Category Archives: Mountain Biking

3.1.10: Blue Autumn Skies of California – Mountain BIking In The Soquel Demonstration Forest

Blue Autumn Skies of California

In The Soquel Demonstration Forest on 17 November 2013

Read About Our Ride In The Henry Cowell Redwoods
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overviewThe Santa Cruz Mountains separate San Jose from Santa Cruz.  These rugged mountains have few way through, from the Santa Clara Valley to the Sea.  Highway 17 is one of the few routes.  Many State and County Parks dot the mountains.  The Soquel Demonstration Forest is on land that was, once, part of a Spanish Land Grant, although it is unclear who granted the Spanish Crown original title.   The Forest is home to several highly regarded mountain biking trails.  The Forest passed to the people of California in 1988, and is now used by the California Department of Forestry (CDF) to experiment with timber harvests and regrowth, making the forest a renewable resource.
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Highland Road provides the only motorized entrance to the Forest.  Highway 17 / Summit Road connects to the north end of Highland Road.  Corralitos / Eureka Canyon connects to the south end of Highland Road.  A ride may gain entrance, from the south, by cycling north from Aptos, through the Forest of Nicene Marks, a very steep climb.

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3.1.9: Deep Shadows and New Friends – Mountain Biking In The Henry Cowell Redwoods

