Last Thursday was Independence Day, a day to celebrate freedom: breaking away and being in control of your destiny. As a child I found my freedom through my bicycle. On our bikes, my friends and I roamed the neighborhood, rolled down to the creek to throw rocks and explored trails that led to distant and unexpected places. Freedom was knowing we could go wherever we wanted under our own power.
That’s still how I feel when I venture out on the creek and bay trails, exploring to see just how far they’ll take me. You’d probably be surprised to learn how far your bicycle take you starting directly from your front door even if you stick to off-road bike trails. Little known fact: you can ride 20 miles from downtown Mountain View to downtown San Jose and only leave the trail for about 1/4 mile, provided you and your bike can handle riding on some gravel sections.
Exploring trails is also a great way to increase your fitness. You don’t have to be training to race the Tour de France, where riders average 100 miles per day for three weeks every July, to see health benefits from amping up the distance. By gradually increasing your mileage five miles each week you can go from 10 miles this weekend to 50 miles by Labor Day. And you can do it all on trails.
The trick to going long off-road is to take the Stevens Creek Trail to Shoreline Park, turn right and cross the footbridge onto the gravel Bay Trail to head south behind Moffett Field. Then continue through Sunnyvale to catch the newly paved Guadalupe River Trail down to San Jose. Out-and-back is close to 40 miles from downtown Mountain View, but there are good turnaround points along the way. If you’re like me and don’t like out-and-back routes, you can also ride further, then bail out by taking Caltrain or VTA Light Rail home.
Here are some highlights of the route. Note that all mileage is approximate and starts at the downtown Mountain View Caltrain/VTA transit station.
Mile 5: Moffett Field
Built in the 1930′s to house dirigibles, Hangar One is so massive that folks say clouds form inside. Once slated for demolition, they’ve torn off the toxic shell leaving its graceful and impressive lattice framework exposed. If you’re lucky you may catch military, research. or other aircraft taking off or landing from its long runway.
Turn around here for a 10 mile round trip.
Mile 7: Sunnyvale Wastewater Treatment
Wastewater draining from indoor sources in Sunnyvale flows through sewer pipes that direct it to this plant for treatment before being discharged into San Francisco Bay. The odor-free plant has two treatment ponds on the bay where you can add an extra 3-4 miles per loop.
Turn around here for a 14 mile round trip or ride 1/2 mile to bail out at the Borregas VTA Light Rail Station.
Mile 11: Alviso
There’s a lot of history in the unassuming town of Alviso. Back in the 1800s its port was the hub for the Santa Clara Valley, with steamboats bringing passengers and goods on daily trips from San Francisco. During the depression what was once the country’s third largest cannery closed, the salt pond operations expanded, the port silted up and the town’s regional economic role declined. It’s still a one-of-a-kind place to visit, though, and a perfect place to add extra mileage on the large salt pond loop.
Turn around here for a 22 mile round trip or ride 2 miles down the Guadalupe Trail to a bail out at Lick Mill VTA Light Rail Station on Tasman.
Mile 16: San Jose International Airport
The Guadalupe River Trail runs for 10 miles from Alviso to just south of downtown San Jose and passes alongside the full length of San Jose International Airport. The trail’s proximity to the runways means great views of airplane takeoffs, approaches and landings. The airport viewing location near the Hwy 880 underpass has seating plus interpretive signs to keep you entertained between airplanes.
Turn around here for 32 mile round trip or ride 1 mile to a bail out at Metro VTA Light Rail Station.
Mile 18: San Jose’s Little Italy
As the Guadalupe River Trail approaches downtown San Jose, it crosses through the former River Street area, home of dozens of Italian immigrants who came to San Jose in the late 1800’s to work on farms and orchards throughout the Santa Clara Valley. Many immigrants first stayed in the Torino Hotel, which is now the home of the iconic Henry’s Hi-Life BBQ.
Turn around here for a 36 mile round trip or ride 1/2 mile to bail out at Diridon Caltrain Station.
Mile 19: Children’s Discovery Museum
Inside this bright purple building is a world of fun for the little ones, with interactive exhibits designed for open-ended explorations. If you stop in, check out the exhibit featuring skull, femur and pelvis fossils from Lupe, a Columbian Mammoth discovered along the Guadalupe River near the Trimble Road in 2005.
Turn around here for a 38 mile round trip or ride one mile to bail out at Diridon Caltrain Station.
The Guadalupe River Trail continues south to Almaden Valley with several on-street segments required. With a little adventure and a good map, you may surprise yourself with how far you can go. Keep adding 5 miles a week and by Thanksgiving you could be riding 100 miles in a day.
Tips for Going the Distance on Your Bike
* Carry water and refill wherever available. Plan to drink 1 bottle of water per hour of riding.
* For trips longer than one hour, carry snacks. It doesn’t need to be sports bars, just portable and easy to eat.
* For trips longer than an hour, consider wearing padded bike shorts. If you don’t like the tight lycra look, you can wear bike shorts under loose-fitting shorts.
* Go long and try transit for the return trip. It’s a lot more fun to see more new places instead of doing an out-and-back. If you’ve never taken transit with your bike, come back to Bike Fun next Thursday for details on how to get started on transit with less stress.
How far from home have you ridden on your bike? Have you ever followed an unknown path and found an interesting new route? What has been your most interesting discovery?