Category Archives: 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


Tracking Your Neighborhood Mountain Lion

This morning I read in the Mercury News that the town of Los Altos Hills activated its emergency alert system over the weekend, phoning residents that a mountain lion was seen in the open space behind Foothill College.

I’m sure the residents of the Emerald Hills area of Redwood City weren’t surprised. They’ve had numerous mountain lion sightings this year, including one closer into town near Sequoia Hospital. There have been so many sightings that the Mercury News now provides an interactive sightings map on their web site.

Are all these sightings a single cat, or are the hills full of them? That’s what scientists at Santa Cruz Puma Trackers are trying to figure out by using sophisticated gps collars to track these big cats. Their research in habitat fragmentation tells interesting stories about the lives of mountain lions.

On their web site, I found maps tracking cats in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains such as a territorial young male in the Boulder Creek area. His range is approximately 20 miles in diameter, from Big Basin to Swanton to Ben Lomand. That’s further than the distance from Emerald Hills to Los Altos Hills.

A neighboring cat is 5 year old female, possibly with cubs. Her range? Almost as large as the young male’s, and clearly overlapping. And there are at least two other cats being actively tracked in this same area.

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After watching videos on their web site, my guess is that the sightings in Emerald Hills are probably multiple cats, and it’s completely possible that the cat in Los Altos Hills is from Emerald Hills. But without a formal program tracking them, we’ll never know how many are out there or where exactly they go.

Does knowing mountain lions are out there affect whether you go out onto the backroads or on the trails? Would you be afraid or excited to see one?

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Posted by on September 6, 2011 in Backroads, Dirt Trails

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