Thursday, January 12, 2017


So far, 2017 has been the year of rain around here.  Lots of rain.  Rivers are flooding, and at least locally, the reservoirs, which had been at about 40% capacity at the beginning of the year are now full to the brim and spilling over in ways that I haven't ever seen.

We had one big storm on Sunday, so Monday I headed out for a short ride up Stevens Canyon to admire the creek.  It looked like a torrent of raging chocolate milk, and parts of the road were so covered with residual mud from mostly-cleared slides and continued runoff that one would be hard-pressed to know that there was pavement.  An entertaining ride.  I was briefly tempted to head up past the road closed sign on Redwood Gulch, but hadn't planned on doing any real hills (still getting over the remnants of last week's viral plague), so didn't.  Just as well -- apparently there were slides everywhere.  No one was getting over 9, 17, or along Skyline that morning; Nim's English teacher, who lives over in Santa Cruz, had entertaining stories to tell about trying to find a clear route through to work on this side of the hill.  Given the obscure road names she mentioned (which I know well because I like to ride on them!), she definitely had to scrape the bottom of the route barrel.

The kiddo also came home from school very very wet on Monday.

Clever kid wore her rain gear on Tuesday.  Just as well, as yet another big band of wetness came through.  I was amused to note that the radio emergency broadcast noise that usually signifies "This is a test.  This is only a test" was not really a test; but rather reported repeated flood warnings, including a report that Lexington Reservoir was starting to spill over.

??!!! This is the reservoir that was so bone dry not too long ago that one could start to see the remains of the old towns of Alma and Lexington that were flooded when they put the dam in back in the 1950's.    I don't think I've ever heard of it being so full as to spill over.  Naturally I had to go check it out, so yesterday I drove over to do a bike ride around the reservoir.  It was indeed full.

Sadly, I don't have any pictures of the reservoir's recent drought state for comparison.  Suffice it to say that the water surface level was more than 40 feet lower on Jan 1 according to the county gage data, and that was after our fairly wet fall.

It was odd to look over my right shoulder and see water right near the road in places where I am accustomed to seeing deep gaping chasms.

There was indeed water going over the spillway.  It looked so benign and smooth at the top,

but rapidly turned into a big waterfall going into the raging Los Gatos Creek below.

It was distinctly disconcerting to ride back up the dam, knowing that it was full to the brim, after I went down it to look at the creek. (The big green thing near the top is the dam; you can just see the spillway on the right side.  Just imagine all the water backed up behind it...)

As I started around the reservoir on my bike, I noted an almost constant array of small slides..

I decided to head up Old Santa Cruz Highway to get a little climbing in, and quickly ran into a road closed sign.

This was most annoying, as I had called the useless Santa Clara County road closure hotline that morning; it didn't say anything about the closure (and was several days out of date!).  Some hotline.  I decided to go past the sign, figuring that I'd go inspect the storm damage and turn around if it actually looked impassable or dangerous to bikes.  The standards are different for bikes/pedestrians than cars...

Incidentally, neighboring Santa Cruz County publishes a good, frequently-updated road closure list on the web. Basically, anything I would want to ride on on that side of the ridge is still closed.  I do appreciate their list though; it's pretty reliable, and I'd much rather just take a quick look at a web page before going out on a ride and get good information than make a phone call and listen to a long-winded inaccurate recording that is several days out of date.

After the sign, there were more small slides and one place where there was a little water running across the road that had clearly been worse earlier but was still passable.  After about another mile of climbing, I ran into another road closed sign, but no real evidence of any need for it, so I went past that one too.

A few more switchbacks and I came to this.

Hmmm....maybe they really mean it now?  By this point, I was too curious to stop, so I proceeded.  A slide I could go around unless it was really bad, a downed tree I would climb over.  Power lines I will not mess with.
Hmmm.  Power lines look weird.  

Oh look, the pole has snapped in the wind!  We didn't get the 173 mph gust reported at Squaw Valley, but it was still pretty windy when the storm moved through.  

And this is a tree plus power lines.  There were big truck sounds on the other side, like there might be people working on it too.  It looked like it was stable enough for me to get through, but I really didn't want to get to the other side, get yelled at, and then not be able to go back down the way I came, as that would have led to a detour of uncertain length, given that I knew many of the other options off the top were closed (for those on the Santa Cruz side) or in terrain that was likely to be a problem (for those on the Santa Clara side for which I had no reliable info).  So I turned around at this point and went back down to circumnavigate the rest of the reservoir.

As I came around the final part of the reservoir it started to rain.  Hard.  Argh.  At this point, there is a choice between riding about 1/4 mile on the shoulder of Highway 17, or taking a dirt detour along the edge of the reservoir.  My normal rule is to take 17 only if the weather and traffic are both good.  Weather rule violated, so Slippery Mud Ho for me.

This was actually pretty entertaining.  The dirt detour is just inches above the water level when the reservoir is as full as it was yesterday.  When I hit this point, there were geese swimming in the path, and a great blue heron hanging out watching them (sadly they flew off before I got my phone out -- but very cool to watch)

The outing was a mere 12 and a half miles of riding -- but they were entertaining miles!

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