Notes on my first organized mountain bike tour; up close and personal with Manzanita!

At this year’s huge Sea Otter Bike classic, I determined to take my trusty Gary Fisher Wahoo mountain bike, and tackle the 22-mile mountain bike tour in the scenic and hilly Fort Ord National Monument.

400 riders lineup for the start of the mountain bike tour, 22 miles in Fort Ord backcountry

In past years (serving as first-aider with the National Ski Patrol contingent) I had seen many of the 86 miles of lovely fire roads and single track trails in the National Monument. They looked pleasant, some steep, and a few more than gnarly. But I figured I could start at the back of the pack and take it easy – the event was a tour, not a timed ride.

So, at 7:50 am, I started back of the pack, on the Laguna Seca racetrack, with about 400 other tourers. I noticed before we started that most riders were 20 to 50 years younger than me, and most riders had full suspension bikes. Interesting, I thought.

My ten year-old Wahoo was a hard-tail, not as sprightly on rough mountain trails. But, in the 1st mile and a half, I passed about 100 folks as we peddled around the Laguna Seca track and then headed for the back country. We left the track and continued on paved Barloy Canyon Road. Then, we turned onto a steep hill, graveled and a 16° fire trail – that caused me problems with both traction and personal energy, and I had to walk a portion of it.

Biker on singletrack winds through oak forest covered with California lace lichen.

I was also nagged by a few failings on my part, prior to the start. In scrambling earlier in the morning, helping to organize 20 ski patrol first-aiders, I managed to forget my gloves, water bottle and backcountry map. Ouch.

As we crested the 16° fire road, a long, half-mile steep down grade faced us on Skyline Road. Most of the riders went lickety-split down the grade – with me cautiously staying to the right and applying steady brake pressure. I found a graveled stretch particularly treacherous, fearing a fall with no gloves to protect my hands.

But I managed with no mishaps and at the bottom, the fire road became a single track through thick Manzanita, continuing steeply downward. Shortly, I managed to get my front tire into a rut caused by recent rains, lost my balance and crashed into manzanita to my left. The fall itself did no damage but to my psyche but I managed to open a pretty good wound on my left knee from grazing one of the bike pedals.

After rains throughout March and early April, the Fort Ord hills were alive with wildflowers!

I won’t bother you with all the details. But I found the combination of advancing age, being in only moderately decent shape, very little experience on a mountain bike and none on singletrack trails was not a good recipe for success. I managed to navigate about 8 miles of the course, now almost at the very back of the large field of riders.

I had also taken a couple of additional near-falls, and (with necessitated panic dismounts) had managed to cut the back of my other leg on the other pedal. I stopped at a marshal point with paramedics and asked if I could borrow a 4X4 to clean off the blood. One of them mentioned a potential shortcut to the water/snack station.

Hmmm, I thought.

Initially I thought, no, I am no quitter, and soldiered on. But, a half-mile later, starting up another narrow, steep and woodsy singletrack I reconsidered that choice, and went back to the paved road. Without a good map of the back country, I went left when I should’ve gone right.

Suffice it to say, by the time I realized my error I was pooped, moderately dehydrated and realized that if I continued along the paved road, a 2 mile-long uphill would get me back to Laguna Seca Raceway. I made that choice, labored up that hill and completed what amounted to about a 10 mile, partial mountain tour.

Selfie, me as a Ski Patrol first-aider on the Skyline Road in Fort Ord - I should probably stick to first-aid, rather than riding!

I’ll be smarter next time – don’t attempt a ride like this without experience, plan to be in better shape, perhaps acquire a full-suspension bike and don’t leave your water and map behind! I guess that’s a good lesson for several hours in most spectacular backcountry! Older, wiser!

For a great map of Fort Ord backcountry, click here for a cycling/hiking trails map: Ft. Ord 2014 Map 508

How to get to Fort Ord National Monument: Go south on Interstate 5 to Santa Nella, take Hwy 33 south, then go west on Hwy 152, then Hwy 156 to connect with Hwy 101.  Go south on Hwy 101 to Salinas, then take Hwy 68 to the Ft. Ord National Monument (the Badger Hills trailhead is on Hwy 68; and across the street is a fine breakfast or lunch option, the Toro Place Café).  It’s about 2.4 hours and 140 miles from Stockton.

Watch for my full feature on exploring the Fort Ord National Monument, later in the week and in the Thursday Record newspaper.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at Happy travels in your world!

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