Friday, June 17, 2016

Trans Bernadino's Bikepacking

I like to think that every great adventure will somehow involve either a train or a ferry at some point along the way. For this adventure, I elected to use a train to get to and from the start/end of my ride.

I've been thinking about a dirt loop around the San Bernadino Mountains for a few years. I've done a good bit of riding around the Big Bear Lake area but haven't done much exploring outside of the valley so much of my planned route will be new terrain.
The planned route. I call it The Trans Bernadino's.
I planned to load up my mountain bike with a light load of sleeping bag, bivy sack, sleeping pad and enough gels and drink mix to get me through a planned 20 hours of riding to get around the 152-mile course. The plan was to finish in three days with a fourth if things didn't exactly go as planned. I've been on a couple of tours before so I know that nothing ever goes as planned.

After a easy 1.5 hour train ride from Irvine to San Bernadino, I set out on Old Route 66 up the Cajon Pass to Cleghorn Road and the start of the dirt.
Not the first time I've gotten my kicks on Route 66.

Cleghorn Road turned out to be much more pleasant than expected. I've ridden quite a few OHV roads and most are just horrible. I was actually expecting steep, loose conditions and a bunch of hike-a-bike but found a well-graded road that was actually a fun climb. Making it into the top-10 on the STRAVA segment on a fully loaded bike is always a nice ego boost also. The views of the high desert and the back side of Mt. Baldy are fantastic once you gain the ridge.

Great views on Cleghorn Ridge.
I ended the first day at Lake Silverwood State Park after riding 38 miles with 4500' of climbing. I felt good the whole way but am looking forward to a couple of tough days to finish this off.

The top of Miller Canyon.
Day two started off with a tough climb up Miller Canyon that finally made me push the bike through a couple of sections. Since I'm on unfamiliar turf, I will be trying to conserve energy as much as possible. Unfortunately, I will make a choice at the top that dooms me to some really tough riding. I had seen some OHV "trails" on the map that looked like singletrack and had decided these might be a fun way around Lake Arrowhead. These turned out to be motorcycle trails and the first one was actually really fun with banked turns, whoops and some cool features. The second, not so much. It just deteriorated into one super steep, loose climb after another until I was pretty worked.

Exploring the moto trails north of Lake Arrowhead.
I ended up bailing out after a couple of miles for the nearest road to town (I was also getting a little hungry) and this is where my plan went out the door. About a mile after I hit the pavement, one of the bolts holding my seat in place snapped leaving me with a seat flopping all over. I was able to McGuyver it well enough to ride the short distance to the bus stop where I caught the bus up to Bear Valley Bikes where they dug around and found a bolt that fit.

I missed out on around 15 miles of my planned route due to the unplanned bus ride but I was in position for day three which would take me up and over Wildhorse Meadow road and then all the way down the Santa Ana River Trail.

The climb up Wildhorse Meadows Road.
Day three started with a big breakfast and then a nice climb out of Big Bear Valley. After 2 hours, I was looking down at the Santa Ana River 2000' below.

The Santa Ana River Trail (SART) is a Southern California Classic. Miles of singletrack carved into the steep side of the canyon make for an awesome ride. Great views the entire way. Things were going great until Middle Control Road. Just after crossing the road there is a section that still has a bunch of downed trees and wash outs. This isn't too bad normally but lifting a fully loaded bike over trees gets a little old after 20 or 30 times. It also put me way behind schedule. I made it to Angeles Oaks just a few minutes before the restaurant closed and was able to get some food and water.

I also decided to make another route change due to the time and not wanting to risk running into worse trail conditions on the lower part of the trail. After a quick run down the Loch Leven trail, I was back on the road for the long run back to the San Bernadino Train Station. Three days, 135 miles, 13,000+ feet of climbing. Not bad for a quick trip to the local mountains.

The start of 35 miles of downhill.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Going Gravel

Anyone who keeps up with cycling has probably seen all the recent hype about gravel riding. The same goes for anyone who has followed my riding habits over the last year. Yes, I have jumped in with both feet and have to admit that I'm having a blast.

