Mountain Biking at Arastradero Preserve

Since Peter bought me a mountain bike for Christmas, I’ve become an enthusiast for biking in the wilderness. It’s like fast hiking, which lets me go faster, further, but it also requires some new skills to ride quickly over ruts and tree branches and to spin around uphill and downhill curves. I also like the psychology of it. Mountain biking teaches you lessons like, in order to conquer an obstacle, you need to go faster and look in front of it, not at it; a little mud never hurt any one; and some trees you just need to go around, not over.

My favorite rides (and hikes) are those that have a “reward” at the far end of the journey. And as a complete novice to the sport of mountain biking, I’ve started with the easiest routes first and worked my way up. In a way, mountain biking is like a video game to me, with levels to be mastered, except that it’s better, because it’s real. My first rides were from the Rancho del Oso entrance for Big Basin Redwoods State Park. After an hour of biking, I’d get to a spot I could lock my bike, and a short hike took me to three spectacular natural waterfalls.

Yesterday, I was ready to move on to the next challenge, and went to the Arastradero Preserve in Palo Alto. It’s nestled between Palo Alto, Stanford University, and Los Altos Hills.

Arastradero Preserve, on this particular day, was an idyll of a public park. A small army of cheerful volunteers busily planted trees and worked on a new nature education center. Road bikers ran up and down Arastradero Road, enjoying the perfect sunny, but not hot, weather. The park itself is a sampler of everything a nature lover might want to see: a small lake, with ducks and fish; a view point encompassing the park; gentle, rolling hills; and a variety of local plantlife, including many wildflowers. Dog walkers and joggers were on the trail. I had worried the park might be crowded, but I only encountered people a few times.

One of the people I enountered was a helpful mountain biker, who let me in on the secret of being able to ride uphill. After that, I didn’t have to walk up tough (to me) hills any more. Peter thought I was a ‘tard for not knowing earlier, but then, he wasn’t on the trail with me to give me the advice. I have to say, people I encounter on the trails I’ve gone to, have always been nice and encouraging, and I have yet to run into the stereotype of the mountain biker who charges down trails like a maniac. It may be because I am on the easiest trails, and I make no secret of being a novice in search of knowledge. For all I know, if I take my bike to Mount Tamalpais, I’ll be run over by people who scream at me as they do so.

Anyway, Arastradero Preserve was just the ride I was looking for. I checked my map a lot, but I needn’t have. Arastradero Preserve is quite small, compared to many of the parks I go to, and getting to any part of it just means keeping in a particular direction, even if you have to change trails. In a surprisingly short amount of time, I reached the “reward” for the ride, Bowl Loop, at the far end of the park. It was like a rollercoaster ride on my bicycle, and all I had to do was keep focused on where I wanted to go. I also got my first mountain biking scrape as I failed to get around an uphill switchback. I wear my scraped knee with pride: for me, it’s proof I challenged myself. If I hadn’t, this would merely have been exercise, and I can get that at home.

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