OK, not really my birthday. That would be Aug.15th (this past Wednesday). Also, last Sunday (Aug.12) Ben had kidnapped me with a spectacular surprise day of Hot Air Ballooning and a limo-driven wine tasting tour in Napa Valley (more on that to come in a separate post), and on Thursday, we had a wonderful dinner shared with friends celebrating two of our birthdays, so I knew I wasn’t going to top that on yesterday’s Birthday ride; mainly I just wanted to have a nice bicycle ride, and I got it. A few familiar faces (and one new one), great weather, beautiful country, good food, good cheer.
Saturday evening I sent a cryptic note to the GPC list (cryptic because i was on my phone and the blank message got sent accidentally with just a subject line and no content, prompting some funny replies (including “is this the invisible bike ride to go along with the invisible bike helmet” and “can you imagine having that collar around your neck out on Tunitas Creek on a hot day with over 90+ temps!”), so I re-sent with some actual info, also hoping to get a passenger in my car for the longish trek down to Half Moon Bay and back.
Ummm, Crater Lake Century and Holstein Hundred same day, weather report for central California coast suddenly indicating “mostly cloudy, 20% chance of thunderstorms before 11 a.m.” and a non-BART-able ride…. i might just be showing up to a solo ride! However, Sunday morning, the weather reporters had revised their gloomy prediction and the threat of rain [and worse, “thunderstorms”] was a mere figment of their previous day’s imagination. Thanks, NOAA!!
Got my stuff organized and left the house early, better to spend extra time down there than arrive stressed and late. Arrived 8:55 a.m., started getting my bike ready and deciding what layers to wear, rode over to the Firehouse to use the restroom. Back at the car, several solo cyclists swept by on their own adventures, and then first one car, then two, then three cars have parked and riders are signing in. So the four of us headed out (Christina, Sally, Alan and I), somewhat behind schedule due to my last minute decision to shed several layers of clothing, as I was already starting to sweat just standing there in my SmartWool had, GPC thermal vest, GPC long sleeved jersey over another (short-sleeved 2011 GPC Century jersey) and SmartWool long sleeved base layer. I had also put on my compression tights OVER my thin but long-legged bike tights, but decided to keep those on, just to keep my leg muscles warm… the air was in the 50s, but riding along the coast almost always comes with a promise of cool winds in these parts, and indeed today was a FINE example of that.
Still, I was pulling down zippers and rolling down arm-warmers already in the first couple of miles on Hwy 1. Both pairs of knickers were in the laundry, so i’d settled on my lightweight long-legged tights. They were good. Also, I know I’ve mentioned before how much i like my SmartWool top. So jaunty, whimsical and functional. Even when I start sweating it up a bit, doesn’t feel cold, too hot, too clammy. Sweet! (and now glad I left all those excess layers in the car right where they belonged!)
It’s 20 miles down Hwy 1 to the Pigeon Point Lighthouse, or shall i say “Up and Down” as the stretch does involve some substantial rollers. Together with the high, chilly winds, even when coming from slightly behind you, the ride can be exhilarating and somewhat strenuous. For my part, the views are totally worth it. I did have my camera with me, and had intended on stopping along the way to take some pictures of the scenery, but since I hadn’t announced that ahead of time I felt I needed to just keep going. Turns out this was the perfect group for that to have happened, as the rest of the group was just as interested in the little detours and spurs I’d included on the cue sheet as I was. At the same time, I held the pace down for those in the rear while keeping an eye out for the forerunner(s) in front.
Steve had joined us and caught me at about mile 15, having raced across the south bay to arrive after we’d left. Wow, that’s a hard chase! He told me he was in Foster City at 9:45, so made incredible time both in car and on bike!!
At the lighthouse, we turned onto Pigeon Point Road westward and stopped to enjoy the historic sights: the Pigeon Point Lighthouse stands proudly on its rocky promontory (and tied with the Point Arena Lighthouse in Mendocino County as the tallest lighthouses on the western United States coastline), while the Fresnel lens is now mounted in the visitor center, where a well-informed guide is available to answer questions and augment the displays; and the small gift shop is open. The lighthouse itself is currently closed for visitors/tours during this period of renovation. (More info about the lighthouse and park can be found at http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=533). The last lighthouse keeper’s term was in the late 1970s and the lighthouse keepers’ quarters are now converted to a travelers’ hostel (various sleeping configurations, with some semi-private rooms, a tempting idea for a weekend bike tour in future: http://www.norcalhostels.org/pigeon/features/).
