More southern Santa Cruz Mountains

I’m leading a Wind Dancers ride on April 16. I hate leading rides. In my mind, rides that I lead will end up with me guiding a gaggle of lost riders around in circles while I screw up directions and execute terrible U-turns in front of my peers. Riders behind me fly off of cliffs (unbeknownst to me, of course), get hopelessly far behind or, worse, tailgate me the entire way because, in my imagination, I am the world’s slowest human. Once actually out on the road, I spend the entire trip mentally racing for both the Paxil bottle and a stiff drink, preferably both at once.

But I try to be A Productive Member of Our Club and, thus, I ended up signing up to lead this ride.

The route itself was no problem; I knew I wanted to do the southern Santa Cruz Mountains ride that I’ve done a couple of times lately. It’s a great ride. The beginning is challenging but still fun; the ending is technically simpler with nice scenery. Perfect for a group ride, if it weren’t for the fact that I had to lead it.

Obviously, I needed a guinea pig. I needed someone to ride behind me on my route, someone who didn’t know the roads and who, therefore, needed me to lead. Someone for whom I could make a bag lunch and lead into the great unknown and who would still mostly like me afterwards.

The curtains opened, pouring light into the bedroom.
“Hey!” Peter rolled over and pulled the covers up over his head. “Go ‘way.”
“Get up,” I said. “We’re going riding.”

The ride officially starts at the Summit Store, up at the summit (go figure) of that section of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Originally a stagecoach stop in the 1800s and rebuilt completely after the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1986, the store is a full-service grocery for residents and weekend campers, hikers, bicyclists, and now, motorcyclists.

Our stop at the Summit Store was brief due to a blaring car alarm in the parking lot. We rode away from the honking store and south down Summit Road, which quickly turns into Highland Way. After a few miles, the road condition turns a bit to shit. It still doesn’t rank on Carolyn’s Top Roads of Questionable Condition, though it might after another winter or so, but it was bumpy enough to remind me that hey, wasn’t I going to look into replacing my shock? Yes, ow, I think I was. As Highland Way became Eureka Canyon, I started to hear Peter’s vertebrae in my ear. “Remember us?” they taunted. “We were broken, remember? And now you took us on this road? Oh, you’ll be hearing about this one for a while, yes you will.” With all of the potholes pockmarking the road, it’s hard to believe that most of Eureka Canyon was rebuilt after a February 1998 landslide covered the road, trapping 500 locals. Makes you wonder what the road condition was like before.

View from the hills, taken September 2004

Eureka Canyon widens as it enters Corralitos and the road condition improves significantly. I pulled over near the Corralitos Market and Sausage Company to stretch. I steeled myself for a litany of soreness from Peter, resulting in days of make-up backrubs, but other than a little hip tightness, he said he was doing just fine. I began to relax about leading a little bit. Maybe I wasn’t really going to kill all of my friends.

Browns Valley Road heads northeast out of Corralitos through farmlands and vineyards. It becomes Hazel Dell Road and immediately turns southeast, forming a little peak on the route map. We passed a few horse and cattle ranches while enjoying the sweepers. I always remember the lefthand turn onto Mt Madonna Road because there’s a horse farm right there and, for some reason, the same large carmel-colored horse is always standing right at the corner whenever I ride by. I’ll be in trouble if
that horse ever dies or moves 100 yards to the right.

Mt Madonna is a fun road, assuming that you were bored on Browns Valley and Hazel Dell and want to get back to the excitement of Highland and Eureka Canyon. The road goes pretty much straight up, ascending from 300′ to 1600′ in just under 3 miles (that’s an average grade of about 12%). Naturally, it’s also narrow and, just as naturally, spattered with oncoming SUVs that don’t quite understand the concept of keeping to the side. If there’s no lane markings, that means they can take up the whole road, right? At least the scenery is pretty, guaranteeing that, well, if you’re going to die on a Ford Explorer grill, you may as well look at towering redwoods while you go.

