“Well, we’re not in the middle of nowhere, but we can see it from here.”

This past weekend was one of the better adventures I’ve had in a while. The guys have been trying to get sections of The Stagecoach GPS finished… only they have a weakness for stopping in a pub at night and it just hasn’t happened. So, they sent in the “A-team.”

Sarah came out from San Diego and met up with me in Brawley where I had a speaking/screening engagement at The Rock Coffee Shop and Café. After screening Ride The Divide (a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation fundraiser) and entertaining a thorough Q&A, we headed over to Sandra and Carter’s place for a late night of map scheming.

Day 1:

We woke up at 5:30, packed up and headed out. Brendan dropped us at Christmas circle in Borrego Springs and headed back to Idyllwild for a 3-day Zanderventure.

From here, Sarah and I, excited like school-girls, headed south in high gear! We dove through the “Texas Dip” which was our first climb of the morning – it’s enough to wake you up!

Heading east on Old Kane Spring Road, the excitement was building as we started feeling pretty far “out there.”  We dipped and dodged around and through perpendicular washes along this powerline road while also ducking out of the way of dunebuggies and atv’ers on our way to Split Mountain Road.

Sarah and I haven’t ridden long distances together, so this was a good opportunity to chat and get to know each other, a little better. We were able to ride side-by-side and catch up on all things bike and non-bike. She’s a pretty rad chica and it was great to hear she just got a part time teaching gig. I won’t lie, we also get to gab about the guys when we have a girls ride, which is great fun!

Split Mountain Road took us to Fish Creek Wash, which is one of the cruxes of this route. It’s also a geological dreamscape.

After climbing for about 5 hours through sand and again dodging off-roaders (probably the busiest weekend of the year in the wash) Sarah and I had both skirted our mental pain-caves and the chat minimized.

It was a welcome break when we could get out of the sun for a map check, to make sure we were still on track in the main wash. We did an excellent job of not veering off route, which was very important since we were running the gps track for the upcoming race.We finally reached the “Pinyon Drop”, which is a rock face that very few people have ever ridden down and quite a hike-a-bike chore to go up.After the drop, you head up through the squeeze (the wash is usually done in the opposite direction by motorized types) then crested the summit of Pinyon Mtn. road before beginning a very zippy 7.5 mile downhill to S-2 (the very windy “Earthquake Valley”) where we stopped for the night at the Stagecoach RV resort.We had considered continuing on to the bottom of Oriflame climb at night, but it was getting very windy and cold and the woman at the convenience store offered to upgrade us from a tent site to a cabin for free – it was settled. We got the key to our one room cabin, which looked a little like an 8×10 shed, only it was insulated and had a log cabin facade on the front.

Day 2: 

We reached the bottom of Oriflame canyon around 7:30 and began the climb. We ascended for about 2 hours fighting wind gusts that threatened to throw us into the canyon and adding layers as we cut through the clouds. It was a very cold and rocky, but beautiful, climb. At the top of Oriflame, we took Pedro Fages trail to the Sunrise hwy. This was fast and fun and a very welcome change.Once we got to the highway, we crossed over and hit La Cima trail, which paralleled the highway, and kept us out of the path of traffic. There was a little more climbing on the trail, but with the terrain contours, so much gentler than the highway. La Cima hooked us up to Lucky 5 trail, which had a bit of horse wear, but was very scenic and special.After Lucky 5 trail, we hopped on the Sunrise highway climbing to the top of Noble Canyon (a very popular destination trail.) I had never been to Noble before and didn’t do enough homework to realize it was buried in snow at the top. This was a good snowmobike experience and Sarah’s first time riding on snow – it’s always exciting!

Descending Noble was a blast; you start around 5,800 ft and descend down into the desert near Pine Valley.  Coming out near the bottom of a road they call l’alpe d’wheeze, we began a 30-minute climb where we gained 1,100 feet of elevation in just over three miles.

