Fort Ord (2007 Sea Otter course)
34% SINGLETRACK54% FIRE ROAD2% PAVED10% ROAD
Since it used to be a huge military base, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Fort Ord National Monument contains a very large amount of public trails, even though much of what used to be the base is still not open to public use. This large trail network also includes the courses for the bike races organized as part of the Sea Otter Classic, held annually at the neighboring Laguna Seca Raceway. In fact, this route happens to be the exact course used for their cross country mountain bike race for several years up to 2010, with minor variations made to the exact route (and, sometimes, its direction) here and there. Note, however, that the course used for the 2011 XC races at Sea Otter underwent major changes compared to this route, although it still meandered around the trails in the same area as this ride.
The terrain at Ford Ord does not involve any major mountain ranges, though the mid-size ridges that are present do add up when you string enough of them together, especially on a long trail ride like this one. One keyword to keep in mind when riding at Fort Ord is sand. All natural ground surfaces at Ford Ord are sandy at varying levels because most geological features here seem to be mainly of sandstone. Consequently, most trails here are sandy when dry. The best you might expect to find is some form of a thin dusting of sand over a hardpacked surface. The worst spots you'll encounter will be as soft and deep as any beach, making it difficult to make any progress (though spots of this latter type usually—but not always—come and go in seconds). If you have anything other than a sandy surface under your tires at any moment in Fort Ord, either it's one of the fire roads that are artificially covered in gravel or you are on a paved road. So, be prepared for the potential impact of sand when you ride here, including energy-sapping soft trail surfaces, potentially slippery curves, and the risk of hitting a distabilizing sandy patch while traveling at speed.
The starting point of this particular ride is a small parking lot of the Laguna Seca Raceway. You'll have to pay a fee to enter the raceway for this. As of 2013, the day use fee for a single car is $8. If you happen to arrive at a time when the toll booth at the entrance is not staffed, you'll have to fill in one of the self-pay envelopes and slide it into a slot. So, make sure you bring exact change and a pen.
Another major entrance of Fort Ord that is popular with mountain bikers is at the Creekside Terrace trailhead. The parking lot there also happens to be free of charge. While it's not too suitable for doing the route shown on this page, for other ride variations here (which actually gets you onto singletrack more quickly than does this particular route), you might want to keep that additional parking option in mind.
Fort Ord is generally known as a location that is suitable for riding in wet conditions, because the soil is sandy and, therefore, generally drains fairly well. While that is true for the most part, you should know that there are limits to that. I've had one experience where I had to abort a ride here because my bike simply "didn't work" due to the amount of mud sticking to my tires. This was on a morning where the rains had ended only about six hours ago, after a particularly rainy week. Shortly after starting uphill toward Lookout Ridge Road, there were segments where I had difficulty even walking my bike through wet patches because the mud that was piling up behind my chainstays were locking up my rear wheel. Subsequently, I started experiencing bad cases of chain suck due to the sand and grit that got into my chain, because it was essentially plunging directly through a pile of mud that had buried my front derailleur. On a bike with more mud clearance in the rear triangle and on a singlespeed, etc., it might have been more manageable, but it still wouldn't have been much fun with the weight of my wheels tripled due to the stuck-on mud. All I'm saying is that, the general statement of Fort Ord's suitability after rain will still hold true, but only within reasonable limits of how soon after the rains and how much soil saturation you're talking about.
Trails at Ford Ort are quite well signed. I can't remember if I've ever seen an unsigned trail junction here. However, trails in most areas of Fort Ord form a tight mesh of short interconnected segments. This is especially true of the singletrack trails in the trail network. Therefore, even with the good trail signs, any riders not already familiar with these trails need to use at least a recent, detailed trail map to be able to find their way around here.
If you are a local of the vicinity of this ride and/or you're fond of trail rides in this region, you might be interested in knowing that Fort Ord also happens to be the home base of the Monterey Off Road Cycling Association (MORCA). If you are wondering about a way of getting involved, there's your starting point.
