Santa Cruzin’

Part one: poaching-ish

I love riding in Santa Cruz. The Pogonip-UCSC-Wilder area is incredibly popular not only with Andy Beach, but with many other mountain bikers. I’d say one of the main reasons for this fat tire fondness is that it was actually mountain bikers that took tool to earth and duff and cut a lot of the liquid, swoopy masterpieces that snake through the red woods. This is especially true of the stuff on UCSC land. How do I come to this conclusion that this stuff is biker built? Well, other than the jumps, It’s not hard see and feel the difference between trail that was designed to get from point A to point B through the woods, and trail that was engineered specifically to cause mountain bikers to get all turrets-like, yelling, “FUCK YEAH!” Hikers don’t really benefit from banked and burmed, Aniston-ass-smooth curves in trail. (My theory could be wrong and it actually wasn’t built by bikers, but really, who cares. No one reads this blog anyway, so what I say is fact, jack: bikers built this stuff.)

But this trail system that technically doesn’t exist and doesn’t show up on any map has resulted in kind of a wild west vibe that’s not common of a lot of the open space in the Bay Area. Even in the bordering Wilder Ranch State Park and Pogonip, you know exactly where you can bike (fortunately through the vast majority of the parks) and where you can’t. The trails are all clearly marked “have at” or “stay the fuck out,” so you know that if you ride off limit trail (which I personally wouldn’t) and you get caught, you deserve the consequences. But UCSC land is…I don’t know, it’s weird. I guess technically, you’re not supposed to ride on the trails that slalom so lovely down to highway 9. But the only reason I know this is that rangers have been known to wait at the bottom of the trails and take away bikes and ticket riders (which in my opinion is a chickenshit fundraiser/extortion right up there with jay walking tickets. In the name of safety? My ass). Fortunately this isn’t too common, and I’m hoping it’s because the rangers know that there’s better use of their time. But where are the no biking signs? There just aren’t any. There aren’t even signs that say there’s a trail there at all, let alone a trail name. I mean, they’re called stuff, but nothing official. They’ve got names that were earned—dubbed because of characteristics and then shared among mountain bikers. Once again I know it was mountain bikers because I seriously doubt a bandana capped hiker, after finishing a 3 MPH stroll down one particularly great trail said, “We should call that trail Magic Carpet.” A rider came up with that name. As a matter of fact, I’ve never even seen a single hiker on those trails.

So what the fuck’s the problem? Why do we have to slow down at the bottom of the hill and carefully peak down on the highway to make sure some time wasting ranger isn’t doing his sad version of a stake out? Is it because there isn’t supposed to be trail there at all that makes them illegal? Do they bust people who walk these non-existent trails? I’m sure I could find out the answers to all these questions if I did a bit of research, but in my mind, if I don’t see a sign with a red slash through a line drawing of a 1980s ten-speed then why can Ranger Dick take my bike away? I don’t like it. Not one bit.

Part 2: But I’m right, goddammit! Well, shit. Guess you’re kinda right too. But I’m more right.

And here’s where the kinda-sorta hiker only trail thing can get even more tricky (and the reason for some of my blood boiling blood last weekend): there’s places where biker-built social trail actually connects with legit hiker only trail, complete with the red slashed ten speed sign.

Here’s an example:

My brother and I were riding through one area (not the area I was just yapping about). It’s a great stretch of trail that we’ve ridden many times, and no signs have ever been stuck in dirt at the trailhead telling us we couldn’t enter. So we’re going along our merry way when we come up on some hikers going the other direction. No biggie. For one, it’s not a steep trail with pretty much no blind corners, so hikers are not in any particular danger of being run over. Also, as I mentioned, we’re not poaching. The most interesting thing about coming up on these hikers, at least at that moment, was that I’d actually never seen any hikers back there. Lot’s of bikers. But hikers? Nossir. Well, unfortunately our first contact with these non-wheeled aliens was not a positive one. One of the guys, a middle aged tough guy, was on us right away. “Not supposed to be biking back here. This is a hiker only area.” What really got under my skin right away is that this dude obviously had his scolding chambered with his hammer head cocked, anxiously waiting for any riders to come by. Lucky us.

“There are no signs posted and we’ve been back here a lot of times,” I replied.

“Oh yeah there is, you guys just rode right by them.”

Now, I’ve always been the kind of guy to avoid confrontation. I’ve never been in fistfight in my life. And this actually comes with no small amount of remorse. There are several situations growing up where I should have fought. Nothing like the Gatlin boys gang raping my Becky but confrontations where I definitely should have thrown down, for better or for worse, will pop into my head even to this day (actually, usually at night when I’m laying in bed with my teddy bear and bwanky) and I’ll have fantasies about what I should have done instead of being a pussy.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I have a much quicker temper. I don’t pick fights because I’m an adult and not a fucking idiot (having no previous fighting experience, I don’t imagine I’d do too well). However, I’m quick to call out people engaged in bullshit. It hasn’t resulted in fisticuffs, but I’ve accepted that as a possible outcome that I’m ready for. The tag team of my mouth and temper has actually gotten to the point that I’m consciously reigning it in. And if this guy wasn’t ever a test of that effort. My adrenaline went up…and I said…

“Okay man, whatever you say.” And rode on.

He had a few words for my brother behind me, using the old “Hey, I bike, so don’t ruin it for the rest of us” line. My brother (who was actually the scraper in the family until a kid named Rocko fucked him up, causing Chris to go into retirement) replied, “Honestly, there are no signs.”

But I was still pissed. What the fuck was this guy talking about? What signs had we ridden by? Did he have the power to get into our heads and see what we had seen or something? I got even more upset when we reached the other side of the trail, which dumps out on a fire road.

No signs there either. Asshole.

So we rode up the fire road toward our next system of single track. The fire road ran backtracked pretty much parallel with the single track we had been on. Eventually we came upon the source of the conflict. Another trailhead leading into the area where we had the run in. And there it was: No bikers.

Turns out none of us were really the asshole. Just three dudes who knew we were right, even though none of us really were. Nor were we wrong, we just had bad information.

It made me really glad I didn’t escalate things. For one, I wasn’t as right as I thought I was. Also, it would have been a waste of an incredible day.

But I hope some day the guy hits the trailheads we entered and exited, so he can see that we were actually more right than him: Two trailheads not posted with no biker signs compared to his one. That’s 66.6% to 33.3%. Scoreboard.

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