March 12, 2017

Stagecoach 400 (213) - Team Loco ed.

The Stagecoach 400 (SC400) is another one of those self-supported bikepacking races that have sprung up over the recent years created by Brendan C of the Hub Cyclery. Now in it's 6th iteration, I've been wanting to ride it for a few years. The route is in Southern California, starting up in the quaint mountain town of Idyllwild. It then snakes in a southwesterly direction rolling through downtown San Diego before heading back to the mountains, then desert of Anza-Borrego State Park and finally back to Idyllwild. Mountains, city, ocean and desert, it has it all.
Route map & elevation profile.
Handy cue sheet of sorts on the elevation profile. *Available via Redbubble
Last year, Shannon made it known she really wanted to do the route. I was IN. We talked about it some and decided we really didn't want to race the route. It was all new-to-me terrain and I wanted to see it. So, we opted to fast tour the route, Team Loco style. For us, outside support was welcome, we weren't interested in posting an 'official' time. Let's just ride and have fun. Shannon's man, Beto, would be meeting us on route whenever possible as well. We extended an invite to Jason and all he wanted to know: is water & food readily available? Yes. He was IN as well. I like riding with people who don't blink when a 400 mile ride is proposed.

NOTE: All text in purple are contributions through Shannon's eyes. It couldn't possibly be told otherwise.

Having grown up in rural SoCal, this event jumped to the top of my bike packing list for 2017. Most of the route would be new to me, as I’d only driven in the surrounding areas where the dirt was that we’d be riding. I was super stoked to try it and asked John if he wanted to do it as well. He wasn’t interested in “racing” it (sure, let’s do motivated/picnic pace), so we agreed riding together would be most awesome. Some time went by and we were doing Jeff and Nancy’s Curmudgeon 100 in January on our single speeds. Upon returning as a drowned rat to their driveway (trying to outrun lightning and flooding), I off-handedly asked Jason Hanson if he wanted to do it too. Bad ideas are born right after other bad ideas, right? Jason asked two questions, “What’s the water situation?” and “Is it pretty easy to get food?” My answers, were yes and yes. “Okay, sure.” Yep, no big deal, a 400 mile bike packing race in 2 months? Sign me up. This is my kind of crew. Mind you, none of us had been ‘training’. We are all Arizona Trail Race veterans. How bad could it be? Bikepacking in San Diego county? It’s all flat and there are Starbucks on every corner, right?

The first week of February Wendi introduced me to my future husband, Beto… whom I’d marry in May*. Yeah, you heard that correctly; introduced in February, married in May. I don’t say this nonchalantly, it just sounds that way or I’d be making this story hours long. We are the life partner each of us has always dreamed of, and we met on the Arizona Trail. Fairytale stuff, I tell ya!
Anyway, Beto was all over wanting to help and support my adventure. He decided he’d follow along on our journey and show up in various locations, oh and meet my parents for the first time, oh and ask my dad for his blessing on our marriage. The first time he met my parents was to pick them up to come see us coming through in a part of town they could get to. Mind you, my dad had a stroke a couple years ago and it isn’t easy for him to travel anywhere. All the pieces have to fall into place. Well, they did! That particular day was the hardest physically for me, I was a wreck from days of no sleep** and many hours/miles of riding. I could barely pedal a flat bike path in coastal temps. I was feeling really unsure about my physical state and utterly exhausted and knew we had a HUGE climb starting that night and over the next days. Beto, following our tracker, managed to not only pick up my parents, but get to spot they could see and hug us! Mom and Dad were overjoyed and Dad cried. It took away much of my tiredness and gave a much-needed boost to climb into the hills that afternoon. Seeing loved ones and friends is definitely a highlight for any big venture, for me! 

**Lack of sleep due to stupidly attaching my ($80, comfy, warm) sleeping pad to my seatbag while it traveled on the bike rack to the start of the race. Upon reaching camp that night, I noticed the ($80, comfy, warm) pad had exited somewhere along the highway. The ground was cold and hard. John and Jason gave me all of their spare clothes to sleep on, but I couldn’t sleep. The next night on the trail, the ground was cold AND wet and I shook all night. Beto would be bringing me a new pad, but he wasn’t going to be able to get to us until the second night of the race. HTFU. Eat more food?

Shannon was all set to go a few days early!! Excitement was high!! Photo by Shannon's Mom.

Team Loco: Me, Shannon & Jason.
The excitement had been building for weeks, months, now it was finally time. Jason was dropped off at my place and we headed west to San Diego to pick up Shannon. We loaded 3 heavy bikes on my now triple rack and it was looking a bit sketchy, bouncing and swaying with each undulation in the road. We stopped for dinner in Ramona then arrived in Idyllwild an hour or so after sunset.
The shark tacos will have to wait until another time. Photo by Shannon.

