Same As It Ever Was

The last time the club rode up Morgan Territory was after the road had been repaired from a destructive landslide caused by the winter storms of 2016. That was in November 2017 making the hiatus three and a half years. Unlike last time, which had a small group, it was just Roger and I this time. Actually we had gone up Morgan by ourselves in March 2018, so it really had been only three years since we had set pedal on it and we were wondering what we might encounter. I think it was Stephanie who had remarked to us recently that Morgan had been repaved. That comment had me reeling. What? You mean the execrable condition of the roadway had actually been repaired? That road hasn’t seen a paver since before I started riding there, which was back in the mid-80s. And I asked myself, “My God! What have they done?” So we were desperately looking forward to a smooth-like-butter climb up to Morgan Territory Preserve over what had been for decades a textbook example of neglect so odious that it warrants hall of fame status.

Continuing our Spring Fling of revisiting fave roads we couldn’t/didn’t do during the Pandemic, we were determined to ride Morgan even if the weather turned unfriendly. But it didn’t and we had a sunny Goldilocks day—not too cold, not too hot, just right! We did the Ygnacio Valley Road approach to Clayton. Reopening was clearly underway as the high speed traffic early on Sunday was, um, enlightening. We made it safely to Clayton where an open-air church service equipped with amps the Grateful Dead would be proud of was taking place right in the center of the small town. We did a quick pit stop at the community park and were disappointed that though the restrooms were open, the water fountains were still turned off—all the more necessary to conserve what water we did bring and pray that the fountain at the Preserve was open.

The march out Marsh Creek always requires vigilance: there is usually a multitide of impatient pickup trucks and SUVs dishing out punishment passes with disturbing regularity. But this morning it wasn’t so bad despite the complete lack of a shoulder. Once we were on Morgan Territory itself it became very quiet and peaceful. But now we had a light headwind that was to increase and pester us almost the rest of the day. As we started to climb it became apparent that there was nothing different about Morgan: the alligator cracking was extensive, often deep, and giving us a hell of a beating. The saving grace is that no one can go quickly up Morgan allowing one plenty of time to scan for a smoother path through the maze of cracks and to avoid the more egregious road potholes.

Then the two racer dudes passed us. I wasn’t having the greatest of days, being worn out from trying to eject the last few pounds of Covid corpulence in the past week. So when Roger silently decided he’d try to keep up, I of course gritted my teeth and flogged the dead horse even harder. In case you didn’t know, Morgan is actually a pretty long climb, about nine miles. Cracks be damned, we bounced along at “speed” hovering at and often over the red line. We managed to keep them within a couple hundred feet until about a mile from the top when I just had to slow down or risk the Cramps That Shall Not Be Named. I staggered into the Preserve parking lot and saw that said race dudes were just making their way to the picnic table, so not a bad effort for an old fart!

Boy, the Preserve couldn’t have come soon enough. Not only did I need a break but the fountain was working and I could refill my bottle. Roger had wisely packed a couple of PB&J sandwiches, which disappeared in a flash. At the top nary a cloud was in sight and the sky was just crystalline blue—a classic day for a ride. We took a long, leisurely break. When we did leave, my legs were protesting. But the killer—literally—descent was just ahead.

This descent is amazing because it feels like a roller coaster. It’s somewhat narrow—substandard width for two lanes—and swoops around bends with no sight line at all and then plummets repeatedly giving you that no-gravity feeling. To make it even more thrilling there is no shoulder, no barrier, and the hillside just drops off at a precipitous angle, meaning if you don’t make the turn then you’re going to be launched into a free fall. It’s just absolutely preposterous this descent. You cannot not brake unless you truly have steel cojones. One saving grace is that in all the years I’ve done this ride I don’t think I’ve encountered more than a couple of cyclists coming up the south side because it’s so steep and completely exposed to the sun. That’s important because cars insist on passing on blind curves and you don’t want to be blazing through one of the left-hand curves at the same time a car is coming up and passing a cyclist. So of course that day we encountered not one but two cyclists separately climbing up from the south! But we lucked out with almost no car traffic. Fear is mental after all.

At the bottom we turned west and the headwind felt punishing. Or maybe my legs were just fried. In any case at one point we were struggling along at 9 mph on the flat. I could tell that Ms. Cramps was going to pay me a visit shortly if I didn’t do something. So we stopped and I downed a small bottle of pickle juice before we proceeded at our slow pace. After about twenty minutes my legs calmed down and we raced down to Danville and then back to the start at Pleasant Hill BART. Check that one off. Dudes, that ride was majorly awesome!

Next stop: Palomares.