All posts by Michael Ballard

I have been the author and host of the Southern California Regional Rocks and Roads website - http://socalregion.com - since 1995. I study geology and highway history.

Central Coast Weekend – Wet, Wild, and Windy – Part 2 – Sunday, December 19

We decided on another early start for the day, planning to get to Monterey about dawn. We had a long day ahead, with lots of rain forecast. How much rain, we didn’t quite know. Our route was simple at first, taking US 101 to SR-156 over to Hwy 1. We took the old road through Del Monte, which still has old concrete exposed, then continued to Monterey via the freeway. It was still dark by the time we got to the old train station in Monterey, but we got photos anyway. Jake had wanted to test his new camera and see how well it did with longer exposure night shots. If it was just dark, it would have been easier. Winds and increasing rainfall made it much more difficult. Some of the gusts got up to the 30mph range, quite a lot for a camera on a tripod! We had a couple more stops to make before heading through Big Sur, fuel for the car and ourselves. We managed to take care of both in the same parking lot. After breakfast, we headed out, time for Big Sur.

Old Carmel River Bridge end cap, with date stamp.
Old Carmel River Bridge end cap, with date stamp.

Just as we crossed the Carmel River, I noticed what appeared to be a piece of bridge rail. We turned back around to get a closer view and it turned out to be a lot more. The end cap for the original Carmel River Bridge was preserved here in 1995. That bridge was washed out in March, and rapidly replaced with the current span. The end cap was placed here, along with a plaque, to commemorate the quick replacement of such an important bridge. Among others listed on the plaque, was a local businessman – Clint Eastwood. A couple miles south of the bridge, Big Sur begins. Well, maybe not officially, but for me it does – at the Curves Next 74 Miles sign.

Winds and waves just south of Carmel Highlands.
Winds and waves just south of Carmel Highlands.
Fog and stormy weather along Big Sur.
Fog and stormy weather along Big Sur.
McWay Falls.
McWay Falls.
We could see a long ways south, just not very high. Such a difference from my bicycle tour here in June!
We could see a long ways south, just not very high. Such a difference from my bicycle tour here in June!

Heading south into Big Sur, the weather was quite varied. It stayed pretty decent most of the time on the north end, but wasn’t as kind as we got further south. We stopped at a few bridges to take photos, one of them being the famous Bixby Creek Bridge. After stopping at the Ripplewood Resort to get snacks and take a break, I decided we should try to see Pfeiffer Beach. I hadn’t been there in quite some time and had wanted to visit. Now, being a very rainy day with creeks running high, you’d think heading down a narrow road in a canyon would be a bad idea. Well, it was. Aside from all the debris on the roadway, we were stopped by a creek crossing. It may not have been too deep, but I didn’t want to chance it. So, back up we went. I’ll return again when it isn’t quite as wet. At the top of the big grade after Big Sur, we hit fog. Normally, there would be a nice view of the coast from the top, this time all we saw was the road. After a rather quick descent, we got below the clouds, and could actually see a fair distance down the coast. We stopped again to see McWay Falls, which is always a beautiful sight, even in this weather. It didn’t rain the whole time we were there, but started as we left. At various times, the rain got really heavy, but didn’t bring down the rocks that I had thought it would. After Lucia, we went through a couple of sections of the highway that were being reconstructed. One section, at Rain Rocks and Pitkins Curve, a new bridge and rock shed are being built. That project is expected to be completed in 2012. From there, the highway wasn’t too bad, with the weather ranging from fog to dry. At Ragged Point, we just had to see how expensive fuel was there, and we weren’t let down – $4.799/gallon. Just remember, if you fill up here, it is by choice. Much cheaper stations exist in Monterey and Cambria.  A few miles further, about 74 miles north of the curves sign, the road hits a straightaway. With the Big Sur coast is behind us, the rest should be easy!

Elephant seals lounging. Some moving, most just laying about.
Elephant seals lounging. Some moving, most just laying about.
Some prefer to lay in the stream.
Some prefer to lay in the stream.
Very small pup, about two feet or so in length.
Very small pup, about two feet or so in length.
This was on the bike rack. Nice!
This was on the bike rack. Nice!

Near San Simeon, we stopped to see the elephant seals. It may have been raining rather steadily, but it was still worth the stop. At the south end, there was a new pup, very small compared to the adults lounging about.  I didn’t stop here in June on my bike trip. I was enjoying the tailwind too much. This time, it would have been a headwind, plus the rain. Continuing south, I noticed that all the creeks we passed over were flooding. It would be a sign of things to come, which we would find out soon enough. In Cambria, we looked for an old Auto Club parking sign, but to no avail, it wasn’t there. We did get some good cinnamon rolls at Lynn’s however.  We took the old highway through Cayucos, trying to follow more of old Hwy 1 when possible. At Morro Bay, we decided to skip the old road, but take another route around via Los Osos. Here we would encounter our first major flooding. The creek that runs into Morro Bay here, Chorro Creek was nearly up to the bridge. Just to the south of the bridge, it was lapping against the roadway. Yikes! Just a bit more and even this road would be underwater. Still, we kept on going, taking Turri Road instead of Los Osos Valley Road, which is a much more scenic alternative. I took the same route on my tour in June.  Jake certainly enjoyed it, comparing various spots to Colorado and even Norway.

Underpass just north of Guadalupe, where the SP Coast Line passes over Hwy 1.
Underpass just north of Guadalupe, where the SP Coast Line passes over Hwy 1.
Closer view, note the car under the bridge.
Closer view, note the car under the bridge.
UP Track Inspection Car, sorry about the blurry photo.
UP Track Inspection Car, sorry about the blurry photo.

