Follow Roseann Mikos on her mountain bike through Happy Camp Canyon Regional Park, and you'll not only get a workout but also a stream of fascinating tidbits about this huge wilderness area near Moorpark.
For instance, along the way you'll see big, sprawling oak trees that are astonishingly ancient: 500 years old or more, Mikos estimates.
"That's not something you see every day," she said. And perhaps it's not something you would even realize without Mikos along.
A docent for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, she is also an ardent mountain biker who leads bike rides into this 3,700-acre park that seems so remote but lies close to suburbia.
She is leading one Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. It's billed as a "bike 'n' hike" because it includes a ride of five to 10 miles and, midway, a short hike of about a mile.
The ride is free and anyone is welcome, but it's not for rank beginners, Mikos said. She calls it an advanced-beginner to intermediate trek.
"Plenty of experienced riders are very satisfied with the ride we take," she said. "It's not a baby ride."
The route follows a double-track fire road along a valley. How far she goes depends on the bikers. "We try to take the pulse of the group before we start to see what people feel like," she said. Occasionally they pedal the entire park, which is a 14-mile jaunt.
The ride out is a subtle elevation gain. "It's quite fun on the way back," she said. Sand is more of an obstacle than hills. "There are places where you have to walk your bike."
At one point, the group parks the bikes and walks to a natural spring in an oak woodland where the giant trees form a canopy. From here, the group can return or go farther into the park. They'll stop for lunch somewhere along the way.
"First-timers are amazed that there is a place so natural and rugged that is so close to where people live," Mikos said. "You feel like you're way out in the wilderness."
The park isn't that well known, she said. "It's almost like a secret." It was originally part of a huge cattle ranch operated by the pioneering Strathearn family. Cattle grazed here as late as the mid-1980s, and there are still rusty remnants of the ranching era--an old water tank, water pipes.
Happy Camp is the largest Ventura County-owned park. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority offer regular docent-led hikes there. The park has never been developed, so you won't find water or restrooms. (There's a portable potty in the parking lot.)
Along the bike route, Mikos will point out plant life. "There's always something blooming in the park," she said.
Often a member of Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Assn. (CORBA) accompanies Mikos on the ride to offer the following biking tips at the start: Don't exceed the 15 mph speed limit in the park; don't attempt the ride on a road bike (the ones with skinny tires); use both brakes to slow down; and don't be shy about getting off the bike and walking if the going gets too tough.
"We tell them they're not weenies if they ride in their lowest gears," Mikos said. "The goal is to bike the easiest way so you're not struggling." If someone has trouble, she is ready to provide some individual attention.
Bikers who want more of a challenge than Saturday's ride can tackle Big Mountain in the park, which is suited to more advanced riders, she said.
Mikos is modest about her own abilities. "I don't claim to be a super-duper advanced rider."
* There will be a mountain bike ride and short hike from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Happy Camp Canyon Regional Park near Moorpark. Take Highway 23 north out of Moorpark. Go right on Broadway to the parking lot at the end. Call (310) 456-5046.