Spring Magic at Toro Park, Waddell, & Henry Cowell

The Vernal Equinox recently passed, and this Spring is shaping up to be a Superbloom year after California was blessed with a colossally wet Winter. While Southern California is already experiencing the beautiful bounty of a full Superbloom, Central and Northern California are just warming up. It’s a wonderfully inspiring time of year to get outside and explore the multitude of wonders at our doorstep. Over the last week, I’ve enjoyed the dawn of the bloom at a few parks on the Central Coast: Waddell Creek, Toro Park, and Henry Cowell. Here’s a recent snapshot of them!

Waddell Creek/Rancho del Oso: 3/23/19

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About twenty minutes North of Santa Cruz up Highway 1 lies Waddell Creek. It drains into the Pacific Ocean at Waddell Beach, and is the westernmost edge of Big Basin State Park. This is one of my favorite places to trailrun; it’s so nice to finish at the beach! You also feel like you’re far away from town, even though it’s not too far of a drive.

The Berry Creek Falls Trail is a beautiful, welcoming hike, run, bikeride, or even ride a horse up to a beautiful waterfall. Another option is to backpack overnight on the Skyline to the Sea Trail into Big Basin, something I did years ago and now find myself asking why haven’t I yet again? There are so many different microclimes and habitats within the park, it always feels like something new is around every corner.

One of my favorite things about Waddell is the newts – I’ve seen more here than anywhere else! Rancho del Oso is also known for its abundance of Spring wildflowers, with an annual celebration planned for early May this year.

After my run, I drove a short bit more up coast to Año Nuevo beach, one of my favorite beaches.

Toro Park: 3/24/19

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Oak Woodland

Toro Park is a huge park with miles of hiking and mountain biking trails; it also has barbeque pits, playgrounds, and sporting facilities at the main park. The wildlife and wildflowers are exceptional here in the Spring and Summer. The landscape is sandy to loamy, with coastal chapparal mixed with oak grassland amid steep, rolling hills. I’ve ridden here many times, and raced here twice (winning once!). I hadn’t ridden Pipeline Trail, though, so I decided to check it out last weekend.

On the long fireroad climb up to Ollason Peak, I was lucky to see a bobcat, two coyotes, and a Wild Turkey, all close to the trail! It makes my day to see wildlife. But even more exciting? The bursting carpet of wildflowers filling in the hillsides; it is the start of the Spring bloom, indeed. I must’ve stopped twenty times on the climb up to marvel at the myriad blooms beckoning me from the trail. It was breathtaking, and I can’t wait to go back in a few weeks to see the Superbloom’s evolution. 

The scenery and flowers were a welcome distraction to the austere climb up Ollason Trail. I didn’t hesitate to get off and walk my bike up the steepest, ruttiest sections. The view from the top was an incredible bonus, spanning across the Monterey Bay and to my not too distant home, the Santa Cruz Mountains.

I set out on Pipeline Trail. The trails are in excellent shape right now, with recent rains tamping down the sandstone into a tacky, more trustworthy bite. It was my first time on the trail, so I rode with some prudence, but I can see how you could rip this trail up! It was definitely more technical than all of the other trails at Toro, although it had plenty of pedaly traversing sections. I am excited to ride this trail a lot more in the future! I look forward to finding the flow and grace of it.

Ollason Peak, 1,800′

Here is a pretty mellow video of my ride:

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park: 3/27/19

Henry Cowell is my bread and butter in Santa Cruz; it’s where I first explored as a University freshman back in the day. This magical oasis in the Santa Cruz Mountains holds relics of old-growth giants from millennia past, and many remnants of their aggressive logging in the 1800’s. All but a few of the original stand today, their sanctity all that more profound compared to their spindly second-growth counterparts. There is an absolutely ethereal feeling of walking through a redwood forest – golden light penetrating the needles; fluorescent, animated moss reaching out from the tree limbs to pet you; always an animal or flower to stop and appreciate. Henry Cowell spans from redwood forest along the San Lorenzo River to drier, chaparral in the Sandhills habitat. There are many biking and hiking trails, and never a shortage of wonder!

