By Karen Kefauver
September 13, 2013
Link to Sentinel Article
At Wilder Ranch State Park, next to a grove of towering eucalyptus trees, with the Monterey Bay stretched far below, a group of 18 women mountain bikers gathered last Sunday. We clustered around ride organizer Kristina Hanson in the late afternoon sunlight to learn how to navigate the terrain and descend narrow trails. Our goals were to be safe, ride casually and get back to the Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery on the Westside of Santa Cruz in one piece by dusk. But we also had another priority: have fun! After all, we had to live up to our group’s playful name: “Girls Gone Wilder.”
“As you cycle down the hill, keep your weight back and stand up on the pedals; don’t sit on the seat,” instructed Hanson, demonstrating the move astride her bike.
“I’m no pro,” the Santa Cruz-based real estate broker warned, “but this is a good start.”
Another woman chimed in with a critical riding tip, “When you are on the trail, remember to look where you want to go. If you want to avoid a rock or not go off the edge of a cliff, then don’t look at it.”
That drew laughter from the crowd of mostly beginner and intermediate riders who ranged from 20- to 50-somethings, and were mounted on everything from very heavy to ultra-light mountain bikes. Although a few women wore traditional cycling kits, including matching Spandex shorts and zippered jerseys, most opted for casual clothing, including running shorts and sneakers. Everyone was required to wear a helmet.
A handful of ladies were venturing out on their very first fat-tire adventures.
“It’s my inaugural mountain bike ride, and I’m not nervous,” announced Tracy Yost, an hour earlier, as she and I boarded one of the two vans provided by Bike Dojo and Bicycle Trip that shuttled our bikes and us from the brewery up to Twin Gates, a popular drop-off spot on Empire Grade Road that allows bike access to trails at both Wilder Ranch and Gray Whale Ranch.
“I just moved here from Connecticut and I’m here to meet new people and be outdoors more,” said Yost, 44, a personal trainer. “I have zero expectations of the ride, I just want to get out, socialize and get into the hills. I learned about Girls Gone Wilder on the Hilltromper Facebook page and decided to give it a try.”
(Full disclosure: Hilltromper, an outdoor recreation website, contributes material to the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s Outside section.)
I told Yost that I would keep an eye on her atop her rented mountain bike since my main goal for spending a Sunday afternoon at Wilder Ranch was to help beginner women get more comfortable on the trails. Twenty years ago, when I moved to Santa Cruz and started riding here, other women (and men) guided me, and I like to return the favor. I had heard the Girls Gone Wilder ride was well-received when it debuted in July. So, I figured why not join the couple-hour guided ride?
Little did I know that I would volunteer to be one of the guides. At the eucalyptus grove, our gang split into two groups. Some gals heading down the more technical, narrow trail called Zane Grey and a less experienced group joined me and a couple other skilled riders going down Old Cabin Trail.
Naomi LeGate, 37, of Capitola, has many miles under her belt as a solo cyclist and is planning an upcoming 250-mile “bike-packing” trip in Arizona.
“It’s nice to ride with women; guys tend to be faster,” she said. “It’s a different type of camaraderie that occurs with women.”
Allison Cruz, 48, an attorney and frequent cyclist, said she chose the group ride over a road ride.
“I was just attracted to the name Girls Gone Wilder,” she said, laughing. “Then I just decided this sounded fun and is a great way to meet new women.
We started gently rolling down wide fire roads while women practiced applying the right amount of pressure to their brakes and avoiding pits of sand and gravel that dotted the trail. Soon, we turned onto Old Cabin Trail and the path narrowed dramatically into singletrack. Going slowly, we clearly surprised a pair of men coming up the trail.
“What is this group?” they asked in awe as more than a dozen women passed by.
Our group continued its descent, occasionally belting out whoops and hollers along the way. In the lead, I turned back to check on the gals behind me and saw one woman grinning to ear to ear.
“You look so happy,” I said.
“Actually, I am grimacing,” she replied, “but I’m still having a great time.”
Next, I checked in with Yost.
“I didn’t know enough to be afraid when I said I wasn’t nervous,” she yelped, squeezing the brakes and bending at the elbows to absorb the shock as I had recommended. “But just the views alone are worth it.”
We continued on without any problems. As needed, women stopped and walked their bikes up steep hills they couldn’t tackle and dismounted for bumpy downhills where they didn’t feel confident. No one said, “Hurry up!” Only words of encouragement were shared.
Back together, safe and sound, by 5:15 p.m. at the Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery, there was a sense of triumph and accomplishment among the women.
Yost summed it up best for most of the group, especially the newbies: “I made it!” she said. “By the end of the ride, I had much more confidence. I got used to the shocks on my bike, had less fear and even did an impromptu jump. The view was worth it alone, but the camaraderie made all the difference.”
Karen Kefauver (www.karenkefauver.com) is a freelance writer who covers sports and travel and is based in Santa Cruz. Also view her stories on the Sentinel’s Out and About blog at www.santacruzsentinel.com/blogs.
IF YOU GO
Girls Gone Wilder
WHAT: Guided mountain bike rides for women of all abilities
WHEN: Oct. 13, 3 p.m.
WHERE: Meet at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery, 402 Ingalls St., Santa Cruz
DETAILS: A $5 donation for gas for the bike shuttle is requested. Visit the events section of www.hilltromper.com for information