The Sierra Azul (“Blue Range”) is an open space preserve in the South Bay region of Santa Clara County. At 18,400 acres, it’s the largest preserve in the district. The area is dominated by Mt. Umunhum, a 3,486 foot peak capped by the “blue cube” the former Almaden Air Force Station. This station was part of the early warning radar network of the 1950’s. Now closed and abandoned the entire are around Umunhum is unfortunately closed to the public. Due to the closure the next best peak is Umunhum’s sister peak, Mt. El Sombroso.
The summit of Mt. El Sombroso at 2,999 feet is a 12.3 mile round trip hike. Primarily fire road, it meanders through deep forest cover for much of the hike. The last few miles of the hike you’ll earn your summit – the gradient turns steep, covered in loose shale, and most of it is spent in direct sun. Hot and tired you’re rewarded with sweeping views of San Jose and the entire South Bay basin. If you have a clear day you’ll be able to spot Mt. Hamilton across the valley.
Endurance activities are a funny thing. Of course conditioning and training play a big part, but for me the mental aspect is almost more important. A week or so ago I was doing a mountain bike ride that’s pretty much a four mile climb straight up. As you get near the top there’s a really steep climb. Lung searing, legs burning, I might barf sort of a hill. At the top of that climb, with almost no break, is another even steeper, longer hill.
When I rode this last time I made it up the first hill. Still completely anaerobic, gasping for air I started up the second. About a third of the way I glanced up towards the top. When I saw how much further I had to go I could feel a wave of defeat flow over me. I just knew I’d never make it to the top. With a bunch of people watching I stopped. Doing the equivalent of the walk of shame, I had to push my bike the rest of the way up the hill.
Fast forward to yesterday when I did the same ride. I felt great the entire way up. When it came to the two final hills I already knew I’d be able to clean both of ’em. Sure enough I rode up them with ease and even managed to chat with someone on the trail on the way up. How did I do that? My conditioning couldn’t have improved that much in a week. Same bike, same weather conditions, same breakfast. There’s something about a positive mental attitude that does wonders for performance. Now, if I could just figure out how to have that same attitude every day!