To Santa Cruz: Yay, but oof!

12/4/21

Oof. Today was a challenge! The ride was beautiful, and my Santa Cruz Servas hosts are wonderful, but physically arriving here was definitely something.

The journey was 34 miles, with nearly 2000 feet of elevation to climb. This is more than I’ve been typically doing on this trip so far, although it’s definitely within the scope of what I thought I would be doing, and I do expect to have more days like this as the year progresses. The distance and climbs were only part of the challenges, though.

The ride started out beautifully, on miles of off-road bike paths leaving Campbell.

Unfortunately, in the midst of one of these paths, through a local nature park, I encountered my first obstacle: a trail closure. It was not the last such closure I would find today. And it was rather difficult to figure out—from the maps on my phone—how to navigate the closure. I wasn’t sure how much of the park was included.

I asked a jogger, who did his best to help, but he wasn’t sure either. Over the course of the next 40 minutes or so, I ran into at least two more blocked-off paths. I had expected that the day’s ride would take me the full seven hours or so of daylight I had allotted, so each barricade filled me with dismay and anxiety about how this might affect the rest of the journey.

On the third such barricade, I nearly despaired as to how I would manage to backtrack and get out of the park. Luckily, a kind ranger unlocked the gate for me (after joking that he would do it “for five dollars!”) I thanked him profusely, and told him I was heading to Santa Cruz. He seemed impressed by this, so I told him about my whole trip. He said, “Wow, you’re inspiring me right now! What a cool trip.” I said I hoped he could do something like this soon. He replied that he was nearing retirement, so he just might.

I hope he does.

Thus freed, I continued along the beautiful path. Before too long, I hit a gravel section. As regular readers will know, I’m not a big fan of gravel riding. Mostly the surface wasn’t too bad, though. (And the jogger had forewarned me of it, and said it was the type of gravel that isn’t too hard to ride on.)

But soon… I hit a grade.

Up until then, the paths had been mostly flat. I knew that the hills were coming up, but I had assumed/trusted that they would be paved. But no, here was gravel on a hill… ugh!

You can see from the photo that the hill was no joke. After pedaling a short while—where I took the photo—I realized I would have to get off and walk.

And when I did… I got even more stuck. Similar to when I tried to push the rig up that steep hill where my San Francisco Servas host lived, I found that I quickly hit a point where I simply could not go forward anymore: when I tried to push the handlebars, the bike’s rear wheel would come up from the ground, leaving me stuck against gravity trying to hold the bike and trailer.

Argh.

A couple guys came by at this point—one passing me uphill on his bike, like a beast, and one walking down the hill—but neither offered any help, nor even a word of sympathy. I think the cyclist was annoyed that I was in his way, and the pedestrian’s smile contained a hint of a smirk, I thought.

OK, I was on my own here. How on earth was I going to get through this challenge?

Before too long, I found a trick that did it: I could turn the bike’s front wheel sideways, and thus lift both bike tires off the ground. I used the handlebars as a handle to thus pull the trailer up the gravel, with the bike’s wheels off the ground.

This allowed me to move forward, but as you can imagine, it was not easy, especially since my right thumb and wrist are still limited/painful from my fall in Golden Gate Park a couple of weeks ago. So I had to stop several times on the relatively short hill, resting and breathing.

Resting and breathing became quite a theme for the next ten miles or so. I got past the gravel shortly after that hill, which was quite a relief, but then I encountered a long steep paved hill soon afterward. I tried pedaling up it, but needed to rest after just 50 pedal strokes in the lowest gear. When I stopped to rest and breathe at that point, the grade was too steep to start pedaling again afterward. So, I ended up pushing the rig up that whole hill, stopping several more times.

It was humbling. But I eventually made it to the top.

I was then rewarded by a gorgeous view of a reservoir. I stopped and rested for a snack on the pictured bench.

After that, it was still probably eight or nine more miles of climbing. Lots of resting and breathing. The scenery was beautiful, but at times it was hard to appreciate, since there were almost no rest stops, benches, or even safe spaces to pull off the road.

When I finally reached the summit, I had run out of water. I tried to stop at a small grocery store I found up there, but it was packed with people, and seemed to have no restrooms. I pressed on.

Heading downhill for the next several miles was at times exhilarating, but I was getting thirstier and now also hungry, and wishing for a bench to rest. No such luck. And it got pretty chilly in the shade, especially with the air rushing past as I descended. I did my best to enjoy the lovely scenery, but my mental state was not optimal.

Eventually, I made it close to town. When I did, I found a local park with a restroom, a drinking fountain to fill my water, and a sunny picnic table to eat a snack, albeit surrounded by screaming kids on scooters.

After resting, I continued on to my new hosts’ place. They showed me to my accommodation, a detached garage made into a cool guest cottage. The bathroom is inside the cottage, but the shower is outdoors! It was 57 degrees when I arrived, and the mercury was set to drop, so I jumped on the chance for a shower while it was still warm-ish and light out. The hot water felt awfully good after all the sweating and exerting I had done today.

After that, we shared a wonderful home-cooked dinner and some good conversation about travels past, present, and future.

I’m excited about my next few days here in Santa Cruz. I’ll be seeing a Portland friend tomorrow, and a friend of a friend the next day. Possibly others as well.

This adventure is not always easy, but I’m still loving it!

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