Unexplored Territory

I mentioned the other day my friend Pete, who’s training for both the Boston Marathon next month and for the an Ironman-distance triathlon in June, is visitiing down here from his new hometown of Portland (the one in Oregon). The other day we did a ride that’s become a favorite of mine, from Berkeley up to Davis; then we got on the train for the ride back.

Today I went down to meet Pete at his folks’ house in southern San Jose. It is unknown territory for me in terms of cycling. I’ve ridden on Mount Hamilton a few times, and a few times in the Santa Cruz mountains, but San Jose has been mostly a big, incomprehensible sprawl (for non-Bay Areans: it’s the biggest city in the region, with about 1 million people; and unlike San Francisco, which is dense for a West Coast city, it is spread all over. San Francisco’s population is about 750,000 with an area of about 50 square miles; San Jose has 1 million people in roughly 175 square miles (Chicago has 2.9 million in 227 square miles; New York 8 million in about 330 square miles. So yes, San Jose is spread out).

I got a tiny bit of that San Jose tangle sorted out today. We headed south out of town, with a side trip (and climb) up to a county park; we noodled west and south through some low hills and then started up a road toward Uvas County Park that Pete had never ridden before. The road was narrow and ascended along a creek from open oak hills into redwood canyons–a transition that I think of as typical for the Santa Cruz Mountains. As the road narrowed, the creek gorge became deeper and the redwood stands taller and denser. After four or five miles we approached an archway that proclaimed we had reached Sveadal. In Swedish, Svea is sort of the personification of the motherland, something like Britannia or Columbia (though not rising to the level of Japan’s Amaterasu, who is a full-on goddess); in Norwegian, dal means valley, and I’ll bet it’s the same for the Swedes. Sveadal–which I’d call Svea’s Glen more than Svea’s Valley from the appearance of it–is owned by the Swedish-American Patriotic League of the San Francisco Bay Area, which has owned it for nearly a century. They have one big do their each year: a midsummer’s party. Lots of fun, you bet.

It had been sort of a funny, cool, windy, mostly overcast day, but the sun came after we continued from Sveadal up to the entrance to the county park. We sat and talked for a while, then headed back. Pete said this was the kind of ride he really liked–it involved some real exploring, the kind you wouldn’t get to walking and the kind that would lose its flavor if you drove. “I don’t ever want riding to be just training,” he said. I agree, though at the same time I’m aware of all the countryside I’ve ridden through without really seeing it.

We were about 25 miles from his parents’ house at this point, so we rode back down the hill, decided against any further southward exploration, and road through the headwinds home. One added bonus: two golden eagles flew up from the side of Calero Reservoir just as I passed. I only paid attention because I spotted a guy with a camera watching them, and they’re easy to mistake for turkey vultures from a quick glance. But these were eagles, right by the side of the road.

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