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Sierra Azul

You can ride the Kennedy Trail in Sierra Azul any time of year and get a good hill climbing workout in, but there is also an annual Thanksgiving morning ride from Los Gatos into the Sierra Azul OSP. We have ridden in this event for several years. This event is not really organized (no entry, numbers, waivers, etc.), but everyone has a good time and builds up a bit of an appetite for some turkey later in the day.

Park: Sierra Azul OSP - Turkey Rides
Date: Multiple
Distance: 8 - 16 miles
Ride Time: Varies
Total Ascent: 2,500 - 3500 feet
Map: Detailed trail map
Overall Rating: 6

Just for fun, I will describe the Thanksgiving ride first as this is actually a pretty good loop. I'll suggest some alternatives later in the description.

The ride starts on Main Street in downtown Los Gatos in front of the library (and in front of Summit Bicycles) and proceeds up Los Gatos Boulevard and then right on Kennedy Road. This is the start of the climb, but it starts off gently and gradually becomes steeper. There is no sense racing up this section, so just treat it as the warm-up and save your energy for later. After a bit of road climbing, you will enter the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve at the SA01 gate. This is the start of the Kennedy Trail.

The Kennedy Trail starts with the rate of climb we had on the road, but it seems to continue increasing the grade of the climb all the way to the top. Up you go. Go around a curve, through a large switchback, repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Eventually you will get to a flat spot with a large oak tree in the middle of the trail. Unless you are a racer boy, you should enjoy a brief rest here. After this it is more turn, switchback, repeat, but now it starts getting even steeper. This continues until you get to the junction with the top of Priest Rock Trail. The last 0.2 miles is very steep, but then you are at the end of the official climb. Try to make it (I will...someday).

Once the junction is reached, everyone takes a break to celebrate making it to the top, seeing old friends, and sharing a bit of breakfast. This usually includes turkey, pumpkin pie, and some beverages (I have seen frozen margaritas served) to refresh the spirits. If it is not Thanksgiving, you will have to settle for a Gu packet and a mouthful of warm water. Then it is time to return.

The return trip is completely up to the riders. One could of course retrace the path up, but that would be too easy. We have taken a different path down each year. You can descend on Priest Rock Trail (aka Dog Meat) to Alma Bridge Road on Lexington Reservoir. The top part of this trail is a very steep straight-down descent with a few rain gullies and gravel. Conditions will vary depending on the recent weather. On several occasion we were going as fast as seemed prudent only to be passed. We attributed the other riders' speed to youthful stupidity rather than lack of technique on our part. The middle part of the trail is less steep and much faster. Limekiln crosses Priest Rock in about the middle. You can descend on either, but Limekiln is much narrower and a lot more fun. Both end on Alma Bridge Road.

You can also continue on Kennedy Trail from the Priest Rock junction at the top. There are 3 very steep up and down peaks in a relatively short distance. It is tough to build up enough speed on the downhills to carry you up hill. This brings you to the junction with the top of Limekiln Trail (this junction was the end of the El Sombroso ride). You can also descend on Limekiln. The top part of this is known as "Power Poles"" since is crosses back and forth under some high voltage towers. This is pretty fast descending. We've seen skid marks that disappear off the side of the trail in several places (there wasn't any ground available past the side of the trail in these areas, so we don't know what happened to the riders). After crossing Priest Rock Trail, Limekiln continues downward toward Lexington Reservoir. This part was a bit more technical as the rideable area became much narrower, had more loose and embedded rocks on the trail, and is often covered with recently fallen leaves. This is fast and fun all the way to the bottom. Lime Kiln also empties onto Alma Bridge Road.

Once you have mastered this set of trails, try reversing the ride! Limekiln is the easier route up, but it is not easy by any means. It is a real challenge to ride up Priest Rock, especially the upper part in the summer (I haven't made it yet). You will know you are in good shape when you cruise up these climbs with stopping (or breaking a sweat).

Once down to Lexington Reservoir, you return to Los Gatos via Alma Bridge Road and the Jones Trail in St. Josephs or traverse the dam face to return on Los Gatos Creek Trail. There a lots of hikers, joggers and dog walkers on Jones Trail and frequently the radar rangers like to lurk here, so keep your speed under control here.

If you want a bit of a climbing workout, you can ride up Soda Springs Road. This road ascends the ridge that runs parallel to Priest Rock. It is a continuous climb with relatively little traffic. However, you will have to be careful on the way down as you can pick up quite a bit of speed and the narrow, twisty roads don't allow much of a line-of-sight for cars coming up the hill.

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