Friday, July 10, 2015

Bicycle Touring in Southern Bohemia - Part III: exploring Šumava

The forests of Šumava mountain range reminded me of British Columbia, but a scaled down, gentler version of those rain forests. Šumava is known for harsh weather and it rained on the first day of our explorations. Majority of this region used to be inaccessible to tourism, due to a broad band of well protected no man's land along the border with Germany. Today, mountain towns are centers of tourist activity, hiking trails cris-cross the hills and numerous bike paths exist to provide safe bicycle travel for families and bike tourists. All with excellent trail signage. Special category are trails following the "shipping canals", as the Šumava web site calls them. I would translate it as "flume" since these canals were built to transport logs, not ships. An intricate system of water flumes was built by Joseph Rosenauer in 1791 and some of the flumes were used as recently as 1961.

The flumes are built impeccably - walled off by stones, with numerous merges and even a 2-level water crossing. The system was used to transport timber from the mountains to both Danube and Vltava rivers, supplying construction wood for both Prague, Vienna and many towns along the way.

A part of the system is also a 420m long tunnel under Jeleni Hora, with nicely restored portals. The bike trails that follow these flumes are wide double tracks with fine crushed gravel surface, and since the grade of the canals was just a few % to allow for smooth water flow, these bike ways are easy to pedal on.
During our first day, we chose to detour to Plešivé jezero (lake), a man made reservoir supplying the flume system with water. This lake was built on a slope of a high mountain, so it took a good amount of climbing to reach it. It poured heavily on the way up, making us worry about the steep descent on the slippery and sometimes sandy path. But by the time we finished our lunch of sausage and bread at a rain shelter, the weather improved and we could let off the brakes for a long descent back to our cars.

This was a relatively easy, 23 mile ride with only 1500 ft vertical, but nevertheless deserved a reward in the form of Kofola and blueberry cobbler.

The weather improved considerably overnight and while some of my family went for sightseeing around some cultural and architectural places of interest, I decided for a quick solo ride from the rental house, before driving back to Bělčice in the afternoon.

 I rode through the former Iron Curtain area, following old military service roads that were built for rapid deployment of troops to catch those desperate souls trying to escape our socialist paradise across this physical barrier.

It is hard to believe today that these roads used to divide the world into West and East. On "our" side, there were watch towers, strips of smooth sand to see footprints, electric and barbed wires, and also land mines. The mines were eventually removed by the communists after many border patrol soldiers blew themselves up.
One good thing resulted from this nonsense: very well preserved nature and miles of excellent bike paths.

I rode over Knížecí Pláně, a high plateau with huge mountain meadows and tall solitary spruces, before starting a long and steep climb over an unnamed mountain below which the Vltava river source is. Vltava (Moldau) is called the mother of Czech rivers and it becomes Labe (Elbe) at the confluence in northern Bohemia, before traversing Germany on its way to North Sea.

Forests around the Vltava source have been badly damaged by bark beetles, but it is a popular bike route from Kvilda, a small town with many good restaurants. Here I managed to get lunch of goulash and dumplings, washed down by some good beer, before turning around and finishing my Sunday 50km loop.
This trip left many places still unexplored, as well as enough room for planning a longer bike tour across the whole Šumava mountain range. It is amazing that in the center of densely populated Europe, there are still places largely untouched by civilization, but with enough infrastructure to provide for safe and comfortable bike travel.  Renting good quality bikes is also easy and cheap ($100 for an 8-day Specialized 29er bike rental). I can easily see myself bike touring here after I won't be able to ride at Tahoe anymore.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Bicycle Touring in Southern Bohemia - Part II: From Bělčice to Sumava

 On Friday morning I got up early, strapped my universal Thule rack on the rental Specialized Hardrock 29 bike and packed bare necessities for a three day trip into the panniers. The first 10km between Bělčice and Blatná were a slight downhill and I shortly reached bike route 312. The stretch between villages of Mačkov and Měčichov were some of the prettiest places I ever biked through. I wanted to stop, sit in the grass on the woods edge and listen to birds chirping. But there was a long day ahead of me.
 South of Horažďovice, the bike route left pavement for a double track winding through the fields. Soon, I could see the ruins of Rabí castle on the horizon. Rabí is the largest castle ruin in the country and a place where the famous Hussit leader Jan Žižka lost his second eye besieging the castle in 1421. After a steep climb, I pushed the loaded bike for the final 100m on incredibly steep entry way to the castle and after walking around the main courtyard, slid back down on slippery rocks. Just outside the castle walls, multiple refreshment options called for a break. I ate a potato pancake, washed it down with my favorite Kofola and continued southward.