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Every year, around the Equinoxes, the light is especially brilliant at Henry Cowell. It’s hitting at just the right angle to let the redwoods show their true, deep red color, with strokes of vibrant green moss, clover, and fern filling in the landscape for balance. For me, it feels like the closest thing to church. Whether it’s a calm stroll, a ripping mountain bike ride, or a graceful run through the forest, I always feel inspired, happy, and relaxed when I am here.

Happy Springtime everyone! Enjoy being outside in your special places, soaking up all the blooming flowers that abound. I plan on exploring a lot more this SuperBloom 2019 season!

Wonderful Winter 2019

California’s gotten lucky this Winter. It’s been an exceptionally wet one, with even more on the way. With less than three weeks until the Spring Equinox, and only one week until the start of Daylight Savings Time, Summer’s warm glow is appearing on the horizon. Before the transition to longer, busier days, I cherish the quiet peace of Winter, blanketed by rain and snow.

It’s been a wonderful Winter for both sandy mountain biking in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and snowboarding insanely deep powder in the mountains.  With over 25 feet of snow in February alone, most resorts haven’t had many days of full operation. They can barely keep up with all of Mother Nature’s bounty.

When we get such plentiful precipitation, it brings a feeling of security and hope. Knowing that there will likely be enough water to last us through the dry Summer is assuring; knowing that animals will also have enough water in their parched rivers and streams is equally comforting.

We took a roadtrip to Mammoth over superbowl Sunday weekend, which happened to be an intense, bona fide blizzard. Almost eleven feet of snow fell over that weekend, with whiteout conditions so blinding, it just about shut down the whole town. Ron and I barely managed to snowboard on Saturday and Sunday, even though the upper mountain was closed from gale force winds and complete whiteout conditions. We had to sit down in complete blindness at least a dozen times because the snowfall was so heavy. We fared the high winds and vertigo inducing flurries and made the most of it. It was awesome to just float over the copious fresh powder. Though I’d been mountain biking here, it was my first time snowboarding. It was amazing, but I would love to come back when the upper mountain is open. We had to take the southern route home down Highway 395, as all of the Northern passes were closed, which turned out to be a breathtakingly beautiful drive.

Kirkwood has been delivering on its “highest and driest” claim, if not overwhelmed at times, like all of the other resorts, by all of the snow they’re getting. We’ve had some of our best days possibly ever this season, though are still hungry for more before they close on April 21. We heard a harrowing story from a skier we rode up Chair 4 with, though. He had just gotten wedged into a 20-foot deep crevasse at the top of the big cornice at the top of Chair 4. He was trying to jump it, but somehow slipped into the narrow gash and fell down into it, skies awkwardly wedged and stuck.

It took him about a half hour to get his skies off and carefully climb up to the opening, where he was barely able to wave his ski to alert bypassers. Ski Patrol came and helped him get out, and roped off the cornice. I think he was still in a bit of shock about it; all I could think of was how freaked out I’d be if I’d almost just died. All of this snow is exciting, but I never forget how powerful and scary it can be. Avalanches, tree wells, and crevasses are all menacing forces that kill people every year. He is lucky he didn’t get stuck in there. The story gave me shivers, and reminded me of the real risks of snow, even within the boundaries of a well-managed ski resort.

Ron and I are both quick to acknowledge how special our snowboarding trips and mountain bike rides are together, and how much we appreciate them (and many other things, of course). We’ve got to make the most of the time we have now. As time goes on and we are getting older, it becomes clearer how numbered all of these experiences are. My grandmother and old teenage boyfriend both passed away within the last couple months, and, though expected, their passings reminded me how finite our time really is on this Earth. There are no guarantees, except mortality. When I am old and cannot flow over the land or snow anymore, I will look back on these memories with intense love and fondness, perhaps through a virtual reality interface. Which is why we’ve got to keep on making those memories a reality now.

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Super Snow Moonrise, Hope Valley

Enjoy the final days of Winter, and Spring will be here before we know it!

Here’s a video of today’s mellow cross-country ride:

Bear Mountain MTB New Year’s Eve 2018

I finished off the year today with a fun, sandy mountain bike ride at Bear Mountain 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!

