A Thousand Potholes

Around 42 miles, somewhere in the 2100 calorie range.

I really do not recommend this route to anyone. This route was ridiculous! This route was EXTREEEME. This route deserves an energy drink named after it.

That long straight bar in the middle of the route is where I rode for a while but forgot to turn the GPS timer on. There’s a mile or two lost in there. My plan was to take Soquel/San Jose Road all the way down to the coast, but I was running very late and had almost gotten lost and had a low phone battery, so Pit Crew La drove up from Santa Cruz to meet me partway up the hill. I could have eventually added another ten or fifteen easy downhill miles to this route if I’d stayed on course, but oh well.

Though 5:00PM was late to begin such a long ride, Pit Crew La and Mira made sure I had a good start. I knew I’d spend at least some of the time riding at night; just the downhill part if I was lucky.

Along the Almaden Expressway I saw a new winner in the Trashiest Yard contest for San Jose. The anger I used to feel at seeing dumps like this has been slowly replaced by a creepy feeling of resignation. A heap of trash on a city street can’t just be a heap of trash to me any more. It’s become a reminder of socioeconomic injustice. A symptom. “Oh sure,” my mind whispers. “Go ahead. Clean it up today. It will simply reappear next week, when the same people who trashed it before trash it again.”

I still occasionally stop and pick up litter I pass in the street, but it’s more out of stubbornness than hope.

Out in the south foothills, where the “family compounds” and ranches are (often behind gates like the one in this picture), I saw this amazing plant specimen. Don’t know what it’s called. Anyone?

Right around here I also came across a duo of distance cyclers, and trailed just behind them in their draft for about half an hour. When I finally passed them I got a couple of very curious looks at the gadgetry mounted to my handlebars.

I dunno, maybe it does look strange. But there are definitely worse cases of festoonery out there. I’ve seen ’em in the bike forums!

I spent the next half hour or so listening to a biology lecture downloaded from ‘iTunes U’, and doggedly huffing up a twisty road. Then I arrived at a reservoir. The sun had dipped low on the hills, making that special dusk Magic Photograph Light, so I changed up the playlist to melancholy piano music, starting with ‘6 Banme No Eki’ from the Spirited Away soundtrack. Perfect for the scene.

The place was deserted. I was also surprised to discover that there weren’t heaps of litter around. I guess this is too far back in the hills to be The Cool Hangout that it appears to be.

No swimming or boating allowed… But the view is nice. That tiny island you see is actually a flotilla with several solar panels and some measuring instruments on it.

The San Jose hills, California

More of that Magic Hour sunlight. As I rode alongside the reservoir and the river that fed it, I kept the playlist on the piano music. This half hour was the part that made the whole journey worth it. (There’s been at least one so far in every bike trip, with the possible exception of the last one, where the Totally Worth It moment happened afterwards at the ice cream shop with The La.)

The last Magic Hour photo. After this, the sun was too low.

So. That body of water you see in the middle of the picture is the reservoir I just rode away from. A couple miles later the road forked and I turned right, and began ascending an extremely steep hill. Probably the steepest I’ve encountered. However, climbing it was not so bad, because it was almost completely deserted, and so I could ascend in zigs and zags, making a switchback motion. I’d only stick to the right shoulder when cars came by. About halfway up the hill, all the drivers passing me began to have comical, dumbfounded expressions. Like no one in the world could possibly ride a bike up this hill. Whatever, folks. It’s easy – just zig and zag!

You can see here the GPS data captured by all my zigging and zagging up that hill. When I got to the top of it (the junction at the middle-right of the above picture), it was nearing sunset. I phoned La and finished off my second bottle of water and a big wad of fresh green kale, then turned directly towards the mountain and began toiling up it. To amuse myself I listened to some creepy readings of Edgar Allan Poe. The Mask of the Red Death, and the one about the murderous alcoholic and his one-eyed cat. A small bat flew about five feet in front of me, over my headlight. At my next rest stop, 2/3 of the way up the mountain, the iPhone registered half empty.

A mile or so along, I stopped and ate a sandwich and called La again. Tried to get a picture of the moon with my old camera but it came out fuzzy.

The next picture was even worse. If I’d brought even a tiny tripod – something that would allow me to prop the camera in the middle of the road and take multiple exposures – I could have done a lot better. Oh well.

Beyond this point, the road became a closed road, part of the nature preserve that was off limits after sunset. A half mile further up and the preserve ended, with the borders marked by large emphatic signs along the shoulder. Forty yards beyond that, a bunch of confused college students had painted two messages side-by-side in huge red letters on a whitewash backdrop across the road: “FREE TIBET”, and “FUCK YOU”. Way to stay on-message, fellas.

