend in August will now cost about $1,400 rather than $700 (= 2006 cost). On the immediate plus side is the much nicer digs as well as we no longer have to clean the place before we leave (we instead pay a cleaning fee). With a rough estimate of $35 per person for food and 14 participants, the average cost would be about $135 per person for the weekend. A quick perusal of motel costs in the Tahoe City area shows that one night alone would cost about that amount and of course no food would be included.
The room arrangement of the Octagon is such that filling every bed requires that we have exactly the right number of “couples” and singles. If not enough couples, then two people who don’t mind sharing a bed; if too many couples, then some who don’t mind sleeping separately for two nights. If there is ample interest, then we may be able to squeeze more people in to lower the cost but it will involve sleeping in the common areas (either the TV sitting area above the living room) or on the sofas in the living room. If there aren’t enough couples and someone doesn’t want a bedmate, a single supplement would be charged proportional to the house rental.
I would like to see the Lake Tahoe Weekend Spectacular done again and would like to get some feedback on the interest level and cost from members.
Here is my proposal:
Lake Tahoe Weekend Spectacular
August 17-19, 2018
Drive up Friday. For those who arrive early enough, go out to a group dinner near Tahoe City.
Saturday: ride around Lake Tahoe (70 miles), group dinner at the Octagon. Hang out at the Octagon; those inclined may go gambling, bar hopping, etc. in the evening
Sunday: ride to Truckee and return by Highway 89 (35 miles?? I can’t remember). Depart sometime in the afternoon.
Includes food for Saturday and Sunday breakfast, Saturday group dinner, and snacks.
Cost will depend on number of participants. If 10 people, then about $175 per person; if 14, then about $135; if more, then even lower.
If you want to view the Octagon, you can see it here.
I would like to get a reading on the interest for this trip. Would you be interested in participating under the conditions of this proposal? If not, what modifications would better fit your needs? Do you consider the price reasonable and affordable? Is this a good time for you to participate or would a different weekend be better?
Keep in mind that this is a general proposal and it can be modified. If you are interested in helping organize the weekend, let me know. Post your feedback either to the DSSF Yahoo! Group listserv or email me directly at email@example.com
Was 2017 a bit of a bust for you because of the incredible amount of rain we got last winter and spring? The club ride calendar really suffered—not many were willing to proffer a ride with the likelihood of yet another weekend rained out and those that were offered were either cancelled or repeatedly postponed. It’s looking to be a drier winter and now is the time to mull over the Big Rides you want to do in 2018. Below is a select list of local and not-so-local centuries that Spokers love and cherish. Keep in mind that many of these rides have rider caps and do fill up. As we get closer to the dates we will be trying to organize Spokers who would like to ride together on a century.
1 Monday. Resolution Ride. Yes, it’s back thanks to David Sexton and Gordon Dinsdale, who seem to think climbing Diablo should be done weekly, not just once a year! Join Different Spokes as we join the crowd clawing our way up Mt. Diablo along with Diablo Cyclists, Grizzly Peak Cyclists, and the Valley Spokespeople—it’s a regular party on two wheels. Free! It’s not a century but it’s a way to kickstart your century accomplishments in 2018.
10 Saturday. Tour de Palm Springs. $80. Registration is open. It’s in the South land so it’s warmer, maybe, and probably drier,maybe, but there is usually a crew of Spokers who head down. Options for 10, 25, 50, or 10 miles.
11 Sunday. Velo Love Ride. $50. Registration is open. This used to be called the Rice Valley Tandem Ride and it’s usually on or close to Valentine’s Day, hence the name. A low-key event with a flattish ride around the Sutter Buttes outside of Chico. Starts in Gridley, just north of Yuba City—a bit of a schlep but a great ride. The meal at the end is worth it. Has a real “locals” feel rather than the usual mass-event mosh pit vibe. Sponsored by Chico Velo, the same fine folks who put on the Chico Wildflower.
24 Saturday. Pedaling Paths to Independence. $45. Registration is open. 65 or 25 mile routes. This is a pretty easy metric in the Valley that is a benefit for the Community Center for the Blind. It’s cheap too. Mostly flat so it’s not too demanding (unless the wind is blowing.) A good early season ride. Starts in Linden, east of Stockton.