They arrived in one piece...mostly.
We tracked down my buddy, Jason T., (who happens to run the Black Hills Expedition bikepacking race in South Dakota) who was already camped out and had a parking hookup for me in town.
Jason T ready to go.
Our adventure officially began while setting up camp Thursday evening. Shannon discovered her sleeping pad had blown off her bike on the drive up from San Diego!! Gah!! Beto wasn't scheduled to meet us until sometime on Sat. In the meantime I gave her some extra clothing as padding for the night. Here we go.

It was a cool, crisp 38º on Friday morning when we broke camp. Jason T headed out for some breakfast as we finalized our gear. We rolled down the hill into town and spotted 4 bikepacking rigs at the Red Kettle cafe. Cool, there would be a few of us starting a week before the big group sendoff. Barely 200 yards later, we made our first convenience store warm our hands!!
The official start of the route is here.
This Shell station is visible from the Red Kettle, but we had to stop!!
Tahquitz Peak capped in snow at 8,846' would be in our sights most of the day.
Barely five minutes after leaving the Shell station we were shedding layers as we made the climb up to Astrocamp. The blood was pumping now.
Oof. The air is thin in space.
We halfheartedly joked about remembering how cold the morning was. The forecast had been creeping higher each day...

I'll apologize now for not having many pics of Jason, he would ride ahead and wait for us all day long!! We eventually topped out on the first climb and began a rubbly, storm rutted descent down the backside of the San Jacinto Mtns.
Jason dropping into our first taste of singletrack.
Beautiful trail in Johnson Meadow.
My turn. We could've ridden this for 5 days!! Photo by Shannon.
Bull fighter cattle guard. Toro!! Toro!!
The singletrack soon gave way to a roadside chunkfest of a trail.

We heard some riders coming up behind us, it was Justin S., Darryl P & Jason T. They all made quick work getting by us and complemented us an taking good lines down the minefield. We'd catch up to them shortly at a water crossing and some trail confusion on where to go, but it was easily sorted out.
We made it across without getting too wet. Photo by Shannon.
Justin S. catching his navigational error and coming up to shake my hand!! He's going to do well in the AZTR750.
Local guy, Darryl P. from San Diego.
Jason T. all the way from S. Dakota.
Tahquitz Peak from the Lake Hemet area.

Next on the cue sheet was a climb up Little Thomas Mtn. We were glad it wasn't Big Thomas Mtn. The grade wasn't too bad and the road was in good condition, but the best part was...
...finding an early trail treat on day 1!! Shannon was really bummed that I beat her to it. Photo by Shannon.
Climb away.
Rising above Lake Hemet.
The last rider from the morning depart, Jonathan H from Canada caught us at the top of the climb.
A long, fast descent dropped us on Bautista rd., another well graded dirt road exiting the San Bernardino Nat'l Forest.

The dirt turned to pavement and we arrived in Anza around lunchtime. We had been talking about the DQ there for miles, no way we're skipping that stop. We found Jonathan there and ordered some food & Blizzards.
No wonder she was always passing me on the downhills!!
Welcome to Anza, CA.
I'm really starting to like this 'fast tour' mode of bikepacking.

The pavement once again gave way to dirt, this time a short bit of HAB greeted us. The road was a little more rugged, but not bad as there were a few homes in the area. Next thing we knew a patrol vehicle was heading our way. The officer leaned out the window and practically gave us a high-five!! 'Have a great ride!' he said as he drove by. We were half expecting him to ask us what we were doing out there!!
Now it feels like a bike ride!!
Jason had gotten well ahead of us on a long paved downhill. As we zoomed along we spotted the famed Sunshine Market and jammed on the brakes wondering if Jason had snuck inside. He wasn't there, but showed up a few minutes later. We gathered our goods and to no one's surprise we had all bought the same stuff: Beefaroni and some butter cake for breakfast.
The Sunshine Market tucked in a RV resort has everything you need.

Grinding up Bailey rd.
It really is an old stagecoach route!! Or at least looks that way from all the storm damage this winter.
Our track peeled off Bailey rd and became difficult to follow for a bit due to vegetation encroachment and sand.
Now things were getting 'interesting'. A work crew was actively installing this fence directly across the trail!!
About a 1/4 mile later we came to the exit, posted with this sign on the outside. At least the gate wasn't locked.

**Edit: afterwards we were told this section was a slight error in the .gpx track and the route should've stayed on Bailey rd to avoid this fenced area.