My original idea (and cue sheet) has us turning back up through the lighthouse point property northward to where it hooks back into Hwy 1, then head back southbound, with another short detour inland to explore the farmland, basically a short out and back loop in the interest of rounding out the 56 mile ride to an even 60, in honor of my years on planet. On this day, however, reason prevailed over the howling winds raging down that stretch, and we collectively decided to save our energy for the miles to come…. so back directly out Pigeon Point Road to the Hwy, cross the Hwy and then on to the other inland detour, Pigeon Point Road out to the two farmhouses and fields, then loop southward back to Hwy 1. On the google maps used in my bikely.com route-mapper, a nice route out to some fields along Pigeon Point Road then Lighthouse View Road, and as well as an additional spur and loop out Bean Hollow Road was indicated, but we discovered that there is no paved connection to that area, as is shown on the satellite view… and at the 2nd farmhouse, the road that should have been the main part of Pigeon Point Road connecting up to Lighthouse View Road and then further up to Bean Hollow was just a brick/dirt entryway…. so we stayed on the main road which dropped back onto Hwy 1 just south of where we’d crossed the road a bit further north. [Update: I see now in “Satellite” mode and “Street View” on GoogleMaps there is a sign posted in the field just left of the turn stating “Private Road – Absolutely No Tresspassing” (in both English and Spanish!!), so I guess another revision to the cue sheet is in order…]. Therefore, all in all, the scenic “junk miles” detour was cut quite short, and our mileage count was a full 4-6 miles below what the cue sheet had promised, so i wasn’t going to get my 60 miles. Steve jested that I could do La Honda Road or Kings Mountain while the rest of the party was enjoying lunch! And not have my artichoke bread? Hah! Guess again! After all, Ride to Eat, Eat to Ride, right?
I quickly announced I was not absolutely wedded to the idea of getting in 60 miles exactly. Gazos Creek Road was as beautiful as I remembered, but also shorter. Also, the little triangular junction at Gazos Creek Road and Cloverdale Road is tricky, because “Cloverdale Road” does not actually show on the sign until you have passed it up on its little pyramid. It looked right, but the sign said “Butano State Park”. Luckily Steve also sensed we were passing the turnoff, so we all looped around to “Cloverdale Road”. Somehow, the quiet stretch on that was also more short-lived than I’d remembered, for it quickly becomes a more open, flatter piece of roadway….. and then eventually meets Pescadero Road.
My route detours a bit from the norm here, for instead of taking a left directly onto Pescadero Road, we turn right, then make a left onto North Street, for a visit with the horses and the little goat farm and store, then roll slowly and with carefree ease through the quiet residential neighborhood on this most pastoral eastern edge of town.
North Street then meets Stage Road and we turn left toward Norm’s Market. Steve lobbies for a different locale down the street, where one can purchase coffee and have some nice indoor seating. This seems like a reasonable wish in light of the enormous numbers of lycra clad cyclists and their bikes clogging the sidewalk in front of Norm’s and all the way along the side of the building. But i see that the picnic tables in back are almost completely vacant, so I override that idea. We hop inside Norm’s and check out our bread options. The artichoke/pesto/cheese eyes us longingly, but my nose navigates me over to the fresh-from-the-oven rounds of Artichoke/Herb/Garlic above the pastry cabinet. I grab the paper bag and my heart soars with the warmth of the freshly baked loaf heating my fingers. Yup, this is the one! I note with a sigh that the bear-claws are already gone… the apple crisp looks tempting, but I remember that the extra treats, less exercise (a few car commutes necessitated by landlady duty in Benicia) during my birthday week have already put me another 3-weeks behind goal for my fitness and weight (“Coach sez!!”). With such a small group, we also forego the berry pie. I buy the bread, my salty-snack honey dijon potato chips, and a bag of cherries to share. Steve springs for my Sobe drink. (Thanks!) and the picnic begins. Christina has been spending some extra time on North Street taking photos and bargain hunting (this is her first adventure down in these parts, on these roads, so she’s justifiably enthusiastic to savor every bit of it, i think!). Speaking of savoring, after she finds us in the back patio of Norm’s and puts up her bicycle, Christina goes inside and comes out with the last of the mini Olallieberry tarts in the pastry cabinet, and graciously shares scrumptious bites of it with all of us. YUMMY!! (Thanks, Christina!). So we all enjoy a relaxed picnic under the apple tree behind Norm’s. The skies have turned sunny today, and it feels like the perfect summer day for a picnic.
