Ride Recap: Forty & Fab Peninsula Romp

Saturday’s ride over the Coast Range to Pescadero and back via Tunitas Creek was like a mini-vacation. It was only 51 miles but we took the entire day to enjoy the ride, the scenery, the food, and get a glimpse of the Pescadero Road Race along the way. It was on the cool side the entire day yet sunny, which made the climbing—and there was lots of it—very comfortable. The weather brought out lots of other cyclists as well as sports car enthusiasts out for a spin. It was a great day to be riding or if you were in a car, take out the convertible with the top down.

There were just five of us but the quality made up for the quantity. Nancy was putting the final touches on her conditioning for her big Montana tour. Michaelangelo, whom we don’t often see probably because the vast majority of our rides don’t traverse the South Bay, showed up since the ride was in his stomping ground. Roger S made the trip down from SF. My husband and I completed the group.

These roads are so well-loved by cyclists that it’s not hard to imagine a rut in the roads made by all the cyclists’ tires over the years: up Old La Honda, then down the other side of OLH to La Honda, then up Haskins Hill and down to Pescadero, then up the Stage Road with the pièce de resistance being Tunitas Creek. This loop takes in roads that are less frequented by cars and quite peaceful. Predictably the one stretch on Highway 84 from the OLH turnoff down to the town of La Honda, which cars also use to get to the beach, was a speedfest of tech bros’ shiny and noisy toys. Otherwise we pretty much had the roads to ourselves.

We left the Woodside Town Hall early enough that there was little traffic and had a quiet run out Mountain Home Road to Old La Honda. Rather than the usual time trial up OLH we took it pretty casually. Other than other cyclists we had the redwood shrouded road all to ourselves. What a great place to have a home—peaceful, quiet, and the everpresent smell of redwood! The drop down OLH on the other side of Skyline is narrow and curvy. Fortunately cars prefer to take 84 since it’s much faster. Although it’s now paved, in the not-too-distant past OLH was not. I recall cycling down when it was a packed dirt/gravel road, which made for an, um, exciting ride if you took it at speed. I recall once riding it in the rain and boy, was that a mistake. But it’s still rather narrow and that means you have to watch out for that unexpected car coming up. Except you can’t because the sight lines are generally nonexistent. Prayer is the obvious substitute. This time we encountered just one pickup and he wasn’t going fast. Whew.

Old La Honda is narrow!

The descent to La Honda is wicked fast and since it’s wide open you can really let the bike run. What a blast! All you have to do is ignore the cars passing next to you at 60 MPH. At La Honda the Pescadero Road Race was in full swing and course marshalls were controlling traffic. Since we were heading up Haskins Hill to Pescadero—the same as the racers—we got a bird’s eye view of the action. Alto Velo apparently did a great job getting volunteers to marshal the course and to my surprise there were quite a few spectators. This ain’t no ‘Tour day France’ but I guess the racers have lots of friends and family to cheer them on as the roadside was packed. As we passed the feed zone a gust of wind caught their tent and up in went into the air! We were passed by group after group. One guy’s front derailleur wasn’t working so he was climbing Haskins Hill in the big ring—ouch! It was interesting to watch the racers. Obviously they were making an effort to draft one another even going uphill. Most were pedaling very smoothly despite the incline; these days even racers are using lower gears but spin so much faster they can still go fast. Everybody was using deep section carbon rims for the aero benefits.

We dropped down the other side and had a fast, pleasant run into Loma Mar. Loma Mar is a ‘town’ that’s barely a spot on the map. But it has the Loma Mar Store, a community mainstay. The store has been there for as long as I’ve lived in the Bay Area. But around 2014 or so the store closed for a remodel. It wasn’t until mid-2019 that it finally reopened just in time for the pandemic. It was closed for so long I thought for sure the store was gone for good. In any case it has survived and unlike in the past where it was basically a mini-mart for the little community it now has a kitchen and bakery and prepares really good food. So I planned a “coffee” stop there. No one had heard of the Loma Mar Store despite everybody having ridden to Pescadero many times. We rolled into the inviting store and our short coffee stop turned into a coffee klatch/gabfest. Only Roger S got lunch, a grilled cheese, while the rest wanted to wait until Pescadero. So I ordered a breakfast sandwich to go and settled for a bear claw and big mug of coffee. Pastries and coffees all around. Nancy ended up ordering a sandwich to go as well. We settled into their front deck and watched pod after pod of racers roll by. The sun was out and it was temperately comfortable just sitting sipping coffee outside. Lost in time we didn’t leave until 40 minutes had gone by.

