Old Tunnel Road from Sibley Ridge
Impossible to Ride!
Today's experimental outing on wheels came about as a result of a spontaneous route change undertaken by Brian and myself two weeks ago. We were traversing Piedmont, that street through the Berkeley Frat houses, when quite suddenly I called for a halt followed by a left turn up the hill. A hill with a street named Panoramic. It's called Panoramic for the simple reason, as with most streets that rise up at extreme angles, amazing views open up when you round a corner and everything falls away under you.
That day we had clawed our way up to the top, where the pavement turns to dirt and continues on over hill and dale. It is really unrelentingly steep to get up to this point, and we could not really go much further because we were on our road bikes, and our skinny smooth tires were just not cutting it in the dirt. I made a note to self to return here with my mountain bike and press on regardless, all the way across what seemed to be a valley to Grizzly Peak, far off in the distance.
So today was that day. I prepped my Rockhopper for dirt duty, as these days it is pulling exchange student commuter duty for the most part. I put on my road saddle, SPD pedals, tightened the headset, lubed the chain, strapped on a pump and tool bag, and BARTed out to Ashby st. in Berkeley. I slowly climbed through the town and up Panoramic. Its a long grind. I thought it would be easier on a mountain bike because of the low gearing, but the extra 12 lbs + weight over the road bike seemed to negate the gears for the most part. I was able to ride up where I had to walk my road bike two weeks ago, but it was slow going. But then, on an expeditionary jaunt like this, speed is not the point.
I made my way to the point on the fire trail where Brian and I had had to turn back. This point is punctuated by a very steep grade, which I tried to pedal up but soon realized I would have to walk it, pushing the bike. This is harder than it sounds, the bike gets very heavy and my feet barely got traction on this slope. (Another reason I use mountain bike cycling shoes rather than road style). Flushed, I finally surmounted the hill and found a descent on the other side...sawtooth ridges...OH NO! Up then down then up again. The second grade seemed just as steep as the first, but even longer. I pushed the bike up again, breathing hard and sweating in the sun, my calves starting to get a crampy feeling. Ok, now for some more downhill, then a section I could actually ride as it was merely ordinarily steep. Then a four way crossroads in the middle of nowhere. I wondered where the other ways went, but pushed on straight towards Grizzly Peak, which I could not see from this point, then turned a corner to see the Mother of All MoFos. (2nd photo above)
I mean, this dirt road went straight up, it was a field of sharp jagged rocks, with loose sand in between. I tried to push the bike and just got to a point it would not go up anymore, It felt like a ton of bricks, so I dropped the bike and just tried to hike up, and I could barely do that, I mean, this is a wicked steep pitch, my shoes not getting traction and sliding backwards. What kind of fire truck could even drive on this road anyway?
So, I had the queasy feeling of being defeated. Doesn't happen like this very often. I had pushed deep in and now I had to pay the price for that. I didn't relish going back the way I came, because of all the reverse course pushing of the bike I anticipated. So I coasted back to the crossroads and investigated the south direction, which was down, down, down into some Eucalyptus trees and darkness. The other way went north somewhere. I knew that I was on the hill north of Claremont Canyon, so that meant Claremont Ave. was to the south of me. Good chance the decending fireroad would take me there, so I chose that and dove down into it.
It was really steep so I was massively applying the brakes. The rear wheel was losing traction and skidding every two seconds or so. Then something caught me off balance and the rear wheel was in the air, I was hanging over the front wheel and the view was like looking over a cliff edge. Before I could grasp the implications, the rear wheel returned to earth. And then the entire bike skidded sideways.
My left foot was already out of the pedal before I started the descent, and as the bike went sideways I put it down like a kickstand and as it gained purchase, the bike hopped up with me on it, then down again as we slid further, then my foot stuck earth again, and the bike lifted again, and so on at least six times. Like a pogo stick we bounced down the hill. I really thought I was going down hard on this ungraceful maneuver, I mean really, I've never been in this position before and so I was just hanging on, but I felt in the moment that I could control it so kept cool, and then the bike stopped its gyrations and stopped. I remounted, and gingerly continued on down to Claremont. I emerged at that first big hairpin turn about 2/3 of the way to the top. I was happy to see familiar terrain.
I climbed to the top then plunged down the other side, Fishranch Road. It didn't feel like I was going that fast for some reason, but I was keeping in touch with the cars ahead of me. At the Caldecott building, I veered right up Old Tunnel Road in Sibley Park. Here is a sweet section of road I found two weeks ago, which has only recently been opened as regional parklands.
Yes, the old ORIGINAL Tunnel Road is now open for riding! And it is as awesome as it is short, for near the top of the hill it, like Panoramic, turns to dirt road. Another reason I brought the mountain bike.
I feel like this area is my new private playground. There are very few hikers out here, no other cyclists to be seen, its just wide open area. Dry and desert like, windblown and sunbaked, it is a compelling area to explore. Old old Tunnel road is in good shape, pretty smooth, a few weeds poking through cracks here and there, but amazingly intact. The dirt road it turns into is hard packed with some gravel, but easy to ride. There are numerous side trails going off to who knows where, grist for future explorations.
I rode mostly uphill over to the backside of Roundtop, the dormant volcano that is the crown jewel of Sibley Park. I stopped for lunch at the labyrinth, a Hippie era art work down in an old abandoned quarry. Its a desolate feeling place. After a climb out of there, the trail turns into a rocky field not unlike Eldridge Trail on Mt. Tam, and soon enough, I was in the very familiar Sibley rest stop off Skyline Blvd. My legs were shot, my glutes were aching, my lower back smarting, but the smile on my face said that it was all worth while.
After a short rest I descended the hill via some upper Montclair side streets, the mountain bike really shines as it feels like a mini motorcycle on twisty fast descents, and I was having a great time making it last as long as possible.
I was back home about 4 hours after setting out. I guess I only made about 25 miles, but man, what a 25 miles! Super steep ascents, super technical descents, moments of grave doubt, moments of elation, whole new areas bagged and a thorough workout had. So there you have it, a story about how I do it and why I do it, but after the ride, when I am standing in the shower, I reflect on it and am amazed that I did that---that I was able to do that--- on a bicycle, the most awesomely efficient machine ever invented.