I moved to Santa Cruz in 2006 for the trails. Tacky, dark and velvet loamy lovin’ goodness. Drifting through thick loam, both tires grabbing, then dropping that top layer of dirt, redwood needles zipping away from my tires, and where Heaven resides on a sweet Santa Cruz Saturday morning. If I die at this moment, I die happy.

My first job in Santa Cruz was as a protagonist for an Adobe CS3 commercial. There were rewards to our 12-hour days, as we flew to Canada to ride a closed Whistler, soothing sore muscles in hot tubs, and eating well nightly. Back in California, we rode Tamarancho while staying at the producer’s place in Fairfax; the weather was balmy, even though it was October. The gig lasted a little over a week, and a month later I was working at a local vitamin manufacturer copy writing.

I enjoyed taking the sad, abandoned plants from the nursery down the street and nursing them back to health. Soon my cube was a rampant jungle. My cube-mate was odoriferous, and it was hard being in a closed setting with her. It was just hard being in a closed building with about 20 other people. Marketing was fun, but being at a desk for so long—and feeling cooped up—was slowly strangling my soul.

The epiphany was after a mellow, yet tree-filled, lunchtime ride when I came back to a stenchful farm of people caged in the building for eight hours a day. I had my first panic attack. I thought, “if I could maybe crack the window, I could breathe.” I looked towards the windows and there were no screens, let alone a latch to open a window.

Shortly after, my impulsive behaviour—and naiveté of office vagaries—released me from confinement. Finding work at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), I thought I was satisfied again. Riding the bus up to work—the fine dining restaurant above the cafeteria for dorms 9 and 10—and riding home. Usually Trailer Park to Star Wars to the bike path that bisects campus and on out Highland Way to downtown Santa Cruz.

All I wanted to do was ride my bike in the redwoods. But, I had to fund this obsession somehow. Waitressing at UCSC was a step in the right direction—I was moving more as there’s no desk in the wait station. Management changed while I was in my probationary period, though. Michael and I were not jiving; it was evident when he became upset after I sang to him what I had done with my day.

So back to collecting unemployment and riding mucho, regardless of rainy season or sun. My house-mate moved away so I rented a room. I didn’t care, I was riding at least three times a week in my cathedral.

Seasons passed, and I nurtured my dirty side—vines growing quickly and tendrils taking over—while jobs became scarce. I volunteered for Green Ways to School, a program for Bike Santa Cruz County, where I helped out on rides for Branciforte Middle School’s bike club. We’d ride the Emma McCrary Trail and coach them on riding safely and trail etiquette. But I needed money. So…back to waitressing. I’m a hustler, and I was always giddy on cash at the end of the shifts.

I noticed the patterns to the seasons, rain to fog, fog to sun, and back to the rain. The cyclical weather provided prime riding time in my redwoods. I learned the trail system at UCSC, rode at the Land of Medicine Buddha three times a week, and explored Nisene Marks State Park. In 2009, I assisted the Harbor High mountain bike team, which participates in the NorCal High School Cycling League. After a few months I broke my collarbone. I stayed with a friend for the duration and collected short-term disability after the surgery, but I had worked through the injury for the six months prior.

I lost my rental on Depot Hill after losing my waitressing job due to my medical absence. I eventually took on a cashier job at a local natural food stores. While I was driving to work one morning and thinking forward through my day, I started hyperventilating. My heart picked up speed, and it felt like it was bursting through my chest. My thoughts raced to negative outcomes, and I had to focus with all my might on driving. This had happened before, but I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I know now that this was a panic attack. The accompanying nausea was only soothed by riding.

Sacred Rides reached out to me in 2014, and offered me an assistant coach gig for their women’s weekend. Riding Demo, showing a bunch gals the trails was blissful. Recon was a little wet. We got to the Ridge Trail before the downpour caught us. We rode on, and the rest of the weekend went off without a hitch. It was a great gig, and soon my mission in life became transparent—to promote self-reliance via the bicycle.

But, as a cashier, my “services were no longer needed,” so I was back on unemployment while looking for that ever-elusive consistent and stable income. Magically, most of the symptoms of the anxiety disorder evaporated over night.

In the interim, a friend of mine had been nurturing her dirty side as well, and that creative endeavour is the Shine Riders Co.

Lindsay and I met at the Aptos pump track in 2008, and immediately became thick as thieves. When she hosted a Destination Downieville MTB Retreat in 2014, I became the assistant coach. When she crashed riding Recon, I became the head coach and ride guide. Lindsay managed to get herself up to Downieville, where she and her team took good care of us, and I hauled a bunch of women down Butcher’s Ranch to Third Divide. The thrill of the ride was only compounded by the rarity of my situation. Don’t worry, though, Lindsay is okay!

Regardless, now I call myself a mountain bike coach, but I still just wanna ride in my redwoods. Hopefully 2016 will bring more of that, and you’re welcome to join me for the GlamTown FabRide, a 2-hour ride of follow the leader through downtown Santa Cruz and the Emma McCrary Trail on beater/commuter bikes. ‘Till then…ride on!

Author Bio

Joh Rathbun is the owner of Ride On!, a mountain bike coach, and an action sports writer currently based in Santa Cruz, California. To stay up-to-date on West Coast events, like her Facebook page at  https://www.facebook.com/johrathbun