South of San Luis Obispo, we left the freeway for a while, or so was the plan. Ontario Road, old US 101 north of Avila Beach, was closed at San Luis Obispo Creek. The whole valley floor was underwater, much to the chagrin of the cows we saw standing in a flooded field.  So, back onto the freeway we went. Even that bridge had only a few feet before it too would get inundated. After we crossed the creek on 101, we got back onto the old highway. The roadway to Avila Beach was also closed, and we could tell why. Half of the roadway was underwater here. We could only imagine how it was further down.  Things seemed to be ok as we headed south, but that would soon change. Just south of Pismo Beach on Hwy 1, we were greeted with another closure. This one was passable, barely. Most of the cars ahead were going through, so we did too. Not the best idea, but we could see how deep it was at least. The adjacent campgrounds were well underwater here. After heading a bit further south, we found another closure. This time, we’d have to detour. I knew some of the ways through Grover Beach, where this closure was located, but needed help. For the first time in a long time, I called the Caltrans Highway Information number (800-427-7623). They listed five closures for Hwy 1, five! None of them for Big Sur much to my surprise, all of them in this area. So, with that knowledge, we found our way back to Hwy 1, and to yet another detour. The grade past Halcyon Road was closed, so we took El Campo Road around the closure, back again to Hwy 1. The next known closure was just a few miles ahead, at the railroad underpass. We went over to see how bad the flooding was, and found a car with water up to the top of the doors underneath. I guess the detour was just too long for them to take! From there, we headed south to Guadalupe, where we spotted a Union Pacific Track Inspection car. I hadn’t seen one before, so it was neat to find. The next closure was south of 166, so we headed east toward Santa Maria, taking some other roads bypassing most of town. At Hwy 135, we headed south, rejoining Hwy 1 for a bit south of Orcutt. Jake hadn’t taken the old Harris Grade before, so we took that instead of the main road. It was a bit steeper and rockier than the current Hwy 1, and for the first time in a while, we were on the hill side of the roadway. So, now we had to deal with rocks on the road. Not many, thankfully. Light traffic on the grade also helped.

At Lompoc, we continued south on Hwy 1, through fairly steady rain, but no more flooding. The trip south from Gaviota on Hwy 101 was also uneventful, with the exception of the ever increasing traffic and the larger potholes developing through Goleta. Overall, the trip was a success, except for the flooding, road closures, and heavy rain. I was glad to get back home, and it was good timing that we did when we did. I checked the Caltrans and CHP site for more information, found that a few of the roads we had taken were now closed. Floodwaters did indeed rise above the roadway around Morro Bay, and Hwy 1 had yet more closures. Still, what a trip! I enjoy a bit of adversity on a journey such as this. Taking those detours allowed for greater knowledge of the area and to see different areas. Some of the roads weren’t ones I had any plans to take, but now know where they go, and if they are useful to me in the future. Each trip is different. Perhaps the next time, the roads won’t be so flooded.

Central Coast Weekend – Wet, Wild, and Windy – Part 1 – Saturday, December 18

My friend Jake and I left San Diego rather early, about 4:30 am. Our goal was to get up to the San Luis Obispo area as early as we could, so that we could take our time north of there to the Gilroy / Hollister area. It seemed to have worked. As we were making pretty good time, we decided to check out some old alignments of US 101 a bit earlier.  We followed some alignments near Gaviota and Buellton, both of which had good sections of old concrete. After that, we didn’t make any major stops until north of San Luis Obispo.

1930 Bradley Bridge.
1930 Bradley Bridge.
Piers for the original Bradley Bridge, just upriver.
Piers for the original Bradley Bridge, just upriver.
Pre-1939 alignment of US 101, with single-slab concrete and white striping.
Pre-1939 alignment of US 101, with single-slab concrete and white striping.

At Bradley, we stopped at the large bridge over the Salinas River at the north end of town. It was built in 1931, replacing a multiple through-truss span built in the 1910’s. Much to our surprise and enjoyment, we got a much needed break from the rain here. The break was just long enough to walk the span and take many photos. I hadn’t had the opportunity to really view the bridge, so this was quite welcome. Once we left the bridge, we took the old alignment of 101 south back to the freeway, taking a slight detour onto an even older alignment, bypassed in 1939. Most of it was still fairly well paved, complete with sections of double white striping. One spot, however, proved to be a bit trickier. Some years in the past, a small landslide took out a portion of the roadway. A short dirt bypass was made, which was rather muddy after all the rains. I got of the car to scout the roadway ahead, to see if it was passable. I decided it was, and the car was able to make it. It did slide a bit down the slope, but not to worry, it wasn’t a problem. By the time we got back to the main road, the tires had acquired a thick ring of mud, almost a new tire in itself. Hey, it’s a rental car right?

Original CSAA FAP sign from 1929. Note the diamond on top.
Original CSAA FAP sign from 1929. Note the diamond on top.
an Lucas Bridge - from 1915, at least the southern two spans anyway.
an Lucas Bridge – from 1915, at least the southern two spans anyway.

Getting back to current US 101, we continued north to San Ardo, where the old highway crossed the river again. The bridge here is very similar to the North Bradley Bridge, built in 1929, but without the old railing. In 2001, the span was seismically retrofitted and the old railing was removed. One thing that was not removed, and only discovered by us on this trip, was a 1929 FAP sign, complete with a CSAA yellow diamond. These are rare to find out in the field, so it was quite something to see. This section of the road, from San Ardo up to San Lucas, was the last section of two-lane highway on US 101 from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It was bypassed in 1971. It still makes a nice detour from the main highway, with little traffic to deal with. At the north end in San Lucas, there is another old bridge nearby, crossing the Salinas River on Lockwood-San Lucas Road. That bridge, from 1915, is a through-truss span. Some of the girders had Carnegie Steel stamped on them.

Still heading north, we arrived at Gonzales, where we diverged from US 101 to see another old bridge over the Salinas River. I first found this bridge in 2001 on my first bicycle tour. I wasn’t planning to take that route at the time, but had to make the detour as there was no other route available. The bridge, a 1930 through-girder span, reminded me of another bridge that was near where I used to live. Through-girder spans are rare, usually used by railroads not highways. Instead of returning to US 101, we decided to change course, and follow the River Road on the west side of the valley. I hadn’t been there before, and it took us north. So, why not take a different path?

