Fire Roads Also Hit Hard By Record Rainfall

Nimitz April 2017
Nimitz Trail Damage

Since Different Spokes is de facto a road bike club, it’s understandable that members are concerned about road closures caused by our epic winter rains. Roads such as Old La Honda, Skyline, Palomares, Bolinas-Fairfax, Mt. Hamilton, etc. are the meat-and-potatoes rides of our club. When they’re closed or obstructed, we all take notice. However mountain bike trails and fire roads have also had a hard winter; we just didn’t pay much attention to it. By this time of the year I’ve usually ridden a slew of the fire roads over here in the East Bay. But the incessant rainfall has kept me off the trails. I don’t like to churn up the trail and leave tire trenches, widen the trails when I try to avoid the lakes in the middle, and in general despoil them when they’re boggy. Plus, I hate cleaning my bike. When I was young I loved to clean it up after every ride. But now I have better things to do than hose down, dry, and regrease everything. Consequently I’ve stayed away from the dirt all winter.

I did manage to get in a ride on the Nimitz Trail when we had a dry week in April. Most of you probably don’t know about the Nimitz. It’s the remnant jeep road from Inspiration Point in Tilden Park that went out to the old Nike missile silos. It’s asphalt partway and then turns into a fire road which eventually ends up in Richmond. It makes a great mixed surface route, or if you don’t like to ride on dirt it’s a quick getaway into the Berkeley hills. Once you’re on the ridge there are great vistas in every direction, and with our verdant spring you feel like you’re miles away from suburbs when you look over the green hills and fields. As you can see in the picture the Nimitz didn’t make it through this winter without serious erosion.

This past weekend we rode off to check out Old Finley Road, which is east of Danville. I’ve written about this old farm road before. It’s a holdover from the early 20th century and it’s now part of the East Bay Regional Park District and Mt. Diablo State Park. If you’re ridden on Camino Tassajara—perhaps you coming back from going over Morgan Territory and were heading to Danville—then you’ve seen Finley Road. The part of the road that is still public and paved is Finley Road and it starts at Camino Tassajara. Finley deadends at some private land but the parks have a right-of-way for trail users to traverse it into the parks. This section is what is now called Old Finley Road it and it’s now a fire road that parallels Tassajara Creek up to a ridge and then drops down to Morgan Territory Road. It’s an interesting cut-through and a different way to do the Morgan Territory loop because it avoids the car traffic on Marsh Creek Road, which can be quite dangerous, yet you still get to do the most interesting part of Morgan Territory, namely the climb in the woods up to Morgan Territory Preserve.

Old Finley Road May 2017
Old Finley Road Washed Away

Old Finley has been in excellent shape and is doable on a standard road bike, although having a fatter tire certainly makes it a less bumpy ride as well as giving you a little bit extra traction on the short sandy sections. In any case, I hadn’t been on it since last summer. It was a big surprise for us to discover that Old Finley Road has been severed in half by the destructive power of Tassajara Creek! We entered the park, where Old Finley is under a canopy of trees, and a short distance later we were confronting a ten-foot drop into the creek. The road had been completely destroyed, cut in half. You can see the culvert that was under the road allowing the creek to run through. What you can’t see clearly in the pic above is that both ends of the culvert have been compromised, the upper opening has been partially crushed by a fallen tree trunk and the lower is partially blocked by a pile of large boulders. It’s easy to see what happened: when the volume of water in the creek rose, the culvert wasn’t able to handle it and the water backed up, rose, and eroded away the roadway, which was nothing more than dirt. Even the current creek flow, which is quite low, is running around the culvert.

It’s still possible to get up Old Finley but you have to portage your bike across a fairly deep chasm. Hikers have made a path down to the creek and over but it’s not easy and if your bike is heavy—Roger’s e-bike is over 50 pounds!—it’s a loathsome task. I rather doubt that the EBRPD has Old Finley Road high on its repair list given how isolated the fire road is. However the road appears to be a bona fide fire road, so you would think it will have to be restored enough for a fire truck to traverse Tassajara Creek again. For the time being you’ll have to dismount and carry your bike across. But it’s worth it!