"Is this our turn? I don't know, it's not in the book. What do we do now? Hmmm...I guess we'll just try it. Oh no! Not again!!"
If you don't want to be in another one of these exchanges, there is now an economical and practical solution to your problem -- a handheld Global Positioning System or GPS. Most people think that a GPS is used to get you back after you get lost. It can do that, but it is really a navigation tool. Essentially, a GPS is a hi tech compass and sextant.
Although I would never be so rash as to suggest you toss your conventional maps, a handheld GPS and a GPS track, a.k.a. bread crumb trail, of the route you want to follow will get you PRECISELY where you want to go. You've got your GPS, so where can you get the track of that new trail you want to try?
I don't know. I have found some for other regions of the country (see my GPS Mountain Bike Trail Directory), but not any in California. If you know where some are, please let me know. My wife has suggested that I write a mountain bike trail guide which includes GPS tracks. It's a good idea, I think there is a market for it and I just may do it if I get enough feedback.
In the meantime, I'll continue collecting and adding tracks of all of my favorite trails and rides. If you send me trail descriptions and tracks of your favorite rides and I use them in a future book, I'll give you full credit. So, if you like my GPS tracks, please let me know and PLEASE send me yours!
For full capability, you will also need the MapSource software by Garmin to download the tracks to your GPS. According to Garmin, "MapSource is compatible with all Garmin GPS systems except the GPS 100 family of products and panel mount aviation units."
If you have a different GPS or do not own the MapSource software, you can use the free EasyGPS by TopoGrafix (Brunton, Eagle, Lowrance, Magellan, MLR and Silva GPSs are currently supported) to download waypoints and routes to your GPS. TopoGrafix software, including the premium ExpertGPS, handles routes and tracks in the same way. Since the eTrex Vista and other GPSs support fewer route points than track points, you won't be able to micro-navigate the trail as closely. I actually prefer to use routes on trails I've been on, but a track is best for navigating a trail for the first time. I have tried to include all trail intersections on the routes so if you use them in conjunction with a topo map, you should be able to traverse the trails just fine.
You should keep in mind that the mileage displayed in the datafiles for the tracks is a little less than the actual mileage. This is because the track is a series of points connected by lines but the actual trail is not. This doesn't make too much difference in the tracks, but since routes typically include fewer points, more distance is lost.
The technical rating is an indication of the mountain biking skill level required to ride the trail. Keep in mind that these ratings are subjective and personal. What might be considered a beginning trail to me could be considered expert by you and vice versa.
The first time that you ride a trail, ANY trail, beginner through expert, extreme caution is warranted. You MUST ride in a controlled fashion so that, when you approach a trail section or obstacle for which you are not prepared, you have the time and space to dismount. If you are uncomfortable about a trail segment, get off your bike! Your mantra should be, walk your bike and live to ride another day.
With that disclaimer, here is the trail rating system that I use.
Novice. Most beginning mountain bikers will be able to ride the majority of this relatively easy trail. Basic mountain bike riding skills, including but not limited to braking, shifting, the ability to ascend and descend minor inclines and to avoid or negotiate minor obstacles, are required.
Intermediate. Most experienced mountain bikers will be able to ride the majority of this difficult trail. Intermediate mountain bike riding skills, including but not limited to feathered braking, shifting on-the-fly while ascending and descending moderate or loose inclines, and the ability to avoid or negotiate moderate obstacles and drops of 1-2 feet, are required.
Advanced. Most highly experienced mountain bikers will be able to ride the majority of this more difficult trail. Advanced mountain bike riding skills, including but not limited to the ability to ascend and descend steep and loose inclines and to avoid or negotiate major obstacles and drops of 2-4 feet, are required.
Expert. Only the most experienced mountain bikers will be able to ride the majority of this most difficult trail. Professional level mountain bike riding skills including but not limited to the ability to ascend and descend very steep and loose inclines and to avoid or negotiate major obstacles and drops of 6 feet or more, are required.
The caloric rating is an indication of the cardiovascular fitness level required to ride the trail. Keep in mind that these ratings are subjective and personal. What might be considered a thin ride to me could be considered epic by you and vice versa. Just for reference, I am a 40-something Clydesdale who tries to exercise regularly.
Thin. These trails takes me less than one hour to ride. A minor level of fitness is required to complete the trail.
Average. These trails takes me one to two hours to ride. A moderate level of fitness is required to complete the trail.
Fat. These trails takes me two to four hours to ride. A high level of fitness is required to complete the trail.
Epic. These trails takes me more than 4 hours to ride. A very high level of fitness is required to complete the trail.
The GPS Mountain Bike Trail Directory has links to mountain bike trail sites around the world with GPS data.
The GPS Software Guide reviews and recommends GPS mapping and support software.
And now, without further delay, onto the trails!