Exploring the road less traveled.
There seems to be some confusion over what gravel grinding is with some people thinking it is longer cyclocross rides, some thinking it is a road ride with sections of dirt road thrown in and others who are out looking for super long rides on dirt and gravel roads. The great thing about gravel grinding is that it is all of these things with a big dose of fun tossed in the mix.

Anyone who rides a lot has to admit to periods of boredom on the bike. The same old routes get stale and no matter where you live, eventually you run out of options. Enter the gravel grinder. Those who follow my riding have seen that I am always out trying to link MTB trails together using as little pavement as possible. Now to perfectly honest, this often involves a lot of dirt road riding that is hardly worthy of a mountain bike. To be perfectly honest, most of what we ride is long fireroads that lead to short singletrack downhills. Now, I've ridden all these downhill sections hundreds of times so if I'm just looking for mileage, I'm not that worried about skipping a half-mile section of trail in the middle of a 50-mile ride.

Who says you can't throw in a little singletrack.
Another thing I like about the gravel grinding is getting off the pavement. I like road riding. I love the speed and efficiency of a road bike. But, I don't like traffic and pretty much just looking at houses and strip malls most of the time on the bike. Taking the efficiency of the road bike off-road allows you to see places you'd never see on your roadie. It's quiet and you also don't have to worry about being turned into a hood ornament.

I also love to explore and this is where the gravel bike is truly the best. All those dirt roads and trails that you wouldn't bother with on a MTB suddenly become ways to link other areas together.It is also great for those days when you really don't want to drive all the way to the trailhead. While anything over a couple of miles gets tedious on a mountain bike, on the gravel bike, it is just a warm up.

I admit that I was pretty skeptical of the whole gravel grinder hype but like I said before, I'm in now and my grinder bike has quickly become my "lets go exploring" bike.

Finding the roads less traveled.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Commitment and Political Courage...

Bike lanes, not parking.
Those are the words that came to mind for me yesterday as I rode through San Francisco and that is what is takes to truly change our roads to be more bike friendly.

It takes a commitment to cycling as a viable form of transportation that deserves to be encouraged by making simple changes to our streets. I saw this commitment displayed in San Francisco by the fact that on pretty much any street that did not have a bike lane, the right lane had been designated as a shared lane by painting the "Sharrow" lane designator.

It is amazing what this simple change to a street does for cyclists. It graphically informs both the driver and the cyclist that this is a shared lane and that the cyclist is expected to ride in the lane and traffic is expected to change lanes to pass.

After riding through most of San Francisco with a shared lane, it was an immediate shock to the system when I suddenly reached the City of Burlingame where the "Sharrow" lanes ended and there was no bike lane. Suddenly I had cars trying to squeeze by on the narrow lanes. You could almost feel the difference in the attitudes of the drivers as they suddenly saw you not as a fellow user of a shared resource but as an interloper on their turf.

Rumble strip separation.
The other idea I often propose is to add a rumble strip between the bike lane and traffic lanes on streets with a speed limit over 35mph. This lets both drivers and cyclists know when they are drifting out of their space. This is a great feature in today's environment of distracted drivers.
 This is where the idea of political courage came to mind for me because when I think of my own neighborhood, I'm not sure how much public support there would be for designating the right lane on every four lane road as a shared lane. Courage is doing the right thing even if it isn't the popular thing.

We've had quite a few cyclist deaths over the last couple of years in Orange County and I'm not saying that throwing some paint on the streets would have prevented any of them or will prevent any in the future. But, it is a simple and relatively low-cost way of showing a commitment to change and a commitment to making the streets safer for all users.

The "Sharrow" painted on the street makes an important statement to drivers that cyclists do have a right to share the road. There is no question about where the cyclist belongs, no varying interpretations of the vehicle code and no "cyclists should be on the sidewalks."

This would normally be a street I would avoid.
As we sit through the roundtables and meetings regarding cycling safety in Orange County, I think pushing the cities, CalTrans, OCTA, etc... towards more shared lanes should be one of our highest priorities. It makes a statement of commitment while at the same time educating everyone about our proper place on the road.

I think that the most important thing we can do to improve safety for cyclists is to change the attitudes of both drivers and cyclists. Both parties need to know their place and responsibilities.

