Goodbye California; cycling in the middle of nowhere.
Disclaimer: I'm writing this 4 months after it happened so this is just a rough approximation of what happened on that day ;)
It was decided. I was moving to London. With all the excitement and lots of things to look forward to, I'll be very honest: there were things I knew I'll be missing from California. And on the very top of that list was the beautiful nature and trails that I only begun to explore in the past 2+ years.
So when the date was coming up — and it was coming up fast — I knew I had to do something special for my usual weekend trip series. My usual choice would be a long run but, seeing as I hardly did any running in the past six months, practically since Chimera, somehow this didn't seem like such a great idea.
Instead I set my sight on cycling. Past 2 months I did some training on 2 wheels. Nothing too crazy, mostly just one long ride per week, but hopefully enough to give me a chance of surviving such an adventure, as opposed to getting fried after 2 hours of running.
At some point I came across this awesome page with some great rides in the Bay Area and I was ticking some of them off the list. Difficulty rating of one of the routes was described as follows:
Not really intermediate/ advanced; more like advanced/ masochistic. A one-of-a-kind ride in the middle of nowhere
Clearly, as I read it, I knew I had to do it one day. And now seemed to be the perfect time.
On the big day I got up shortly after 8am, ate breakfast, drove to San Jose Diridon train station and from there took train and BART to Pleasanton — the starting point of the ride. All of this took time so by the time I set off it was already 1:30pm.
After mere 15 kilometers or so, still in the safety of civilization of Livermore, I got a flat. Bloody nail on the street and I had to make a pit stop. Frankly I was super lucky on two counts. First, I was still close to the start so in the worst case I could have walked back to the station. And second, I actually did have a spare tube. And tire levers. Believe it or not it was the first time I had them as until now I used to ride without any spares. At least going for a 130km long trip in the middle of nowhere I had a rare clarity of mind to plan for this eventuality.
It was the rear wheel and it's been forever since I changed a tube so it took me full half an hour to get things back in order. And once I did I faced a dilemma: should I continue or should I turn back. Of course turning back wasn't a very appealing option but there were things to consider. Firstly, I started later than planned and now I just lost some extra time. And secondly, well, I didn't have more spares. And I still had 115km to go. Through the middle of nowhere. You might think that the chances of getting another flat were low but it wasn't necessarily so: the nail punctured through the tire and I couldn't be sure that it'd hold up after that. After short deliberation I decided to cautiously continue; this was my last ride and I wasn't about to let a stupid nail spoil it for me!
Shortly after I turned into the Mines road. As my "guide" put it Mines road [...] is the longest, most remote road. Oh boy, they were so not kidding. On the first few kilometers I still saw a bunch of cars, but after passing Den Valle Regional Park, I was pretty much on my own... for what felt like forever.
From there I had 28 kilometers to a village of sorts. It was very hot. And over this distance I had to climb 500 meters — perhaps not a whole lot, but certainly noticeable. Still, it was fairly pleasant riding. The road was pretty good and essentially empty. When I hit the village I saw a bunch of houses scattered around.
From there my next stop would be the Junction bar & grill. I wasn't sure how far away it was but I sure as hell was praying it'd be open (it was Memorial Day Monday), as I was getting hungry and, even worse, dangerously low on water. I knew that I'd be able to refill my bottles at the top of Mount Hamilton but there were 40 kilometers and a murderous climb separating me from that point.
I was desperate enough to consider asking for water in one of the houses but I did not see a living soul and instead I did see a sign saying something along the lines of: stay out or risk being shot. Hmm, I guess I'll risk staying out and taking my chances with Junction.
10 kilometers and lots of anxious thoughts later I finally reached it and, thankfully, it was open. It was a simple place and I got a burger and fries (pic of the burger below and of Junction above) but at that point in my journey it felt as if I was served like a king! So I satisfied my hunger and, most importantly, drunk plenty and refilled my bottles.
From there I had some 20km of relatively flat, relatively uneventful cycling until hitting THE climb. At 1285m Mount Hamilton might not seem that scary but I knew better. I did this climb from San Jose a bunch of time, where 1200m of climbing is split into three sections with short downhill stretches in between. It's a grueling climb. I did the climb from the other side, which is what I was about to do now, only once and, if anything, it felt even worse. Starting at 600m I was facing only half of the elevation gain (the other half having gained little by little in my 80+ kilometers leading to that point) but I knew from my previous venture here that the grade was slightly steeper on this side of the mountain. Not to mention the aforementioned 80+ kilometers that I already felt in my legs...
It was very tough. There are big mile marks painted on the road and seeing each one was pure joy. However, it felt like it was taking forever in between them. And in a sense it was: the 9 kilometer climb took me 1 hour and 10 minutes. And it was by far the longest hour of this ride :).
Once I reached the top I knew the worst part was over. I ran out of water so I had a chance to refill my bottles, take a breath and start the descent. I still had almost 40km to go but most of it was downhill.
By the time I reached the bottom of Mt. Hamilton it was getting dark and so the last 10 kilometers through the streets of San Jose, back to my car, I did in semi darkness and that was by far the least enjoyable part of the trip. To make matters worse my favorite Mexican place was closed and the one I went to instead was nowhere near as good. Oh well.
If Strava is to be trusted I did 132km in close to 8h (including breaks) with over 2200m of elevation gain. All in all: a great ride. Mostly on decent, traffic free roads. It was a good way to say goodbye to California. But I knew it wasn't really a goodbye; it's a great place and I knew that, sooner or later, I'll be back, if only to visit the good, old trails.