Shannon had been dealing with her handlebar bag rubbing the front tire most of the day and as we entered the Land of 1000 False Summits it had become a real nuisance. I had my larger Osprey pack with me, so we stuffed her sleeping bag into my pack to free up space in her bag. It worked, for the most part, but was still rubbing on the bigger hits.
Hot tub time machine had a rough landing.
Long way down, then a long way up.
One of the few short HAB bits. Finally!! I've been by Jason.
We met up with Jason and had a mini brain trust re: Shannon's handlebar bag. There were a couple of eyelets so we ran some zipties through them to cinch it even higher. It worked!! Now she didn't have to worry about the rubbing and could focus more on shredding the gnar!!

The Land of 1000 False Summits really wasn't too bad, I recall only three climbs in there. We dumped out onto some fast-ish sandy roads for a bit, then entered a really cool canyon area in the Cleveland Nat'l Forest.
We really enjoyed this section. Photo by Shannon.

Climb & smile!!
Lake Henshaw in the distance, our goal for the night.

Our dirt road climb morphed into a paved path then pointed downhill for a few screaming miles. Before long we were on CA79 heading into Warner Springs. We knew this was a water stop and the cues mentioned dining at a local resort. We found the resort and some people dining out on the patio, we had to check it out. We found Darryl from earlier this morning already there waiting on food to arrive. I promptly ordered a beer and lasagna to round out the day. Good choice.
Last rays of the day.
Perfect stop for our tour pace.

The resort only had one waitress on staff, so we gave her a heads up for the following week. Her eyes got noticeably bigger when we mentioned how many riders would be coming through. The next thing we knew, she brought the chef out to our table to learn more about the Stagecoach 400!! We suggested they make a sign & offer riders a deal. A few minutes later the waitress was asking if we could leave a phone number so the owner of the resort could talk to us!! Ha! Not sure if they ever called, but hopefully they had a good business night that Friday.

We opted to ride another 10 miles of pavement in the dark and find a camp spot near the base of the Mesa Grande climb. We found a pullout just off the road and settled in for the night, hoping we weren't camped at the end of someone's long driveway.
Rise & shine!! Meanwhile, Jason was packed and ready to go in 5 minutes!! Photo by Shannon.
I don't think any of us slept particularly well, traffic, no sleeping pad, and a sloped area all played their parts. Nonetheless, we were ready to ride and of course started the day with a nice grunt of a climb. That's how you shed layers quick, kids.
Small creek right next to our camp, but Shannon discovered her filter was clogged!! Good thing I had mine as well.
Interesting sights on the climb up Mesa Grande.
Meanwhile back in AZ, Beto hits the road for a midday rendezvous with Team Loco.

Lake Henshaw.
I stopped to peel off some layers and Shannon took the trail treat lead 2-1!!
Jason working on his selfie skillz.

Jason had only planned on riding the route into San Diego. His wife & daughter were meeting him there so I mentioned that he may want to peel away from us to make up some time. He hung around through Shannon's old stomping grounds of her performance driving days.The roads were twisting, turning every which way under a canopy of trees. It was stunning and fast, even on a bike!!
Lush landscape after cresting the Mesa Grande climb.
We arrived at our next dirt road turnoff, Black Canyon, in short order. I'll just say that the next few miles were a real treat to ride. Nicely graded dirt road, almost all downhill, but not burn-your-brakepads steep. During the descent Jason made his move to pedal on.
Upper reaches of Black Canyon.
My last visual contact with Jason as he flies down the canyon.
Miles & miles of well contoured forest road.
Water was flowing in virtually every drainage we crossed. Photo by Shannon.

We overshot our turn by a bit, then ended up on a lesser traveled jeep road with a refreshing water crossing.
It can't all be downhill. Time to climb for a bit.
Splashes of color littered the hillsides. Photo by Shannon.

Rounding the bend, the views opened up once more as the road slanted downhill.
There's our next waypoint on the cue sheet: Pamo rd.

We were cruising down the bumpy road and could see a vehicle up ahead also going our way. Upon further inspection we saw two guys hanging off the side of the truck!! Dirt surfing!! I looked back at Shannon and we both couldn't stop laughing.
Yep, that really happened.
They pulled over to let us by and as I rode up I asked 'What's the story here?' They laughed and said 'Just out camping.' So, we both gave the fella on the driver's side a high five as we rode by.

A little farther down the hill Shannon's seat bag popped out of its harness and began flopping around the rear wheel!! Gah! Stop the bike! STOP!! We cinched it down better and noticed a few riders coming up the hill. Whew, that would be a tough climb. They were very interested to hear about our ride and asked us if we had a SAG wagon at the bottom of the road. We didn't, but maybe we did?? One way to find out, let's go!! We sped off just as the dirt surfers were catching up.

