The Braille Trail
Enjoying the simple existence of motion amongst coastal redwoods
Fear and doubt can hide in the artistic stillness of pictures, but in
video clips our abilities are exposed. Anyone
familiar with this webpage has probably guessed we don't tend to be extreme,
we don't "go big," and each of us would prefer never going to the emergency
Still, rising 1600 feet up the southern face of a valley wall, along Soquel Creek that flows
from the heart the mountains to the city of Aptos,
Soquel Demontration Forest is the closest thing the Bay Area has to the
Here bikes are welcome on the twisty singletrack starting at the ridgeline and weaving through the dense redwood growth.
Having done the Tractor Trail some 18 months ago, we return with more experience and better equipment, and
the Braille Trail is rumored to be an old bootleg trail converted to
a legal one with a number of built-in stunts along the way.
So we figured out the video function of my camera on the
fly, and had a blast playing around. These are early
efforts, and better ones will be had as our downhill experience and
cinematic skills develop. The movies are simple AVI format, and for reasons
inexplicable to me Window's Media Player always has troubles running them when, go figure, it can't find the codec.
So I use QuickTime Player
which handles them fine. Those of you with fast connections can view them directly, the rest of us with
phone lines should right-click the movie links and save them to disk.
Click to expand
The ride profile begins at the midway point, at about 1600 feet up in the Sant Cruz mountains. The first
portion is a 1000 foot climb over a manageable five miles, starting with pavement, then dirt roads,
then the Aptos Creek Fireroad on the backside of Nisene Marks State Park.
Are we there yet? Eventually the shady forests thin out growing sunnier and drier near the top.
It not hard or anything, and we were cruising along, but with no coastal breeze today it was getting rather hot.
Maybe I could have done without my usual neck-to-toe tights.
Finally we're at the Santa Rosalia overlook (elev. 2531), the highest point I think in both Nisene Marks and Soquel.
The view is to the south over Monterey Bay, where the tops of the Santa
Lucia Range rise above the clouds. From here it is fun downhill singletrack for the next 3-4 miles.
I had just put my camera away when two dirt bikes came out of the entrace to the Ridge Crest trail.
Maybe I'd grown soft on motorcycles from watching too much Monster Garage and American Chopper,
but I was about to let it go. Kenny was so peeved however that I lent him my cell phone and he 411'd the Nisene
Marks Ranger Station. Our attempts to bring these trail criminals to justice was foiled when we lost our signal.
I don't know if dirt bikes have license plates, but maybe if I'd gotten a shot we could have nailed them that way.
But there's no time for fighting crime... we have singletrack to ride!! Before we can speed down the Braille
we need to ride the up-and-down (mostly down) the moderately technical Ridge Trail for about a mile.
A couple more shots rolling down the Ridge Trail with Kenny ripping along (3.4 Mb movie).
This first attempt I'm literally figuring out the video function-- mainly how to stop it from playing!
Just like with pictures, grades seem to flatten behind the lens of a camera,
and all the roots and ruts mysteriously disappear.
Abandon all hope ye who enter!
I guess there's no turning back now.
So far so good, but didn't people say this was really hard and techical?
Yep, the pace picks up here a little bit (1.5 Mb movie).
Thanks to Kenny for audio accompanyment.
The washerboard trail from people skidding makes full suspension a big help.
I got my lycra tights... next time I'll have to bring a cape!
We can be Superheroes against trail use crime!! : ) Yeah, fighting against unfair treatment of mountain bikers
They've built a number of little tricks into the trail, including log-piles and drops and a teeter-totter!
That teeter-totter is harder than it looks, getting the rear wheel on it just right.
Here we offer both the right way to do it (1.8 Mb movie),
and the wrong way (1.4 Mb movie).
Okay, so maybe it's not exactly the North Shore.
If using QuickTime, you can
go through it frame by frame (and backwards!) with the cursor keys and see where the rear tire doesn't properly engage
on the second clip.
Here's a jump and a log pile as we continue down the trail.
As you can see, for almost every stunt they made there's an alternative trail around it.
They've also scattered log piles all over the trail, and you also need to watch out for fallen trees
which I don't think were put there intentionally-- you can really knock your head on some of them.
Here's me gearing up to catch big air over a log pile (1.6 Mb movie)!! Not!!!
There are all kinds of other stunts, varying in difficulty, along the way.
Later comes a thin ride down the hogback spine of a narrow ridge, with steep falls on either side.
I would have gotten a picture, but it was too thin
to stop safely. And I don't recall any way around it either.
After the stunts,
it's a final mellow descent through the new growth redwoods, down to the valley floor.
Despite the recent logging, it was still very pretty along a number of sections here.
Well that was over with quickly. Back to the day-to-day realities of Bay Area biking.
Here we are starting the 700 foot climb on dirt road back out of the valley to the parking lot.
Cars can drive on this, and since you can also drive almost to the top shuttling is possible. But the grades
are so reasonable you have to be really lazy for that.
With no reason to hold back we let it go and were back to the car in good time.
Incredible. I started this webpage with the 5 Mb I got free through my internet provider,
and hardly six months after I expanded it to 200 Mb through Dreamhost.com,
I'm now worried about filling that up!
Eventually I imagine these video clips will be taken down as we make cooler ones to replace them.
Besides, Soquel Demonstration Forest still has yet another trail for us to see.
I bought a 256 Mb Compact Flash just in time, so there was plenty of space on the memory stick for our
Freeriding's origins are in conservation, and the stunts it is known for were initially intended to
protect sensitive areas-- not to provide fun or challenge.
We all know what has happened since.
But the legalization of the Braille Trail
follows this earlier tradition,
since the portions of the trail went through
creekbeds and risked silting up Soquel Creek where steelhead trout are recently making a comeback.
In reconstructing the trail, protection was provided to the developing rookery.
(b. July 6, 2003)
Back to Santa Cruz.
Back to Gatetrails.com.