Riding a cobalt blue bike, 15-year-old Connor Gallart races through a complex of steep 6- and 7-foot tall dirt mounds. He’s always at the Post Office Jumps, a one-acre bicycle park across the street from a post office in Aptos.
Each jump sends Connor soaring two stories high into the air where he spins his handle bars, kicks out his legs and does a backflip. This is freeriding, a creative style of mountain biking that emphasizes tricks and technique. Connor discovered the sport while riding the school bus when he was 9.
“I would see them jumping out there, and I thought that was like the coolest thing ever,” he says.
After four years of trying, Connor finally made it through the challenging course, which only skilled riders can ride. His mom had to drive him to the Post Office Jumps, and pick him up, every day. Eventually, they moved into a house across the street.
“It was really nice because I could just wake up and go ride,” he says. “It’s basically my home. I’m here 24/7.”
But bulldozers razed the jumps on Tuesday to make way for a new shopping center and housing development. Over the years, it grew to be well known in the mountain biking community, attracting riders around the globe and even producing some professionals in the sport.
Connor has already earned sponsorships from the bike manufacturers Specialized and Trek. He dreams of competing as a professional. On that path, he would follow in the footsteps of many local guys whose pro careers began at the Post Office Jumps, such as Cam McCaul and Greg Watts who started riding here before this was officially a park.
“I attribute riding bikes really 100 percent to this park,” says McCaul, who flew back to his hometown of Aptos to see the jumps go.
Since at least the late 80s, kids have been riding in the empty field, even developer Jesse Nickell’s two sons.
His company, Barry Swenson Builder, bought the land that includes the Post Office Jumps to build the development that was far from fruition.
Instead of fencing off the park, he came up with a way to legitimize the dirt jumps by leasing the land to the county for a dollar a year.
“I wanted also to be a leader an example for other people who own land that they can actually do with a parks and rec program in a way that’s safe and protects them liability-wise,” he says.
The park became official in 2007. Nickell’s model inspired about four other mountain biking parks around Santa Cruz. And mountain bikers from the San Francisco Bay Area and even as far away as Vermont have asked to see a copy of the Post Office Jumps’ lease agreement.
No one expected the park to be such a success, drawing cyclists from around the world.
“Right away, I just booked my flight, plane ticket and flew over here,” says Martin Soderstrom, a professional mountain biker from Sweden, who recently came to the Post Office Jumps for one last ride.
“It’s really one of the best places to ride in the world. You kind of need like many years of developing and rebuilding, and now it’s pretty much perfect, so it sucks pretty hard that they’re going to remove them now when they’re perfect,” Soderstrom says.
But after a good eight-year run, the temporary park finally closed.
“It feels like a part of me is being killed. It’s my life,” Connor says.
On the park’s last night, Connor and other park regulars celebrated by riding late after dark, using car headlights, cell phones and fireworks to light up the course.
Before bulldozers rolled in early Tuesday morning, the teens skipped school to tear up the jumps themselves with pickaxes and shovels and saved some of the Post Office Jumps’ hallowed dirt inside jars.
The local mountain bike community is now searching for a new field to build dirt jumps.