Unfortunately for us, the so-called SAG wagon was just a couple of guys flying an virtual reality RC plane around. Drat. We could've used a nice cold drink.
Pamo rd. 
We were coming up to a portion of the route that was denoted as 'possible user conflict, walk bikes if necessary' or something like that along with a gate that is probably locked and a PITA to get around. We didn't think too much about it and rode on. The first section of trail was absolutely fantastic. It appeared to be an old forest road that had morphed into singletrack. It was practically level and begged for speed as it hugged the hillsides perfectly.
Welcomed shade. Photo by Shannon.

We were glad to be back on singletrack.
Super buffed trail.
We came to the locked gate to find this. I guess we'll walk our bikes?

The gate was easy for us to get through, but did require a hefty lift of our loaded down machines. We walked down to where the trail intercepted the Orosco Truck Trail, a double track jeep road. We figured it must be ok to pedal here, so we rode for a bit, passing a couple of hikers along the way. Another hiker was coming down the trail and he warned us of a Park Ranger at the trailhead. We hopped off the bikes again figuring we must still be in the 'walk zone'.

We rounded a corner and saw the Ranger driving his truck on the trail towards us. It was a narrow fit, but as he got close, he hopped out and asked where we came in from. I pointed back up the canyon and he said 'At the big gate with the No Bikes sign?' Yep, that's the one. I mentioned how we thought it was ok to be here if we walked our bikes through, but he shook his head. No bikes, means NO bikes. We talked a bit about our route and what would be a suitable detour in the future. He didn't cite us, but wondered how we were going to get out of the Ecological Preserve we were in. Huh? The road is right there?? I failed to notice the swarm of bees now behind his truck. Oh, that's nice.

He left us go on our way and we slowly make our way through the buzzing activity without issue. Now we just had to steer clear of traffic on Hwy 78 for a few miles. At least it was paved, downhill and fast.
Orange groves in San Pasqual Valley.
The San Dieguito trail led us through the ranch lands and put us over the 100 mile mark.
San Pasqual Valley. We'd be following the hills to the left.
A bit messy by the Santa Ysabel River and the backside of the Wild Animal Park.
We crossed paths with our first mountain bikers who weren't doing the route and they asked if we were riding the Stagecoach400!! The guy was excited for us and told us about his friend who had ridden it before. Word must be getting out.
Great singletrack here, time to climb a bit.
Pano of the San Pasqual Valley from the south showing where we came from.

A group of racer kids flew by us as we were grinding up towards the valley overlook. It was getting fairly warm and I had just taken my last sip of water. I still had a bit of Gatorade & some CarboRocket left in my bottle as Shannon promised that Circle K wasn't far off.

The miles seemed to tick off quickly, but where was this Circle K?? I was now out of fluids and we kept meandering back & forth, civilization always in sight. We were tantalizingly close to refreshments, but how much further?!?

About two miles later we finally rode through a trailhead parking lot where BMC was having a demo day. I could see a Chevron station across the way, that was the beacon of thirst salvation!! Then a lady popped out of her car as we rode near and also asked us if we were riding the Stagecoach400. She was very enthused when she heard we were and started telling us about her friend, who was also doing the ride. Come to find out it was Darryl, who we had dinner with the night before. Small world. She asked if we were finishing a break stop, I said 'no, I ran out of water a few miles back.' She apologized for chatting our ear off for a few minutes  as we rushed over to the Chevron. That initial chocolate milk was divine!!
Team Loco, hot, hungry & thirsty!!
A lunch made for bikepacking.

While we snacked, Beto arrived and gladly topped off our water supplies. I went back inside to add some ice to my bladder, but failed to see the 'no free ice' sticker next to the dispenser. The store clerk scolded me a bit, but didn't really fuss too much. Great, almost got kicked out of a gas station!!

It was time to get back on dirt. We crossed under I-15 and began a scenic circuitous trail around Lake Hodges.
Lush hillside in Escondido.
Beautiful Lake Hodges trail.
Lake Hodges filled to the brim.
Crest to Coast for us.
Getting reclaimed by nature.
Just another dam selfie.
Posh singletrack tucked between the estates of Rancho Santa Fe.

Shannon had warned me about a series of switchbacks coming up. They were surrounded by horse fencing and tight. As we started up the turns they weren't so bad, then as I rounded turn #5 my front wheel clipped a rock and down went Johnny.
I'll just sit right here. Photo by Shannon.
We topped out on the first set then descended towards the second when Shannon decided to take a trail break of her own.
Her landing looks a little softer than mine!!
Two crashes in five minutes, ha! If those were the only wrecks we'd have, sign us up.
Just a wee bit of storm damage rutting.
The fenced in trail below the mansions of Rancho Santa Fe.

