5.18.2008

RIDE REPORT: SANTA CRUZ APRIL 2008

I know that is a repeat of some information
but... I threw it together for SPOKES magazine and it did not make the cut
too much of a narrative
not enough information
so... since I went through the time
I might as well post it here

it was a great ride
I enjoyed the exercise of revisiting the experience
here it is...





Earlier this season I got on a plane and flew out to Northern California for a long weekend in late April. No, this was not a trip to race at the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey which was being held that same weekend; this was a trip to an old college buddy’s wedding. Although multi-tasking is not a strength of mine I managed to make this multi-purpose experience; a Santa Cruz wedding and a California mountain bike adventure.

When I got the SAVE THE DATE email from an old college friend inviting me to his wedding in Santa Cruz I immediately contacted a mutual friend of the groom to see if he had been invite as well. My old friend Kevin McCarthy who earned the nickname of Snoopy in college said he had gotten the invite. I planted the seed of heading out for the wedding and doing some mountain biking the days before the weekend. It did not take long for this seed to grow... Snoopy was game. It was agreed that we would be heading to Santa Cruz for our friend Michael J.’s wedding. This trip would involve more than standing in beautiful old white church to watch a man in a black suit and a woman in a white lace dress say I DO, this trip was going to include a gathering with some old friends and some epic west coast mountain biking!

The planning did not involve a well organized itinerary. We were not clear about where we were staying or where we were going to ride. Our planning did not involve much more than requesting the vacation dates and booking tickets. As the trip departure date grew closer Snoopy and I began trying to decide what we were going to do about bikes. Our initial plan was to bring our own mountain bikes. In fact… we each had our bikes and gear boxed and were debating between the options of shipping the boxes via UPS or taking the boxes as luggage on the plane. After a mixture of deliberation and few rounds of rock paper scissors we decided to rent bikes once we landed in California. The cost of shipping my oversized box for my 29 inch wheel bike via UPS or the alternate choice which involved the extra charges and the extra effort of checking our boxed bikes and paying a fee at airport check-in did not sound as attractive as spending the same amount of money and dealing with far less hassle while getting to sample some modern bicycle technology.

I had already been in contact with Lars Thomsen of Trailhead Cyclery in San Jose. Lars goes way back with my friend and DCMTB team mate MikeK, the rider formerly known as CityBikesMike. There had been some emails back and forth. Lars had emailed me a wealth of information on some Santa Cruz area trails which aided in developing our loose itinerary, Lars had also accepted the idea of having our boxed bikes shipped to his San Jose bicycle store. With this new decision to rent bikes I turned my attention back to Lars. As it turns out Lar’s shop Trailhead Cyclery had a fleet of righteous bikes for rental purposes. So instead of bringing two boxes with bikes we would each be bringing duffle bags stuffed with all of the gear we would need for three days of riding without. We were each extra cautious to remember to pack the pedals… it is always important to remember the pedals. So in addition to our cleaned and pressed suits we would also need to pack pedals, shoes, helmets, hydration packs loaded with pumps and tools, as well as all sorts of lycra jerseys and lycra shorts.


The flight across the country started in early morning on the east coast, which had us landing on the west coast in San Jose in the early afternoon. Once landed in San Jose we grabbed our bags, rented a car and bolted straight to hook up with Lars and his crew at Trailhead Cyclery. We pulled into the parking lot of the Trailhead Cyclery in San Jose, we were cruising in style in the gun metal gray Dodge Magnum station wagon with its tinted windows, super powered engine, and low riding style with the bass pumping. As soon as we opened the doors Lars and his staff gave us the ROCK STAR TREATMENT. Lars printed out the trail information that I forgotten when packing back east. Everyone answered our questions about the trails and gave us an excess of advice on energy food purchases. Then after some shop talk in that classic bicycle shop clubhouse style Snoopy and I went down the block to fuel up at a mom and pop coffee/sandwich shop. With pro efficiency and parallel mechanic skill the guys at Trailhead Cyclery adjusted the air pressure to the front and rear shocks to match our weights and riding style, the brakes and gears were given once last glance to make sure everything was dialed in, then our pedals that match the cleats on our shoes were put on the bikes. Back from lunch and properly juiced with the right amount of caffeine we went back to the shop. With the swipe of the credit card we rented two super plush cross country dual suspension bikes and a rear mounting bike rack that worked well with the rental car. Out the door, onto the Interstate, and just an hour south and Snoopy and I were at the Wilder Ranch Trailhead with two totally dialed in full suspension bikes.

