Night And Day
I'm resting on the summit of Pacifico Mountain. The time is 2:10 AM. It's winter. The climb up was very windy and unpleasant, but most of the way I was riding on cushy styrofoamed powder snow. Temperatures on the summit are severe. I am bundled up in PataGucci underwear, fleece pants, fleece shirt, down vest, GoreText jacket, fleece beanie-clava, and fleece gloves. The wind is blasting over me with a fierce velocity, bowing the huge ponderosa and white fir trees as if they were dog hairs. The light from the full moon is harsh, and everything about is covered with snow or rime ice. Shadows and light play on the crystals, yielding a remarkable light-show, as small scuds of cloud slip past the mountain. Non-living is how the scene could be described - not 'dead,' which implies having been alive at one time. I rue the ride down (oh the irony!) but soon must go. The wind chill is just awful, and my Michelin Man outfit is not helping much. I can feel that slow, creeping cold that tortures the mountaineer on a forced bivouac. My fingers, my fingers...where are my fingers...
The midday sun is cooking me. I've left the barely-effective shade at the Devil's Punchbowl parking area, and I'm climbing up through a 'grove' of huge manzanita. The dark leaves and branches are re-radiating the heat. The treasonous cobalt sky sends me a wind fit for a convection oven. It's 111oF (44oC) just before noon, and I guzzle precious water to prime the sweat glands. I do remarkably well in the heat, playing things smart. The strategy is somewhat schizophrenic, speeding along fast enough to induce air-cooling, then stopping in the shade as often as it is encountered. Dump water into the helmet. Dump water into the shirt. Dump water into the shorts. It's dry within minutes, so the relief is short-lived. Lizards hop around like some mass-migration of giant fleas. Flying bugs pester me, threatening to choke me should I choose to inhale at the wrong instant. Can't wait to get to the creek so I can take a dip.
I can't believe I've gone this far. I've gone from Mill Creek Summit over Pacifico Mountain, and through Chilao, and on up the highway to Cloudburst Summit. The ride back will be sheer torture – 1400ft (424m) of rough climbing waits at the bottom of this descent. It's pitch black, except for the beam in front and the blinker in the rear. The highway slips under my bike like magic. Am I even touching the pavement? As I cruise along (minding my own business, of course) I see movement in the beam ahead. In the instant after seeing the brown object, my mind leapfrogs over '...it's just a deer...' and smacks into the realization that '...Holy S#!+ it's a bear!' He (she?) runs along ahead of me for a bit, but decides prudently to jump off the road. I stop at its jump-off point and listen as the crashing noise recedes downhill into the forest. Remarkable!
A lazy California summer afternoon unwinds. Olive trees provide a nice rest spot before I head down the canyon. This is one of my local sandbox rides, and I know every rock and tree along the way. But that big white rock ahead isn't familiar...has it always been there? Round the rock with caution, gently curving left...and...what the..? That 'rock' is standing up and getting ready to bolt! What had looked like a large white boulder, in an area peppered with large white boulders, turned out to be a rather full-grown adult white cow. The beast lumbered off through the brush, leaving me with an adrenalin high a few notches higher than I had set out to achieve on this ride.
The beach was pleasant. I'd just finished hacking out one of the best ridge runs in the Santa Monica Mountains, climbing Reseda to Mulholland, then out to The Hub, down Eagle Rock through Trippet Ranch, then down Paseo Miramar to Sunset, and the beach. Another midnight run. The return would lead up Palisades Drive, then Michael Lane to Trailer Canyon. It's not my favorite climb, but the most direct, and time is short. I'm climbing up Michael Lane, and notice movement off to one side. It's a coyote. I must have scared him out from behind a car, or something. Or something! I continue riding, and coyote is following me. I stop, and he stops...at a slight distance. I continue riding, and he lopes up beside me and keeps pace. I stop, he stops. I go, he goes. We go. Then I look back, and notice the other one. No, two. There are two more, but they are keeping a safer distance. Well, let's just see how far this game goes. I continue to climb up the street, and am escorted all the way to Trailer Canyon. I turn up the gated dirt road and watch for a minute, hiding in the shadows. Here is where I lose my escort. They find some other enticing scent on the breeze and keep heading up Michael Lane. On a mission, no doubt...