10 Saturday. Solvang Century. $115 mail in; $125 online. Registration is currently open. It’s a long after-work Friday drive down to Solvang but you get to amble back home on Sunday. (But DST does begin that morning.) And be sure to reserve a motel room well in advance. Solvang is a big event but BikeSCOR has scaled it back from megahuge craziness to “just” 3,000 now. That’s still a lot of bikes on the same roads. Personally I’ll probably never do this event again because the cost is high and the rest stop food is Costco-perfunctory. And the after-ride meal isn’t even included. Seriously? But if you haven’t done it before, it’s a nice ride without a lot of elevation gain. (FYI major parts of the route have plenty of places you could stop on your own and get food way better than the mediocrity you find at the rest stops.)
14 Saturday. Cinderella Classic & Challenge. Registration opens 1/10/18. Limited to 2,500 women and girls. 65 or 87 miles. Sponsored by Valley Spokesmen, the very first women/girls only century ride now in its 42nd year. Boys will have to settle for Different Spokes’ very own Evil Stepsisters ride!
14 Saturday. Tierra Bella. $65. Registration is open. Limit of 2,000. A club fav and it’s close by to, in Gilroy. Great roads that are not suburbanized (yet). Post-ride meal is pretty good too. For unknown karmic reasons this ride gets horrendously rained out periodically. Last year it was sunny and great. This year??
15 Sunday. L’Eroica California. $150. Registration is open. 40, 70, 87, and 127 mile routes. The rides are part of the two-day festival of vintage bicycles, held in Paso Robles. You have to have a vintage bike to participate, e.g. no STI-like shifters, no clipless pedals, basically no bikes made before 1987 and the older the better.
21 Saturday. Sierra Century. $60. Registration is open. Limit of 1,200. 41, 65, 102, and 122 mile courses. Stars in Plymouth in the Gold Country, about 2.5 hours from SF by car.
21 Saturday. Sea Otter Classic. $110/$90. Registration is open. Did you know the Sea Otter Classic is more than a glitter show of new bike products and race watching? Yes, it has four rides, and in the spirit of “something for everyone” they offer two road rides (91 or 49 miles), a mountain bike ride (19 miles) , as well as a fad du jour “gravel grinder” (29 miles). But none of them is cheap.
21 Saturday. Bike Around The Buttes. $40/$45/$50. Registration opens 1/1/18. If you can’t make it to Chico Velo’s Velo-Love Ride in February, this ride covers similar roads in the Sutter Buttes area. Choice of 17.5, 40 or 100 mile routes.
22 Sunday. Primavera Century. $70. Registration is open. 100, 85, 63 and 25 mile routes. Last year there was no Primavera because Calaveras Road was closed due to earth movement caused by rain. Calaveras is still closed but is expected to reopen for weekends in early 2018. Starts conveniently in Fremont but too early to get there by BART (except for the 25-mile fun ride).
28 Saturday. Mt. Hamilton Challenge. Last year the Mt.Hamilton Challenge just never happened presumably due to uncertain weather. But this year the Pedalera Bike Club is promising it will take place.
29 Sunday. Chico Wildflower. $45/$75. Registration is open. 12, 30, 60, 65, 100, and 125-mile routes. This year there is also an 80-mile dirt/gravel option but it’s limited to 200 riders. This century is a club favorite. A group of Spokers usually arranges to have dinner together the night before in Chico. Booking lodging requires advance planning, as the Wildflower will fill up all the motel rooms in the area. If you can take Monday off from work, so much the better because you will almost certainly be whipped after the ride and the excellent post-ride dinner; driving back right after is just a chore.
5 Saturday. Wine Country Century. Wow. After losing a warehouse of century equipment and supplies in the Tubbs Fire, the Santa Rosa Cycling Club is still planning to put on the Wine Country Century in 2018. Now, that’s determination! No one would carp if they had decided to call it a year and coast into 2019. No information up on the web yet. This is a beloved century and one of the easier in the area.
6 Sunday. Grizzly Peak Century. Fee not yet announced; registration not yet open. 76, 102 or 110-mile road routes; 78 or 100-mile mixed terrain routes. Capped at 1,000 riders. Starts in Moraga so very easy to get to except not by BART because BART doesn’t open up early enough! The GPC is most definitely not a flat route–it’s a climber’s ride. This one always sells out, so don’t wait too long after registration opens, which I am guessing will be around the New Year. The end-of-ride meal is most definitely homemade and delicious!
19 Saturday. Davis Double. No information yet but the DD always takes place!
20 Sunday. Strawberry Fields Forever. $65. Registration opens in January 2018. 30, 63, and 100 mile routes. A pleasant ride in the Santa Cruz and Watsonville area. Despite the multitude of road closures in the Santa Cruz Mountains this past winter, their routes are intact for this spring.
3 Sunday. Sequoia Century. No information yet but Western Wheelers always puts this century on. 100, 72, and 50 mile routes.
