Paul Andrews

Mud: A regional roundup of Northern California biking trails

In Mountain Bike Trail Reviews, Mountain Biking on February 5, 2010 at 1:28 am

The Northern California rains of recent weeks have taken a grim toll on mountain biking trails. Erosion is severe in many places. Blowdowns, while not as widespread as might be expected, have kept trail crews busy. And some trails are just plain under water — a rarity for the region, but fact nonetheless.

The practice of riding in the goo has some folks, including Santa Cruz Bicycles marketing maniac Mike Ferrentino, a bit on the dispeptic side.

Riders gear up for Skeggs

Why anyone would want to defile Nature, their pivot bearings, and common sense to ride in this stuff is beyond me. What, they don’t allow bikes in the Calistoga mud baths?

The good news is that in recent days there was a marked shift in trail integrity. We’ve been riding the mid-Peninsula and Santa Cruz areas and can report that most trails were drying out nicely — before last night’s deluge, at least. In contrast to the Pacific Northwest, where we hail from, Cali trails drain pretty quickly. Sun and warmer temps help. But the soil is far more porous in California, at least in most places. Plus trails in NorCal are well built.

Upper Alpine Road trails are hurtin'

Before we get ahead of ourselves, it should be noted that California is not out of the woods yet weather-wise. Rain continues to plague the forecast like a bad case of shingles, coming and going without much notice. El Nino or Nina or Nano, whatever it is, has things all bolloxed up and down the coast. The jet stream continues to play havoc, keeping storm patterns intermittent over the next 10 days and perhaps beyond. Everyone talks about how much the region needs the wet because of recent years’ drought. I have to explain that where I come from we have 121 synonyms for rain and no synonyms for drought. Drought itself isn’t really a word. Saying it sounds strange on our lips, like that clicking sound Aboriginals make.

Bridge no longer over troubled water

It’s a shame to interrupt the trails’ recovery. We rode in Wilder Ranch State Park at Santa Cruz Wednesday and found things in great shape, especially for a rider with Seattle roots. Although the locals (a surprising number were out) complained about splatter, I explained that these trail conditions would be heaven in the Northwest as late as mid-July. Most of the trails were perfectly dry, not even leaving tracks. Only in some drop-ins, post holes and gullies was there surface water. We weren’t complaining.

Eucalyptus, Baldwin and Wilder Ridge loops were in fine shape. A bridge had been removed at one water crossing and there was evidence of erosion on the steeps, but nothing like the blocking blowdowns, fallen limbs and what have you we would find in the Northwest. Zane Grey Cutoff had some issues in a couple of the wetter switchbacks, as did the main lower trail that cuts off from the fire road climb. At one point I wheelied over a wet spot, only to land in the biggest sucking sound since Ross Perot’s flip chart. The bike just door-stopped, dumping me over the side into a grassy bank, laughing like a maniac.

Plastic flap on Baldwin Loop

Baldwin Loop was closed, kind of, with flexi-posts, but the trail was pretty well all dry. The main road loops were dry except in upper flat areas, and even there was just oozing drainage, not puddles.

As long ago as last Sunday, Forest of Nisene Marks above Aptos was equally recovering, although the tall trees and lack of light were retarding its comeback more than Wilder. I mentioned in my Titus Rockstar 29er review that a couple of places were actively running water. But most of the lower trails (riding on the uppers was discouraged by rangers) are bouncing back.

On the mid-Peninsula, Arastradero was in fair shape on Monday, although a couple of shaded trails were closed. (Check the kiosk at the main parking lot before heading out.) Arastradero has great exposure and good drainage and recovers more quickly than most.

A ride up Alpine Road to the Stevens Creek network on Tuesday was less successful. The singletrack off Alpine was really mucky and will take some time to recover. I didn’t make it across Page Mill, but from experience know that the Stevens Creek trail itself gets closed in this kind of weather. Monte Bello has much better elevation and exposure and usually fares well.

I haven’t made it to Skeggs or points north for exploration yet but will try to get to Mt. Tam and Tamarancho this weekend, weather permitting. Bryan at Fairfax Cyclery (a great shop just to drop in and schmooze) indicated that China Camp, Pine Mountain and Mt. Tam trails were serviceable, the exception being Camp Tamarancho, which got a check mark in the unrecommended column. The shame is that the Marin County Bicycle Coalition’s Dirt Bowl fundraiser is scheduled for Sunday. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that Fairfax and environs don’t get slammed too bad beforehand.

As for Wilder, Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz president Mark Davidson was not optimistic and “will probably” cancel the club’s weekly Wilder ride for tomorrow (Saturday). “We don’t recommend people ride wet trails,” he said. Having formerly lived in Vancouver, B.C., where NorthShore sprouts raging rivers this time of year and mountain bikers have to fight off kayakers for trail access, Davidson qualifies as a trusted name in soil integrity. When he says “wet,” we hear “aquatic.”

There hasn’t been a really good stretch of weather in the Bay Area since the turn of the decade. That may sound worse than it really is, but for NorCal it pretty well puts things in perspective. Let’s hope for a turn for the better asap.

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