A hot Summer requires occasional respites. We drove to Groveland, CA where we sampled the offerings at Exchequer Bike Park on Lake McClure. It was a fun and interesting day that was filled with some great downhills and great people.
Covid 19 is slowly driving everyone bonkers here in the Silicon Valley. Working from home is great, but too much of it gets into your head. One looks for escape by whatever (safe) means are available.
Groveland, CA is the first town after Yosemite when leaving the park on Highway 120 west. It is a smaller town with some hotels, a local market, a few gas stations, a Tesla car charging station (?), a cool bar, and a new brewery. There’s a Mexican restaurant in town that I like to eat at after I do a speed-run hike up Yosemite Falls trail.
Groveland is accessible from California’s central valley via Highway 120 and Priest Grade; a rough climb that elevates drivers 1300 vertical feet in about 4.6 miles. Old Priest Grade, it’s older sibling, elevates drivers to and from the same spots in only 1.8 miles. I have climbed this white whale on my road bike; it is a massive endeavor that is not for the faint of heart.
Riding the Park
We arrived at the park at about 10:00am, paid for parking, looked for the trailhead (poor signage), and started riding at about 10:30. The trail going in is called Tarantula and it is a rolling singletrack which climbs up and over a small hill. It takes riders to the main trail confluence where they can climb the fire road to the top of the peak or branch to other less challenging areas of the park. From the top of the fire road, trails branch off and take riders back to the start of the road. After that, it’s either back to the car or it all starts over again.
The first ride up was long, but not very difficult. It has steep sections but we weren’t in any hurry, so it was a fairly easy spin with lots of conversation and some nice views.
We met Kyle and Emmanuel when we approached the Summit. Emmanuel is a fun young rider who loves the downhills and Kyle is a local shop tech who works at nearby World of Wheels in Modesto. They were up for the day to hit the dirt and we ended up riding a few runs together. They have some skills and were a lot of fun to talk to.
We first rode down Flying Squirrel. This downhill run is mostly off-camber singletrack which caught us off guard. The un-bermed turns can be distracting and keep riders from picking up too much speed. Combine that with occasional patches of granite and the trail becomes a challenging bit of tech that will test many riders.
We climbed back to the top and dropped in on Dirtsurfer. This is a shorter downhill run which ends a bit less than halfway down the fire road. It is a comparatively easy ride that isn’t too much of a challenge. The shorter climb to the top is very welcome on hot days.
There is a trail here, Gnarnia, which is just too scary for most people. I was interested in trying it, but no one else wanted to jump in, and I didn’t want to ride it alone. I’m sure I would have stopped to navigate some of its ugly gnar, but it would have been an adventure none the less.
On our final run, we chose Down and Out. It took us all the way down to the start of the fire road and was a speedy ride through tall brush and surprise turns. The weeds tended to get in the way of the trail, making safe navigation difficult at times. The wood risers that are found along the trail all have ride-arounds and were a bit more than I was willing to attempt that day. A particularly treacherous rocky section has a large gap jump that, if handled wrong, could easily send a rider to the hospital.
A Good Day
Exchequer is a fun park with a lot of variety. It is not the most challenging trail system I have seen, but it has its moments. If it had safer, faster turns, better facilities, and perhaps a bit more trail maintenance (please trim the brush!), I might hurry back to ride it again.
Frankly, this park needs a few more flowy trails. That doesn’t mean more trails, it means a lot of work needs to be done to make the existing blue trails more fun (and safe) to ride. As it sits, I will likely return, but it is not at the top of my list of things to do when visiting the area.
Burritos await me back at the house – it’s time to eat! Have a great day!