It is a Thanksgiving tradition. On Thursday, I participated in the annual Los Gatos Turkey Day Ride. This year was my twenty-third (with no breaks) and it was a cold one. We got our first big storm of the year the day before, and the heavy rain and cold front chilled the whole area.
As always, the day begins with loading the bike onto the truck and driving out to Los Gatos. The lot was empty as I rolled up to the parking spot. Our chilly crew typically begins on Los Gatos Blvd. across from the Summit Bike Shop. Summit will usually open for a short while to help folks who are ill-prepared for the climb to the top of Kennedy Trail, but we usually get there well before they open.
We pour irish coffees for a quick, warm shot of courage right before we climb upon our steeds and begin the trek to the top. The climb begins with leaving the downtown area and riding out to Kennedy Road where the climb officially begins. The Kennedy Road climb is not particularly tough; 2.5 miles of climbing and 500 feet of elevation gain. I was doing rides worse than this in Middle School (but they were a LOT easier back then!) Once you reach the top of the pavement, the easy part of the ride is complete.
At the tippy top of Kennedy Road, one finds a trailhead. This is the start of Kennedy Trail. Kennedy extends up the mountain and ends after about 6 miles at Mt. Umunhum Road. We do not ride the entire length of Kennedy trail, just the first 4 miles to the highest point where it intersects with the top of the Priest Rock trail. (Distances are estimations.)
The climb up Kennedy is a bit of a local legend. About 1700 vertical feet in 4 miles is doable, but will leave you feeling depleted when you eventually reach the top. This year, it destroyed me. I can usually make it to the top only feeling very tired; this year I was practically destroyed. I rode the entire trail (no pushing the bike, with many stops) but I paid for it in the form of severe leg cramps later on.
There are spots along the way that offer amazing views of the South Bay. The big oak at the halfway point is a great marker for progress and a sweet spot to take a break while you summon the inner strength you’ll need for the challenges ahead. Folks gather around it to take breaks and wait for their respective groups to gather and press on.
The upper half of the climb is pretty slick. It presents you with some mild sections, but is best known for “the wall”. The wall is a 200 foot climb over (guessing) about 500 feet. It is a painful, steep, crowded mash of disappointment and failure. I have not successfully traversed it in probably a decade. Most try, few succeed. (E-bikes don’t count).
After reaching the top, you literally enter the party. People haul up – entirely on their bikes – Thanksgiving dinners, kids, dogs, entire cooked pigs (usually two of them), and more beer than you can drink (even full kegs!) You are encouraged to bring your own beer and wine, but the atmosphere is festive and folks usually share. The Rangers are always present to keep folks safe, to offer up a trash haul back to the bottom, and let those who bring harder drinks know that those aren’t allowed.
On good years, you might see upwards of 2000 people (over the course of the morning) who ride up to celebrate the day’s accomplishment and to toast the holiday with their fellow riders. This year, because of the inclement weather, we saw maybe 1000 folks. A lot of people for sure, but not setting any records. It’s hard to say how many actually showed up since we were in a hurry to get down the mountain and back into the warm security of a hot shower and a fireplace.
In previous years, the Rangers of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District have camped out halfway down the mountain to issue tickets and warnings to folks who exceed the 15 mph limit imposed on the trails. It’s a true buzz kill, but they don’t want anyone spending time at the E.R. of nearby Good Samaritan Hospital (like I did two years ago when I separated my shoulder after a particularly rough spill on the way down). There were no speed traps this year, but they did have several guys at the trailhead doing helmet checks.
Speaking of downhills, this trail has a good one. The upper section of the Priest Rock trail is affectionately called “Dogmeat” by the locals. It is a 1.3 mile section of downhill doubletrack that contains some ugly gnar. Large rocks, loose gravel, off-camber turns, and deep ruts created by runoff punctuate this section of dirt and possess the power to quickly sober up anyone who was dumb enough to drink heavily at the top. I have never bailed hard on this section of trail, but I have seen some ugly augers-in.
Surprisingly, this year, the trail looks to have been groomed. It was mostly smooth and had easy rises and, while a bit soft from the rains, was overall far less dangerous than in years past. I must say, hats off to whomever was responsible for that!
The manzanita and larger rocks which line the steep slopes on either side of Dogmeat are not friendly to those who wander off the trail. I dare say it is actually safer to ride this section at speed rather than cautiously tip-toeing to the bottom. If you have some momentum, you can more easily roll over obstacles and stay in better control. Remember, kids: bike wheels are essentially just big gyroscopes!
It is advisable to those who are new to the sport to descend back to the start of the ride using the Kennedy trail (the same route as the climb). It is very friendly and, while it may still be crowded with climbers, there is a far lower risk of losing control.
After the initial descent, the group usually meets at the base of Dogmeat where there is a flat spot and room to hang around for a few minutes. Someone usually gets testy and barks that we shouldn’t stop riding yet, so the descent down Overgrown is often fast. You don’t want to waste all the adrenaline you just conjured up on that hair-on-fire ride down Dogmeat – parlay it into the only section of singletrack on the entire ride.
Overgrown (AKA Limekiln) is a shaded singletrack that is fast and fun. It twists and banks down bumpy descents as it follows the canyon to the bottom where it meets up with Alma Bridge Road. Fun berms, some tight turns, and a few steep sections make it exciting and mostly safe. This is the trail I crashed on 2 years ago. A patch of wet leaves and too much speed brought me down on my right shoulder. The worst part; I lost my bike computer after I had likely set a personal record on Dogmeat. I still glance around on the trail when climbing (who knows – maybe I’ll see my old Garmin 520 in a pile of leaves).
A short ride past Lexington Reservoir, down the face of the dam, and back into town completes the funnest loop of the year and lets me turn on my seat heaters in the 4Runner! A satisfying dinner awaits!
The Turkey Day Ride is an endeavor for many and fun for all. Please take care when riding, as the downhills do contain challenging segments and should only be attempted by those who have some experience on steep, wet dirt. This is a wonderful Thanksgiving tradition and I am personally thankful that I have had the opportunity to join in for so long.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope your holidays are as fun and accident free as mine want to be!
04:12 – Ride Start
04:51 – Trail Climb Start
07:25 – Party at the Top
09:05 – Dogmeat (Priest Rock) Downhill
14:26 – Overgrown (Limekiln) Downhill
21:05 – Ride Back to the 4Runner