We crossed back over the river near Chualar, and went back to US 101. We stayed on it until the south end of Salinas, where we exited onto Abbot St, the old alignment and business route. The southern end of Salinas had the distinction of still having old US highway shields in place until the early 2000’s. The signs are gone, but the porcelain business banners remain. We found two of them, one northbound and one southbound. Heading through Salinas started off alright, but as we got closer to the center of town, things went downhill – fast (or was it slow). Traffic increased, roads turned in confusing directions and we didn’t have a map. Still, we managed to get through town and onto the road we wanted – San Juan Grade.

Old sign with the straps still there for the old US shields in Salinas.
Old sign with the straps still there for the old US shields in Salinas.

San Juan Grade Road is the original alignment of US 101 from Salinas to San Juan Bautista. Having been bypassed in 1932, the roadway still retains most of its old feel. It wasn’t widened, and much of the original 15’ concrete is still visible. A few of the curves were straightened, but even that appears to have been done long ago. A lot of the old wooden guard railing is still in place, mostly on the north side of the summit. South of the summit, a few bridges with pipe railing are still intact. Rain and fog prevented a lot of good photos from being taken, but we still got a few. On the north side, in San Benito County, more of the old concrete was preserved. It was good to see such an old highway in as good a shape as this was. At the north end, where it met old SR-156, there was an old white directional sign from 1959 which was on our list of things to see. Having taken care of that, we headed east to Hollister. It was time for some geological tourism.

Old concrete and railing. A very nice mix.
Old concrete and railing. A very nice mix.
Sometimes, rocks will fall, this one was strangely stopped by the railing. Must not have been going fast.
Sometimes, rocks will fall, this one was strangely stopped by the railing. Must not have been going fast.
More old concrete on San Juan Grade.
More old concrete on San Juan Grade.
Nice old sign from 1959.
Nice old sign from 1959.

Hollister, not the town from which the clothing comes from, is a growing suburb in the southern Bay Area. It still has a lot of farms surrounding it, and still retains a lot of its old downtown. It also is well known to geologists. The Calaveras Fault, a branch of the San Andreas Fault, runs right through town. This particular segment of the fault creeps. Most fault move in large jolts, known as earthquakes. This moves along like a conveyor belt, but much slower. The results can still be quite dramatic. Along many streets in the northwestern end of Hollister, there are offset curbs and sidewalks. A portion of an old fault scarp is also visible, usually as an abrupt rise in the street. All the roadways crossing the fault have fractures, bumps, and lots of patching. The earth waits for no one, and is more than willing to show its power. Sometimes structures lie atop the fault, and they too have been made a bit askew. Some are just cracked, while others are twisted out of shape.  I noticed one such structure, on Suiter St, that was so badly cracked, I wondered how much longer it would stay up. It was certainly proof positive why the Alquist-Priolo Zoning Act was created.

Roadway cracking and bent curb on 7th Street next to Dunne Memorial Park.
Roadway cracking and bent curb on 7th Street next to Dunne Memorial Park.
Note the columns. House is a bit twisted from the fault creep, on 4th St.
Note the columns. House is a bit twisted from the fault creep, on 4th St.
More en echelon fractures on 5th St.
More en echelon fractures on 5th St.
4th St, notice the bend in the curb and cracked panels in the sidewalk.
4th St, notice the bend in the curb and cracked panels in the sidewalk.
Pavement has to be redone often here, it also sags a bit.
Pavement has to be redone often here, it also sags a bit.
Offset here is about a foot.
Offset here is about a foot.
Once straight, now bent.
Once straight, now bent.
Through Dunne Memorial Park, the low fault scarp becomes quite visible.
Through Dunne Memorial Park, the low fault scarp becomes quite visible.

After seeing all we could see of the Calaveras Fault, we headed out of town, first following the new alignment of Hwy 25. The new bypass runs to the east of town, connecting two places that 25 used to turn at. From there, it was on to Gilroy, where we stayed for the evening. Another adventure awaited us the next day – the Big Sur Coast!

Making Tracks for the Westside

In 2011, the newest Metro Rail line in Los Angeles will open. Running from downtown Los Angeles at 7th St/Metro Center station, to Culver City at Venice Blvd / Robertson Blvd, it will be the first new line to open since the Metro Gold Line in 2003. This bike ride was to follow that from Culver City to Santa Monica Blvd. I wanted to see what was left of the old Pacific Electric line, and photograph it. It also made for a nice bike ride. The Metro Expo Line (no color for it yet) was set to open this year, but numerous delays changed that.

The line west of Culver City, however, has been a bit more of a challenge. The section from Culver City to Sepulveda Blvd has been the most contentious of them all. A small group of people in the Cheviot Hills, where the rail line will run, have fought the construction of the line for so many reasons. None are valid reasons, as they are just plain silly from the start. One of their biggest complaints, as seen in the sign pictured, is that kids and trains don’t mix. Now… to that I agree. They don’t. Kids shouldn’t be playing on active tracks, much for the same reasons they shouldn’t on any one of the major thoroughfares in the area. It should be simple, teach the kids to not play in front of trains, but to hold up a major rail line for it? They take the stance of “build it right, or don’t build at all”. All or nothing is a rather poor way of doing things. Kind of sad really, but hey, the line will get built despite them.  Yeah!

Looks like the cars just pile up every time a train comes by?
Looks like the cars just pile up every time a train comes by?
They don't mix, but they can try to blend! Sorry for the blur.
They don’t mix, but they can try to blend! Sorry for the blur.