The switchbacks topped out at a powerline, then continued onto more singletrack until...
Didn't see that coming.
Hmmm, now what? We went back to the powerline and following it out to Artesian rd. We took a short break to see what our options were. A roadie went zooming past us doing 40+ mph, then another fella was climbing up towards us when we heard a pop! He walked up to us, busted chain dangling, shaking his head. Hopefully he had some downhill in his near future.

We figured we could go down the hill to rejoin the route and sure enough it worked out fine. Just a minor setback.

This brought us around to a trail that followed Lusardi Creek. At first it was good, then we could see the high water mark and the visible trail destruction from the winter storms. It must've been an impressive sight to see.
Huge rutted drops offs were a bit tough to get up.
This used to be a nice trail through here.
Careful foot placement crossing Lusardi Creek.

The trail turned to jeep road and pointed up a steep hill, then dropped us out onto pavement for a bunch of miles as we rode through Fairbanks Ranch.

The cues had us turning into the Del Mar Horsepark for a bit while looking for trail access on the south side of the property.
A couple of thoroughbreds ready to run.
We could see the trail we needed to be on just over the property fence. Of course the first gate we came to was locked and signed 'No trespassing!!'. We followed the fenceline down a ways, but there were no gates or easily crossed sections. Frustration was beginning to fester as we were starting to get hungry for dinner. We rode back up the fenceline and found a short bit of fence next to a culvert we could get over. Not really sure what the deal was in regards to the 'No trespassing' sign since all we were doing was accessing a public trail. Strange.
It's a bit blurry, but in the distance you can see the clogged traffic lights on I-5...on a Saturday. Our dirt freeway was clear for the riding.
Our bikeway took us next to the San Dieguito River and promptly dead-ended at a 'Contruction Zone' sign!! A quick sidewalk detour led us to our paved city section of the route entering Del Mar.

Even with the few trail snafus it was nice to weave our way through the suburbs on mostly open space trails.
We stopped for a quick snack before a quality dinner stop a few miles down the road. We were on Tour mode, remember?
A bit hazy, but there it is!! The Pacific Ocean.
We rolled along Hwy101 into the shopping district of Del Mar, spotted an open restaurant with sidewalk seating & no line. Winner. Shannon got in touch with Beto and gave him a shortcut via backroads to find us without sitting in the I-5 mess. It seemed like only 5 minutes later he was there, joining us for dinner at the Americana. He also made a revelation that he couldn't find his bike lock keys!! At least it was secure on the rack, but he had planned on doing some riding the next day. Ugh.
Classy joint.
Day 2 almost in the books for Team Loco. Photo by Beto.

While we ate, we discussed our options for the evening. We thought about looking for a camp spot in nearby Torrey Pines, but I was able to get in touch with Evan who lives in San Diego. He was more than willing to host the three of us for the night. He thought it would take us about 90 minutes to get to his place down near Mission Bay. We were glad to have our night planned out and hit the road around 7p.

Riding south into the darkness along the coast on the 101. Waves crashing to the right, the seaside aroma was palpable. Surreal. The miles leading into Torrey Pines were refreshing even after a long day. We crested the big road climb and began our tour of the UCSD campus. A light fog drifted in adding to the scene.
Marine layer riding through UCSD.
We quickly passed through La Jolla and dropped down to parallel I-5 for a bit on some neighborhood roads riding right by Karl Strauss Brewery. We crossed under the freeway once more then had to consult the GPS to find our next bikeway. It was unlit, overgrown with trees and had a seedy feel. Not a place I'd feel super comfortable riding alone. Sure enough we began to dodge the homeless guys lying down for the night. One fella exclaimed 'Don't you think those lights are excessive?!?' as we rode through. No way, better to see all of our surroundings!! About a mile of this and we popped out on a nice pathway leading into Mission Bay.

The Sea World crowds were gone, all was calm. We were now over 80 miles on the day and ready to call it quits. But first the bikeway did a cloverleaf of sorts before crossing over to Point Loma where Evan lived. Shannon expressed her displeasure with the serpentine routing: 'We need to go over there!!, why are we going this way!?!' We made our detour off route and after one wrong turn found Evan & Beto waiting for us. I think it was around 9:30p, so much for a 90 minute ride!!

*Edit: we later learned that a few of Shannon's friends had been tracking our dot all day and tried to meet up with us to cheer us on. They finally settled on the bikeway at Mission Bay, cowbells in hand as they saw two bikers approaching, lights ablaze. Then we veered off route to Evan's and missed our cowbell serenade. Drat. Heck of an effort, but sorry we missed ya!

We checked into Evan's place, washed all of our riding gear, had our bike's tuned up by Beto, grabbed a shower and kicked back for a bit. Have I mentioned that I'm really enjoying this semi-supported bikepacking thing?

