Monster Climbs Trip-22-25 June 2017
by Rob Verfurth
Riders: Bill Wood, Tony, John M, Bob P, Sheehan, Ernst, Voris, Geoff, Hodges, Denise & Rick B, Oleg, Neil, Larry, Bernie, Len, Claus, Paul P and Rob
The annual Monster Climbs trip was a bit more complicated this year. This was the Descenders 11th annual cycling trip designed to tackle some of the toughest climbs we can find, a real fun riding club weekend. Most of the previous trips were based on the eastern slopes of the Sierras. This year we set off for the first time to Nor Cal to ride the beautiful roads near Los Gatos. Fortunately we have two Descenders living in the local area, Dave Voris and Geoff Barrall. These two guys did the lion share of the work to get us prepared for the MC trip. Dave and Geoff scouted lots of the local roads and designed the three days of riding. They mapped out each ride, giving us turn by turn details and the strava file for our bike GPS. Geoff led the search for hotels and then appropriate dinner locations. Dave took up the reins to draft all the details into our famous brochure. This was going to be an epic adventure.
We needed some San Diego rider support for the trip. Claus and I took up the logistics work of renting a U-haul trailer and driving up to Los Gatos with the bikes and spare gear. There were 19 riders that participated in the road trip to the Nor Cal adventure. Len took Bernie up early in his car, they rode near Santa Barbara and Monterrey on their way to Los Gatos. The rest of the guys dropped off their bikes and gear a few days before their flights to San Jose. On Wednesday, Claus and I got the trailer early in the morning, zip-tied each bike securely into the trailer and packed around the bikes all the other gear. We loaded up Claus’s SUV with the coolers and lots of food for our road trip north. Man can that guy eat, I gained a few pounds on the drive north just because there are so much food available. We made great time and got to the Los Gatos Lodge by 6:30 pm. We had time for a relaxing stroll around downtown Los Gatos and a late dinner before hitting the sack.
Thursday morning was spent relaxing and then exploring some of the local roads to loosen up the legs. We rode north to the Saratoga Gap and climbed up 7 miles to Skyline Blvd, before continuing north. At the Palo Alto sign we turned around to retrace our ride. A nice 31 mile loop with about 3,400 feet of climbing; some great roads, trees and views, definitely a preamble to the weekend ahead. It was pretty hot still but the weather forecast predicted a nice cooling trend ahead. We hit the pool and relaxed before the first of the guys started to show. The hotel gave us the room assignments so we were able to unload the bikes and gear from the trailer to each hotel room. The gang finally all arrived and we walked to downtown for dinner at local restaurants, we were on our own for the first night. After dinner we all got back to the pool area where Voris and Geoff went over final details from the brochure to make sure everyone was ready to ride the next morning.
After an underwhelming breakfast provided by the hotel, we all met near the front of the property to begin our first day of riding. Geoff led us through Los Gatos to a flat gravel trail with one climb that got us to Lexington Reservoir Dam before we spun around the south side of the reservoir and started climbing Old Santa Cruz Highway. Lots of thick forest surrounded this road as we climbed to Summit Road then headed south towards Soquel-San Jose Road. We are almost on top of a ridge line as we cruised together. At the turn, Claus rolled over an object that destroyed his tire. He had to walk back to a general store about half a mile and hitch a ride back to the hotel to get his spare bike. Claus rejoined the group back at the store later. We all flew down Soquel-San Jose about 5 miles before the road stopped due to a recent wash out from the winter rains, light traffic made the descent even better. We started back up the climb and spread out along the way. Tony hit a pothole and fell in the back of the group, a number of folks stopped to help bandage Tony up. Most of us did not know Tony fell and the really fast guys were already on their way to climb Mt Bache Road to Loma Prieta Peak. It was warming rapidly, the climb was tough and the road surface not good. I rode with Bob P and Paul P. We saw Rick B blow by us, he had kept a very conservative pace in the early part of the ride; this was his one push for the day.
