Category Archives: Dirt Trails

For the Love of Dirt

It’s Sunday night and I’m already sore. Except this time it’s not my legs, but my arms and back that remind me of time well spent on the bike. This weekend I finally made it back out on the dirt. The calendar may say it’s only been a few weeks since I’ve ridden my mountain bike, but my upper body begs to differ.

Riding dirt trails is different and it’s not just that you work different muscles (which you do). It’s different because it takes you away from the noise, stress and annoyance of sharing your ride with cars and trucks. Plus the scenery in the Santa Cruz Mountains is gorgeous, no matter how many times you’ve ridden the trails.

Cindy and I rode the trails along Long Ridge out to Saratoga Gap on the southern ridge of the San Francisco Peninsula. It’s a favorite route for both of us: rolling terrain that’s easy technically, but punctuated by rocky sections that challenge us when we’re in the mood and feeling confident.

Having neglected my mountain bike far too much this year, I’ll admit I wasn’t pushing my edges on the rocky sections. But after a taste of dirt this weekend, I can tell you I’m coming back for more soon, rocks and all.

The summer is almost over. What do you wish you’ve done more this season? Is it too late?

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Posted by on August 26, 2012 in Dirt Trails


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Flying Solo with Liberty

It’s Valentine’s Day, a day dedicated to schmoopy coupledom, but today I want to recognize the value of time alone and doing your own thing. Even if you love spending time with your special someone or with a close-knit group of friends, there are times for flying solo. When you fly solo, you can be selfish. You can go wherever you want, at whatever pace you want with no compromises.

When I was working full time I rarely took the time to ride solo, but now I can carve out time in the middle of the day to hit the trails. So I grabbed Liberty, my original cyclocross bike and rode from home to Fremont Older preserve. I named her Liberty because she gives me the freedom to ride wherever I want–road, dirt, flat, hills–without compromise. She’s outfitted with low touring gears so I can climb the steepest fireroads and has knobby tires to grip the loose dirt. She gives me a powerful feeling, like I can go anywhere under my own power.

So up I went on the harsh climb from the Stevens Canyon side, stopping only to snap a couple of shots of the view of the valley. From there it was down the singletrack, oddly empty at midday, and then a fast ride across town to beat the fading light. Who needs to sit cross legged and meditate when you can ride alone for a few hours and come back with sore legs and a clear mind?

I have several friends who are now flying solo for more than a bike ride. It’s not something they planned, but it’s something they need to clear their minds, center themselves and be self-sufficient for a while. One of them is Patty, who is separated from her husband and is now living as the caretaker at a small winery two miles up a dirt road off that happens to be about 500 feet above the park where Liberty and I spent our day together.

Living on her own so far above it all, at a place that needs a lot of tender loving care, at a time when she needs tender loving care, Patty is learning to accept help from others. It’s not easy for someone who can navigate her bike through a rock garden, split wood with an axe and wield a chain saw with confidence. So I drove up the steep gravel road to spend time with her and prune some bushes (no chainsaw or axe for me). The goal: spiff up the chateau for her coming out party as a free and independent woman.

We hacked and hauled away the shrubs, other friends came to help clean inside and Patty did far more scrubbing, organizing and painting on her own. In a few short weeks the chateau was primed for a fabulous party for 40 or so friends. It was beautiful, magical night. Even when you’re flying solo, it’s good to be surrounded by people who care about you and support you as you travel your path.

How are you celebrating Valentine’s Day? Are you celebrating your love with someone special or celebrating your love for yourself this year?

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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Backroads, Dirt Trails


Las Vegas by Bike

For most cities we visit, we rent bikes to get around town. But Las Vegas? Uh, no. With city planners who believe in eight lane arterials everywhere and quarter mile superblocks, Las Vegas is the ultimate car city. So no city bikes for us. And after a walk to the drugstore a block and a half from the hotel that took 20 minutes each way, we resigned ourselves to taking taxis. By far the easiest way to get around Vegas.