 The bike route between Rabí and Sušice followed a dirt road alongside a railroad, weaving into and out of the woods, with some grassy and muddy stretches. For couple of hours, I did not see anybody, except two bike tourists with heavily loaded bikes. Approaching Sušice, I rode on the banks of Otava river where red rubber rafts loaded with tourists bounced down some rapids and weir drains. Past Sušice, the natural scenery changed, too. Open fields and rolling hills gave way to deep spruce forests, valleys deepened and the shaded road following Otava river got very twisty. The grade was still very mild, as expected when riding along a river, but I knew there were some hills ahead. I encountered the first brutal climb just past Anín, a narrow road climbed at 15% for 3.5km to an intersection of bike routes.

The sign pointed to the right, but the arrow pointing left said "Cemetary 300m". I was curious enough to take a 0.6km detour although my legs burned and I was dizzy with fatigue after the climb in a humid weather. Black clouds were towering over the horizon, signalling some afternoon storms. At the end of the detour trail, I found a small church and a cemetary. There was nobody around, the place was absolutely quiet, bird songs that I heard since the morning stopped abruptly. This was an old German cemetery, a place called Mouřenec, likely a Czech modification of St. Moritz. A nearby kiosk described this hill and church as a "place rich in legends". I bet, it felt downright spooky.

After some more climbing through small villages, I reached another interesting place: St. Vintíř's spring and church. The spring was inside a small lovely chapel but I did not use the water source. I still had plenty of water on me, although I had been working hard for several hours by now and I was soaked.
I crested another steep ridge on a rooty forest singletrack and was rewarded with a nice fire road through beautiful forest.
 I enjoyed mountain biking in this very remote part of Sumava foothills - this area used to be a military target range and off the beaten track for tourists.
Signs along the bike route warned of unexploded ordnance, but I had no intention to veer of the trail. The bike path went down steep valley in a straight line, but just before I dipped into the valley, I saw the ridges I would have to cross. As I was flying down the trail, my phone rang a text message alert. My sister was in the area, and she decided to bike towards a glacier lake Prášilské Jezero. Up to here, I was doing a great time and it was only about 2PM and I thought I was at about 80% of my planned distance.  Back home, I thought about this possibility and drew an alternate route which used more dirt roads and added about 20-30km, passing by Prášilské Jezero. I ate what food I had left and decided to head that way. Few more kilometers through the woods on logging roads and then I hit the road towards Prášily, a village on German border and on the main Sumava massif. The hills around me were about 1000m, those mountains ahead were more like 1300m, so I knew I had some more climbing ahead. I looked to the right, where the road was dropping down the hill, then left towards the climb and pushed ahead. Soon afterwards, the road pitched down steeply and after few minutes of flying downhill at high speed, I realized my navigational error. I was going east, away from Prášily and towards Modrava. In Srní, I looked back the steep grade I just came down and decided to follow the Vchynicko-Tetovsky flume trail towards Modrava. More on these "flume trails" later.

 After I crossed the wild river Vydra on a wooden suspended bridge, it was a short distance to Modrava. Here, among restaurants, hotels and B&Bs bustling with tourists, I found my sister's car parked and after a few attempts to reach her by phone, I placed a piece of paper with the message that I will push towards Kvilda and Nové Hutě, our weekend destination.

 The climb between Modrava and Filipova Hut was a real bitch. As I reached the plateau with fantastic views over the whole mountain range, I ran out of water and strength. I bought a 1.5 liter bottle of fizzy lemonade, drank half of it and poured the rest of sweet liquid into my Camelbak. The sugary drink gave me enough energy to reach town of Kvilda, where I admired a unique church building covered with wood siding on the front wall. I knew I was close to the rental house so I did not linger here and after some ups and downs, reached a trail towards Nové Hutě. Riding through the village, I noticed it had one hotel with a restaurant, a small grocery store and one more restaurant. Nicely restored mountain homes lined the road and in one of them, I met my uncle, my cousin and his wife and two of their kids. My sister arrived later, having biked steep hills to the lakes. All my relatives were well supplied with food and I was fed, offered many beers and after that, we chatted and planned routes for the next two days until late night. I went to bed exhausted, but I looked forward to more bike rides in the deep forests of Sumava.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Bicycle Touring in Southern Bohemia Part I