The next morning we were in no real hurry to get rolling. Evan recommended a local place for burritos, so we all met over there. Winner!! Great way to start the day.
Starting day 3. If only every food stop was like this!! Photo by Beto.
Where would Beto find us next??
Ocean Beach. We'd eventually have to climb that hill in the distance, up a steep climb on Hill St.
Finally, a decent view of the Pacific Ocean.
Flair overdrive.
Plenty of paved bikeway leading by the airport and into the downtown area. Photo by Shannon.
Not too far from our ferry ride to Coronado.
Lots of people milling about the tourist attractions downtown.

We had hoped to time our arrival at the ferry without too much waiting, but now we were cutting it close. Noon was upon us and we rode passed the ferry a bit before figuring it out. We quickly got in line for a ticket...11:57...We boarded the ferry with one minute to spare!! No sooner did we place our bikes in the rack and the boat was pushing back. Perfect!
Made it!!
A few 'free' miles for the bikes.
USS Midway.
Saw this dude sporting a Tour of the White Mountains shirt.
The early marine layer lifted unveiling a perfect day to ride along the coast.
Our search for donuts brought us here. Ok, we'll hang out a bit.
Instead we found orange mimosa truffles, fudge & smoothies. Photo by Shannon.

The day was already half gone and we didn't feel like we had made much progress. Well, I guess we really didn't, but we were enjoying the relaxed pace. We reluctantly moved on without snagging a donut. We needed to get back to the main route by riding the bikeway down the Silver Strand.
That tree funneled me to this sign, it was unavoidable.
The streets of Coronado were crowded, the bikeway was not.
Asphalt biking freeway, the Bayshore Bikeway. Photo by Shannon.
Pacific blue.
Making the southern turn on the Silver Strand.
Back on the mainland so-to-speak, we needed a pitstop break. There was a convenient Valero, but of course: "Restrooms are out of order'. I'm guessing they don't want to deal with all the cyclist traffic in the area. Our next try was a casino, but a bouncer was quick to tell us to move our bikes out to a park bench in the parking lot. Welcome to Chula Vista!!

We did find this sweet metal sculpture of bikes.
Bikeways & freeways living in harmony?? Photo by Shannon.
The Sweetwater River marked our return to the main route heading inland.

As we rode under one of the overpasses I thought I heard someone yelling at us. I heard it again and turned around and both Shannon & I were thinking the same thing. Then we saw Beto up on the road waving his arms!! He had picked up Shannon's parents to meet us on route. A quick phone call and we met up about a mile later.
Such a fun moment for all!! Fresh tuna salad sandwiches for lunch too, thanks!!
I think it's safe to say Shannon was riding a high for the rest of the afternoon. Our paved tour came to an end a few miles later, finally, back on dirt!!
The last of our paved bikeway.
It was still a bit of a sidewalk, but at least it was a dirt variation.
Stay safe kids.
Sweetwater Summit Regional Park seemed like it would be a nice place to camp out if needed.
The route funneled between fencelines, making 90º turns along the way.

I noticed on the track that it appeared an out-n-back was approaching, one where we'd have to ride up the trail, pass through a gate and return to the same spot only on the other side of the fence. We made it through the gate, but there was no trail or opening to be found on the ground to get us back where the track had us going.

There were two other options at this junction. We could follow the rider who just went by us, up a hill and see if the route rejoined up there OR take the nice looking singletrack running into the hills on a angle from our location. We wanted the singletrack, but there were signs posted to keep out since it was a nature preserve.
Forbidden fruit.
We opted to HAB up the hill. Near the top the track rejoined, following some remnant of a trail. Either way, it didn't delay us any and we were now riding fast graded dirt for a bit.

The dirt road led us to some stellar singletrack high above Sweetwater Reservoir. Wow!!
Ready to roll?? Photo by Shannon.
Dreamy singletrack.
The trail stayed high above the reservoir.
Coming around the north side.
My turn! Photo by Shannon.
Late afternoon glare.
Topped out here. There was a bike workstation post here too, How nice.

A series of heavily rutted out switchbacks made for a fun descent. At the bottom, the trail returned to flowy goodness with a couple of punchy climbs tossed in for good measure.
The cue sheet had us looking for a bridge to cross, we thought this was it then noticed all the razor wire. Nope.
 Our route contoured the hillside, but every once in a while there would be a super steep jeep road peeling off to the right. We'd shout in approval each time we veered left to stay on the fast, flat stuff!! We joked about how we'd be climbing those hills if Scott had made the route!! (He knows it's true)
Tacky dirt and green hills for miles.
Another bridge, still not the one we were looking for.

I'm guessing the river isn't typically this high!!
Where'd Shannon go? Chatting with more Stagecoach400 fans!!
We finally located our bridge mentioned on the cue sheet just in time to look for a dinner spot. As luck would have it, just down the road was a large shopping center with all sorts of food choices. The closest one was BBQ, sounded good to us.