Now, back to the bike ride! So, after doing a bit of research using Google Maps and Street View, I found free parking right near the old Helms Bakery. Perfect, right near where I wanted to start. After parking and getting the bike ready, it was time to go. The weather was fairly decent, though a bit on the cooler side near the beach. I started off heading to Venice Blvd, then onto Exposition Blvd. Just before National Blvd, I saw the first tracks of the day. The first thing I noticed was the bonds between the rail segments. These were original Pacific Electric tracks from the 1920’s. I took some photos, and moved on. Heading west from here, I went under the 10, then headed west through the Cheviot Hills area – remember them?  Well, ignoring them and their silly signs, this is the best section of the whole line, certainly the most scenic. About halfway through the big cut here, there is a pedestrian bridge. It makes a great place to get photos, and will be a good place to watch the trains in 2015.

West towards National Blvd.
West towards National Blvd.
Rail bonding. Rails are from the 1920's.
Rail bonding. Rails are from the 1920’s.
Looking northwest from the bridge. This the the deep cut through the Cheviot Hills.
Looking northwest from the bridge. This the the deep cut through the Cheviot Hills.

After that, the next major hurdle was Overland Ave. There were some remains of a crossing signal there, so I got some photos. The rails were cut at the crossing, but were still there on both sides. After Westwood Blvd, I got a different idea. There was plenty of dirt between the rails, and no plants. As railroad tracks usually have lots of thorns around them, I was a bit leery of doing this. I still did it anyway. After all, it is a cross bike, gotta ride dirt at some point! It was pretty smooth overall, with some muddy spots. Just beyond Military Ave, the tracks ended, for a while. The east switch for Home Junction still remained, but after that, no more tracks. At Sepulveda Blvd, only the guard rail for a crossing arm remained. From here west, there wasn’t as much to see. I was surprised to see the tracks still in place, along with the remains of the west switch for Home Junction, at the edge of a parking lot west of Sawtelle Blvd. They just paved right up to the north rail.

At Westwood Blvd.
At Westwood Blvd.
A ready made bike path? Certainly plenty of space for double track.
A ready made bike path? Certainly plenty of space for double track.
Crossing at Military Ave.
Crossing at Military Ave.
One of the few crossings with rails still intact.
One of the few crossings with rails still intact.
Eastern switch at Home Junction. Expo Line continues straight ahead.
Eastern switch at Home Junction. Expo Line continues straight ahead.
Western switch at Home Junction. I-405 is in the distance. Expo Line is to the right.
Western switch at Home Junction. I-405 is in the distance. Expo Line is to the right.

After Pico Blvd, Exposition Blvd picked up again. This time, even less remained of the tracks. From what I could tell, they had been pulled up long ago. No trace remained at the road crossings, only the occasional crossing signal or pole remained. At Centinela Ave, it was time to go over to Olympic Blvd. This ride isn’t about the PE after all! Olympic Blvd is an old State Highway, former Route 26. West of Centinela, the roadway turns into a four lane divided roadway, complete with concrete. I had only driven the roadway before, so this would be a good opportunity to find a date stamp on the concrete.

1948 date stamp on Olympic Blvd.
1948 date stamp on Olympic Blvd.

Just after Cloverfield Blvd, I found two things I had been looking for. The rail line crossed Olympic here, with the rails still in place, and there was a date stamp in the concrete. The stamp was from 1948, a bit earlier than I had thought, as I saw a 1958 stamp in a curb just before Cloverfield Blvd. I continued down Olympic Blvd as far as Lincoln Ave. Why that far? Well, that intersection, or at least the modern equivalent (the 10 freeway has modified things around there), was the west end of US 66. US 66, the Mother Road, ending at such a bland location? Yes. It never ended at Ocean, never mind what the signs may say.  It always ended at the intersection of Lincoln Ave and Olympic Blvd. This intersection was formerly the junction of US 101A, SR-26, and US 66. The last two ended here, the first continued north to Malibu and Oxnard. After making some zigs and zags through central Santa Monica, I made it to Ocean Ave. Finally, the coast! It was a good place to take a break, enjoy the view from the cliffs, and figure out my next move.

At Barrington Ave.
At Barrington Ave.
East on Olympic. Nice landscaped median and concrete roadway.
East on Olympic. Nice landscaped median and concrete roadway.
Expo Line crossing Olympic. Note the gutters on the rails in the median.
Expo Line crossing Olympic. Note the gutters on the rails in the median.
My bike at the Palisades.
My bike at the Palisades.
Fog finally clearing. Note the abandoned and eroded path.
Fog finally clearing. Note the abandoned and eroded path.
Sort of correct, Santa Monica is the end, just not Santa Monica Blvd and Ocean Ave.
Sort of correct, Santa Monica is the end, just not Santa Monica Blvd and Ocean Ave.

I decided it was time to take some photos. There was a plaque for Will Rogers, and a sign stating it ended here. As stated before, it didn’t. Once I had taken my photos of the Will Rogers Highway plaque, I headed on south.  It was time to hit Venice and see what remnants of the Pacific Electric I could find.  I followed Ocean Blvd down until I could connect to the beach path. It wasn’t a busy beach day, so taking the path wasn’t a bad idea. Before I got to the beach, I found some reminders of why I like to ride there – SURFERS! Yes, it is always a good day for a ride here.  The trouble with the path is sand. Lots of sand. It is a beach path after all! It wouldn’t be so much trouble, if it weren’t for the very sharp curvy nature of too many sections of the beach path. Seems to go out of its way to put curves in places there should be none. Just gotta take it slow. After I got as far south as central Venice, I left the path. As it turned out, I was right at Venice Blvd.

Will Rogers Highway, nice place for a plaque.
Will Rogers Highway, nice place for a plaque.
Tracks at Broadway St in Venice. Yes, the PE lives on!
Tracks at Broadway St in Venice. Yes, the PE lives on!

