Stop and Smell the Roses, er, DIRT (shut down your computer and help out this weekend)!

 “WHOOOAAAA!!”… the unmistakable, unabashed howl of getting airborne on my bike, flying through the crisp air and feeling like I suddenly grew wings the size of an albatross!  THUD.  That would be the jolting sound of my body slamming into the dirt and reality setting in as I realize neither my bike or I have wings of any sort and the log I was trying to huck over had attacked me and pitched me into the terra firma.  Dragging myself up from a rather pretzel-like position, I look up and catch the highly amused expression on my partner Dave’s face…and then the Geico reptile blows by us both on a tricycle.

All true with the exception of actually seeing the famous car insurance critter on wheels.  That’s only partially true because it happened in a dream I had last night.  I woke up from this unique reverie with an intense desire to head out for a long, grueling ride on the trails (sans the Geico charger), and it couldn’t happen fast enough.  Oh wait!  This little thing called ‘LIFE’ with its day to day responsibilities, challenges, and ceaseless to-do lists must take precedence over my insatiable thirst to pedal myself silly for several hours.

I opened the bedroom curtains and saw another beautiful day had begun in Santa Cruz with cerulean blue skies, the temperature hovering around 65 degrees, and a refreshing light breeze carrying a mildly salty scent from the nearby sea.  Despite the fact that I had budgets, resumes, chores, and the always harrowing task of figuring how to stretch one paycheck to the next on my mind, all I wanted to do was RIDE.  My mind drifted to the last time I embarked upon a major pedal that literally left me writhing on the pavement  with every muscle in my body on fire; the Demo Forest in Aptos, CA.

At the top of Demo with friends, anticipating the descent!

Demo is brutal.  Elevation Gain/Loss +4,568/-4,439…sweet single-track trails and some epic technical sections but the climbing is truly diabolical in my humble opinion.  Dave was preparing me for this ride for weeks, and I worked for it though in the end I realized I could have pushed myself a bit harder.  No, I am not a masochist.  Anyway…it’s incredibly beautiful up there (literally in the middle of nowhere), almost otherworldly.  The color green played itself out in a million personalities, from neon to lush and darkly mysterious.  How I noticed this while I was dripping with sweat, mumbling incoherently to myself, and questioning what I did to deserve such suffering, I’m not sure.

The agonizing ascension was well worth it.  Pedaling downhill, carving through epic berms, and hauling my bike into the air beneath me made me forget about the trials and tribulations of everyday life.  I was in the thick of it, enjoying the total mind-body-spirit connection with nature that’s unlike anything else.

My daydreaming ceased right there when my cell phone began to vibrate annoyingly against my leg.  I knew I didn’t have the time to do a Demo-type ride so I handled my necessary tasks, hopped on my bike, and rode a couple miles out from my house to West Cliff Drive (one of the most visually stunning roads in northern California, with ocean views that humble your heart and calm your soul).

West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz

My point?  Getting out of the proverbial box and enjoying the fresh air is a necessity.  You don’t always have to show your appreciation for nature by zooming at breakneck speed down a steep trail (or surfing a wave big enough to topple the Empire State Building) because sometimes mixing it up and slowing down allows you time to really notice the beauty that surrounds you.   When you take time to notice it, you begin to love it, and when you love it you conserve and protect it.

This Saturday is Make A Difference Day.  If you can’t make it Saturday join us Sunday at Nisene Marks State park (on the south side of Demo Forest) from 9:30 to 2 pm. Think about what you love about nature, and sign up for a project this weekend.  “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” –Winston Churchill

Contributed by Shawna Peak

Pumped Up!

Pumped up – adj. – to be very excited…

Pump track – n. – a low risk dirt circuit designed for bicycle riding by all ages and skills.

Pump tracks are one of the most exciting aspects of mountain biking to arrive on the scene in the last ten years. They require only the most basic of bicycles and skills to be enjoyed, and are a very low risk endeavor.  They don’t require mountains or heavily constructed stunts, and can be built in an area as small as 20’ x 40’. Pump tracks have sprouted around the world, from backyards to public parks to the granddaddy of all destination resorts, Whistler.  In an age when gear continues to improve and differentiate our sport pump tracks are the great unifiers. I challenge you to go visit a pump track and not see at least three of the following; a teenager, a bmx bike, a parent and their child, a full suspension bike, or a pack of local kids pedaling whatever they’ve got.

A well built pump track in Aptos CA

Santa Cruz is a town of contradictions. We are home to no less than three major players in the biking industry, yet the majority of our trails are illegal. When visitors from out of town ask for tips on the best trails they are given in hushed tones, and the local trail maps contain just a fraction of what is available. This isn’t lost on the local mountain biking club or the shops, and they have reignited their efforts to change this. I am fortunate enough to live around the corner from an outstanding shop and have been able to trace the lineage of the City of Santa Cruz’s first sanctioned pump track that is emerging as a result of their efforts.

