An incredible ride at Palm Canyon

What exactly makes an Epic? Wither it is online or recounting the days adventure at the trailhead, the question comes up quite routinely. Difficultly, length, scenery, conditions, the variables in the equation are numerous and subjective. The Palm Canyon trail fits just about everyone’s definition of an epic. It is a big classic desert ride than can be brutal for the ill-prepared or in the wrong conditions. I’ve done this ride a whole bunch of times and have the checklist of extra stuff to bring pretty much tattooed on my brain. There is something about the misery from forgetting this kind of stuff in the past that files that stuff in a mentally easy spot to find.

That ready file was opened up Monday afternoon on the drive back home from our Christmas travels when the phone rang. “Hey Bill, what do you think about doing Palm Canyon tomorrow? Hold on a second…. Hey Honey, do you mind if I do an all-dayer tomorrow? …..Dude, I’m down, how does 7:30am at the Von’s parking lot sound? … Sweet! See you then.” That was all the planning involved for this ride. Both Bill O’Neil and I have been on enough rides and trips together to know the drill. Now lets get to that checklist.

O-Dark:30 came O’Damnearly and I was headed towards Palm Springs much earlier than my body would have liked. There was sugar and caffiene in ample supply on the drive. I was taking the “country” route which took me past the upper trailhead near Pinyon Crest on Highway 74. It was a mighty brisk 37 degrees when I went by there. A made a mental note to give the “fellows” a break and change into the bike gear at the bottom. Neither Bill or I were able to rustle up any of the usual suspects for the ride on short notice so it was just Bill and I headed back up the mountain after shuffling stuff around between trucks. It had been two years since either one of us had done this ride so I was stoked. Bill had never done the Pinyon Flats trail and it had nearly been five years since I had last done that trail so we opted to start from Pinyon Flats vice the Palm Canyon trailhead proper.

It addition to being brisk, there was a biting breeze but it was otherwise an exceptionally pretty day. Layered up we set out. I had nearly forgotten how flowy and swoopy Pinyon Flats is in most spots. I was having so much fun, I did not even pull the camera out. Once we met up with the Palm Canyon trail, one thing became blissfully obvious. The trail conditions were simply the best I have ever seen. The rains had packed the soil and enough moisture remained to provide both great traction with no additional drag on the tires. Mother Nature had served up some downright sexy dirt.

Killer trail conditions and an exceptionally clear day with the temperatures somewhere between cool and mild is what continued to develop as the day went on. With just the two of us, we were not burning any daylight on regroups and other delays that typically scale up with the group size. We were not really hammering, just flowing along taking advantage of the wonderful conditions. Before long we were at the bottom of Dry Wash. A three-mile sandy climb awaited us. While chilling here it was nice to realize that barring some misadventure we had a huge daylight buffer now. The ride up until now had been so awesome that I could have cared less if I had to walk nearly all of the next three miles if the sand sucked.

The sand did not suck. The dry wash was also in the best shape I had ever seen it and for the most part completely rideable. You still had to look for the firm lines in the sand but the wash was not in its usual death march form. After the wash it was time for the Hahn Buena Vista trail after a break at the dozer. Once again the trail conditions were incredible. The camera remained packed away as nearly all things must yield to the sirens song of tires holding their line through flowy downhill goodness.

After the giggling like school boys descent we payed back some elevation up the Catherdral Canyon and then over to the saddle at the Wildhorse and Claire Burgess trail junction. There was a good dose of fatigue set in at this point and the breaks came a little more often. It was all good as there are far worse things to do than stopping and smelling the flowers around here.

I love the Wildhorse trail, the plummeting elevation drop on either side the ridge top section this trail make for some splendid views. There is also a mental boost of seeing your destination below. It is much better seen in person than described.

The ubiquitous trusty steed shot from the peak on Wildhorse with San Gorgorino is in the distance. It had been sometime since the Spider had seen some trail love so it was called into action today. It was certainly the correct weapon of choice today. Man I love this bike, such a wonderful XC machine.

After dropping the steep switch back section of Wildhorse we worked our way through the Goat Trails and soon rolled back down to the lower trail. What exactly makes an epic? There was no debating that question this afternoon, all the variables of that equation were scattered across the 30 miles of awesomeness countryside that lay behind us. There was nothing do now but celebrate the Palm Canyon Epic.

