ASJ Photo Contest Delivers Big Smiles

Thanks ASJ!
By Melissa Wonders
Melissa's winning photo.

Melissa’s winning photo.

Earlier this year, we ran a social media photo contest, asking readers to post a photo to Facebook and/or Instagram of themselves and their bike in a place/situation they’d feel better running the Bontrager Flare R Tail Light (day/night, commute, spin, to and from the trail, etc.). The winner of the contest would win a grand prize package including a Bontrager Flare R Tail Light, accommodations from Hotel Paradox, rental bikes from Epicenter Cycling and a guided ride with The Ride Guides. We chose the photo above shot by Melissa Wonders of Santa Rosa. Melissa recently had the chance to enjoy her prize and was so happy with her weekend that she sent us this recap. Congratulations, Melissa – so happy you had a blast.

Stay tuned for details on our next photo contest to be launched real soon!


Dear ASJ,

Melissa here, winner of your Bontrager Flare-R tail light photo contest. I just wanted to say THANK YOU for choosing my photo and awarding me with such an amazing grand prize. I had such an incredible time that I just had to send you a recap of my awesome weekend.

I have visited Santa Cruz many times over the years but always as your typical tourist. I never was able to get past the bright lights of the Boardwalk or the allure of riding the infamous Soquel Demonstration State Forest (Demo). And picking a hotel was always a shot in the dark because as we all know what appears on the internet and what is reality can be completely different. But ASJ, you gave me the insider experience. I truly felt I was finally seeing what the locals enjoyed.

Overlooking the Santa Cruz pier.

Overlooking the Santa Cruz pier.

Rental bikes for two
The adventure first started at Epicenter Cycling on Mission Street where Candice Covello provided us with bikes perfectly dialed in for the local trails. As a matter of fact, the Trek rentals were such nice bikes that my husband is now considering an upgrade. Epicenter’s rentals are full equipped with all the upgrades, such as tubeless tires, dropper posts and 1x’s. The staff were super helpful and energetic. They were eager to talk about their favorite places to ride and seemed just as excited for our trip as we were. And not to mention Epicenter is a cyclist’s candy store – I could get lost in there for hours.
All set for a big day on the bikes.

All set for a big day on the bikes.

Guided mountain bike ride
We were met for our guided ride by Dave Robinson from the The Ride Guides. I cannot say enough about Dave; he is one of the most stellar people I’ve ever met. He is soft spoken and kind, and is an endless source of information and a strong, skilled rider.  My ride request was to go on the trails he enjoys, and boy, did he deliver. I never would have found these trails without him and the experience definitely has me wanting to return for more. I’m so used to my local trails that I realized it has stagnated my bike skills. When in a new environment with obstacles I’m not familiar with, I hesitated. Dave immediately picked up on that hesitation and would stop and do a skill session. Not only did I receive a great ride but I also left with more confidence and some much-needed homework.

Dave’s above-and-beyond ways did not stop there. Not only did he recommend his favorite places for a beer and a bite but he knew we’d be kayaking Elkhorn Slough the next day so he provided us with tide times, local restaurants suggestions, and photos he’d taken on our ride. If  you’re on a “bikecation,” connecting with a local guide is the best way to go.

Exiting a beautiful berm on the popular Emma McCrary Trail.

Exiting a beautiful berm on the popular Emma McCrary Trail.

 Top notch accommodations

IMG_2694I only have one complaint about Hotel Paradox: I didn’t want to leave. The place is amazing – it’s more of a resort than a mere hotel. I could go on for paragraphs and paragraphs about the gorgeous decor, but that is not what made our visit more of an experience than just a stay. The staff was incredibly personable, always addressed me by name (how did they know my name every time??) and went above and beyond to address my every need. At check-in, we were concerned about leaving our kayak on the car. The staff reassured us (the parking lot was fenced in with a security camera), but went above and beyond to offer to unload our 80-pound kayak and store it for us if we were uneasy. Who offers to do that?! Unreal. Plus, our room was fabulous! We were met with champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries and a personal note congratulating us on our contest win. Large comfy bed (six pillows, fluffy down comforter), rain showers, white robes, soft carpets, and modern decor all felt so luxurious. There was room service, a restaurant and full bar. We actually found the food to be less expensive and more gourmet than any of the places I’ve ever gone to on the wharf or Boardwalk. And poolside cocktails as I soaked in the hot tub had me in heaven.

If you are an adventurer, this is the hotel for you! Play hard all day and be pampered all night. Order room service breakfast so you can get out early and do it all over again the next day. Can’t wait for my next stay.
Thanks again ASJ for a vacation that was absolutely ideal for the adventurer I am.

~ Melissa Wonders, Santa Rosa

Iconic UCSC tanks.

Iconic UCSC tanks.

Pump track playtime.

Pump track playtime.

Perfect adventure weekend!

Perfect adventure weekend!

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