23 Saturday. RBC Gran Fondo Silicon Valley. $700/$260. Registration is open. Yes, your read that right: $700 for a friggin’ 75-mile ride from Palo Alto to the San Mateo coast and back along the roads we ride all the time—Kings Mtn., Tunitas Creek, Stage Road, Pescadero Creek, La Honda Road. For the venture capitalist in your family. Well, you don’t have to drive far to do this one.
30 Sunday. Climb to Kaiser. Registration open on Christmas Day. 95 or 71 mile routes. If you enjoy heat and climbing, this is the ride for you. “Only” 7,500 vertical ascent but you have the pleasure of baking in the Central Valley.
This fall has finally brought a spate of road reopenings. By now you know that Morgan Territory Road has reopened as well as Alhambra Valley Road, which allows a complete circuit of the Three Bears—both were parts of recent Different Spokes rides. What I neglected to mention is that the Canyon bridge in Moraga also reopened about three weeks ago. The original bridge was scheduled to be replaced this year due to age when nature intervened in the form of earth movement, partly due to rain last spring, displacing the support piers and causing an immediate closure for safety reasons. The City of Moraga was finally able to install a temporary one-way bridge controlled by a signal and reopened the bridge on November 22 just before Thanksgiving. It allows the classic Orinda Pool Party route to be used again this summer as long as we don’t suffer another catastrophe this winter. Since we are probably staring at yet another dryish winter, this shouldn’t be a problem. Please note that the temporary bridge is one-way and users have to alternate crossing. Bicyclists may use either the roadway or the pedestrian walkway. But if you use the latter you must walk your bike. Don’t let your impatience get the better of you and ride across the pedestrian walkway even if there aren’t walkers. If you must ride rather than walk your bike, then wait for the green light to cross.
We rode the Three Bears a few days ago to check out the new section of Alhambra Valley Road. Looking down at the tiny creek it is hard to imagine that last winter’s rains were so prolific that it swelled to enormous proportion, enough to completely wash out the previous roadway. The culvert now is larger and should be able to withstand another epic winter should we have one. Alhambra Valley Road informally is the local dump for the local churls. You always saw piles of garbage, furniture, car tires, and garbage bags dumped by the side of the road because cretins didn’t want to take their shit to the county dump. Being completely cut off at both ends by the repair, it got a brief reprieve. But it didin’t take long for the Trash to furtively return: I counted no less than eight piles of dumpster crap along the road. Ah, back to normal!
On the slightly disappointing side, Calaveras Road is going to continue to be shut down to at least the end of September 2018. It is currently completely closed due to earth movement from last year’s rains and was scheduled to reopen in January 2018. But those rains also delayed the work on the dam so the contractors are now way behind schedule. When the new road that bypasses the undermined sections of roadway is finished, Calaveras will reopen to weekend use only. That is supposed to be “sometime in 2018”. Since the Fremont Freewheelers are going to put on the Primavera Century in April and use Calaveras, we hope that it’s sooner rather than later.
Just a day after it officially reopened Different Spokes finally did its traditional autumn ride over Morgan Territory Road. Although road cyclists have surreptitiously been poaching the road since its closure last winter, this was the first legal opportunity to ride it. Last winter’s rains saw the road collapse and one hillside to flow over the pavement cutting off the residents from Marsh Creek Road. The county couldn’t initiate a repair until the hillside stopped moving, which took months. The closure was long but once work began it moved steadily along just in time to open for…more winter rains. Nonetheless the reinforced section of road looks quite burly and able to withstand whatever Mother Nature will dish out this year (especially since it’s probably going to be dry-ish).
Stephanie and David Gaus managed to persuade five of us to tag along—me, Jan, Roger Sayre, Gordon, and David Sexton. It was more or less the traditional route from Walnut Creek BART—out Ygnacio Valley Road, which has scary fast car traffic but a wide shoulder—with a pit stop in Clayton before hightailing out Marsh Creek. Marsh Creek is another one of my favs for scary passes; the SUVs out there just love to whip past you no matter what the sight line is like. At least it is an incentive to redline your heart rate in order to get onto Morgan Territory as fast as possible. Things were much more tranquil there! In fact there seemed to be virtually no one trying out the reopened road, cars or bikes. We had the road pretty much to ourselves. We did a stop at the new retaining wall to check out the reinforced road and then continued on with everyone going their own pace up the ascent. Despite the road repair on the lower section the rest of Morgan Territory seems to be left to degrade at a slow pace— like wrinkles on your face every year more cracks and bumps appear. Perhaps it won’t ever arrive at the level of decay of Planet of the Apes but it has a nice start.