Discussing the route (Alan is considering taking a shortcut back, legs dying from the hills today), we discover than in the process of editing the map in bikely.com, I have inadvertently deleted two of the key points of the cue sheet 1) turning LEFT out of Norm’s Market parking/picnic area back onto Stage Road, and 2) turning RIGHT from Stage Rd onto Hwy 1. Fortunately, these are almost no-brainer directions (at least for those of us who know the roads), but i’m glad for the defect to be pointed out…. and now corrected in the map/cue sheet on bikely.
Today there is an Art Festival in downtown Pescadero (in the section just south of Pescadero Road). We roam down there to check it out, but Alan decides to get a head start on Stage Road… I am the last to leave Norm’s (shedding those extra tights, waiting my turn for the porta-john), so when i catch up to the others at the festival, i see a few bikes, but none of my riders, then see Christina looking at the pretty batik clothes in the first vendor’s stall. I decide since my home and closets are spilling over with all manner of chotchkies and excess clothing, the festival holds less of my attention than for the other riders, and I also hope to catch up to Alan to give him encouragement for the rest of the ride. Stage Road can be long and can feel hilly and hot sometimes…. it can also feel hard when there’s a headwind like today. Luckily, I find the winds to be holding low. Still, I don’t see Alan in the stretches and long curves on Stage Road ahead of me, so i’m guessing he’s feeling stronger than he seemed at lunch.
I also thought I had seen another rider way back on Stage Road that I thought might be Steve, so I thought he would catch up, but then fell further and further behind and finally out of sight, so I just went on, half-thinking I might still catch up with Alan, still amazed that I wasn’t catching him!
At San Gregorio, I cross Hwy 84 to continue on Stage Road. (San Gregorio General Store is great place for a snack/drink stop on a hot day, by the way…. so why do i somehow always forget that Stage Road is cut in two by this town at Hwy 84?, the first half between Pescadero and Hwy 84/SanGregorio, and the second half from there to Hwy 1). Even with my somewhat faulty memory, I love how this section meanders stealthily just below eye level of the motorists up on the ridge to the left on Hwy 1… I wonder momentarily why all those drivers chose to stay up on the Hwy, then i recall the stunning views of the surf and rocks on that side…. AHA! so, it’s good for everybody, yes? Still, i love the idea of being on this lovely, pristine, less-traveled country road that I have almost almost to myself with just a faint hint of the traffic buzzing on the highway over there. On the last stretch of Stage Road, I finally see a rider who looks like he might be Alan. But he turns the corner just before I can get there….. and then there is a huge black pickup truck hauling a large contraption like a cement mixer who has suddenly passed me and pulled in front at the stop sign, leaving no space for me to slide in to make my right-hand turn onto Hwy 1. We wait our turns, the truck and I, for the northbound traffic on Hwy 1 to clear enough for a safe entry…. by this time Alan is further ahead but still in view. I press on with a little bit of extra power…. I want Alan to experience the serene and beautiful Lobitos Cutoff Road and Verde Road portions of the route as a quieter, prettier, and probably easier home-stretch than Hwy 1 due to the headwinds on the latter. As I approach the downhill section, I know my chances of catching him are slimmer, and indeed just as I reach Tunitas Creek Road, he as just passed it by about 25 yards… I call out but don’t have the energy or the will to chase further, realizing he made a conscious choice to head straight back to the car the shortest possible direction. I know he will have better energy on another day and there will be many opportunities to sample the other routes.
