Riding the Russian Ridge: The Fall, The Sickness, The Fun…..

The ride on the Russian Ridge in the Portola Valley near San Francisco

They say it is sacrilege to go to Tres Agaves and not order for the fabulous Margaritas and the sumptuous “Carne en su Jugo” (Jaliscan Style Beef).

Yes, I did not know that because I was a foreign visitor to San Francisco’s one of the most popular downtown Mexican restaurants. But then since I did commit the blasphemy, I had to pay.

The only difference is the payback happened the morning after, while I was doing an otherwise great mountain biking trail in the Portola Valley near San Francisco.

To cut a really long story short, I was in San Francisco for a week long high octane techno-week with some serious geeks and we went to this Mexican joint to celebrate living through a grueling but highly enjoyable stint and ended up ordering Slow Roasted Pork with beers. I neglected the must-have dishes of the restaurant and traveled to Amit’s place the same night for he had promised a great mountain bike ride. Offer a beer and a drunkard follows you home, quite similarly offer me a mountain biking ride and I would do the same. Amit made the same mistake!

Amit owns a really enviable real estate. An exclusive neighborhood perched in a neat hillock overlooking the Silicon Valley, home to many corporate honchos and some really extravagant vehicles.

getting ready for the ride

On the nice and sunny Saturday morning of Sept 18th 2010, we reached the trailhead of Page Mill Road. Our bikes were quickly dismounted from the bike carrier of the car and we were ready to go.

My bike for the day: A full suspension cannondale.

Amit on his custom made MTB

I was riding one of Amit’s dozen strong bike fleet. It was a full suspension Cannondale, weighing almost half as much my Trek 4300 does. Amit was on his custom built bike.

The plan was simple. Amit was leading the way. We were to ride up the Russian Ridge by taking a great singletrack that would climb up the mountain to a high vantage point offering great views of the Valley.

Ride starts: good weather, nice sunshine, clear blue sky......

The weather was great. It was nice and cool and full of sunshine with blue skies- perfect for a day on a mountain bike. The gradient was very moderate to start with and it looked like a great day ahead.

We had done barely a few hundred yards when I first felt a bit of unease. It appeared that I was not breathing well and thus not producing enough power. I dismissed it as “Oh, I am on a new bike, in a different country and I have not slept well enough..etc-etc….no big deal”. And just the same time Amit proposed that we ditch the fire road and hit the singletrack. “No problem, lets do this”, I said. I wish I had said otherwise.

The singletrack’s entry point was on a precarious edge with thick tree roots on one side and a real steep section to take you on the biking trail. I tried to up my cadence and build up some speed and I hit the incline real hard. The next thing I knew was- I saw my bike do a wheelie (front wheels off the ground) and then I saw the high tree branches, then the sky and then “bang-whack-crash…..” I was on the ground and milliseconds later, to add insult to the injury, the bike fell over me.

What a great start! Amit came back and realized I was not doing great. We abandoned the idea of the singletrack and went back on the fire road. I was still not feeling a 100 percent and it appeared that there was some weight on my chest. Yes, the bike was different and was a little big for me and that I had to lunge a little too much to grab the handlebar but ergonomics was not my biggest problem. I had trouble breathing.

Clicked moments before I got severely nauseated and threw up

A few hundred yards ahead, I stopped for a hydration break. And as we discussed what was wrong with me, I suddenly felt a bursting nausea within and before I could get a grip, I was throwing up! As I had three bouts of throwing up, I remembered the look on the face of the waitress last night at Tres Avages. “What? No Margaritas? No Carne en su Jugo? You should try them”. Yeah lady, I get it now. Next time I will make amends for sure.

After a few minutes of dizziness, all brightened up. I was seeing colors again! The hop on the bike felt great and suddenly it all started to make sense. Amit was very supportive and was purposefully cutting back on his pace to accompany me all this time and now that I was feeling good- made him relax and enjoy his ride too.