I took Pacific Avenue for a while, looking for traces of the PE. I found some, a building that had loops for hanging the overhead wire.  After a while, I moved over to Main St, and followed it to the south end of Santa Monica. I was searching for a train station, but did not find it. Next time perhaps, when I remember to bring the address! No matter, I headed back south, following 2nd St this time, which eventually turns into Electric Avenue (yes, I did rock down to…. Electric Avenue, but I didn’t take it higher.) This follows another PE line, with some tracks still extant. There were two small sections of track, at Broadway St and Westminster St. I got my photos, and headed onto Abbott Kinney Blvd, which has sharrows. I took it just for that reason.

After roaming through Venice, it was time to get back to the car. No rush, but I decided to take the shortest route – Venice Blvd. The roadway is wide, with overall decent paving, and bike lanes both directions. Winds, the seemingly slight downhill, and my energy at that point in the ride seemed to meet. I kept a decent pace down the road, averaging about 26 mph, sometimes up to 30 mph. Not bad, I thought, as I noticed I was keeping up with traffic. With that, the ride took less time than I had thought it might, and I got back to the car just shy of two hours later than I started. Overall, a fun ride. I saw most of what I set out to see, with few problems.  The future of Los Angeles, it seems, lies in its past. Where there were trains before, there will be again. Instead of building a city as they did, they’ll keep it moving.

Milestones…

Everyone has goals, or at least should. Some are big, some small. At this point in the year, I have two for bicycling. My first, doubtful I’ll complete it, is to do another 100 mile ride this year. I don’t have to, just want to. With my weekend plans as they are for the remainder of December, it doesn’t look good. The second goal, however, will be attained. My cyclocross bike is nearing a milestone, with emphasis on the mile. For the first time, the odometer on the bike will read over 10,000 miles. It would have already gotten there, but I’ve been using my road bike instead on my commutes. At present, it is at 9911 miles. I’ll be riding the bike more on my commutes, and putting the 10,000th mile on a fun ride, the weekend of Christmas.

I do plan a sort of mini-celebration. Perhaps a nice glass of Moscato D’Asti would be in order? The bigger milestone is for myself, I’ve never ridden that much, ever. I never set out to do this, it just happened. It may be small for others, but a big deal for me.

When I look back at what records I have on the mileage, I can’t seem to figure how it got so high. Only about 4000 miles are commute miles, another 1000 on tours. That leaves 5000 miles just riding around, mostly around San Diego County. All of those miles have been since October 20, 2008, the day I bought the bike. I guess I really do ride a lot!

A Streetcar Named Huh?

My day was going along fairly smoothly until after breakfast. I had bicycled over to Babbo Grande, to meet a couple of friends for breakfast. We stayed a while, talked, and eventually left around noon. I was going to head back home, but decided to extend the ride. I continued north on Park Blvd, into University Heights. It was fun, basically going slower and checking out the businesses. I found a few restaurants I’d heard about, and want to try sometime. When I got to Adams, I turned right. Now, this sort of ride, doesn’t have a real direction. I just start to wander and go wherever my next decision takes me, instead of going to a specific place. It was after I turned onto Adams that thing took a whole new direction.

Parked in the middle of the roadway, at Florida St, was an old truck and trailer, what was on the trailer was something quite extraordinary. It was a 1915 San Diego Electric Class 1 car, a streetcar. This street, Adams Avenue, hasn’t seen such a sight since 1949, though this car hasn’t been on the rails since 1939. I decided to follow it, see where they were taking it. Turns out, it was on a “publicity tour” of sorts. They drove west on Adams then south on Park. I figured, I was ready for to follow them anywhere, until a freeway. The truck was going quite slow, blowing their horn a few times to attract attention. It did. Lots of people were taking photos, traffic slowed both directions on all the roadways they took. I followed them on their little tour through Hillcrest, then back up to University Heights. After they finally stopped on Florida St at Adams Ave, I asked if they were going to be there a while. They said yes, good! I could go home and get my camera! So, I went home, got the camera, got back, and it was still there. I also got to speak with some of the people there, got a nice brochure on the project. Their project, San Diego Historic Streetcars, has a goal of running their cars, the last three of this type remaining, back on San Diego streets. I’d sure like to see that. Seeing it go down University Ave, sort of recreating the #11 car line, was pretty cool as it was. Having it run on its own doing the same thing would be much better.

This is what I saw on Adams Ave. Eye catching isn't it?
This is what I saw on Adams Ave. Eye catching isn’t it?
San Diego Electric Railway logo
San Diego Electric Railway logo
Side view, the "fencing" at the bottom is supposed to be there and is original.
Side view, the “fencing” at the bottom is supposed to be there and is original.
A streetcar, with Trolley Barn Park in the background.
A streetcar, with Trolley Barn Park in the background.

There is a lesson to be learned here, sometimes take it slow, and don’t just go home. Extend the bike ride, even if just a little. You never know what fun might be out there.

Future Journeys

The bicycle, ready for touring.
The bicycle, ready for touring.

I have a few major bike trips planned. Some of them alone, some with a group. For the remainder of 2010, I have no trips planned. Only local journeys, when I can go. I might try and get another 100 mile ride in, but I’ll see how things go. Next year, 2011, should be an exciting year. At some point during the year, probably in May or June, I plan to break my distance record. I set that record on May 15, 2010 by riding from San Luis Obispo to Ventura in a day, a distance of 151 miles. It was quite a ride, very enjoyable. I plan to break that record and ride 200 miles next time. I haven’t figured out the route just yet, but I will make it a good one, something I know I can complete. In late April or early May, I will go on an overnight ride to Julian. It will be the third time I’ve done it, something I really enjoy doing. The first time I did, in 2009, it was the first time I’d done anything like it in many years. It was a success, and decided to make it an annual trek. At the end of July, I will embark on my next major bike tour. This one will be an extension of my last tour along old US 99 in 2009. I will take the train up to Portland, OR, and ride to Klamath Falls, OR, taking the train back. I also plan to spend some time in Seattle and possibly Vancouver, BC. I was there on my 2009 tour, but didn’t get to spend as much time as I’d like. For Thanksgiving weekend, I will be returning to Death Valley, still not sure what I’ll see this time.

