When I go to the Aptos Post Office to mail something nowadays, I look across the street at a Los Angeles-inspired condo development and a nondescript strip mall, still under construction.
Underneath the future Starbucks and New Leaf Market lies some of the best dirt in the world. Dirt that’s filled with the blood, sweat and tears of hundreds of bike riders from all over the globe.
I remember when it was just an empty grass field. It was the late 1990s, and my mom would drag my brother and I along whenever she visited the post office. Soon we noticed what looked like bike jumps, right off the road. They had been long abandoned, but we talked about trying to fix them up. Then one day, when I was 9 years old and my brother was 12, we pedaled from home to the post office on our own. We could have never imagined the thousands of times we’d repeat that trip.
Along with some friends, we were able to make a few features rideable, albeit janky. We’d use pallets, plywood, old car tires and anything else we’d find (aka steal) from around the area to use as bases for the lips and landings because we thought that was how you build jumps. In reality, the place looked like a dump, something that didn’t initially endear us to the neighbors, and it’s a miracle no one was ever killed pedaling across the busy street to get speed. The cops were called on us pretty regularly, but we knew if we reached the train tracks quickly enough they couldn’t catch us. We’d run, hide, take a candy break at the now-defunct Mr. E’s Cyclery, and then head back to dig and ride some more.
Over the next 15 or so years, I learned a lot on that half-acre chunk of dirt in the center of town. I even earned my first bit of cash from riding a bike, from a local alcoholic named Finn who would always cruise by and watch us jump. One day, he said he’d give $5 to whoever could air highest off this jump we called the Step Up. Looking back, I feel bad for taking money from a bum, but he wanted me to have it.
Inevitably, we realized if we wanted to stick around we needed to work with the neighbors, clean up after ourselves and take better care of the place. We started small and dug jumps to our ability level, which resulted in a two-part progression: As we got better, by necessity our jumps did as well. So we’d dig until we were satisfied, ride the fresh features until they were deemed inadequate, and then start all over again.
Kids our own age would come from all over Santa Cruz looking for a place to ride, and soon we had a solid crew of hardworking dudes who all wanted to sling dirt and ride bikes. Jamie Goldman, Greg Watts, Ryan Howard, Alex Reveles, Evan Turpen, Shawn Wilson, and my brother and I would meet there nearly every day after school. We all had our specialties—berm lines or trick jumps or tech and tight features. As it evolved, that variety turned into full-on lines that mixed a bit of everything.
As our little bike park’s reputation grew, people began traveling from all over the world to check out the “Aptos Post Office Jumps.” Some had seen them in pictures; others had simply heard of them through the grapevine. A few even moved to Aptos specifically because of the jumps, folks like Kyle Jameson, Andrew Taylor and Jeff Herbertson. Cameras and production crews were a common sight, there to document what we were doing.
That progression increased tenfold with the arrival of Andreu Lacondeguy, Martin Soderstrom and Brandon Semenuk, who began spending their winters in Aptos. Sure, it would rain occasionally, but while other places remained covered in snow from October through April, the Post Office would be clear and perfect.
Those were the glory years, when every evening session was legendary and the sport’s best riders were regulars. Neighbors who once called the cops on us now came to watch us ride. Whole families would even show up, loaded with coolers, camp chairs, blankets and snacks for the kids, and sometimes the streets would be lined with spectators. The town of Aptos and whole county of Santa Cruz were behind us, fully supportive of what we were doing.
Then came the rumors. The half-acre lot had been purchased. A huge development had been proposed, one that would turn the sleepy little town of Aptos into a small city. People were pissed, and thousands signed petitions, picketed and attended county meetings on our behalf, trying to save the jumps. When it was obvious saving the jumps was impossible, we focused on enjoying them instead. We had a few years before they were plowed over, and that time saw some of the best sessions we’d ever had.
We never could have guessed the impact those jumps would have on our lives, and the mountain bike world in general. But, looking back, I’m extremely thankful for that empty field in the center of the town. I’m also thankful for the $5 from Finn the bum, for the train tracks that allowed us to escape from the cops, for the neighbors that put up with us, and for the photographers and videographers that helped document our time there. Most of all, I’m thankful for the friends, memories, and lessons I learned from the Post Office Jumps.