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Another day in cycling paradise

Riders roll out to start the 2014 Tour de Peninsula
Riders roll out to start the 2014 Tour de Peninsula
Jim Kirkland/

It was another day in paradise, well maybe so after cresting the steep climb up to Crystal Springs Trail.

A cyclist on Canada Road takes in the Crystal Springs Reservoir view.
Jim Kirkland/

The Crystal Springs Regional Trail, running for 15 miles in the northern reaches of the Santa Cruz mountain range, is one of the jewels in the crown for cyclists among the four San Mateo County parks visited by the Tour de Peninsula, presented by Whole Foods Market.

Sunday, August 3rd, 1350 family-oriented cyclists rode to both celebrate and support these parks in the 24th annual edition of this event.

Originally the TdP, as it is called, was intended to highlight the contrast between the 1970s lackadaisical west coast approach to cycling and the sharper, more organized, European racer scene: the Tour de France, to put a fine point on it. Over the years the TdP has edged toward a happy medium, and cyclists now regard it as a well organized, sociable ride with a distinct lack of urgency. Participants take time to enjoy the majestic landscape of San Mateo County as well as stopping to chat at the frequent rest stops. Some even take shortcuts.

For event organizer, Julia Bott, the ride has a very clear purpose, “It is about opening Cañada Road to cyclists as a park.” The TdP is owned by the San Mateo County Parks Foundation. The ride raises money for Bicycle Sunday on Cañada Road, a weekly occurrence that encourages hundreds of cyclists to enjoy the safety of a car-free road alongside the beautiful Crystal Springs Reservoir.

Thanks to the generous support of sponsors such as Whole Foods Market, Buck’s of Woodside, Alice’s Restaurant, and The Fruit Guys, among several other community-minded companies, a wide variety of delicious cyclist fare is abundant at 5 rest stops along the TdP route.

TdP riders, which range from the single digit years to octogenarians, mostly take up one of three route options: the 20-mile route, a 31-miler, or the 63-mile course which includes a 4.2-mile ascent of the formidable King’s Mountain Road - and a shortcut. The youngest riders at the event opt for a less ambitious route on the bayside trails running between the tall eucalypts of Coyote Point Park.

High in the minds of many of us that rolled out for the 63-mile route at 7 a.m. on Sunday was the coffee cake at rest stop one. A reward courtesy of Buck’s of Woodside for completing the Polhemus Road ascent. Another reward was the early morning mist hanging over the still-sleepy waters of Crystal Springs Reservoir.

First, though, we had to get there. A group of maybe 700 pedaled through downtown San Mateo, more than a mile of which is coned off for cyclists. Coming back into town on Millbrae Avenue, tired riders are greeted by another section of coned-off traffic lane. Apart from making these sections much more enjoyable to ride, the coned-off lanes give the feeling of a city and its officials that welcome these cyclists who are raising money to help run the surrounding parks.

The climb up Polhemus Road reared up ahead and the air was filled with the sound of clicking gears as riders searched for a more comfortable pedaling cadence.

And then we were there: Cañada Road. On the way out, the car-free section on Cañada Road is a good five miles, and then on the way back riders can enjoy this luxury again. We headed south rolling at a brisk pace enjoying the all the sounds one can only hear when there are no cars about. “It’s unusual to find a ride with so much road space dedicated to bicycles, I appreciate this,” said Michael, a business consultant from San Francisco, riding in the TdP for the first time.

All too soon we were back among the auto traffic and heading through Woodside toward King's Mountain Road. Some found this big climb easier than did others. Abhishek, a computer programmer from San Francisco had invited a group of his friends to join him. We chatted for a while on the lower slopes before he politely asked if it would be OK for him to go on ahead. “Only for a few minutes,” he said and floated away up the climb. Your reporter arrived red-faced and breathless at the top a distant 10 minutes behind him.

The rest stop at the top of King’s Mountain Road is a welcome site indeed. Alice’s Restaurant provides the food, and there is plenty of it. baked potatoes, sandwiches, a variety of fruits as well as a range of snack bars, fruit juices and water of many types. Needless to say there was quite a crowd there, and most seemed happy to linger and enjoy the sun which had just broken through the clouds for the first time.

One of the SRAM service vehicles was stopped there seeing if anybody needed their help. The main problem these mechanics see at rides like this is flat tires, but there’s a range of other minor issues they deal with. Mechanic Vincent Gee had some advice for cyclists. “Get your bike tuned up at the local bike store before the ride. Who wants to be sitting beside the road for 5-20 minutes waiting for us to arrive and help them out? A ride free of mechanical problems is always way more enjoyable, especially if you have limited time.”

Riders were streaming in and out of the Alice’s Restaurant rest stop. Stas, a social worker from San Bruno, was figuring out his next step. “The weather looks good this year. Last year it was foggy up here so I took the short cut at Old La Honda. West Old La Honda is beautiful when it’s clear, but when it’s foggy you can’t see a thing.” He said. He was talking about the Simon Says shortcut, named after one of the event founders, Mark Simon. He’s the one with the more relaxed approach.

The other founder is Rick Sutton, a pretty serious athlete back then, and he still keeps himself trim. These days at the TdP Rick puts most of his effort into the kids’ rides, back in Coyote Point Park.

Once one of the most ambitious event organizers in the cycling world, more recently Rick has launched the Plus 3 Network, a company that enables people to raise money for charity causes (including the San Mateo County Parks Foundation) at the same time as leading healthier, more relaxed lifestyles. “The whole peninsula is full of over-achievers, but the main achievement for riders in the TdP is taking a mellow bicycle ride with family members and enjoying the beautiful scenery we have here - and of course raising money so cyclists can continue to enjoy the relative safety of a car-free Cañada Road every Sunday,” Rick explained.

Coming down off Skyline Boulevard, the serpentine bends of Old La Honda Road are always exhilarating, just as the cruise along the winding Sawyer Camp Trail was sublime. One of the older inhabitants of the Sawyer Camp Trail, as it climbs gradually to the San Andreas Fault, is the Jepson Laurel, a mighty old tree that’s stood in that spot for around 600 years.

Rolling back into the TdP venue at Coyote Point Park is always a relief. The 63-mile route may not be particularly long as organized rides go, but it’s plenty tough. The park is tidy and compact, and comes equipped with a spacious toilet block that is well suited for a quick post-ride clean-up. Food vendors operate onsite, picnic tables are plentiful, and the blues band is lively. It’s a great setting for all the post-ride stories.

One of the most impressive stories was that of 11 year-old Angel More. At age 10 Angel became the youngest person to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya. At her young age she has already completed six Alcatraz swims, and today, accompanied by her father Herman she finished the 63-mile route of the TdP. It was her second attempt. “Last year they said I was too far behind, so they picked me up and drove me for a mile or so, then they let me ride again,” she said.

Of the 63-mile course, which includes more than 4,700 feet of climbing, Angel said, “I like it, but the hills are hard.” Still, she says, “other kids my age could do this, I recommend it to my friends, but so far they’re not interested.” The following weekend Angel swam in the Bridge to Bridge event, from the Bay Bridge to the Golden Gate, and at the year's end she was planning to climb Aconcagua, a 23,000 foot peak in Argentina.

Needless to say, Angel's parents were very proud of her, but today the main enjoyment was the opportunity to share a family adventure, one of many that comprise the true worth of the TdP experience.

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