Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mendocino singletrack

This summer, I missed the organized fun in the deep Mendocino redwood forest, which I wrote about last year. I thought it would be even more fun to travel there with a group of friends and share the place with others. For this reason, I got really excited when two of my Czech (actually Bohemian-American) friends agreed to make a camping and riding trip to Mendo in October. We suffered an unexpected 33% attrition, but two Czechs is still better than one (and way better than none), so on October 9, Pavel and I drove north, after suffering the Friday evening San Francisco traffic. A dinner stop at Boonville, in the heart of Anderson Valley, made the drive bearable, but it also meant that we arrived at the Van Damme State park campground late at night. Here, to our dismay, we found the campsite full (half of the sites closed, many reserved), to the contrary of the information found on the park website. I guess, north of Petaluma, the Internet information is not valid. We pitched our tents at the hike and bike area and went to sleep after just one beer. I woke up at 3AM to the sound of large rain drops hitting the tent canopy. Large drops fell sparsely but soon it really rained and the drumming sound put me back to sleep. It was a wet morning but all stayed dry inside the tents.

After some failed negotiations with the park ranger, we had to relocate our camp to one of the regular spots that just freed up, so we were all set for the weekend. Equipped with a guide book and maps written by a couple of local riders, we drove eleven miles down to deep redwoods surrounding the Mendocino Woodlands camps. Yes, down, from a coast, where you think you would be at the sea level, the drive to the trails was mostly downhill on a fire road that got quite muddy overnight. Our first ride went through fantastic redwood groves along Marsh creek towards Camp 2. From the deep valley, the only ways out always point sharply upwards and our first big climb was a mix of singletrack and jeep road to a ridge trail.

From the ridge, we started descending to the Big Tree, where we had to stop for few photos before continuing down the singletrack.

 After Big Tree, the trail becomes a narrow track cut into a very steep slope, so steep, that any obstacle on the hill side forces you (if you have the new norm 760mm or wider handlebars) to the ravine edge of the trail. Good bike leaning and balance practice for sure.
This first loop took us back to where we parked and we continued on the camp road to Manly Gulch trail. I remembered Manly Gulch to be a grueling climb, so we had lunch first, which really paid off especially towards the top portion of this climb. But it was so nice! Technical singletrack, all rideable uphill and very tempting to ride down as well. But our planned route took us west onto Rd 408 close to area called Jiro's Playground. The goal for the day was to ride series of single track trails with names such as Gas Tank - Gas Cap - Fury II and Boiler, some of the best trails in the area. But first we had to find our way through an area marked on the map as "Total Confusion". If you look at a detailed map of the area, you will see why: there are at least three paved or gravel roads all named "Little Lake Rd", and many single track trails parallel these roads and cross them in unexpected angles. We tried to look at our map held upside down, turned 90 degrees left or right, but every decision to go LEFT or RIGHT seemed equally probable. Finally, with the aid of phone OSM maps (cleverly downloaded for offline use by yours truly), we found ourselves on the correct trails. But until then, we rode tons of very fun twisty, rooty and loamy trails while being quite lost and not minding a bit.
Pavel in awe. Boiler Trail
These trails along Rd 720 were the gems of the area. Steep, technical, then flowy with many short uphills and retrogrades to keep the fun factor high. 
We finished our day soaking wet (it continued to drizzle for most of the day in the woods), but after a hot (!) shower in the camp, we were ready to explore the north coast and the North Coast Brewery.

Cabrillo lighthouse sunset.

 On a bright and sunny Sunday morning, we started our ride along the left bank of Big River, on a flat fire road with excellent views of the river and marshes. It was a good warm-up before the trail pitched steeply up and climbed to an area called Dry Dock. Here, we rode some of the trails along Rd 720 but in opposite direction than on Saturday, while trying new options. This way we found Gas Tank Trail (clearly marked by an old car gas tank), climbed up some corkscrew-like trail not believing we could have ridden it down the day before and again got a little lost in deep fern canyons.
We exited the green jungle and rode on Rd 408 for a short stretch to connect to Ames Lodge trail, a single track that passed through at least three completely different micro environments: starting under redwoods on trail deeply carpeted with tree needles, then coasting on sandy trail through a Pygmy forest and finally a fast downhill through rocky and mossy lush greenery towards the river.

After the ride, we lied down on a fine sand beach at the mouth of Big River, ate leftover pizzas and drank what remaining beers we had. At this point, I really did not feel like getting behind a wheel and driving 200 miles home. What would happen if we just stayed and camped and rode our bikes forever? To make the finale of our trip more interesting, we drove down the coast on highway 1 to Jenner, me enjoying the sharp turns of the road and Pavel enjoying the views.

Sonoma coast near Russian River. There is a completely naked guy running on the beach.
 Ah, California! How nice it was riding with a friend, on superb trails, without the crowds. Looking back at a trip like this will enable me to survive the daily insanity for few more months.

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