Morgan Territory Preserve had noticeably few visitors that day—was there a football game going on, had people already fled town for Thanksgiving, or was it simply the lack of awareness that Morgan Territory was now open? We saw just three other cyclists the entire way.
After a long snack break filled with more idle and pointless chattering we launched down the gnarly descent. Roger Sayre led the way with Stephanie right on his tail. The descent down the south side of Morgan Territory to Highland is steep, curvy, and full of blind spots. To make it even more challenging the road is narrower than standard width so there occasionally is no center line. To go down quickly you need nerve, good bike handling, and a bit of luck. One mistake and you’re colliding with a car or launching yourself off the steep hillside. Risk taking has to be second nature to you. But the rest of us seemed not to be thrill seekers so we took it easy. Back on the flat Roger proceeded to show us what training with a powermeter can do: to add to his courageous descending, not only can he now climb like a maniac but he’s a beast on the flats too. Fortunately I was tucked in behind him the whole way.
We stopped at Hi Tech Burrito in Danville. The lunch was, uh, unmemorable but at least the rice and beans were good fuel. Roger missed the lunch stop and we had no idea where he had vanished to. After lunch with the sun lying low on the horizon the rest of us returned to Walnut Creek BART at a leisurely pace.
Last Saturday the threat of rain vanished and gave us a mostly sunny day to ride from Walnut Creek BART to our favorite Afghan restaurant, Khyber Pass Kabob in Dublin. We originally planned to ride to Dublin BART as well. But since we all wanted to do the full monty and ride back to Walnut Creek, we nixed the final mile after lunch to Dublin BART and just headed back the Iron Horse. Things always slow down in the club during the winter. Whether it’s the colder climate, holiday madness, or the winter doldrums, only Roy and Jim joined Roger and me for our easy gambol. What a gabby group! I can’t remember a Social Ride where there was as so much nonstop jabbering, which was perhaps abetted by being on the Iron Horse Trail where we could easily ride two abreast and free of car noise. We were all warmly dressed given the chilly morning, and we weren’t going very fast so it took longer to warm up from the effort. Regulars will be disappointed to hear that despite the tête-à-tête sized crowd we did not gossip about you (well, except for the Den Daddy)—not that your personal lives aren’t of interest to us but our personal lives just took precedence! Topics of lively interest included the advantages and misgivings of a Midwestern upbringing, why Thailand is so “hot”, what to wear on the bike when it’s cold, fabulous Japanese food, bikes we’ve had stolen, and many sundry digressions. So there!
Every time we go to Khyber Pass Kabob the food keeps getting better or so it seems. It’s in a slightly dumpy strip mall in Dublin, and recently their sign fell down and was propped in their doorway so now it looks even more down-market. But the family owners are as welcoming as ever and their food is incredible. We got there just after noon (how’s that for timing a ride!) and were the first customers. But before long it was nearly full. Roy had eaten there with us before so only Jim was the newcomer. I hewed close to habit and got the chapli kabob, a sirloin kabob spiced with green onions, cilantro and coriander whereas Roger explored a new dish to him, aushak, which is ravioli-like dish stuffed with leeks and topped with beef and yogurt. Roy ever watching his diet opted for borani kadoo, pumpkin sautéed with tomatoes and garlic while Jim went for the sabzee challow, chicken smothered in a spicy spinach sauce. We all shared a huge plate of freshly made Afghan bread, bolani, which was ten times better than the dreck you get at Costco.
Suitably stuffed we waddled back to our bikes and strolled back to Walnut Creek BART. Needless to say the ride back wasn’t at a breathtaking pace but it definitely aided our digestion!
For a measly $20 you can support Different Spokes—that’s the cost of an annual membership. Different Spokes survives on folks willing to fork over a pittance. Almost all of you live in the Bay Area and know that $20 doesn’t get you very much. It’s way less than the cost of a good bike tire, about the cost of two cheap inner tubes, and just a bit more than a decent lunch. In a world of $4 lattes an annual membership in Different Spokes is a mere trifle to support your local LGBT cycling club!
We’re coming up to the end of the year when it’s time to renew. I know it’s easy to ignore that email reminding you to re-up especially with the prospect of yet another orgy of profligate holiday gifting. But your membership helps Different Spokes keep the lights on so please don’t ignore it. Membership dues barely pay for the ongoing running costs of the club. And by “running costs” we don’t mean Tony’s fabulous Rapha outfits! It means the web hosting, the liability insurance, our PO box, and just part of the expenses for our regular events such as the holiday party, the club picnic, and the Fall Social.
