Riding with Mike has always been more fun than riding with anyone else if only because he pushes me to do things that nobody else does. He is so skillful that he can make any descent, no matter how steep or technical, look absolutely rideable. And so, I almost always follow him, trusting that he values the well being of his cook and domestic servant far too much to encourage me to do something dangerous, or maybe I should say above my skill level.
Lower Workout is a trail that offers little in the way of excitement but it has a couple of heart-poundingly steep climbs, hence the name assigned to it. Once you make it up the first steep climb, the two-track rolls mostly uphill, following the contours of the foothills. If you ride this track early in the morning or late in the evening, or at night as we did when we were younger, you are likely to encounter coyotes, tarantulas, kangaroo rats, snakes, possibly even a bobcat, and rarely a mountain lion. But mid-day there’s only the occasional ground squirrel scurrying across the trail in a suicidal attempt to get to his burrow and a few birds.
Today, the trail was hard-packed, and littered with the remnants of summer’s grass, and seeds and the broken remains of dead brush. The air was a perfect seventy-something degrees though the slanting December sun was warm on our south facing side. It’s hard to long for December’s normally cool days and long-awaited rain when we are blessed with such perfect cycling weather.
We came to the only excitement the trail has to offer, a loose, rocky, steep pitch that we call the shortcut because it drops directly down, off the side of the road, to where it again meets the road, circumventing a gate designed to keep motorized vehicles out. It’s one of those long, steep drops that requires commitment because once you point your wheel downhill, there’s no stopping, short of laying the bike over sideways in the hope you can land on your feet. It’s never a good idea to attempt something with the thought of spotting a place to dismount because it prevents you from looking for the line you need to ride it successfully. I had elected not to ride the shortcut last week as it looked too loose and unpredictable, and the bottom part, which couldn’t be seen from the top could have presented an unpleasant surprise. But this week, with Mike’s assurance that the lower section was clear, I slid over the edge, seat lowered and my butt hung over the back tire. The traction was stable thanks to the motorcycles that had churned up the dirt and small rocks as they powered up.
Towards the end of our climb, there’s another exciting motorcycle trail that connects Upper Workout and Lower Workout, called Chapman’s Cutoff. Unfortunately, we were at the bottom of it. But the thrill of riding it down was tantalizing enough to spur us into climbing to the top. I pushed my bike, racking up some steps for my Fitbit, while Mike tried to float the valves of his heart by riding up. Miraculously, he had to stop only twice to catch his breath but rode the entire grade. At the top, we donned our downhill gear.
The descent of Chapman’s was short-lived, taking only a fraction of the time it had taken to struggle up the hill, but it was worth the effort. The bikes we ride today make even the sketchiest trails fairly easy compared to the primitive, early mountain bikes we rode in the 90s. Sometimes we wonder, have the trails gotten easier or have our bikes just become that much better. With larger wheels, longer travel shock absorbers, and longer wheel bases, I’m betting it’s the bike! Of course, thirty-five years of experience doesn’t hurt.