Phred Phoenix and the Case of the Poached FrogNOTE: This report was previously posted at www.MyBikeSite.com
It's been more than a week since I've had the opportunity to pull off a really big ride. Two Sundays ago, I got an itch to repeat one of my greatest loop-ride achievements.
Five years. A lot can change in five years - some for better, some for worse. On this adventure, I witnessed changes of both hues. The Pacifico Super Loop was a ride memory I cherished, even though I saw some things I wasn't happy with on my first go-round.
The route I followed was basically a circumnavigation of Pacifico Mountain, a fine sub-alpine zone between Mill Creek Summit and Chilao Flats. This route had everything but singletrack, and did not lack in technical challenge despite that fact. Pavement, fire road, doubletrack, rocks, ruts, roots, fallen trees, and more rocks. Add to that the heavy buffetting dished out by a big-tube aluminum frame with a rigid fork, and I had the makings of a super-epic.
But that was then. And this is now...
Sunday, September 21st, 2003
I pull into the Acton Grade train station to find that the epidemic of car clouts has gone unabated. There are more than a dozen piles of broken glass, and three vehicles with missing windows. Having been a victim of car-clouting more than once, I could only hope that they catch the culprit and shove a red hot poker up his 'exhaust pipe.'
I change into bike clothes and hit the road.
The coolness of the morning lasts for a while. I make it to the National Forest sign (about 5 miles out) and take a break. The desert is quiet. The occasional wave of traffic breaks the silence, but the vehicle noise is no match for an all-encompasing blanket of cool calmness. Autumn is here, and I can feel the changes. Cool air, shadows pointing in a different direction, the landscape seems almost sleepy.
More road. The climb up to Mill Creek Summit goes by in a semi-meditative blur. Though my activity level has dropped significantly since marriage, I've lately been returning to the big epics and shunning the short I-gotta-exercise trips up and down Caballero. Even my extended loops in the SM's have seemed lacking. For someone who, in a far-off former life, was used to strapping on a 50lb backpack and strolling up a High Sierra canyon, the contrived big-SM loops were taking their toll on my love of the sport. Back to the Mountains I go...
I reached Mill Creek Summit with a good feeling. I still had a lot of energy left - partly owing to the energized feeling I get durring the transition periods of both autumn and spring. The anxiety and anticipation I feel in these two glorious seasons often translates to physical and mental stamina. Alive...I am...ALIVE!!!
There was a little traffic at the trailhead, so I headed up past the first dirt switchback and took a side road to my second break spot - a concrete cistern in the Penny Pines plantation behind the ranger station. Solitude, and more changes. Some of the cedar trees surrounding the cistern are dying.
I scarf a Clif puck and relax in the morning sun. The cool weather of late has suppressed some of the bugs, but I am still accosted by the occasional cloud of gnats.
I can feel the altitude before I see it, but then the change comes. White fir trees mark the transition from Mojave to Subalpine. Home at last! White firs are among the most wonderful constructs of living fiber on the planet. In SoCal, they are the milestone of serious altitude gain. Since we have very few high (6,000'+) plateaus in SoCal, you have to do some real uphill to get into this zone. Golden meadow grass and scraggly live oaks lend some color and variety to the scene, adding to my hypoxic euphoria. I spin on...
As I cross the saddle at the Roundtop Road, the void between Pacifico and the front range peaks seems like a 'lost world' walled off from the urban cancer of the metropolis. Though many others make this same trek, and doubtless feel the same way, I still feel priveleged to witness such a scene.
After a brief descent, the climbing resumes. The grade is mild, so I stand and hammer up to the spur road leading to the summit. Several vehicles pass by, and I count that as heavy traffic for this area. Cheery waves and "Howdy's" all around - it's good to see folks enjoying themselves, even if it's from the inside of a steel carriage.
I begin the steep, oxygen-lax climb up the spur road. Near the first switchback, two very happy cyclists come roaring around the corner in the downhill direction. "YAAAAHOOOOO!" they scream as they pass, and all I can do is laugh with joy. Soon that will be me!
The summit area is crowded - a bit of an anticlimax. A clueless group of post-teens is camped in a primitive spot below the campground. They have camped way too close to the road, thus unknowingly spoiling for themselves what otherwise would be a nice weekend. Or maybe they don't feel comfortable being out of touch with the traffic. Remoteness scares some folks. I'll admit there have been times when remoteness has scared me silly, but my scale of remoteness is measured in 'days-from-road' rather than 'footsteps-from-road.'
