Fort Ord (2012 Sea Otter course)
40% SINGLETRACK50% FIRE ROAD3% PAVED7% 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 in 2012 and 2013. I believe it was the same in 2011, as well. Note that the course used to be significantly different for 2010 and a few years that preceded it, 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.
At least in terms of the trail type distinction implied by the Fort Ord trail map, 40% of this ride consists of singletrack, with the rest being a mix of mostly fire roads and gravel roads, with a few short stretches of paved roads also thrown in. Other than a few brief rutty inclines here and there, the fire roads are never technical at Ford Ord. Except for the occasional rutty or eroded stretches, the singletrack trails are also usually very smooth, though frequently sandy. Small pools of soft sand will prove to be more of a stability risk to you during this ride than any rock gardens or drops (of which there aren't any).
The initial part of the ride follows mainly along Lookout Ridge Road. This trail precisely follows the spine of a ridge for the entire length of the first segment of it on this ride. It features some ups and downs but, other than one short but crazy climb (where the grade reaches at least 30%), its general trend is downhill on average.
The first singletrack on the ride starts when you turn onto Trail 49. This fun trail gently and playfully descends when done in the direction of this ride, until it ends at Eucalyptus Road.
On the other side of Eucalyptus Road, you pick up another singletrack (Trail 50) that climbs at a moderate grade up to a low ridge via a few lazy switchbacks. Nice dune foliage line the sides of this trail segment. Once you reach the top of this ridge at the junction with Barloy Canyon Road, you turn right onto Sandstone Ridge Road, which you'll follow along the top of this ridge until it transforms into Trail 22, which, in turn, takes you all the way to the end of the ridge where you're dropped onto Crescent Bluff Road. Sandstone Ridge Road is in the form of a scenic road covered (as of this writing) in a relatively fresh and smooth layer of gravel. After the junction with Trail 60, Trail 22 is a singletrack that varies in width and, most notably, ends in a steep and extremely sandy "chute" that would give all but the most seasoned riders of this trail a pause. This trail also features probably the highest number of technical features of any singletrack on this particular route, because it features a few sharp dips that are fairly rocky and somewhat rutted.
After a short stint on the wide and flat Crescent Bluff Road where you experience hardly any elevation change, you turn onto the singletrack Trail 82, where the most challenging climb of the ride awaits you. 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.
The ride turns onto Trail 85 right at the point where the worst of the climb up Trail 82 ends. After a "hairpin side loop" that seems to be included in the route purely to hit a particular target length for the race course (and that is, frankly, not that interesting), the ride briefly follows the perfectly smooth Pilarcitos Ridge Road before doing a short segment on the fun but short singletrack Trail 80.
Once Trail 80 hands you back to Pilarcitos Ridge Road and you descend to Jacks Road, you almost immediatelly start on another gravel path, this time an uphill segment of Lookout Ridge Road. Just past a vista point along this wide gravel road, you're quickly taken down to its junction with Trail 49. The portion of Trail 49 that you traverse after this point has been completely redone in January 2013. This singletrack segment used to consist of a steep and almost straight shot down to Pilarcitos Canyon Road. It is now much more level and meandering (even requiring some pedaling effort), considerably longer, and much much more playful. After joyfully twisting through picturesque oaks via many tight curves just for the fun of it, it still brings you to Pilarcitos Canyon Road.
After following Pilarcitos Canyon Road, Jacks Road, and Skyline Road in a somewhat roundabout way, you start a reasonable uphill singletrack. This is Ewok Trail (Trail 43). The climb up Ewok Trail has its steeper parts in its first half, where the grade sometimes hovers above 10%, though it only briefly touches 13%. Toward its top, it averages closer to 9% grade and the slope slowly diminishes as you get higher. As suggested by its name, the trail traverses the cute landscape of a tiny valley with a relatively dense cover of oak trees before taking you up to yet another ridgetop dirt road, Three Sisters Road. As you start out on this segment, you'll encounter two short but steep climbs, at least the first of which is almost guaranteed to be a hike-a-bike for most riders. Its grade is right around 25%.
After you leave the worst of Three Sisters Road behind, it's not long before Jacks Road takes you to your next singletrack segment, which is on Trail 36. Don't miss the turn, which is easy to do unless you know what to look for. Trail 36 is nothing but fun. It zig-zags playfully through a dense thicket of chaparral and gently descends in the direction traversed on this ride.
Following two dirt roads on a fast descent will eventually take you to the lower end of Goat Trail (Trail 41), in what must be one of the prettiest corners of Fort Ord. Starting next to a (currently) dry lagoon, Goat Trail is a narrow singletrack that climbs at a moderate grade by weaving its way up along the sides of numerous curvaceous hills. You do hit two short and steep stretches where the grade exceeds 20%, but the trail dips into a beautiful and wide-open meadow shortly after that. This is one of the most scenic stretches of the entire ride. Goat Trail then gradually climbs its way to its end at Three Sisters Road. It should be pointed out, however, that most riders agree that the "correct" way of riding Goat Trail is in the opposite direction of this, in which case it will be a descent on average. There must be a good reason for the Sea Otter race course to traverse it uphill, but I don't know what that is.
After that, you're only left with a gravel-road ride back to the start over Three Sisters Road, Oil Well Road, and Skyline Road. There are a handful of uphill spots that reach 15% grade or so along this stretch, but most of the challenges of the ride (as well as the fun) will be behind you by this point. Just make sure you don't miss a turn onto a trail that seems to continue ruler-straight off Skyline Road where Skyline takes a wide sweep toward the right, and you'll be back in the race track area in no time.
© Ergin Guney
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