When we first discussed the idea of spending couple of weeks vacationing in Bělčice, a small town in the center of Southern Bohemia, which is a place of significant ties for my wife and her family, I quickly decided that staying at one place with my wife's relatives was not going to satisfy my own selfish needs for an active vacation. Since January, I have spent numerous hours charting routes on and importing them into Gaia GPS to create a five day trip across the Czech Republic, totaling about 500km. As time went on, I realized that this plan was stupid. Coming for vacation to my home country and riding for a week alone through regions I knew, without having enough time for my family and off the bike cultural experiences, would be a waste of time. I have a long list of other countries I would like to bike tour one day. The plans thus changed for a week of rides around the Blatna region and a three-day bike tour through Sumava mountains. This part will describe my experiences about cycling backroads around Bělčice and Blatna.

Blatna castle
Main square in Blatna

 South Bohemia is a region of the Czech Republic that is rich with history, famous for its numerous fish ponds, medieval castles and beer. The northern part is farm lands with rolling hills, small villages with the typical baroque architecture and hundreds of ponds of all sizes. A hundred kilometers to the south lie the Sumava mountains which create a historical border with Germany. This part of the country is known for rainy weather, deep forests logged for timber, a strong German influence (and history of clashes of the Czech and German cultures). This is also the former Iron Curtain border region, which used to be fenced off with barbed and electric wire, riddled with land mines and people evacuated inland with their small village homes left empty to slowly disappear in weeds.

 We were lucky to be hosted by Marketa's cousin and his family of bicycle enthusiasts, who have ridden all small roads, paths and forest trails in the area. Navigating the maze of roads and trails was not an issue in their company. I came prepared with Open Street maps preloaded in Gaia app and my phone on the handlebars in a waterproof case. These cycling specific maps are really good - not only they contain the complete and up to date information on the vast network of marked bicycle routes, but I could see pretty much every old fire road and paths through fields and forests. Bicycling infrastructure in Czech republic is amazing: there are numerous routes all marked with route numbers, distances and points of interest. I think that bicycle routes are marked better than car roads!

The first couple of days of riding were marked by chilly weather with some rain showers but no heavy rains. This being mid week, car traffic was almost non existent, although one had to be careful - you could encounter a tractor or an old Skoda car at places where you would not expect motorized vehicles. Another great thing about Czech cycling is that all passable routes are accessible to bikes, including all superbly marked hiking routes. There seems to be no user conflicts, at least outside national parks, where the No bikes signs exist. Major roads are not very bicycle friendly, though. Most roads we rode on were newly repaved using euro funds, but since these roads have been in place for centuries and are typically lined by rows of old trees, they are narrow and have no shoulders. Czech drivers practice the sport of speeding and passing each other for no apparent reason at blind corners, with little regard for bicyclists.

You can't really get lost here, I joked that you see from pub to pub easily. Every village has a restaurant or a small grocery store, with regional centers such as Blatna, having beautifuly restored old town centers with many coffee and pastry shops, restaurants and hotels. That means you don't have to worry about carrying food or water. Actually, carrying water bottles on bikes is not common, Czech cyclists firmly believe that beer is the best electrolyte drink. Similarly, power bars, gels and other forms of gas station style junk food were replaced with fruit cakes, pastries, fresh breads and sandwiches during our numerous stops.

 Every day, we set out after a good breakfast, with just a vague idea of where we would be riding that day. Our bike tour guides knew roughly how far and in which direction we would cycle, otherwise I could concentrate on soaking in the beautiful landscape, picturesque villages, and many details of the surroundings that reminded me so strongly about all my years growing up in this country. We would race up climbs, take some descents fast, then just ride alongside and chat. Each day brought us to some interesting places: an old and abandoned military runway (built during the communist regime as a secret emergency landing strip after our air force bases would be destroyed in a nuclear attack), today used for model plane flying, testing maximum speeds of motorcycles and such...

 ...or a cluster of menhirs on a field's edge, these could be real remnants of a megalithic culture or someone's joke, who knows? Our bike trips were not too long and the long daylight hours (at 50th parallel, Czechs enjoy about 18 hours of daylight in June) left us enough time to rest and socialize after coming back to our base.

