Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Lean Legs & Ham 200k Permanent – Through the Eyes of History

On Saturday, 10 of my friends met me at Safeway to ride up Mount Hamilton. This particular route is a “Permanent” in Randonneur terms – meaning that it is a specified and approved route with certain checkpoints and time limits. The receipt for my cup of Americano from the Starbucks inside Safeway served as my initial check-in at 0700 hours.
Strava Map of My Ride
Dublin Boulevard runs east and west through Dublin, right along Interstate 580. Long before 580 was built, this was the Lincoln Highway. The Lincoln Highway was effectively “The Main Street Across America.” It was built in 1922 and actually pre-dates the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. – making it the first memorial to President Lincoln. Ironically for the eleven of us dodging traffic, it was the result of “The Good Roads Movement” which was initiated by cyclists in the early 1900s to promote pavement (instead of dirt roads, which automobiles seemed to tolerate). Back when most people rode bikes and only the wealthy owned automobiles. Some of the landmarks to the old highway are the F. H. Duarte “Highway Garage” on Portola Avenue in Livermore, the Summit Garage on Altamont Pass Road and the Mountain House Café.

The old highway follows Dublin Boulevard, then swings over to Dublin Canyon Road while we stay on Dublin Boulevard up to Schaefer Ranch, then we rejoin it on a fast descent to Palo Verde Road where an innocent sign marks its place in history. If you are curious, see the interactive map.
If the twentieth century seems rather recent for you, consider Castro Valley as the route heads up Palomares Canyon. Castro Valley is named after Don Guillermo Castro (not Donald, but “Don” as in the Amador Valley Dons, the University of San Francisco Dons, or the Godfather himself, Don Corleone). Castro was a soldier in the Mexican army and a rancher. The area was initially inhabited by the Ohlone Native Americans, then part of Mission San Jose and then granted to Castro (Rancho San Lorenzo). According to Wikipedia, Castro had a gambling habit and had to sell of portions of his land to pay gambling debts. On this cold morning, no one discusses this as we climb up the steep side and then sail down the other side to Niles Canyon.
Niles Canyon, of course, is a narrow little road with barely any shoulder for cyclists. In certain sections, train tracks run on either side. The popular rails are used by freight trains and the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) train that many of us use to commute to work in Silicon Valley. The lesser used rail belongs to the ages. This was an extension of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Yes history buffs, this was connected to the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit in Utah where the Union and Central Pacific Railroads met shortly after the Civil War. It did for train travel what the Lincoln Highway did for automobile travel after it. But it does nothing for this band of cyclists. However, it does give us a little train station and a porta-potty where we stop and then pick up a few more riders.
After a short break, 14 of us roll past the town’s statue of its most famous mayor, Bosco the dog, and then the Corinthian-style Sunol Water Temple. For many of us, the next segment is familiar as our twice-weekly commute (when we are not on ACE), and hence the pace quickens to the surprise of the newcomers. Consciously slowing, conserving for the hundred miles and 10,000 feet of climbing remaining, we head past Ohlone Regional Park and up the hill. Down below us to the south is Calaveras Reservoir, an earthen dam. At its completion in 1925, it was the largest earth-filled dam in the world. Right now, the water is low to facilitate repair (technically, I think it is actually a full replacement). Signs warn of construction. The end date on the sign has a different font, reflecting the numerous extensions to completion date – currently slated for 2018. Local cyclists refer to this section as “the rollers” which end at “the wall”. Along the way, we join even more of our friends who had left Sunol slightly before us. Disconnected from the transcontinental history beneath our wheels, we talk of our friends and loved ones currently on a transcontinental ride called Heart Across America.
Atop the wall, some of our party turn back, some turn right and the rest proceed left - up the steep section of Felter Road, around to the backside of Sierra Road. Thanks to the Tour of California, Sierra Road is world famous. And we've all climbed it. But today, we are taking the easy way. Descending. Not to say that such a descent is easy, it certainly has risks and tight corners and distractingly breathtaking views of Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay. The speed is forgotten at the bottom as we wait in vain for an interminable left turn light. Talk turns to those devices that are designed to help cyclists trigger the inductive sensor controlling the lights.
Soon enough we reach the title track of this ride, Mount Hamilton Road. The Spanish name for Mt. Hamilton was the Sierra de Santa Isabel and the highest point was originally known as Mount Isabel instead of Mount Hamilton. But on a surveying expedition for Josiah Whitney (of Mount Whitney fame), William Brewer invited his friend, Laurentine Hamilton to join. Near the summit, Hamilton - as a joke - ran ahead and pretended to lay claim to the summit. Brewer suggested the mountain be named after Hamilton only after Whitney declined to have the mountain named after him. But we are getting ahead of ourselves - and of our fellow riders.
First, we need to climb. The road was built in 1875–76 at a steady grade of less than 6.5%, sufficient to allow horse-drawn wagons to carry materials and equipment up the mountain for the observatory. The road rises over 4,000 feet in three long climbs. According to Wikipedia, the road has 365 curves, one for each day of the year. This may be true, depending on your definition of the term "curve." We didn't count them.

