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

The Eco-Effective Enviro-Athlete

The WHAT??  Imagine being on your mountain bike, navigating a burly single-track at breakneck speeds throughout a beautiful redwood forest with one of your fellow nature/cycling enthusiasts.  You both carve through several big berms, huck over a few logs, and heckle each other incessantly when one comes off and executes a hilariously epic faceplant.  Halfway through your breathless ride through one of the earth’s most astoundingly glorious environments, you both encounter something that makes you slam on the brakes and come to a dead stop…THWACK!  That’s the sound of both jaws hitting the ground when you both see the ridiculously gargantuan pile of plastic bottles, garbage bags, plastic candy wrappers, and those ubiquitous red party cups heaped directly in the middle of the trail.

Unfortunately, this is a true story.   Last year Dave and I happened upon a mountainous pile of what was mostly single-use plastic while riding a very popular Santa Cruz trail.  We both felt initial despair because we simply didn’t have the capacity to haul it all away with us on our bikes, not to mention the sadness we both felt at encountering such a ghastly sight in such a stunning natural environment.  What would the eco-effective enviro-athlete do?  We both took out our phones and took pictures which we later loaded up on the computer and we formulated a plan as to how to address this issue and prevent it from happening again.  Whenever we see trash on the trails, we pick it up.  I’ve seen Dave, who pedals like the Tasmanian devil on crank, screech to rapidly scary stops mid-ride simply to grab that plastic bottle somebody thoughtlessly tossed on the ground and stuff it in his backpack.  THAT, my friends, is an eco-effective enviro-athlete!  He’ll do the same thing while windsurfing (honestly, if he saw a plastic water bottle floating by the dorsal fin of a white shark I still think he’d sail right on over and pluck it out of the water while deadpanning  “hey dude, this doesn’t belong here” to the curious toothy creature).  Ok, perhaps I am getting a bit carried away here but my point is that being an enviro-athlete takes dedication and a genuine passion not only for the sports that we love, but for the health and productivity of the natural world that we are engaging with.

Shawna after a muddy spill on the bike!

What’s encouraging is that this movement is catching on.  Pro volleyball players, surfers, cyclists, runners, swimmers, etc are speaking up by the thousands in support of local beach clean-ups, trail maintenance, and numerous conservation efforts all over the world.  If we are going to enjoy the bounty of nature as athletes, it’s our personal responsibility to make sure we take care not to contribute to the global pollution problem.  Our actions can also have a profound effect on the up and coming generation of young athletes, and we have a wonderful opportunity at this pivotal point to serve as their mentors.

Some people ask “why should I care”?  Imagine a philosophical crab, perched on its several hundred million year track record of success, disdainfully reviewing our history…and thinking the same of us.

The power of one is potent.  Every superlative idea started with one individual and turned into a vast collective effort.  Next time you are leaping over obstacles on your bike, paddling out into the sea on your board, or hiking through the woods, stop and take a moment to breathe deeply and relish in the gift we have been given.  After that moment of silence if you happen to look around and spot something like the infamous plastic bottle, pick it up and take it with you for proper disposal.  It doesn’t belong there.  YOU do.    “The landscape belongs to the person who looks at it” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.


Scott’s Creek Late Session Anyone?

Every day that we have the opportunity to get on the water is a gift.  The farther we travel the more we realize how fortunate we are in America to be surrounded by clean seas. But they need our help. Our rivers and seas are filling with trash at an ever increasing rate. Plastic packaging, cigarette butts, plastic shopping bags, the list goes on. What kind of person would accept the challenge of stemming this onslaught?

Join the team for International Coastal Cleanup

Last year nearly 600,000 visionaries picked up 9 million pounds of trash from beaches and rivers in 153 countries on International Coastal Cleanup Day. This year we are faced with a daunting new challenge, the first signs of debris from the Japanese Tsunami are starting to reach US shores. NOAA estimates that of the 5 million tons of debris that entered the sea off Japan, 1.5 million tons remained afloat and entered the Pacific Gyre. This spring the first signs of that debris started landing on the west coast of North America. Now, more than ever, the ocean needs our help.

Your effort can prevent this!

Saturday September 15th marks the 27th year of Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup. This is the opportunity that you’ve been waiting for, a chance to spend the morning with your friends at the beach, pitching in to help the earth’s greatest natural resource. The sea not only feeds us and provides the bulk of the oxygen that we breathe, it also provides endless recreational opportunity. It gives us the chance to take a deep breath and take stock of all that we are so fortunate to have. A chance to realign our priorities of health, family, and friends. So please join me and your friends for a few hours beginning around 9 am on Saturday and join the largest volunteer conservation effort on the planet. And start paying back our ocean for the bounty that she provides us every day. For a list of your local sites visit Ocean Conservancy’s website here, or simply head to the coast and pitch in!

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.

Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

Making A Difference, One Shovel-Full at a Time

If you are like most people, there comes a time when you start asking yourself “Am I really making a difference?” The office might be wearing on you, the traffic might be getting to you, the family might just seem a bit too demanding. The end result is we start wondering if we are making a difference during our time on this planet.

Now as mountainbikers we can count ourselves more fortunate than most. We have one of the best releases of stress, energy, and endorphins, at our disposal, a ride in the woods. But what have we done to earn this gift? I’m not talking about going to work or supporting our local bike shop with our disposable income, I’m talking about paying real dues. Supporting our resource can be done in three primary ways, your money (contributing to MBOSCC or Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks), your vote (keep the parks funded with our tax dollars), or your time. Your own personal situation will help you determine which way is best for you.


Epic Queenstown NZ Singletrack

I’ve come across the Trailworkers volunteer crew working in Wilder twice in my twenty years of riding. I was impressed that my friend Dan Chen was there both times. It turns out Dan has been donating a half day of his time on the first Sunday of each month since the mid eighties. Talk about dedication! So it was with no lack of guilt that I joined him and 18 others this past Sunday at Wilder to learn more about trail maintenance and to swing some tools. Two of the three Wilder Ranch Crew leaders were on hand (thanks Chuck and Harvey for your work), a bunch of regulars from over the years, a high school teacher an a half dozen of her students, and Chris Pereira, the Park Maintenance Supervisor for trail programs in the Santa Cruz district (the guru). Chris’ experience and knowledge about trail work and his great leadership inspired every one of us.


Chris Pereira – Trail Guru

We spent a total of four hours together on Twin Oaks trail learning about maintenance and how to do it correctly. Chris is a wealth of information and is responsible for some of the best trails in Wilder, most of the reroutes (trail changes to improve ride quality and drainage) that you have admired were the result of his effort. It was great working alongside people of  wildly varied experience and ages who all shared the same belief, we are the good that we want to see in the environment. There is no challenge in our local hills that we can’t overcome with the right mix of knowledge, effort, and a few bucks.

I can’t think back on a day of public service that I have enjoyed more than this past Sunday. To be outside, working on the trails I love, surrounded by inspired individuals of all ages on a warm Sunday is an experience I will not soon forget. Or miss again. The list of reasons to be out there is a long one, we need to invest in the resource to prove ownership, we need to exhibit to the state agencies that parks are critical and we are invested in them, and we need to battle the indoor trap and break away from the computer and playstation. But the best reason to engage the resource, to become stewards of the land, is that it needs us and we need it. The payback comes back everyday we pedal that trail, and with every thank you that we harvest as the trail users stop and applaud the efforts of our crew.


Wilder volunteer Trail Crew, where are you?

Sign up here so you don’t miss the next trail day, the first Sunday of the month at 9:45am in the upper Wilder Ranch parking lot or at one of our other priceless parks. You can make the difference!