Santa Cruz Sandhills MTB New Year’s Eve 2018

I finished off the year today with a fun, sandy mountain bike ride at Henry Cowell in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, with my favorite person in the world, my husband Ron.

Keeping it simple with just one word to summarize 2018, and 2019 ahead: Gratitude.

Happy New Year! Bring on 2019!

 

Autumn MTB 2018

It’s been an exceptionally beautiful Autumn this year. Something about California’s Indian Summer always comforts me like the warm, offshore winds it brings. Each day brings new surprises among the landscape – a hint of fuschia here, a stroke of maroon there – and migrating birds add a festive flair. The prospect of upcoming Holidays excites my heart, with family members making plans to reunite. I’ll also attend my 20 year Acalanes High School reunion after Thanksgiving, which I’m looking forward to.

I’ve been doing physical therapy for my groin and hip, and will be having an MRI in about a week to determine what exactly is going on. I hope it’s nothing requiring any serious action (i.e., surgery), but am eager to get to the bottom of it after almost a year. Fortunately, I’ve been able to ride and run, with lots of stretching and some rest days in between. Happy there is progress!

Happy Fall, and enjoy the gorgeous colors!

Here’s a couple videos of mountain biking upper UCSC this weekend.

Sandy Santa Cruz Riding

The Santa Cruz Mountains in California are known for their tacky dirt, rife with redwood duff. The loaminess varies from place to place, and some trails hold up better than others during the rainy season. We had our first rain of the season yesterday, and today Ron and I went for a ride at a place that holds up quite well after rain: the Sandhills. These are ancient seafloors, uplifted by the San Andreas Fault over millions of years. It’s like going to the beach in the middle of the mountains, and it’s one of the few places that are rideable during the rainy season.

Sandy soils drain quickly, and firm up nicely during Winter. As a general rule, it’s best not to ride about a day for each inch of rain, depending mostly upon the soil type and slope. I try to minimize my erosion by staying off muddy trails during the Winter until they dry out. The Sandhills, however, provide a constant playground all season long. Sand is also a fun medium to ride in; it’s all about controlled sliding, friction, and counterbalancing. It’s a great place to work on flowing with grace.

I just got some new tires – the Maxxis Assegai (29″ x 2.5″) in the front, and Aggressor (29″ x 2.5″) in back. They are killing it – floating over the sand with a wide footprint, and a noticeable increase in surface area than my previous Minion DHR II 2.4’s. I feel way more in control, and solid in my roll. Thanks to Kyle at Scotts Valley Cycle Sport for the recommendation and set up of these tires! I absolutely love them.

Here’s a video of today’s Sunset ride at our favorite sandy spot, Bear Mountain, only five minutes from our house. With my groin still healing, we shuttled and skipped the climbing. We have done this trail many times, and our love for it just keeps on growing.

Enjoy the beautiful Autumn!

Big Basin MTB Loop

Big Basin Redwoods State Park, in the middle of the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, is famous for its old-growth redwood trees. As the oldest state park established in 1902, it has drawn visitors from around the world to stand beneath its towering, majestic giants. Some redwoods are over 2,000 years old, and command the forest floor like marshals on patrol. They certainly command awe and respect.

Big Basin is also known for its 13-mile Skyline to the Sea Trail, which meanders from the park headquarters down to Waddell Beach at Rancho Del Oso. I backpacked this trail about fifteen years ago, sleeping overnight midway; it was a gorgeous, surprisingly remote adventure. Though we’re so close to Santa Cruz and “civilization”, it feels starkly desolate out here. Wildlife abounds, and inspiring views surround you.

While not known particularly for its mountain biking, Big Basin offers a network of fireroads for riding upon; single-track trails are off-limits. Today, I decided to try my first mountain bike ride here on the Big Basin Loop, a 13-mile loop climbing about 1,700′ in elevation. Only about a 25-minute drive from my house, it is close enough I should come here more often! This year, the first ever Old Growth Classic will take place here on August 25; if I weren’t already racing the CES at Northstar that day, I would be doing it.

Starting off at the Park Headquarters, you climb up Gazos Creek Fireroad for nearly seven miles. There are some downhill, flowy segments on this trail, and then it returns to climbing. At the end of this trail, turn right on Johansen Fireroad, which skirts a very unique mountain property with a treehouse and tepees. This is the steepest climbing on the loop.

After a few miles, you’ll reach Ocean View Summit at 1,685′; as the name implies, it’s a sweeping view West over the Pacific Ocean. Due to all the wildfires burning across the state, it was especially smoky today, and you can see it in the video. I also felt it in my lungs.

Middle Ridge Road was the funnest downhill of the ride, dropping quickly from the summit back to park headquarters over a mix of sandstone and redwood duff. Though nothing on this ride was exceptionally challenging, the gorgeous scenery and flowy fireroads provided enough motivation to make the climbing worth it. It was a good workout, about two and a half hours riding time.

I finished with a short walk through the Redwood Loop back at the Park Headquarters, appreciating the grand redwoods we are so lucky weren’t logged back in the 1800’s. Though it may feel like “wilderness” out here, it’s easy to see how much this land was ravaged for its valuable resources only a century or so ago. I can only imagine how this forest must’ve looked when it was full of these beautiful, old-growth giants.

Enjoy this video summary of the ride, or better yet, go try it yourself! You won’t regret it.

 

AirSickMagic Ride

Here’s a video of the mountain biking trails Airborn, Sick & Twisted, and Magic Carpet Ride in the upper UCSC area of the Santa Cruz Mountains, California. We begin with Airborn, a trail known for its steep, loose descent over redwood roots. This time of year it is especially dry, and today I noticed the braking bumps had grown at least a few inches since my last run down it. But it’s still good fun, of course!

Flowing down steep hillsides like this one requires a balance of keeping momentum while not sliding out of control. Though I try to mostly use my rear brake on trails like this, your front brake provides that stopping power that you need to slow down. It becomes a controlled slide, at times. Keeping your weight back, and your center of gravity balanced over the bike, helps keep you from falling forward over the bars as you hold on and just slide down that slope until it lets up. It’s fun to ride on this edge of composure and chaos.

I focus on keeping my four points of contact firmly intact: hands committed to the bars, feet solid on my pedals. Maintaining these points of contact, while balancing your center like a gyroscope, helps absorb some of the bouncing and bumping that is inevitable on steep trails with lots of features. Dynamic, split-second reflexes, are part of the fun of this dance. Mountain biking is a lot like dancing; your bike is your partner, and you must keep a firm, constant frame with each other in order to flow with grace across the dancefloor of the forest floor. You must stay completely aware; the word present is an understatement. It can become meditative, despite the speed and stimuli involved.

Sick & Twisted is a short trail that feeds into one of my longtime favorite trails, Magic Carpet Ride. I love this area with all my heart, so much I often say “Thank you” at least once during my ride. Thank you for my legs and body to ride out here; thank you for the awesome, natural beauty that bathes me in its gentle, scattered sunlight. Gratitude is inspired from doing what you love, where you want to be. For me, that’s flowing with grace on my bike among beautiful, natural places. Blessed with another day to do just that!

Happy Summer!