In Pescadero we did the usual stop at Norm’s Market aka Arcangeli Deli. A sunny Saturday at lunch time usually means the deli is packed and it was. But the picnic tables in the back were not. The race now being over a couple of tables were taken by racers recounting their rides. Ah, to be young, fast, and fashionably dressed. Roger had to have their delicious artichoke bread and he got a loaf that had just come out of the oven—hot, steamy, and heavenly! More eating ensued. And by the way my breakfast sandwich—a croissant with a fried egg, cheddar, and bacon—was still warm and the egg yolk was still runny. Perfect! By the time I had also woofed down some artichoke bread I was stuffed. More gabbing ensued. Before we knew it another hour had passed. Nobody was in a hurry to depart but none of was was whipped either, maybe because we were cruising and not for a bruising.

Stage Road is a picture of how it once all was: isolated, pastoral, occasional ranches. It heads north but not at all in a straight line weaving through the fields and has two short but steep ascents to wake you up. The San Gregorio Store, which I hadn’t visited in years, now has a large outdoor dining area and it was doing good business. But we didn’t linger and climbed up the last steep bit to Highway One. Now I was feeling tired! But it was all downhill to the turn off to Tunitas Creek. Michaelangelo went down like a rocket even faster than Roger S, which is no mean feat since Roger not only is fearless but his new bike is seriously aero.

Racing to an inviting bench

What did we do next? Stop at the Bike Hut for another long idyll! The Bike Hut is an oddity: the local farmers just like cyclists so they erected this rest stop that is funded by their immense goodwill and any cyclists’ donations. They also have a portapotty for cyclists to use. With inviting Adirondack chairs and wood benches it’s a great place to cool your jets before the grueling climb up Tunitas. I was ready to take a nap. It was now 3 PM and the sun was lower in the sky. A crow sat on the telephone wire above us the entire time—he was enjoying the afternoon sun as well. How do birds stay upright on wires when the wind is blowing? You would think they would soon be upside down!

Before I let torpor get the best of me I rousted everyone to get going. Michealangelo was still effervescent and ready to jump forward. He set a mean pace and towed me and Roger up the increasing gradient. Tunitas is a long climb. From the Bike Hut it is 8.4 miles to Skyline and ascends about 2,200 feet. Those numbers are a bit deceptive because the gradient isn’t constant. The beginning and the end are easy and the middle section hits a gruesome 11%. It was already a long day and I was moving forward by dint of willpower alone. But it was pleasantly cool while climbing, there was no traffic to speak of, and the redwoods are always so reassuring. About three miles from the top the gradient eases considerably. Literally every time I’ve ridden up Tunitas from the coast I get impatient at this point. It seems you should be at the top—it’s practically flat. You go around each bend and think that Skyline is going to be right there. But it isn’t. For almost three miles. Over and over again. I’m always exasperated by this and today was no different probably because I was hella tired and I was in ‘smelling the barn’ mode.

At the top it took less than a minute for Roger and me to get chilled waiting for the others. The wind was up—it actually had been blowing all day but now was stronger blowing over the top of the Coast Range. The sun was disappearing. We huddled to find shelter from the breeze. Michaelangelo appeared shortly. But Roger S and Nancy were nowhere to be seen. Nancy eventually caught up and told us that Roger had left his phone at the Bike Hut and had to turn around to retrieve it. Hey, bonus miles and climbing! We waited over a half-hour for Roger to catch up. By then Michaelangelo had already departed and said to text him if we needed a car to retrieve Roger S. No need now! Phone safely in hand we all dropped like rocks down Kings Mountain Road.

Kings Mountain is a road better climbed than descended. As a climb it’s probably the second hardest way to get to Skyline (Page Mill is the worst—steep, long, and little shade). But as a descent it requires your full attention especially in late afternoon when the sun is low and it’s dim under the towering redwoods. The fact that it is exceptionally curvy and has multiple hairpins makes for a thrilling rollercoaster ride but also means you better not cross the centerline—when there is a centerline—since sections are substandard width. It didn’t help that we were now thoroughly chilled. It’s a five-mile descent so it took less than fifteen minutes but felt like an eternity. In Woodside it was warm enough that my shivering stopped.

Back at the cars: a 51-mile and 5,500 feet elevation gain day. My kind of day!

Back at the cars Michaelangelo was still there waiting for us. Everybody had a smile on their face! End of ride: 5:08 PM. That was an entire day. We may have been taking our time but it was time worth taking!

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