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memorial ride for 8-year-old Amy Malzbender

Arastradero Preserve


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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  3/1/2003

The Green Hills of Winter

I've often said that we California cyclists live in Paradise. This is true no matter what time of year I say it. But it sure hits home during the winter months.

Winter in California means spring! Sometimes spring gets started here as early as the first of January. This year spring actually started (for me) before this year even started -- I spotted the first almond blossoms in my own neighborhood on December 31, 2002!

By late January there were blossoms everywhere -- acacias, almonds, magnolias, even peaches and plums. That's the season I call Spring I.

In February the bulbs started popping up. This year there were daffodils everywhere before Valentine's Day, followed quickly by irises, lilies and more. All hail the arrival of Spring II!

Of course, the whole time rain has been falling off and on, interspersed with near-perfect riding days. You know the ones I mean -- lots of warm sunshine punctuated with cool northerly breezes. Just enough cool air to keep from overheating on a stiff climb. Just enough sun to warm the pavement and prevent shivers on a fast descent.

And everywhere we look, everything is GREEN! Green lawns. Green open spaces and hillsides. And no doubt a deep green in the eyes of our east coast (and this year southern) compatriots.

(This is the time of year when all those tour outfitters and bike companies take those lush photos showing off the green California hills. Yeah, right. Up until about early May, that is. Unless there's a drought; then the green will be gone by March. But I digress.)

Jim and I were lucky enough to catch more than one green winter day on our tandem. One Monday in February we headed south to San Martin, where we started a ride to Gilroy and around the Canada Road loop.

An absolutely perfect day! The only traffic hassle we encountered was turning left onto Highway 152, which connects truck traffic coming from Pacheco Pass with Gilroy. Otherwise it was smooth sailing through some of the greenest ranchland in the southern Santa Clara Valley. As we topped the only three-chevron pitch on Canada (according to Richard Krebs), we spotted bright red Indian paintbrush and bright orange California golden poppies. Remember, this was in February. Astonishing! And pretty enough to rival the valley views from the very tippy-top.

Then it was rollers all the way to Gilroy Hot Springs Road and a rolling descent to Leavesley Road.

The route we chose is the reverse of (IMHO) the most scenic section on the Tierra Bella century. I prefer to ride the loop the way we did it, in a clockwise direction. But I understand why Almaden CTC does it their way. Back in the day, the Tierra Bella 100-mile riders climbed Canada in the warm afternoon. After logging some 60 miles, these riders nearly melted in the April sun. Then, eager to make up time, they'd all too often take the steep descents back to the Valley out of control.

Well, February culminated in some not-too-drastic showers, then cleared up to usher in March. And we remembered that, for a ride on a sunny winter day, you can't beat Old La Honda Road. Some 3.5 miles up from Portola Valley to Skyline Drive (aka Highway 35), topping off above the junction of Highways 35 and 84 at Skylonda. What better way to usher in the first blush of Spring III?

Once again it was a perfect day: Temps in the low 60s, with plenty of shade for the ascent. The winter green was evident everywhere, from the pastures of Portola Valley and Woodside to the oaks and redwoods ascending the hill. (It didn't seem possible, but somehow it looked even greener than our earlier Canada ascent.)

It was the same day as the memorial ride for 8-year-old Amy Malzbender, which featured an excursion up Old La Honda for those inclined (pun intended). But we left early enough that we saw no memorial riders on our route. Still, we had plenty of company on the way through Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, along Arastradero Preserve and out the Portola Loop. Some were faster than we were; others we left in the dust, at least until we hit OLH and shifted down into the granny at the first switchback.

On the way up I amused myself by checking out the latest in a minor explosion of new, elaborate homes. When I first started riding this route back in (gasp!) 1979, there were probably less than a dozen houses on Old La Honda. Today I lose count.

About halfway up I started calling out the landmarks that confirmed our Skyline-ward progress: This grove of redwoods clustered around the road. That clump of mailboxes on the left. The street sign on the left for Upenuf Circle. The water tower marking approximately 2.5 miles. At last, the Heiden compound popped up on the left. Only one A-line roof of the three-chalet property is visible from the road -- just enough to elicit reminiscences from Jim about the old days when Eric lived there while attending med school and training for world competition.

Finally, the last two pitches before the top of Old La Honda! Then the drop to Skylonda -- little more than a crossroads of the two state highways, but enough to warrant a "city limits" sign (population 501). Then another twisty-turny drop on Highway 84 to Woodside and the sudden rumbling of hunger pangs.

Essentially three culinary choices exist in beautiful downtown Woodside: Robert's Market (great sandwiches!), Woodside Bakery (sometimes cyclist friendly, sometimes not), and Buck's. We always seem to end up in Buck's; the prices are high but the food is excellent and the place is a fantastical playground for the imagination.

A couple of sandwiches washed down by a couple of Sams and we were back on the bike for the rest of the Highway 84 descent to Redwood City. Then back on the flats along Alameda de las Pulgas (yes, that's right, the "boulevard of the fleas") and through the Stanford campus on Junipero Serra Blvd. That's where I spotted the hawk riding a thermal between us and the sun. The bright light shone directly through its translucent wing and tail feathers, creating a work of art on the fly. And turning a normally boring "slog" back home into a near-magical experience.

The tailwind didn't hurt, either, as we found our own wings along Foothill Expressway. What an outstanding way to celebrate Spring III, which just happens to coincide with March 17. Now that's what I call puttin' on the green. We'll be celebrating our annual "Rites of Spring" by returning to Gilroy for a figure-8 loop around the savannas and reservoirs of the southern foothills. Unless it pours rain again, of course.)

It's my favorite time(s) of year -- Springs I, II and III. Green. St. Paddy's Day. My birthday.

Oh yeah. And pollen in my sinuses. Can't have everything perfect, I guess. Ah-choo!

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net



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