Saturday, May 10, 2014


It's spring on the coast.

Or rather, on Cloverdale Road, shortcut to Highway 1. A lovely, slightly inland bypass just outside Pescadero, running parallel to Butano Creek and past Butano State Park. A way around and through courtesy of the San Gregorio Fault.

On my right spread the flat marshes that are hallmarks of fault movements and ancient landslides. On the left, gradually increasing hills and canyons of the Coast Range in what they call the Butano Pescadero Watershed. Where there are only dirt roads and trails.

Here, water has always followed the contours created by the fault and done its bidding. Humans follow the water, as whoever created this flower and bulb farm sloping down from the road, with a driveway leading toward a large lagoon. I've passed by here a million times and somehow never noticed the entrance. Or the lagoon. Or the creek that runs on the other side of the road, just out of sight.

After the driest winter in 150 years some late rain arrived in March and April. Even two days ago a front came through and there was a bit of rain. Often the hillsides and fields are golden and brown, even this close to the ocean. Today everything is lush and bursting with wildflowers. Especially poppies.

All this satisfies the way things in suburbia cannot. More than the quiet, the lack of lawnmowers or leaf blowers, these long sight lines with few human structures. The greenery, softness of hills, abundant grasses and the birds swooping over it all, from the hills on the left toward the meadows on the right and back again. Everywhere there are messy, joyous orange poppies.

Far away, over the hill the neighbors are busy edging their lawns and furiously pruning and weeding a tiny, rectangular patch of nature, trying to own it and correct its errors, struggling mightily for control.

Looking at the poppies I think, let it go. Just let it go.

After Gazos Creek, it's a left onto Highway 1. Late Saturday morning traffic is still light. The wind is gusting strongly in its usual direction. I'm going to let it blow me south toward Santa Cruz. No stop for pie at Pie Ranch nor scones at Swanton Berry Farm; gluten is changing the usual patterns.

Davenport has Chobani yogurt (there is always only one in the fridge at the market), and an almond cookie or blueberry scone at the Grey Whale. But that was last weekend, before Bonny Doon. Today we'll try our luck in Santa Cruz. Work on a new map of where it is safe to eat.

Even with the wind it's a long way, 12:30 rolling into Kelly's French Bakery. They stop serving breakfast at noon and the rest of the menu is an homage to wheat. They're off the list. As a last resort, lunch is a tamale plate at a strip mall taqueria.

The real reason to go into Santa Cruz is not the town itself. The smart cyclist makes a quick stop and stays focused on the goal, tacking left and left again, trying to get out of there. Running the gauntlet on Water Street and turning on Market which then becomes Branciforte. Leading past the Mystery Spot and eventually to Granite Creek, a beautiful, narrow, shady climb in the woods that brings me right to Mountain Charlie.

I'm not sure why others come here. For me, Mountain Charlie is a way of restoring things to their proper scale. It's a remote, narrow road that was cut by hand, by a human being around 1860. A lane and a half at the wide spots but mostly, one lane.

And really, why would you want to be anywhere but close in, surrounded by the forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains? Here it is truly silent, except for the birds and the wind picking up, weaving through the trees.

There's literally not a soul to interact with. No one looking at what I happen to be wearing, my unruly hair, whether everything is in order. No words, spoken or emailed, to sort through. As much as the brain needs stimulation, as much as it needs exercise, it also needs quiet. Solitude.

Before I started working again, I had too much alone time. Now I'm back to seeking it out, on roads even many cyclists don't know about, 70 miles from home.

The way up is irregular, unpredictable. At the start, several miles of moderate twisty hill. Then about a mile and a half of outrageous stair steps, 4 of them. Steep suckers. Then another two miles of normal hill.

In a sunny spot at the top, Mountain Charlie's actual cabin, which looks like it's having some work done.

150 years is a long time. I read somewhere that left alone, with no maintenance, structures built by humans take only 52 years to return completely to nature. The cabin and the road, someone is keeping them up.

When they're done fixing it up, I hope there are still a few rough edges left.

1 comment :

  1. ...I don't blame you, but "Slow for PIE" would reel me in like a fish on a line. :) (You'll notice my brain switched the capitals to the most important word in that sign.)
    Mountain Charlie is one of my goal rides. I heard about in on another bike blog, actually - do you read Ladyfleur? It looks lovely, cool, and quiet.
    This whole post is making me want to completely upend my weekend plans and just ride to the coast.