Daniel Nickel // Grand Epic
Let me first say, what a gnarly route. I’ve ridden most of the route in sections over the years, but hadn’t strung together an epic ride like this one. It truly lives up to its name. I think of this ride as two main parts, from the start to Los Gatos and from Black Road to the finish, with the intermission being around Lexington Reservoir.
I really enjoyed the first part. I had never been on some of those trials prior to scouting the route in preparation for the ride, and stringing them all together was awesome. Intermission was fine, a time to get some popcorn and stretch your legs. And the second part seemed to take me forever. Skyline and Sunny Jim are no joke. Really all of that second part is tough.
I started the route at about 5am on Sunday 4/17. It was cold, and dark, but the roads were pretty much car free. Oak Ridge trail was still a bit sticky from the recent rain, and I got quite a bit of mud stuck to my tires, that happily flew off and stuck to me and my bike on the downhill toward Calero. The trails in Calero were a little muddy in places, and I’m glad I rode today, and not yesterday. I was even more glad of my choice of days in Quicksilver where there were still big sections of mud that I tried, generally unsuccessfully, to avoid.
Things pretty much dried out on Woods trail where it gets rocky just before crossing Hicks Road. This section was a little rough for me, with quite a bit of hike-a-bike. Even though I was riding a mountain bike, 36x51 is still a little too big to get up some of the 20% sections. Also I didn’t want to burn out my legs this early in the ride. My goal was basically just to finish, and do it before Fremont Older closed.
The rest of Woods and Kennedy went but without too much trouble, and I was making good time according to my estimates. I did end up walking down one of the steep descents on Kennedy, as there were two hikers coming up on the left side. About a month ago I went over the handlebars when my wheels got stuck in a washout not far from here. I was trying to avoid another hiker, and that flashed in my mind as I was heading down. Crashing wasn’t in my schedule today, so better slow and safe, then calling for a ride home.
The downhill toward Los Gatos was uneventful, though I did get stuck behind some other cyclists in the bike lane as I neared downtown, slow traffic all around. I stopped at the trail entrance to eat a little lunch and refill my water, then back up and over the very busy Jones trail section. I didn’t see any salamanders on the Lexington Reservoir section, but did pass a group of cyclists that I had met when I was filling up on water back at the trail entrance. They soon passed me again on the climb up Old Santa Cruz.
I stopped at the start of the Black Road climb to eat a little something, and psyche myself out for what was coming up, and another rider covered in a sufficient amount of mud to indicate he was also riding an Epic today, rode by. It was cool to see another rider, but I knew that would probably be the last time I would see him today, I didn’t think I could keep up with his pace.
Black Road was a little rough for me, and there was a fair bit of traffic. I always worry about those one lane sections. I’ve seen quite a few sports cars take those corners too fast in the past, and in a contest between two cars and a bike on a one lane road, the bike is going to lose.
Sanborn was pretty good, not a lot of hikers or mountain bikers out. I always forget how long that single track climb up to Skyline is. The overlooks were nice and clear today, but I didn’t stop to take any pictures. My estimated finish time kept getting pushed back every time I stopped.
Up on Skyline Ridge trail things weren’t too muddy, but there were quite a few hikers in inconvenient places. There were some larger groups around the more technical downhill sections, which made the ride a little more “exciting”.
The rest of the trail up to Sunny Jim are kind of all melded together. I stopped up on Skyline and Highway 9 to refill my water bottles from the 2L bladder in my frame bag, and snapped a picture by Turtle Rock. Then on and on the winding trails. The water bars on Tree Farm trail are pretty rough this year, and Sunny Jim was much steeper than I anticipated. There were also some baby geese over by Horseshoe Lake.
That climb up to Black Mountain was fun, but tough. I hadn’t taken that route up before, but it was better than trying to ride up Indian Creek trail. Riding down it though, was a lot of fun. Getting to the top of Black Mountain was a highlight, because for me it meant I was back in familiar territory. I’ve ridden through Stevens Creek Canyon and Fremont Older many many times, but I could feel that the last climb up Fremont older was going to be very rough.
It ended up that I had to hike-a-bike up a section of trail I’ve never had to before, on that climb into Fremont Older. I was just that worn out. But I made it to the top and through the fun and flowing single track, and just like that the ride was basically done. Just down and out of Fremont Older and back to the finish line parking lot, and that was it. (Well not entirely, having ridden to the start I still had to ride home. Hooray for bonus miles…)