The fast guys came back towards us while we were still climbing. We finally got to the top, great views all around. Now for the dangerous descent and stop at the store. Everyone regrouped at the nice patio in front of the general store. Much needed water and food were consumed. Claus rode up on his other bike, ready to keep riding. Eventually everyone headed back north on Summit Road and descended back down Old Santa Cruz Highway toward the reservoir. Geoff served up some more pain with a 5+ mile climb up Soda Springs Road. It was now very hot and the 8% average grade sapped out the last bit of energy. Some guys skipped this climb or only rode up part way. I rode slowly and kept an eye out for possible water stops, I was about empty. I finally got close to the top when the fast guys came back towards me. At the top I rested a minute before Len pulled up too. We descended together for the first 1.5 miles, I turned into a driveway and found a hose to get some needed water. Paul P was also descending when I got back on the road. The descent was fast. We found Sheehan climbing up, he was going to make it to the top, hogwash. We also found Tony making his way up, tough guy. Paul and I got back to the reservoir and swept up Bill W who was on his way back to the hotel. We all survived Day 1 of the MC trip–only 60 miles but almost 7,900 feet of climbing. The pool never felt so good, a few beers took off the edge and we all still managed to rendezvous at Grill 57 for dinner. The restaurant was just across the street and the family style food was delicious; they provided plenty of dishes for us to consume. Dave Ernst was late to the trip but he made dinner and was planning to ride the Mt Hamilton climb set for Saturday. After dinner we met back at the pool to go over the planned ride and hand out car assignments for the drive to San Jose. It was time for bed!
Day 2 brought forth the aches and pains of Day 1, another lousy breakfast at the hotel and Mt Hamilton. We drove over in assigned vehicles, based on how long we planned to ride, to Penitencia Creek Park, a community park in San Jose. Voris led the group to Alum Rock Park before we got to the start of the 18 mile climb up Mt Hamilton. The climb is up and down, so really three long climbs to get to the observatory. We spread out on the road, it got warmer. You could see the observatory on top from a long distance away as you switched back through the trees to reach the final pitch. It was a hard climb. Geoff and Voris had discovered a nice table and "park" setting behind the main building on their recon ride. We regrouped there, caught our breath and drank lots of water. The big studs left to ride the east side of the mountain where the temperatures were even hotter. The brochure gave great details on where to turn around and how far down the main descent would be to the turn. A number of riders declined to look over the east side edge. My car mates were all planning to ride the full route. Paul P had to leave early on Sunday so this was his last day to ride; same story for Ernst. I finally worked up the courage to head down. I only made it 2.5 miles and could see the curvy roads winding farther down. It was hot now and I knew every second I sped down was a lot more time to get back to the top. The descent back had two climbs, so that weighed on my mind as well. I stopped, took a few more photos and made the decision that it was time to go back. The short climb back to the top was tough. I assumed the guys that were not planning to go to the east side were out ahead of me, I start the descent back down the west side. Just as I hit the first corner, I saw Bill Wood on his final turn to the observatory. I waved and kept rolling. The smooth roads were magical to descend, traffic was light and I quickly went down the first 7 miles. The climb was short and painful with more fun descending. This was repeated a few times until I got back to Alum Rock Park where I decided to spin an extra loop. I finally made it back to the parking lot where the cars were. I rode only 55 miles and 6,500 feet of elevation. John M and I were the first to arrive. The groups of riders came back over the next hour, some made it all the way to the bottom of the east side–over 60 miles and 8,000 of climbing, others were happy to have made it to the top. We left as the cars filled up to get food and drive back to the Los Gatos Lodge.
