Back in the mid-60s, I first heard of Santa Cruz when Mitch, my high school buddy, applied to go to its brand spanking new school of higher learning – the University of California, Santa Cruz. The Universe had other ideas for Mitch; he wasn’t accepted at UCSC, went to Whittier College in southern California instead, and met the girl of his dreams.
Driving 85 miles north on the Pacific Coast Highway from our hike at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur, we arrive at our Comfort Inn in Santa Cruz just before dark. Settled into a poolside Jacuzzi, we look up from the swirling, steaming waters and count our lucky stars one by one.
Already fans of good motel breakfasts, we hit the mother lode the following morning. The biscuits are thick and flaky and make the excellent coffee even more excellent. The sausage links for Hannah and the crispy home fries for me are worthy of the Luxury Diner in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I return for another buttered biscuit; the kind of biscuit that makes grown men cry.
Returning to Santa Cruz where we hiked the bluff trails just one year ago, we vowed to rent bikes this year and pedal the entire trail and into the foothills of Wilder Ranch State Park. In the past we rented 7 speed bikes from Billy’s Rentals on Sanibel Island, FL for $12 for four hours. Why the last time we were in Hilton Head, we rented single speed cruisers for $25 for the week from Bicycle Billy’s with 50% off for the second bike!
This being California, good deals in bike rental are not so easy to come by. The best we can do is rent mountain bikes for $45 each for 24 hours at Epicenter Cycling. They recommend 21 speed mountain bikes for the rough bluff trails of Wilder Ranch. Since we are not biking in traffic today, we opt for the free spirit feel of no helmets. Not so fast suggests the clerk, You’ll be ticketed in the State Park if you don’t have helmets. We grudgingly rent the $5 helmets.
While we ride hybrid bikes at home, we are not used to leaning over the handle bars as we must do with these mountain bikes. Slowly adjusting to our bikes, we take Mission Street to the bike path along the Pacific Coast Highway and on to the bluffs of Wilder Ranch State Park. Immediately we see that the mountain bikes are made to order for this bumpy trail with ruts and muddy potholes from recent rains.
Soon we pass three mothers pushing strollers. Then we see a line of people in brightly colored shirts who I think are here for a park tour by the Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks. As we approach we see that they are, in fact, a single file of migrant workers heading to pick artichokes and Brussel sprouts this January morning. The contrast between these seasonal workers and these upper middle class women and vacationers like us is unsettling. Why us? Why them?
Within minutes we stop for pictures of the Pacific coast bluff trail in all its foaming glory. The mountain bikes navigate the rutted path easily as the trail hugs the coastline and gives us stunning views of the crashing surf.
With the trail 50 feet above the incoming tides, we keep back from the unstable cliffs. Hunched over the handle bars of the mountain bikes, every so often we stretch our backs like our cat Sadie to work out our soreness. Over 60, we find riding a mountain bike is not all it’s cracked up to be.
On a week day Tuesday, there are very few others on the bluff trail so we can often ride side by side. As with other bluff trails, there is little shade and no available water. Taking a break from our biking body contortions, we check out the surfers at Four Mile Beach.
As a Jersey boy in the Sixties, I thought that nothing was cooler than surfers. The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean spoke to my yearning to be all things California; and, I have to admit, to escape Jersey. By the way, I followed that itch and took my first teaching job in Anaheim, just 20 miles from Newport Beach in southern California.
The two hours on the trail have been more than enough as we never really adjust to the leaning over position necessary to ride these mountain bikes. With no interest in riding into the foothills of Wilder Ranch, we take the direct route back to town on the Pacific Coast Highway.
Back weary from the mountain bikes, we pedal slowly in town above the Pacific on West Cliff Drive. With other bicyclists and recreational walkers, we bike along the trail that takes us to the Santa Cruz Lighthouse and towards the Boardwalk at Santa Cruz Beach.
Wanting no part of the 20 hours left on our rental, we return to Epicenter Cycling and leave the wiser. We are not mountain bikers. Give us smooth country roads with our hybrid bikes with upright handlebars. Are we soft? I guess that is pretty obvious.
The Comfort Inn Jacuzzi listens to our tale of mountain biking woe and soothes us without comment or advice or judgment. Many of us have a lot to learn from the Jacuzzis in our lives. In the cool California night, we mellow out in hot tub appreciation.