My face hurts from smiling so much. That's the best way I can describe mountain biking in Santa Cruz the other day. I told my friend Paul that 'I absolutely have to ride cause I'm not racing the Tahoe-Sierra 100' and he suggested Santa Cruz. Awesome. I'm glad I had said that because when it came time to put my mountain bike together knowing I had to take it apart again in fewer than 24 hours I kind of didn't want to. What a mistake that would have been!
After some freeway time south of SF we're on a tiny ridge road which I thought of as 'behind the mountains' because I've never actually been in them; only ridden by with them on my left and the ocean on my right. Ends up we wouldn't even see the town of Santa Cruz.
Paul only had a fuzzy idea of where to go. Something about a dirt road up to the ridge and trails coming back down to the car. We pick one, bomb it, then repeat on a different. There are lots of people out on bikes. Dozens. Mountain bikers everywhere. This is new to me. In the San Gabriels or Santa Monicas you only see a few people here and there.
First trail down comes up. We roll by. 'That's not it', he says. Next trail- Braille- has an odd bunch of riders at the trail-head. Some regular looking mountain bike dudes- baggy clothes, hydration packs, dual suspension bikes, hairy legs, etc. A few younger dudes on jumping style bikes. A woman on a cross-country bike and a dude on a cross bike. They say, 'you want to do this trail, it's awesome.' Here's the thing though. 'Awesome' is very subjective. I'll be honest and say I don't trust other people's idea of awesomeness. I have high expectations for trails and while most riding is pretty good and some of it is very good- not a whole lot qualifies as awesome. Our Mammoth Bromance Slaycation 2009 qualifies as awesome. I'll never forget this wall-ride!. So I was apprehensive. Stoked, but apprehensive. And then it was possibly the best trail I have ever ridden.
Next thing I know we are flying down smooth, flow-y single track with some drops. And berms. And then jumps. With landings! Then technical built-up ladders and crossings. Man, stuff I don't even know what it's called. Imagine if you could build a skatepark out of stuff you find in the woods and instead of it being in one big area it's laid out along one trail in a redwood forest. That's this trail. Perfectly called Braille as I was hitting this stuff having never seen it before. I figure that they know where to put the landings and I'll just be careful...
This page has some photos and a video, but it really doesn't do it justice. At the bottom of that we had instant new friends. They loved that I was 'a racer' and riding a 29er and hitting this stuff. Fist bumps and high fives everywhere. Ends up they are a regular Sunday ride and next thing you know we're climbing back up the ridge but this time bombing down toward the ocean. They are offered us weed, bbq chicken and to come to their house post-ride to help them finish the beer and food from a party. Oh mountain bike culture how I love thee! And then we were promised 15 miles of single-track and they delivered.
At the end of ________ and _______ Trail
We rode some twisty, curvy technical trails and some good mixed terrain stuff which I enjoyed. Chatting with our new friends and it ends up the main dude had ridden Furnace Creek 508 years ago. Ridiculous.
Not long after we enter yet another trail the dudes on jumping bikes with platform pedals and shin guards stop and pick up their bikes. They ask to follow them into the woods, but not directly behind. 'Tread lightly, don't leave any marks.' We walk about 10 yards and then onto a SECRET TRAIL! [redacted at request of trail builders]. And that's the last coherent thought I had because the next two miles was so exhilarating and dangerous that I couldn't think about anything but keeping the rubber side down. There were sections where I thought the trail ended only to look down and see that what was in front of me was a 180 degree berm at such a steep incline that if it wasn't for tire tracks I wouldn't think was rideable. I had started near the back and slowly I passed other folks just shaking their head saying, 'there's no way this is possible.' There were jumps I went around, but I rode some berms and drops that truly scared me. You'd pop out from between two giant redwoods and then bam! drop into what better resembles a quarter pipe than a mountain bike trail...
I can't thank those locals enough! Back in Soquel, a tiny town south of Santa Cruz that I had ridden through just a few weeks ago on my SF-LA 3-day ride, we said our goodbyes and started the two hour climb back over the mountains to our car. The conversation was mostly about the costs of homes in the area and if there are any jobs...
Such a fun day. Wow. Not sure it counts as 'training' though.