Wilder Ranch is a California State Park which covers roughly 7,000 acres with 34 miles of hiker, biker, horse trails located right on Route One, right on the coast just a few miles outside of Santa Cruz. Years ago Snoopy and I rode these trails when out visiting this same set of college friends for a different wedding. We both agreed that the moderate technical terrain and the fairly familiar trails would be a good way to get accustom to the unfamiliar rental bikes. The parking area around the Wilder Ranch was filled with an assortment of vehicles with obvious marks that these cars, trucks, and trailers were owned by mountain bikers, bicycle shops, or mountain bike companies. People from all over the country and perhaps the world were in the area for the Sea Otter Classic and it looked like a good number of them were sampling the local trails of Wilder Ranch before the multi-day bicycle festival began just south in Monterey. We warmed up by riding over to the cliffs and taking a look at the Pacific Ocean. The smell and sound of the ocean were not enough; we needed to take a moment to soak in the ocean view. We snapped a few photographs as we scanned the coast. Invigorated by the coastal view Snoopy and I took to the rolling grass fields of Northern California. The mountain bike terrain of Northern California is as spectacular as the vistas of Northern California. The ecosystem of Northern California offers riding that is nothing like what we are used to riding back east. The narrow single track trail of Wilder Ranch is flanked by waist high grass with nothing but open sky over head rather than zipping and ducking between tight trees under a leaf covered canopy. Wilder Ranch rides fast and buff without much technical except for a few short steep slick rock style climbs and some short sections twisting trail through small clusters of trees and some sandy dry creek beds. I lead our route trying to stay on as much single track as possible. Hammering up the fire road climbs at a healthy cross country pace got our hearts going. We caught our breath, drank from our hydration backpacks, and snacked on the classic energy products all while soaking in a post card picture view that was foreign to our mountain biking tourist eyes. In the course of our ride I nearly ran over a snake and several lizards, although no mountain lions or bobcats were spotted but I know that this park is a place that they call home. In the parking lot and out on the trail we ran into a few mountain bikers; sure enough a good number of them were racers from different parts of North America in town for the Sea Otter while others were Santa Cruz locals doing their standard post work mountain bike ride.

Our posh rental bikes got some compliments. Snoopy was riding the aqua marine blue dual suspension Specialized Test Bike with The Brain while I was on an Ibis with a pale tan frame and squish both front and rear perhaps the Mojo… I am not sure. The specific specs on each bike were not as important as a moderately appropriate fit, but I was pleased to see that others could appreciate our choices. The other riders apparently knew the quality of our bikes and the reputation of the two machines. Here in the east Snoopy and I ride cross country hard tails so this trip to the moderate trails at Wilder Ranch aided in us getting a feeling for the steering and the response of the alternate technology of dual suspension before we stepped things up a notch the following days of more technical riding. The sun had not quite set but it was getting late. A little over two hours of riding and hanging out on the trails at Wilder Ranch was enough for each of us to get a feel of the rental squishy bikes so we packed things up and headed into town to connect with our California friends as well as some other friends who had traveled in from the east.

Our first night in Santa Cruz was spent on the couch at the groom’s house. The night was late and involved a good amount of beer induced reminiscing with the red headed groom whom we both knew from college. The late night, the day of travel, and the time change offered for a slow morning the following day. A tall cup of coffee and hearty sandwich for late breakfast/early lunch was consumed before heading north to the trails in the El Corte de Madera Open Space Preserve. The directions from Lars of Trailhead Cyclery got us right to Skeggs point with no wrong turns and no foolish detours. From the parking lot at Skeggs Point we threw our legs over our high tech rigs and headed for the unknown.

The El Corte de Madera Open Space Preserve (ECdM) is a network of roughly thirty-five miles of multi-use trails on a 2,821 acre preserve. The trails wind through Corte Madera Canyon where the trail runs along side some sheer drop offs and creeks, winding around gulleys between sky high old growth Redwood trees and other such flora and fauna that I am not educated enough to identify. The mountain bike terrain is as spectacular as the surrounding ecosystem. Lars from Trailhead Cyclery had given me not just a computer print out of directions to the trail, but also instructions for what would be a good loop through this vast network of trails.

Snoopy and followed Lars’ instructions and took a short climb to the top and ripped through what we knew was going to be a glorious roller coaster downhill. Early into our ride we had to modify the instructions so that we could hit the downhill of the Resolution Trail a second time. We took a right hand turn that weaved down a ways more before eventually climbed back to the top. It was sweet! It was worth it! The front and rear travel of the high tech Ibis bike gave me the freedom to lay off the brakes and enjoy the ride. The well tuned brakes gave me the confidence to corner fast and hard on the unfamiliar trails knowing that I could tone things down and pull things back when I needed to. We were ripping it! There was no dramatic air and we did not clear the crazy technical obstacles even with the second pass giving us greater familiarity. But it was well worth the short climb to back to Skeggs Point for a second dose of adrenalin that Resolution Trail helps to create.