Beto arrived a bit later and with good news: He cut the lock on his bike so he could finally do some riding if he wanted!!

The sun was getting low as we finished up dinner. We looked at the route and decided we'd knock out the short bit of trail ahead and the next 7 miles of pavement before looking for a camp spot for the night. Beto was going to join us so we had him scout a dirt road up ahead and we'd meet there.

The miles were fairly easy and we found Beto waiting on the dirt road. Our options seemed a bit limited, but after scouring satellite imagery there appeared to be a few pullouts up ahead.
Whoa!! The Sweetwater River was raging!! Glad we were up on a bridge.
We tucked the car off the road and settled in around 9p. Our plan for the next day was to get riding early, start climbing and hopefully beat some of the forecast heat.

I fell asleep quickly and the next thing I knew I had a flashlight pointing at my face and hearing the words: 'Hi folks, what are you doing? Some camping?' Yeah. 'This is Indian land and you can't be here.' The tribal officer was extremely polite, didn't cite us or hurry us out of there, but we had to leave. It was around 11p. Not what we wanted to hear.

Beto offered to go on his own if Shannon and I wanted to ride up the road a bit and setup camp again. We went back and forth about continuing or bailing as we began to shiver in the chilly night air. A few minutes later we just decided it would be best to call it off. We were in tour mode, not race mode. The 95º forecast was looking accurate, so why not come back some other time and finish off the route under better conditions?

We'll just get a room in Alpine and do some local rides the next day or two we thought. There were no available rooms in Alpine at midnight, so we snagged one of the last rooms the next town over. It was well after 1a by the time I got to bed.

What turned out to be our last night out on the trail was a total joke. Well, there was NOTHING funny about it at the time. We were livid. 
Our goal that night was to get out of town and ride back into the hills, on-route and find a place to camp off the dirt road we were on. All was going well, but this dirt road had fencing on either side. We were tired and just wanted to lie down, anywhere at this point. Beto was in the SUV and drove up the dirt road but was worried about the steepness/condition of it for the car and wanted to turn back. John pulled up trusty Google maps and on the satellite view saw a spot coming up off the road that looked promising. We continued our pedal uphill. We got to this luxurious spot. It was full of soft sand, just off the road. We were excited about a nice, quiet, comfortable night under the stars. Shortly after we had fallen asleep, a huge bright light shone on us. Beto and I sat up in our sleeping bags. “What are you guys doing, camping?” It was an officer. I was confused… all the way out here? How did they find us? “You can’t camp here, you’re on tribal reservation land, I need you to pack up and leave.” I sat there blinking, covering my eyes. John wasn’t moving in his bag. How is he sleeping through this? Then the officer says “SHHHHH! DID YOU HEAR THAT?” I look at Beto – what is he talking about? “How many of there are you?” the officer asks, “Just the 3 of us…” I answer. He must be trying to get us to say there are more in the bushes? The officer eventually leaves and then a car goes by, stops and says “Are you guys okay?” What the heck, how come there are people here all of sudden… “We are fine, just packing up camp,” we say. “WATCH OUT FOR MOUNTAIN LIONS!” they shout from the car and speed off. What is with these people?! The 3 of us sit there, trying to figure out what to do. I am ANGRY at this point. It was the first night I was going to get some sleep and now it was midnight and we had to pack up and go somewhere, but where? continue climbing uphill? How would we know when we were out of reservation land? Mind you, all of our gear was SOAKED from dew, we hadn’t thought about that… No way was I going to pack up all this wet gear and start climbing. I’d had it. Days of detours, ‘no trespassing’, getting in trouble for being places we didn’t know were illegal… Arizona this is not! I was also worried about the feasibility of the climb the coming day with continued zero sleep. Climbing in 95+ temps. So, I hatched a plan to bail. We had decided to do this ride for fun and it wasn’t going to be any fun and could be downright dangerous. Temps were going to be over 100 for our final climb up from the Borrego Desert and I couldn’t swallow that. “Hey guys… What do you think of going into town and getting a hotel somewhere and just riding fun trails tomorrow and calling it. We’re done.” We were all disgruntled and not in proper frame of mind, but bailing ended up sounding better and better and bail we did. We stuffed all our wet gear and 3 bikes in Beto’s car and get the heck out of there. Finding a room after midnight was a challenge. We ended up with the biggest suite at a Best Western. “Hey guys, it’s $125, is that okay?” We all looked at each other, it’s kind of expensive… then we snapped out of it. SHOWER? WARM? BEDS?! Shut up and take my money! Upon reaching the hotel, I’m sure we looked homeless (don’t all bike packers)? “Would you like a wake-up call?” the front desk attendant asks… I literally laughed out loud, “NO THANK YOU, but what time does the free breakfast end? We will be there 10 minutes before that!” 
Yes, you can fit 2 bikepacking rigs & riders into a small elevator. Photo by Shannon.
End of the line for Team Loco's Stagecoach 400 at mile 213.