Amazing that when you feel good colors seem brighter and all seems cheerful

I started to notice the scenery around me now. It was an enchanting surrounding. A beautiful trail with trees dotting it and leaves strewn all around. Silence of the woods was mesmerizing and all one could hear were one’s own breathing and the rustling sound of the bike tires going over the dry leaves and stone chips.

The air was fresh and the nature was in its bountiful best to reward you for your hard earned climb on the inclines. The trail was easy and gradient was moderate and I was loving it.

The Alpine Road: We rode through this enchanting trail for most of the time

Amit told that this was the Alpine Road and it leads up to the Skyline Road. We would take that route and reach the Vista Point from where one can see the whole valley below. He also showed me the Poison Oak thorns and cautioned me to stay away from them. We also heard coyotes howling at a distance. Amit was leading the way and I was happy following. Now that I was feeling better, I was back in my chatty form and the ride seemed so much more fun.

We took a small singletrack section and I was fine this time. The tree roots and the stones did not seem like minefields as before and we scaled effortlessly to the paved Skyline Road.

Reached the Skyline Road

Cruise on the paved road

The cruise on the paved road was easy and I felt great. The air was fresh and the biking seemed effortless.  Occasionally a few exotic cars would appear and Amit told me that this road is used by many speed daemons to test their machines. Quite right, I saw Bugatti Veyrons and Jaguars streak past me!

Vista Point reached

Finally after a short ascent we were at the Vista Point. I have suffered in all my hill climbs- they are never easy. The feeling of reaching the top is always the most gratifying and this was no different. True, the climb was short- somewhere near 1300 feet or so and the route was not long either, may be 10 -15 km but hey I added my share of drama to it, didn’t I?

Reached the top after all the drama

The view from the top was just amazing. I could see the whole valley below. The San Mateo Bridge was visible at a distance and a sheet of fog was fast engulfing the view.

We did not have enough time to sit there and admire the beauty as I was flying out the same day and had to get back to San Francisco.

The downhill was a fast and enjoyable affair. Amit was going down at a superfast pace which spoke volumes about him being vastly experienced while I took it with lots of caution.

The scenery again was extremely rewarding.

View on the way down: Thats the kind of home one needs to own, right?

And some more views....check out the color schemes here- just fantastic

We stopped at a point which had a very interesting cautionary information board.

The board warned us about the hazards from the flora and fauna types. It had a great assortment from tiny blood sucking ticks to rattlesnakes and mountain lions.

Potential hazards on the trail. We just heard coyotes howling thats all......

I would have liked to add the Slow Roasted Pork and Beer to the list that gave me the biking tattoo other than a permanent one that I had got in San Francisco’s tattoo district.

My bike tattoo: that one for falling from the bike

After a nice and fast pedal free downhill, we reached our car and packed our bikes.

Every climb has been different and this climb was special. At halfway mark I had felt defeated and deflated and had to draw on my will and my fellow rider’s encouraging companionship to live through the storm. The second half was so much enjoyable and scenic that it made up for all the hardships. Yes, brick walls exist and they do exist to tell us that if you do not give up good times are ahead.

I learned one more lesson. I have been more or less a mountain climber on paved roads till now with very little experience on unpaved trails. This ride told me that mountain biking is far tougher on these singletracks and dirt routes. So, whats next? The answer is ridiculously simple – more hill climbs!

-Manasij Ganguli



Keep Pedalling.....thats the only way forward!


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19 Responses to “Riding the Russian Ridge: The Fall, The Sickness, The Fun…..”

  1. Steve Hoge Says:

    Hey Manasji, great to see you made it out to California! What conference were you attending?

    Those Peninsula roads and trails are my old stomping grounds (I used to live in Santa Cruz – that foggy weather you saw was one of the reasons I moved to sunny Colorado) and your post brought back the old memories – we used to ride these roads from the beach and up to the summit or from Woodside and Portola Valley and along Skyline Road at the top.