Cyclists need to stop being timid in their use of a shared resource. Take the lane and assert your right to the road. As drivers see more and more of us where we are supposed to be, they will be less inclined to attempt to intimidate us off of our streets.

Edited to add:

CVC 21202 -
Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at such time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:
1. When overtaking and passing another bicycle or motor vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
2. When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
3. When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes) that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge. For purposes of this section, a "substandard width lane" is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
I added the section of the CVC that is relevant to the discussion as with the upcoming implementation of the "Three-foot Rule," every lane is now too narrow for a vehicle and bicycle to travel side-by-side. Because of this, every road without a designated bike lane should now have the right lane painted with the sharrow symbol. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Incredible Boredom of Touring...

It is hard for me to equate touring the Pacific Coast by bike with boredom but that is where I am and I have figured out the reason. The allure of traveling by bike is the mystery of finding out what is over the next hill or around the next bend.

It doesn't all look like this.
Unfortunately, I have traveled up and down the coast so many times, there really is no surprise or wonder to be found. I know which campsites I want at pretty much every State Park on the coast. I know where the best breakfast can be found and the only mystery for me is whether or not my regular restaurants have changed their hours. Yes, it kind of sucks.

Added to this is that to avoid the south-facing wind machine that seems to be turned on between 10-noon each day, I have been finishing my rides by noon which leaves me sitting around a campsite staring at trees until it is time to sleep. While that may seem relaxing, that only works for a day or two. After that, it just gets boring. This in addition to many of the Hiker/Biker sites seem to be the congregating spots for the indigent population of California so you have to stay within sight of your gear to prevent them from walking off with your stuff. Fun.

I have also been harshly reminded of why I despise traveling during the summer and through the typical tourist areas by the "seasonal pricing" that has been in effect for most of the trip. In a car, this is no big deal as you can get away from the tourist traps pretty easily. On a bike you are entirely at their mercy. I paid $18 for a two-egg omelette and some greasy hash browns yesterday. And that wasn't the worst gouging I've seen.

Lagunitas General Store
Added to the other things that have kept me pretty pissed off since somewhere back around Half Moon Bay is that that seems to be right about the time that the shoulder seems to have disappeared and the ride has been a pretty continuous stream of RVs, Logging Trucks and fairly discourteous drivers. Instead of maybe one driver in twenty getting a little close, now I am surprised by the driver that actually gives more than a few inches when going by. And I know it doesn't get any better going North. Especially since this weekend is generally considered the beginning of tourist season. Did I mention that my morning rides on the shoulderless roads, dodging vehicles are also done in the fog? Yes, the fog seems to burn off right about when the wind starts.

So here's the deal. I know I started this trip with a goal of riding to Washington, but quite frankly I've already seen everything ahead of me to the North and the idea of seeing the same towns (and getting stuck in them) that I usually avoid and riding through one boring beach town tourist trap after another is not how I want to spend my summer. Now, if I was raising a crapload of money for R2R, I might keep this going, but the paltry amount that has been donated doesn't really motivate me to bore myself to death.
The morning fog.

So tomorrow I'm going to wake up and point my bike in whatever direction I want. I have three choices from where I'm at: North - takes me farther up the coast into more wind, more wet, more cold and more boredom; West - takes me to the furnace of the Central Valley; South - takes me back down the coast at possibly a slower pace with some stops in the Bay Area and Santa Cruz for some pleasure riding. That's right, get a campsite, stay a day or two and do some local riding.

Now, just to make sure you all don't think I'm done with touring, I should assure you that I really do like traveling by bike. This is just not the route for me and anyone who knows me knows that I'm not good at doing things that I don't enjoy. I'm still interested in the Maah Dah Hey, Katy Trail, C&O Canal Trail, Kokopelli, etc... if anyone is interested.

14 days - Irvine to Fort Bragg

Monday, May 19, 2014

Hanging with the Hipsters...

I'm coming to the rapid conclusion that this tour is not going to be near as adventurous as my trip across the country. The weather has been pretty good, services plentiful, campgrounds easier to find and each day has not at some point turned into a fight for survival.
Lots of this coming up.

And this is one of the reasons I wanted to do this route. I wanted to see what bike touring is like on a bike friendly route and I have to admit that it is almost pleasantly boring. I am not locked into a daily sufferfest and have been able to slow down and actually enjoy the ride.