Toro Peak Access

It has been brought to my attention by a lawyer representing the Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians that the land around the summit of Toro Peak is part of the tribe’s reservation lands. Since my original posting of Santa Rosa Mountain and Toro Peak page in 2003, they have added signs to alert the public to the fact you will be trespassing if you go all the way to the peak. I have requested a meeting to see exactly where all of the boundaries are and get the full story on things. In the interim from what I have gathered from other sources you would cross onto the reservation lands shortly after the fork in the forest road at 12.8 miles. This is roughly halfway between SR-21 and SR-22 way points on my map. You can find numerous printed guidebooks and online resources that make no mention of the land ownership and access issues. Sometime in the last six years keeping the public off of Toro Peak has become a greater concern to the Cahuilla Indians. Hopefully my photos of this truly magnificent peak will satisfy your curiosity because you will be trespassing if you climb the last mile or so to the summit yourself. Also don’t forget to check out one my early additions to the site.

Long Time No See! or “Funk Busting”

So there has not been too much on the MTB scene that I have felt like writing about since I got back from Japan.  That does not mean that I have not been riding.  I just did not seem too inspired to write about it.   I have gotten in a couple of quick spins through Lake Calvera on my singlespeed and even caught the SDMBA San Clemente Singletracks Ride.  These rides while fun where just not doing it for me on the trail scene.   I have noticed I get like this for a week or two after epic riding trips.   I have come to think of it as “Post Killer Trip Depression” or “Epic Lag”.  Pick whatever shrink-babble works for you but I was coming off some awesome trail riding and was looking for some new dirt  to ride in SoCal.

I had not ridden with Bill O’Neil in freaking ages.  Well maybe not ages but nine months is a pretty long time.  He busted up his wrist really bad late last year and had to deal with a long recovery.  Combined with my traveling schedule earlier this year and the better part of a year just slipped by.  It was time to kick this “Epic Lag” in the ass and catchup with Bill on some singletrack.   The person who organized this ride thinks it is best to keep the names of these trails “off-the-air” so I’ll leave things as that.  While you may find these trail segments on most of the older topographic maps of the San Bernardino National Forest, you will have to be a little adventurous to ride some of these bits. 

 

The rewards were certainly there and it was just what I needed to bust out of the Post Epic Funk.  

 

The trail was just what I had expected, fairly buff and flowing.  One thing I had not realized was that I had been missing the continuous moving that is so much easier to do back here in SoCal.  The steepness of the terrain in the area of Japan I was in often meant that your riding mileage was often broken up by short hike-a-bike sections.  It was pretty awesome to just be able to “go”.   At the same time these trails revealed my fitness level for the continuous “go” has been dropping off.  Way to many rides of stopping to navigate and take pictures.  I suppose there are far much worse ways to get out of shape 🙂

Ultimately we knocked off a good chunk of mileage on some pretty cool trails.   We even had time to stop and smell the flowers.  It is always refreshing to get on the trail less ridden and try something new.    Doing it while catching up with friends is a nice bonus.  Oh yeah, there was tasty microbrews waiting in the cooler at the end of the ride.

A little bit of Skyline DH

On a whim, I decided to head up to Corona and investigate a trail I have l been eyeing for a year or so.   To get there I needed to climb the Skyline Drive Fireroad on the the northeast side of the Santa Ana Mountains.   I arrived at the trailhead at fairly descent time and since this was an on-a-whim ride, I was joined by all of my friends.   The temps were pretty nice as I started my solo climb up the fireroad. 

While the grade did not seem steep, I was surprised how quickly the elevation stacked up.  There were some nice views to the north despite the ickyness that was setting down in the valleys below (That is not fog). 

The climb went by quicker than expected and I even got a really cool treat.  I rounded a corner to see a young bobcat crossing the fireroad.  The cat was not much bigger than your average house kitty.  He climbed up a steep embackment and stood at the top looking down at me for a good 15-20 seconds.  I was trying to get my camera out without causing him to bolt, but as soon as he saw the camera come out of the bag and me start to raise it, he stepped into the brush.   Geez, he was pretty.  It was awesome to get to admire one of these critters up close.  It was not long after this encounter that I made it to Beek’s Place and continued along Main Divide past the golfball.

  I have been tinkering with a new helmet camera mounting setup that would allow to get away from having a dedicated helmet for the camera system.  Wearing the helmet camera on long climbs when you are not filming is a bummer.  I want to be able to quickly remove the camera gear so that I could only carry a single helmet on a ride.    The new setup basically uses the quick-release mounts designed for professional/prosumer grade camera tripods.  When completed this setup should be must more versatile.  So far I have only completed my full-face helmet.   That was also part of the reason I chose this trail, it seemed silly to bring a full-face helmetcam out to some place like Penasquitos Canyon.

After about a mile of climbing on Main Divide Truck Trail, I reached the “Skyline DH” (Have no idea what it’s actual name is yet).    I was looking at this ridgeline quite a bit on the climb up and it certainly looked to have some steepness.