In 2012, I plan to bicycle through Yellowstone National Park. I haven’t fully figured the route yet, but so far I have planned starting in Montana, perhaps at Glacier National Park, ending the ride in Salt Lake City. Why these points? I try to begin and end rides like that by train. In 2013, I plan to ride my longest bike tour yet. So far, the trek is planned to begin in Portland, Oregon, head to the coast along the Columbia River (US 30), and head south along US 101 at least as far as San Francisco. From there, if time allows, I want to go to San Luis Obispo. Going there would allow me to include the Big Sur coast, a place I got to finally ride in June of 2010. For the 2013 ride, I want to get a group together. It isn’t that I don’t want to go alone, or feel uncomfortable doing so, it is that I want to have others along to enjoy the trip with. A ride of that magnitude is something that is best shared with others. So if you know anyone, or are interested in going, keep in touch!

I also plan to go on many local rides in the spring. I always have enjoyed my travels in the Laguna and Cuyamaca Mountains. Pine Creek Road and Kitchen Creek Road are two of my favorite ways to get to the top of those mountains. I’ve taken Sunrise Highway before, but those are more fun.  I want to explore the Santa Ana Mountains more by bicycle, as well as get more rides in the San Gabriel Mountains. There are so many places to see, so many places to ride, so many different ways to get there. The only things necessary are time and the sense of adventure to do it.

Explorations

I like to explore. I always have. I started as a kid by hiking around the hills above my neighborhood. I believe it was doing that, and my curious nature, that got me interested in geology. Now, I say I’ve been interested in it since I was five. Five? Quite young you say? Yet, that far back, I would pick up a rock, and not just think “What a pretty rock!” I’d want to know more about it. How did it get there? why does it look the way it does? The earliest ones I remember were small pieces of rhyolite from the Mint Canyon Formation. They were mostly flow-banded, and sometimes had small quartz crystals within them. In setting out to find their source, I learned much about the local geology. I eventually learned of the Mint Canyon Formation’s age and how it was formed. As it turned out, I would never have found the source, at least locally. The San Andreas Fault had offset the source area for the rhyolite by about 120 miles or so. The rocks came from what are now the Chocolate Mountains east of Indio. So through all that, I got more interested in geology. I look around at rock formations all the time, study them. I go on annual trips to Death Valley just to learn more about geology. As such, it all adds to my want to explore. When I go on bike rides, I always look at the road cuts to see what sort of rock I’m riding through. I look at the overall terrain, and try to piece together how it was formed. The same applies when I go for a drive, go hiking, or even take the train.

There is a line in a song by America – Horse With No Name. I hear it, and am always reminded of Death Valley and the pluvial lakes/rivers that existed in the Basin and Range province. The line “After three days in the desert fun I was looking at a river bed, and the story it told of a river that flowed made me sad to think it was dead” really strikes true with me. I look at the Amargosa River Bed or even the Mojave River Bed, they do tell their stories of when they flowed, and I do think it is sad to see them dry as they are now. I would like to have seen the western US during the Pleistocene. Think of all the lakes, rivers, waterfalls, glaciers, and countless other features that existed then, that no longer do. Death Valley is one of those places, where Lake Manly once existed. With the exception of portage around waterfalls (Fossil Falls among others), a kayak trip from Mono Lake to Death Valley might have been possible. As you can see, my interest in geology goes deep.

So back to explorations, I used to have a mountain bike. I rode it everywhere. I even went on my first bike tour on it in 2001, knobby tires and all. It wasn’t until 2008 that I even got on a road bike, but wasn’t quite impressed. It was too bumpy a ride, too unnerving. It just didn’t sell me on getting one. I still felt I would find something though, as I wanted an easier ride for a bike tour I had planned for August of 2009. In October 2008, I went shopping. I ended up at the Performance Bike in Sorrento Valley. After looking at the bikes, and telling them what my plans were, they pointed me towards this road bike that had wider, somewhat knobby tires. I wasn’t quite sure about it. I wanted a road bike. I was led to believe this was a more robust road bike, capable of handling touring and anything else I might want to do. It certainly looked nice. It took some convincing to get me to buy it. They never told me what the bike was really capable of. I would find that out, in time.

That decision to buy that bicycle has changed my life in ways I didn’t expect. At first, I found I would go much faster than I used to. I seemed to zip around everywhere I went. I was putting the same energy into the bike as I was with the mountain bike, but getting much more out of it. I would go on longer rides, more road rides, than I had before. Eventually, I found I could take the bike off road. At first, dirt roads were all I took. Later, I would take singletrack trails, such as the upper portion of the Noble Canyon Trail or the Big Laguna Trail. With my abilities and confidence growing, I took my explorations to a whole new level. I would no longer look at road conditions or hills along the way. I would plan a route, and take it. If that meant riding a singletrack trail, then the shoulder of a freeway, so be it. I’ve found many non-standard routes for getting around as a result. It has really expanded my idea of freedom, in relation to travel. I feel like I have more freedom to travel as I can take just about any trail or roadway to get me somewhere. On the singletrack trails, I would get looks from the mountain bikers, wondering what I was doing there on a road bike. Nope, not a road bike, a cyclocross bike. The go anywhere bike. I’ve taken mine to Mammoth Mountain, had lots of fun there. The bike does have its limitations, but so do I. If I have to get off and walk it, no problem – even in cyclocross racing there are sections where you have to get off the bike.