We rode about 100 miles in three day trips which made me feel like I knew this part of my country for a long time. There really was no better way to get to know this place than criss-crossing it on a bike in this worry-free mode. At the same time, I was getting familiar with the region and spending enough hours in the saddle to be ready for my next trip: transporting myself and some basic gear for a three day exploration of Sumava.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

(With apologies to both Florence and The Machine)

When the Tahoe weather forecast calls for "pretty much steady rain" over the holiday weekend, what do most coastal Californians do? They don't go there to mountain bike, I hoped. Living for awhile in Seattle got that attitude out of my system, perhaps just temporarily, I admit.
Motivated by a glowing review in the May issue of Bike magazine and the fact that a new OTE bike shop was about to open on Saturday, I really wanted to see what the trail system south of Nevada border had to offer.
The bike shop was buzzing with activity on Saturday morning, with people buzzed on free coffee, brand new bikes on display, grills getting fired up for an afternoon barbecue and shuttle vans ready. All that under overcast grey skies and drizzle that threatened to turn into steady rain.

I biked up the street to explore the trailhead and by the time I made it back to the shop, it was pouring rain and I was soaked. I spoke with the shop owner, Sam, who gave me detailed directions, described trails I was planning on riding and invited me to their opening party. I returned to Powerline trail and rode south towards connectors to some challenging trails at high elevation. I immediately noticed two things: trail signage and the build quality of the trail. I won't repeat here the praise Bike article gave to the area and it's trail builders, needless to say that if these trails impressed Scott Nicol, I was delighted.
 As I started the "unpleasant" climb on High Meadow fire road, the signs of altitude suffering came up instantly: difficulty to keep the heart rate at reasonable levels, sweating, dry mouth and not sucking enough air into lungs. When I reached the intersection with Star Lake trail at 7,800 ft, it looked like this: poor visibility and drizzle:

But the meadow was beautiful, even in this weather. Cold Creek trail started as a narrow ribbon of smooth, curvy singletrack, but soon I came upon an area that looked like someone has just unloaded a truck full of appliance-sized boulders. There was a rideable line somewhere, about 10 cm wide and the only line one could attempt if accompanied by a team of paramedics. Me being here alone, not seeing a soul during the last hour and ten miles from the nearest emergency room, I walked this section, but now I think it was probably safer to ride than to scramble down rock faces wearing clipless shoes.
The rain stopped and the top part of the descent was still very rocky and technical, but gradually the trail turned into smooth berms and followed the raging creek downhill. I returned back to the hotel after 15 miles of superb riding for lunch, as soon as the skies opened up and rivers of muddy water flowed down the street.
By the time I finished the last night's leftover pizza, it was sunny and warming up rapidly. My afternoon ride was across the state line and up Van Sickle trail.

This is a 5.8 mile trail that connects Van Sickle state park with the Tahoe Rim trail. It starts smooth and up over large round boulders, climbing through a burn area. Five minute ride and I was above the casinos and saw only a few bikers and hikers. The trail got progressively more technical, requiring a constant lifting of the front wheel over step-ups. Very tiresome at this altitude.

I continued the climb for about 4 miles to roughly 7,300 ft and then decided to return. There were black storm clouds rolling south over the Lake and I was getting ready tired. The descent required dropping the seat and going slow, in control, over the rocks. I practiced dropping the front wheel over consecutive steps, trying not to get distracted with the fantastic views all around me.

On Saturday, Marketa and I took advantage of North Tahoe mountain biking infrastructure. We shuttled with Flume Trail Bikes from Tunnel Creek Cafe at Incline village to Spooner Lake, this time sans bikes but ready for some trail running.

 We followed an uphill fire road for the first 4.5 miles, first being passed by many mountain bikers on this very popular trail segment, and by the time we reached Marlette lake, the crowds had spread out and we had all this beauty for ourselves. Even on a second day at altitude, we still did not feel acclimatized enough. The steep climb up Marlette was painful, but then we got rewarded by a great singletrack through the next section, where bikers must descend on a rutted fire road.

The Flume trail - what should I say? I rode it several times over the years, but running here was a new experience. There simply was more time to enjoy the scenery and the views of Lake Tahoe thousand feet below.
Towards the northern end of Flume Trail, views of Mt Rose opened up. The summit was covered with fresh snow and biking on the TRT from there will resume in June, unless there are more snow storms.

 The final three miles back down to the cafe were marked with more awesome views and the afternoon thunderstorms stayed far to the west.

On Monday, Marketa had to return to her client duties thus freeing me for more trail explorations. I drove to Oneidas Street and to a forest park, where multiple newly built trails converge in a hub of outdoors activity. You can read detailed ride descriptions on the TAMBA web site, I knew I did not have enough time and leg power to ride them all. The trails are accessed off Fountain Place Road, which was steep enough to keep me warm on this 4-mile climb on a foggy early morning.

