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Beggars Would Ride

This One Time In 2023

Photos Deniz Merdano
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Wrap It Up

These Year in Review/Best Of/Be Kind Rewind pieces always feel a little weird to me. I get that this is the time of year where we all take stock of The Year That Was, so that we can gird ourselves for the New Year’s Resolution binge/purge, and maybe that’s my problem. I don’t really do the whole New Year Resolution thing. In fact, now that we get to it, the societal imperative that we all line up and ritualize these spots on the Gregorian calendar just to keep us all on the same page seems a bit fishy to me.

But we are here, and everyone else is doing it, and so I better toe the line. Put a bow on it. Reminisce. Compile “best of” lists. Compare Spotify Wrapped. Scroll through the Instagram hit parade. Churn through memories, dissect and disseminate, try to avoid the creeping sense of FOMO. Good luck with that. YOLO, after all. FOMO kind of comes with the territory, especially when life is viewed through the fun-house lens of that narcissism incubator we know as Social Media.

Damn, I sound bitter. I’m not. Not really. But it has been a doozy of a year. In spite of the dooziness, though, maybe even because of the relentless dooziness of the year we just lived, riding bikes has been a more sacred and restorative act for me than at any time in recent memory. I didn’t set any records for speed or distance, my riding did not progress measurably (nor did it really suffer any setbacks), but each and every ride was memorable, and each ride helped to reinforce the bond between myself and what I perceive as a “healthy” state of mind. This year, more than any, I really needed to ride.

One ride stood out, though, more than the others. Back in spring, around the Sea Otter, Cam and Pete and Deniz were in town and we took a break from the condensed mayhem of the shenanigans taking place at Laguna Seca. We drove a little east and snuck in a loop at Toro Park. This wasn’t a big ride – just once up the colloquially cursed “shit hill”, a beverage break at the 1800 sign at the top, and then a quick rip down Pipeline. A not-too-arduous cleaning of the pipes after a few days standing around shaking hands and talking ourselves hoarse.

After writing for NSMB for over a year, this was the first time that I had a chance to ride with this trio. I had ridden with Cam before, but if I really flex the grey matter I think the last time we rode together was either in Borneo around the beginning of the 21st century, or a couple years later at a Kona launch. By any stretch, a very long time ago. Pete and Deniz? Totally new ground for me.

I ride alone. A lot. Like, most of the time. Enough so that I sometimes get a little socially awkward when it comes to riding with others. I have my pace, my routines, my way of gearing up for a ride, and the loops that I tend to gravitate toward. And, for the decade that I owned the Poison Oak Farm on Tassajara Road, the closest riding beyond the janky trails on my own back 40 was an hour away, at either Toro Park or Fort Ord. So, in addition to my own “will I be able to hang” questions, I had some existential trepidation when it came to touring three guys from BC around the admittedly un-rad local dirt.

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I've been told repeatedly that this is my good side. Preparing here to lead the boys into a chute of sketchy sidehill and poison oak.

Toro Park is a beautiful little nugget of weirdness, though. It’s a State Park, but unlike many California State Parks that have mandates to ensure trails are accessible and safe, the singletrack in Toro is a little more “rustic”. Narrow, high-consequence tree-lined ribbons with sketchy little jump lines, pedal catchers in odd places, tight rhythm shifts, lined the entire way with poison oak and skinny slices of trail that allow for absolutely zero margin of error. Most of the time, the trail surface is talcum power over hardpack, which only adds to the spiciness. Toro is secretly awesome. In the middle of one of the best spring wildflower seasons California has ever had, it also packed a definite Wizard of Oz kind of visual appeal. But still, I wondered, would the visiting Canadian dignitaries find it all a bit lame by comparison?

As it turned out, it didn’t really matter. We could have been riding rental cruisers along the coastal bike path and it still would have been a fantastic ride. We talked. We joked. We shot the shit. We solved all the world’s problems. We connected dots as we talked, and at the same time we fell into patterns and rhythms as we rode, selecting which wheel to follow, dropping into a natural cadence and order, finding flow within our group; strangers becoming known through the act of riding.

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On a "get rad in the air doing bar-turndowns that don't look like shit" scale of 1 to 10, Deniz is up around an 8. Cam and Pete and me, we make up for our lack of radness with charm and sharp wits.

Turns out, Toro is pretty fun, even for Canadians. It has enough speed and consequence to keep good riders on their toes. Also turns out, my own riding hasn’t atrophied to the point where I am an embarrassment to myself and others. And, it turns out that Deniz, Cam and Pete are all pretty handy on bikes themselves, which I already knew, but it is still fun to put all the pieces in motion in real time and watch other people ride, see how they react, see the way they move on their bikes. You can’t glean that kind of knowledge from words, and sometimes not even from photos. Seeing someone ride is a good way to learn more about them. And riding with friends, well, yeah. This was one of those bells that started clanging in my head, is still clanging now… “Maybe it’s time you backed off on this hermit gig and started getting out in the world again.”

Thanks for the ride, boys. And the reminder. Next time, your yard.

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+6 Mike Ferrentino Vincent Edwards Pete Roggeman fartymarty Velocipedestrian cornedbeef

What a beautiful ride that was Mike. From the socioeconomic analysis of the park and it's place in California to me freaking out about the super bloom up top. I enjoyed the shit out of it riding it with you. 

Thanks for the kind and wise words and yes, our yard is dying for some Ferrentino steeze.


+1 Mike Ferrentino

Tassajara & Cachagua I'm sure i'm killin the spelling, were two high points of our time in the Monterey area.  Can't really imagine living out there however the riding through Big Sur was mystic and we poured a lot of sweat out on those roads.  Happy always to read your scribblings.  If you're in Greenville SC look me up.  It's even better here!  Best to you Furry!


+1 Mike Ferrentino

Nice one, Mike. That was a memorable one, indeed. Would love another crack at those twitchy trails on a bike I knew better but will always fondly remember our first ride together.


+1 Mike Ferrentino

I spent about the same amount of time riding this past year as I have the last 5 years or so. Lots of time on the bike by myself, but the highlight are the rides with friends. From the chance meet up at a fire lookout that ended up as a 6 person party lap down a mountain, to noodling around lower seymour catching up with a former co worker, and a handful more similar rides. While it’s the solo rides which make those rides possible, and often they are equally as enjoyable, they just don’t stand out when thinking about what I did last summer.


+1 Mike Ferrentino

I used to ride alone 95% of the time, but in 2023 that ratio went down closer to 50%. My brother got into MTB during the pandemic, and it is what reunited us. Not that we didn't get along, but having an activity to share adds a little something into the relation. Weirdly, I don't feel as much pressure when riding with other people as when I'm riding alone, so pretty much every ride felt easier last year.

The one I remember the most was by myself though, when I took an afternoon off in late October, right before the trails closed for the winter here. It was warm, dry, the leaves were colorful and there were no body around.

Thanks Mike for all your awesome written pieces of 2023 and I'm looking forward to read the next ones! All the best for 2024.


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