Ride Recap: New Speedway Boogie, Take 2

You can’t overlook the lack, Jack
Of any other highway to ride
It’s got no signs or dividing lines
And very few rules to guide

—Robert Hunter

David asked me why this ride is called New Speedway Boogie and not “Patterson & Altamont Passes”, which is surely a more accurate and less cryptic name. Those familiar with my posts through the years may have noticed that they’re populated with idiosyncratic references to late Twentieth Century US culture. In this case it’s a tilt toward that infamous “hey, we wanna get some of that cool Woodstocky vibe too” Rolling Stones concert that took place in December 1969 at Altamont Speedway, which happens to be just off the route of this bike ride.

Unless you’re an old Bay Area hippie like me or you recall the 1970 documentary film Gimme Shelter, which was about this concert, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. The Rolling Stones, whose image at that time was distinctly not countercultural flower power (despite His Satanic Majesties Request, one of their early abysmally poor albums) but more self-indulgent, excessive, lower chakra— oh wait, that is countercultural after all!—thought they could replicate Woodstock here on the West Coast when the “San Francisco sound”—Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, etc.—was climbing the charts and the Haight Ashbury was attracting youth from all over the country. They put on a free concert and 300,000 of their favorite strung out dealers, groupies, and fans showed up. They got more than they bargained for because the event was violent—multiple deaths including a stabbing by a Hells Angels who was doing stage security. It was ugly, like a very bad acid trip (and it probably was a bad trip for about half the participants). So endeth the illusions of a Woodstock nation. Ironically it got so violent that the Grateful Dead didn’t even get to play; or rather refused to play after Marty Balin of the Jefferson Airplane got KOed by a Hells Angel, and so they left the event. But the GD’s songwriter Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia bequeathed a gem of a song, New Speedway Boogie, which was about the disastrous event. The Altamont Speedway is still there although it’s been closed since 2008 and the meme that was Altamont has faded into insignificance.

Fifty-four years later here we are doing a bike ride. Whatever remnants of that era have long gone into the aether and almost everything surprisingly is as it was: a verdant, green set of rolling hills that turn dusky brown after the rains cease. Oh yeah, and the wind turbines and plentiful cows. Springtime is the best time to ride Altamont Pass, Patterson Pass, and Corral Hollow Roads because of the explosion of green grass. We lucked out with a most sunny and clear day. Roger and I were joined by Prez David and Stephanie. Jen also graced us with her presence at the start but she wasn’t up to going up Patterson and was doing a shorter ride. David and Stephanie were intent upon doing the Chico Wildflower and were in search of some training undone by our wet winter.

We headed out Tesla and turned on Cross Road to get to Patterson Pass. Hardly a car in sight but plenty of greenery to bless our eyes. Riding out Cross/Patterson is like a time warp: there was a time in the Bay Area when you could find pastoral roads this deserted much more easily; many of those areas are now dense suburbs. (I remember cycling through Cupertino when it was mainly orchards.) Cross Road is really quite gentle and eventually drops down Patterson Pass where the climbing gets more earnest. But even there it’s reasonable until the last kick to the pass, which is quite unreasonable! Stephanie as usual was intent on keeping a steady, brisk pace. We chatted and seemingly lollygagged until it got steeper (and quieter) and Stephanie just slowly moved ahead. At the pass we realized why we were having such an easy time: we had a west tailwind that was howling over the pass.

That tailwind also blew up down from the pass on one of the best descents in the Bay Area. With hardly any cars, great sightlines and only one blind corner it’s a delight. Oh, and it’s long so you get to enjoy it for quite a time. The only uglification along the descent was the PG&E substation, which sticks out like the eyesore it is in the middle of all that countryside.

We stopped at the outskirts of Tracy just across the California Aqueduct at the Valero station. Here the big trucks for Safeway, Costco, and Amazon roam the area due to their respective warehouses and logistics centers. The Valero is well stocked. I was originally going to get the fried chicken but got a sandwich instead so that I could share it with Roger. David had brought along some of his homemade dill pickles to share. There we stood next to the trash bin eating our early lunch. A steady stream of men were heading into the Jalos Taqueria next door. Hmm, we’ll have to check it out next time.

Then it was a slight backtrack onto the Aqueduct parkway, which is just a very wide frontage/service road adjacent to it. Other than a few fishermen and walkers the parkway is largely empty and a great escape from the trucks on the local roads. Unfortunately we were now heading north with that delightful tailwind now transformed into a gruesome sidewind forcing us to lean to the left to stay upright. Midway through you pass the old Altamont Speedway in the hills to the west of the Aqueduct but you can’t see it from there. After three and a half miles we were at Grant Line Road and returned to a brief automotive fray. Grant Line is one scary road with intense traffic that makes crossing over to the westbound lane feel like you’re in a real-life version of Frogger. Waiting for that short break to zip across rewards you with continued life and the joy of being passed by cars blitzing onto 580. That brief hell lasts less than a half-mile and we were on Altamont Pass Road, which is also deserted although less so than Patterson. Here Stephanie took off again along with Roger while David and I took it more slowly.

Altamont Pass Road is surrounded by grassland but interrupted by a couple of automotive repair businesses in the middle of nowhere and what look to be ranch houses that had seen better days. Oh yeah, and of course we now had a distinctly unfriendly headwind. But we all made it over the pass and left Altamont for Flynn Road and crossed over 580. It’s a short, easy ascent from there and a nice, long drop back to Livermore, suburbanity awaiting. Another fantastic ride in the Altamont hills done. Alas, by now those hills are probably shorn of green and turned to golden brown. We shall return next year!


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