The Price for All This Green

Temporarily liberated from the incessant rainfall we went out for a bike ride. The Three Bears is nearby but we hadn’t been out that way recently and not just because it’s been raining biblically. It’s a good, short loop out in open space, rare in the urban Bay Area and loved so much that it’s a standard ride for Different Spokes as well as for Grizzly Peak Cyclists. But after you’ve done it a few hundred times—kinda like the Tib loop—its beautiful sheen becomes dulled through familiarity. But we knew the enormous rains surely had made the green hills verdant and lush and so we looked forward to getting out there.

We were not mistaken. Despite being late to the party–usually by now the pasturelands have been nibbled down to the stubs and the lack of rains starting to turn the hillsides tan—it was positively viridian. Even though the cows had made short order of the lush grass, it was still brightly green in an Irish sort of way such was the power of munificent rains.

But that intense green came at a cost. Having the earth so saturated meant that things were going to slip and slide. As we rolled south on San Pablo Dam Road by the turn to Wildcat Canyon we saw the K-barriers and signs that it was closed due to a landslide taking out the road. Date to reopening: unknown. Heading north a little further along San Pablo Dam Road we were surprised to see a 40 MPH speed limit sign. 40 MPH? It’s used to be 50. Then came a 25 MPH sign and a double line of hazard bollards. Then we saw why: the entire width of SPDR had buckled into an ugly and dangerous whoop-de-whoop as if the earth under the road had dissolved and the roadway was a taffy coating sinking into the gap.

On Castro Ranch Road we encountered more of the same. The road had buckled creating de facto speed bumps; on the descent to Alhambra Valley Road the roadway edge was destabilized leaving a set of wavy undulations. We moved to the left into the roadway.

Turning onto Alhambra Valley Road the road quality improved partly because a huge section had been rebuilt after the winter of 2016-17, the last time we had a torrential rains and it was closed for months. But the unmistakable signs were there: in several places the shoulder had collapsed into Pinole Creek right up or just into the road. The good news is that all this rain seems to have kept people from dumping their old furniture and construction debris on the roadside so that the beautiful pasturelands actually still looked pastoral rather than like Tobacco Road.

Bear Creek Road was in much better shape than either Castro Ranch, Alhambra Valley, or even San Pablo Dam Road, seemingly unaffected by our winter other than having slightly more debris in the shoulder. Water was of course streaming over the road in multiple locations. But that was about it all the way up Mama Bear and Papa Bear and back to San Pablo Dam Road. Fortunately no other slides or slips had occurred and if the soils can just dry out some more we may avoid further damage and destruction this spring.

Despite having received more rain this year than the winter of 2016-17, road destruction in the Bay Area seems less gargantuan. If you recall five years ago Pinole Creek completely washed away the bridge connecting Castro Ranch Road to Alhambra Valley Road, Moraga Creek slid and took out the bridge from Moraga to Pinehurst, Morgan Territory had a humungous landslide due to waterlogged soils, and Redwood Road slipped away. All of the repairs took a very long time to be finished; in the case of the Canyon bridge it took three years! And that is just a short list of the roads closed that winter. This year we’ve had a slate of well-loved roads closed by rain damage—La Honda Road, west Old La Honda, Mines Road, Stage Road over on coastside, China Grade, Palomares, Patterson Pass Road, and many others. But some of them are already reopened at least partially and I doubt any of them will take more than a year to be rebuilt. We can all wish for wet winters and green springs but sometimes it’s too much of a good thing. That said I love looking at a verdescent Mt. Diablo!


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