Deep Shadows and New Friends

Mountain Biking In The Henry Cowell Redwoods

Read About Our Ride In The Sun Drenched Santa Teresa Hills
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p (1)The Henry Cowell Redwood State Park lies just a few miles north of Santa Cruz on Highway 9, near Felton, California.  The Park includes virgin Redwoods at the southern limit of the great California Redwood forest that stretches from Crescent City south to Monterey Bay.  The large Redwoods that now form the Grove have long been the object of protection.  A businessman spearheaded the first efforts to preserve the trees.  Later, Santa Cruz County took on the Grove as a Park.  IN 1952, the Cowell Family donated the surrounding land to California, on condition the Grove was also deeded over as part of the current park.
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Visitors can reach the Park from the north, east, or south.  The most picturesque route is south, from San Francisco, on the fabled Pacific Coast Highway, to Santa Cruz, and Highway 9 to Felton.  The same is true from the south.  The eastern approach is over the Santa Cruz Mountains via Highway 17, and taking Mount Herman Road in Scots Valley to Highway 9.
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Marian and I enjoy Henry Cowell.  It is pleasant, and easily accessible.  Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the Redwoods in the Grove.  Bikers can ride the paved trails in any weather.  When we have visitors, we often encourage them to visit the Park, since it provides an easy way to become acquainted with these wonderful trees.  Our most recent visitors were our nephew Paul and his family.
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Our Plan
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p (2)Riding in Henry Cowell is straight forward.  While there are many paths, only a few are open to bikes.  We started at  the Visitor Center, near the Highway 9 entrance at Felton (N 37°02.391′; W 122°03.817′).  We rode the three miles of paved Pipeline Trail south-east to the Graham Hill entrance.  Then we retraced our steps and rode 0.8 miles of the unpaved Powder House Trail to the outlook, the highest place in the Park.  We coasted back down to the Pipeline Trail.  From there, we returned to the Visitor Center.  Our total distance was about 7.6 miles.
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Op (3)ur route in Henry Cowell required 1200 feet of climbing  After a gentle opening ride, the first climb was about 350 feet.  We descended to the San Lorenzo River, then up to Graham Hill Road, another very steep 120 feet.  On the return trip, we climbed 450 feet to the Park Overlook.
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Our Ride
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blank Turn-By-Turn Directions
blank 0.0 Miles – STRAIGHT on paved Pipeline Trail from Visitor Center
blank 1.6 Miles – Scenic Overlook to Santa Cruz Boardwalk
blank 2.3 Miles – Picnic Table
blank 3.0 Miles – TURN AROUND at Graham Hill Gate
blank 3.7 Miles – RIGHT on dirt Powder Mill Fire Road
blank 4.5 Miles – TURN AROUND at Overlook
blank 5.3 Miles – RIGHT onto paved Pipeline Trail
blank 7.6 Miles – END at Visitor Center
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Our Ride
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p (4)We parked at the Visitor Center, after paying our $10 to support the Park.  Preparing for our ride,  we heard the nearby Roaring Camp RailroadI took a turn around the parking lot, and stopped to admire the narrow gauge train.  The Rail Road was built to haul tourists from Santa Cruz up to a resort at Roaring Camp.  As I completed my circuit, a mother, father and three-year old son emerged from the Grove.  The whistle excited the boy.  I opined that the train would be at the station for a time, before returning to Santa Cruz.  The father hoisted the boy on his shoulders, and quickly walked off.  Trains are made for boys of all ages.
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p (5)We left the sunny pasture near the Visitor Center, and descended into the lush green tunnel of the Pipeline Trail.  New spending was in evidence.  New pavement replaced heavily damaged black top, and new timber railings bordered the walkways.  We passed the Grove on our left and followed the creek.  Hikers moved in both directions, on the trail, although the crowd was far smaller than a mid-summer weekend.  Many were students, as well as a sprinkling of Asian tourists.  People smiled, reverent of their surroundings.  They were calm, polite, and friendly.
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The forest deadened traffic noises and all but the closest voices.  The further we cycled from the Visitor Center, the more it seemed we left the 21st Century.  Soon, we might have been miles from civilization, instead of a few miles from Surf City Santa Cruz and the blaring music of the Board Walk.
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p (6)Instead of the mandatory strenuous climb out of the parking lot, we enjoyed pedaling 0.8 miles down the gentle slope, moving politely and carefully around the hikers.  We soon reached the lowest point in our ride.  Above us, the Roaring Camp Railroad soared high over our heads on a wonderful old trestle spanning our valley.
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p (8)Our first climb greeted us, 280 feet in 0.8 miles.  The hikers disappeared, turning around at the Trestle.  The first 0.3 miles was fairly steep (13% according to the Garmin), but manageable.  As we ascended, an enthusiastic hiker, going in the other direction, encouraged us with spirited exhortations.  After a small respite, we did our best on the rest of the grade (22% at the steepest point).  I gamely rode as much of it as I could, but my heart rate maxed out, still some distance from the top.  Without a shred of guilt, I pushed my bike the remaining 600 yards to the top.  If if I had the energy to finish the climb, it was fa too steep to restart.
