Wilder Ranch MTB: Crest to Coast

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Wilder Ranch State Park in Santa Cruz, California, boasts not only some of the region’s best trails, but best views. Known for its undulating series of marine terraces, Wilder Ranch is a result of millions of years of uplift along the California coast, driven by movements of the San Andreas Fault system.

One of my favorite routes in Wilder is the coastal trail formed by Old Cove Landing and Ohlone Bluff Trail. It’s like going to a different country, almost. This is the spot to bring your loved one, or just your love of Nature.

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For this loop, I started at Twin Gates and descended some fun singletrack in Wilder. I stopped at the historic Wilder Ranch, going in the horse stables before exploring the aloe tunnels. Though I’ve been here hundreds of times over the years, you always feel like you’ve stepped back in history when you’re here.

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From Wilder Ranch, the Old Cove Landing trail begins, starting a roughly five-mile traverse along the cliff bluffs until 3-Mile Beach up coast. The first section is more popular, but once you hit Ohlone Bluff Trail after Strawberry Beach, you’ll likely not see anyone until 3-Mile Beach. It’s a flat ride, but don’t underestimate the headwind – if there is a strong one, it makes riding Northward on this loop all that much harder!

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The draw of this ride is visual. With jaw-dropping cliffs right next to you for some of the ride, don’t get too distracted by the beautiful, expansive ocean views. Depending upon the weather, you may be able to see across the Monterey Bay all the way down to Pebble Beach. The best views, however, will be right in front of you the whole way.

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One of the coolest parts is the seal rookery. Dozens of seals can be seen lounging upon a large wave-platform, year after year, blessed may it be. They are wildly entertaining and cute to watch! Many seabirds, whales, and dolphins also make their appearances along this wild section of coastline.

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Seal Rookery

This trail is a lesson on coastal geology. Marine terraces, wave-cut platforms, sea stacks, and sea caves mark the trail, inviting curiosity and exploration. Be careful here; it’s about 200 feet down in the steepest spots. The rock is predominantly sedimentary mudstone, overlain by sandstone, neither of which are stable for climbing on.

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3-Mile beach is pretty much where the trail ends. This is a breathtaking spot to take a rest! The views here are simply incredible. Take the time to soak them up.

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3-Mile Beach
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Wave Platform

After enjoying the gorgeous sights of 3-Mile Beach, I continued up the railroad tracks until the Highway 1 undercrossing. Riding through this tunnel exits you onto Baldwin Trail in Wilder Ranch, which I climbed up to Enchanted Loop and Chinquapin Trail to return to my car. Take a stop at the Eucalyptus Grove for a nice view.

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Eucalyptus Grove Rest Spot

I took a few hours for this loop, stopping often to enjoy the views. There are many variations you can make; sections of this loop are from the Old Cabin Classic annual mountain bike race in Wilder. It’s also a wonderful spot for a hike or run.

Here is a video of the ride, but go check it out yourself!

Wilder Ranch MTB Enchanted Loop Trail

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Elegant Cluster Lily (Brodiaea elegans)

Wilder Ranch State Park, in Santa Cruz, California, is full of color and activity this time of year. With the Spring wildflower bloom in full effect, this is an ideal time to get outside and enjoy nature’s kaleidoscope of flowers. With sandy to loamy soils that gently wind up ancient marine terraces, equestrians, hikers, runners, and mountain bikers alike are all out in full force these days enjoying the gorgeous landscape.

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Deer in Lupine Field

One of my favorite (legal) trails within Wilder Ranch is Enchanted Loop Trail. It’s a pretty short downhill through a redwood canyon teeming with ferns, clovers, and moss. After the exceptional Winter we had this year, everything is ultra vibrant.

Though known more for cross-country mountain biking, Wilder is a fun spot that makes up for its infamous ruts with its exceptional beauty. Ocean views, expansive fields of green, and pops of glowing wildflowers beckon you to take frequent breaks and enjoy the scenery. By mid-Summer, it will still be beautiful here, but not like the Spring bloom. This is a truly special, finite time of year.

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Blue Dicks

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American Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium montanum)
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Marsh Woundwort

Here’s a video of my ride today down Enchanted Loop. Enjoy this beautiful Spring!

 

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:

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!

 

Sandy Santa Cruz MTB

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!