Coach rides into new career as mountain biker

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A lifelong participant and coach in team sports, Joe Unden, who has served as a math teacher at El Capitan High School for 28 years, did a nearly complete 180-degree change in his athletics career following a minor injury.

A lifelong participant and coach in team sports, Joe Unden, who has served as a math teacher at El Capitan High School for 28 years, did a nearly complete 180-degree change in his athletics career following a minor injury.

“I was throwing batting practice and I twisted my knee,” recalled Unden, who served nearly three decades assisting recently retired Vaqueros baseball coach Steve Vickery. “I needed to have some torn cartilage taken out.” Following the minor operation in 2005, Unden was given a pair of rehabilitation options, but the first one proved to be unpleasant. “I was told I could swim or bike,” he noted. “So I did a little bit of swimming, but I thought it was so boring only seeing water for an hour and a half.”

Fortunately, Unden’s daughter offered a solution, which transformed into a new career direction, one he hoped to pursue should his plans to retire come to fruition following the 2013-14 school year. “She didn’t have a real mountain bike, but it was close, so I started riding on a fire road near where I live in Eucalyptus Hills.” And a light was ignited under Unden. It was a complete turnabout from his days dedicated exclusively to football, basketball and baseball. “From then on, that’s about all I do now,” added the UCLA graduate.

Turn the clock forward seven years. Unden not only is an experienced mountain biker, he also operates a growing website on the sport, called Mountain Bike Diaries.com. “All I do in my free time is ride and write, traveling to different locations.” And his interactive website is expanding rapidly. His early posts were of Unden’s first-person accounts about numerous mountain biking trips throughout the western USA .

But now, readers are contributing, busting the site from 40-50 pages to nearly 200 pages of information on the who-what-where’s for the growing sporting activity. “I wrote four stories about Colorado, four in Utah , plus Nevada , Arizona and here in California ,” he added. “It’s what I like to do: go places, ride, then write stories about my experiences.”

Mountain Bike Diaries also provides photos, videos and maps to the most popular trails in the West, along with hidden gems and lightly utilized trails. Among all of these sites, however, one scenic stands far above the rest. “Nothing compares to Crested Butte in Colorado – simply incredible,” Unden declared. “Some of the first mountain bikers – with cruiser bikes – rode from Crested Butte to Aspen, a very worthwhile 29-mile trip.” “You start at around 11,000 feet, then ride through fields of flowers – it’s the wildflower capital of Colorado.”

The roots of the activity, which now includes a professional racing circuit, started in the Rockies and in the San Francisco Bay area by pioneer Gary Fisher. Former Vaqueros pitcher/shortstop Kevin Morton aided Unden in putting together the website.

“Kevin just graduated from Stanford and he started a business – K&J Web Productions – that builds websites,” he added. “He got me started with the website about a year and a half ago because he’s a lot smarter than I am.” Unden’s wife, Cindy, serves as a copy editor, while his daughter also edits and places his stories on the website. “It’s a family thing. And the best part is there’s always new places to ride and new people to meet.”

Indeed, it’s not just about riding, but developing relationships with fellow mountain bikers. Unden noted a recent trip to Lake Tahoe (story coming soon to the website), and an excursion to the Blue Mesa near Grand Junction, Colo. “I rode and got to stay with an ex-player of ours who lives there,” he added. “That’s the best part, riding with new people.” Unden rides locally with another El Cap grad, Gabe Morocco, who is one step away from gaining his pro- mountain bike-riding card. “Gabe went from lower competitions to becoming a Category One rider in the association in the last 1.5 years.” Comprehensive interviews with Morocco and other rising bikers are also posted on Unden’s website. All of his conversations, numbering more than 50, are linked to YouTube. It’s a long way from his days as a ballplayer at El Cap when legendary coach Ed Olsen was managing the Vaqueros. Other mountain bikers are encouraged to share their stories, pictures, videos and more by clicking to the visitors’ page on the website.

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