Saturday, June 6, 2015

Something new

Jim says "I hope that's not our road, the one that goes straight up behind the gate."

It's the middle of a hot little climb from Summit Store up to the ridge. The actual ridge! The road we're looking for is dirt. There may or may not be a sign.

The usual route is paved, more or less, winding gently down along the fault past the Forest of Nisene Marks and the epicenter of the last major earthquake in the Bay Area, toward Watsonville and Monterey. That road has carried me many times southward, with full panniers and plenty of optimism...

It took me away to Route 66, but today the project is something different. Something new.

If we can just find it, the dirt road will keep us up high and away from cars. It will mysteriously lead somewhere behind Mt. Umunhum (elevation 3486), Loma Prieta (3806), and eventually over Mount Madonna (1897). It will connect with a paved road down to Gilroy at the southern end of the Santa Clara Valley. It goes through; that's definitely part of the appeal.

Residents of these hills drive with some urgency. When you think about what's out here - an old radar tower, the Store, a few wineries, Christmas tree farms, churches - it's hard to understand. Propane tanks and propane trucks. A whole lot of residential solar.

What you don't see are fault lines and old railroad tunnels, pot grows and meth labs. It may be close to Los Gatos, close enough to commute. This is not suburbia.

And until recently this part of Summit was private, aggressively private. Residents would come out and chase after cyclists who dared trespass, with attitude and guns. Sometimes, dogs. The rough welcome and rough terrain got the desired result: it discouraged exploration.

Then word came, via newspaper stories and the Internet and other cyclists: now it could be done. No guns anymore, no dogs. No chasing crazies looking for a fight. That was a few years ago. What happened? What changed?

There was a fire. A crisis. It was not small and it happened right around this time of year. Lots of heroic types who built themselves something and protected it then quickly saw it destroyed. Suddenly letting outsiders in was no longer a threat. Overnight it turned into necessity, a good thing.

They even put up a sign so we might know what road this is, and where to go next. It looks relatively new. Mt. Bache Road End. Loma Prieta this way. We hang a right and follow blindly.

Excellent cell service...from the tower over there.
As the pavement ends and turns to packed dirt, the views stretch out for 50 miles all around. The Pacific, Monterey Bay, the hulking ridge of Big Sur. The valley and Diablo Range. Mt. Hamilton and south of there, the epic badlands of Henry Coe State Park.

Both Jim and I are wearing Route 66 jerseys. There is route-finding, an old road to be discovered (by us), and dirt. There is heat, too, enough to stop under an oak tree and reach for electrolytes. Very fitting.

It's uncomfortable to be dripping with sweat, noticing the scars of the fire all around, and for another reason, too.

We're doing that rare thing; exploring something new close to home. Feeling a little lost and  uncertain. It's good to have to figure things out, though. It's a challenge and as we know, challenge is good for the brain.

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