The trails at El Corte de Madera are nothing short of epic. But the excitement did not end with the Resolution trail. There was still plenty of adrenalin to be had on a network of trails whose names I have since forgotten. The beauty of this ride is not limited to the quality of the terrain, the surrounding area is a sensation in itself. As we got further from the trailhead and deeper into the valley the Redwood trees got taller and wider. Redwoods reaching for the sky with massive trunks and deeply corrugated bark. Old stumps the size of American made SUVs showed a history of what once occupied these forests. When we reached the lower limits of the ride we took a break to refuel before the climb to the top. What a place for a picnic. What a place to refuel your body and your soul. We got to ride a little extra because we did get lost. Getting lost is part of mountain biking. The ride was all smiles. The smiles were so big that there was no frowning when we realized we had missed our turn and had to back track or on the long climb back to the top where our car was parked. Once back to the car we loaded things up and took Route One back to Santa Cruz. The drive was nearly as beautiful as the ride. The costal route south from Skeggs Point took us past Half Moon Bay. We stopped a few times on the drive to soak in the spectacular western coast. At a few spots surfers took advantage of the waves while in other areas kite boarders harnessed the wind, as we approached Wilder Ranch I joked about a cool down ride. But I knew that we had a bachelor party on the beach to attend as well as a day of riding the following day that we would need to save our energy for.

Another late night of boys and beers added to yet another late morning. Things were not that wild and crazy as this bachelor party was nothing more than a catered feast of salmon and steak tacos by a bonfire on the beach, but it did make us to move a little slow out of the gate. More coffee and food… this time the food was eaten on the drive to the trail to economize time. The approaching evening involved more wedding activities… but first we had to ride… we had to squeeze in a ride before we would have to head north to return out bikes to Trailhead Cyclery in San Jose. I wanted this to be done before rush hour traffic backed things up to parking lot speed on the interstate between San Jose and Santa Cruz.

For our last day of mountain biking in California we drove the Dodge Magnum with the two bikes on a rented rack just a short distance from Santa Cruz towards Watsonville where we snaked through Eureka Canyon. Again the directions to the trailhead provided by Lars of Trailhead Cyclery were dead on. As lost as we felt we were actually right on target. Again with no wrong turns and no foolish detours we were at the trailhead and ready to experience The Soquel Demonstration Forest (SoD).

The Soquel Demonstration Forest is an area of land owned by the state of California that is used to study and practice conservation and preservation. Within this wildlife preserve is a 10 mile network of righteous mountain bike trails, trails that can please a wide variety of cyclists. The downhills are an epic adventure for cross country riders like me and there were plenty of jumps and obstacles to entertain the tastes of free riding/downhill crowd.

Unlike the loop at El Corte de Madera from Skeggs Point the loop at the Demonstration Forest Snoopy and I tried to plot things out that our one approach gave us the longest ride. The grade of the climbs in California seemed a little less steep than what kills me back in the east. The climb was long and steady, but not painfully steep. Had it not been for a wrong turn our ride to the top would have been virtually effortless. The wrong turn and all the back tracking to get back on course was a good work out for me. But, I would have preferred running the full loop twice rather than working the equivalent of the climb twice with only one session down the hill, but that is not how things worked out. starts you at the bottom with a fire road climb to the top. Once at the top there are a number of options all feeding back into a trail that leads back to the parking lot.

At the top we stalled for a second to soak in the view while we fueled up with some water from our camelbacks. No time for photographs on this ride. We each had enough time to swallow a Tiger Milk bar and a caffeine enriched GU shot before we dipped into the singletrack. The rest that follows was all smiles! THOSE TRAILS RIP! And well… we did our best to rip them. Carving banked turns and hanging on tight through steep technical descents while doing our best to huck it off the frequent drop offs. There were a good number of log rams and dirt jumps that we each took The Girl Scout Routes around. But the less gutsy options were still a hoot! IT was amazing… it was epic… The trails at the Soquel Demonstration Forest ROCK!

Sweat soaked we got to the car wishing for more! Had it not been for the need to return the bikes and switch our full focus to the wedding party we would have most certainly spent a few more hours exploring the Demo Trails. But instead we loaded up the car and headed north to San Jose to return the bikes. We dropped the bikes off and gave our thanks to the folks at Trailhead Cyclery as they charged our credit cards. No goodbyes to Lars as he was down in Monterey racing at the Sea Otter Classic. We were back on the highway with the bikes returned only thirty minutes past our 48 rental period and headed south before rush hour traffic began.

We returned to Santa Cruz full of energy and smiles. All the locals that we hung with were surfers who could respect our love for the mountains and our appreciation of the place that they call home. The wedding went well. We gathered with friends. Both the bride and groom said I DO.



Trailhead Cyclery
http://www.trailheadcyclery.com/

Ibis Bikes
http://www.ibiscycles.com/

Specialized Bikes
http://www.specialized.com

information on the various trails of Santa Cruz can be found with a quick GOOGLE or by asking the guys at Trailhead Cyclery when you rent your bike on your trip to San Jose and the surrounding area




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