    I can’t exactly picture your route from the trailhead and overlooks you mention – can you put up a simple Google map to outline?

    Yeah, the ride itself shouldn’t have been so tough as to make you bonk so severely – musta been the jet lag + Mex food! Now you weren’t drinking the WATER in California, were you? 😉


    • manasij Says:

      Hey Steve,

      yeah, I think a map would have been a good idea to explain the route.
      may be I will do that over the weekend…..

      shhh don’t tell my wife about my drinking stuff in CA 😉


  2. Ankur Chandra Says:

    achcha likh lete ho be.. 🙂 I could create a good image of your ride by reading your article. Keep it up. 🙂

  3. ma Says:

    glad that u got a nice ride n completed the journey. keep the spirit up!

  4. Ramit. Says:


    Again A Gud Write Up! Snaps were really nice, giving an idea of the beautiful trail. Keep Up The Spirit 🙂

    • manasij Says:

      Thank You Ramit!
      yes, it was a great scenic treat and the ride was very interesting…
      going for a dehradun-mussorie climb in mid Oct, so more blogs are surely in pipeline 🙂

  5. Shailaja Says:

    WoW….sounds Great! Keep Sharing…all ur Biking Stories… 🙂

  6. Saibal Chatterjee Says:

    Hey Manasij, Last time I was in California I took my uncels SUV for some off road driving. My uncle sticks to the paved roads only. I don’t remember what road or area it was but sure it was unpaved, scenic and just right for the SUV type driving. Keep up the biking & the ride reports comming in.

  7. Ajay Says:

    great Manasij…good stuff

  8. Colleen Hannegan Says:

    Manasij, Your reports and pix are most enjoyable! You are an excellent writer! I enjoy mountain biking as well, Molly might have mentioned that her sister RIDES! But I wonder, have you not heard the expression that a rider without the proper helmet is a possible..”organ donor”?
    PLEASE! Reconsider riding with a helmet ON YOUR HEAD…all the beauty and joy and being in nature and vibing in Her wild and wooly wonderness; is safest with your precious head protected. Amit! Talk to him!

    • manasij Says:

      Thanks for your suggestion.
      Yes, I guess I would be riding with a helmet for rides like these from now on.
      I did not have enough time to talk mountain biking and all with Molly.
      I was too awe struck seeing her and the others run the high altitude ultra marathon.
      It was greatly inspiring!

      • Steve Hoge Says:

        I was hesitant to mention “the helmet thing” so I’m glad somebody else brought it up. That spill you took was probably a wake-up call…it’s just as likely you could have landed on your head as your elbow!

        You may have noticed that nearly EVERYBODY in California (a bit less so here in Colorado) rides with a helmet. It’s actually considered a bit of a sign of the Wanker when cyclists are seen without them – unless it’s the guy in the team jersey passing you on the way up Page Mill Rd.

        I know we never pedalled a stroke without a helmet during our 5 months cycling in INDIA!

        • manasij Says:

          yeah Steve, I am smarting as a rider…..
          singletaracks and offroads are a strict no-no without a helmet for me from now on.
          road biking could still be without helmet, right?

  9. Ashish Says:

    Manasij – once again you have come up with a fantastic writeup which as always was simply great. reading through the lines I was able to visualize the scenic beauty and the wonderful experience you might have had. But yes.. did not tried to visualize the fall out part but can understand what you must have gone through, but again hats off to your spirit and determination. I remember the day when you bought your bike and I must confess that I never thought this will go with you for so long and that too with so high spirits.

    Wish you all the very best for your future rides. and looking forward for more such blogs which make us feel as a part of your rides…..

  10. priyank Says:

    so the boy “finally’ went onsite hahaha…. sorry but had to write this comment..this was the very first article i read on your blog ..so there’s this emotional connect you see 🙂 keep riding..and you givin me enough inspiration to buy a bike for me as well..


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