So eventually I got to the top of the range. After a short break, I began to follow along it (that red line along the top of the Google Earth screen you saw above). What I quickly discovered (and what wasn’t obvious from the maps or even Google Earth) was that the road was not paved, but actually rocks and dirt. I spent every bone-jarring descent leaning on the brakes, and then had to weave all over the road to avoid potholes and large rocks on the way back up. The road also split and joined from many hiking trails, forcing me to stop every five minutes and use the satellite maps on the iPhone to find my way. And of course the signal drifted in and out. If I had the phone with GPS, this would have been completely unnecessary.

Eventually I found my way out of this tangle and reached the Loma Prieta outpost at the far peak, then turned south again. The road became paved, but was also in brutal condition. Easily the worst road I have ever ridden; worse than the dirt and rocks. Deep, gaping potholes cratered the road from edge to edge like dents on a golf ball, most half a foot deep, many deeper. Their edges were unforgivingly sharp, appearing as black crescents in the beam of my headlight. If I had a piece of chalk, I could not draw a straight line longer than ten feet in any orientation, anywhere on the road, without encountering a pothole. Oh and did I mention that this was all on a steep downhill grade? And that it was 1:00 in the morning?

I managed to avoid all but one of them, and luckily I was prepared for impact when I hit that one, but it still nearly knocked the wind out of me. If my saddlebags hadn’t been snapped shut I would have probably tossed water bottles and food wrappers all over the road.

Anyway, the road leveled out after a while and the potholes faded away. I then became worried that I’d missed a turn somewhere and was descending in the wrong direction, headed towards Highway 101 instead of Soquel and the coast. I stopped at a mailbox and entered the address that had been painted onto it into Google Maps. That dropped a marker in Mount Madonna Road, the road I didn’t want to be on. This was bad. Then the iPhone flashed a “20% battery” warning, which was worse.

I called La and tried to explain to her where I was headed. She said she’d look at her maps and call me back. I said I’d call her back in half an hour, then turned off the phone. The road was far too steep to ascend, so I continued down it. Presently I encountered a four-way intersection with a confusing sign posted on it. It was a street sign with two labels pointing in opposite directions. One read, “Loma Prieta Road”, the other “Loma Prieta Way”. I tried to suppress the feeling that I’d ridden into Wonderland, and biked around the area to get my bearings. Only a few yards along, Loma Prieta Road fanned out into FIVE ROADS. Two went around in a loop, two went downhill, and one went uphill and then dissolved into gravel and dirt. I turned on the iPhone and tried to call up a map, but got no signal. A cluster of mailboxes set back from the intersection was no help either – it was festooned with numbers, but no street names. And the boxes were all empty. Devoid even of junk mail.

Eventually I gave up and rode downhill again on the fourth branch of the intersection, directly away from the confusing street sign. Half a mile along I saw a real-estate signpost, with a box of flyers nailed to it. I drew out a flyer, and entered the address – 797-something Highland Lane – into Google Maps. “DID YOU MEAN HINDLAND LANE?” it asked me. “NO,” I responded. Then it dropped a map marker on Highland Lane, and hey whaddaya know, it was right next to Loma Prieta Way. Turns out I was on the right road after all. The confusing street sign half a mile back had been turned the wrong way, and the address painted on the mailbox several miles back had been the wrong address. Faaan-tastic.

I rode a bit farther and encountered Highland Way, just like I’d been expecting on the map. I was right on course. Excellent. I called La to tell her the good news, and got most of the way through my description when the signal dropped out and the call disconnected. So I shut off the phone to conserve battery, and rode on.

Eventually I found San Jose/Soquel Road and turned onto it. I had to stop and put on the sweater La gave me, since the coastal air was becoming evident. I coasted downhill for what seemed like an eternity. I got so bored with coasting, in fact, that I began to bellow songs out loud to myself as I descended. I got through “Women And Men”, “Yeh Yeh”, “New York City”, and half of “Birdhouse In Your Soul”, and then stopped to turn on my phone and call La. But the phone didn’t power up.

I cursed and ranted for a while, then began pedaling again. Not 30 seconds later, Pit Crew La came around a curve ahead of me and stopped! She is magical!!

We agreed that I was not allowed to go on treks like this again until I got my phone battery pack built, and unless I left much earlier in the day.

