A quick guide to finding one of Santa Cruz’s best trails
The best time to explore the trails on the UC Santa Cruz campus is during December, when the students are on their winter break, or during the summer, when they are gone for three months. This summer I have decided to take advantage of the peace that exists in the forests surrounding the campus, which can prove an elusive endeavor when surrounded by so many students.
So, on a hot and sunny Wednesday afternoon, I set out to re-explore a trail at UCSC that I had hiked once before earlier this year, when classes were still in session. This time, however, I decided to kick it up a notch and experience it by myself—and while running. By running the trail instead of hiking it, I thought I would be able to assess how good the trail really is: Will the ground be smooth or rocky? Will my running shoes fare well off the traction of the city streets? How are the inclines? What kind of effect will the peace and quiet of the forest and fields have on my energy levels? These questions and more ran through my head. As it turned out, this experiment would be the best workout experience I have ever had in Santa Cruz.
After parking my car at one of Merrill’s parking lot meters ($1.25/hr.) and drinking about a cup of water out of my canteen, I immediately hit the ground running. I started off at a steady jogging pace, making sure to get my lungs working as I inhaled and exhaled at an equal rate, allowing myself to get into my breathing rhythm before I actually hit the trail.
From the parking lot I snaked through a small trail that runs alongside the back walls of Merrill’s dorms and pottery co-op. As I made my way to the back-side of KZSC, UCSC’s radio station, I descended a long staircase to my right that took me down to another parking lot. Directly opposite of the first staircase is a second staircase, which I ascended to arrive at the graduate student apartments. By this time my breathing was in rhythm with my pace and I could almost feel the blood circulating throughout my body as the first beads of sweat began to emerge from my forehead and run down my face.
When I reached the back end of the apartments, the concrete sidewalk let out onto gravel road. As I ran at slower pace to conserve my energy, I recalled from the first time I was here that I needed to make a right. I ran for about 20 seconds until I reached a trail to my left, which I took to arrive at another break in the road. There are only two directions to go at this point: right or left. To the right is the Cowell/Wilder trail, which leads to the UCSC Pogonip entrance. To the left is the trail I needed. For directional purposes, there is a small white post with a green sign at this break in the road. Arrows point right and left, pointing foot traffic toward Pogonip or to Wilder Ranch State Park. From this point it is 2.5 miles to Wilder.
I immediately felt the difference between the concrete and the rocky dirt of the forest on my feet and legs. I had to constantly be aware of the rocks and recessed parts of the ground to maintain balance. I was not about to let the rough terrain stop me from reaching my destination. The first 15 minutes were tough, as I was mostly running at an incline and my lungs and body were adapting to the new environment, but as soon as I adjusted, I slipped into my element and continued with ease.
The main reason why the trail to Wilder is great for running is because the forest gets extremely dense in some areas, providing a lot of shade to cool down. About every 10 minutes it opens up again, revealing a field and the hot sun. As I ran through both forest and field on the trail, I came across only two people who were enjoying a nice hike. For most of my run, however, I heard nothing but the sound of my breath inhaling and exhaling, and the pounding of my feet on the dirt path. After 30 minutes of non-stop trail blazing, I reached the end of the line. I had arrived peacefully, and very sweaty, at Wilder Ranch State Park.