Lick Observatory is visible from most anywhere in Silicon Valley and is named for James Lick. Lick was not an astronomer; he was a carpenter and a piano maker. Apparently, in the years before California’s statehood, you could make a lot of money as a piano maker. Lick moved to California in 1848 and bought property in San Francisco. He convinced his friend from Peru to move also, Domingo Ghirardelli, who started a little chocolate factory that you may have heard of. The following year gold was discovered in them thar hills. Timing is everything. In 1874 he suffered a massive stroke. At the time he was the wealthiest man in California and he set about dispersing his wealth before he died in 1876. He had an interest in science and bequeathed the money for the observatory that we were slowly climbing toward. One stipulation was that Santa Clara County build a first-class road for it, and we are thankful. Somewhere at the base of one of the telescopes is a brass tablet stating: Here lies the body of James Lick.
After taking in the sweeping views, refilling our water bottles and snacking from the vending machines, we head down the back side of the mountain. SR130 becomes San Antonio Valley Road and is a white-knuckle ride downhill. It’s important to have plenty of water because there is precious little civilization out there. There is a community called San Antonio Valley (also San Antonio or San Antone) but I've never seen it. The 1956 Thomas Brothers map spells it San Antone – the way it is pronounced by locals, apparently (assuming they exist). In 1776, Anza and his explorers called the area El Cañada de San Vicente. The U.S. Postal Service established a Deforest Post Office in the area during 1892. It closed in 1909. Another 1924 map calls a group of buildings along San Antonio Creek, Deforest. The name comes from Ransford S. Deforest, the first Postmaster in the community.
In recent times, there has been talk of running a freeway through the area. The main proponent was former United States Representative Richard Pombo, the committee chairman and owner of extensive Central Valley property near the proposed freeway's path. The freeway plan has been quietly abandoned after Congressman Pombo failed in his reelection bid in 2006.
Blissfully unaware, we arrived at The Junction for a late lunch. I’m sure it has a rich history. But I am blissfully unaware.
With full bellies and low motivation, we start climbing again on Mines Road, heading toward Livermore. Large numbers are painted on the road, counting down the miles. As you might expect, this area had been a popular mining area. There are 87 mines listed online. Mineral deposits in the Red Mountain area of the San Antone Valley had been known since the 1870s and 1880s. Prospectors had located cinnabar (mercury), chrome and magnesite deposits. But it was not until the 1890s with the development of the steel industry that the magnesite deposits could be made to pay. The 1890s were heady times, trust me.

Local mines were opened approximately 14 miles south of Livermore off Mines Road, near a roadhouse aptly called the Fourteen Mile House. I think about this as we pass the number 14 painted on Mines Road, but I don’t mention it. Today, you can imagine that it would be difficult to transport minerals along this road. Imagine what it was like back then! The undeveloped nature of Mines Road up the Mocho meant that ore could only be brought down by pack mule. By this point, we are descending so the attractiveness of a pack mule has faded from my mind. Drafting at 30mph will do that to you.
During the 1920s and 1930s, mines were closed and then reopened. There was an upswing in activity during World War II with the need for domestic magnesite in the war industry (the Germans were the primary source beforehand), but after the war production dropped. By 1954 the mines were closed.
We spent some time on Tesla Road. I would love to devote many pages to Nikola Tesla, but this post is already too long. And I've always wanted to say that this is left as an exercise for the reader.
The city of Livermore is named for Robert Livermore, the rancher who was granted the Rancho Las Positas land. He was a Mexican citizen who converted to Catholicism in 1823 as required for citizenship. But he did not live there or found the city. He died in 1858 and is buried at Mission San Jose. Livermore was founded in 1869 by William Mendenhall. Cyclists and teenagers know of Mendenhall Road on top of the hill near Del Valle.
1896 Cycler's Map
In the 1890s, the roads through Livermore were some of the best roads between San Francisco and the Central Valley. And cycling was one of the main modes of transportation as it seems to be on Mines Road on this afternoon. See the 1896 Cycler’s Map and its key.
For a brief time, the east end of Livermore was not Livermore on the map. In 1864, a squatter appeared near what is now Junction Avenue. Alphonso Ladd planned to start a community called Laddsville. But fire destroyed most of it in 1871 and it was never rebuilt, the townspeople moving a half-mile down the road to Livermore. But the band of cyclists now reduced to a couple groups of three or four do not turn onto Junction Ave. We also do not venture down East Avenue, where bicycle races were held in the 1890s on the so-called “Lizzie Street course” (S. Livermore Ave.). Of note, the 1895 world record for the “paced” mile was set by Wilbur Edwards on this course with a time of 1:34⅟₂ minutes (38.5mph) on the hard-pack dirt roads. We coast down 4th street at a much slower speed. Then Stanley, Valley and Hopyard on our way back to the Lincoln Highway – I mean Dublin Boulevard.