Though it rained part of the morning, on Saturday I lent my body to the SF Urban Riders and the Mt. Sutro Stewards here in San Francisco for the purpose of keeping the sweet, totally-legal-to-bikers, single track trails up on the very popular Mt. Sutro nice and neat. While I’ve got ya, if you live in the area and have an itch to help, come out the first saturday of the month and grab some bagels in the morning, then a tool to do some digging or trimming, then a slice of pizza and some home brew when the work day is done. You’ll be glad you did, sore back and all.
Doing trail work is just rad. Volunteering feels good because of the obvious reasons: giving back, improving the trails you love to ride and all that stuff. But I think my favorite part of doing volunteer trail work is telling everyone that I do volunteer trail work. But you can discover your own reasons.
We did some good work up there.
The turnout was a little lower than usual because of the rain (fortunately it stopped pretty quick and we ended up with some nice weather), but we still had a good 30 or so Grit Covered Gods of Good Deeds. Because of the lower turn out, there was a bit more intimate and mellow feeling than usual and more chatting amongst the workers. It was cool. When there’re 60 folks and dryer, more manageable dirt, shovels and picks and McClouds are swinging all over the place and you get more into full on work mode, at least I do. Dirt and rock is getting moved and tamped into the ground and it’s just all a bunch of beautiful, organized (well, mostly organized) and sinewy activity, with less socializing and chatting. Sure you chat some and bullshit a bit and talk riding, and it’s not all straight-faced. But on Saturday, I don’t know, it just felt different. Good, but different. Maybe it’s because we couldn’t really do any digging given the mushiness. Whatever. I’m rambling. It was still productive, with a lot of much needed spreading of sawdust and gravel.
It was just great to be up there. Sutro is just gorgeous right now. Soooooooo fucking green that it makes me add emphasis to my description of the green with the word “fucking,” even though my girlfriend says I don’t need to use so much profanity. What fucking ever.
Though us SF mountain bikers are lucky enough to have multiple, surprisingly fun places to get dirt on our tires within the SF borders, Mt. Sutro is my personal favorite. Maybe it’s because of all the rideable SF open spaces, Sutro is the closest to my apartment.
Actually, I’m only two blocks from the northwest corner of the absolutely wonderful Golden Gate Park, which is a massive 1100 acres of land and packed with trail, so I guess that’s the closest rideable dirt. I do love the park, but even though Mt. Sutro is a fraction of the size at only 61 acres, you just can’t compare the two for riding. I’m a man who likes the “mountain” aspect of mountain biking. Climbs. Descents. Tight corners. Single track. Forestation. A feeling of remoteness. Golden Gate Park just doesn’t have those to the degree that Mt. Sutro does despite the fact that the park dwarfs Sutro. Maybe you can find a few of those elements here and there in the park, but the hill with the big ass antenna on the top has them all at the same time. As I described in an article I wrote in Dirt Rag this month, I find Sutro enchanting. A pretty lavender word, I know, but that’s my take. I think my enchantment comes from a combination of Sutro being beautiful (and covered in sweet singletrack) as well as the weird experience of being geographically pertnear (it’s a word, trust me) smack dab in the middle of one of the country’s bonafide metropolitan cities, yet totally enclosed in lush forest.
It’s cool shit for a lover of trail riding and sweet cities like San Francisco.
Which brings me back to the volunteer work on Saturday and onto what I wanted to talk about.
First, a little history on Mt. Sutro: In celebration of Arbor Day, in November, 1886, Adolf Sutro, a Prussian immigrant, brilliant mining engineer and San Francisco business bad ass (he was even mayor for a couple years) who owned a bunch of the open space in San Francisco, decided that what San Francisco was missing was a forest of trees from Australia. So, with much fan fare, he had thousands of Blue Gum Eucalyptus trees planted all over the place. And why not? They’re hearty as hell. They grow incredibly fast, and hey, they’re a pretty nice looking tree. A forest of tall ass trees in San Francisco! Nice! Shady, too! What could possibly be wrong with this plan?