As the pavement ended, I looked for Armstrong trail, but almost ran into a bear instead. I back tracked onto a trail while the animal observed me for a while and then went on eating grasses for breakfast. This encounter gave me such an adrenaline rush that I rode straight through a big No Trespassing sign and followed an abandoned fire road until I realized I was on the wrong side of a creek. After returning back, I found the narrow trail entrance at the exact spot previously occupied by the bear.
The Armstrong trail was pure bliss. Climbing was not too difficult, giving me enough time to study many technical sections and thinking about lines on the return.

The trail work was impeccable, smooth bermed singletrack alternating with rock outcroppings with just doable lines through them. The trail leads to Armstrong Pass at 8,750 ft, and all I really wanted to do was to ride and ride. My legs felt fresh and there was no more altitude sickness. But I knew I had very technical riding on the way down and needed some gas in the tank.
On the way down, I surprised myself by making it over some nasty piles of rocks and down steep chutes, but mostly just enjoying the trail flow. I then connected with Armstrong Connector trail, sandy, much more rocky trail with lots of exposure, boulder ramps and log rides. Here, I had couple of close calls, and tore my right glove by squeezing between boulders at speed (the 760mm handlebars are really great for counter-steering!).

The absolute climax of the ride was the Sidewinder Trail, a series of high-bermed switchbacks where the trail apparently folds on itself, making you dizzy if not looking far ahead. My Garmin track shows I "flew" through this biking Nirvana at 10-15 mph, all I remember is a blur of turns. The trail ended at the bottom with many more berms and table tops, giving those who did not have enough fun on upper sections another chance to fly.
After riding these 16 miles of trails built with love for those who love true mountain biking, I realized how lucky I was to experience it all. Equipped with some skills, modern bike technology and time to travel to these destinations, I feel like I have never before had such a great time riding. Now I just have to find another excuse to ride at SLT.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Finding flow

It seems that you cannot open a mountain biking magazine these days and not see some debate on whether flow trails are the end of the classical, technical, rocky and rooty (read New England) mountain biking and how these trails will make it easy for those non-fit, GoPro equipped crowds jam the trails. My first exposure to a flow trail was in 2011 during the BC bike race Squamish stage: the famous Half Nelson trail. I think it came as a surprise to most of the XC racers since I saw people riding it cautiously. I did, too. Few years ago, when riding at Squamish again, I was invited by a friendly local to follow him down Half Nelson. Wide bars, slammed seat, elbows wide and knees bowed, this guy flowed down the trail effortlessly, keeping his wheels in the air more often than touching the ground. Of course, he lost me on the second berm.

In the Bay Area, not one, but three new flow trails opened recently: one at Tamarancho - the Endor trail, one at East Bay's Crockett Hills and finally, a 4-mile long sculpted jewel at Demo. That's where I headed on Sunday, but thought it would be a good idea to climb 11 miles to Demo from Aptos as a warm-up. The Aptos Creek trail (above) flowed nicely and the surrounding redwoods were so calming. From the top, it is another couple of miles on the Ridge trail to the Flow trail. The flow trail has six segments and it was immediately obvious this was a professionally built trail. Names of sponsoring companies and bike shops hang on nice wooden signs from the trees. Once you point your front wheel down, you have no time to look around though. Now it was me with super wide bars, dropper seat post all the way down, on a 140mm carbon superbike! OK, I tried to keep my tires on  the dirt, but soon I found myself letting off the brakes and pumping the back sides of jumps. The fun seemed like it would never end and my legs, core muscles and forearms were getting tired. One run on this trail felt like 45 miles of trail riding! I was hoping for another loop or a ride down Braille trail, but after climbing out on Sulfur Springs and another couple of miles uphill on Ridge Trail, I was burnt. The 11 mile downhill back to Aptos was like a magic carpet ride.

Come Tuesday, I looked forward to go and see the 3rd stage of the Tour of California in Livermore. This year, the peloton, including the awesome Peter Sagan, were to fly just past our backyard! I have stopped following professional road cycling and don't really care all that much, but I admit, watching on a TV screen the peloton filmed from a helicopter resembles a multi-cellular organism flowing down the road, constricting and stetching, accelerating and turning. I checked the route map, the time table and equipped with a camera and a cup of Starbucks coffee, camped on the shoulder. The road was closed, cops guarding the intersection and there were other cyclists as well as spectators sitting in lawn chairs, all excitedly expecting the circus. The projected time for 26mph (!) came and went, but then a helicopter came over the Sunol grade, descended to highway 84 and flew towards us. The race was coming! I quickly set my camera for fast multiple exposures and watched the road. I could see some cars and motorcycles in the distance....then, nothing! We all watched the road show moving about a mile away, then turning on Valecitos Road and disappearing.

