submitted by : Mike McDougal
I love my job. I do. But it happens to be located in the soulless, sterile, business park sprawl known as Irvine, California. Concrete and glass buildings in 32 different shades of off-white and pale grey/blue/brown are framed by overly watered and manicured greenways and sickly looking non-native adolescent trees. Two lane mini-highways slice their way through this bland landscape, distributing off-white and pale grey/blue/brown Hondas and Toyotas to clogged strip malls at regular intervals. Nothing about this 66 square miles of concentrated commerce screams mountain biking.
The saving grace of this place is that I work for a good company, with great people. Some of these great people happen to be bike people. A group lunch road ride is a daily occurrence, and there is a surprising amount of much better than average road riding from our lobby door. Before starting my employment here in 2011, aside from commuting by bike for the last 9 years, I would ride the road once, maybe twice a week. If that. Now the bulk of my weekly miles are of the asphalt variety. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as I have found that I really enjoy road riding. The truth is I have always been a mountain biker at heart. I usually get in some quality “dirt dates” on the weekends (thanks honey!). But sometimes I need a mid-week fix.
Enter the network of decomposed granite foot paths, urbanized coyote trails, and grey area “nature preserves” in and around the University of California at Irvine. It’s about a 4-5 mile easy bike path spin from my desk to the first less than obvious entrance to this cobbled together network. My estimation is that a few 19-20 mile loop variations get me between 30% and 50% cumulative dirt time.
Here’s an example of the route on Strava.
So yes, it is kinda like watching a network TV sitcom, with the necessary commercial breaks onto pavement and sidewalk. But there are laughs to be had, and a few little technical sections to keep you tuned in.
I’m the first to admit that there is nothing spectacular about the trails, which is probably why my frequent invitations to this lunchtime party go unaccepted. This is a common theme with so many mountain bikers I know. A trail or ride has to meet so many criteria for “gnarliness” in order to bother suiting up and getting down. Trails are unfairly compared to others, with frickin’ North Shore BC teeter-totters and 20 foot drops set as the bar. Sheesh. Fun is where you find it (FIWYFI), and I can have just about as much fun riding the San Juan Trail as I do the Fullerton Loop, Downieville, Moab, Pisgah… you get the point. If I am on my bike, I am winning. If I can make lemonade out of lemons, even better.
I rarely encounter anyone else during my mid-day assaults, other than the occasional hiking UC professor, hands clasped behind them in contemplation, or a smoke belching C student ditching class. These brief meetings are always amiable, and I make extra efforts to not appear like an “out of control biker”, as I do not want to see “KEEP OUT” signs materialize, or harsh anyone’s buzz. And anyone that reads this and decides to explore it themselves, please do the same. Treat it like a secret skate or surf spot.
So, it turns out this business park wasteland is not truly devoid of mountain biking adventure after all. It is possible for me to take a break from staring at my electromagnetic radiation emitting machine to apply knobbies to earth for at least an hour. I usually do these loops on Wednesdays, leaving the junction of the San Diego Creek bike Path and Campus Drive around 12:30pm. Feel free to join me in having some much needed Dirt For Lunch.