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Once at the crest, we greedily drank in the sweet oxygen.  Few hikers ventured up the steep slope.  Almost alone, we rode easily along the top, taking the rollers without complaint.  We had time to become tourists.  The trees were, occasionally, thinner, allowing watery sunlight through.  In other places, the green tunnel absorbed light and sound.
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p (7)As we rode along, we notice great fire hydrants poking out of the ground along Pipeline Trail.  Some giant had planted these enormous, towering artifacts in another age.  Even painted in earth tones, they seemed out-of-place.Still, the purpose of the fire hydrant is noble.  In the event of a fire, the hydrants, linked by pipes to the River, can provide an instant, inexhaustible flood of water to firefighters.  They were installed long ago, standing ready to perform their duty.  While this might seem extravagant, they stand guard in this forest.  While Redwoods can always be replaced, the virgin timber in the Grove could never be replaced.
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p (9)We reached the bench by the trail, and paused.  A short time earlier, we passed a hiker.  She joined us.  She was friendly, saying she often rode the trail, as well as hiked.  Her name was Cindy.  Since she was familiar with the trail, we asked her what we were looking at, what we would see if the view were clear.  The Santa Cruz Boardwalk hide under the mist.  Once we understood, we could also see the Great Dipper, and the Railroad Bridge over the San Lorenzo River.  We also chatted with another woman.  She had walked her dog from the Graham Hill Road Gate.
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p (12)We bid farewell to our new friends and followed the paved trail down to the San Lorenzo River.  Along the way we met a young man who stopped us and earnestly proselytized to us.  The message was fine, and we believe.  Still, I am not sure how well it was received by others on the trail. xxxxxxxxxxxx We continued, reaching the steep descent to the San Lorenzo River.  Pine needles covered the steep path.  We negotiated the tight turns, trusting our brakes.  We rode on to the bottom, since we could not stop our bikes anyway  The south bank had the steepest grade of the ride, over 23%.  I wish I could say I rode all of it, but, again, I pushed my bike up the last half.
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We rested at the Graham Hill Road gate before turning back into the green tunnel.  We dropped down to the San Lorenzo River, amazed at the slope.  Pushing up the far side, I rode all the way to the turnoff to the Powder Mill Trail.  However tempted I was to stop, I pushed on to the turn off to the Powder Mill Trail.
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In earlier years, when we rode Henry Cowell, we often rode it in the Spring, just as the Wet Season was ending. The steep Powder Mill Trail would be filled with muddy ruts, pools of water and small streams and bogs.  On the day we rode, the Wet Season, such as it had been, was six months in the past.
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The ride to the top was about 0.8 miles, with about 300 feet of climbing.  But, to my tired legs, it seemed longer.  Happily, the ride was not very technical.  I kept the bike away from ruts, and worked my way through the sand traps, left over beach front property from some earlier geological era.  For the most part, the bike steered itself, and I just pedaled.
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p (14)Four students began their hike up the trail while Marian and I ate Luna Bars.  As I rode up the hill, I gained ground on them. I considered passing them, but knew I would have to stop shortly afterward.  We were near a confusing trail junction.  Marian had no map, and I needed to guide her to the correct trail.  After Marian joined me, we pushed to the top.  I caught the students, again. Politely, I let them take the stairs and claim the only picnic table on the observation deck.  A pair of equestrians were also there, and happily posed for us.
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p (13)Finally at the top, we claimed our reward, the view.  Sadly, the scene included no Ocean, which had been visible from the Bench.  Instead, we had a view of the mountains around us.  In every direction, trees covered the rugged slopes.  If we squinted a little we could imagine the land as it might have been, untouched by humans, for as far as the eye could see.
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Coming down, we took our time on the Powder Mill Trail.  The road was just steep enough, with just enough sharp, loose gravel, to make me cautious.  I found it difficult to let go of the brake levers and zoom recklessly down the slope, trusting the bike design and my rusty skills.  Instead, I picked my way through the ruts and sand, arriving safe and sounds.
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Once back to the pavement, we headed to the Visitor Center.  The upper reaches were relatively deserted. We met our cheerleader again, urging us on.  His enthusiasm was infectious.  I learned he cheered us on because he seldom saw bikers of our advanced ages riding such difficult trails.  Defalted, we descended to the Rail Road Trestle.  We slowed down and worked our way through the hikers to the parking lot.
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Our Thoughts
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Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park was our second mountain bike ride of 2013.  Unlike the dirt of the Santa Teresa Hills, the paved trail for much of the ride almost felt like cheating.  And, my heart resonated with the trees in a way the  barren slopes could never meet.  I was grateful to live in a place like Henry Cowell Park, and anyone can ride in it, not just a privileged few.  The greenest of all Presidents, Teddy Roosevelt, made a lasting difference in this country in promoting Conservation.  I owe them an immeasurable debt.
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Read about our ride to blue skies of the Soquel Demonstration Forest.

