Steve and I had been exchanging e-mails for a while and had been talking about riding together since I discovered his web site about a month ago. When he mentioned that he was thinking about going to Wilder Ranch I jumped on the opportunity. I had heard a lot of good things about this place and wanted to see if they were true.
To make matters more interesting Steve had just purchased a Helmet Camera to go along with his digital cam corder so we decided we would take a go at making a video. We had mixed results with the video recording and the video was at least partially responsible for my one mishap of the day. Hopefully we will do a little better with the video when we go to Downieville.
Overall I would say Wilder Ranch's reputation for having awesome singletrack mountain biking is well deserved. If you wanted a truely epic mountain biking experience you could a spend a week in Santa Cruz and ride this trail and some of the awesome trails on Skyline Boulevard (Hiway 35) such as Saratoga Gap.
Get to Santa Cruz and take Hiway 1 North out of town about 1-2 miles. Trailhead is on the left. Facilities at the trailhead include flush toilets, drinking fountain, and sinks for cleaning up blood and dirt after the ride. Santa Cruz is cooler than the valley but when you are riding up in the hills you get plenty hot. Make certain to bring plenty of H2O (I ran out).
I'm sitting on a beach in Santa Cruz typing this on my laptop. Steve and I just finished the Wilder Ranch ride and and it was a blast. We rode 20 miles, several sections twice. This is probably one of the toughtest rides I have been on from the point of view of total effort. There are miles of awesome singletrack winding through scenic meadows and cool redwoods.
We started out at the main trailhead on the coast and headed East under the hiway and up the Englesman loop. Our goal was to hit as much of the singletrack in the park as we could manage. After about 2 Miles of climbing you reach the crest of a hill and there is a singletrack turnoff for Wild Boar trail.
Wild Boar is a short section of singletrack leading towards the first fun section that Steve remembered riding "Old Cabin Trail".
Old Cabin drops down into several (currently dry) creek crossings and a series of really fun switchbacks, drops over tree roots and rocks, and fast banked curves which pass through a very beautiful redwood grove. This was a really fun section of the trail and most places this would have been the highlight of the ride. At Wilder Ranch this was just a warmup for some really awesome riding. Steve shot helmetcam style video the whole way down Old Cabin and some still video of me on a couple of the more difficult climbs.
It took me three tries, but I was able to clean these steps going both up and down hill. Steve caught this on video along with the switchback immediately before, the images in the video look a lot flatter than they do in this photo Check out the video !
The real highlight of the trail was a section called Enchanted Forest loop. The Enchanted Forest Loop starts with a narrow steep technical section with 12" droppoffs, large roots, ruts, and a precarious dropoff to the side. After the top section there is a short section of steep smooth singletrack which sets you up to be going way to fast over some more dropoffs and exposed roots. If you survided that prepare for a sharp hairpin at the bottom of the hill.
Steve had a near miss the first go and this photo was snapped moments before Steve plunged off the side of the trail on his second attempt. Steve injured his shoulder, landed in poison oak, and lost his appetite for tough downhills (for the day).
We were about half way down and Steve didn't want to reride the top so we switched the helmet camera to me so I could film the Enchanter Forest. I restarted the Loop with the camcorder and as soon as I cleaned the tough stuff at the top of the trail I started picking up speed for the faster singletrack.
I hit the bottom section going way too fast and launched over the center of this 18" dropoff I would have otherwise avoided. Somehow I managed to stay vertical and avoid or ride over the exposed roots at the bottom. I figured Steve had some awesome footage for his video.
After a short grueling climb out of the Enchanted Forest we decided to try and go up to Woodcutters Path, a section of singletrack at the most distant portion of Wilder Ranch. The climb up the Eucalyptus Loop and Chinquapin fireroads was not particularly steep but felt considerably longer than the 300' climb showed on Steve's Topographic map.
Woodcutters Path starts out pretty wide and flat, but turns into fairly narrow singletrack with some short steep hills. We were running low on time and we discovered that the video we had taken while on the Enchanted Forest Loop was bad. We cut Woodcutter short so we could get another pass on Enchanted Forest and hopefully get a good video.
After blasting down the 2 mile descent from Woodcutters to Enchanted Steve was still hesitant to ride the Enchanted Forest Loop so we switched helmets and packs so I could film the downhill. I cleaned the top section and the switchbacks with no problems and was really enjoying the rolling singletrack when I decided to take a banked curve high. I didn't look forward enough and coming down from the curve my front tire caught on some roots. My front tire went sideways and I made like superman over my front handlebars.
Before we started Steve said I needed to take a fall "For the Art". So I guess this is my contribution to the "art of mountain biking videos". Unfortunately I think the video quality on this section is questionable so after three attempts we didn't get decent video of this awesome downhill. Lesson Learned: Don't showboat for the video camera.
Sorry for the size on this image, I just thought compressing it would degrade this cool tree shot to much.
After the superman video we needed to make tracks back to the trailhead, we got lost for a little while before finding the Wilder Ridge trail. The Wilder ridge trail is mostly rough fireroad with large sections of exposed white rocks. I hit my peak speed of 36 MPH going down this section and flew right past the Zane Grey Cuttoff. We stopped, went back and took the cutoff which appeared to be a shorter way back to the trail head.
The Zane Grey cutoff is a short section of trail which is a fast narrow downhill with a few technical spots. Towards the bottom when you are going fast there are lots of waterbars and cross trail ruts to make you appreciate that full suspension bike.
We thought taking the Zane Grey cutoff would cut some time off of our return trip but it dropped us onto the lower portion of the Wilder Ridge loop which is bumpy singletrack that zigzags around and over a series of ravines and small canyons. It was a blast, but definitely slower than the rocket ride we would have gotten going straight down the top section of the Wilder Ridge loop.
After working our way through the ravines we hit the fireroad section of Wilder Ridge trail and turned towards the trailhead. The trail went up breifly and then descended all the way to the tunnel that goes back under Hiway 1.
Overall our ride took us roughly 5 hours with about 3 1/2 hours spent riding and the rest of the time spend resting, taking pictures, and setting up the video camera. At one point I had run out of water and Steve saved me, I was thirsty, hungry, bleeding, and covered with dirt from head to toe. Overall, signs of an awesome ride.