March 12, 2005: Metcalf Motorcycle Park
Prior to this trip, my trips on the Serow had been restricted to, at worst, shoddy pavement. OK, true, I'd had a bit of fun on a little dirt path next to Aldercroft Heights Road, but I hardly think that counts as off-roading, do you?
A few weeks ago, while researching appropriate places to ride the Serow, I found out about Metcalf Motorcycle Park in nearby Santa Clara. I'd been utterly unable to find any pictures of the park, or really, any description of the trails at all, so I figured "what the hell" and headed over there.
The very first thing I noticed upon entering the parking lot was that I was the only dual-sport in any direction. I was also the only person there alone. The lot was an explosion of brightly colored dirt jerseys, exhaust fumes, and the whirrrrrr of two-stroke engines revving and warming up. Pickup trucks, ramps, and sun shades as far as the eye could see...little kids zipping by on impossibly tiny dirtbikes, adults tinkering with kickstarters and fuel cannisters and spark arrestors. Wives in shoulder armor rested on coolers while husbands brought the kids over to the food tent. Girlfriends and boyfriends in matching outfits looked at trail maps alongside matching dirtbikes. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the very edge of the motocross track, which hopefully had a jump, as periodically a rider would pop up into the air like popcorn.
I parked the Serow next to an empty pickup truck and walked over to the park ranger station. I paid five dollars for the use of the park for the day, and signed my life away on two different waivers. Since it was my first time, the ranger ran through the rules with me -- don't stop on the trail, don't ride two-up, no alcoholic beverages, trails are one-way only -- and handed me a trail map. The difficulty ratings, he said, were posted on the trails, and they followed skiing convention: green circle for "beginner", black diamond for "experienced". Trails were marked with a green rectangle in the direction you're supposed to be riding in -- if I came upon a red rectangle (or a normal street sign saying "do not enter"), I was facing the wrong way and should U-turn ASAP. OK, no problem, I could handle that.
I put my helmet back on and unintentionally did a couple of laps of the parking lot while trying to find the correct trail entrance. Fortunately, a huge gaggle of children headed towards the trails at the same moment I came upon them, so I was able to follow their lead. Going straight would have taken me to the motocross track; veering right went to trails 2 and 3 (I never did figure out where trail 1 was). So, right I went. Going by the questionable assumption that "2" would be easier than "3", I headed towards the lower numbered trail.
I got about 25 yards before realizing that I was seriously out of my league.
I don't know what I'd been expecting -- gentle pastoral trails, perhaps, like riding around an old farm road. Sorta like a leisurely ride along easy sweepers, but on packed dirt instead of on pavement. Instead, I was on a half-lane-wide path that was suddenly taking a nosedive down a huge decline. It looked like it'd been rutted by a roto-tiller with a bad blade, and the camber switched back and forth every few feet. Rocks ranging in size from pennies to softballs littered the trail. Occasionally, a tree root popped up. Did I mention the ruts? I flagrantly broke the rules and pulled to a stop alongside the trail. "Oh my," I thought, "my goodness." After about a minute of wondering what in the hell I'd gotten myself into, I decided that I really had no other choice but to go down the hill. I couldn't turn around (one-way trails) and I couldn't just stand there all day. So I took a deep breath, stood on the pegs, and tried really really really hard not to stare down at the ruts.
The trail improved slightly after that, or maybe I'd just been so traumatized that nothing else seemed quite as bad. There were inclines and declines and S-curves and chicanes and lots and lots of whoops (rows of dirt mounds). I actually did OK on the whoops, which sort of surprised me. I'm sure my posture was totally wrong, but at least I remembered to stand up and lean forward just a little bit and let the bike buck back and forth.
I have no idea how long trail 2 is, or how long it took me to complete it. I was surprised to encounter a sign saying "exit speed: 5mph" so quickly; I felt like I'd just gotten used to what the hell I was supposed to be doing. Still, I was still pretty freaked out from the first section of the trail, so I pulled over in the parking lot and calmed down for a minute before going back out.
Trail 3 starts with an exciting climb; it probably isn't really that steep, but it felt like I was going straight up. It wasn't too rutted or littered with rocks, though, so it wasn't really that scary. Going down the other side was another hyperventilation-inducing experience for me. It was amazingly difficult to keep myself from just staring down at those massive ruts in disbelief. Naturally, when I did so, I ran right into the rut and got all wobbly and freaked out. When I could force my eyes to stay up, the Serow's knobbies did their jobs just fine and everything was more or less OK.
After a little while, trail 3 branches off in a Y; one way meets back up with Trail 2, and the other goes off to a longer section of trail. I'd intended to do the latter but the Y wasn't really very well marked and I accidentally wound back up on trail 2. It was on the funner section, though, over by the ATV park, so I didn't really mind. Lots of whoops, a few curves, but nothing that really made me think I was going to probably die right then.
Still, when I got back to the parking lot, I was done. I realized that I really wanted a friend out there with me; someone for pep talks and who could drag my broken carcass to a hospital if necessary. ;) The trails were fun, but I was really freaked out and felt like I should quit while I was ahead and in one piece.
I parked next to a pickup truck (surprise) to figure out where I wanted to ride next, and the owner of said truck came over to chat. His name was William, and he owns the Falafel Drive-In on Stevens Creek Road. I used to go there when I worked at OpenGrid, so I thought that was pretty cool. William and I talked about falafels, dirt riding, the Serow, all sorts of things. He gave me some good tips about dirt riding -- I already knew most of them intellectually, but it was nice to hear someone with Actual Experience confirming my memory. Stay on the pegs, William told me, and use the throttle to get over the ruts and bumps. Lean forward when going up a hill and lean back when going down. He was surprised that I was there with "such a heavy bike," which I got a kick out of. Who'd have thought that my little Serow was a chunker? *grin*
Overall, it was an interesting experience -- I think I had more fun in hindsight than I seemed to be having at the time. I'll try to sneak some photos the next time I go -- I was too busy freaking out this time to take any. Maybe next time I'll also find the elusive longer section of Trail 3. Metcalf, I'm not done with you quite yet. ;)