Sunday, August 17, 2014

Uncharted (Morgan) Territory

The hills surrounding Pleasanton are visible from pretty much any place in tow. Besides "The Ridge", the horizon is dominated by Mt. Diablo and Morgan Territory to the north and east. I have ridden around and up to Diablo summit in 2011, all on pavement. This time, I was interested whether there was a trail connection between the two parks. Neither of the official park maps showed a clear connection (Morgan being East Bay regional park and Diablo a state park). Some online sources suggested there was a way, and a detailed trail map of Mt. Diablo confirmed it.

Bay Area, 21st Century
Gravel bike paths took me easily out of Pleasanton and into Livermore, where I crossed I-580 and within a quarter mile, the scenery changed from suburban sprawl to deserted ranch land. The flat roads continued for a bit more, then after a turn onto Morgan territory Road the climb started.

Climbing to the radio tower on the horizon
The climb felt easy and I was really enjoying the scenery. As the road twisted around canyons and grassy hills, views of the valley down west were revealed.

It looks like there should be caravans of camels on this picture, instead, I saw lots of cows, horses, three donkeys and an ostrich. I arrived at the park staging area thinking how easy the hill was. Here, while refilling water supplies and fixing a dragging rear rotor, I spoke with a road cyclist and racer, Vojtek, originally from Poland. He noticed my Beskidy Challenge jersey, and it turned out he used to be involved in that race and even worked as the course photographer.


 Here, the first paved section of the ride ended and I hit the dirt roads. These were smoothly graded fire road highways, with surprisingly good amount of tree cover for shade.

There were lots of absurdly steep short pitches, several fantastic descents and the views of double-headed Devil's mountain changed depending on the view angle.
 
 
 I came to an intersection where I could have continued along the high ridge, or drop steeply down towards Sulfur Spring trail. Despite my legs were turning into two columns made of mashed potatoes, I chose the downhill, knowing well that I would have to get back up, actually higher, on the slopes of Mt. Diablo.

Sulfur creek was dry as a bone and except a mud bog with lots of hoof prints and an empty structure, there was not much here at the canyon bottom, other than a steep road up. I climbed around a knoll where the views opened up briefly before dropping down again towards Old Finley Road.

Navigation was really easy, as every intersection was marked with a post and trail names. I guess Old Finley fire road runs along the boundary between the two parks, I took Oyster Point trail, which is on Mt. Diablo park land, and appears to be one of the few bike legal singletracks in the park. As such, it did not add much to the park trail quality reputation. It was steep and very rutted, forcing me off the bike often. I was spent by now and thought that a fire road would have been a better choice. Further up, the incline lessened somewhat and the trail surface improved and I was able to ride with something resembling a rhythm. As I climbed, the surrounding nature changed from grass, oaks and chaparral to sandstone formations and pines.

From where the singletrack ended, I had another 1.5 miles of climbing on a sandy fire road to the park road. The Diablo summit with its stone lookout tower seemed really close, but the idea of another 1500 or so vertical feet seemed really bad at this point.

The descent on South Gate road was a welcome change for my tired legs and I cruised down the hill thinking that the tough part was behind me. All downhill from here! Wrong, there were some more climbs on Blackhawk and the manicured developments around were not pleasing to look at. I thought how designed neighborhoods look like prisons to me, despite the luxury homes and expensive cars on the road. But there was an advantage to being back in civilization: a cold bottle of Gatorade at a gas station.
The final 7 or so miles on the Iron Horse trail could be described as the final push home while running on empty, except I got to talk to a fellow cyclist who used to work in Czech republic, ran a Prague marathon and cycled around the country. Chatting made the last miles go by quickly, and cold Pilsner never tasted better at the finish.






 




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