The ride starts in the Laguna Seca Raceway. It's a bit tricky to find your way out of wherever along the racetrack you may have parked your car, to the beginning of the trail ride. The first few photos in the set linked on your left may help you a little bit in doing that from the suggested parking spot linked from this page. The basic instructions (which you can follow on the course map) are: start from the parking area right around the spot marked as "Trackview 'D' Campground" on the map; take the road (Perimeter Road) over the vehicle bridge shown on the map and follow Paddock Road toward where it says "Event Shipping & Receiving"; without going through the gate there, take two right turns to climb your way to the foot bridge shown near "Rainey Curve"; take an immediate left after you cross the bridge; and follow the brief downhill path to the multi-way junction where Pilarcitos Canyon Road starts near "Corkscrew Camping" shown on the map.
The initial part of the ride follows mainly along a ridgetop for a while (Trail 11). Then comes one of my favorite parts of the ride, a beautiful singletrack (Trail 50) descending gently along the side of a valley (Barloy Canyon). There are sandy spots on this trail, but they don't get much worse than small "pools" here and there.
Once the singletrack ends, you cross a paved road and pick up another singletrack on the other side (still Trail 50) that climbs up to a low ridge via switchbacks. Nice dune foliage line the sides of this trail segment. Once you're on top of that low ridge, you follow it for a short distance (Trail 22) before turning sharply to start descending back on the same side from which you climbed it. This descent (Trail 60) is easily the sandiest part of the ride. It's a reasonably steep trail that feels like riding downhill on a beach (at least as of the time of my last ride there). To me, the concept of "downhill on sand" feels a bit contradictory. The fluid nature of sand makes me expect that the trail can't stay that way for too long, and that the sand should be pushed away from or roll down the trail fairly quickly. But, I suppose, when the ridge itself is made of sandstone, you end up with a steady state of "downhill sand". That causes this descent to consist pretty much of an exciting "controlled slide" most of the way down.
Once you cross pavement again, a steep singletrack climb starts on the other side (Trail 82/85). I'm not too fond of this part. I'm never good at clearing this climb. However, this trail also happens to be one of the prettiest of the entire ride, because its lower stretches are surrounded by a fairy-tale oak woodland where moss hangs from many trees and the grass can be the liveliest green in the late winter and early spring. This trail gains about 300 feet in roughly half a mile, but that also includes a short flattish stretch along the way. Its grade is around 15% before that flattish part and just under 13% for most of the rest.
After a brief stint on pavement and a little bit of ruler-straight fire road climbing, you meet singletrack again at Trail 44 ("Lombard/Corkscrew/Outhouse Trail"). This nice trail winds around a hilltop and then descends to a multiway intersection. The ending part of this descent used to be a wickedly rutted short series of tight and steep curves, but a couple of years ago this part of the trail was reworked to make it milder.
You continue from that multiway intersection over the Three Sisters (Trail 10). You'll probably realize where the name must be coming from when you struggle over the exceedingly steep succession of three short fire road climbs.
Following this, you enter the part of the ride that involves the tightest network of short interconnected trails. Follow your GPS or your map carefully and enjoy the fun singletrack here.
Another notable trail segment along the rest of the ride is a narrow singletrack (Trail 41; "Goat Trail") across an open meadow, where you descend briefly and then start slowly climbing, when riding in the direction of this route. Following that, the fire road continuation of Trail 10 drops you onto Skyline Road and you limp your way over the numerous humps along that road back to your car.
Right near the end of the ride, you'll have an option of just finishing your return on the fire road all the way, or taking another singletrack option (Trail 47; "Couch Canyon / Hurl Hill Trail") right near the end. The singletrack is a nice little trail, but it's a pretty short one, and if you're too tired by this point, you wouldn't be missing a whole lot if you were to skip that one.
© Ergin Guney
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