There are many other community organizations that deserve your donation or membership. If you are pondering whether to give that $20 to us or to the ACLU, in the era we are living in you know where it should go! But we hope that Different Spokes’ existence will continue to provide you with lots of fun, camaraderie, and relief from the grim reality in which we live. So please join/rejoin for 2018!
You don’t want that day to come when you click to get to the ride calendar and instead you get “404 Page Not Found”!
One does not willingly don shackles except under duress…or when the prospect of pain and pleasure mix to provide a heady bromide. Regardless I am now your ride coordinator at least until another slave/volunteer steps forward, in which case I will happily step aside. Let the games begin…
We have not had a formal ride coordinator for almost two years. In that time certain niceties have been lost such as David Goldsmith’s tracking of miles ridden by club members and his grisly list of riding stats. However he has been gracious enough to handle ride waivers in the interim and we owe him more than a simple ‘thank you’ for his tenure first as ride coordinator and then as ride waiver mistress as well as for originating and planning the Ride Leader Appreciation dinners. It’s nice that the club is finally doing something to thank ride leaders beyond mere verbal appreciation.
Reign of Terror
Here’s what I hope to shepherd along as your RC.
– Increase knowledge and awareness of the club insurance policy especially for ride leaders.
– Increase retention of new riders.
– Provide feedback from ride participants to ride leaders.
– More mountain bike/dirt rides!
– More delicious food on club rides!
– Find/train my replacement as soon as possible.
If you have pearls of wisdom (or discipline) you would like to share with me as I embark on this journey, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Many of you may not know that our club has a liability insurance policy. This is an insurance policy to protect the club in case an accident occurs during a club event such as a ride or weekend trip. If one of the participants is involved in an accident, for example colliding with a pedestrian, our insurance would provide provide monetary protection in case of a settlement. Also if a ride participant were injured and wanted to sue the club, the policy would also come into effect. The club’s policy started about a decade ago when the League of American Bicyclists arranged to offer low-cost insurance through a carrier to its affiliate clubs, which we are. Prior to that we, like most bicycle clubs in the US, were coasting on a prayer and wishful thinking. Since clubs are hardly deep-pocket organizations, suing a club is unlikely to lead to a big payout. But litigants can go after individuals in the club, particularly officers, and it might end up being a costly decision. Keep in mind that even if you are a participant on a ride, that someone who is injured might implicate any of the other riders including you. The liability insurance policy is in place to handle those sorts of situations.
If you are a club member, you are covered by our policy on club rides and events. Technically you don’t even have to sign the club’s waiver to receive coverage although signing the waiver provides legal protection if an incident does occur, and of course there are other reasons to require a waiver and to sign it including emergency contact information in case of an accident and contact information of non-members (i.e. prospective members).
Our liability insurance is one of the two major ongoing, annual expenses running about $500 per year for our roughly hundred members and officers. (The other big expense is website hosting and related costs.) Your membership fee of $20 covers these expenses and without fundraisers such as Jock Sunday at the Lookout or donations we just break even (in a good year). One reason why the club doesn’t have to do more fundraisers is because of the incredible generosity of Jerome Thomere, who has been managing our website for 15 (!) years. Without the donation of literally hundreds of hours of his unpaid labor, we would have long ago had to go to a website developer/manager and that would have cost quite a bit more.
There are some things you should know about our insurance. First, it provides $1 million coverage per incident with a cap of $5 million per year. Second, it covers members and first-time participants on rides and events. If you are not a member either because you’ve lapsed or that you’ve never gotten around to joining, then our policy excludes you from coverage. The first time a non-member attends a ride, they are covered but after that they are not. If an incident were to occur, the club would be protected but you would be on your own in case you were named in a suit. Third, our policy also provides up to $10,000 per person per accident medical coverage. This takes effect after other insurance such as your personal health insurance. Fourth, the policy currently only covers road riding but no racing. Mountain biking, or riding on unpaved surfaces, is specifically excluded. By early next year the club will have an additional policy to cover dirt riding but until then we can’t officialy host mountain bike rides without exposure.
If you have been a ride leader or thinking of leading a club ride in the future, you should know about the Incident Report Form. Our insurance requires us to submit an Incident Report Form for accidents involving either bodily injury or property damage (there is a slightly different form for each type). These are currently available at the DSSF Yahoo! group in the Files area in the folder “Incident Report Forms for Insurance”. Ride leaders should download a copy and fill it out in case of an incident, and of course you should notify the Ride Coordinator or other club officer as soon as possible. If you lead a ride that has either a death or major injury, you must report that immediately to the carrier by their toll-free number, which is on the forms. I recommend that ride leaders carry a print copy of forms so that you can fill out the information on the spot rather than trying to remember details later on. At the very least you should access the electronic versions through your mobile phone. In the near future we should have copies up on the club website.