The pool was inviting and Oleg brought out a few of his beers. For some reason we do not drink lots of beer after our MC rides…..think we are all too exhausted. Everyone recovered enough to stroll back into downtown for a group dinner at Gardino’s Ristorante Italiano. Geoff had picked a great restaurant. Unfortunately, they "lost" our reservation and did not know we were coming. Geoff used his magic and the restaurant moved tables around so our large group could fit. They came through big time with lots of great family style eats, from calamari to pastas to great meats. We made sure Claus did see not our plates with food still available, we all got to eat plenty. The stroll back to the hotel helped settled the awesome dinner to make room for the ice cream social. We all relaxed in the pool area and enjoyed the treats organized by Bernie and Dave Ernst, thanks guys.
The activity level picked up quite a bit on Sunday morning. Everyone had to pack up and check out before the ride. Bags were left in the bike trailer and we all spun out for the Day 3 ride. Geoff and Voris had us back in the redwood trees for the ride. We cruised around the Lexington Reservoir again and climbed Old Santa Cruz Highway before splitting off on Mt Charlie Road. Voris planned to lead the "long" ride group while Geoff marshaled the shorter route group. The long group had the expected suspects–Larry, Neil, Bernie, Oleg, Claus and Voris. Somehow Bob P, Len and I managed to stay with this group as we rode into Felton. Voris explained that the rest stop location was the store on the corner. Len was wise enough to head for the store and wait for the other group. Bob P and I called an audible and we changed our initial riding plans; we stayed with the Voris group. We had to persuade Bob to come. He and I were beginning to regret our decision while climbing Jamison Creek; it was a tough climb. We actually asked Voris if we should turned around and just go back to meet up with the shorter group. Voris helped keep our determination strong.
We finally made it to the top and cruised over towards Felton Empire. This 3-4 mile descent made all the pains of the earlier climbs worth it. We all flew down a smooth, curvy road that splits a redwood forest. The trees were so thick that is was actually pretty dark; scary, spooky, cool. It was awesome! We regrouped at the New Leaf Community Market, all organic food inside! The other group had come and gone about 20 minutes ahead of us. We relaxed on the patio tables and caught our breath before the last climb of the day. Geoff warned us that Zayante would be a tough climb. It was warm when Neil and I got out from the store first. He spun ahead and I tried to give him turn instructions from the top. He was way out front, made a few wrong turns but still got home to the hotel safely. The rest of the guys caught me and we rode up together. Bob P fell back a bit so I told everyone to head back, I would wait for Bob. I waited and waited. Bob finally came around the last corner slowly pedaling his square wheels; at the top he got off his bike and onto his back. After a few minutes rest, Bob and I headed back along Summit. Voris did not want to leave anyone behind so he and the rest of the guys had been waiting for us a mile or so up the road. We were now all back together, except Neil who was finding a new route to the hotel. We rode back to the hotel, tired yet exhilarated from the ride. It was 65 miles and almost 8,000 feet of climbing, a fitting end to a great cycling weekend.
Some of the guys were already gone, on their way to the airport. Claus and I changed into our swim suits and set about lashing all the bikes & equipment back into the U-haul trailer. It was hot, sweaty work. We closed the trailer and jumped in the pool before a quick change into driving clothes. We got on the road by 3:30 pm. Traffic was fairly light and we made it through Los Angeles ok. It was a long trip but we still made it home before midnight. We both crashed into bed. I got up early to unload the bikes from the trailer. Claus came over and we returned the trailer to U-Haul….mission complete.
A couple of folks commented on the trip. Denise said, "This being my first Monster Climbs trip and hearing about it for a decade, it was all that I expected and more. Everyone was so inviting and encouraging and really brought out the team camaraderie each day. The climbs did earn the "Monster" name for me, and the family style dinners were a highlight after a long hard day on the bike. The club is truly a group of friends and I am glad to be part of it."
Hodges also noted that he thought the Mt Hamilton climb was epic and he wants to do it again. He thought the Soda Springs climb was brutal, misses the epic nature of the Sierras and believes that Claus was the "man of the trip", great riding Claus. Mike also enjoyed the Italian food and thought it was great that we all came from so far to see Dave V and Geoff! Below is a photo Mike took by Lexington Reservoir. The link is to the photos I took on the trip. Look forward to MC XII in 2018.