Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Skyline Ramble 200k

Today’s route takes us from the cool, hip, coastal city of Santa Cruz down to the hot, dusty town of Watsonville, then straight up the Santa Cruz Mountains and along the ridge, aptly called Skyline Boulevard, for about 40 miles before dropping down to the Pacific Ocean and glorious Highway 1 back to Santa Cruz. It will be a 125-mile loop and include well over 8,000 feet of climbing. Of course, CycloMonkey was up for it yet slightly concerned since this would be the farthest he’s ever ridden.


The “Skyline Ramble” is a so-called permanent route for randonneurs. That means it can be ridden whenever you like, so long as you make appropriate arrangements with the route’s owner beforehand. August 16 was the chosen date with the assumption that it would be hot in the East Bay and cool on this route – perhaps downright cold along the coast.

Like brevets, a permanent has a specific route with specific checkpoints – called controls – that must be proven with a time stamp (receipt from a local store) within a certain time window. Going too fast is never my problem, but I can’t afford to spend too long at the stops either. In places were civilization is lacking, answering a question may substitute as a control stop albeit without a time stamp. Such is the wrinkle of riding with randonneurs.

Many years ago, I rode the “Tour d’Organics” in the Santa Cruz area. That was a red-letter day because it was over 110 degrees in the East Bay and over 100 degrees in Santa Cruz, itself. It was a brutal ride and afterwards we got news that some older folks who lived in Santa Cruz had died due to the heat (air conditioning is rare in the city). Today was shaping up to be a similar day!

Sage Advice

Never try something new on a long ride. I got a new pair of gloves and a new pair of shoes a few weeks ago. I put a few hundred miles on both, so no worries. I did experiment with how tight my shoes were and had that all dialed in. Except for an odd squeak from my left shoe, everything was perfect.

Hydration would be important, at least for me; stuffed monkeys don’t need any. For humans, hydration starts several days in advance. It’s not just about having water in your belly. It’s about getting every single cell in your body saturated with as much fluid as it can hold. Because during the ride you’ll need those cells to carry nutrients to your aching muscles and you’ll suck every last molecule of fluid back out of those cells. Of course, if you are basically cotton like most stuffed animals, then the goal is anti-hydration – not absorbing sweat from your companion. So CycloMonkey was duly protected in my back pocket. I also wanted to be as light as possible since carrying a few less pounds up that mountain would be appreciated. Fortunately, I had lost the four pounds I had picked up in the past few weeks and still managed to top off my fluids. Surprisingly, even four pounds is noticeable on the climbs.


I packed my bags, preflight; zero hour – 5am. CycloMonkey did not wake up but he was in my bag full of gear and food (the bag was; CycloMonkey was full of anticipation). We slipped out of Pleasanton in the pre-dawn and surveyed the unremarkable sunrise as we headed toward Santa Cruz. No traffic at this time of the day, so soon enough we parked at the Safeway on the north side of town, nursed the requisite café Americano and suited up for the ride. 7am, time to traverse the length of town and escape out the southern end before the locals awake and the throngs of Silicon Valleyites start rolling over the hill. Peaceful town while it’s sleeping – exaggerated by the silence of the Prius that waited with us at the stoplight by the town clock.

Navigational Errors

I’ll lump all my screw-ups in one paragraph to minimize the drag on the story. (#1) Having ridden in Santa Cruz a handful of times, I turned onto Bonita by rote only to realize I shouldn’t have. After retracing my path and going a half-mile further, I gave the Bonita directions to an Aussie cyclist who was heading to Moss Landing and had missed his turn. Fair enough. (#2) I was using a GPS route for course directions that I exported from Roland Bevan. Up in the mountains where satellites are concealed by trees and canyons, I kept saying out loud, “where are you going, Ro?” as his GPS track darted hither and yon – I assume mine was doing the same. There’s only one road, so I trust it and keep rolling. (#3) I almost overshot Highway 84 but only by a hundred yards or so. (#4) Then I completely missed the Stage Road shortcut at San Gregorio and enjoyed the scenery along Highway 1 with hundreds of cars. I had to back-track to Pescadero. Otherwise, I did reasonably well in the navigational department.
From the Redwood Forest

Temperature Profile

It was barely 60 degrees at 7am when I started. I opted for a base layer, arm warmers but no leg warmers. Not knowing if the weathermen might be completely fooled, I also brought along my vest. Twelve hours from now, the fog might roll in and make the coastal return leg miserable – was not to be. The temps climbed slowly as I went down to Watsonville and then up Eureka Canyon to the top of the hill. I switched from arm warmers to arm coolers. By the time I hit the first clearings in the trees up there, the temperature was mid-80s and dry. CycloMonkey was unfazed. The whole Highland Way – Summit Road – Skyline section of the ride continued to climb both in altitude and temperature. The stretches of clearings got longer and longer and pretty soon we were baking in near-100 degree heat. And just like the elevation profile, once we turned downhill at Highway 84, the temperatures dropped appreciably – which I appreciated! Of course, it was still reasonably warm – back to the mid-80s. Even after 6pm, when we rolled back into the Safeway parking lot, it was still comfortably warm.

