My memories of the great outdoors were fading, my waist was growing. I needed a challenge. Donut eating time was over. It was time to get fit.

I had both a mountain bike and a road bike. What I did not have was time -- I was a full-time student and had a full-time job too. So I mostly I rode the trail that started just a quarter mile from my door, the Los Gatos Creek Bike Trail. A long black ribbon of paving that runs for approximately seven miles alongside the Los Gatos Creek, the trail stretches from the suburban Willow Glen neighborhood of San Jose down to the base of the Santa Cruz mountains in Los Gatos.

Having come from a background of bike racing, at first I felt as though I was somehow less of a cyclist for riding a "little ol' sissy bike trail." I needed nature and adventure, adrenaline and sweat, not a stroll down a tame bike path. It was so pedestrian, so cleanly laid out. I mean, my god, about 98 percent of the time the damn thing is flat!

Where was the challenge in that?

But as some blind guy holding a pebble in his hand undoubtedly already knew, it turns out that the real challenge was not to be found on the trail anyway -- not this one or any other. The real challenge, "Grasshopper," was within. I had to open my eyes to what this little city trail could offer me.

Nature and adventure? Over the course of my two years of riding the Creek Trail I can truly say that I witnessed the cycle of nature. Sometimes just a hundred yards from the I-880 freeway where commuters sat in their steel shells oblivious to everything but the bumper in front of them, I would be tooling down the trail watching nature's magnificent ways -- trout jumping, egrets fishing, cranes gliding and coots stumbling over their comically oversized feet.

In the still, algae choked parts of the creek I saw giant carp swimming so slowly and deliberately that they seemed like some kind of freshwater toothless shark. Just as striking were the muskrat-like rodents that lived in the creek beds and swam in the crystal clear shallows. To see one of them was always a treat, their long brown bodies moving so gracefully, so fluidly that it looked as if there were no bones in their bodies.

Once, I came across a snake on one of the smaller single tracks, and I could not even begin to count the number of lizards that I saw and came to know frequent the creek environs.

My two favorite memories of the creek area's wildlife are these:
Not very often, but on a good day, I would catch sight of a wild turtle swimming in the slower sections of the creek. A small disturbance on the water's surface would reveal first a nose, then a small head. Webbed feet and a greenish shell, just visible below the surface, would complete the vision.

And once on St. Joseph's Hill, in the late summer and near twilight, I was riding my mountain bike up the backside when I came across a full-grown tarantula making its way up the trail. I stopped my bike and just stood there mesmerized. Its furry body was just in front of me and in the background the hills and sky were illuminated by the late afternoon sun's reddish glow. Awesome!

As for adrenaline and sweat, they were there to be sure, I just had to see to the possibilities. Right alongside the Creek Trail proper are dozens of small dirt trails that run parallel to it. Some of those trails proved to be quite challenging when taken at speed. There were tight singletrack sections by Campbell Park that threaded through flesh-scratching bushes. And by the park entrance was a set of stairs that I would either run up carrying my bike, or after a time started riding up, hopping my mountain bike one stair at a time, trials style.

In Lake Vasona Park I found a small hill that was truly technical to climb on a bike and made for a great cardio-blasting interval in the middle of my rides. By the Campbell percolation ponds there is a quarter-mile long, six-inch wide curb that I used to ride on top of to perfect my balance.

Closer to my house I found a very steep section that dropped about 25 feet into the creek bed. I came to enjoy seeing the shocked look on people's faces as I would veer over to the edge of the paved Creek Trail proper, and then plummet down into the creek bed where I would have to ride through thick gravel to get back out again.

The Creek Trail ends (or begins for some) at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains and, as it turned out, right where some great mountain biking begins. The Creek Trail literally leads straight into the St. Joseph's Hill/Lexington Reservoir trail system. What began as flat rides on the trail proper soon became great mixed rides of both pavement and dirt as I ventured up, over and around St. Joseph's Hill. I could ride on the road for the entire ride if I wanted, or I could stay in the dirt if I chose.

A little ol' boring urban sissy trail? Hardly. The Creek Trail is multi-dimensional. It is complicated. It is always changing and always alive. And, it is a gas to ride.

This presentation is dedicated to all who use the Los Gatos Creek Trail. See you out there...

— Jason



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