Sunday, April 22, 2012


There can be no denying it, no putting it off, no hiding in a corner and pretending like it isn't here.  Spring has arrived with a decisive voice, a short heatwave, flowers, and the mowing of grass.  For a few days here, we've been having summery conditions, days in the 80's, intense sun.  I did an stout hill climb on the bike with two fine young men, Kevin and Richard, who will join me for a tour in about three weeks.  We loaded up trailers with 40+ lbs of stuff and hauled them up a mountain, sweating hard in the first heat of the season.  This morning I hiked up on the mountain behind our house.  Below are two pictures of the same location taken only a week apart:

It was a good morning to be in the hills.  I'll miss the green of spring, for in these regions, the grasses are golden brown most of the year.  For a few weeks, we riot in growth, but it isn't long before everything dries out, and California takes on its signature look of tawny hillsides and overarching oaks.  For now, I'll take the spring.  Those of you in the southern hemisphere, enjoy the fall!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A shifty season: Spring in the Tehachapis

From sun to snow to sun, from howling wind to misty mornings and afternoon heat in a valley deep and dry, we live in a changeable place where the mountains meet the deserts on both sides.  High enough to catch more precipitation, cold enough for periodic snows, these mountains sometimes take a beating, and last weekend, a spring snow storm plowed through, giving us the best dump of the year.  Oh happy day, it fell as the weekend began, so on Saturday morning, we suited up and headed into the ridges and forest behind our home as the snow continued to fall.  Django took snow balls to the face and begged for more, rolled and hopped and enjoyed himself in ways the rest of us need to learn--or learn again.  Grand indeed was our morning on the mountain, not another soul about, a regular fact that never ceases to amaze us.  Why in the hell isn't everyone out?  How can they be missing this?

A mere two days later, I pedaled from home on dark and dry roads, the snow mostly gone, and flew on fleet wheels into the valley.  I took the long way, the best way, and fed my soul on the undulating delights of the Caliente-Bodfish Rd.--not to be missed in the spring!

Ride.  Hike.  Climb.  Live.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Wild Los Angeles

When we hear the name Los Angeles, most of us conjure up images of movie stars, palm trees, and clogged traffic of mind-bending density.  Oh, and smog.  All of those things exist, but LA is a county as well as a city, and on the ragged edges of the land of angels one finds fantastic mountains and deserts, peaks thousands of feet high, arid lands low, dry and hot. For years Jodi and I have known about the unusual place called Devil's Punchbowl, but for some reason we had never made the trek.  Last month, we loaded up the Subaru with climbing gear, Django, and lunch and made the trip.  The area is a fantastic region of sharply tilted sandstone ridges, some of them hundreds of feet high.  Unlike the coarse desert granite (quartz monzonite) that we so often climb, this stuff was a bit slick and a little gritty.  In fact, the English call this "grit stone."  We did a couple of challenging little climbs, but mostly we just hiked and gawked and drank in the wonder of strangeness, feeling small and grateful in a big, twisted landscape.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A perfect little tour

I realized with some shock that Jodi and I, for all our adventuring, haven't been on a tour in a couple of years.  We both agreed it was about time, especially since, if all goes well, we plan to be on the recumbent trikes for about four months later this year.  It was high time we hit the road.  We knocked around several ideas, but we kept returning to the central coast for our tour, a return to the scene of a touring crime we committed eight years ago when we first got Django.  It was our first tour with him and made us realize that long distance riding with a 50+ lb bone head was possible.  We both had fond memories of the route and so resolved to go back.  The line is a large loop starting and ending in Paso Robles, California, a surging wine area with the landscape and beautiful back country roads to go with it: The Route.

We packed with great care, aided by the watchful gaze of The Hound.

After driving through an intense early spring storm, we spent the night at a La Quinta Inn.  The next morning, we were ready to roll, chilly and damp under clearing skies.

The first day's ride (33 miles; 2335 ft. climbing) took us out Creston and La Panza roads to Hwy 58:

Hmmmm.....There must be vineyards here somewhere...

I guess this bloke was keeping watch:

The day's riding ended on a stout climb, hard work in the afternoon sun, but we arrived at the best of all possible camps at the edge of a forested canyon, a world to ourselves: grey pines, pinyons, chaparral, hawks and falcons in flight, the ever present songs of meadowlarks and mocking birds.

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Day two (40 miles; 1832 ft. climbing):  The twelve miles we cranked on Hwy 58 were strenuous, but eventually we turned north on Bitterwater Rd., a virtually deserted, wild, seriously wide-open stretch of riding that starts out somewhat bleak but improves quickly.

Our second camp beside the cow-infested creek.   We were visited early in the night by a couple of locals in trucks, but they just pulled up to see what we were about then left, not even bothering to ask us what we were about.  Clearly the bikes, tent, and such answered their questions satisfactorily.  We were on the edge of "No Trespassing" signs.  We left no trace and moved on in the morning.  Almost all touring cyclists NOT towing Fido will be able to do the metric century to Parkfield and avoid this middle camp.  We arrived tired and ready to stop.  Further down canyon one might find more hidden spots, but we didn't know that at the time.  From this spot, riders are rewarded with a 5+ mile downhill run to Hwy 46--sweet beyond compare, a gentle, sweeping run through oaks, willows and the green grasses of spring.

Day 3 (25 miles; 630 ft. climbing):  This was the easy day but hugely rewarding.  After the morning run down the canyon, we jogged east on 46 past Cholame to Cholame Rd. and the route to Parkfield, earthquake capital of the world, home to the creeping "central creeping zone" and more seismographs than you can shake a Richter scale at. 

Nothing quite beats doggy joy in the grass--a major phreak show:

The Parkfield Inn and grounds:

Ah, the tough life of the touring cyclist:

Dog wood or wooden dog?  You decide:

This installation shows how far the San Andreas Fault has moved since 1931:

Do cowgirls in blue get the blues riding pink cows?

A locally grown and harvested, grass-fed New York steak and local Cab to fight off the calorie bonk:

Our camp behind the Inn:

Day four (32.7 miles; 1532 ft. climbing):  The numbers would suggest a fairly moderate, even easy day.  The numbers would be lying.  Those numbers don't include other numbers, specifically the grade we climbed early in the day, about 700 ft. in two miles that included long stretches of 10--12%.  Pictures don't do it justice, and the grey skies, while keeping the work cool, did little to inspire photography.   We were saved by the super-low gearing of our trikes made possible by the fantastic Schlumpf Mountain Drive, which give Jodi a sub-10 gear inch and me about a 10 gear inch bottom gear (I have a 26" drive wheel).  Even with these technological crutches, we were ready for crutches by the time we topped out.  Ouch!  But so worth it.  Each worthy tour must have its test.  The payoff is the 15 mile descent down the west slope, mile after miles of twisting, gravity-fed glory.

Back at the hotel (one short 16% slice of brutality to get there), reload and drive on home.  Successful tour in the bag:

I cannot recommend this tour highly enough.  If you only have a weekend and want to ride some rich, remote, and very quiet roads, this is the tour.  The road surfaces are sometimes lacking for sure but nothing that would keep an enthusiast away.  We had many times that we could ride side-by-side taking up the middle of the road without worry.  This is some of the best riding I've done anywhere.  So get out there.   Life is stinkin' short.