The Ridge Trail dips to the right, and I put in a couple pedal strokes to make the sweeping turn. Below me, the singletrack keeps dropping, turn after thrilling turn. Just ahead, my riding buddy pulls to the right and rolls a log jump with a four-foot drop. He keeps the momentum up, rolling another log with a rut through the middle and a slight lip off the end. I follow him over the 18-inch drop. He heads left to hit two more logs and I roll the singletrack, keeping my speed for the slight hill after the next turn.
Soquel Demonstration Forest (better known as Demo Forest), just outside Santa Cruz, holds a concise network of trails where skilled trail builders constructed world-class descents. Tak the Summit Road exit off of Highway 17, then follow that as it turns into Highland Road and delivers you to a parking lot. Leave the car here and pedal the rest of the fire road climb. (Ascend the hidden singletrack off the fire road for a fun trail.) Feeling ambitious? Park in the nearby town of Aptos and ride Soquel Drive to Aptos Creek Road. Follow for 15 miles to the top of the forest, where the fun really begins. Or take the easy way from Aptos: Crazy Dave of Shuttle Smith Adventures gets you to the top for $20. Exhilarating descents cover fast, flowing singletrack on soft, loamy dirt. Natural features line Ridge Trail and Braille Trail the whole way down. For those who get a thrill defying gravity, the logs, stumps, and teeter totters never let up.
Warm up on Ridge Trail, then ride the fire road toward the parking lot and find Sulphur Springs Trail. This wide singletrack will take you to the helicopter landing pad at the top of Ridge Trail. This lap, make sure to take the Braille Trail intersection a bit further down. For experienced fliers, the tree gap jump at the top of Braille Trail is a can't-miss. Photographers can roll around and stage for the shot before heading onto the finish. Take a lap around the pump track at the bottom of Aptos Creek Road on your way out. Then cruise 10 minutes to the beach town of Capitola for pineapple curry at My Thai Beach restaurant. —Sydney Fox
Visit Bike Station Aptos in the Aptos village center for local expertise.