Sunrise on the mountain was spectacular. I set the camera up to take a time lapse sequence. After a couple of minutes I noticed the lens making a lot of noise. The damp and cold had got to it, and it no longer auto-focused. It also made a nasty grinding sound when I manually focused it. I had killed my lens; it was over ten years old so bound to fail one day. My negligence had ended its days early, manual crunchy focus was all that was left.
We cooked our noodles and sausage, drank coffee and watched the sun rising, the trails ahead of us today were Radford, then the SART. We didn’t know how far we would get during the day so we had no plan for our next campsite. Our original plan should have seen us camping at Holcomb Valley, but our revised start point meant we’d passed there and camped at Big Bear. Well, we would find somewhere. We packed and started the decent off the mountain. It was fabulous to be going downhill for a change. The surface kept trying to catch us out, it would change suddenly from hardpack dirt to talcum powder soft dust with the odd sharp edged rock thrown in for good measure.
It didn’t slow us down until near the bottom of Radford, Andy picked up a puncture at speed. He safely managed to wrestle his heavy bike to a stop, after finding the hole and letting the Stan’s fluid pool there for a bit he pumped it up and we headed off again. We picked up the highway at the end of the Radford trail; Andy’s tire was flat again. The sealant hadn’t held, after removing the tyre he found the split was bigger than he first thought. A quick patch, some fresh sealant and we were on our way again.
After miles of wide dirt roads it was heaven to be on narrow twisting single track, the Santa Ana River Trail was fabulous as it twisted and turned. I loved it, I loved it so much I forgot to stop and take pictures. We were way to busy having a great time; this is a real gem of a trail as it hugs the contours along the side of the canyon and gently drops leaving no real need to pedal for probably our first 30 minutes of riding. After a few miles my grin disappeared briefly, I’m not good with heights, in fact I’m crap with them, they scare me senseless.
So as I come around the corner and the track narrows to a few inches wide, I notice the drop to my right, the uninterrupted drop to my right, the one that just goes on and on. Andy is oblivious and just carries on flying down the trail disappearing out of site. I try and put it out of my mind and catch up with him. The trail continues like this for some distance, and then suddenly Andy does a quick bunny hop onto a rock and around a sharp bend. A move that had to be millimetre perfect as the drop to the right was around 80ft onto rocks with nothing in between.
I get off and carry my bike over, aware that I have no phone signal and no rope. If Andy falls along here the chances of survival are slim at best. I suddenly feel very vulnerable out here and I’m reminded once more that we have not seen another sole since we started riding this morning, we were on our own. The trail didn’t get any better but I knew I couldn’t walk the bike the whole way; I had to just man up and get on with it. I was too cautious and hit my inside pedal a couple of times on the inside edge which unbalanced me and nearly sent me over the edge.
It seemed wrong in my head but it was actually safer to ride closer to the edge than away from it, at least if I lost a wheel I could probably just get off and let the bike go. If I caught the pedal again on the inside, chances were I would be high sided into going over the edge. Eventually we came across a large tree blocking the trail, we could probably have climbed over it but it looked like the trail was damaged beyond it. An improvised detour sign showed us the way out, a steep limb in the wrong direction. The detour went on and on, and it was all uphill away from where we wanted to be going. Eventually we came out onto a paved road which we climbed on for a bit longer, Andy at least had an idea of where it was taking us, and it would end in a cold drink.
We pulled up at the general store in Angelus Oaks; we left our bikes outside while we browsed the cold drinks in the fridge. The store owner was friendly and we spent some time talking about where we’d been and where we were going. He recommended the old 38 highway, now derelict and not much more than single track. He enthusiastically told us about the mountain lions we might bump into in the canyon, pointing out there had been a lot of activity from them in recent days. I didn’t particularly want to meet them but this trail turned out to be one of the best so far. Sweeping bends on lose single track, numerous small jumps and we were flying down it drifting and sliding, I had a grin a mile wide. The views were breath taking and nearly life ending.
I held back and let Andy get ahead as I was eating too much of his dust as it flew up off his back tyre and I couldn’t see where I was going. I let my speed pick up as I could now see the whole of the trail and that breathe taking scenery. I should have been watching the trail though, there was a sudden sharp left hugging the canyon wall. I didn’t see it until it was too late; I broke hard, my front wheel locked and just slid on the soft sand. I was headed straight for the edge, I managed to say “Oh F*%k!” as my front wheel dipped over the edge. I came to a halt on my chain ring as it dug into the dirt, I stepped back off the bike, pulled it back up onto the track then looked over the edge. A 100ft of potentially life ending oblivion and I was alive. Freakin awesome!
When I caught up with Andy I still had a smile on my face but I was a little bit more cautious about watching the trail while I rode. This amazing single track finally gave way to tarmac and we were back on the main highway heading into Redlands, it was getting hotter but at least the road was still going downhill. We adopted aero tuck positions and coasted after running out of gears, the traffic slowly built up as we rolled into town. We stopped at a park and used the water fountain to fill our bottles and camelbacks up. This was probably the worst tasting water I have ever drank, if you think swimming pool then you get an idea how just how much chlorine was in this, oh well needs must.
We rode through Redlands and on into Loma Linda before picking up the Santa Ana River Trail again. Concrete dullness with a 20mph furnace like headwind, this was going to be a long day. The heat here was almost intolerable; I was back to really struggling. I could feel the sweat running down my back and legs, I felt like I was melting. We stopped under bridges so I could cool off, this was really bugging me. My legs felt good, I was eating energy bars every hour and keeping on top of the fluids but still the heat was just sapping my energy.
Apart from a face full of sweat, Andy looked fresh; having lived here for over 10 years he was clearly used to it. We took a longer break in the shade at Mount Rubidoux Park, watching the world go by while my temperature tried to stabilize itself. The next few miles were some of the hardest I had ever done. The trail went through Hidden Valley before finally coming to an end near Norco. We headed into town looking for the nearest Starbucks to charge phones and find cool drinks. We had travelled much further than we had expected, the plan was now changing.
Originally we saw the trip as being 4-5 days, here we were on day three with a chance of being home if we pushed hard. It was late afternoon and the temperature was dropping, Andy’s wife Jenn was willing to drive out after work but only if we could meet her somewhere sensible where she would not be stuck in traffic for hours on the freeway. After checking the map we agreed to ride to Green River and meet in the service station off the freeway at 9pm.
With the end in sight and the temperature dropping to comfortable levels we set off at a good pace, passing through Corona home of the Fender guitar factory. We fitted lights as the sun set and really started to gather speed, the last few miles were rode like a two up time trial, my legs felt good and I felt good. We rolled into the service station to find Jenn waiting for us with the dogs, a very welcome sight. We had been on the bikes for nearly twelve hours and had covered around 110 miles. We smelt real bad in the confines of the car. We picked up burritos on the way home and finished the day with a cold beer or two. A great end to an amazing trip.
Riding with your friends, life does not get much better than this. Now where shall we go next?