Saturday, November 8, 2014

Ride Report: Our Personal Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge

Some background to start: Mike, the fiancé, and I love playing outside together. We appreciate each other's activities — he's a surfer, I'm a runner — but often there is one person who truly loves what we're doing and one person who is along for the adventure. One area where that isn't true is road cycling. We both really, really like getting on bikes, climbing hills and covering a lot of pavement.

We set off this morning on an adventure Mike had mapped out. Inspired by the Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge, he wanted to tackle some of the toughest climbs in the county during a 55(ish)-mile-ride. Our weekend rides often include 2,500 or more feet of elevation gain over 25-30 miles, but increasing that didn't seem like a bad idea, especially if was just the two of us and no timeline.

Elevation Map

The plan entailed parking off West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz, then heading through town to our first climb, a breezy warm up on Glen Canyon Road to Scotts Valley. From there, we rode the lower section of Glenwood Drive (a normal climb for us) and then headed up the infamous Mt. Charlie Road, a 5.2-mile climb with multiple short Cat 2 segments. Mt. Charlie was new for both of us. The steep sections left us gasping for breath but overall the ride was scenic and pleasant. We stopped at a historical marker at the top to learn about Mountain Charlie, a failed gold digger who survived a bear attack in the 1870s and went on to be a stagecoach operator in the area, before continuing our climb up Summit Road.

The road seemed remarkable free of cars. We pedaled past vineyards and Christmas Tree farms on Hwy. 35/Summit Road until the highway split at Bear Creek Road. We went left up, then down Bear Creek Road about 11 miles into the town of Boulder Creek. This was essentially the halfway point of Mike's plan: about 30 miles in and one of two significant climbs done. After a quick stop to refuel at Johnnie's Super (including a LARABAR and Hammer Gel) we were back on the road.

The next section covered more new terrain for us: Hwy. 236 toward Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Four miles in, we made a sharp left onto Jamison Creek Road. Mike had said this would be the steepest — but also shortest — climb of the ride. The hill started with a mellow 5% grade and we held the same conversational pace we'd carried throughout the ride. But 1.2 miles in, the hill changed. Here's a description from Stanford Cycling Team For people wanting to climb over 1,100 feet in 1.8 miles (read: masochists), this is the ride for you. This section of the climb averages 11.5% grade, with some areas nearing 14% grade. 

I made it about two-thirds the way up the hill (the whole hill, not just the really steep part) before my legs turned to Jell-o and I had to walk. Mike powered on, using a mix of out-of-the-saddle riding, weaving back-and-forth across the entire road (much to the chagrin of descending cyclists) and sheer willpower to summit the hill. I walked about a mile, pushing my bike and wishing for a passing motorist to hitchhike with. I tried (and failed) to ride again, and even considered carrying my bike on the back of a motorcycle. The bike-hike took about 25 minutes, but it turned out Mike had only beaten me to the top by a few minutes. That must have been one hell of a crawl up! 

(Let's just say, the only good Jamison is probably the whisky, and there should be a bottle at the top of that climb for poor cyclists like me.)

From there, we turned onto Empire Grade Road bemoaned all of the little hills on our back to town. Just before we passed UC Santa Cruz, we hit 37 mph on a downhill. The ride finished along West Cliff Drive, rounding out at 56 miles and about 5,600 feet of elevation.

These climbs are integral parts of a couple cool century rides that happen in here in the spring and summer: the Mt. Charlie Challenge in April and the Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge in late July or early August. I've heard the Mountains Challenge always includes Jamison, which may be a deal-breaker for me, but the Mt. Charlie ride could be exciting. I haven't ever attempted a century ride (metric or full 100 miles), but would like to. Maybe 2015 is the year! 

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