Due to an extremely severe case of momentary laziness, I missed SFR’s Del Puerto Canyon ride this November, forcing me to choose a permanent route for my November r-12 installment. DPC is one of SFR’s most popular routes, often the most popular. Del Puerto Canyon Road follows Del Puerto Creek which cuts through the canyon of the same name, and is just one of those very unique places in the bay area’s distant environs. I guess it is in the Diablo Range? Not sure. There aren’t too many peaks in this canyon with significant elevation, but as you ride through you can see the layers of rock emerging sideways through layers of vegetation, having been pushed around through millenia. Most of Del Puerto Canyon Road follows a wide, rocky riverbed along the road that sometimes even has water in it. And yes, there is Adobe Spring, a natural spring between mile markers 18 and 19. Someone spray painted arrows on the cliff wall opposite the spring to make it easier to find. Was it the same person who installed the spigot and water lines to draw water there? Unknown. This time I visited, the wooden bulletin board with info about the spring was missing. Huh!
Another interesting thing to me about Del P. is its proximity to Henry Coe State Park. Coe is one of California’s largest state parks, and least well known–a great combination, in my opinion! Cars are only allowed in certain campsites near the headquarters, and because of the rugged terrain, it self selects as a park for only the most tolerant adventurer. It features tough climbs, technical single track, no unfiltered water, and a minimum of human built structures encroaching into the environment. So much so that whenever I see trail markers, I’m surprised for a moment. Oh yeah, this is a state park! Occasionally we’ll run across a ranger who is hiking or biking through the park, and they are always the most curious individuals who are so knowledgeable about this fascinating place. If I’m reeeally good in this life, maybe I’ll be reincarnated as a Coe ranger! Large sections of Coe burned in the SCU Lightning Complex fire of 2020, along with long sections of the Hamilton Del Puerto 200k route. I remember seeing a video from the Hamilton observatory of what was most likely the start of that fire, a lightning strike at night. You could actually see in the extremely grainy night time video the lightning striking, and a smallish explosion setting off a slim smoky plume skyward. Yikes.
Anyway…back to that 200k route. I have been eyeing it for a few months as an interesting option for a weekday 200k. No junk miles at all, and minimal traffic, since no one’s driving up to the top of Mount Hamilton for their job. The only people working up there are the astronomers who live at the observatory! That also makes the cue sheet very simple, which is a nice bonus when it can happen. I think there are only 5 turns in the whole route. Another key bonus for me is that the start/finish control is positioned really close to a BART station!
The only hesitation I had about the route is the amount of climbing. To climb up the west side of Mount Hamilton and have to come back and climb up the east side too, and cover 200k in all, is a bit cray cray… maybe my kind of cray cray though? My other favorite perm is Sad Boiz which has 3500m of climbing and 12% dirt. This perm has just over 3700m of climbing but no dirt so it should be easy peasy! Haha so yeah I was a bit uncertain whether I would be able to finish within the time limit, but with such a great route, I didn’t think I would mind converting it into a fun ride on the fly if necessary.
Since I biffed on SFR Del Puerto which is always held the day before the hours change to Daylight Saving, and in any case getting pretty close to winter solstice, there would not be a lot of daylight. I tried to start as early as possible based on the BART schedule, and I guess it was fine.
I would have liked to catch more daylight descending the west side in the evening, but now that I have a new headlight (the “Light Bazooka” as John calls it) it was fine. Weather conditions were chilly, especially bookending the day, but that’s a big asset when doing such a long, tough climb. Wind was light, also a positive as there have been many times on Del Puerto Canyon for me when the wind just whips through the canyon, making it a tough, long slog. I did not want to take a ton of pictures, as even digital cameras do divide my attention, and I wanted to focus fully on riding well, eating enough along the way, not slipping out on the crazy descent down the east side of the mountain…
The climbing starts out easy, then gets steeper as you get closer to the top.
At a certain point, you round a corner and have a full view of the biggest telescope.
