Santa Cruz is a GREAT place for a cycling vacation. This past weekend, I packed up the Element and made my way into Santa Cruz, arriving on Saturday afternoon. ‘Twas a splendid weekend, with temperatures in the upper 70s and low 80s. And, being “off season” meant that finding an inexpensive motel was exceedingly easy. I stayed at one of the Super 8 Motels on Riverside. There are two on the same block, but this one is closer to the Boardwalk and referred to as “Boardwalk West”. For me, it had all I really needed. A comfy bed, a fridge, microwave and free wifi. Is this the Four Seasons? Nope. But, it is comfortable, clean and way more than adequate to start and end some good rides.
Shortly after my arrival, I suited up and went out for a quick spin, heading up the coast toward Wilder Ranch. The return along the West Cliff Road was spectacular. So many people out enjoying the sunny and warm November day.
The next morning started well. I made my way over to Linda’s Cafe for a really nice breakfast. More about that soon. Then I headed back to the motel, where I filled my bottles, suited up and made ready for what would be a great day on the bike.
Rumor had it that there was a 9:30 group ride leaving from the Bay View Hotel in Aptos. Being less than familiar with the area, I thought that hooking up with that ride would be the way to discover a good route. I left the motel at about 9 am, figuring that I should be able to get there easily by 9:20 or so. And, in fact, I arrived at the Bay View at almost exactly 9:20. There was a group of 4 cyclists in the parking lot, so I rode up asking if this was the ride. It turns out, they said, that the group ride had departed about 9:10, so it was probably a 9:00am ride. No worries.
For a moment, I contemplated going on a solo ride, wondering where I might go on this glorious day. I didn’t have long to ponder, as this kind group of cyclists quickly asked if I’d like to join them. In just a matter of moments we were underway.
I was more than content to follow this quartet of friends as they lead me over the smooth roads that covered these opening miles. Jan “the answer man”, Cathy, Patrick and Mary were basically local, in from the Monterey area for the day to add variety to their cycling routine.
After a brief foray through twisting and undulating topography, we rolled through a flat and fertile agricultural landscape. Vast expanses of strawberry fields and farms a plenty lined the road as we made our way to Corralitos.
The next 9 miles or so were predominately uphill on Eureka Canyon and Highland Way. These roads are not wide and there isn’t much in the way of a shoulder. And on that day, there just wasn’t that much traffic. I can say, without a doubt, that I absolutely saw more cyclists out there than cars.
Eureka Canyon is a great climb for cyclists. There are long winding stretches where it just isn’t steep and so it doesn’t feel too challenging to keep a big gear rolling. Then, there are some shorter, steep pitches that test the legs. But, these aren’t overly demanding and thankfully, they are followed again with stretches of minimal severity. Kathy, I believe, called it a “forgiving climb,” and I think that sounds about right.
After the first few miles, the pavement displays its age with potholed pride. There are definitely areas where it is rough and the road demands attention and respect. Even so, for a Sonoma County kid like myself, who is used to riding on roads that are more pothole than pavement, these roads in the Santa Cruz area would barely rank in terms of roughness.
From the summit, we were treated to a fast and fun descent that took us back down toward Aptos. These 7 miles were just incredible. A skilled rider would nary touch the brakes, as the well maintained road sweeps its way through one gentle bend after another.
At the bottom of this descent our rolling quintet become 1 and 4. Since I started my ride in Santa Cruz and wanted to meander back, I opted to turn right on Laurel Glen Rd. Jan, Kathy, Patrick and Mary continued straight toward cerveza and sustenance. They had asked if I would like to join them. While I opted to add a bit of mileage, I realize that this is one of the things I love about cycling. That scarcely a few hours before, I was but a stranger to them. There are things that happen on the road – the camaraderie, the sense of accomplishing something together, the miles spent just talking. And soon, strangers are friends.
To Jan, Kathy, Patrick and Mary, thank you for being such cordial tour guides. I hope the end of your ride was excellent and I hope you had as much fun as I did. I hope to see you all again.