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3.1.8 – Rocks, Dust and Sun Drenched Hill – Mountain Biking At Santa Teresa Park

Rocks, Dust, and Sun Drenched Hills

Mountain Biking At Santa Teresa Park

Read About Our Ride From Lexington To Buzzard Lagoon
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st overviewSan Jose is the most populous city in the Bay Area.  On the south end of San Francisco Bay, the city sits on top of the Santa Clara Valley , once known as the Valley of Heavenly Delight.  This valley, once an agricultural treasure-house, is now paved over.  The self-styled capital of Silicon Valley is the bedroom community for the tech industry of the moment.
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Mountains and bay bound the the valley.  To the east, Mountain Hamilton, 4000 vertical feet above the valley floor, sprawls in a south-easterly direction.  To the west, the Santa Cruz Mountains, climbing over 2500 feet high, parallel their eastern cousins.  Down the valley, the Santa Teresa Hills, a harsh, rocky outcrop, juts out from the Santa Cruz Mountains, impinging on the farmland.  The County included the hills in a park, Santa Teresa County Park, along with other open spaces, forming a green belt on the south edge of the city.
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To celebrate the end of our training, Marian and I returned to our mountain bikes, just as we did in 2012.  We selected Santa Teresa Park because it was nearby.  I had just repaired my mountain bike, and needed a test ride.  In the event something went wrong, Santa Teresa Park had many easy access points that we could drive to and retrieve my bike.
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Our Plan
rideA rider can use Santa Teresa Park from a number of points.  We chose the Fortini Trail Head, just off McKee Road, south of San Jose.  (N 37°12.195′;  W 121°48.355′).  We planned to ride the Fortini Trail, a gentle single track, to the picnic area.  From there, we would climb Hidden Springs Trail / Coyote Peak Trail, a very steep dirt road, to Coyote Peak.  From there, we expected to have good views of south San Jose, and the open spaces beyond the city.  From there, we intended to either retrace our steps.  Once at the top, we decided, instead to try a different way down, the Rocky Ridge Trail, a technically difficult single track.
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elevationsOur ride was only 6.1 miles long, with 993 feet of climbing, all on dirt.  The Fortini Trail, single track, was a gentle climb.  The Hidden Springs / Coyote Peak Trails were extremely steep in many places.  On our descent, the Rocky Ridge Trail, was a steep, technical single track down to the Fortini Trail.  From there, we returned on the Fortini Trail.
Our Ride
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blank Turn-By-Turn Directions
blank 0.0 Miles – STRAIGHT on Fortini Trail from Fortini Trail Head
blank 0.8 Miles – STRAIGHT on Mine Trail
blank 1.1 Miles – LEFT on Mine Trail
blank 1.2 Miles – RIGHT on Mine Trail
blank 1.5 Miles – RIGHT on Hidden Springs Trail
blank 1.7 Miles – STRAIGHT on Hidden Springs Trail
blank 2.1 Miles – STRAIGHT on Coyote Peak Trail
blank 2.5 Miles – LEFT on Coyote Peak Trail
blank 2.6 Miles – STOP at Coyote Peak
blank 2.7 Miles – STRAIGHT on Coyote Peak Trail
blank 3.0 Miles – RIGHT on Rocky Ridge Trail
blank 4.8 Miles – LEFT on Fortini Trail
blank 6.1 Miles – END at Fortini Trail Head
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Our Ride
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p3We started from the Fortini Trailhead, one of several entrances to  Santa Teresa Park.  We could have driven to the Pueblo Picnic Area, for a fee.  Had we done so, we would have continued our usual mountain biking luck of always beginning with a steep climb, straight up the Hidden Springs Trail.  Instead, we elected to start with a gentle climb.  And, it was just as well.  We had not ridden our mountain bikes, on dirt, in a year.
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At the Fortini Trailhead, the rider has two choices.  The rider may go left, taking the Stile Ranch Trail.  The climb consists of seven switchbacks on this steep, narrow, very rocky trail.  From time to time, I have seen the twenty-somethings bop up the trail.  In years past, when I rode my mountain bike on a daily basis, I attempted the climb.  The grade was steep, with a precipitous drop down the face of the hill.  At one of the switchbacks, I dismounted to make the turn.  From there, with such a steep trail and rock strewn surface, I could not get started again.  So, I walked.  On two other occasions, coming back down, I walked again.
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p4To the right lay the Fortini Trail.  We knew the grade was gentle, and the single track not particularly technical.  As we prepared to start, the overcast lifted.  What had, earlier, offered us a cool ride on a cloudy day, slowly changed.  The sun came out as the overcast dissipated.  The scene brightened, and the brown hills slowly, magically, shifted to golden hues.  While the sun came out, the temperature remained in the 60’s.  I had no need of the long sleeve pull-over, and could ride in short sleeves and shorts.
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After some last-minute adjustments, we pedaled down the trail.  Hugging the left side of the hill, above a farm road, we were gently reintroduced to single track.  Here and there, harsh, sharp rocks protruded from the dirt, some in the path, more further up the hillside.  I learned to ride Red all over again.  My handlebars were much wider.  My gearing gave me far more mechanical advantage than my Surly could offer.  My shifting was more restricted, allowing me to jump only three gears at a time.  As I rode, I evaluated the repair to the rear suspension.  I noticed a little squeaking, but soon forgot it as I became more involved in the ride.  Marian noticed nothing untoward.
