Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge 2012

Saturday, July 28, 2012

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Today is the 14th annual Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge-an event organized by the Santa Cruz Cycling Club. It’s a beautiful 100 miles through the Santa Cruz mountains on some of the most challenging roads out there; Mt Charlie, Jamison Creek and Zayante Rds. There’s no shortage of climbing on this ride, there’s 11,000′ of elevation gain-that’s more than 100′ per mile!

We arrive at Scotts Valley High School and already see riders out on the roads-it’s not even 6 AM yet! We wait until the skies lighten up before hitting the road at 6:20 AM-54F.

The dull grey of the early morning fog is accompanied by mist and drizzle. The cool moist air really wakes you up! As expected, the fog lingers through the whole climb up Mt Charlie Rd-it creates a feeling of calmness which is a great way to start the day!

The ascent on Mt Charlie is 4+ miles long on a narrow single lane road. The grade for first mile of climbing is at around 6-9% on really poor pavement with lots of cracks and potholes. Catch your breath when you reach the point where the road levels out because the steeper section of this climb is coming up! You’ll not only see it but you’ll feel it as well-the gradient ranges from 11-15%!

On the approach to Riva Ridge, we get hit with the bright bursting rays of the morning sun-WOW!

Don’t let Riva Ridge fool you-it’s a sleeper of a short climb; it starts off gradually at around 4% followed by a descent which in turn brings you to a very rude awakening steep quarter mile section with grades of 14-17%! There’s a reason people are out here cheering you on! From Riva Ridge, we continue on Hutchinson Rd to Summit Rd.

We arrive at Water Stop #1-Summit Rd, mile 9.4 at 7:30 AM.

The course continues north on Summit Rd for the next 2.3 miles on flattish terrain. Once you pass the Christmas tree farms, the road opens up along the ridge with spectacular views of the forests below.

From Summit Rd, we take Bear Creek Rd to Hwy 35/Skyline Blvd. The first 3.5+ miles along Hwy 35 is on a shaded narrow single lane road with an average grade of about 4.5%. There are several sections with steep pitches of 9-11%!  The remaining 6+ miles on Skyline Blvd is on very smooth pavement all the way to Hwy 9.

We reach Rest Stop #1-Hwy 35/Hwy 9, mile 20.3 at 8:35 AM.

The 6 mile sweeping descent on Hwy 9 down to Hwy 236 is a blast!  

Continuing south on Hwy 236 takes us through the towering majestic redwoods at Big Basin Redwoods State Park-this is the most beautiful part of today’s ride! You get a gentle 3 mile climb followed by a fabulous fun 5+ miles descent to the base of the park. The air is fantastically fresh!

The next few miles out of the park is actually a climb-the gradient ranges from 4-7% followed by a nice descent towards Boulder Creek. At this point along the ride, I get to meet Emil from Switzerland-he follows my blog-WOW! It was a pleasure riding with him and hearing about his past and upcoming cycling adventures. He has plans to go up Mt Diablo, Mt Tam and Mt Hamilton!

We arrive at Rest Stop #2-Boulder Creek Country Club, mile 40.7 at 10 AM. It’s now 65F. Now is the time to peel off the layers for the upcoming climb on Jamison Creek Rd.

This event includes a time trial up Jamison Creek Rd, it’s a 3 mile climb with an elevation gain of 1505′. They’ll take your bib number and mark your time at the bottom and top of Jamison Creek. Me-I’m not even a competitive person so my plan is to just get up to the top and not feel dead doing it! The average gradient is 9.5% with the upper sections of the climb hitting grades of 10-15%!

Michael is way ahead of me, I reach Water Stop #2-top of Jamison, mile 44.3 at 11:04 AM. It’s warming up quite nicely-76F.

The next 1.5 miles on Empire Grade brings us to the Lunch Stop-Ben Lomond Training Center-CDF, mile 45.8 at 11:15 AM. It’s now a toasty 78F here! It’s great to see Ken E back on the bike and see Emil again!