To get our bike fix in and to get away from the smoke of the casinos and the ever-present ding-ding-ding of the slot machines, we headed out to the desert. Las Vegas may not be known for the great outdoors, but it really should be. The desert is worth a trip to Vegas, even if you hate gambling, drinking and late nights.

For our first desert trip we rented a Harley from Eagle Riders. Since both Dick and I had driven out to Hoover Dam and Red Rock Canyon on previous trips, we took the advice of their friendly staff and rode the Valley of Fire and Lake Mead loop. I can’t describe the striking landscapes and deep color of the rock formations in this valley. Let’s just say the Valley of Fire is the best kept secret in the southwest. Simply amazing.


The next day we switched bikes and deserts with a trip to Cottonwood Valley in Red Rock Canyon park. Through Escape Adventures, we took a half day mountain bike tour on rocky, sometimes technical singletrack. Riding the dirt in the desert was a completely new experience. We were both a bit unsure of how to approach the loose, rocky trails on unfamiliar bikes with tires overfilled to prevent pinch flats. But the weather was perfect, the views amazing and we both dodged the rocks well enough to come away without drawing blood.


Note: I took video during both bike trips, but I was sorry to discover they were much shakier than usual. In the Cottonwood Valley video, the cause was a rocky trail. Maybe I should invest in a chest mount for my GoPro. In the Valley of Fire video, the problem was rough chip-seal pavement and wind bouncing my iPhone around. So I captured some stills from my video and included them in the slideshow.

Las Vegas: love it or hate it? Would you head for the casinos or head for the desert?

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Posted by on January 10, 2012 in Dirt Trails, Travel


Christmas Lights Ride with Passion

Have I said before that I really love checking out Christmas lights on my bike? Apparently I’m not the only one. Over 70 people joined in on the Holiday Lights Ride hosted by Passion Trail Bikes. We had so much fun last year that Dick and I brought along a few friends this year to join in the fun. I guess we weren’t the only ones.

The ride was only nine miles or so, but the route was carefully chosen to hit the highlights (pun intended) of Belmont and San Carlos. The pace was easy, the costumes were silly and bike decorations were over the top. Last year my favorite bike was a tandem with a trailer long enough to haul lumber with a sound system operated by a car battery. This year’s favorite was a vintage Schwinn Twinn tandem with a real four foot Christmas tree jutting off the back. With battery-operated lights and ornaments of course.

The climax of the ride was the amazing displays of holiday excess on Eucalyptus Street in San Carlos. Not only is the car traffic moving along at less than five mph, even bike speed was too fast. We had to pull over, gawk and take photos. The most impressive house had 700,000+ lights–all solar powered. Another had a beautiful 25 foot live tree with basketball-sized ornaments while another set up an icycle-draped gazebo with a plastic Santa. There was a long line so I didn’t get a photo.

Afterward, we headed back to the shop where Charles, Patty and their loyal customers served appetizers and desserts. I made a small batch of my mom’s Louisiana pralines. If I had known there would be such a large turnout I would have made more.

What’s your take on holiday lights? Awesome or tacky? Where do you draw the line?

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Posted by on December 22, 2011 in Around Town, Dirt Trails


Blazing Trails at Water Dog

It was a sunny, crisp late fall California morning, the kind that promises to warm up quickly. So Jill, Cindy and I were itching to hit the trails with their post-rain tackiness. But this time, instead of grabbing our bikes we grabbed McClouds, Pulaskis and other trail building tools and got to work. ‘Cause Mother Nature may have created the forests and grasslands, but she doesn’t build the trails we ride, run and walk on. Volunteers do.

Our destination: Water Dog Lake Park in Belmont. Water Dog offers a rare taste of wilderness in the middle of the urban Bay Area: its canyons are deep, its bay-facing vistas expansive, and its streams largely untouched. How wild is it? Well, mountain lion sightings are not unusual.