I've been getting up early, find some breakfast and then ride to the next stop which usually only takes until noon or so. Then I have the rest of the day to hang out at the CG or do a little sightseeing. Quite a change from last time.

That is not to say there hasn't been some excitement. Yesterday I got to watch the Bay to Breakers run in San Francisco and last week I saw the Tour of California go through Big Sur. Good stuff.

Saturday night I found myself sharing the Hiker/Biker site with a group of 20-something hipsters from SF. I t was interesting hanging out with them. They definitely have a different view of camping than I do. They went all out for dinner cooking up a gourmet feast. The real highlight was listening to their interchanges with the Christian Minister on bike tour as he reinterpreted traditional christian teachings on gay marriage and other issues. I love watching the religious pick and choose which things they believe in while defending the absolute truth of the bible.
Half Moon Bay

I now find myself past San Francisco Bay and ready to tackle the North Coast. Today will be a short one while I wait for a storm to go past me to the North. I should make it to Bodega Bay tomorrow.

Ten days down.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The best road ride in North America?

Just north of San Simeon.
I've ridden all over the U.S.. I've been to Crater Lake, Lake Tahoe and have ridden in numerous National Parks all over the country, but the 100 miles of Big Sur coastline between Monterey and Cambria have got to be the most challenging and scenic miles I've seen.

As you ride from sea level to heights well above the water's edge perched on a road that is a marvel of engineering clinging to sheer cliffs the scenery is nothing less than spectacular for the entire distance. The views almost make you forget about the lack of shoulder and constant stream of vacationing cars, trucks and RVs with drivers just as distracted by the vistas as you are.

Rest break at Ragged Point.
The climbing is a series of rolling hills interspersed with a couple of longer sustained climbs followed by thrilling descents on a winding roller coaster that makes its way through fields of wildflowers and evergreen forests including a section of coastal redwoods at Big Sur Station. I recorded about 9000' of climbing between San Simeon and Monterey.

 Even though the route seems remote, there are services spaced at regular intervals where food and water are available (although expensive).

World Famous Bixby Bridge.
Most reports that I've found recommend riding from north to south due to the prevailing winds but I didn't have any problems other than happening to be riding during an unusual heat wave that took the temps up to around 90 degrees. The Big Sur River makes for a refreshing break along the way.

I met a lot of bike tourers along the way and have to say that the Hiker/Biker site at Big Sur Campground is absolutely beautiful nestled in a grove of redwoods. I would recommend bringing your own food though as the restaurant is rather expensive.

At the south end in San Simeon, there is a really good Mexican Restaurant with great crab enchiladas. The Best Western restaurant has a great Cajun Omelette with spiced ham and shrimp. The great thing about touring is that you can pretty much eat anything you want and you're still going to lose weight.

There is another vote for this being a great ride and that is its inclusion as a stage in the Tour of California this year. I got to watch the pros come through and it was just awesome to see them racing in such a fantastic setting.

Seven days from Irvine to Monterey.

Monday, May 12, 2014

R2R Honor Ride: Four days down...

Santa Barbara morning.
After a fairly flat start to the first couple of days, I've started to hit a few hills and am definitely glad I switched cranksets at the last moment to give myself some better climbing gears. Yesterday's cat3 (with headwind) hill after already riding 50 miles finally put me in the small ring.

The wind hasn't been as bad as I was expecting as long as I finish up by 1pm. After that, it gets a little brisk and by late afternoon it is pretty much unridable so I'll be getting some early starts on the way north.

The route so far has pretty much been  coastal/urban beach towns so I haven't been taking too many pictures. That should change starting tomorrow as I pass Morro Bay and head into Big Sur.

I was dreading this all day.
I'll be passing the Amgen Tour of California Peloton sometime Wednesday. It should be pretty cool to see them come through. I just hope they don't clean out all the restaurants along the way or it may get a little dire between San Simeon and Monterey.

It should be nice to get out of the more urban areas. It seems that the transient population has taken over the State Parks anywhere near a town. Carpeteria SP was the worst and I don't think I'll be staying there on the way back. 

Four days down: Irvine to Pismo Beach