I cycled up and down Mountain Charlie Road in the Santa Cruz Mountains Saturday afternoon. Mountain Charlie is a very narrow single lane road that is steep, curvy, and poorly maintained. It’s a nice, lightly trafficked road that takes me to the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Mountain Charlie Road is a little more challenging than your normal hill climb road — the pavement is poorly maintained and the curves are unusually sharp, meaning you really need to watch your speed. If you lose control on some corners, there’s no rail or wall to stop you. I don’t recommend Mountain Charlie unless you know the road and you know your bike. You need good brakes, good tires, and good bike handling skills.
Like any hill climb, the real fun is the ride down. Saturday, though, I was thinking of Rachel Atherton. Immediately prior to my ride I was at the bike shop and heard about Rachel’s head one collision with a pickup truck not far from where I live. She was flying downhill on Amesti Road in Corralitos, crossed the centerline coming around a curve and hit a truck, flying over the hood and into the windshield.
Later on, I learned of Liz Hatch’s crash during a fast downhill in Napa County when she hit a patch of pine needles coming around a curve, lost control and went over a guard rail at nearly 30 mph.
A couple of years ago, local cyclist Bob Hebeler was riding down Empire Grade Road at about 40 mph in the Santa Cruz Mountains when he reportedly crossed the centerline going around a curve and hit a pickup truck going the other direction. Unlike Atherton, Hebeler passed away from massive head injuries from his collision.
I’ve known of a couple of other amateur cyclists who’ve perished after losing control and crashing on steep and fast downhill runs. I also have motorcycling friends who’ve taken risks biking on winding, curving roads, and lost control around those corners.
One of my more spectacular crashes was in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Coming down Trail Ridge Road I attempted a left turn onto Fall River Road to get to the Fall River park entrance. I had descended from 12,000 feet elevation to 9,000 feet in 15 miles and 20 minutes. I took that turn at probably 30 mph when I hit sand and slid through the intersection on my side.
Many of us take risks when cycling, but what about you on those hills? Are you a thrill seeker? Do you stay on your side of the road? Or have you lost control momentarily and either gone off the road or drifted into the oncoming lane?