The sky is so ...SO... strange! I've never seen anything like this. It's one of those nice mid-winter desert days, with a spread of lace-thin high clouds. Tires crunch on rarely disturbed dirt as I roll across the bottom of Cowhorn Valley. This is deep desert, straddling the northern border of Death Valley National Park. It's cold, and the weather feels like it's headed toward snowing. Which is why there are sundogs and rings in the sky. But there are too many! Arcs of rainbow and ice blue intersect at several points in the sky, and a strong ring follows the feeble sun. I keep stalling the bike because I'm looking up at the sky instead of the road. The road is straight, but the sky holds my attention for extended periods. Balance suffers if one turns one's head from side to side while moving. I feel like a kid seeing the inside of a limestone cavern for the first time...gaping jaw, don't know where to look next. Such a bizarre sight...leaves me speechless!
We’re riding up Pacifico Mountain. My brother Sean and I are out for a mid-winter night ride. The weather is less than optimal, with a strong wind and light rain. Nothing we can’t handle, though. Ever hear that wonderful Mussorgsky piece (later adapted by Rimsky-Korsakov) called “Night on a Bare Mountain?” Well, that’s what we were headed into. As we climbed up the well-packed dirt road, switchbacking beneath the pines and power lines, the storm thickened. The wind got worse. The rain intensified. Then, quite unexpectedly… “Say ‘cheese’!” FLASH! Ka-BOOM!!! The lightning starts. We continue, bravely. So does the lightning. It’s all around us, and we are a bit fearful that it will strike the power lines and do some awful damage. “Smile!” FLASH! Ka-RACKKKK-PowBOOM!!! Wow! This is not what we had planned for. After only climbing the first 3 switchbacks, we huddle under a small oak tree. The tree only shelters us from the wind. Water keeps falling, and we get more and more soaked. We decide that we’ve ‘seen the elephant’ and want no more of this. Down we go, blasting as fast as possible through a swirling maelstrom of water drops and air molecules. “Hold it!” FLASH! KRACKLE-BOOM-BOOM-rumble! We finally reach the car and throw everything inside. We jump in and ditch all the soaked outerwear. The drive back is a fight to keep the windows from fogging up, but we make it safely. We’re both wearing “Dodged that bullet!” grins as we pull up to my brother’s pad. It’ll be a while before we try that trick again.
The descent has been memorable, to say the least. Four of us are just finishing the Cannell Plunge in the mighty Sierra Nevada. We’ve had our share of problems, but mostly it’s been a bold and beautiful day. We struggle down the final switchbacks as the temperatures climb. It was cold at the top when we started, 9:00 AM at 9300ft (2818m). Now that we’re back by the river, it’s quite hot and dusty. The river is there, just a ways further. We’re all jonesing for that cool water. We reach the trailhead and are insulted with the final road stretch of rolling hills on sun-baked pavement. The Mountain River Adventures campground is where we started the day, and that’s where we will finish. We pull into camp, locate the campsite, drop everything and scurry down to the river’s edge. This impromptu bath in cold mountain river water has been in my thoughts for miles. The experience lives up to the hype I’ve been building in my mind…simply luscious. As Jello Biafra once sang “California, uber alles!”
[Excerpted from Semi-Tech Semi-Cent - 50 miles on singletrack and mountain roads]
I made a right on Schueren Road and the climbing got much easier. Ticking off the vert...2300...2400...2500... When I got to Stunt Road, 2600 feet (788m) of vert lay beneath me to the south, and every hard-won inch was uphill. I made a short detour on Saddle Peak Road before I realized it was dropping me into Topanga Canyon. I doubled back to Stunt Road, blasted down to Mulholland Highway, then began the s-l-o-w climb back to Calabassas. By the time I got back into the 818 [San Fernando Valley], it was dinner time. I stopped off at home and ate some ultra-spicy beef curry and yellow rice, then hacked out the 8 miles back to Reseda to fetch the gopher-mobile. At the Caballero trailhead I hit the wall, and got off and walked the rest of the way to the top of Reseda. Upon reaching the car, I felt a tad... queasy... better ... kneel . . . bushes . . . . . . HURL!!!! Barf! Sputter-spit-sputter...BARF!! Up came dinner! It was a crappy way to end an otherwise outstanding day, and I think it had something to do with my wife being pissed at me for ultra-extending the ride. That curry she'd cooked had a distinctly sharper bite than her normal batch. She said she hadn't measured the chili, just dumped it in. Next time I do a whole-day adventure, I'll ask for potato soup!