But there’s still a little ways left before the top. You have to climb still more if you want to use the bubbler or bathrooms at the observatory, and I opted to roll through and get my water at the spring, where the water tastes much better and can even cure or prevent a sore rando stomach. The summit is only 33 kms into the route. Agh, so much further to go!
I started descending the steep, twisty east side down, observing all the blackened trees. I wondered if cavity-dwelling animals would want to come back to roost in charred wood. I did see a lot of prairie dogs throughout the day, but not too many other animals. Not even other bicyclists or motorists on this Monday before Thanksgiving. There were a few farmers and rangers who all waved back at me when I waved at them. But the road was almost unsettlingly deserted. I kind of expect nowadays that road rides will have crappy, unfriendly or downright dangerous drivers, and I surprise myself sometimes by how accustomed I have become to aggressive drivers, anticipating them and compensating for them. But the past few road rides I have done have been mercifully peaceful.
Once you get most of the way down the hill, you cross a bridge, which is the sign it’s time to start climbing again. There is really no respite from climbing on this route. I started to feel despondent about my ability to finish within the time limit, but the bright sunlight was so beautiful on San Antonio Road and I was just loving the experience, so I kept riding on toward the spring. I would need to go there anyway, as I wouldn’t be able to make it back up the mountain without more water. Riding downhill from the Junction is a treat! So many times I have crawled up that climb, it’s nice to see the road from the other direction. When I got to the spring, there was a nice couple filling up what seemed like more carboys than their vehicle could possibly carry. They immediately asked if I would like to get some water for myself, and I assented. I looked at my watch and realized I would probably have enough time to do the whole route! I’m so bad at rando math sometimes… I do have an agreement with myself to never bail on a ride between controls. Though the spring is not a control on this route, I was able to get some food and water in me and think a little more clearly.
I rode on, leaving the couple to fill up their water-carboy-clown-car… and enjoyed still more quiet, peaceful mileage on Del Puerto Canyon Road.
When I got to Patterson, I looked around for the place where I usually go to eat. Distracted by a sign for a sushi restaurant that ended up being closed, a cyclist who had passed me on DPC waved me down. I rode over to him and we talked about where we were riding. He was packing his bike into his car. He said he remembered seeing me ride out there before, and said he remembered “this” and tapped the top of my handlebar bag with Mark E’s Souffle sticker in it. Ha! I am surprised how long I have been carrying around that sticker!
Being a good shepherd of my time, I left right when I planned to so I would have plenty of time for the hard climb back. I didn’t want to feel rushed on the final descent off the western side of Mount Hamilton, since it goes through a lot of park land and would probably have lots of animals jumping out in front of my bike in the dark…
The ride back through Del Puerto Canyon was still really peaceful, and when I turned onto San Antonio Valley Road, it was getting toward the golden hour. I lamented not having a good camera with me and resolved to come back again with one. Golden grasses, golden oak leaves, golden cows, golden road, golden prairie dogs. Everything had turned to gold for just a few hours. I was racing through this section, again to leave myself plenty of time for the climb ahead. At this point, I was starting to wonder if Putin had pushed the nuclear button or something, because I hadn’t seen any evidence of human activity for hours.
I passed over the bridge signaling it was time to start the big climb. I think there are only 7 miles left to the top at that point. Throughout Del Puerto Canyon Road, nearby Mines Road, and San Antonio Road are giant mile markers painted on the road, in my case showing how many miles till you reach the summit. I slowly counted them out, just finding that cadence that would be sustainable and holding onto it as much as I could.
When I turned that final corner and saw the telescopes for the second time that day, it was just at last light.
I saw the telescopes silhouetted against the deep red sunset, and as I rode past them, I heard them starting up. A lift door slowly slid open as I passed. I had never witnessed that before! Pretty cool… I just stopped for long enough to put on my mittens, any spare additional layers I could find, and take a picture of my bike at the top.
I figured I had enough time to descend carefully, even with the additional climbing within the descent (!). I did see a little gray fox prancing across the road and heard something furiously rustling in the bushes at some point, but no real hazards. And I finished in the time limit! I will definitely be doing this route again. Hopefully when it’s still cool out!