Then we went to the Saturn and ate burgers and salad! Whohoo!!

Things I learned on this trip:

  • Sometimes it’s good to have calm, even beatless, music on the player. For rest stops and photo taking, and rides in quiet areas.
  • When the phone goes dead it’s like losing a lifeline. On crazy adventures like these, I need that battery pack.
  • Rides along unpopulated roads are superior to rides along busy ones — except when those roads are in piss-poor condition and look like the surface of Mercury. Something you just can’t tell from even the most accurate satellite photo.
  • The Garmin Forerunner has a damn good battery life. It lasted over eight hours on this ride. I shouldn’t even bother pausing the timer on it. (And that way I won’t mess up and forget to restart it.)
  • GPS on the iPhone is not just a good thing for trips like these, it’s essential. R.A.M. better come out with their 3G style mount soon.
  • No matter how bright your light is or how tall you appear on your bike, your fear of mountain lions will make you crane your neck at every snapping branch.


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Castlevania – Belmont’s Revenge (GB) – Ripe Seedes22 of 352:29Konami Kukeiha ClubAkumajo Dracula Best 28/3/08 4:35 PM
Castlevania – Belmont’s Revenge (GB) – Praying Hands24 of 353:12Konami Kukeiha ClubAkumajo Dracula Best 28/3/08 4:38 PM
Thread-Dead (was 8:41)26:51Pro-TechCathedrals In Orbit Tweaked8/3/08 4:45 PM
One of Us11 of 175:01NikoFixed Techie Mix I8/3/08 4:50 PM
Peace on Earth12 of 174:42NikoFixed Techie Mix I8/3/08 4:54 PM
Halo (12”)16:42Severed HeadsStretcher8/3/08 5:07 PM
Spectre95:46Various ArtistsGhost In The Shell Megatech Body OST CD8/3/08 5:13 PM
Dead Eyes Opened Re Opened29:37Severed HeadsDead Eyes Opened8/3/08 5:23 PM
Dead Eyes Opened The Love Expr36:19Severed HeadsDead Eyes Opened8/3/08 5:29 PM
Dead Eyes Opened Spooked49:04Severed HeadsDead Eyes Opened8/3/08 5:38 PM
Heart of the Party1 of 143:45Severed HeadsGigapus8/3/08 5:42 PM
Better Harms and Heartbreaks44:15Severed HeadsHaul Ass8/3/08 5:46 PM
Interstate64:13Severed HeadsHaul Ass8/3/08 6:00 PM
6 Banme No Eki16 of 213:37Joe HisaishiSen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi8/3/08 6:09 PM
the room obscured81:00Harold Buddthe room8/3/08 6:10 PM
the room of ancillary dreams16:05Harold Buddthe room8/3/08 6:16 PM
the room of oracles24:43Harold Buddthe room8/3/08 6:30 PM
The Haunted Palace52:20edgar allan poe ( cd 1 )edgar allan poe ( cd 1 )8/3/08 7:06 PM
The City in the Sea33:06edgar allan poe ( cd 1 )edgar allan poe ( cd 1 )8/3/08 7:09 PM
Track 01116:18edgar allen poe ( cd 2 ) edgar allen poe ( cd 2 )8/3/08 7:25 PM
Earth Floor74:50Michael Brook + OthersHybrid8/3/08 7:33 PM
Little Fishes9 of 141:35Brian EnoAnother Green World8/3/08 7:34 PM
Nightstalker7 of 111:45Kenji KawaiGhost In The Shell OST8/3/08 7:36 PM
35.7c14 of 171:47Yoko KannoGhost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex OST 38/3/08 7:38 PM
Silhouette34:05Robert RichGaudi8/3/08 7:42 PM
The Abyss614:02Mathias GrassowHimavai8/3/08 7:57 PM
Track 03325:58edgar allen poe ( cd 2 ) edgar allen poe ( cd 2 )8/3/08 8:32 PM
Bergen’s3 of 154:50In The NurseryAsphalt8/3/08 8:38 PM
Precious4 of 155:34In The NurseryAsphalt8/3/08 8:43 PM
Lipstick6 of 202:22In The NurseryAn Ambush of Ghosts OST8/3/08 8:46 PM
White Robe 7 of 203:58In The NurseryAn Ambush of Ghosts OST8/3/08 8:50 PM
Funeral Part 1 Edit 14 of 203:20In The NurseryAn Ambush of Ghosts OST8/3/08 8:53 PM
Mars Rain5 of 96:46James BernardAtmospherics8/3/08 9:10 PM

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