Memorable Moments

It’s interesting how the memory works on such a long day. There are no abrupt transitions so everything blurs together. You occasionally realize that hours have gone by. The soundtrack for the day was the last song I heard on the radio: Cheap Trick, Surrender. “Mommy's alright, Daddy's alright, they just seem a little weird” recurring throughout the day as if it were normal. It would drive you insane if you actually heard the same lyrics all day long, but if your mind serves up the song then sanity is secure.

Certain sections that I’d ridden before had been repaved. The pavement up Eureka Canyon to Highland is still dreadful, unfortunately. It’s almost like off-road and I worried about breaking a spoke or worse. I wasn’t completely conscious of the county lines but I assume the differences in pavement quality vary significantly by county and the tax brackets of the inhabitants. The views were amazing from the ridge, except for some haziness which may have been due to the wildfires burning hundreds of miles to the north. There was also aggressive haziness in the form of diesel soot and smoke from a truck along Summit Road – apparently I annoyed him. At times I was aware of the filtered brightness on either side of the road – through the trees were expansive views of mountain valleys, confirming that I was on the ridgeline.

The description and warnings for this route mentioned a well-placed hot dog stand at the Saratoga Gap. And like a parking lot oasis, Mustard Mike was there. CycloMonkey needed something cool and refreshing. Despite the idea that we’d be riding along the ridge at nearly constant elevation, it seemed like there was relentless climbing along Skyline. The profile shows it peaking around Highway 9 but it didn’t feel that way! Knowing these roads are world-famous for cycling, I was surprised by the general lack of cyclists throughout the day. There were a few but except for Woodside, there weren’t many out in the heat. And speaking of Woodside, the crowds of tourists and motorcycles were unbelievable at Alice’s Restaurant and the deli across the street where I ate. Testosterone, unburnt gasoline fumes and unmuffled exhaust – the weekend alter egos of middle-aged men distinguishable only by their destination Harley Davidson T-shirts (Virginia was the farthest away that I saw). Heading down the west side, the traffic on Highway 84 went at pretty much the same speed as me, so they weren’t bothered by the lack of passing opportunities. I should mention how utterly beautiful it was, although I got increasingly blasé about the jaw-dropping scenery. But nature has a way of correcting even the most jaded. Once clear of the trees on Highway 84, the scenery becomes dominated by meadows which lull you into a false sense of drowsiness until you snap to attention at the first sight of the Pacific Ocean. And then the wonderment returns. Such a spell the sea holds over you (and your monkey)!
CycloMonkey at Mustard Mike's
CycloMonkey at Alice's Restaurant

Henry Weinhard's Root Beer
The return route takes some inland roads parallel to Highway 1, which could be in any flyover state – sparse, gently rolling hills with no indication of the vast ocean to the west. We return to the coast briefly until the cruelty of Swanton Road forces me inland up a steep climb. It’s nothing compared to the morning’s climb but after 110 miles I’m in no mood for it. CycloMonkey is always in the mood for climbing, of course, and my legs are actually not screaming. It’s mercifully short and I’m looking for the fire station and the last control stop. Then back to the coast to pass the tiny town of Davenport and then another 45 minutes until Santa Cruz. Davenport was the finishing town for the first day of the Heart Across America ride. Finishing a big ride makes me crave beer so CycloMonkey and I had an ongoing debate about stopping in Davenport for beer. I’m not opposed to having a cold one during a big ride, especially when the remaining miles are relative easy. If Davenport were a control stop, the receipt would have been for beer – but no.

The final miles of a big ride give you a brief bit of renewed energy. Either that or the belief that there’s no reason to save the energy so go ahead and hammer away. With the warm sea breeze at my back and the fresh blacktop, I was rolling about 25mph when I could. The route guidance counted down the miles until the finish and before I knew it, we were at Safeway again. Ah civilization! People buying way too much stuff and leaving their shopping cart in the parking spot instead of the cart corral just 20 feet away. The impressive diversity of the Santa Cruz citizenry. I buy the long-awaited beer. But it will have to wait even longer until I get home – even in Santa Cruz they don’t want people chugging a brew in the parking lot, and imbibing while driving is stupid as well as illegal. So I crank up the air conditioning to keep it cool and head for the highway home.


Lest you think driving home from Santa Cruz is unblogworthy, well, you apparently don’t live around here. Nothing can be worse than traffic over the hill on a super-hot Sunday afternoon or evening. I thought it was going to be okay, just loose traffic and 40mph heading up the hill. But once the sun caused the visors to drop and the road leveled off in anticipation of the downhill turns – brakelights. Stop and go and no more than 15mph for close to an hour. Ugh. Now I can feel my tired, achy legs. Now I can feel the heavy eyelids. Fortunately, my last remaining Clif Bar was a caffeinated Cool Mint Chocolate flavor. It’s not much but it helped. Finally the constipation subsided and 70mph was the norm. 

Home by 8:30pm; beer on ice while I shower. Strava. Catch up on the events of the day with my wife and enjoy my beer. Another 200k in the books.

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