The campground on the summit is full. I do not stop, but simply make the loop to say I've gained the summit, then head down. I bomb back down the summit ridge and find a nice rest spot in the forest, at least 100 steps off the road. The view, the sun, the cool breeze...after a while, I am feeling drowsy. Wish I had a book to read. Better get going before I lapse into a full-blown nap.
The descent down the southeastern side of the mountain is a bit rough. I'm chasing a car that is going surprisingly fast - I don't quite catch it before it hits the paved Chilao Road and disappears. At the pavement, I take a short rest in the shade, then head down to the north. I reach a junction with a dirt road, and my vague memory says this is the spot, but the road is blocked by both a locked gate and a chain-link fence. What the...? There are no signs around, but the fence says "CLOSED!" quite strongly. Against my better judgement, I continue down the paved road to the Sulfur Spring campground. End of the road...S#!+!!!
I double back to the junction, only losing a few minutes on this useless detour. The 'forbidden' dirt road will have to do if I'm to meet my wife when she gets off work at 5:00. I approach the fence, which only spans the road, and see that others have gone around. The closure must only be for vehicles, I think. Well...it's "do or die" as my wife will surely kill me if I'm late again.
A short climb leads me into Pinyon Flat. More changes. This area used to be an open shooting range, and on my last visit the whole flat was strewn with dead appliances and trash of every description. It had only recently been closed then, but this was five years hence. The recovery was remarkable! Brush and trees had grown to obscure much of the damage, and the carcasses of TV's and refrigerators had been removed by clean-up crews. The only trash remaining was being re-integrated with Mother Earth. Plastics were breaking down in the intense UV radiation. Paper was fading and crumbling to dust. Bits of glass were slowly being dulled and buried in the arid soil. Even the road was overgrown, and the only signs of traffic were a few faint motorcycle and bicycle tracks.
I took my lunch in the shade of some small, healthy cedars. The silence of this place was delightful.
Now descending, I followed the road into Little Rock Creek. Ruts and rocks on the road, sycamores and manzanita everywhere else. A pinch flat forced me to a halt in a rather pleasant locale. I fixed the flat with a smile on my face, and continued the race.
I passed the Alimony OHV route, and was surprised at the lack of OHV traffic. The lower end of the road must be fenced, too. Changes. Last time, the canyon from here down to the reservoir was one giant OHV party. That was when the OHV craze was just starting to ramp up. The difference was quite noticable - the road was being invaded by grass and brush. More changes - the canyon was bone-dry to this point, and below this point only held small pools of stagnant water where Little Rock Creek once flowed all year.
A climb-and-descend pattern ensued for a few miles, and then I reached the lower gate. Yep, there was a fence here, too. This fence was a bit more of an obstacle. There was no way to get around except to hike down steep mountainsides into the canyon bottom. I opted to climb over. Once I got on the other side, I turned around to see the reason for the closure. Arroyo Toad habitat! Yikes! I'd just poached a frog! My tires never touched a drop of water, much less a breeding toad, but I still felt like I'd snuck into the movies.
"We gave it The Finger!"
I stopped at the reservoir to fill up the bottles. No crowds...more changes. What had been a virtual war zone of stumped trees, tire tracks, drunken rednecks, and frustrated fishermen, had been transformed into a near paradise. Families were having picnics. People were actually swimming in the reservoir...and enjoying it! I passed the lake in pleasant disbelief, rather than my previous feelings of disgust and lament.
Down the highway I went. Last time, I took Mount Emma Road as my return, but this time I opted to skip that grueling climb and take Barrel Springs Road instead. This was a good decision. I had never taken this route, and the gentle climb through desert and the occasional marshy meadow went by quickly.
Then came the hell-du-jour. I had to ride for a couple miles on CA-138, along with the million-and-a-half yahoos driving 70mph in a 60mph zone that isn't even a freeway. The traffic was bad enough, but on the final climb, the temps at 3ft above the pavement topped out at 116 F. My brain was on the verge of being cooked.
The train station came none too soon, and I made a bee-line for the drinking fountain. Nearly seven hours and 47.3 miles later, I began to dump cool water over my scorched body. The ambient temp was over 110 F, but the wind chilled me to shivering and put a 'cat ate the canary' smile on my face.
Can't hardly wait til next time!