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we rode about 1.6 miles, and climbed about 250 feet, and arrived in the Pueblo Picnic Area.  We could have started at this point.  Like most Californians, I am averse to paying for parking, when I can find another place to park for free.  Besides, we would have missed the opportunity to shake down our bikes, and get ourselves back into a mountain biking mind-set.
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p5After clearing the parking lot, we rode down a pleasant, shady road, to a gate.  Marian announced that she remembered the hill we faced.  I did, too.  Ahead of us was an extended stretch of steep road.  Worried about the climb, I hoped my hard-earned touring climbing skills would give me the strength and endurance to get to the top.  After all, Red was lighter than my Surly.  And I had no panniers or the 60 pounds of sand in them.  Even out of practice, I hoped I could climb like a mountain goat.
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It was time to find out who well I could climb.  I attacked the first slope, riding up as far as my legs would take me.  This was my first serious climb of the mountain bike season.  Even leaning forward, I had trouble keeping my front wheel on the ground.  I fought to steer the bike where I wanted it to go, somehow managing to stay out of the worst of the ruts.  Still, the road was too steep, and I began to slow down.  With the worry that I would suddenly topple over on my side, into the harsh rocks and gravel, I stopped.
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My heart pounding, I waiting for my breathing to catch up with my needs.  Often, in these situations, odd things pop into my mind.  I wonder if this is my subconscious mind frantically searches for something, anything, to get me off the bike.  The thought that popped into my mind was that Marian’s sister was due to go into surgery at the beginning of the week.  She lives in the UK, eight hours ahead of us.  We should have called her before we left for the ride.  I we waited until the ride was over, it could be quite late, and we wanted her to get as much rest as she could.  So, while we pushed our bikes up one of the steeper stretches,  Marian Face Timed her.  It turned out we had misunderstood, and her surgery was on Tuesday, not Monday.  The connection was poor, and we finally signed off.  Happily, the surgery turned out well.
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We returned to the business at hand.  We still had 300 feet between us and Coyote Peak.  While we had talked, several hikers passed us.  At least we were standing still while they walked on.  Somewhere, up ahead of us, a group of teenage boys walked and rode.  I rode the first part of the road.  Again, I ground to a halt.  My climbing abilities, or lack of them, disappointed me..  I could not climb as well as I remembered from earlier years.
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p6Above us, the teenagers were already on top.  They noisily talked about school, classes, and football games.  I heard no commits directed to our own struggle up the hill.  We rode another stretch, finally reaching the top.  The County had upgraded the summit.  Where, once, logs warded the unwary back from the edge, regular park benches offered comfortable and secure seating.  We drank our water and chomped on a Luna Bar.
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p7Our hoped for sweeping vistas were fuzzy and indistinct.  San Jose spread out to the north and east of us, in the haze and remaining overcast.  The mountains to the west were blurry and indistinct.  And the southern view was vague.  I took photos anyway.  When I prepared this photo, I was happy the camera saw the landscape more clearly than my eye did.  With only a little manipulation, I was able to bring out more detail.  One of the blogs I follow has a raging debate about whether photo enhancement is cricket or not.  But, as Marian says, we haven’t changed anything.  Everything is there, whether we can see it or not.
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Our original plan had been to take the same road we had climbed, down to the picnic area.  From there, we could either explore the northern parts of the park, or return to the trailhead.  In the past,, we had always elected to shorten our ride.  Today, as we gazed about, the Rocky Ridge Trail caught our eye.  We had never taken that trail.  Looking at the map, we saw that it linked back up with the Fortini Trail.  We wondered at the name, knowing that names can offer clues.  We remembered China Grade at Big Basin, and Green Mountain Road on the Columbia River.  We thought it might be more interesting than slipping and sliding down the loose gravel road to the parking lot.  We chose the undiscovered trail.
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We rode down the dirt road, shaped like a roller coaster.  The road dropped and rose to a peak, followed by another drop, and another rise, ending on more level ground.  I was re-introduced to another difference between cycle touring and mountain biking.  On my Surly, I can and do control the speed on my descents.  Always, I retain the ability to stop when and where I please.  This steep, rocky road was far different.  Once I started, I could not stop, save at the bottom.  So, embracing the moment, I trusted my riding skills and let go of the brake handles.  I knifed through the sand with only a little fish tailing and popped almost all the way to the top of the next rise.  After the second one, I stopped and waited for Marian to join me.