 

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.

 

Just Do You…I Got This

“Oh my God! What are you doing out here all by yourself?!” the man asked incredulously, resting with his bike on the side of the trail at Soquel Demonstration State Forest.
“Um, riding the same trail you are. What are you doing out here all by yourself?” I retorted. Why was I being questioned by a total stranger again? And not just anyone, but a dude?
“Well, some people don’t know where they’re going, or what they’re getting into out here. Just making sure. Looks like you ride a lot,” he replied, trying to recover.
I continued riding my bike past him, my irritation visible on my face. This wasn’t the first time I’d been questioned by a male rider. He saw that I was a girl, and immediately doubted my riding abilities. What was he doing alone?! Could he not see the hypocrisy? Later on that ride, I zoomed past him as he was taking a break on the side of the trail. It always feels good to speed past someone who doubted you could keep up at all.
All of my life I’ve been called a “tomboy”. I’ve always loved to be outside, doing athletic things, and taking risks. I couldn’t care less how my hair looked, or what clothes I wore. I was pretty much accepted as “one of the boys” with my childhood friends. I continued to have many guy friends that I enjoyed doing sports and other outdoorsy things with as I got older.
But an undertone of doubt developed at some points, whether it was questioning my running speed, my ability to drive in the snow, jumping from a creekside ropeswing into a swimming hole, or snowboarding down a steep run.
When I really got into mountain biking several years ago, I was perplexed by the questions I was getting from total strangers, all of whom were men. In summary, I got a lot of, “Hi; nice to meet you. Now let me question your shit”.

Specifically, these are some of the things I’ve heard from dudes on the trail:

1. “Do you know where you’re going?” looking at me as if I’m lost while I’m taking a rest on the side of the trail.
2. “You know there’s a gnarly section ahead. You got this?” As I fly down it proving him wrong, yet again.
3. “You’re all alone out here?!” Oh my gosh! Call Search and Rescue! It’s a girl by herself!

4. “You look so tiny on that big bike. This is a serious race; you sure you’re ready to race it?”. This came from someone at Northstar during the California Enduro Series. I held my tongue to say, “Good things come in small packages”. I also went on to win first place in my Beginner category that day.

5. “This trail has log drops, you know – not that you do those”. Thanks for the underestimate from someone I barely know, as I proceed to fly down said logs. Ride on, Dog.
There were all these little things adding up. I felt like I was being judged the minute these guys saw my long hair. I’d be resting on the side of the trail, perhaps letting some air out of my tires before a downhill, and be asked if I needed help; if I knew the trail I was on. While it’s nice to be offered a helping hand, the tone was often more quizzical and doubt-filled. “Are you okay?” they’d ask, with a look of concern on their faces. Just because I’m a girl alone in the woods doesn’t mean I need help, thank you very much.

Then, on a mountain biking trip to the Tahoe area, I spent a day checking out Kirkwood’s Mountain Bike Park (which compares none to Northstar’s). I rode up the chairlift with a guy who immediately started questioning me: I was alone on my trip? Planning to ride Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride? And then Downieville? He seemed quite concerned.
“You know, Mr. Toad’s is a gnarly ride. Like, even I walk sections,” he said, with a know-it-all tone. “And then Downieville? That’s even gnarlier. You know what you’re getting into all by yourself? You ride a lot?”

Why did he feel he could question me like this? I wasn’t asking him about his skills. He had no idea what my abilities were, and was just operating off of assumptions that were, in my opinion, quite sexist. I humored him by answering his questions: yes, I ride a lot; yes, I’ve heard the rides are “gnarly”.

When I made it to Downieville, I was told I would be walking many sections of the trail by the guys on the shuttle with me.
“You’ll be able to do about 80% of the trail,” they predicted.

It felt awesome to not walk anything on Mr. Toad’s or Downieville; to not just do it, but ride it with true Flow and Grace. And it felt even better to pass some of those skeptics on the way down. But their doubt still bothered me.