My own recollection of the lower Tunitas Creek Road section again does not disappoint. I pass by the Bike Hut, but don’t have a need to visit today; and remembering how I cramped at the base of Higgins Canyon Road the last section of this ride the first/earlier time I road it in April, I decide to just take a very easy pace along Tunitas/Lobitos Cutoff/Verde/Purisma Creek to save my legs for that last hill. I also remember having LOTS of conversation on that ride… basically Cliff and I were just chatting it up the entire ride, so I didn’t notice (or perhaps had forgotten) that it was a much longer distance from the Bike Hut to Lobitos Cutoff Road than I’d remembered (and the turn onto Lobitos Cutoff Road was certainly not “right near the Bike Hut” as I’d told my riding partners today; also, further along the route, the piece on Verde Road was not “just a short distance” before the turn onto Purisma Creek Road, as I’d indicated on the cue sheet!!
In any event, the serenity of this ride, just rolling along at a relaxed pace solo (from mile 31 to the end), was probably different from how i’d anticipated my Birthday ride (what with all the “usual suspect” bike buddies pre-committed and/or out of town on other adventures), but it is highly enjoyable in its own right. I actually think of cycling as a solo activity anyway (except on the tandem, when communication with the other becomes essential for the smooth operation of the machine is intrinsic and inseparable to the ride), and as much as I sometimes think of myself as a social butterfly, more than likely, i’m in my own little world and thoughts when I ride.
Purisma Creek Road stretches northeastward for quite a distance, and the distance is most certainly longer when you are just riding along with your own thoughts. The road rises slightly over the valley floor, past the ecology center and the thoroughbred horse ranches, and then winds back eventually toward a more wooded scene. If I hadn’t already ridden this route once before and also followed it on the mapper/cue sheet maker with my own eyes creating it, and known and even shown how the last portion is a little triangle from the southwest to the northeast then back to Hwy 1, I am starting to feel somewhat “lost” and would definitely be inclined to turn around and imagine I couldn’t possibly be going the right direction, too far east, too close to the redwoods and steeper hills. The terrain changes from brown fields to woodland, the air smells wetter, more mossy. Wilder, more remote, yet — hey where are all these people coming from – and lots of cars parked on the side of the road…. and I now know I am finally approaching the end of Purisma Creek Road (where it literally dead-ends into a trailhead) and the beginning of Higgins Canyon Road (a sharp uphill left turn westward and then the road disappears again on the uphill as it approaches the first righthand turn.
Higgins Canyon is maybe one of my favorite roads now. Visually, the top is a bit like the ridge line of Coleman Valley Road or King Ridge, but not as big, not as long, and definitely not as steep as either one of those beauties. Just a small slice of pain, thank you! I like it that I was able to take my time on the last 1/2 of this ride, and I’ve saved my legs enough to enjoy this one last hill and not cramp like I did before. The first few turns take me immediately up onto a ridge where I am looking over (on the left) back onto the verdant canyon floor and the last stretch of Purisma Creek Road I’d just come from. Up ahead, a long stretch of the modern and much more luxurious version of a saltbox shaped farmhouse… comical now, since I know that on the earlier trip that it seemed to loom in the far distance, in light of my cramped thighs. Today, I just see the farmhouse as a distance marker for the downhill and it’s not even that far away. (I recall Cliff pedaling just about as slowly as anyone could do on purpose, to stay with me as I walked my bike up Higgins the last time, and although I had told him he could just co on and i’d be fine, I am still thankful for that gallantry! Would have worn me out trying that! I think he was looking at it as a different way to do leg presses?). Anyway, on this ride, I’m on my own. Nobody to keep me company, nobody to distract me from my purpose of finishing the ride without cramping.
I reach the top ridge of Higgins Canyon without difficulty, thinking it much shorter and easier than what it seemed in April. I round the curve right/left at the top and I’m on the final descent back to the start. It’s about 2 miles of gorgeous, nicely paved downhill from that point. The western side of the canyon is drier than the eastern side, and there are a few cars and trucks coming around blind corners on this one-lane road. Everyone is safe and courteous, and staying where they need to be on the road.. even me. The road slices through the valley floor in a nice curving swath, even after the descent, and then suddenly i’m buzzing along in the motherlode of central coast agriculture, between the fields of dark green Lacinto kale (or maybe collards?), field-workers’ mountain bikes parked in the rows of green leaved goodness.
Rounding the last corner, the Half Moon Bay firehouse and the intersection of Hwy 1/Main Street/Higgins Canyon Road is in front of me about 1000 yards away.