My fitness level has greatly improved since I got the bike. I ride now more than I drive. In the past two years since purchasing the bike, I’ve ridden over 10,000 miles. I never figured that would happen. I’ve ridden to work for the past two and a half years. I’ve lost about 30 lbs, gained more muscle in my legs, and am in much better health. All these benefits because I like to go out and explore. The new bicycle has helped me in that quest. I’ve also set higher goals for myself. I plan to ride a double century in 2011. It won’t be an organized one, but one of my own planning. I’ve found the ride I plan myself to be much more fun. My routes aren’t the usual ones, I might even have some dirt trail to ride. Why ride 200 miles in a day? Is it the bragging rights? Is it to prove something? Nope. For me, it is only to expand my ability to go on the rides I like to. If I am able to ride 200 miles in a day, then I can ride any route that I set up for myself. It opens up possibilities for me that I wouldn’t have considered previously. Did I ever think I’d ride from San Luis Obispo to Ventura in a day? Or Monterey to San Simeon in a day? I didn’t think it was possible, until I went on a 151 mile ride from San Luis Obispo to Ventura in May 2010.

While I don’t suggest everyone go out and do what I’ve done, it is something that more are capable than they think. At one point, going around the block was a big deal, then across town, then across the county. Now, I’ve crossed counties and even a state. It just takes a vision and the ambition to go out there and do it. My ultimate goal is to see more out there exploring as I do, learning more about their local environment. So get out there – it is a big planet and has lots to see!

Death Valley 2010 – Titus Canyon Ride – November 26, 2010

Every trip to Death Valley has a big day. Each one is different, with a different focus. This time, it was bicycling Titus Canyon. I’ve heard about this place, seen the photos, and knew some of the geology. There were some logistical problems with seeing the canyon that I had to surmount. It is a one-way road and 28 miles long. I either had to find another person to shuttle me, or ride the whole thing myself. I chose to ride the whole thing. This was also the first time I had allotted a day just to bicycling in Death Valley.

Only 10 more miles of this!
Only 10 more miles of this!

I decided to start the ride about an hour earlier than I had planned to ensure I had enough time to complete the ride before dark. I parked the car near the junction of Scotty’s Castle Road and Mud Canyon Road, and changed into my cycling gear. As it was predicted to be cold, I chose to wear my bib shorts, bib tights, long sleeve jersey, balaclava, shoe covers, and my thickest gloves. I had my new three liter Camelbak pack with me, three bottles of Gatorade, a few Clif bars, and some cookies. I was ready for anything! Well, more or less.

I started the ride at about 8:30am. The ride started off with a climb, that didn’t relent for 13 miles with an average grade of about 6%. The first three miles were in a small canyon, Mud Canyon, which was nice. Having something nearby made it feel like it went faster. After that, and for the next five miles, I was riding up an alluvial fan. A steep one at that! Near the pullout for Death Valley Buttes, a couple had stopped to take photos of the area. Once they saw me, they took a couple photos of me climbing the grade, asked me how I was doing. I told them, I’d know in eight miles and kept on climbing. I stopped, briefly, at the junction with the Beatty Cutoff Road, my only real stop in about four miles. It didn’t last long, as I had more miles to go, more climbing to be done. Now back in a canyon, Boundary Canyon, the climbing got a slight steeper. The scenery was quite nice, the Grapevine Mountains to the north, Funeral Mountains to the south.

So far, things were going well, temperatures were decent, and I was feeling good. As the mile markers went by, I would count down to the top – mile 13, knowing I was getting closer all the time. There were a couple of times I had thought to pull over and rest, but decided to just keep on moving. I was so close to the top! Finally, I saw the summit of Daylight Pass, and pulled off. It was a good place to rest for a few minutes. The longest climb of the ride, 4100’ in 13 miles, was over. It took me about an hour and 45 minutes to climb, a bit faster than I had predicted. It was at this point I decided I would be able to make it through Titus Canyon with enough time.

Top of Daylight Pass
Top of Daylight Pass

I had been a bit warm climbing, that soon ended as I descended into Amargosa Valley and Nevada. It seemed like temperatures dropped twenty degrees, I was cold! It would be the running theme of the day, hot and cold. Crossing the valley seemed to take a long time. Distances in these valleys can be great, even though it looks close. As I neared the turnoff, I saw a vehicle had pulled over at the junction, and a bunch of bicycles were being unloaded. I assumed they were going to ride Titus Canyon, as they were riding mountain bikes. One of them was taking photos, and took some photos of me as I approached. I waved, and turned left onto Titus Canyon Road. This was the point that my cyclocross bike comes in handy.

I easily transitioned onto the dirt road, and kept on moving. It would be a long dirt road, with more than 3000’ of climbing ahead of me. Parts were rough, others were smooth, overall, having shocks would have been nice but weren’t necessary. Having been cold on the descent, I was again warm on the ascent. The first few miles were on the bajada, and were slow. Once I reached the canyon, things seemed to go quicker. The scenery just kept on getting better too. I stopped many times on this climb, mostly to let cars go by so I wouldn’t have to breathe in the dust kicked up by them. After about 10 miles, the climb got really steep. After, I reached a summit.

Finally! The climbing stopped, for a bit. I knew something wasn’t quite right though. I was at a summit, but not the summit. The photos and the maps showed a switchback and a climb through a red rock area. I hadn’t seen anything like that yet. It was time to get out the map. Yup, I had more to go, and a bit more climbing. The bulk of it was over, but I wasn’t quite sure how much more to go. While I was stopped, someone drove up in a truck. They had said they saw someone a few miles back on a road bike! Now, my bicycle looks like a road bike, but they had commented on how much wider my tires were, so maybe they did see one. Not sure why someone would take such a bike here, even my tires slipped in places. A road tire has no knobs for grip, so they may have had more walking than riding at times.

Heading up the dirt road.
Heading up the dirt road.
The first summit. Note the canyon in the background.
The first summit. Note the canyon in the background.
Looking towards Titanothere Canyon.
Looking towards Titanothere Canyon.
Looking back, after the switchbacks and the 800' drop and climb.
Looking back, after the switchbacks and the 800′ drop and climb.
Still heading up Red Pass, almost there.
Still heading up Red Pass, almost there.
From Red Pass, looking toward Leadfield.
From Red Pass, looking toward Leadfield.
Deeper into the canyon, just gets better.
Deeper into the canyon, just gets better.