Then there was the day I was on my way to my usual ride (Sweetness and Magic Carpet, Upper UCSC in Santa Cruz) when I saw a friend gearing up by his car to ride.
“Wait for me a sec,” he said. In a few minutes, we were off riding together. When we reached the top of the climb, he turned to me and said,
“I don’t mean to sound condescending, but I’m going to be charging down this trail, going off the jumps and everything. I don’t want you to get hurt. Do you have the skills to make it?”
I took a deep breath. Yet again, here I was being questioned. Seriously?! I have to answer to this? I tried my best to be diplomatic and gracious, but couldn’t hold back my rankled reaction.

“What ‘Magic Carpet’ did you think I was referring to when I said I was going to ride Magic Carpet? This is my regular ride. I do all those jumps too; it’s the same trail you’re doing,” I defended. “Honestly, I think you’re being sexist by asking me that. Assuming that just because I’m a girl I can’t ride the same trail you can? I’m sensitive to that, and that bothers me.”

He immediately justified his questions by saying a friend (male) had gotten hurt following him down the trail once before; that he just wanted to be sure I could do it. I was irritated, though, and considered the fact that I could’ve been ageist and questioned his skills.

My redemption came in flying down the trail as usual. I didn’t need his praise as I cleared all the jumps he had questioned me about. Then, at the very bottom there is a rocky section that dumps you onto Highway 9. It’s very technical, full of rock drops, and many people walk it. I rode it all the way down, and he looked at me with surprise.
“Wow, I don’t see many girls make that section. Impressive.”
“Just doing what I always do,” and off I went, as if I needed the approval.

Recently, my husband Ron and I were boarding The Wall chairlift at Kirkwood. The lift operator turned squarely to me (not Ron), and asked:

“Hi there; this run is for experts only. Have you been down The Wall before?”

“Yes, many times. You going to ask my husband the same question?” I asked him back, skating ahead on my snowboard to board the chair.

“Sorry just checking and doing my job!” he called back, as we boarded the lift.

Another time, it was a rainy day, and I was at the gym doing the elliptical. I was reading People magazine, and drinking a Yerba Matte. There was a man next to me on the treadmill walking. I kept feeling his gaze dart toward me, when after a few minutes, he said:

“I don’t know what’s worse for you. That ‘People’ magazine or that Yerba Matte,” he judged. I couldn’t believe I was being interrupted with such a rebuke from a total stranger.

“Seeing as how I’m a Math and Science Teacher, I like to unwind sometimes with something light. Would you like to see the Geology book I have in my bag over there? I read that, too.”
More notably, there’s all of the messages we see in advertising and media. Whether it’s commercials where a girl needs a website to help her negotiate a good car price, or the roles women play in movies and television of being helpless and dependent, the list goes on. There’s one particular ad that’s common in mountain bike magazines, whose caption reads: “Actually, I can: get up at dawn, fix my own flat, ride that trail…” and the list goes on. The statement, while seemingly based on empowerment on first read, bothered me the more I looked at it. “Actually, I can”? It seems like they’re assuming most women don’t think they can do those things. Thanks for underestimating us, yet again.
It’s not that I think every man (or woman, for that matter) who questions me is malicious and sexist. I also don’t doubt that sexism goes both ways; that men feel sexism, too. And I certainly don’t think every man is sexist. But when enough things happen, it feels like I’m being singled out just for being a girl. That’s what’s frustrating. I don’t need everyone I meet on the trail to assume I’m a pro, as much as I don’t need them to assume I’m a complete newbie. I think the important part is not to assume at all; to not make an “ass” out of “u” and “me”, as the old saying goes. I wish people would remember that when they question someone’s ability to do the same thing they’re doing; that they would have the grace to just do their own thing and not question at all.

Instead of, “Hi, nice to meet you; now let me question your gear”, let’s just start with the “Hi; nice to meet you” part. What works well for one person doesn’t always translate to another anyway. Our genders don’t necessarily mandate the best sporting equipment for us. Different strokes for different folks. I love my 29’er, workout pants, and cotton T’s. I may not ride with a matching kit, but I have fun and enjoy the ride.

And please don’t tell me I should be riding a 650B.
After all, does it really matter what I’m doing? Just do you; I got this, Bro.