Two weeks I took a trip to California to tour the Stagecoach 400 route. Jason and I met up with folks in LA, then headed to Brendan and Mary Collier's shop in Idyllwild. The Hub Cyclery is an awesome place. A full service shop and base for their Siren Cycles hand built bikes, it's a charming place in an idyllic setting. The whole family was on hand to lend needed tools, talk shop, and offer advice about what lay ahead for us. Their son Zander provided awesome entertainment, and some much needed stress relief as we got ready. What a ripper!
In addition to running a kick butt shop, Brendan and Mary are the promoters of the Stagecoach 400 endurance race. It was their route we would be riding in the coming days. This route is a challenging course spanning desert, coastal, and urban areas. We planned to ride the route in 5 and a half days, averaging about 70 miles per day.
Winding our way out of Idyllwild we immediately started climbing. Cowbell alley got a lot of conversation going about the Cowbell bar from Salsa, my favorite drop bar ever!
Out of Idyllwild and headed for the hills, we ran across a different, yet very familiar sign. The bullet holes brought us right back to rural MN roads, even from west mountain valleys.
The scenery in the area around Idyllwild is just stunning. Coupled with the giddy feeling of starting our adventure, the first part of our day was pure heaven. Funny how you can be so far from home, and yet little things are just the same where ever you are.
Gorgeous valleys lined the route at this point. The light from broken clouds was stunning. From our vantage point you could see single track trail snaking it's way across both side hills, then through the valley. It would be an awesome place to explore. About this time we were passed by a horseman wearing a big hat, a flannel shirt. The lever action carbine in the saddle scabbard, his big smile, and welcoming hello all took me back to old movies and big western dreams.
Trails at this point looked largely like this. The fast sections were really flowy and traction was, for the most part, pretty good. The trails were around double track widths, the dirt having a light kitty litter over hard pack consistency. Between off road sections a super fast pavement downhill section eventually returned us to dirt again.
We rode on into darkness for about an hour on these jeep type trails. Somewhere on a rocky downhill, the bottle cage on my fork leg broke and jettisoned my bottle. It wasn't until well later that I noticed it's absence. I regretted the loss later. My small headlamp did not provide enough light to navigate the rough trails with any kind of safety. Bummed about losing my bottle, with my left knee twanging with stabbing pain, and realizing I brought insufficient lighting, this was a tough section for me. I ended up riding in front of folks to use the flood of their lights to see. The shadows and indirect light hid all sorts of bumps and rocks. I nearly dumped the bike several times.
Even with my crappy light, this dark black tarantula was easy to spot in the middle of the light colored trail. This was a relatively little guy, about four inches in diameter. I do not like spiders, but it was actually cool to see one of these in the wild. This is the reason I brought an enclosed bivy/tent. Though heavier, this confirmed I had made the right choice there!
After a bit we descended into a large river wash from these hilly trails. This was one of the coolest parts of the trip for me. Wide open and mostly flat, the light of the stars and the moon were nearly enough alone to light our way. The ground here was made up of hardened water ways, with lines and shapes accordingly. The surface had hardened to a concrete like consistency. I could barely scratch the surface in most spots with my hard soled shoes. Traveling slightly down hill, following the water ways of the wash with a strong tail wind was one of my highlights of this trip. Under clear, starry skies it was an amazing sensation.
Our ride on this first day was to end at Bailey's Cabin, about in the center of Coyote Canyon. The route to get there was meandering. Sometimes times it followed the wash, sometimes not. There were intermittent signs, and quite a few posts without signs on them! We cruised on following the GPS route marker, wondering if we'd miss the cabin by a hundred feet and never know it.
About two thirds of the way down the wash Jason saw something we wished he hadn't. About 500 yards up a side hill were a pair of predatory eyes watching us. Likely a Lynx, it nonetheless had us thinking of mountain lions and all manner of creatures we'd like to not meet! It served as ample encouragement to pick the pace up a bit and find camp.
Thankfully camp proved to be close at hand. We were all relieved to find the cabin squarely where the GPS route said it would be. Though the rodent signs inside the cabin proved less than inviting, it was comforting to be near some structure with tables and other amenities nearby. Winds made a campfire out of the question, but we were all ready to crash out anyway.
We'd made about thirty five miles, right where we'd wanted to be the first half day out. Riding at this point had proved to be a bit tougher than we had expected, a harbinger of things to come for sure. We all went to sleep content and in relative comfort. Despite the hard riding, and the very long day with travel, I fought the wind and position for sleep all night. This too would be a trend throughout the trip for me.
Bailey's Cabin come morning.
There ended out first night in the desert. It had already been a wonderful, challenging, and rewarding trip. Laying in a small green bivy with the fly flapping noisily next to my head, I lay in my sleeping bag contemplating what lay ahead. It would be a heck of a journey.
More to follow.