“I forgot my camelbak.” That is how this tale of forgetfulness, epic trails, conditions and people starts. My buddy Bill O’neil had never ridden Noble Canyon out in East County San Diego. Noble Canyon is designationed a National Recreation Trail and is one of the IMBA Epic Trails. If you live in Southern California is basically considered a must do. So Bill was on his way down to my house from LA on Saturday. The plan was to hang out on Saturday and then ride on Sunday. Bill called me when he was halfway to my house when he realized that he had forgotten his camelbak. This was no big deal as I had spare smaller 70oz camelbak that would work.
So Bill gets down to my house and as he is always good for, he brought some might tasty beverages and spirits along with him. We ended spending the evening enjoying them while tinkering with bikes. Bill is also a pretty accomplished quitar player so there was also a bit of jamming going on with my boys as both of them have recently picked up the quitar. It did not take long for my boys to be give Bill the Wayne’s World “Were not worthy” salute. It was a bunch of fun. When the lights finally went out in the house, I had no problems falling asleep.
The next morning came pretty quickly and I found myself just a little “foggy”. We were not doing the full “Tour de Noble” today. We were doing a point-to-point that included Noble, the Big Laguna Trail (BLT) and the Laguna Mountains. So this meant two trucks. As I packed all the stuff into the truck I ran through the mental checklist: Bike, Shoes, Clothes, Helmet, Gloves, Glasses — CHECK! Off we went.
The weather had made a dramatic turn over night as a storm had moved in and there were had been some intermittent rain overnight and the skys look somewhat menacing but with hope of blue on the horizon. The Lagunas are a long way from North County San Diego so the thinking was that the weather might be different at the trailhead. On the drive out, I had resigned to the fact that we would most likely get rained on at some point during the day, but we had a good chance for some incredible conditions.
Once at the bottom of Noble we started making the final preps to leave a truck at the bottom. Then I noticed it. My Camelbak was no where to be scene. CRAP! How the F$%k did this happen? I did the checklist: Bike, Shoes, Clothes, Helmet, Gloves, Glasses,,,,,,,DAMN IT! Checklists suck if you leave stuff off of them. Okay lets figure things out. Bill still had the small Camelbak I let him borrow. However, the only other things in that Camelbak were snacks and a multi-tool. No pump, tubes or patches. This is where some of the real coolness of the day first came into play. There were three other riders at the trailhead getting ready to head out. They were gratious enough to let us bum a tool and tube from them. I was able to find a patch kit stashed in my truck so we were covered in that area. On our way to the top we stopped at the Pine Valley Market and picked up three 1-liter bottles of water to stuff in my jerseys. (My camera was also in my camelbak so all of the pictures here are from other trips on these trails)
Once at the upper trailhead at the RedtailRoost Volunteer Center off of Sunrise Highway it was pretty cold at 39 degrees and and breezy. My trusty windbreaker was (you guessed it) in my Camelbak. My garb for the days was shorts, knee warmers, long sleeve jersey with a short sleeve jersey on top and a pair of wind-proof winter gloves. Being in the clouds of a brewing storm was pretty interesting as you had what looked like fog but you also had the whipping breeze that had a primordial type of feeling as forest just sort of disappeared into a gray but shifting nothingness as the different densities of the clouds would pass by.
The opening section of trail was really cool as the moisture from the night before (or maybe even minutes before we arrived) had patted down the trail enough to make for perfect traction. It was fast rolling and gripped in the corners at near velcro strength. After a good bit of ridge riding that was mostly downhill we connected up with the Aqua Dulce fireroad and climbed up to the top of Los Gatos Ravine for one of my favorite singletrack descent into Big Laguna Meadow. It has wonderful flow and enough grade to keep you ripping along with little in the way of pedal action if you just want to cruise.
Once we got out onto the meadow, we were smacked with the full force of the wind and for some period of time it was just hunker down and keep mashing the pedals to keep moving forward, Since the wind was mostly blowing from the south, once we got on the south side of the meadow we gained a little shelter from the breeze. At this point we were both pretty stoked not to have gotten rained on yet. We were making pretty good time as moving meant generating warmth and rest meant loosing warmth.
We soon made our way to the far end of the meadow and onto the connector to upper Noble Canyon trailhead. While grabbing a quick snack at the top of Noble we encountered our first bit of snow. It was just a few flakes here and there but it was indeed snow. We were soon on our way down the Noble Canyon trail. We were not on the trail more than five minutes when the wind got to howling pretty hard and I thought I was getting sand blown into my eyes. The problem was that there was no sand nearby. After a minute or so I figured out the stuff pelting me was not sand my but very small bits of sleet. Besides the slight stinging that the sleet gave when hitting you at speed, it was not bad as it mostly bounced off so my clothes were not getting soaked. The sleet only lasted for a few sessions of a minute or two at a time. Once we dropped a little elevation we got down below the clouds that were producing all the wind and things became pretty calm in comparision.
Noble Canyon was freaking great as always and the overnight moisture made for a ripping good time. I was throughly enjoying showing off some of my home turf. I ran into one of my local riding friends who was riding up Noble while we descended. He had forgotten his trail grub and was planning on cutting the ride short. We hooked him up with enough snacks to keep him going. We both thought that after all of the generosity our three buds at the bottom had show us it was the least we could do. It was shortly before the “Stairway to Hell” that the help of the buds at the bottom became pretty important as Bill got a flat. Luckily we had that pump and tube to get us going again. While changing the tube it started to rain. While it was cold and biting we were both pretty stoked at this point as we had fully expected to be rained on hours ago.
Stairway to Hell at the 2005 SSSSS (Spring SoCal Single Speed Summit)
Once we got rolling again it was time for the “Stairway to Hell”. It is a technical challenge of jumbled rocks without a line per se, more like a general direction to go, and it was wet. On the first attempt, the tires were somewhat doing thier own thing on the wet rocks and it gave me the hebegeebees enough that I lost my momentum. The second time was a charm as I trusted the bike and tires to make thier own “adjustments” properly if I kept the speed up. By the time we got to the longest and last climb of Noble Canyon a somewhat steady but very light rain had settled in. The good news was that we were climbing so it was easy to keep warm by burning calories. As luck would have it the rain let up when we reached the top of the climb. The last technical bit down to the lower trailhead (known as extra credit) has always been one of my favorites and it did not disappoint.
Down at the bottom, we were ready to make quick work of getting the bikes in the back of the truck and get the heater going on the way to retrieve the other truck. This was when Bill discovers that he left his truck keys in my truck AT THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN! Holy Crap! What to do, what to do? This is were the coolness of Mountain Bikers came into play once again. A couple of guys hooked me up with a ride to the top the mountain. They were a ready life saver and I can’t thank them enough. As we neared the top of the of the mountain there was snow coming down pretty hard and it was obivous it had been coming down for a while. There was about 3/4ths of an inch of snow on my truck at the top and the temperture was 31 degrees. Enough of the snow managed to survive the drive back down the mountain that I was able to craft a sizable snowball that turned out to be just perfect for pelting Bill. 🙂
Over mexician food in Alpine with some fellow MTBers coming in from another ride, we recounted the day’s adventure. The trail was only a portion of what made the story an epic. The trail conditions certainly played a major portion of the story, but I say it was the awesomeness of my fellow MTB junkies that made the day great. Without the help of five strangers, this would have been a pretty miserable day. I hope many days of good Karma come to these five guys. Instead this day being a disaster, is destined to be recounted numerous times over fine whiskey or tasty microbrews.
Isn’t that what started this whole mess in the first place? 🙂