Staring at the cube on top of Mt. Umunhum as a teenager I wondered what it would take to be able to cycle all the way to the top. In the 1970s Mt. Umunhum was under the aegis of the US Air Force and the road to the summit was strictly off-limits. In those days I thought Mt. Um was the tallest peak in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but it turns out that was incorrect and it’s only the fourth tallest peak. Nonetheless it’s 3,486 feet making it not that much less than the summit of Mt. Diablo. When the Air Force gave up operations at Mt. Umunhum in 1980 many of us thought that it would not be long before the area was returned to civilian use. Boy, was that wrong! Finally just four weeks ago it opened for public use under the auspices of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District after many improvements including the removal of a significant quantity of hazardous waste, repaving of the road, and the creation of parking, bathrooms, and informational kiosks.
Naturally I would have gone up the first day it opened but I had a sense it would have been an utter mosh pit—all that pent up desire fueled by years of delay. In fact, I hear that turned out to be the case and the rangers had to do car control on Mt. Umunhum Road because there was so much traffic. In any case, I posted the ride and led it this past Sunday. I would have thought the ride would have brought a number of Spokers out of the woodwork due to the challenge and mystique of ascending Hicks Road just to get to the start of Mt. Umunhum Road. Five years ago David Gaus led a foray up Hicks Road and it was brutal. Being a warm day with full sun we baked up the climb and after the descent to the valley I got some of the worst leg cramps I’ve ever had. Hicks had also just been freshly chip sealed making traction a pain and I kept getting stones stuck between my front tire and fork. I don’t remember everyone who was on that ride but I do remember racing Peter Graney and Tim Offensend up Hicks. I also remember poor David Gaus, exhausted, arriving at the summit and recounting that he had to walk. Hey, Hicks is no walk in the park (pun intended): it’s a sustained 14% grade for well over a mile with absolutely no relief. This year I didn’t get much interest from the animals in the club. Everyone who had RSVPed eventually backed out for one reason or another. Well, we know there was really only one reason they all backed out, don’t we?
In the meantime my hubby decided he wanted to go up Mt. Umunhum too even though I thought it wouldn’t interest him in the slightest because, let’s face it, only the foolishly ignorant and testosterone addled would do this climb without a gun being held to their heads. Thinking that no one else was ballsy enough to tackle Mt. Um, we left the house in a leisurely fashion only to get a phone call from Bill Knudsen, “Hey, where are you guys? I don’t see anyone here at the start!” Oops. Bill, Wanderson, and Joseph showed up and now we were late. We arrived and apologies and excuses were exchanged along with the requisite whining and sandbagging. Then Bill indulged me with a request: “Hey, I’ve only ridden 20 miles since August. Is there some way I could do Mt. Umunhum without the climbing in between?” Like the sound of one hand clapping, my third eye pondered this request. “Um no, there isn’t. But you can start off with us and see how you feel, and you can bail at the next Starbucks in 17 miles.” Like a herd of bison to the cliff’s edge, off we went.
For those of you contemplating going up Mt. Umumhum, let me ‘splain it to you: this is a dead-fucking serious climb. Hicks is just the taste of what is to come. I had mistakenly read somewhere online that Hicks had a section that was almost two miles of 14%. The last time I rode it I was so focused on reaching the top first I didn’t give a shit how long it was, so I didn’t pay any attention to my Garmin except for the heart rate numbers that indicated it was ready to explode and spew oxygen-deprived blood all over the road. This time I measured it and it is “only” about 1.2 miles of unrelenting 14% grade. If you’re now breathing a sigh of relief, don’t because even if it is “shorter” it is nonetheless hellaciously lung destroying. In yet another mistake—the first being letting time rose-color my memory of climbing Hicks overwhelm the bare facts in front of my face—I had blithely glanced at the elevation profile of Mt. Umunhum and thought, “Oh, it’s flatter than Hicks so it’s all cake to the summit.” If I had spent just two minutes studying the elevation profile I would have noticed that it’s pecked with steep sections worse than Hicks. After arriving at the top of Hicks and thinking it would then be easier, I was subsequently devastated at each of those fucking 15%+ sections. Man, talk about soul destroying.
