Niles Canyon Stroll & Roll (and Palomares counterclockwise)

Niles Canyon was closed to cars today for a “stroll and roll” event. We’ll ride through Niles Canyon with traffic, but the idea of doing without is certainly enticing.

They did one two years ago. That time we made it more interesting by taking Calavares back. Calavares is still closed from rain damage last winter. Palomares, another of our favorite roads, just finally reopened itself last week. Sold.

As we were getting ready to go, Ruth decided not to be very cooperative. She whined about Max maybe getting some Gatorade on the ride (“I didn’t get any Gatorade when I was three!”). She whined about sunscreen (“Laura [Ingalls Wilder] didn’t have to wear sunscreen!”). She whined about her helmet (“I can feel it on my neck!”). It was a strong reminder that the kids really could have shut down the West Coast trip last summer if they chose to. Once we got going she calmed down and seemed to have a lot of fun.

We made our way through Newark and Fremont through to the entrance to the canyon. Last time, they had the walkers in the eastbound lane and bikes in the westbound. This time they just had right and left. It’s great to see the community out enjoying the event, but I’m not sure it improves my cycling experience. I usually prefer sharing a road with cars over a multi-use trail. This was like the busiest multi-use trail ever, including lots of cyclists passing on the right who looked like they should know better. Every mile or so there were jersey barriers set up to create a choke point for some incomprehensible reason. My grump may be showing.

We got through to Sunol, and decided to ignore the Road Closed sign on the ramp to the rest of our route, assuming it was to prevent people from misunderstanding the official route. We had company as we proceeded through no-man’s land of closed to cars and not really part of the event.

We proceeded up Foothill. We’ve done the Palomares/Foothill loop many times, but decided to do it counterclockwise this time. We’ve only attempted this direction once before; way back early in our biking days, before we had kids. That time we climbed Foothill (the smallest climb of the day), rode a bit further, then decided to bail out and return home. So most of the road would be a new direction so new experience.

The first short climb (the tiny blip in the elevation profile around mile 14) was nowhere near as challenging as the first time we tried it, even though this time we were dragging up trailers full of kidflesh. It’s possible our legs have gotten stronger.

We talked about that ride as we enjoyed the much quieter road, even if there were occasional cars. We approached Dublin Canyon, our next climb. This direction is steeper than the other way, but it didn’t seem too bad. We started looking for a place for lunch, but ended up making it to the top first.

The descent was a little disappointing (the other downside to climbing the steeper side!), and the scenery along the I-680 frontage road isn’t too exciting. But it does connect Foothill to Palomares, so it serves its role.

We stopped for lunch right after the turn towards Palomares. The weather was warm but not too hot, so we decided to stop in pullout in the sun. We realized that while I grabbed the grownup sandwiches, I didn’t realize that there were things prepared for the kids under it. The kids made do with the mountains of snacks we did bring: applesauce, fruit cups, chips, goldfish, and cookies. Cookies fix a lot of problems.

Then it was time for the big climb of the day. With the normal way, this comes relatively early in the day. Counterclockwise, its towards the end, when we’re already getting worn out. Like Dublin Canyon, its steeper this way.

We trucked our way up, but the last mile kicks up the grade from ‘yeah, we’re working, but it’s all good’ to ‘ugh, one more stroke.. one more stroke..’. Eventually Anne called out that she needed to walk for a while. I kept going. One of the secrets to my biking success is that Anne is much better at pacing. Left to my own devices, I tend to push pretty hard, which works well for my one hour commute, but less so all day. As soon as Anne pulled over, without even realizing it, I cranked up the pace. I tried really hard to control it, but it was harder than I could comfortably sustain at that point of the ride. I talked myself into believing that the top was around the next corner. When it wasn’t, I defeatedly decided to just stop and walk with Anne. Pretty soon, she came around the same corner, laughing with Ruth as the both pushed the bike up the hill.

We completed the last bit of the climb walking. Ruth bounced between the bikes, Max got a kick out of putting hands and feet outside of his trailer, while Mommy and Daddy just tried to get to the top.

A quite nice descent rewarded us as we wound our way back down to Niles Canyon. We got there after the stroll & roll had nominally ended, but before they had reopened it to cars. The cop and traffic guy at the entrance made no effort to stop us, so we rolled onto the nearly empty road. I think we saw about 2 bikers and 3 joggers, plus a handful of utility vehicles clearing up. Now this made for a nice road.

Back to civilization, we looped around back home. Anne took me through some roads that she swears I’ve biked before, but I had no sense of direction for. I’ve lived here for ten years, and while I don’t know everything, it was still really bizarre. How long has there been a cornfield been there? What is this bridge going over? A pedestrian flagged down Anne to ask directions back to his car. Oddly, she was able to help him.

This ride was really nice. I’m not the biggest fan of the stroll & roll events, but it gave us a great excuse to go out and get some saddle time in. Ruth was grumpy at first, but warmed up within a mile. And the weather was perfect. Now if I could just will the kids to sleep, my day would be complete.