Most military members who are stationed in Monterey, CA are attending either DLI (the Defense Language Institute, where Jonathan is) or NPS (the Naval Postgraduate School). Monterey is unlike most military bases because it lacks, well, a military base. Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines are scattered together across the peninsula, mingling with civilians and fighting for parking spaces at Trader Joe’s.
There did, however, used to be a military base in the area–an Army post called Fort Ord. The post became defunct in the mid-90s, and is now a combination of disturbing abandoned buildings, a state nature preserve, military housing, and a strip mall that houses both a Michael’s and a Target, so you can guess how often I’m there.
Because the expansive Army post functioned as a field artillery target range, and because parts of it are now state-protected conservation areas, there are a lot of strongly-worded DO NOT ENTER UNDER PENALTY OF CASTRATION* signs and blocked off roads dotting the back streets of old Fort Ord. Some of these blocked roads, however, cast off into bike trails that are perfectly legal (and mostly safe) to travel.
(*Technically the signs don’t say anything about castration. I’m reading between the lines.)
Jonathan and I became bike owners a few weeks ago, and it immediately proved to be something we’d both recommend to anyone moving or PCSing to Monterey.
Biking is popular in Monterey, I imagine, because, when it’s not raining, the weather often lulls into a not-too-hot, not-too-cold stasis that makes outside exercise in a tank top comfortable almost year round. And because the scenery is absurdly gorgeous whichever way you turn, even by accident.
Fort Ord Dunes State Park is a public beach and conservation area that stretches for four miles across the Pacific shoreline, with a bike access trail that runs right along Highway 1 and then up to the dunes. The bike path (which we ride one way for about eight miles) has a nice mix of hills to remind you that riding a bike is a definitely a workout, but also a nice mix of incredible views to help you forget how badly your quads are burning.
We learned extremely quickly that most standard bike tires do not get good traction on sand. And there’s sand pretty much everywhere in Monterey, even when you’re miles from the beach. Jonathan, who I’m beginning to think has earned his invincibility complex, was able to negotiate this hazard with little practice; I was able to negotiate getting off my bike and walking whenever I spotted a sand drift.
Jonathan is also able to look entirely unfazed after six miles of bike riding, while I look like someone who has become suddenly allergic to the sun.
On the opposite end of old Fort Ord, the warning signs are much more prevalent. Gates and barbed wire fences block off old practice ranges and broken-windowed bunkers that scream asbestos. But if you travel through what is now a military housing community, you’ll eventually find gaps in the gates just big enough to accommodate a bike. (We’ve also seen people riding horses on these trails, so I’m guessing they made it through the gate the same way that Santa Claus makes it down chimneys.)
This area, technically, is called Fort Ord National Monument. It includes a whopping 86 miles of biking, hiking, or horseback riding trails, but it does not include an actual monument. I know this for certain because, after coming across a sign for Fort Ord National Monument while a few miles into a trail, Jonathan and I followed a tiny, winding, bumpy, sand-filled path uphill for several miles, only to end up right back at the gate where we started.
The view, at least, was still pretty extraordinary on the way.
And it turns out that we did see the Fort Ord National Monument; the monument, rather than a physical structure, is the “undeveloped natural wildlands” we rode through while searching for a physical structure.
The most beautiful aspect of Monterey, in my opinion, is that the blue shoreline views and the green mountainous views are only a few miles apart, and they are all encompassed by what was once Fort Ord. In one weekend, Jonathan and I logged over 15 miles of biking through wild, beautiful, and very different terrains, and the handful of photos I snapped with my smartphone don’t do justice to the awe of flying downhill on a bike through these scenes.
But remember earlier how I mentioned that bike tires don’t get great traction on sand? And remember how I mentioned that the bike paths, even miles from the shoreline, are filled with sand? And remember what I said just a few seconds ago about flying downhill on a bike? On these trails? Filled with sand? It’s a good thing we chose the weekend preceding Earth Day to do some biking, because I celebrated the earth very intimately, with my face, when my wheel skidded on some sand while I was riding downhill on that tiny mountain path, careening my body from my bike and into (luckily) a ditch. The earth was kind to me, however, and other than some gnarly-looking bruising to my legs and pride, I’m completely fine. Minus needing to learn how to floss dirt out of my teeth. Thanks, Obama.
(Seriously, though: The proclamation designating the land as a national monument was signed by President Obama. Who I’m guessing is a more experienced mountain biker than I am.)
What are some of your favorite places to ride your bike? Also, please feel free to tell your bike-accident survival stories in the comments below so that I don’t feel like a total bike newb.