Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Down by the Tracks

I wanted to ride something different yesterday, so I decided to revisit an area I last rode about five years ago.

A few miles from my house the old Sacramento-Placerville railroad corridor passes though Shingle Springs. Once owned by Southern Pacific, the corridor is now controlled by the Sacramento-Placerville Transportation Corridor Joint Powers Authority. Slowly but surely they are converting the rails to trails, mostly in the Placerville area. The hope is to someday have an improved trail from Sacramento to Tahoe--a lofty goal that will be difficult to achieve. Click here if you want to learn more.

When I first moved up here, I started exploring the area surrounding my home looking for dirt trails and roads, mostly just to get away from the cars. One of the first places I headed for was the railroad tracks. I knew from my years of riding that railroad tracks usually have trails along them.

Well, there were trails, sure, but nothing you would want to ride. They were bumpy and rutted, overgrown with manzanita, star thistle and berry bushes. A number of fallen trees crossed the trail. I spent nearly as much time walking and bushwhacking as I did riding. I finished that ride bloody and frustrated, with a number of deer ticks crawling on my legs. And I never went back.

Fast forward five years and I decided to try again. One thing about miserable rides is they tend to mellow in your mind as time passes. Also, I know how much a trail can change with use. Maybe in five years more people would be using it? It was worth a try.

I started where the tracks cross Motherload Road near Highway 50 and rode south towards Latrobe. This map gives you the basic idea:

Five years ago, one of the worst places on the entire length of trail was right at the beginning. The blackberry bushes and manzanita grew on both sides of the trail, and you were forced to ride the gauntlet, with the thorns and branches tearing at your arms and shins. Yesterday, though, it was clear sailing. The berries had been trimmed back. In fact, EVERYTHING had been trimmed back. Even the manzanita, which is tough as nails, had obviously been trimmed by a chainsaw. Sweet.

The trails ranged from nice singletrack . . .

. . . to wider ATV trail . . .

. . . to little-used deer trail . . .

. . . with enough hills to keep it interesting.

As you progress south, the terrain changes from dense scrub to open grassland studded with oaks:

It really felt like the boonies at times. If there was civilization beyond the fog, I sure couldn't see it.

Did you know horses will eat bark? I did not.

I turned around not far from Latrobe and headed home. I ended up with 24 miles, with 17 of that being on the dirt. There was enough good trail and scenery to make the few bad spots tolerable. It's so much better than it was five years ago.

I'd like to be able to incorporate this trail into a bigger dirt loop, but I'm not sure it works since it goes so far south. Not far from where I turned around, South Shingle Road turns to dirt and goes all the way out to Rancho Murieta. But that would mean a return trip on Scott Road, which would suck. I'll have to get on Google Earth and see what I can find.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hazy Shade of Winter

The fog is still here. It's getting old.

Although the sun was shining upon my house, I could see the fog lurking just down the hill. Again, I took the cyclocross bike out, hoping to stay up high out of the murk. I made it about 10 miles before the fog crept in from the west and engulfed me. It felt like the temperature immediately dropped 20 degrees.

At first it wasn't too bad, but it became more and more dense as time went on. I altered my route to stay on back roads and headed home.

I can't see Russia from my house:


Saturday, January 09, 2010

Soupe du Jour

More of the same today. This fog just won't go away.

My original plan was to ride three or four hours on the single speed, but I could see the wall of fog from my house. I decided to ride the cross bike and stay up high where the sun was for a couple reasons. One, because riding in the fog sucks. Two, because people in Sacramento can't drive under the best conditions, let alone in inclement weather.

Over this ridge is an 1100-foot-deep bowl of pea soup:

So I only put in about 90 minutes of riding time, but I stayed fairly warm and safe.


Friday, January 08, 2010

It's a G Thing

A Canon G11, that is. Just arrived this afternoon.

I have been pretty happy with my Canon SD850IS as a travel and mountain biking camera, but it pretty much sucks in low light conditions. I have taken too many indoor shots of important occasions that came out dark and grainy. I needed something that would do better.

After researching for longer than I care to admit, and changing my mind multiple times, I finally chose the Canon G11.

The G11 does take great pictures in low light. I won't bore you with my comparison testing pictures, but I will say that the difference is huge.


Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Foggy Mountain Breakdown

The Haze has settled upon us. For days and days it will stay. It is the defining condition of a Sacramento winter, this haze, this valley fog.

The fog is a silky-voiced seductress. She pulls you towards the darkness, urges you to fall in love with sadness. Cold, dark and damp, she plays with your psyche, tries to break you. Even though the winter days are short, they can seem so very, very long. The time grinds by slowly in this perpetual dusk. The mind, relying on the sun for its internal clock, loses its rhythm. Without seeing the sun for a week, one feels an imbalance. Something is not quite right. Tired and cranky, you just want to hibernate. This is how the mind responds to prolonged gloom.

Normally I am immune to her charms where I live. My house sits at 1650 feet, well above true fog. But this pattern we are stuck in now is actually a low stratus layer, which is hanging right about 1500 feet. My house is socked in, but if we descend into the valley the visibility improves greatly. Still, the stratus layer hangs low and oppressive, right above our heads.

I awoke this morning to another day of this; I did not want to ride. Spending a few hours in 41 degree cold and 100 percent humidity just didn’t sound like fun. But the key to breaking the spell, to breaking the monotony of gloom, is to get out and face it.

It had been a while since I made it out for my “normal” Wednesday single speed ride. Thanksgiving break, contractors, rain and Christmas break all conspired against me. I caught myself smiling as I lifted my bike from the back of the truck. It was good to be back.

Though it was cold, the trail conditions were nearly perfect. In the summer, the searing sun bleaches the trails white, hard and unforgiving like polished bones. Today they were dark, fast and tacky, like ribbons of sweet, velvety chocolate. I pushed the bike hard into the corners, feeling for the edge of adhesion, but never really finding it; traction seemed unlimited.

I saw no one for the first hour. The cold seemingly kept the dog walkers and runners in their homes. More trail for me.

I stopped after about 12 miles and looked out over the lake. It was difficult to tell the difference between sand, water, sky and surrounding hills:

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep:

Nearing the point where I would turn around, I had to dismount and climb over a fallen tree. When I came back through only about 25 minutes later, the tree had been removed. I saw nobody around and heard no chainsaws. It was kind of bizarre.

On a stretch of paved trail between the two main dirt trails, something possessed me to pull a wheelie up a hill. I rode it. And rode it. And rode it. It was by far the longest wheelie I have ridden in many, many years. Maybe since BMX days.

As I came around a corner, an older couple witnessed about two-thirds of my wheelie show. The man stopped me and said I reminded him of "that guy on the Internet." My blank stare prompted him and his wife to describe a guy who "hops around like a madman . . . off buildings, walls, spiked fences . . . "

It was the spiked fence reference that made me ask, "Danny MacAskill?"

"Yeah, that's the guy!" they exclaimed. Yes, today my awesome handling skills were compared to Danny MacAskill's. Too funny.

I ended the 32-mile ride with cold feet and tired legs, but it was a fun ride.


Sunday, January 03, 2010

New Slang

I signed up for Boggs today. The race isn't until April, but you have to register for these races early before they fill up. I really hate having to plan so many months in advance. Life can be unpredictable, and four months is a long time. Things can change.

This is the fourth year in a row I have signed up. The 2007 race was my first solo eight-hour race. The weather was great, and the course was fun. I felt good about knocking out five laps (~50 miles) before the cramps did me in.

I signed up again in 2008 and broke my wrist a couple weeks later.

In 2009 I trained hard, but I caught some funky lung ailment right before the race.

I hope to have better luck in 2010.

I guess I kind of started training. I have done at least a short ride every day for the past eight days, culminating in a longer one today.

After spending the last five years as a geared bike, I converted my Karate Monkey to a single speed for the winter. The flat bars and bar ends were swapped out for riser bars and I put a solid axle in back. Other than that, not much work went into the conversion.

I can't recall ever riding a single speed from my house. I was looking to do something different today, so I gave it a try. I thought it might be boring at times, but due to the up and down nature of my area, I rarely spun out. I spent the vast majority of the time grinding up hills or flying down them (I topped 40 miles per hour a few times).

I hit the Serrano, Powerline, New York Creek, Wild Oak Park and Brown's Ravine trails. It was a little greasy in places, but overall the trail conditions were great. I was out for over three hours, and I was tired at the end from all the climbing. Fun ride.


Tough climb: