The climb up Mt. Hamilton on New Years is a semi-tradition for cyclists in the Bay Area. The “semi” part comes from the fact that the weather pretty much decides whether the ride takes place or not. I did this ride for the first time in 2005, and it was snowing at the top. Not a lot of snow, mind you, but it was pretty epic. I was looking forward to a fun ride to start off 2006 on the right note, but it was likely that the temperatures wouldn’t be cold enough at the top for snow. There would be rain and wind though, so it was going to be a battle against the elements regardless.
I arrived at the bottom of Mt. Hamilton at about 11:30 am, so I was late getting started compared to most of the other cyclists who were doing the ride today. The bottom half was pretty fun until I got to the top of the first ridge and the short descent down past Grant park. At this point the winds started kicking up pretty badly. By badly, I mean that I had to peddle pretty hard to make any headway, and I was going downhill too! And it got worse as I continued up towards the second ridge. The wind gusts were so strong at points that I almost got blown off my bike. I had to unclip my right foot from the pedal and put it on the ground several times to keep from blowing over. There was more than one time that I questioned my foolishness of being on my bike in a raging wind and wondered if it was a better idea to turn around and head downhill. However, I always managed to struggle past the particularly bad sections and the winds would reduce from nasty ferocious to merely nasty so that I could clip back in and continue.
At one point, I rounded a corner and spotted a feline critter walking along the road. I’d never seen a bobcat in the wild before, and this one was maybe 100 feet or so in front of me, lazily walking up the hill facing away from me. It did a kitty stretch on the dirt shoulder beside the road as I was slowly sneaking up so that I could get a better photo. I tried to get my camera out, but it spotted me and darted off the road and down the hill, and I didn’t get my picture. However, it was still pretty cool, and kind of made it worth being out in the wind and rain.
Eventually I got to the top of the second ridge and the winds died down a bit as I descended to the Smith Creek Bridge. I decided that if the winds didn’t get much worse, then I would keep going. Needless to say, the closer I got to the summit, the harder it was to justify turning around. I guess it’s a guy thing… Sort of a stubborn pride not to quit. About four miles from the top, a tree had fallen onto the road, but someone had been out with a chainsaw and cut enough of the tree out of the way so that cars (and bikes) could pass. The rain was kicking up a little, and the wind started howling around the corners again, threatening to fling me back down the mountain. I got to the last mile or so and I was determined to make it to the top, but the exposed upper slopes allowed the wind to blast across the road and I was literally pushed from one side of the road to the other. I managed to stop safely though, and got through that bad section. Soon enough I was at the summit.
I went inside to to warm up and check on the temperature and wind speed outside. It was about 42 degrees and the wind was averaging around 25-30 mph. The gusts were even higher as shown in the graph below:
After putting on all the warm clothing I was able to bring with me up the mountain, I started my descent. With the wind and all the road debris, it was one of the slowest descents I’ve ever made of Mt. Hamilton. Fortunately, the winds died down a little after I got past the Smith Creek Bridge, so I was able to stay on the road without too much trouble. In fact, the final five miles or so was very calm with a bit of a tailwind, making for a very pleasant final part of my descent.
Definitely another epic New Years ride up Mt. Hamilton. However, I think I prefer snow and cold to the fierce winds. Next year should be fun!