After lunch, the course continues south on Empire Grade to Pine Flat Rd. The rolling terrain and fast descent makes it very easy to miss the turn onto Bonny Doon Rd. Slow down and watch for the signage!

The next flat 2.9 miles on Bonny Doon Rd takes you through a small residential neighborhood with open horse ranches and vineyards. We then head NE on Martin Rd and ride through the majestic trees along Ice Cream Grade Rd. It’s another gorgeous segment of this route!

The 3.8 miles descent on Felton-Empire Rd is fast-it drops you into the town of Felton. We reach Water Stop #3-Covered Bridge Park, mile 62.8 at 12:55 PM.

There is a lot of traffic going through town, watch for cars as you make the left turn onto E Zayante Rd from Graham Hill Rd. The route jogs a few times on E Zayante to W Zayante to Quail Rd and then back to E Zayante Rd. We stay on E Zayante for the next 6.6 miles. The climb starts gently with grades increasing to 6-8% with steeper sections that range from 10-12% and maxing out at 15%.

We arrive at Water Stop #4-E Zayante, mile 71.8 at 1:40 PM.

Upper Zayante Rd takes you 1.9 miles up to Summit Rd. The average gradient is 9.37% with one particular steep pitch that maxes out at 18%!

We head SE on Summit Rd for the next 1.2 miles and reach Rest Stop #3-Frank’s Christmas Tree Farm, mile 74.9 at 2:45 PM.

We continue on Summit Rd to Old Summit Rd; a slight detour away from traffic on single narrow lane. The next 3.2 miles back on Summit Rd is on a high density traffic area-watch for all the cars!

The turn on Soquel-San Jose Rd brings us to a blasting fast 8.1 miles descent on super smooth pavement-WOW!

The route continues on Laurel Glen Rd; it’s a pretty 2.2 mile climb with an average grade of 3.1%.

You’re at the top of Laurel Glen when you see the sign for St Clare’s Retreat. The descent on Mt View Rd takes you to the rolling terrain on Branciforte Rd.

The last climb of the day is up Granite Creek Rd; it’s 3.2 miles with an average grade of 3.6%, there are sections that range from 6-9% with steeper pitches from 10-11%!

From Granite Creek Rd, we cross the freeway overpass to Scotts Valley Dr and back to Glenwood Dr. We’re back at Scotts Valley High School, mile 102.72 at 4:40 PM-84F.

The post ride meal is a burrito with your choice of meat, rice, beans, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, cheese and lettuce. The passion fruit ice tea was very refreshing as was the ice cream; I had 2 flavors-cookies and cream & raspberry cheesecake swirl.

Much thanks to all the SCMC volunteers for being out there to support all the riders! This is an excellent event-any route you choose will be a challenge! I consider this to be one of the most beautiful rides in the area with quality miles and quality climbs on many of the quiet scenic back roads of Santa Cruz County. Come on out and do it!

VDO Stats:
Miles: 102.72
Elevation, 11,298′
Avg Speed: 11.3 mph
Ride Time: 9:05:06
Avg climb: 5%
Max climb: 18%

Weather: WONDERFUL! Early morning fog and mist followed by a full day of sunshine and blue skies! Morning temp of 54F and reaching a high of 84F at the finish.

Nutrition: Maltodextrin mix, lots of water, 1/2 PBJ, 2 Cokes, banana, watermelon, strawberries, slice of pumpkin & zuchinni bread, 1/2 turkey sandwich with tomato, lettuce and pickles.


The road uphill and the road downhill are one and the same. ~Heraclitus Ephesus

Click here to view the route map & profile

Follow this route for today’s ride:


One Comment

  1. Hi Nancy,
    Congratulations! You’ve done it!
    The names of all the roads you and Michael climbed and descended sound very familiar.
    As member of Almaden Cyclists, we frequent these roads on both sides Santa Cruz Mtn.
    Ray Low

    Ray, Thanks! SCMC is one of my favorite rides! See you out on the roads! Nancy


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