From here, we descended on dirt for about a mile until hitting the Indian Creek Trail. We took a left and began a pretty rocky climb that would mellow out before winding through some beautiful meadows and bringing us to a primitive campsite. At the campsite, we hit a blazing fast doubletrack road for about 4.5 miles, and flew down to highway 79, with black clouds looming overhead.

Sarah and I were freezing by the time we got to the bottom of the dirt road. I was very worried about getting caught out in weather as we didn’t have great gear to be out in rain at these temps on a route we didn’t know well. I was a little confused about what lie ahead and just wanted to get us both warmed up, plus we were both out of food since we hadn’t had a resupply for the entire day. We decided to turn off the GPS and blast down to Descanso for the night.

We pulled into the Descanso fruit stand and market just before dark only to find out there was no lodging in Descanso – oops! Fortunately, the woman who ran the fruit stand offered us a ride BACK to Pine Valley where they had a nice motel room waiting for us. At least it was only 5 miles by highway.We got a room at the only hotel in Pine Valley, grabbed burgers at Major’s Diner, and crashed out after cleaning a bit of mud off of ourselves and our bikes. Our plan was to get a ride back to the route in the morning, which usually isn’t difficult for two smiling women to do :-)

Day 3:

Major’s Diner opened at 6am and we rolled in at about 6:30. There were a few trucks outside, but no real suspects. The group of high-school kids seemed hung over and the middle-aged guys who owned most of the trucks were already paid up by the time we sat down. After getting a couple mountain muffins (english muffins with bacon and egg) we also grabbed a large sweet roll in a ziplock for later in the day.

The waitress told us about Ernie, a retired cowboy who usually hangs out at the gas station next door. She said she trusts him, so he’d be the one to ask for a ride. We headed over to the gas station to find Ernie – big grey beard and black cowboy hat. If he didn’t have a pipe, he should have! We interrupted his morning bench warming outside the gas station and he was happy to help us out. He told his friend, he’d catch him a little later. I’m sure they resumed right where they left off after Ernie’s morning adventure of dropping us back at the trail.

Ernie dropped us back at the bottom of the fire-road and we bundled up and hit some great singletrack. We then jumped back on the highway and descended for a couple of miles before slipping through a gate onto the Merrigan trail – a very fun doubletrack which took us back into Descanso.

From Descanso, we climbed up to the top of the ridge then took a screaming descent on Old Viejas road to the Viejas reservation. Here we jumped on some twisty fun singletrack paralleling the interstate. I love looking down at the “other half” living life on the interstate going 85mph. The singletrack took us into Alpine, a very cool little town, where we quickly breezed through to avoid the temptations of creature comforts – we still had a ways to go.

Leaving Alpine, we headed through a residential area before cutting back out into wilderness. This skirted Loveland Reservoir, Syucan Peak and McGinty Mountain before dropping us into Rancho San Diego.


Winding and climbing through the trail system next to Sweetwater Reservoir, the work for the day wasn’t over, but it was rewarding with views of a beautiful wetland and well preserved little getaway.

After the reservoir, we started getting close to civilization with horse trails, and bike paths along the sweetwater river. We passed under interstates where homeless made shelter and rode along the river all the way to the harbor. The harbor was a welcome site, but as Sarah admitted, will be difficult for anyone living in the area as it feels pretty close to home. It was nice smelling all the restaurants and the ocean at this point. We headed north along a bike route and eventually streets to tie into the GPS route Brendan, Zander and I created weeks ago.

Success!

By this point, Sarah and I were a bit spent and happy to head to her house for pizza and unwinding. This was the best women’s ride I’ve ever had. Sarah was a blast to follow on the dowhills and we both pushed each other on the climbs. We kept moving and had lots to chat about, also.

Brendan and Zander met us at Sarah and Ernesto’s house and I got one of the best baby hugs ever. This was the first time I’d been away from Zander overnight! and it was for 3 hard days of pedaling.

More Pictures

      

Back at the salt mine now, with this to dream about!