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.


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