Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mt. Hamilton (from the other side)

This weekend was a two-ride weekend. Besides my usual Low-Key Hillclimb yesterday, I had made plans to do a ride with my coworker Michael and his friend Tom.

They were planning on cycling from Livermore, over Mount Hamilton, and to San Jose. Michael's wife was dropping the two of them in Livermore in the morning. Unfortunately, they could only carry two bicycles on the car, and since Vaishali was out of town this weekend, I had no way to do the whole ride with them because I had no way to get dropped off in Livermore.

But I figured out a way to do at least a part (the most interesting part to me) of the ride with them. My plan was to drive up the San Jose side of Mount Hamilton, park at the observatory at the top, ride down the Livermore side of the hill until until I crossed paths with them. At that point I would turn around and pedal back up to the top.

I was happy to have a solution because I have ridden the San Jose side of Mount Hamilton but never the other side. The Livermore side is steeper, which made it irresistible to me.

I woke up Sunday morning with my legs still sore from the Saturday ride. This was a little surprising because I did not think it would have been that much of a strain. It was most likely because after the previous day's ride, I spent the rest of the day with friends and did not get to bed as early as I usually would before another ride. The soreness was not enough to make me seriously consider skipping the ride.

I woke up at 6:00, got ready, and left home at 7:15. There was little traffic on neither the highway nor on the road to Mount Hamilton from the San Jose side. But as I approached the summit, the wind became noticeable. All the vegetation was being blown vigorously, and I even felt the effects driving the car.

When I reached the summit, I parked at the observatory parking lot and walked to the building. I was not able to even walk in a straight line because the wind gusts were pushing me around. There was no way I could seriously consider riding down the other side of the mountain under these conditions. Any crosswinds while descending can make riding downhill tricky, but at these wind speeds it would be dangerous.

At this point I had two options. One was to skip the ride all together. The other was to drive down the other side to the base of the hill, and attempt to ride on just the flat part of the road. Cycling on flat ground is not tremendously interesting to me, especially if it is a two hour one-way drive from home. But there was a possibility that the winds would die down later in the morning, which made me decide that I should try riding.

I drove down the other side of Mount Hamilton. All along the descent, I could tell that it was still windy by how the vegetation was thrashing about. After five miles, the road leveled off and I found a very wide shoulder where I could park. I stepped out of the car and found that there was still some wind here, but much less intense. It seemed rideable, though a little cold.

I started pedaling towards Livermore, and after one mile, I warmed up and no longer felt cold. Although I thought the road would be flat, it rarely was. It winds through several dry creek valleys and over small hills. It is a narrow road with no outlet for miles, so there is usually little traffic. There were many more motorcycles than cars since the winding backroads all over the Bay Area are popular with motorcyclists.

After 18 miles of up and down cycling, with all combinations of headwinds, crosswinds, and tailwinds, I finally crossed paths with Michael and Tom. I turned around and joined them. They had left Livermore mostly when they had planned. Michael reported that the road out of Livermore contained a significant climb.

I explained the situation with the wind at the summit, and how my car was parked at the base of the climb. We made a brief stop at the only junction on the road (at which there conveniently was a cafe). Then we continued to where my car was parked. At this point we all shed our outer layers of clothing since the sun was now higher in the sky and we would be generating a lot of heat on the five mile uphill climb. This was also a good point to have a quick snack.

We started off together, but I fell behind fairly soon. I told the guys to just continue at their pace. If I had any problems, I could just easily coast downhill back to my car. For me, this stretch of road would not normally be particularly steep and difficult. But my legs were noticeably lacking energy this morning, so I could only keep a snail's pace.

I eventually reached the observatory at the summit where Michael and Tom were already getting some snacks from the vending machine and refilling their water bottles. When I first arrived here earlier in the morning, I was the only person. Now there were several cars and motorcycles, and just a few other bicycles here. I had exhausted my two-bottle water supply, so I filled up also.

At this point, we parted ways. They rode down the San Jose side to get picked up by Michael's wife Julie, and I headed down the Livermore side towards my car. It was a short ride back. To get back home, I had to drive back up the summit and down towards San Jose.

I needed to pick up Vaishali at the airport later in the day, so I had just enough time to pick up some food to eat and clean up before doing that. I reached back home at 4:00, so it was a long day of cycling (47 miles) and driving (82 miles). It was satisfying to have done this ride, especially since I had reconsidered it at several points.

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