Water Dog is also rare in that its trails not only welcome mountain bikers, its trails were largely built by mountain bikers. The singletrack designed by John Finch, Berry Stevens, Patty Ciesla and others is often technical, with ladder bridges and narrow boards allowing the trail to hug the canyon’s steep slopes. Water Dog delights thrill seekers, but has a reputation of leaving less skilled riders battered and bruised. More than one of my friends has been badly bitten by the ‘dog.

But on Saturday, my friends and I came out to Water Dog to build an easy-rated trail around the lake and tame the beast just a little. Led by Kevin Sullivan, a Belmont Parks & Recreation Commissioner and fellow mountain biker, we joined a team of other volunteers working on the new-and-improved Lake Trail. Volunteers have been working on this trail since before 2008, when I first joined a trailbuilding crew and helped pry out a small boulder.

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After a few hours of scraping hillsides, lifting lumber, digging foundations and drilling boards, we reaped the sweet rewards with a spin around the park. I strapped on the GoPro to capture the dizzying descent down the 17 well-banked switchbacks on the Finch Trail. Thank you, John, Berry, Patty and Kevin. It was totally awesome and only a little gnarly.

If you were building a mountain bike (or walking) trail, what would you want it to be like?


Posted by on December 4, 2011 in Dirt Trails, Issues & Infrastructure


Duck Hunting in a Birdwatcher’s Paradise

Caution: If you think hunting is a barbaric activity that has no place in the modern world, you might want to stop reading now. Because this post is about shooting ducks, and I’m not talking about shooting with a camera.

Strictly speaking, I’m not a birdwatcher. But I live and work near San Francisco Bay, a major stop on the Pacific Flyway that draws in an amazing assortment of birds: great blue herons, snowy egrets, red-tail hawks, white pelicans, skinny-legged avocets and ring-necked pheasants (my personal favorites). If you walk, run or ride on the bay trails you can’t miss them.

Of course, there are ducks too. And wherever you find ducks, you find duck hunters. Even today, in the middle of the second largest metropolitan area west of the Mississippi, there are duck hunters and legal duck hunting just minutes off the 101 freeway, right in the heart of Silicon Valley.


On Sunday, Dick and I took an easy ride on the baylands where we met a group of hunters coming in from a morning hunt. The duck blinds on the salt ponds are open to the public on a first come, first serve basis, organized by a clipboard at the trailhead. As with all hunting, there are licenses and fees and lots of strict limits. But now the salt ponds are open to all, not just members of exclusive duck clubs, like it used to be.

Now, I’m not a hunter and I can’t see myself killing animals for sport. Yet as a meat eater, I don’t feel right criticizing those who kill the meat they eat. Hunting is a highly charged issue that brings up strong emotions on both sides.

What I find most interesting about hunting on the baylands is how hard hunters have worked to maintain access against formidable public outcry. Hunters are about as popular with birdwatchers on the bay as cyclists are with hikers on trails or drivers on the road. Maybe their slogan should be “Share the marsh.”

What do you think of duck hunting in a wildlife preserve? Does the advocacy work that hunters have done to keep wilderness undeveloped offset the fact that they’re killing wildlife?

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Posted by on November 7, 2011 in Dirt Trails


On Pumpkins and Other Weighty Matters

I like pumpkins. I like the way they look, all orange and round (or not). I like the way they taste, whether sweet and spiced or roasted and savory. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin ravioli. Pumpkins make me smile at a time of year when it’s getting colder and darker by the day.

So it only makes sense that I would look forward to the annual Pumpkin Ride hosted by ROMP, the local mountain bike club. The ride starts at about 3000′ on the ridge line, then drops down to a pumpkin farm on the coast where we select as big or as many pumpkins as we’re willing to haul back up to the ridge. Costumes are strongly encouraged, as if hauling pumpkins uphill on a bike wasn’t silly enough.

The record pumpkin weight dragged back up to the top is an unbelievable 112 pounds, made possible by a BOB trailer. This year’s winning weight was a mere 38 pounds, strapped directly on the bike with some engineering ingenuity and duct tape, of course. Still outstanding.

