Cycling Through: Coming Back to Watsonville to Lead a Group Bike Ride and Build Community

When I had the opportunity to lead a community group bike ride as part of Santa Cruz County Biketober, I was ecstatic but a bit nervous. Although I am usually the one who leads rides when my friends and I go mountain biking, this event put my LCI training to the test. League cycling instructors (LCIs) are ambassadors for better biking through education. Their goal is to help people feel more secure about riding by educating cyclists and motorists and to ensure that people on bikes know how to ride safely and legally. I became certified last year, and I apply these skills when I work with youth and adults alike.

I led two groups consisting of twenty-five riders each, the youngest rider being only three years old. This was the last set of four community group rides to wrap up in Biketober 2021. It was very special for me to be able to show others a different side of Watsonville, the first city that I lived in as a kid when my family and I moved to the United States. Watsonville has always had a special place in my heart because of its vibrant Hispanic culture, hardworking people, and amazing slough trails. It is often difficult to grasp the beauty of a city when you drive by in a car. So, there is no better way to get a taste than on two wheels with a group.

It was fun to see people from previous group rides become friends and get together for this last ride. One group of friends, in particular, had a great story: they lived in the same neighborhood and had not known each other until they all joined the same community ride. Others had never been to Watsonville before and were unaware of Watsonville’s great slough trail system. We began the ride at Watsonville Cyclery, a local bike shop close to the city’s beautiful plazita. Thanks to Jules, the shop owner and a big bike advocate, we had a place to meet and set up where people could check their bikes before heading out for the ride. Jules has been a key figure in Bike to Work Days and Bike Month for the past several years; his stoke level is high!

The morning ride was a bit more chaotic than I had planned for—but in a fun way. The initial plan was to ride through Ramsay Park. However, unbeknownst to me, the City of Watsonville had just started a major park renovation, and the entrance to the trails was under construction. We had to reroute. Luckily, Gina Cole from Bike Santa Cruz County was also helping out on the ride and quickly suggested a path that took us behind Target, which was just up the hill from the parking lot. Although that was not the initial plan, it was a great example for all of us of how to quickly adapt and how nimble you can be on a bicycle. We discovered a new path that ultimately kept us on our way to the slough trails. Once we climbed up Pennsylvania Avenue, we were finally able to enter Struve slough for some great views without interruption from cars. It was great to see everyone’s faces light up after the less-than-ideal reroute. We rode onto the Ohlone loop trail, which took us through the neighborhood on a sidewalk that doubles as a bike lane, a feature that’s unique to the Ohlone neighborhood. We then rode over and experienced the new section of the rail trail off Ohlone Parkway and finished the ride at Del Valle Produce. The first group got the chance to break bread together, exchange contact info, and continue to form connections with each other and the Watsonville community. It was awesome!

The second group ride went a lot smoother; I was able to prepare the group for the slight change in the route. I felt a lot more confident knowing what I should expect and how I could modify anything if needed. Something I will never forget was trying to keep up with the relentless energy of our youngest rider. At only three years old, he was already on his bike and ready to ride along with his dad. Before the ride began, I spoke with the rider’s dad and made plans in case he needed to cut the ride short. To our surprise, our young rider had a lot more energy than anyone expected, running his bike up hills he couldn’t pedal up and slowly but surely keeping up with the group. Realizing that our young rider would not give up no matter what, I decided to modify our route a bit to give him a break and allow him to finish off the ride with everyone. After crossing over Harkins Slough Road, I asked the young rider’s dad to take a break with his son while the rest of the group explored an out-and-back part of the trail that we had not explored before. This gave the group a great bird-watching opportunity; it was also nice to have a group who were enjoying themselves so much that they were okay to go a bit over on the ending time. At the end of our second ride, I could not have felt prouder of the group for being so kind and inclusive of all riders. We had lot of ages and abilities out there, and everyone had a great time!

Overall, I could not be happier with sending off Biketober 2021 in this fashion, having the opportunity to put my LCI skills to work in such a positive way, showcasing Watsonville’s unique beauty and less-known bike routes to new people, and getting to experience the stoke of building community and making friends. None of that would have been possible without the great work from Matt and Tawn to put on Biketober and all those involved in the Watsonville rides.

Ecology Action is looking to organize an LCI training sometime in February, and I encourage anyone who is interested in helping build the bike community to come out for the training. Send me an email if you are curious, and I will send you information.