I pull in and toward my car. Look for Alan (gone). But then I see Steve and Sally, who it turns out took the first Verde Road bailout back to Hwy 1 (after the Tunitas Creek/Lobitos Cutoff Road section, I believe? where Verde almost joins the Hwy before heading straight ahead and paralleling the Hwy all the way toward Purisma Creek). Sally reports she just didn’t have the legs today. Being the gentleman that he is (and health-conscious person extraordinaire), Steve had brought fresh-picked tomato-plums from his garden… which I mistook for cherry/plum tomatoes until I bit down on one last night… oh so sweet and delicious! Wow! What a wonderful post-ride treat (I hope he found Purisma Street in downtown Half Moon Bay… where he was looking to visit a nursery there; i thought I’d seen that name from the highway, but now realize I couldn’t have, as it is just one west of Main Street, several blocks inland from the highway and running parallel to both).
Steve and Sally reported that Christina had chosen to follow the entire route, so I imagine that was Christina I saw back behind me on Stage Road. Sally asked if I was thinking of getting something to eat down there, but I had my PeanutButter, Jelly, Banana and Arugula sandwich that I’d somehow forgotten to pack into my jersey pocket after my pre-ride costume change, and also knew that Ben would be home maybe expecting me for dinner. Sally headed toward town, interested in cleaning up a bit at the public restrooms just off the square. I intended to follow quickly, but it took longer than i thought it would to repack my bike and stuff, then I waited around at the car for a while longer, mistaking cyclists coming down Higgins in the distance for Christina.
Finally drove down into town, eventually found the public restrooms (southwest/left-hand side of Main/Kelly), and took a quick rub down at the sink with my camp towel after using the restroom and dressing into my civilian clothes. As I drove out of town, I had some regrets about not sharing a meal with the other riders. However, the sandwich was mighty tasty as i motored along in the slowed afternoon traffic between Half Moon Bay town and the end of the harbor.
Drive home was pleasant, in spite of a new-type Chevy SUV about 4 cars ahead that just didn’t have any ummph, and almost came to complete standstills for no logical reason (other than having a crappy engine and/or a crappy driver at the wheel) with no traffic in front of it/her. So irritating that I made a point of looking and shaking my head at the driver when she finally pulled into the right-hand turning lane in downtown Pacifica. Yeah, my own brand of road rage, i guess.
Ben cooked green chile pork and the cast iron dutch oven pot was still hot when I arrived home. I made a salad and we feasted together over a glass of Napa Zinfandel from one of the wineries we’d visited last Sunday on the first installation of my birthday week.
All in all, a fine week, and a fine ride today. Thanks again to Christina, Sally, Steve and Alan for sharing it with me! If you’re tired, maybe it’s because (if you can believe Bikely.com) the elevation gain was about 7700 ft? Not sure i trust those numbers, none of the climbs are that long or steep… Stephanie’s estimate (last time) was about 4500 ft, which sounds more like it. Cue sheet and map here: (now revised to take out the errors/omissions that had happened on one of the editing sessions; however, for the adventurous of heart, it still contains the full detour out around the lighthouse as well as on Pigeon Point Road eastward)
And for all my peeps who missed it for injury, work, and other stuff, not to worry – we’ll list this one again….. it’s definitely a keeper and one to experience many times in the future!
(8/20/12 – update: I took out some junk that occurred at the start of the mapping that erroneously looped around HMB town before setting south on Hwy 1. So the original route now has the 56 miles I also recorded on my cyclometer (minus the un-ridden 1/2 mile spur up Pigeon Point Road to Hwy 1 and back down). My stats for Saturday:
36.3 mph max
11.9 mph avg
4:37:11 saddle time
73.26 ft elevation gain according to bikely.com (i think that’s not true?)
Here’s the map:
Additionally, I have now devised a second version, 61+ miles, also cleaned up in this section, which eliminates the “upwind” spur from the lighthouse to Hwy 1, but still does the short inland loop eastward on Pigeon Point Road after the lighthouse. This version also includes an “out-and-back” extension along Gazos Creek Road from the intersection at Cloverdale Road to what I believe is the turnaround point, i.e., where the pavement of Gazos Creek Road ends and dirt begins at South Fork Gazos Creek Road: http://www.bikely.com/maps/bike-path/copy-of-half-moon-bay-pescadero-loop
About 6400 ft climbing; Enjoy!