Steepness it did have.   While this trail felt a little like Bell Ridge at the beginning it soon became much more like Coldwater.   These types of trails are somewhat of an acquired taste. There were some sections of pure adrenaline rush as you just flew down the trail.  Other sections were so so steep that you had to be somewhat surgical with controlling your bike and the brakes as you could only marginally control your rate of acceleration let alone stop.  I like sections like that for the challenge they present but they are not my favorites.   As I neared the bottom, I came upon a firecrew contracted out from Oregon to do some debrushing for fire abatement on the trail.  They were doing a fine job, but since I caught them in mid-workday, they had yet to remove all the trimmings from the trail below them.  This made the last bit of descent slow going but overall this ride was well worth it.

Herkey Creek and May Valley

Springtime riding around Idyllwild is some of my favorite stuff around SoCal.  Unfortunately due to some ill-timed (like there is ever good-timed) injuries and a horrible bout of poison oak,  I missed the spring riding in the area.  Even though I knew it was going to be hot I met one of my regular riding buds who was in the area for a wedding this weekend.   Considering that he was going to be up late with the reception and all, we opted for a 9AM start time from the Herkey Creek Campground area.  We knew it would be even toastier with that start time.   Hot it was but a fairly consistent breeze kept it just hot vice blistering.  We brought plenty of extra water and electrolytes and kept to a “heat management” pace on all the significant uphills.

The trails can get pretty loose here during the summer.  I was quite impressed with how well the trails are holding up and I am pretty sure it is due to the care that most of the locals take when riding this system.   You can not rail this stuff like you can during the spring and moist times and it is impertive that you hold the lines and skillfully use the brakes.  The trails simply can not hold up to skidiots and turnblowers.  There was plenty of evidence to show that some of the people who do blow a turn took the time to stop, go back and make an effort to repair their damage, or at least brush out their off-trail tracks.   I hate to say it, but you just don’t see that generalized level of trail ownership by the routine-users in the more urbanized areas like Orange County and San Diego.  We should all take a lesson from the Idyllwild folks.

 Bill Gets Air
In addition to enjoying the flowy twisty singletrack goodness that this place is known for, we played around and a few rocks.

Bill O twisting
Here is one of the twister rocks bits that is nearly a maze.  Hats off to the builders of this.    

This was a great finish to a good week of riding, which included some of my local stuff, and the Santa Margarita River Trail (aka SMaRT).  I was slacking with my camera for those rides, but here is a ride report on the SMaRT ride on SocalTrailRiders.org.

-Bill

Simpson Park in Hemet, CA

I had some things to attend to in Temecula this morning and since I was already halfway to Hemet, I decided to check Simpson Park off of my to-do list.   What I had heard was the that place had a small but nice network of singletrack as well as some features that would require your “A”game.     I have to say that this place more than lives up to that reputation.   There were more trails there than I expected and the quality of the singletracks were outstanding.  They were often a mix of buffed tread with frequent undulations and rock features.   With great views of the snow-capped San Jacincto and San Bernardino Mountains coupled with green grass and Lake Perris in the distance this was a great place to spend and afternoon exploring.  

Simpson Park 

There are at least several trails that leave the Simpson Park area and go to the east and west along the ridgeline that park is situated on.   I did some exploring to the west of the park and found some really nice stuff.

 Techy Section 

I turned around once I had made my way out to the Ramona Cross about the Ramona Bowl in Hemet.

Ramona Cross

If you are looking for some techno-fun stuff make sure to check out the Lake View trail.  There are many rock-rolling line options of varying degrees of difficulty with the easiest being “tricky”.

Lake View Trail

I have bumped this trail to the top of my trail reviews in progress stuff to do.   Hemet can be blistering hot during the summer and I have a good feeling that these super nice trails will get sandy during the dry months so now is a really good time to check this place out.  

Until I get my stuff together here are a couple of rambling  bits of information:

  • Pick up a trail map at the visitor center.  There is also a big map by the restrooms.
  • Climb the Crest Trail, it will take you out of the park.   When you get to the top at a fireroad, take your first singletrack on your left (I think it is Canyon).  You will soon be back in the park. Hit the Redtail trail.
  • At the other end of the park, at the intersection of the Quail trail and Buck Brush,  take a single track off to the south that rolls up onto a small ridge.   Mucho fun as it take you west. Berms, jumps, and rollers are some of the stuff you will find out there.
  • From the restroom at the far end of the park pickup the Lakeview trail by the highest elevation picnic table you can find.   Take Lake View down, hang a right, go by the water tank and pick up Lichen.  Follow it until you come to a junction go left, cross the road and pickup the Black Sage trail.  Take that to Live Oak and Ribbonwood and head back to the parking area on the fireroad.

Getting there: Check out the Google Maps directions to get from Tecmecula to Simpson Park.

This place is cool so check it out while the conditions are great.

 -Bill