But I’m jumping a bit ahead of the narrative. The route I had planned had a little amuse-bouche: rather than starting such a serious ride sensibly close to Hicks, which is outside of Los Gatos, we started waaay over in Sunnyvale so that we would enjoy the climb up Stevens Canyon Road and Redwood Gulch to Highway 9 first. Stevens Canyon is a delightful romp in the redwoods up a deserted forest road with hardly any traffic. The quiet and cool humidity from the forest just make it a great ride especially in hot weather. Unfortunately after you make an abrupt left turn onto Redwood Gulch the road practically leaps up from underneath your wheels. There are two 15% ramps on Redwood Gulch that you think must be visual illusions until the reality of pedaling four miles an hour and grunting tells you they’re not. Suddenly time turns to molasses and the beauty of the surrounding redwoods disappears. The ramps are not overly long but just long enough to make it impossible to gut it out in an explosive effort. It’s kind of like donating blood: it’s going to hurt for quite a while and then you get a cookie at the end. At the top where it meets Highway 9 Bill and Wanderson were already looking, shall we say, a bit piqued. We eventually rolled into the Starbucks on Blossom Hill Road, Bill and company called it quits and decided to take the flat route back to the car, saving Mt. Umunhum for another day (if ever). Well, at least they tried. But a lesson lurks here: do not underestimate doing Mt. Um and don’t do anything else except Mt. Um if you hope to enjoy the experience (or not).
After refreshment and a steeling of nerves Roger and I took our leave and headed to Hicks Road. On the way I got a phone call from the Den Daddy, Derek Liecty, “Hey, where are you guys?” “We’re on Shannon.” “Oh baby, you have a looong way to go!” he chortled. Derek was interested in seeing Mt. Umunhum but under four wheels and a turbocharged engine rather than two wheels and no-charged, broke-ass engines. So he and his friend Denise had zoomed up Mt. Um and were waiting for us. Well, he was in for a long wait.
Hicks starts off in a leisurely fashion. It’s a narrow two-lane road heading into the mountains with a moderate amount of weekend car traffic no doubt heading to the same place we were, and it gives no indication that it has a brutal kick at the end. You soon leave the few suburban homes behind and are riding on the border of Almaden Quicksilver County Park. There is a leap up to the spillway of Guadalupe Reservoir and then it deceptively seems to settle down. At the hairpin just above the reservoir the road shows its full anger: it’s like staring at a wall. Oh. My. God. If you’re young, strong, and well-trained you can make it up Hicks in what has become standard road gearing, a 34×28 or about 32 gear-inches. But you’ll be standing much if not all of the way to the top or you’ll be forced to weave back and forth to lessen the grade. Since the road is narrow and there is occasional fast downhill traffic that does not respect the center line, I would be careful weaving. Oh, and there is no shade so don’t do this on a hot, sunny day unless you relish tasting the river of sweat that will soon be running down your face. But if you’re less inclined to suffer, I suggest even lower gearing. On this day I used a 30×30, a one-to-one ratio, which works out to about 26 gear-inches, and I was “comfortable”, i.e. I could sit and grind up the climb and occasionally shift up and stand with ease.
The summit of Hicks couldn’t have come any sooner, and instead of locked gates we were greeted by an all-new entrance to Mt. Um! After a brief respite we took off only to discover as I mentioned above that Mt. Um Road doesn’t seem to be any less steep than Hicks! And it was over five miles to the summit. Like Mt. Hamilton and its observatories, you can tantalizingly see the Cube above you yet it is literally thousands of feet above. [The top of Hicks is only about 1,400 ft elevation.] However MROSD did a splendid job of improving the road. Mt. Um Road is a stellar strip of two-lane blacktop all the way to the summit. There are sections with little shoulder but we found the drivers to be very respectful. And the speed limit on the road is 20 mph! On this day there was only moderate car traffic and hardly any bicycles perhaps because we had started so late all the intelligent cyclists had come up and gone down already; but perhaps it was because the climb is so daunting. No matter the condition of the road or the amenities there is no mistaking that Mt. Um Road is even more deadly than Hicks. There were a couple of sections where the grade eased to 5% and many sections that were an “easy” 9-10%. But it was just plain draining. Keep in mind that before we had even started up Hicks we had over 2,000 feet of climbing in our legs at equally brutal percentages.
Roger and I have done many long ascents in the Alps and the Pyrenees and there often came a point when all we could do is tick off the tenths of a mile and exercise mind over body. Mt. Um Road was no different this day. It seemed like an eternity of pedaling, only to look down and see we had not even done a quarter-mile! In the midst of this sufferfest I see a red Supra rolling down the hill: the Den Daddy! He yelled, “You’re not far from the top!” By my Garmin it was still a mile and a half to go. But Derek was right; at around a mile and a half from the summit the road flattens—hallelujah! Derek turned around and passed us on the way back to the top.
