This morning Dave, Sparky, and I did two loops at Soquel Demo Forest. And, while other rides have been longer, this is the first time I've ever seen Sparky tired.
The road to Soquel is almost epic in and of itself, precipitously carved into the edge of the Santa Cruz mountains. Every winter, the seasonal rains trigger enormous mudslides which, if we're lucky, cover the asphalt with tons of mud, debris, and uprooted vegetation. If we're not lucky, the slide carries the road along with it.
As the road winds farther from route 17, it narrows to little more than a car width and the scars of the slide seasons become more and more apparent. A section of road gone here, half the road covered my a mountain of rocks here... Once you get to the road closed sign, you're almost there. Drive on the left hand side and don't look down.
We ride Soquel on average once a week. It begins with a 5 mile, 1000' climb, a nice warm up to get the legs limber and the blood flowing. From the top, your elevation burns away like magnesium as you twist, turn, and drop through the new growth redwood forest. Rocks, roots, obstacles, and plenty of big air options await between you and the valley floor 2000' below. There are only a few trails but they all have the identical outcome: an eye-blink adrenaline rush to the bottom followed by a tedious 1000' fireroad climb back to the car.
I said there are a few trails but there are only 2 really viable options to the bottom; Braille and Sawpit. Sawpit is longer, swoopy, jumpy, and drops you about about 400' feet below Braille. Braille is the stuff of mountain bike videos -- nonstop technical brake-pumping downhill. There's another trail nestled between them, Tractor, which is smooth and windy and makes a great climb option to link the two. Today's ride was like other rides in that we would do them both, but that's where the similarities ended. Instead of taking Tractor, we were going to do the full loop with the 2000', 10 mile climb between them. Today, Dave had retired his Stumpjumper in favor of his new, shiny, delicious Intense 5.5. Today, Sparky would be tired.
We hit the initial climb with the enthusiasm of a teen-age tarantula wrangler. Even with an extended stop so Dave could work the kinks out of his derailleur, we were at the top in no time. Diving into the woods we cruise down Ridge and through Sawpit. We usually stop and session jumps on Sawpit, but today we hit them and moved on, we were on a mission. I took a pretty spectacular endo at a particularly gnarly section of trail, slamming my forearm on some rocks and landing on the hip I hit on railroad tracks the day before (don't ask...). Before we know it, our elevation's spent and we're cruising back up the fireroad to the car. Any other day we'd have been pretty tired at this point but today we're feeling great. A quick stop at the car to refill camelbacks and munch on some Kettle chips, and we're back in the saddle.
We're back at 2600' before we know it, looking down over the Santa Cruz bay. Even though Dave brings along gourmet cappuccino chocolate, this isn't a romantic picnic. We drop back down into the forest. It's been a while since I've ridden Braille and it's more gnarly than I remembered; super tight turns around huge redwoods, nice built up jumps to tranny, and steep rocky downhills. I'm watching the scenery fly by, dropping logs and manualling the roots, thinking the whole time how sweet this would be if I only had a helmet cam. It's a steep, relatively smooth section so I let go of the brakes and allow gravity to have it's way with me. My GPS data says I reached a max speed of 27mph and I probably hit that on Braille. That descent drops into a turn, and I'm sure I was going at least 20 when my front wheel hit the loose edge of the trail and the bike washed out from under me. I think my rib is a bit bruised and my forearm has seen better days, but if I had landed on rocks or roots it could have been a lot worse. Usually Dave is the one falling, today it's me.
Back on the bike the air stings like bees as it flows over my cuts and I'm a bit tentative, but I see Dave ahead of me and am quick to catch up.
The climb out that went by so quickly on the first lap is now the climb I'm used to; never ending fireroad taunting my cramping quads. Landmarks pass slowly but, at last, 27 miles later, we're back at the car polishing off some sandwiches and the rest of our chips. Most days you'd never even think about eating with hands as dirty as ours, but after a long ride we're licking salt off them without a second thought. Who would have imagined roasted red pepper and goat cheese could be so good?