This is where Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish were supposed to be! Oh well, let's hope for next year. I'm sure it will flow by fast.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Black Beauty Maiden Voyage

Last week, the missing part for my new bike finally arrived and the shop was able to complete the build. My friend Pavel had sent me a spy photo of my bike mid week, just to make me count days till Saturday.

 I arrived at Passion Trail Bikes  early for my fitting session. This was actually the very first time I was fitted professionally to a bike. Adjusting the cleats made a noticeable difference and few mm here and there immediately changed how I felt on the bike.

The bike was not yet completed - the parts that had to be adjusted based on the final fit needed work. Since I drove a long way from Pleasanton, I was prepared: a six pack of Pilsner Urquell did the job and I was promised it would be finished as a priority. I had couple of hours to kill in Belmont. Instead of sitting at Starbucks and surfing the web or writing a blog or some other useless activity, I decided to visit Crystal Springs Cross Country course, a place we used to live next to and a place where I ran many times. I ran here at 5AM in dense fog, in the afternoon at 80F, or more likely in the afternoon after work at 55F with the fog rolling in. One reason I love the Bay Area weather is no matter what temperature you are at, if you don't like it, just move a little bit in space. I never thought much about these trails, they were just convenient, but the real outdoors opens to the west of Canada Rd.

Walking the full three miles of the course, I realized how much my perception has changed since we moved. There were great views of the reservoirs and the ridge behind. Springtime adds colors and fresh looks to many places around here.

In one hour it took me to circumnavigate the three loops of the course, I experienced several sights that made me think I was in the backcountry, not on the edge of overpopulated and frantic urban area. First, I saw a kestrel hovering above the grassy slope, nothing so unusual, except the bird was completely white. I guess albino kestrels exist, they are just not seen too often. As I was admiring some baby head size mushrooms among the wildflowers,

I came on a sunny part of the trail just in time to meet this guy:

At least three feet long and pretty thick in the middle, the rattle up and clearly ready to put up a fight if disturbed. I stayed at a safe distance (I heard rattlesnakes can strike to about three times the distance of their body length, but how long was this one since it refused to make a straight line to be measured?).
Just as I was thinking how many runners this snake looked at from its hiding place, these trails being pretty busy sometimes, I got the call from the shop that the bike was ready for pick up.

After the ransom changed hands, the shop mechanic weighed the bike: 27.3 lbs on the official shop scale! That's about the same (perhaps a few ounces lighter) than my old Mojo 26. After that, I loaded the bike on the roof rack and drove to the trails while having an anxiety attack about not securing the bike to the rack properly. Do you guys also drive at freeway speeds with an open window and your hand on the fork attachment just to feel your bike is safe up there, or is it just me?
I chose the Sanborn county park trails in Saratoga, specifically the John Nicolas trail, since it is not very technical, but offers a long climb, followed by a long descent on a trail built purposely for mountain bikes. This trail was ideal to fine tune my position, suspension pressures, positions of levers on the handlebar etc. Shortly into the climb, I confirmed my previous impressions: the bike is very stable thanks to its long wheelbase, held the line very well and with every pedal stroke it almost wanted to surge forward from beneath me. The 30T chainring proved to be just about right even on few steeper pitches, but for really steep and technical terrain I would have to switch to 28T (have one).
After reaching Skyline, I continued north to the Indian rock formation, enjoying the narrow singletrack which I had for myself in the afternoon hour. On each short downhill section, the bike picked up so much speed - no doubt big wheels are faster than the 26".

But the real fun started after turning around and eventually going down the switchbacks of John Nicolas trail. Just feathering the brakes and gradually allowing myself to hit the ramps at more and more speed- this bike really wanted to be in the air, despite the long chain stays, the front lofted easily and there was no nosedive tendency which I feared the most on all my previous bikes. I think this is also partly due to dropper seat post, I used the middle position for the downhill and tried the slammed down position for the final steepest fire road section. So at this point, my first impressions are very positive, I feel this bike has two personalities: an XC racer going uphill and a big rig when pointed down.