Summer 2019 MTB: Northstar to Santa Cruz

Summer, Sweet Summer. Every year, I long for your arrival, and once here, cherish the grace of your annual visit. Brightening our days, inviting us to go outside – anywhere, and showing us Nature’s miracles are some of your highlights I appreciate the most.

Another upshot of Summer? As a teacher, I am on vacation! Hallelujah! I savor every moment; each year’s Summer reprieve becomes that much more treasured. Whenever I hear people talk about how little money we make, I have to quietly smile on the inside when I think about how rich we are in that impossible to appraise commodity called time. It is up to us how we use all this time off, but most teachers I know are hot out the gate once that final bell rings in early June. As for me? Well I think I caught a trace of Mrs. Deetz running off, but all I can see is her dust.

While other seasons of the year may bring better mountain biking weather, Summer offers a long window of time to get your ride in the morning, or evening. Santa Cruz gets pretty hot in the summertime, though not like the Central Valley. The regulating coastal fog helps us stay relatively comfortable, but there are some Summer days when it is too darn hot to ride during the daytime. This is where evening rides come in.

I think it needs no preface that my mountain bike videos are not “sick”, “sending it”, or anywhere near the same echelon of Red Bull Rampage. When I make videos, it’s mostly because I learn from them; it helps me become a better rider. Second, I know if I’m going to ride somewhere new, I like to watch others’ videos – and not necessarily the rippingest experts, but people who ride kind of like me, too. It gives me a snapshot of what to expect, and I often learn something by watching others ride. Maybe mine will help someone else out there. Or not. It’s all in good fun, anyway.

Here are a few videos of riding in the Santa Cruz Mountains over the last couple of weeks. I also had a fun ride down in Carlsbad in the San Diego area where my sister lives; Rancho La Costa Preserve is near her house, and has some pretty cool trails.

One place I wish I lived closer to is Northstar. While only a four-hour’s drive from my house in Santa Cruz, its manicured berms and thoughtfully designed trails beckon. I’ve been riding up here for several years now, but only a few times each Summer. It has become a cross of amusement park and mountain playground, a true smile-on-your-face-guaranteed wonder in the Lake Tahoe area. They maintain the trails so beautifully, you’d think they were precious babies. And of course, you don’t have to climb up to ride downhill! The laws of physics are in your favor with chairlift access.

Feel the berm! I was craving that exact feeling – flowing through a berm, angled on your bike just right to offset sliding, and charging out the end of the turn – so I made a trip up on Monday 6/24. There might have been all of fifty riders on the mountain it was so empty; a nice contrast to the busier weekends. Another benefit of Summer vacation!

Here are a few videos of Livewire, Gypsy, Boondocks, and Coaster trails.

Go get your ride on; get your play on! Get your whatever-it-is-you-love-to-do on! It’s Summer!

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!

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!

2018 Summertime Ride

Here’s a video of today’s ride, my favorite regular route. I added some captions to highlight some unique areas of the trails I’m grateful to call home. It’s about 20 miles and takes about 2 hours, starting at Highway 9 and Pipeline Road through Henry Cowell State Park, and continuing up 17 Turns to Mailboxes for the first downhill. Then, it’s a fireroad climb back up the mountain via Long Meadow in Wilder Ranch to Twin Gates; on to Sweetness, the second downhill. The warm-up and cool-down through Henry Cowell are perfect for this ride, and I’m super appreciative I can ride these trails with just a short drive from my house in Ben Lomond!

The birds and wildlife are always a huge motivator to do anything outside around here; I’ve seen a mountain lion on Mailboxes trail before. Today I saw several baby lizards, only about an inch long, which was a reminder to watch out for hatching reptiles on these hot, late-Summer days.  Having access to this stunning outdoor escape is one of the main reasons I moved to Santa Cruz in the first place, almost twenty years ago. These mountains feel like home, and though I’ve ridden these trails hundreds of times, they never get old – endless fun!

Summertime rides like these set the stage for content, happy evenings; under balmy conditions, a symphony of insects and a full moon fill the sky and the senses. I savor the Summer! I am beyond thankful for this time off, and for the freedom, flow, and grace it brings. Time is the biggest gift of all, and I don’t take it for granted. As a teacher, I know exactly when my time off is, and take advantage of it while I can. August 20 will be here before I know it.

Enjoy your Summer, too; go ride your bike! It doesn’t matter what you’re riding, it’s that you’re riding – and with a smile on your face.