Santa Barbara, California: January 21, 2000
The best 37 minutes you'll ever spend on two wheels. Of course, you have to work two and a half hours to reap this reward. Located just west of sunny Santa Barbara, California in the picturesque San Rafael Mountains resides the world's best mountain biking trail- Little Pine.
Last week, I succumbed to the beckoning of this legendary ride, prompted by a gracious invitation from hospitable Santa Barbara friends. Alas, on this occasion, I was to slay the sinuous serpent myself; the working and academic worlds were to deprive my gracious hosts from indulging themselves. Eager to tackle the daunting task before me, I set out for the Los Padres national forest at the crack of noon. Leaving the internal combustion transportation parked at 2,200 feet in the Upper Oso lot, I clipped into my trusty Trek to endure the arduous 3,300-foot ascent to the summit (that's 4,500 feet for those skipping the math). Ah, the luxury of a 8-foot wide fire road- nothing technical about the climb- just have to turn the cranks a couple of thousand times... the Zen climbing stupor. Some 700 rotations or so later, I finally spied my distant destination- on this day, she was modestly hiding behind a veil of clouds.
“2198, 2199, 2200!” After my legs finally stopped screaming I heard the pines whispering in the wind. I surveyed the scenery, scanning for mountain goats, Yeti, the Dali Lama, and, however unlikely, other maniacal mountain bikers. Apparently, either the Yeti or one of the myriad abysses had swallowed them... perhaps they had read the fine print on their health insurance. Pondering my fate, I soaked in the serenity above the cloudline vista. Landslides, rattlesnakes, gaping chasms, blind hairpin turns, and wayward rocks... these prospects certainly added to the excitement of the descent alone. I decided it was best not to dwell on the barbed wire incident from the mountain's northern brethren. Mental preparation- the single-track trail's rocky beginning is only upstaged by its precipitous slope. I jumped on the bike, hiked my hind-side behind the seatpost so that I would not inadvertently do a frontward flip, let my fingers off the brakes, and gravity obligingly sucked me downhill. The rear shock devoured the rocky terrain as I picked up momentum and picked my way around some of the larger, more recently deposited rocks striving to take me down. Forearms aching, I arrived at the next stage intact. The comparatively smooth 18-inch wide trail that stretched before me was deceptively lulling- errant rocks and hairpin turns lied waiting to cast me into the precipice. My adrenaline surged as I hit full speed on an open straightaway, at least with regards to left and right- I glanced down at my humming wheels and noted that they were merely 6 inches from the precipice. “Whoa!” The back tire skipped over a cleverly concealed rock and I regained control just in time to avoid an awaiting boulder. It was time for a quick breather. At rest, the surroundings were no longer blurred. The beauty struck me viscerally- a natural mosaic of iron-red rocks; black, brown and gray earth; green cacti; and golden grass. I thought to myself that if this ride were to be my fate, I could think of no better place.