By Karen Kefauver, Spin City
It’s time to dig your 23-year-old mountain bike out of the garage and prepare to race it 22 miles.
A race category like that is unusual. Where that race takes place is even more rare: Wilder Ranch State Park.
On May 21, the Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz will host the Santa Cruz Old Cabin Classic at Wilder Ranch State Park. Billed as a “good, old-fashioned mountain bike race,” and benefit for trail building at California State Parks, the race is the first of its kind to take place at Wilder Ranch since 1993. The “vintage” race (riding bicycles from 1993 or older) is a nod to that forerunner event.
Fortunately, for those who prefer more modern bikes, the other race categories for men and women, ranging from 11 miles for beginners to 33 miles for professional riders, don’t require vintage bikes.
While bike racing takes center stage, the event is about far more than that, said John Leckrone, president of Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz (MBOSC).
“It’s for the community at large. It’s terrific for a couple of reasons,” he explained. “Local riders are able to ride, race and enjoy iconic Wilder Ranch. We’ll have camping, a kids’ bicycle obstacle course, and an expo with local artists selling their wares, local bike frame builders and a vintage bike museum. We have big support from the local bicycling industry. It’s really special.
“The other reason that the event is really important is that it’s a recognition by the State Parks of the value of the mountain bike community. ”
With the event happening so close to home, at a park she knows, Santa Cruz resident Kathy King is considering jumping into the 22-mile race.
“I have never done a mountain bike race. I think I could do well. I think I would like it,” said King, 56.
While she has years of experience competing in a variety of sports, King also admits, “My fear is that I will go faster than I want to and I am going to get injured.”
Course marshal and MBOSC member Dave Robinson, who scouted the course, said the biggest challenge on race day will be the Enchanted Loop trail.
“It’s the most technical trail on the ranch,” said Robinson. “It’s in the woods, with a couple of tight turns and a steep climb out. We’ll show off a lot of the park with killer views of the bay and going out Wilder Ridge Loop on the return.”
The race starts out by the horse paddock near the Highway 1 underpass and quickly leads into a climb that will separate the riders. The race limit is 250 riders.
As King weighs the pros and cons of her first mountain bike race, she is no stranger to the roots, rocks and ruts of local trails.
“I ride one or two times a week, typically two to three hours at a time. Friends tell me I should race,” she said. “Riding is one of those things I enjoy so much that I am worried it will turn into a competitive thing and it will be different. Then there’s the nerve-wracking part about some of the technical stuff. It can get sketchy. I just need some motivation to race.”
If the exercise and the scenery aren’t enough motivation, an added incentive for racing is supporting the California State Parks, say race organizers.
“We are partnering with State Parks and we are excited about the relationship developing between the club and parks while we are doing trail work there,” said Matt De Young, trail and business manager of MBOSC. “MBOSC has mobilized volunteer groups of 60, 70 and 80 people to do trail work. For a state park system strapped for maintenance, it’s a huge win for them to have that amount of people out there. Mountain bikers become stewards of the park.”
Chris Pereira, California State Parks roads and trails district supervisor noted, “It’s been a good experience working on the trails together. The number of volunteers they rallied was really impressive. Mountain bike races have been in the parks before; it’s not unprecedented. There are horse rides with a couple hundred horses in the park. It’ll be interesting to see how the upcoming race goes.”
In particular, MBOSC has been working with the state parks trail crew on rerouting and restoring the Enchanted Loop trail. The super steep climb out of that trail was in bad shape, covered by big sink holes and deep ruts. The work on that trail started back in October. It is slated to open in May, a few weeks before it is included in the race route.
Though King did not work on the Enchanted Trail, she has put in hard labor with MBOSC building other flow trails. Now it may be time for her to race.
“I have to say what I love about mountain biking is you have to figure it out, keep an eye on the trail, watch the tricky areas with rocks and roots. You can always get better,” she said. “I feel like I have been competing my whole life at something. I’ve had my share of injuries for my age. I am strong and I want to prove it. There’s something about being able to use your body and be able to climb that hill and hop over the roots that makes you feel good. You can’t beat it.”
Karen Kefauver (www.karenkefauver.com) is a freelance writer and avid cyclist who covers sports and travel and is based in Santa Cruz. Her Spin City bike column appears monthly and was launched in 2009.