So far, still feeling good, a little tired, but not bad. I headed on down the road, and down it went! After about a mile, it descended, steeply. I finally saw the switchbacks in the red rock area, now about 800’ higher than me. The last major climb would end up being the steepest. It went alright though. I stopped once to take some photos, and then went the rest of the way to the top. At long last, the top of Red Pass was at hand. From this point on, the ride was mostly downhill. The first couple of miles were very rocky and fairly steep. The views, however, made up for any of the trouble from the descent. The canyon just got better and better as I went along. Upon reaching the site of Leadfield, it was time for another photo stop.

There was a sign there, and a good landmark to get another bike photo. While I was doing that, a couple on a motorcycle pulled up. It was a dirt bike; I think it could be called a dual sport. They commented on my bicycle, asked how the riding was so far. I told them it was going ok, just a bit bumpy at times. They also seemed to need a better map, only using the standard park map which doesn’t show contours that well. After I took my photos, I continued my journey. The canyon changed directions after about another half mile or so, rather abruptly. It also got really cold, felt like the coldest yet on the ride.

At Leadfield, gotta get the bike in there.
At Leadfield, gotta get the bike in there.
Beautiful downtown Leadfield, or what is left.
Beautiful downtown Leadfield, or what is left.
Finally entering Titus Canyon.
Finally entering Titus Canyon.
After all that, now I'm really entering the canyon, here is the sign!
After all that, now I’m really entering the canyon, here is the sign!
Deeper and more spectacular.
Deeper and more spectacular.
Still descending, stopping to look back every once and a while
Still descending, stopping to look back every once and a while
Can't get enough of canyon shots!
Can’t get enough of canyon shots!
More great geology.
More great geology.
Large fold, one of many visible in this area.
Large fold, one of many visible in this area.

Now, after going over Red Pass, I thought I was in Titus Canyon. It was all downhill from there, it still was. As it turned out, the previous few miles were in another canyon, as I passed a sign stating “Entering Titus Canyon”.  It also seemed some brave soul drove a sedan this far, so I knew I should be able to make the rest without too much trouble. I was right. After having kept an average speed of no greater than 8 mph, I was easily riding at 15 to nearly 20 mph down this dirt road. I stopped many times down the canyon, to take photos and just enjoy the scenery. I never went so fast I couldn’t enjoy the view, I also didn’t want to lose control. This was definitely not the area to do so. A couple of miles down from the “entrance” to the canyon, I passed a couple of mountain bikers going uphill. They had climbed quite a bit to get to that spot, not sure how far they were going.  The canyon, so far, was wide and deep. I knew the end of the canyon was quite narrow, so it was going to be interesting to see the features created by the water that does flow down this canyon on occasion. The rock I was passing by was very beautiful. It was marine limestone, shale, and sandstone from the Cambrian. It was heavily faulted and folded, which showed in many places.

At the narrows, it gets cold in the shadows.
At the narrows, it gets cold in the shadows.
Megabreccia, Titus Canyon style.
Megabreccia, Titus Canyon style.
A look back, you'd never know such a large canyon exists beyond those cars!
A look back, you’d never know such a large canyon exists beyond those cars!

As I got closer to the bottom of the canyon, the sides got steeper and higher. I was getting to the narrow portion of the canyon. The first section consisted of some megabreccia, which almost looked like graffiti at first. It had been smoothed quite a bit, abraded from the large sediment-rich flows that come this way during a storm. I was glad to see nearly clear skies above, no threat of floods today. I was told the canyon was very narrow at the bottom, to the point that some cars would have trouble making it. While it didn’t quite get that bad, it was far narrower than the upper portions of the canyon would have you think. All that drainage, going to this 15 foot wide canyon. Don’t be here when it rains. Not only was the narrows a sign the canyon was ending, but the number of hikers was also a clue. The lower portion is quite popular to hike in, so it couldn’t be far now. Just another mile or so, the canyon ended. It opened into the northern portion of Death Valley, creating one large alluvial fan. Just around the next bend, I saw all the cars for the hikers. Quite a few, but not all went to Titus Canyon; some went to Falls Canyon, just to the north. From this point, to the paved road, was some of the worst dirt road I had traveled. This section was two-way, and was very much washboard. I had nearly three miles of this until reaching the paved road.

Looking south, down the valley towards Kit Fox Hills (at center).
Looking south, down the valley towards Kit Fox Hills (at center).
There it is, the worst section of dirt road the whole ride.
There it is, the worst section of dirt road the whole ride.

At long last! Pavement! This was the first pavement I had ridden that was nearly flat too. For that matter, some of the first flat riding on the whole trip. I still had another 15 miles to go, but it wouldn’t take long. I kept a rather brisk pace, around 18 to 20 mph most of the way. These miles were at first going by fast, but as I got closer to the end, my energy was fading. I needed to eat, but felt I was close enough to the end that stopping wasn’t going to help. I just slowed down and didn’t push it any more than necessary. There was a slight crossing headwind the whole way down the pavement, but it was never a problem. The last few miles were over rolling hills, never a climb over 50’. About five miles from the end, the couple on the motorcycle passed me one last time, waved. Even gave me a thumbs up! It was cool. After I passed the last mile marker, mile 1, I finally saw the car. My ride was at an end. What a journey! I made it back at about 3:15pm, with 60 miles of riding and 8400’ of climbing. I finished, not too tired, but was definitely done for the day. I ate the rest of my snacks, drank a bit more fluids, and was feeling much better. After about twenty minutes, I packed the bike into the car, and headed back to camp. Dinner would be coming soon, and I’d feast for sure. Another big ride accomplished, another big day in Death Valley.