The summit of Mt Madonna houses a four-way intersection, each direction having a different street name. Going straight ahead will take you to Redwood Retreat Road (my favorite dual-sport ride in the area). Turning left puts you on (another) Summit Road, which still ends up at a private road gate, no matter how many times I forget and ride down the entire 10 miles. Peter and I turned right onto Pole Line Road, the main road through Mt Madonna County Park. The first right brought us into a gravel parking area near some picnic tables and a full restroom (real toilets, even!).

We sat and ate our bag lunches underneath the redwoods and madrone trees. I read aloud from the County Parks of Santa Clara: Mount Madonna park brochure (“Park Charter Funds at Work…Thank You!”), making Peter the unwilling recipient of knowledge about cattle baron Henry Miller’s summer retreat.

Lunch break at Mt Madonna County Park

We talked a bit during lunch about ride leading. Peter assured me that I was doing well so far, which, OK, he sort of has to, or I smother him in his sleep. But he sounded convincing and I relaxed a little. I fretted about the road condition on Highland Way; we eventually agreed, however, that it really wasn’t that bad and that anyone who wanted to whine about it could lead their own damn ride next time.

Pole Line Road heads south through Mt Madonna County Park. It’s really short — only about 1.5 miles — but it’s a pretty road, passing picnic areas and horse staging areas. The park map shows a decent amount of hiking trails, making me wish once again that hiking and motorcycling (or at least the gear needed for each) were more compatible.

As the park ends, Pole Line Road meets up with Hecker Pass Highway (S.R. 152). It’s a fairly boring 5 mile section, but it’s fast-paced, which is welcome after spending most of the day waffling between first and second gears. A left turn onto Watsonville Road brought us back to the two-lane road lifestyle.

Thwap! Thwapthwapthwap! Butterflies. Thousands of small orange butterflies, all travelling east to west in a very determined fashion, darted amongst the motorcycles in an occasionally vain attempt to cross Watsonville Road. They looked like swarms of locusts in the air. Normally I don’t mind smacking into a few bugs, but there’s something disconcerting about taking out butterflies.

Still dodging butterflies, I pulled over into Chitactac-Adams Heritage County Park. It’s my favorite little hidden park in the whole area, the sort of thing my dad would have dragged me to as a child. Of course, that’s the reason why I hated it then and why I love it now. Peter followed me obligingly through the first part of the interpretive trail (“yes, that’s nice, dear, it’s a marking on a rock”). When I started to head down to the creek, he got big green puppy dog eyes and said “I think I’d rather go home.” So, OK. I’ll torture the Wind Dancers with the full interpretive trail experience. We pulled back out into the butterfly stream.

“Next time I’ll make her go alone”

I like the rocks at Chitactac-Adams.

The rest of the ride is straight-forward and technically uninteresting. It follows Watsonville Road to Uvas Road, past the Uvas Reservoir (which provides neat scenery to look at while dodging SUVs heading towards the boat docks). Uvas becomes McKean Road; another name, another reservoir.

A photo of the SVS at Uvas Reservoir from Sept 2004

I’m technically ending the Wind Dancers ride at Calero Reservoir. It’s close to both Hicks Road — a great twisty little section for those wanting to do more riding — and to the highway, for those wishing to head home.

Yesterday, Peter and I chose Hicks, which was fun but mentally wiped us both out. It’s a steep little bugger — an ascending 9.8% grade immediately followed by a descending 13.4% grade. Whew. I could tell I was exhausted, so I slowed way down (reaction time? What’s that?), causing Peter to tailgate me a little. Bad leader. I didn’t really care by this point, though. I made a mental note not to do Hicks Road on the real ride: I was way too tired to be officially leading people through twisties.

As we neared the end of Hicks Road, a black flash in the air caught my attention. I looked up to see a huge black military plane leading a formation of four black military helicopters. Looks like I wasn’t the only one out practicing my leading skills that day. The plane led the ‘copters in a couple of lazy circles and then off towards the northwest, assumedly to Moffet Field. We saw the helicopters later, when we were on the freeway heading home, but the plane was nowhere to be seen. Peter never saw it; only the ‘copters. It was a nice sight for me, though, and I appreciated that huge black plane, from one leader to another.

Fun with map granularity:

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