A quarter-mile from the top there is a day parking lot—this is where cars have to stop. They actually are able to continue all the way up to the Cube but there is no parking there except for rangers and those with disability placards and only passenger drop-offs are allowed. Derek and Denise greeted us with cool drinks and congratulated us on our ascent. All told it was 34 miles and about 6,100 feet of climbing. We had a nice long chat with one of the rangers and took in the spectacular views of the South Bay. Today it was hazy from smog and we thus could not see Mt. Diablo. But it was easy to spot Mt. Hamilton with its observatories on the other side of the valley. From the lookout, which is immediately adjacent to the Cube, it feels like you could launch into space above the South Bay such is the steep height to which you ascend. There were a few other cyclists although I bet none of them had started as far away as we had nor had climbed as much. They all certainly looked much fresher than we did! And the mountain bikes we saw? I bet they had ridden up the road just as we had but were able to take full advantage of the low gearing.
There are no shops, stands, or restaurants once you leave Los Gatos and there are no amenities in the park except for pit toilets. You have to bring all your own food and water. I imagine any drinking water to be found in the area would be highly suspect anyway as the area is littered with abandoned mercury mines. Fish caught in the nearby reservoirs are strictly catch-and-release due to the danger of mercury poisoning. We each brought two full large water bottles and consumed it all since Los Gatos, and it wasn’t even a hot day.
The ride isn’t over once surmounting Mt. Um. Now you have to return to the valley! As you might imagine Mt. Um and Hicks are not the kinds of roads with “payback” descents. With such steep gradients you will pick up speed in a flash, and with the road being relatively narrow and curvy you have to have your wits about you. On the positive side Mt. Um Road has a perfect surface (at least for now). Unfortunately Hicks is not is as good a shape and you will encounter divots, bumps, and incongruities which will threaten to upend you. Make sure your brakes are in perfect working order because you will be using them a lot on the way down. Roger had the fortune of having disc brakes but I had rim brakes. We were both braking a lot in order not to splatter. Halfway down Mt. Um Road we pulled off into a small parking lot with a pit toilet in order to let the brakes cool down. My rims were so hot I could touch them just briefly before flinching. When we turned onto Hicks, that 14% section was like going down a water slide—down and down we went with only a vague sense that we were in control. Past the spillway Hicks finally settles down to a “normal” descent.
The rest of the return was essentially mundane, making your way across the flat sections of Santa Clara Valley back to the car. When we got back to the car, I was grateful for surviving the climb AND the descent, both. I had underestimated how difficult Mt. Um would be. I mean, how hard could it be? I had done all the other major climbs in the Bay Area (except one: Mix and Gates—stay tuned!) and Mt. Um couldn’t be any worse than Centennial, Marin, Zayante, etc. right? Wrong. Hicks and Mt. Um are a double-whammy with not just ridiculous gradients but ones that are also long, persistent, and unrelenting.
My advice if you decide to go up Mt. Um:
1. Just do Hicks/Mt. Um—don’t add on any other climbing like Mt. Eden or Redwood Gulch. Mt. Um is plenty and steep.
2. Start in Los Gatos—don’t add any mileage that you don’t need before the climb. The ride up Shannon and the lower section of Hicks is good enough of a warm up.
3. Take lots of water because there isn’t any on the hill. And food too!
4. Use the lowest gearing you have. If you’ve got gearing higher than 34×28, may God have mercy on your soul. Or plan on going seriously slow uphill!
5. Make sure your brakes and tires are in excellent condition; the descent is not to be taken lightly.
6. Go on a clear day so you can fully enjoy the spectacular view!
Jerome has the right idea and here’s his route. Note it is just up and down—no frills & functional—and starts and ends in Los Gatos.
UPDATE 10/10: If you are interested in the convoluted recent history of Mt. Umunhum and why it took over 30 years before MROSD was able to open the former Air Force base to the public, here is a great read by Ray Hosler.
UPDATE 10/16: Former Spoker Bill Bushnell also went up Mt. Umunhum shortly after it was publicly opened. You can read his account and see his photographs here. He also has interesting comments about the history of the fight for public access to Mt. Umunhum as well as the “backdoor” cyclists used to use to get to Mt. Um, Loma Prieta Road, which is an eminently rideable dirt road . The ranger we spoke to on top of Mt. Um the day we rode up mentioned that if we were caught on Loma Prieta Road we’d get a $400 fine. Ouch! It pays to skulk carefully.