Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Basin of Big

Yesterday was supposed to be a Big Big Ride day, but I failed to find the correct lever. That would be the lever that ejected me from the house before 7:30 am. Thus it morphed into a Big Ride day.

Left my lunch on the counter at home. Looped back to get it, 6 bonus miles in noisy suburban flatlands. Surprised to see so many SUVs still lumbering around. They look comical, trying to get around corners. When they accelerate, that giant sucking sound. This is not the good part of the ride.

Heading south toward Stevens Canyon, a herd of gravel trucks stampede toward the quarry at the base of Montebello. They give me a wide berth but it's still not pleasant. The noise of the huge tires and heavy vehicle on the road puts the brain on high alert. There's nothing like the adrenaline rush when one of them bears down on you from behind, accelerating to get up that little steep pitch at the mouth of the canyon. They take up the whole road. This is not the good part of the ride, either.

At the quarry driveway we negotiate using eye contact. They wait and let me through. A shuttle bus full of people pulls over at the reservoir, full and blue and sparkly. You might have heard of Stevens Creek Boulevard, that 6-lane thoroughfare stretching through Cupertino and San Jose. (Strip mall, anyone?) Now, it's time to commune a little with Stevens Creek.

In the narrow, forested canyon with the creek running gently, my breathing slows and thoughts relax. Just in time for Redwood Gulch 

Well, my arms and legs are dripping sweat. Yet even with the late start the temperature is OK. There's plenty of shade and I'm not going to expire on Redwood Gulch today.

Contrary to what it says above, after the first steep pitch there are 2 more to go. I distract myself with whatever human activity is visible from the road. The Free Kittens sign is still posted. Someone is in the process of clearing a plot of land near the top, with heavy machinery and trucks. And it looks like a big renovation project at the Jewish kid's camp at the summit.

Redwood Gulch is a bit of a test for Super Tour, the same way that Page Mill is a test. Passed the first test! My fitness is not quite at the point where Highway 9 and the Castle Rock climb on Skyline feel like nothing. That's OK, the temperature is basically perfect up here and the grades are nowhere near 17%. I get to do my favorite roller-coaster part of Skyline, the one lane part. Then it's the big descent into Boulder Creek.

Today I don't feel like lingering in Boulder Creek or even taking pictures. Being Monday afternoon, the main street (Highway 9) is noisy with cars and trucks. Locals seem to rush into town with business, do their tasks, then get the heck out again. Kids and dogs get corralled. No chatting, no stopping. Accordingly, there is no bench for sitting anywhere on the main drag. I pull up a patch of shade on the sidewalk outside New Leaf Market. Lunch from home tastes good and I'm not tempted to gorge myself silly.

For company, folks are munching happily next door at the Red Pearl. One reason the locals come into town is food! Have to try that place some time. Down the street at the Blue Sun cafe (now closed), my friend Bonnie once made me try the tempeh Reuben sandwich.  Sauerkraut, thousand island dressing, rye bread, the works! Having ordered it many times and always on a bike ride, I can still taste the savory protein goodness.

Heading into Big Basin, a happy stomach is an advantage. Climbing, coming right up.

Highway 236 follows the real Boulder Creek toward Big Basin. The narrow road carries a lot of traffic between town and the Boulder Creek Country Club. Houses line the road since everything else is a hillside of some kind. I'm always amazed, passing the Country Club, to see people playing golf in the midst of gorgeous nature. Go for a hike people! OK, maybe that's just me.

If you go straight on 236, you climb for a few miles and then descend into the park headquarters, then climb out again, descending to Waterman Gap. So your legs really feel the basin. You get the summer traffic heading into and out of the park.

If you bypass the park on China Grade, you get a tough climb on a gorgeous little road. On this hot day, almost completely shaded by redwoods, tan oaks, and a multitude of other trees. For mileage, China Grade technically qualifies as a shortcut. For Super Tour training, it's steeper and more better.

Which one would you pick?
China Grade winds in a normal way until it crosses Little Boulder Creek, at which point it heads straight up for a couple of miles. Instead of feeling the basin, my legs are feeling every contour line as it is crossed. I'm in some kind of meditative stupor, induced by aerobic effort and good old pushing. 

The trees and their root systems are evocative helpers. They turn my thoughts to notions of time, and importance. They are masters of survival, of reaching deep into the earth for it.  

Redwood fairy ring.
Redwoods are designed to automatically regenerate. When the main adult tree is damaged or starts to die, new trees sprout up around it in a circle or ring. That's the concept. When you stand among these trees, they have a visceral force that is quite powerful. "Fairy ring" is WAY too romantic. They're saying, we survive. We survive together. We're in it for the long haul.

Trees have stem cells, just like us. The image of trees harnessing their own genetic material makes me think of neurons regenerating. Yet another example of reuse. I find it reassuring, validating for the path I'm on.

About a mile from the top a new Mercedes rounds a blind corner (there are many), honking its horn to warn other cars. I'm thinking, and what is an oncoming car to do? Back down the hill? Urban expectations out here in the forest. There isn't always a way to be safe.

When our paths cross, the driver's window is down and the driver pokes her head out. "Is this Big Basin?" she asks. The car is full of people. I start telling her how it's technically park property but the road bypasses the park. She asks me how to get to the park from here. I'm not at my best, but the following becomes clear:
  • She thinks they turned onto this road from Highway 9 (not possible).
  • She's following the signs to Big Basin State Park (no map).
  • The other people are her Italian relatives, none of whom speaks English. 
  • The male relatives are admiring the Waterford's iridescent orange paint job.
  • Someone official, maybe a state park employee, is on the phone via Bluetooth inside the car.
Somehow we humans are still walking the earth!

I offer to show her where to turn at the top of the hill. It's not hard to imagine them crossing 236 to the other side of China Grade, the part that becomes dirt on the way to a boy's summer camp. But I'm creeping too slowly for them. She passes and at the stop sign there's no sign of the Mercedes. Hopefully all is well.

Sometimes a sweet little road in the middle of a ride will cast a warm glow over the whole experience. Just makes everything fine. And so it is with the detour on China Grade. The trucks of this morning are forgotten. The fast descent into Waterman Gap, the gentler climb up Highway 9. It's all about the contours of the earth. Feels totally natural to be out here all day long. Feels like home.

On the way back to Saratoga Gap, check out these two views of Big Basin, looking southwest. One is sort of impressionistic. It conveys the mood of the landscape, but is missing some details. You have to conjure Big Basin behind that tree.

In fact, if you don't already know Big Basin is in the background there, it's just a photo of a tree.

If you can tell what kind of tree it is, please comment!

Now, that is Big Basin.


  1. Wow! I'm mentioned in your blog! I really do miss that cafe...

    Look forward to seeing you on Supertour!


    1. Bonnie, you are always way out in front of food trends. I think you introduced me to HonesTea, too, at the New Leaf Market. And you are the inspiration on any ride where I bring my own lunch!