Visualizing the new pump track

I heard that our city council was going to address the pump track at their meeting last week and jumped on the opportunity to join. After attending a contentious hearing not too long ago regarding a new multiuse trail that Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz (MBOSC) was hoping to build I expected a full house and a dubious council. Interestingly enough, only about four-dozen people besides the council were in attendance. Mauro Garcia of the Parks Department declared his support of the project and stated that the city had been hoping a site would appear for a park (I was surprised by that). Chris of Another Bike Shop easily fielded the council’s questions and noted that one of our local heavy hitters, Santa Cruz Bikes was moving to a new location, directly across the street from the proposed park and had pledged their support (yee ha!) And then the crowd began to speak their support at the mic. As I turned I noticed three of my riding buddies had appeared with their kids in tow, there is one of our most important user groups. The council echoed the gallery’s overwhelming support and the motion to grant the permit was passed unanimously! Chris still has a few small hurdles before the digging starts, but he and the property owner are to be applauded for their efforts to date.

Another pump track supporter and Chris celebrate council approval

It is an exciting time here, and Shawna and I are eager to jump in and continue our support of the effort. Kudos to the City of Santa Cruz for supporting more outdoor recreational opportunities, Santa Cruz bikes for financial support, and Chris and ABS for the inspiration behind the effort. There are still opportunities to participate in the fun stuff, hopefully we’ll get shovels in the ground in the next 30 days. This is an exciting time to be part of the cycling community in Santa Cruz as we approach the opening of our first legal rider built trail (ever?) by MBOSC and we see our pumptrack get off the ground. Be a part of this genesis and join us soon. Trail advocacy has never been easier, or more fun, lets all get pumped up!

– Dave


“Everyone I know loves the ocean.  I mean the capital “L” kind of LOVE, the Love that’s unfathomable and ineffable, a fusion of respect, understanding, awe, sensuality and mystery”.  His words are profoundly moving, and I remembered them immediately as I spotted him walking up to our table during the orientation phase of the International Annual Coastal Cleanup Day.  Dave and I were serving as volunteer co-captains for Davenport Main Beach, it was early though certainly not ‘bright’ (the famous California coastal fog had clearly decided to park itself directly on top of us before dissipating a few hours later to reveal another glorious day), and of the 36 wonderful volunteers, there stood Dr. Wallace J Nichols.  J is one of the world’s most recognized marine biologists with a passion for sea turtles and he leads marine conservation efforts globally, so it was a real honor to have him join our team, and what a team it turned out to be!  J was accompanied by his beautiful daughters Grayce and Julia, and his lovely niece Ruby Hoy (she came all the way from Martha’s Vineyard just in time to help clean up the big mess on our beloved beach!).

J and I in tidier times

Folks of every age, gender, and background arrived as the sun was rising behind the veil of fog, ready to make a difference, folks that feel what J calls that capital “L” kind of love for the sea.  A large group of enthusiastic boy scouts showed up first and not a one of those young men considered picking up trash to be ‘gross’ or without merit.  Their excitement was palpable and even though they were all quite young, they appeared fully cognizant of the fact that volunteers are truly the glue that binds a community together and that their mission that misty morning was of monumental importance.  Everyone jumped into action and the results were disturbing in terms of how much trash littered our iconic coastline, yet we all came away with the feeling that we made a real difference for the denizens of the sea that we all have come to “Love”.  Let us also remember what the ocean gives back to us, over 50% of the oxygen we breathe (thank you, phytoplankton…the beautiful plants of the sea)!

Most of our volunteers were Scouts!

Davenport Main Beach – 233 lbs of trash; 141 lbs of recyclables

Cell phone!?

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary – 16,800 total lbs of pollution

3,500 volunteers!

I once heard somebody say that volunteers don’t get paid, not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.  I believe volunteers are paid in 6 figures: S-M-I-L-E-S!!   Dave and I met many amazing people and we were all stoked to be a part of the largest volunteer effort in the world.  Hundreds of thousands of sea birds, marine mammals, sea turtles, and other species that call the ocean home will benefit from these efforts.  Each and every one of us can make a significant difference.  As Mother Teresa once said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is but a drop in the ocean, but the ocean would be less because of that missing drop”.

Our beach, our motivation

850 sites were cleaned, California’s largest volunteer effort to date!  Looking at the bigger picture, it really is about so much more than picking up trash.  It’s a chance for Californians to join like-minded people everywhere in expressing that “Love” for our oceans and waterways.  It’s a few hours to share with our families, neighbors, sporting pals, and fellow inspired stewards from all walks of life, coming together to accomplish something paramount and noble on behalf of our environment.

Dave and I, in situ…

Contributed by Shawna Peak – Naturalist