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We reached the turn-off for the Rocky Ridge Trail, and discovered another group of riders.  These guys were twenty and thirty somethings.  They had expensive bikes.  I believe one of them was One of them was, a 29’er, the latest craze in mountain biking.  Standard mountain bike, for years, sported a 26 inch wheel.  The marketing geniuses have come out with a bigger frame with bigger wheels.  This bike had incredibly wide tires.  Unlike the two-inch tires on our mountain bikes, the other tires seemed like small motorcycle tires, perhaps three or four inches wide.
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p8We waited, while the group talked. Behind us, the teenagers roared down from Coyote Peak, following us.  Knowing both groups would be faster than we were, we waited for someone to lead the way.  The teenagers went on past us.  The pros finally sallied forth.  We watched and waited.  Finally, we followed them.  At first the grade was gentle, but I knew we had to give back over 600 feet.  The longer we waited to descend, the steeper the grade would, inevitably, be.  The trail was rocker than the Fortini trail.  The trail would be covered with several dozen yards of dirt.  Rocky outcroppings would rear their ugly heads, followed by more dirt.  I carefully picked my way through the rocks, sometimes with only one foot in the stirrup so I could quickly hop off when I needed to.
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p9We looked about.  The ground tilted gently down, with a drop-off further away.  The the dirt was thin, and rocks stuck through everywhere.  It was instantly obvious this stretch would never be farmed, ever.  Gradually, the dirt stretches on the trail got shorter and shorter.  Eventually, there was nothing but rock.  Even at my best, I was always cautious riding through a rock field.  I know that, to ride well, the cyclist must ride with skillful abandon, and let the bike fulfill their purpose.  The bike will go where the rider looks.  If I looked at the rocky points and crevices, that was where my front wheel went.  And, I also knew that I would ride where I looked, and I needed to avoid looking at the rocks and crevices.  The thought of how sharp, hard and unforgiving those rocks remained near the top of my mind.  If I spilled, I risked a scathing crash, or a broken collar-bone.  One by one, the teenagers began to pass us.  One roared past, narrowly missing me, without any warning.  Finally, giving in, I dismounted and walked.
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In earlier years, I would have been shamed at walking.  Not only had I walked up a good part of the Coyote Peak Trail, I was now walking down a big part of the Rocky Ridge Trail.  But, I did not see that I really had a choice.  If I went back, would have to push up the hill, at least as difficult a task as pushing it down.  The weather was cool, crisp, sunny, and dry.  We shared the hill with few people.  Rather than fume, I became one with the hiking part of the ride.  We passed two groups of hikers on the way up while we were on the way down.  Politely, they said nothing about us not riding, because it was probably obvious to them how difficult the trail was.  I enjoyed this part of Santa Teresa Park.  The walk changed my view of the park.  Before, it had been hot, dusty, dirt road.  Now, I could add narrow, rocky, single track to the list of features.
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p10After a time, we reached a point safe enough for us to ride.  We coasted down to Fortini Road.  We turned left and headed back to the trail head.  The path seemed far wider and much more tame than it had a couple of hours before.  We soon saw the farm road below us.  We passed a rusty metal barn just off the trail, a reminder of the continuing agricultural activity on Fortini Road.  Our path offered a sharp demarcation between the harsh rocks to our right, and flat, fertile ground to our left.
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Our Thoughts
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We enjoyed our first mountain bike ride in 2013.  As always we were thankful to finish a ride without injury or incident.  The crisp weather, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, was perfect for riding.  Few people were around, perhaps because of NFL football games.  I came to appreciate Santa Teresa Park more than I had before, perhaps because of the leisurely hike down Rocky Ridge Trail, something I would never have done had we come back down the Coyote Peak Trail to the parking lot.  While this park will never be a favorite, I left with happy memories.  Will we bike Santa Teresa again?  Yes, but not soon.
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I learned, again, many of the difference between mountain and tour biking.  Aside from the obvious, dirt trails instead of paved highways.  The skill sets are different.  Touring requires patience, strength, and endurance to ride long hours, day after day, with cars plucking at your left sleeve.  Mountain biking is violent, with sudden, steep climbs, and hair-raising descents.  Am I still a mountain bikers?  Yes.  But I need more practice.
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Read about our ride in the shadows of the Henry Cowell Redwoods

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