The next morning we were loading up the car around 10a and it was already feeling toasty!! I don't think any of us really felt like riding, so we pointed the car north towards Idyllwild so I could head home.
Two on the rack, one inside and a ton of gear. It was a snug fit! Photo by Shannon.
Our donut quest continued, but we found pie instead. Photo by Shannon.
Wait!! They have a few of the famous apple cider donuts left, then the guy in front of us bought all but one. So, we did get our donut, just had to split it 3 ways!!

We sure did eat well though, which helped with the lack of sleep! Bon bons at the Hotel del Coronado? Check. Dairy Queen? Check. BBQ sandwiches and mac/cheese? Canned Chef Boyardee Beefaroni? Heck yeah. Can’t forget the daily trail treats dropped by the fast folks in front of us – thanks guys! 

Heading north, the hillsides were covered in poppies.
We were cruising along, checking out the random sights, like the camel farm, etc. We began to hear an odd noise, but couldn't place it. Maybe 20, 30 seconds later Shannon looked in the side view mirror...STOP THE CAR!! PULL OVER!! Somehow, my front wheel popped out of the bike rack and was dangling by a single strap around my rear wheel, handlebars dragging on the roadway!! Gah!!
The only damage from a mile or two of road dragging. Gotta love the lock-on grip endcaps!! Whew.

After this major near miss, I was ready to hit the road and head home. There was still plenty of daylight, so I opted to take the scenic way home and drive through the Anza-Borrego State Park to see a little bit of what we missed. Reports were coming in about a banner year for wildflowers there. Super Bloom 2017!!
Beto and his unleashed bike!! Thanks for all the support out there.
Thanks to Brendan at the Hub Cyclery for coming up with the route.
Salton Sea in the distance.
Side view of Coyote Canyon.
I began to drop down to the desert floor, but wasn't really seeing a whole bunch of wildflowers. The brittlebush were here & there, nothing special. I bottomed out and drove through Borrego Springs crossing the Stagecoach route. The road turned and I noticed a few cars pulled over, then a few more with RV's scattered about in the desert. The purples, yellows & white flowers began to catch my attention. Time to stop and see for myself.
The entire desert floor had an overwhelming pungent aroma of lavender. It was incredibly soothing.
Dune Evening Primrose.
I was bummed we didn't get to ride through here, but the evening temp of 88º reminded me it was the correct decision!!

I let the desert air filter through my car for about an hour as I drove towards the Salton Sea. Sometime around midnight I was back home, adventure complete.

Even though we only rode 1/2 of the course, it was such a diverse landscape and different environments to deal with. I think that's what attracted me to this route...and Shannon's prodding to ride it!! I can't thank her enough for the great time we had out there, even with the few route snafus. She's always a good sport in spite of HAB, rubbing bags, long days, GPS snags, etc. Go Team Loco!!

Of course another round of thanks to Beto for driving out and meeting us along the way. While we could have given him most of our gear to carry, that wasn't really the point of the semi-support. We still wanted to experience the route as a bikepacking route and we did that. A huge thanks to Evan for putting us up the second night. It was great to have Shannon's parents out on route too, and thanks for the sandwiches!! As always, thanks to my awesome wife, K, for letting me do these crazy rides. I have the ultimate support at home. Love you!!

Brendan, you really have something special here with this route. I can't wait to come back and see the rest of it. I'll probably do it as a race in the next couple of years. Great to meet you as well. Best of luck at the new location.

Overall, it was a stupid, awesome, fun time, like any good adventure! The company was what made this trip freaking amazing. John, Jason and Beto are the best LOCO travel partners one could have! This was definitely a LOCO ride. Riding through my hometown by mountain bike was incredible. San Diego backcountry is awesome, not flat, no Starbucks, but there is a Dairy Queen. 

* Today is July 18. John has been patiently waiting for me to write my take of this adventure for 4 MONTHS! I don’t know, I gave him some lame excuses. Something about a wedding, moving out of my place, moving Beto out of his place, us getting a house, moving into said house, moving my parents out of their place and 4 trips to San Diego to make it happen. Thanks for waiting! :D 

I had a bunch of requests to turn my elevation profile cue sheet into a poster. The image is also available on stickers & mugs. It'll make a great addition to a bike den either for motivation or reminiscing. If interested, please check out my Redbubble account. Thanks.

The image is also available for download as a screensaver via Payhip.

Our route:

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