Our Californian adventures are drawing to a close with a final dirt road leg to San Diego.
From this border city, only a few days lie ahead to Los Angeles: a mellow road ride north through the beach communities of the Pacific coast.
Then? That’s the big question on my mind these days. My hope is still to return to Ecuador and resume my journey south – most likely teleporting my way with a cheap flight sometime after the New Year. In the meantime, I’ll be putting my cycling shoes to one side, hitch hiking up to San Francisco to visit friends for Christmas. Nancy will be making the long train ride east, to the cold climes of Santa Fe to continue her acupuncture studies.
For now, here’s a rundown on our ride to the ocean…
It's late afternoon before we leave the wizard's wand-like manzanitas of Idyllwild. It's been well worth the detour here, even if camping conditions have been icy cold. On our last night, we pitch the tarp behind the town's cute little movie theatre, the ideal place to keep warm watching a late night, $5 film.
We couldn't skip town without one final visit to Honey Bunn and Joe's. This quirky little hangout is home to local artist instillations and delicious pastries - cinnamon rolls being a favourite, and only $2 if you're happy to have them 'day old'.
Needless to say, by the time we succumb to a departing singletrack loop - linking the May Valley dirt road with Bonita Vista - we don't make it far that day. There's plenty of good camping in the National Forest above Lake Hemit.
Tackling tight and turning singletrack is a good test for the Tout Terrain Mule, which takes a few knocks as it catches down the bouldery turns. Despite a few scrapes, the kickstand does its job at protecting my Ortlieb bag.
Then, it's back on pavement for a road stint along 74, the Pines to Palms Highway.
From here, we turn off into Burnt Valley, where amongst all ranch signs, this one catches my eye. It reminds me of the house my family once lived in, Another Old Rectory, so named for all the Rectory's dotted about the Dorset countryside.
Then it's back on dirt, negotiating steep climbs, woven with tyre-grabbing water-snakes, on a trail that meanders amongst giant, discarded boulders.
Away from traffic, music helps keep the legs turning and the mind motivated. The wonders of technology: a thousand songs for just 12.5 grams of weight. As ever, Nancy adds a little colour co-ordination...
We pick up the Californian Hiking and Biking Trail, on the recommendation of Brendan, from the Hub Cyclery in Idyllwild.
Paralleling the long distance Pacific Crest Trail in places - which is closed to mountain biking - it's exactly what we're after.
I always sigh a breathe of relief when we hit dirt. We have the road to ourselves once more. Pavement is a good way to clock up miles, but I feel more at home when there's dust in my tyres.
From what I understand, plans are afoot to link up a corridor of public land across the whole of California. It has all the potential for a fantastic traverse of the state, passing through Joshua Tree National Park. In the US, singletrack is closed to mountain biking in National Parks, but there are hopes Congress will be passing a law to allow limited mountain biking access there.
Like a scene from the Great Divide...
In fact, it's one of the best stretches of track we've ridden in a while. Each climb answered by a fast, swoopy descent.
We spend a happy, hazy, dusty late afternoon riding.
The Hiking and Riding Trail crosses Chihuahua Valley Road, named after a solitude-seeking Mexican herdsman from Chihuahua. From here, the flora takes on a different character, as we enter Indian Flats on the Puerta La Cruz Truck Trail, cut in the '30s.
We camp for the night in a grassy clearing by the trail. It's good to be warm again, now that we've dropped a couple of thousand feet since Idyllwild.
Then its onwards, along a boulder-strewn path, through hardy chaparrel scrub and shrubland.
Finally, a paved road drops us down through the Lost Valley, depositing us onto Highway 79. We descend upon the gas station at Warner Spring to feed, water and charge up various electronic devices.
It feels like the beginning of a more well-to-do, upscale California. With its terracotta tiles, the adobe Chapel of Saint Francis, dating back to 1830, might have been lifted straight from the Tuscan foothills.
And in contrast, the Hideout Saloon... We're invited in to the burly Harley fold to warm up with hot apple cider.
Climbing up above Lake Henshaw.
From Mesa Grande, we turn off onto the twisting, turning Black Canyon dirt road.
A massive descent leads through a Kumeyaay reservation down to Ramona. This Native American word means 'ledge' - the people who live at the edge of the ocean...
Again, the scenery shifts in tone and colour. A magical tunnel of old growth Red Oaks line our path, letting only the softest of light seep in.
We've now well and truly left the desert, and there's a winteriness in the air. It's late afternoon, so we camp a few miles outside of Ramona in a cosy woodland glade. From here on we'll be hitting the thick of suburban sprawl, and we're expecting wild camping to be more limited. Brendan has told us about the San Diegito River Trail system, so we're hoping to eek out our dirt for 10 more miles towards the coast.
The next morning however, spitting rain soon crescendos to a relentless downpour. It's forecast to rain all day, so we decamp in the Ramona Cafe, drowning our sodden sorrows in one of its magnificent, 1/2 pound cinnamon rolls. There, a kindly waitress puts the word out that we're looking for a floor to sleep on and Chris, one of the diners, comes to our rescue. Except it's even better than we could have hoped for. Wishing us a Merry Christmas, he sets us up with a night in a cabin in the nearby, beautiful Dos Picos County Park. It's veritable luxury: toasty warm and dry!
We try out luck with the Foster Truck Trail. for a more direct route to San Diego. Unfortunately, as good a job as Googlemaps has done to navigate us across the country, it doesn't diferentiate between private roads and those that are open to the public. Time and time again our efforts have been thrwated by gates and padlocks, decorated with threatening signs promising criminal prosecution for trespassers. It's a shame, as the highway alternative heaves with traffic: it's a means of reaching a destination, rather than an enjoyable journey.
Coupled with the unwelcome Californian rain, we end up forgoing our final dirt track detours and making a beeline direct to the city. It's not the most enjoyable ride, but still, there's no taking away from the elation of reaching the Pacific Ocean. Our arrival is celebrated with a fantastic seafood medley by the sea, courtesy of Denbigh and Annika, who invite us into their home for the night. Thanks!
The Hub Cyclery – thanks Brendan for helping line this ride up for us.
The Hideout Saloon - Harley and bicycle-friendly… Not sure about spandex though.
We’d planned to use the San Deguito Trail system to lead us towards Solana Beach but headed more directly to San Diego due to heavy rain.
If I was doing this again, I’d peel off from Warner Springs on dirt roads to Julian. From here, there looks to be some fantastic backcountry riding through the Cleveland National Forest, via Lake Morena or Barrett Lake. You could then head west to San Diego, or continue south onto the dirt roads of Baja California…