I rode Cunningham a while ago with a friend who shall remain nameless and skipped everything marked with a black diamond because she's afraid of hurting herself. Unsurprisingly, I found it to be a bit boring. A few obstacles that were more annoying that interesting, fairly flat, and also boring. Given that experience and that getting home if I went out of town yesterday would be a real pain in the butt, I decided to go to Highbridge Park for the ride I promised myself.
Last time I rode Highbridge was actually the day of a NYCMTB cleanup, and the parts of the park that I rode were pretty clean. It's not something I noticed at the time - I learned to ride on trails where litter was very rare indeed. I didn't even run into the kinds of things that mountain bikers might track in, like a boxes for spare tubes or energy bar wrappers. I don't think it's that the park rangers there were all that good, I think it's that Santa Cruz is very environmentally conscious, and for everyone that litters there's probably someone else who makes a point of collecting trash. I'm saying all of this to draw a contrast with how Highbridge looked yesterday. Lots of beer bottles, both 12oz and 40oz, plastic bags, cans, and even a pair of pants were scattered around the area. They tended to cluster in the easily accessible parts, but it's a pretty narrow park. I was determined to ride the advanced-level cross-country trail that time, which I figured would be inaccessible enough to be clean, but it's actually not that inaccessible. The west side is blocked by a collapsed chain link fence, and while I hear there's an entrance south of that, these things are always much easier to find by riding to them from the inside since they can be almost invisible from outside. Which brought me to the east leg of the loop. It's extremely technical, right up against the side of the bluff. It's also quite accessible from the road, with more trash. Between all the garbage and some new tires that I'm breaking in/learning to use/may not ultimately like, the whole experience was way too frustrating. If it was just the tires, I'd stick with riding highbridge on the theory that I won't learn them any faster somewhere else. But the garbage was the excuse I needed to go do Cunningham instead.
After much messing around on three different subways and a fair amount of street riding, I got to Cunningham Park and re-found one of the secret entrances. I was feeling a bit out of sorts, and fell a lot because I wasn't focused and these tires feel different from the previous set. I'm not blaming the tires - they're extremely well reviewed and all tires take a little time to learn. They are also much faster than my previous set. Odd day regardless, I decided I wanted to hit all the black diamond loops and options that I missed the last time. I'm sure I missed a couple this time too, but I also rode a lot of them. If you get off the intermediate and beginning trails in Cunningham, it gets surprisingly technical. It's not as technical as Highbridge, but there's also much less garbage. And since half the reason I wanted to get back into off-roading was to get out of my NY mode, that's a big factor.
Since the weather's been wetter lately, the ground in Cunningham was firmer and more consistent. There were a few technical features I can't handle at the moment, like some of the taller tree falls. Those are, to some extent, just a test of how high you can hope your bike, which is a skill I need to be working on more, but I don't feel too bad about not being able to do a really big hop for them. The ones that really stick out in my mind are a tree fall that blocks the trail but has its root ball right next to it and a large rock garden with what looks like a gap big enough to take a bike through. I didn't solve either on this trip. The tree fall I almost got over via the root ball, which is completely covered in soft dirt and clay, but I ended up wiping out and almost falling into the hole that the root ball came out of. Of course, you haven't been off-roading if you're not dirty. The rock garden was being populated by some hipsters drinking beer (I think they've decided 40s are okay because it's slumming or something.) In either case, there's enough there when I'm trying to tackle the bigger stuff to hold my interest for a good while. There's a saying that in mountain biking one doesn't measure miles but hours. That held true here as soon as I got off the buffed-out beginning level terrain.
I've promised myself that I'm going to learn some more technical tricks for riding. So, gentle readers, remind me that I need to learn to wheelie and possibly manual (looks like a wheelie, but without pedaling) so that I can do wheelie hops and drops and bunny hops over much higher objects. Practice, practice, practice.