Cupertino to Santa Cruz and Back

July 22, 2008

To celebrate Independence Day this year, my friend (and coworker) Evan and I decided that we should spend the day cycling. I live in Cupertino California which gives me the great fortune of having access to some of the best cycling in the country. Right outside my door is a world of fantastic climbs for both road and mountain bikers, it’s quite amazing and unique for an urban area.

Evan is a very experienced and talented cyclist so naturally he brings out the competitive side in me. He’s also in a bit better shape than I am, so when he suggested that we ride from Cupertino to Santa Cruz and back I couldn’t say no and I had a hard time telling him that I was a little worried about being able to do such a ride. I’ve ridden centuries before, but I’ve never done a ride that is this long with so much climbing.

So the plan was to start at my place early in the morning (8am ish). It’s roughly a 20 min ride from my place to the bottom of Redwood Gulch, the first major climb for the day. Redwood Gulch is really a fantastic road, very light traffic, gorgeous scenery, fairly short (0.75 miles) and very steep (at least 25% grade in places).

At the top of Redwood Gulch you meet up with Highway 9. Hwy 9 has a fair amount of traffic but is thankfully quite wide and a popular ride for cyclists so cars are fairly aware of your presence. The grade is more relaxed at 8% but still a lot of work. At 2500′ you reach Skyline (Highway 35) and the top of the climb. It’s a fun and easy descent on the western side of Skyline all the way to Santa Cruz so Evan and I made pretty fantastic time. We even got to see the tail end of a parade along the way.

Evan has a fantastic obsession with food so once we got to Santa Cruz we stopped for a quick lunch. After a bit of mexican food and some time trying to convince Evan that the hostess was totally into me and my spandex, we got back on the road.

The climb back up Hwy 9 is pretty easy. There is number of towns along the way so traffic can be kind of heavy, but the sights help to make up for that. When we got to Boulder Creek we decided to take the long way home via Big Basin State Park. Taking this route added a dozen miles to our trip and about 800′ of extra climbing but it’s such a beautiful place that we thought it would be well worth the effort.

Right outside of the park I had my first feelings of fatigue and I knew what the climb was like getting out. We took a short break, got some cold water and chatted with one of the park rangers. This guy actually suggested that we find a motorcyclist to pull us up the climb!

I actually made it out of Big Basin without any trouble at all, but the final section climbing back up to Skyline was pretty brutal on me. I made it but not without a fair amount of cramping.

I thought we were home free, but our descent down Redwood Gulch was a bit problematic. That road is so steep that Evan’s breaks were fading and the heat buildup actually caused his wheel to fail. I ended up riding back to my place and grabbing the car to go pick Evan up.

All in all the ride was right around 90 miles with 7300′ of climbing and it took us around 5 hours 30 min to complete it. That’s not too bad given that the climb up the eastern side of the mountain would be at least a category 1 climb if not a beyond category climb in the Tour.

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2 Responses to “Cupertino to Santa Cruz and Back”

  1. Dhiraj Says:

    Hi Ryan,

    Thanks for the post. Last weekend my friend and I went along the same route. It was a very nice route and we enjoyed it except for the climbing :-). Doing it in 5 and 1/2 hours is really good. We took close to 7 hours without taking the Big Basin route back.

  2. Steve Says:

    Hi Ryan,

    Thanks for this, I’m currently looking into a ride from Cupertino > Pismo Beach, and this would be part of my first leg (seems reasonable to make it to Monterey by Day 1). I’ve never ridden Hwy 9 before so it’s great to hear some perspective on it.


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