I recently had the privilege of riding in the Joaquin Miller Park in the hills above Oakland, California. And not only because the riding in the park was so cool, but also because of the people I got to ride with. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had the distinct honor of riding with Ryan (aka Smudgemo), Brian, and Lauren! I’ve hung out with Ryan a couple times now, but Brian and Lauren I’ve only known in blogland for the last couple years. It’s strange to meet someone you feel like you know, but have never met in person. Sort of like the feeling of meeting a celebrity I suppose. I never did get the nerve to ask for autographs though, and as you can imagine, I’m kicking myself now!
If the Joaquin Miller Park looks familiar to you, check out Issue 136 of Dirt Rag, page 76. You may remember the article on the East Bay Bike Patrol. Ryan is a member of the Bike Patrol, and gave us a full tour of the park. The tour was welcome too, because I would’ve been lost without it. Ok, I got lost anyway, but lost much worse perhaps. As you can imagine, open space is scarce in this part of the world, but the park feels much larger than it really is. I had a feeling we were never too far from the trailhead, but yet we were able to ride all day. We crossed a central bridge a few times throughout the ride. The area is very thick with foliage, and I think this helps with the illusion that you weren’t just riding a trail nearby. In the dark woods, you are only aware of your immediate surroundings.
Once we were all together, we took off into the woods down some steep trails. I was into my usual riding mindset, and mostly concentrating on keeping up. We came to a trail with a steep drop off to the left of the trail. Using my usual braking pressure, I slowed down to avoid going off the cliff. To my horror, my back wheel locked up and I started sliding towards the edge! I saved it just in time, but then I was freaked out for the next few miles. This was NOT the dirt I was used to in Ash Canyon, and I’d have to practice getting a feel for how the bike handled in the local dirt.
Not too far into the ride, we emerged from the woods, and crossed under a major road. Inside the tunnel there was a lot of graffiti, and I stopped to take a few pictures. Caught in the moment, I didn’t see which way the other riders went after leaving the tunnel. When I emerged, I didn’t see any sign of them, and I had no idea which way to start looking! I went up the road a ways, down the road a ways, and finally went back to where I last saw them. Finally I saw Lauren come out of the woods down the road on foot. What a relief! I rode down to her, and then followed a trail down into the woods. There I found the other two guys looking pretty relaxed. They gave me a look of, “Where have you been?”. We joked around a bit, and then started our hike-a-bike up a steep switchback section for some more cliff riding.
Riding with other people is a great way to get to know them better; for example, I had no idea that Brian REALLY likes blackberries. We were riding a section of cliff, when to my surprise, Brian literally dove off his bike into a blackberry bramble. This stunt was pretty foolish when you consider the risk involved. A few feet in any direction, and he would have been tumbling down the hillside to the creek below. Strange though, because Brian seemed to change his mind once he was down there, and I didn’t see him eat even one blackberry! All he could talk about was how he wanted help out of his predicament. He commented that had he been riding solo, he may have been down there for a while! Not impressed at all, Lauren decided to sample the blackberries for herself. Of course she decided to just pick a few from nearby branches instead of diving head first into the bush. She says they were tasty!
After finishing up the cliff section of the ride, we did a short road climb. Partway through the climb, I heard the sound of a flute of sorts. I assumed it was Lauren’s fancy ringtone on her cell phone, and began to wonder why she wasn’t answering it. As the sound got louder, I finally saw a man in the woods playing a flute! It was kind of a cool soundtrack. We need a flautist in Ash Canyon! Lauren had to get going at this point, so we bid her farewell at the top of the climb. Ryan had much more in store for Brian and I though, and we headed over to the Joaquin Miller house, a funky little house on the side of the road that was in surprisingly good shape, with not too many signs of vandalism. The trails from this point on were on terrain that was much more familiar to me, and I started to loosen up a bit.
We climbed up and out of the dark woods, and were treated to views of the bay area. It was pretty foggy, but you could still see Oakland and San Francisco across the bay. One thing is apparent…there are a lot of people crammed into this small area! This is quite a contrast to the openness of Nevada.
After enjoying stunning views of the bay along the upper trails, we descended back into the woods for a lot of roller coaster singletrack. Ryan took us over to the Cinderella trail and showed us how to do the West Coast slide. A little too dirty for my tastes, and I think Brian was too sore from the blackberry bushes to be rolling around in the dirt. Ryan crashing on a trail named Cinderella you ask? The name is a bit of a misnomer, as this trail is actually steep, rutted, slick, and a place where the local freeride kids build stunts. I remember walking down at least one section of the trail!
We kept following Ryan on new trail after new trail, and the fun just kept going for hours. Ryan even showed us another West Coast Slide in a patch of bark and silt. We still weren’t ready to try it. We’d pause, and Ryan would give us our options. Brian and I would just shrug and say, “I don’t know. We’ll just follow you!”. Towards the end of the day though, my body could sense it was getting late. I could see Ryan’s mouth speaking about trail options, but all I could hear was, “Beer, food, beer, food, rest…”. We finished off the ride with a double track that took us over to the east side of the hills, offering views of terrain less inhabited. Miles of green trees and yellow grass. Seems like there was a lot more riding out there too!
We stopped at a market in Berkeley, and picked up some bread and beer. This may sound like a quick stop, but we were presented with so many options (both bread and beer), that it took a great deal of time to make our selection. We ended up getting Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout and Inversion IPA from Deschutes Brewing. As we stood in line at the checkout counter, one lady seemed a little concerned at the blood running down Ryan’s legs! I think the orange antiseptic Ryan applied made it look worse than it really was.
We got back to Ryan’s house where his wife had prepared us a big pot of soup, and a sprouted bean salad (thanks Mrs. Smudgemo for the hospitality!!!). We sat at the dinner table four a couple hours, enjoying the food, brews, and conversation. I think I ate at least one loaf of bread by myself! It seemed like we could have talked forever, but we had to get Brian back to BART by 10:00 PM.
So in summary, it was a blast! It was great to hang out with Ryan again, and a pleasure to meet Brian and Lauren for the first time. Hopefully you all will make it up this way sometime soon to ride our trails and meet our cast of characters. Believe me, we got a lot of ’em.
More photos of this trip can be found on Flickr HERE.