It was a smoky, hazy day in the valley and I wanted to get out on the bike. I hadn’t ridden since my trip to North Carolina about a week ago, and I was getting restless. I usually ride in Santa Cruz on days when I have a good chunk of time, but I had been sidetracked by recent news of drug use and violence at the trailhead there, so I opted to hit the hills of Soquel Demonstration Forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains. [MAP]
I don’t often ride “The Demo” mostly because it is a trek to get to the trailhead, and there is also a grueling climb out. But the trails there are ultra sweet, and I had not been there for quite some time. So this seemed to be the perfect option to keep my fitness up to a level where the upcoming Turkey Ride wouldn’t kill me.
The ride to the trailhead took me about an hour and 45 minutes. The parks service is nearing the end of a major fire abatement program that is tearing up the forest floor to prevent wildfires. As a result, the trail is often tough to find under all the debris and winding vehicle tracks. The trail cleared up as I got closer to the start of the Flow Trail. There were several other guys gathered around the trailhead. Some were there to ride Flow, like me, but others were there to head down the Braille Trail which starts pretty much in the same spot. It was a long and incredibly slow trek to the top, but I’m also a slow climber.
The Flow Trail is divided into six segments. I have not found any documentation regarding the reasoning behind the existence of these segments aside from a few mentions that they may have possibly been opened in six parts as the trail was being built. Regardless, they are clearly marked and most of them serve as good rest spots to catch your breath or wait for a pal to catch up.
The trail started out with a fast section of singletrack. It wove through the trees and my bike danced across the forest floor, It felt good. Pumping over the risers and catching some air on bumps and drop-offs was fun and got my blood pumping as I slowly recovered from the climb in.
As the trail progressed through its segments, it got funner and faster. The berms get pretty high and there are a few rollers that can launch you if you hit them just right. Although some of the berms were showing wear and erosion in a few spots, I never felt like I was in any kind of danger or out of control. This trail is famous for its rideability and can be conquered by almost any mid-level rider. The obstacles are achievable and are presented in an order of increasing difficulty that allows one to “grow into” the progression. In my opinion, the toughest of the features are strictly blue (intermediate). In fact, there were more sketchy tech sections on the Ridge trail coming in than there are on Flow.
Folks on the trail were polite and cool. I really didn’t think I would be one of the faster downhillers on that trail that day (as is evidenced from my Strava friends list), but I passed several riders while no one passed me. I was not out to race anyone down the hill, I just rode at my normal speed; before I knew it, I was at the bottom. Normally, returning to the start of the ride is just a rough pull up a hill. The Demo is different. After one has just finished climbing up to the ridge, riding across to the trailhead, and bombing down Flow, the climb back is an ordeal of gruesome proportions. This climb is the biggest reason I don’t ride the Demo much. It breaks my spirit.
I got on my bike and hit a low gear to settle into the climb. Some sections are fairly steep, and some are rocky, but all are fairly easy to clear if you’re in a lower gear and have some leg strength left. About a mile from the trailhead, I came across an intersection that I didn’t recognize, and there was a guy there having the time of his life ripping jumps off a fun berm-style lifter on the side of the trail. This guy was HAPPY!
I trudged up the mountain and eventually got back to the 4Runner. A quick stop at the Summit Store on the way home gave me a soda pop, some deviled eggs, and a salami sandwich to munch on as I drove down Highway 17 and back into town.
That was a good shower.