Well, these days anyone with even the smallest bit of environmental learnin’ knows that this whole introduced species thing hasn’t exactly worked out too great…ever. (Funny enough, the country that the Blue Gum Eucalyptus comes from has probably had the most well-known problems with introduced species. From South America’s Cane Toad to the devastatingly cute, yet devastatingly devastating European Rabbits, Australians have probably fucked up more than any other citizenry when it comes to importing critters). But old Adolf didn’t know that. Actually, I wouldn’t imagine that anyone really knew that back then. At least not enough people knew to get the word to Adolf. And if they had, I’m sure he wouldn’t have done it. He was obviously a lover of nature. Why else would he have wanted to grow a forest in the first place? It certainly wasn’t to be a subversive, evil and forward-looking environmental dickhole. Anyway, as a result of Adolf Eucalyptus Seed, now we’ve got what is called the Sutro Forest, which is absolutely packed with introduced species and has pretty much choked out the native plants. It still covers much of the open space here in the city. Over a century later it still, like, tooootally bums out environmentalists and habitat people here in SF.
Now, I certainly consider myself an environmentally concerned person, and hate the catastrophic effects of non-native species as much as anyone who enjoys the outdoors. But here’s my take on Sutro: I love love love it. Why? Well, it’s freakin’ gorgeous, man. Plus, there’s not a goddamn thing we can do about it now. Also, given the fact that the other thing that grows skyward in San Francisco is high rises, I can handle some trees, whether they belong there naturally or not.
First off, as I stated, much like a toddler painting the wall next to his crib with his poo, the original planters of the Sutro Forest had no fucking idea what they were doing. Plus, they’re all super dead, so why begrudge them? Yes, the Sutro Forest is an ecological abomination. A forest of Tasmanian trees has no natural business being on the California coast. But since there’s no turning back, I’m gonna love it anyway. Today and everyday. It’s like a chick with big fake boobies and maybe a little bit too much plastic surgery. Maybe she looks a bit off, but damn, still kinda sexy and hot. This mountain biker has decided that he’s going to take the forest for what it is: an oasis of green in a city of cement. Yes, I enjoy the hell out of this big, wooded mistake, and I don’t care who knows. It’s an absolute pleasure to ride through.
But not everyone has my attitude, and I just don’t get it. Besides seeing blogs from people calling Sutro a wasteland of scrub, every time we do trail work up on Sutro, there are habitat folks that, honestly, are kind of annoying to me. Don’t do this. Don’t do that because we have to protect that. Don’t let your dog get up there. Let’s pull that weed because it’s an invasive species. I get it, but Duuuuude. What’s not an invasive species up on Sutro? Ever hear of the term, “Lost cause?” It’s almost like going into someone’s backyard while they’re trying to do some landscaping and busting their balls about it. Or going to Disneyland and trying to get them to take out the jungle ride and replace it with native stuff. Am I a defeatist? Nope. Realist. Unless someone has hundreds of millions to strip the mountain and replant, it just seems like the efforts of the habitat heroes (and they really are in this outdoorsman’s book) would be better spent in an area that isn’t ecologically hopeless. If anything, what really needs to be done is for us to take care of the stuff that is there. Non-native or not, the greenery of the Sutro forest is a site to behold, and we should be doing what we can to keep it that way. Man created this garden, so we should take care of it and keep it as healthy as possible (there are some plans underway to do just that, but as usual in San Francisco, with our very passionate and vocal population, it’s always a ball ache to get stuff done).
There are certainly some native species left up on Sutro. And actually, thanks to a $100k grant from the SF Rotary Club, there’s an amazing native plant garden up on the peak. And I’m glad it’s there. But it’s not why I love riding Sutro. I love Sutro for what it is: a wash of multiple shades of green. A place that always smells amazing. A refuge in the middle of a city that, though wonderful, is nonetheless, a city that at times needs to go the fuck away. In the case of the big picture native foliage scene up there, I’m a lot happier guy enjoying what’s around me rather than bumming out about what should be up there but, let’s face facts, never will be again.