The next day, as Dick and I headed out for a brunch and grocery shopping ride I wondered: how do my overstuffed grocery runs compare to the winning pumpkin haul? With Dick along, I was able to buy a lot more than usual, including a full bar restock at Bev Mo and full soda restock along with a modest amount of other items at Trader Joes. The numbers: 35 pounds for Dick, 21 pounds for me. Not 112 pounds carried up 3000 feet, but it was no sweat even without a trailer. I could have even added a medium pumpkin or two.

What’s the most weight you’ve carried on your bike?

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Before anyone wonders why this post about a mountain bike ride doesn’t talk about the ride at all, here’s a video of the best part–the totally awesome loooong descent down Wittemore Gulch with over a dozen switchbacks sharply cut into the hillside. I can see why the downhillers shuttle this run.


Posted by on November 1, 2011 in Dirt Trails


Halloween with Passion

It was a dark and foggy night, when mountain bikers gathered and unleashed their true nature, with food and drink, stories and laughter, and devilishly naughty deeds. Who else could be behind this madness but my friends Charles and Patty, proprietors of Passion Trail Bikes, the bike shop with a cult-like following of the most passionate mountain bikers on the San Francisco Peninsula.

I do not make these claims lightly. Passion Trails has the hand-picked gear, the expert advice and the individual attention that makes the shop top-notch, earning it an exceptional 4.5 star rating on Yelp. But it’s their commitment to our community that sets them apart. From leading weekly group rides to spearheading trail building to advocating for trails with our local open space authorities, Charles and Patty are there with passion and it’s contagious.

Who did you hang out with on Halloween this year? Are your bike friends your party friends?

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Posted by on October 30, 2011 in Dirt Trails


Trail Ride, Interrupted

Ugh! Sometimes a ride just doesn’t turn out as planned. It can start out just fine, then an issue or two later, the whole ride is completely derailed. We survived a navigational error only to succumb to the flat tire that couldn’t be fixed. Two tubes, three CO2 cartridges, a half dozen mountain bikers, and a helpful neighbor with an industrial sized air compressor later, we called it a day. But it was nothing that a good beer, a juicy burger and an iconic biker restaurant (and I mean Harley bikers, not mountain bikers) couldn’t fix.

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Posted by on October 2, 2011 in Dirt Trails


Cyclocross: Dismounts, Remounts and Other Antics

The other day, Facebook reminded me of a status I posted two years ago: “Wondering if I’ll get any cool footage at tonight’s cyclocross skills practice. The holy grail: a perfectly executed, perfectly captured, no-hop remount.” I had just purchased my iPhone 3GS and was anxious to test out the video camera. In fact, I think I was more excited about the video camera than practicing cyclocross skills that night.

My friends and my iPhone came through that night, and I did capture the holy grail. With a little help from YouTube I added a soundtrack with absolutely no video editing skills. The finished product:

Fast forward two years. The video camera on my iPhone 4 is much better and I’m no longer racing cyclocross. Why not? When it comes down to it, I’m just not that competitive. I found the skills aspect of cyclocross fun and challenging: dismounting without breaking stride, throwing the bike on my shoulder to run up a hill, and jumping back on without losing momentum or hurting my delicate parts. That was fun. But busting a gut to catch the woman in front of me? Meh, not important.

What I miss most is the vibrant, crazy race scene, which is totally my style. Where else do elite bike racers dress in costume? Cyclocross racers are serious bike racers that don’t take themselves too seriously. What’s not to love about that? And I love a race that’s actually just a rolling costume party.

Surf City Cyclocross 2008 Photo credit Lynne Lamoureux

Especially a race where a wrestling match breaks out between some of the top local men and women’s Masters racers, dressed as Mexican luchadores. Yep, Masters racers means grown-ups. In this case, the 50+ age group variety. That’s me rolling by unphased by the fight at around 0:18.

What do you think: do serious sports have room for this sort of goofy antics? Or does this kind of behavior relegate the sport to the level of professional wrestling?


Posted by on September 28, 2011 in Dirt Trails

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