Last Sunday on July 9 the weather in the valley looked to be a bit cooler, so a group of cyclists thought it was a perfect morning for a mountain bike excursion. And, to top it off, it was for a good cause: Supporting Napa Valley’s two high school mountain bike teams.

About 30 cyclists assembled at the Clif Family Winery Velo Vino Tasting Room at 9 a.m. for a 20-mile gravel ride excursion around Lake Hennessey.

This excursion was organized through the Napa Bike Coalition, a local nonprofit that promotes bike riding, in support of two Napa Valley mountain bike teams: the St. Helena Thunderbirds and Napa Composite.

According to Olaf Beckman, the organizer of the St. Helena Thunderbirds, it was a beautiful ride.

“It was a relatively cool morning,” he said. “We rode up the Conn Valley Road, then split off on different trails inside the park.”

Conn Valley Road leads to the northwestern entrance to the Lake Hennessey unit of the Napa County Regional Park District’s Moore Creek Park. This entrance is a lower gateway to several trails, starting with the Shoreline Trail along the edge of Lake Hennessey.

The Shoreline Trail is by far the easiest walking and biking trail, winding along the water’s edge with calm vistas of the man-made Lake Hennessey reservoir. It has strategically placed benches along the shore under the shading of trees, and it’s a favorite of hikers and birdwatchers where one often sees Great Blue Herons, Osprey, and other birds plying their trades along the waterfront.

But there is also an early cutoff called Ken’s Cutoff that leads up a steep hill to the Alta Hennessey Trail and the Sam the Eagle Trail. These are much more rigorous tracks, quite appropriate for mountain bikes and a great place for riders to stretch their muscles and practice their mountain biking skills.

All three of these trails eventually connect to the Chiles Creek Trail, which in turn leads up to the Moore Creek unit of the park’s 1,600 acres of rugged terrain. There are oak woodlands, Douglas firs, madrone forests, chaparral and grasslands with opportunities to spot gray foxes, bobcats, and coyote.

From the Moore Creek unit, some riders, according to Beckman, chose to ride further up the Moore Creek Trail, and some even braved the Valentine Trail that zig-zags ruggedly in a loop back to the main entrance of the Moore Creek unit off Chiles Valley Road.

All told, there are 15 miles of rugged wooded trails within the Hennessey and Moore Creek Park units. Consequently, given the variety of the terrain, it’s understandable that some riders chose the easy Shoreline Trail, while other more adventurous riders pressed on through to the upper park unit.

Ben Wolf of Angwin had an early afternoon appointment, so Beckman, who is his uncle, made certain he turned around from the Shoreline Trail to head back. He arrived around 1 p.m. back at the Velo Vino tasting room where his cousin Katia Beckman was waiting. Asked about the ride, Wolf said with a nonchalant expression, “It was good. It took me about an hour to get back.”

By that time Katia Beckman had already been waiting for more than an hour. She had been wondering, she said, why an advertised “two-hour ride” was stretching into more than three. But when she heard from Wolf that her brother Stefan had taken off to the Valentine Trail, she seemed to immediately understand. “I’m not as hard-core a mountain biker as my brother or my mother or father,” Katia said.

The rest of the riders began trickling back to Vino Velo around 1:30 p.m. Beckman said he was extremely encouraged by the number of riders who turned out for the fundraiser. “We hit the Vino Velo Bruschetteria truck, got some refreshments, and just sort of relaxed. It was a really pleasant time,” he said.

According to Clif Family Winery Velo Vino assistant manager Troy Jolliffe, 20 percent of the proceeds from food and wine sold that afternoon were to be donated to the Napa Bike initiative, which sponsors both the St. Helena Thunderbirds and the Napa Composite Mountain Bike teams.

“I am a little bit overwhelmed by the response we’re getting,” said Beckman of the supporters of the high school teams. “It’s very encouraging.”

This event was the latest “Sip & Support” ride at the Cliff Family Winery Tasting Room Vino Velo. It’s a program, according to Jolliffe, that pairs the tasting room facility at the winery’s 709 Main St. facility with local nonprofits.

To learn more about the Napa County Regional Park Districts Moore Creek Park, or seek a trail map, visit napaoutdoors.org/parks/moore-creek-park. For more information about Sip & Support Events hosted by the Clif Family Winery’s Vine Velo Tasting Room, visit facebook.com/pg/ClifWine/events. For information about the Napa Bike Coalition, visit napabike.org.

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Tom Stockwell is currently a staff writer for the St. Helena Star. He is an author of fiction and non-fiction books and has been a working journalist for a variety of technical publications as well as a consultant for numerous wineries in the Napa Valley.