Since adopting two good-sized dogs, I’ve found that I need to combine my passion for mountain biking with dog walking. Sadie, a German Shepherd mix is an athletic trail dog who can run for miles, keeping pace with my bike even when we’re careening downhill. When the trail meanders, she will sometimes go cross country, straightening the course, but usually she lopes along ahead of me or behind, close enough that I can hear her regular panting. Occasionally, she spots a bird or a rabbit that needs to be chased and off she goes in hot pursuit, only to join me back on the trail a minute later, raggedly panting in sheer delight. She never catches anything so the fun is in the chase, not the catch.
We started our ride on President’s Day at the vacant land I own that abuts the wild watershed of Mill Creek.
The pile of trash bags in the background is a gift left by some commercial pot growers who evidently got spooked by word of the authorities cracking down on unlicensed growing, and thought my wasteland was a safe place to dump their entire operation, sans product. They left empty containers of plant food, electronic watering system, fabric buckets of potting soil (unintentional pun), clippings of plants, and miscellaneous trash that included an ID badge for Ryan M. who was evidently an employee of Stater Bros. As with all the other trash previously dumped here, I will haul it away. At least the potting mix can be dumped harmlessly on site.
Sally, her cattle dog mix named Mango, and Sadie and I headed up the wilderness that once was the Mill Creek Wash. For decades this has been protected by levies that have allowed nature to landscape the area with hardy, perennial shrubs and annual weeds and grasses. The levy pictured below has been sprayed with gunite which creates sticky traction on the rocks that make up the barrier.
The Wash Trails are as familiar to us as our own backyard but, thanks to the varying conditions, remain endlessly entertaining. Today was no exception as we reveled in the fact that we could actually see the trail. Come late spring, the grasses will nearly obscure the trail from sight making every twist and turn a test of faith.
This part of the former wash is used to capture water that comes down out of the mountains. There is a series of catch basins that retain water during the rainy season and then go dry when the collected water percolates into the water table. Our trails skirt these basins, each created by a earthen levy. After steadily climbing for a few miles, we pause to catch our breath before assaulting the ramp up the face of each levy. Then an all-out effort usually carries one to the top. The key word being “usually”. Today a slight miscalculation resulted in my bike stalling just short of the top. The unexpected dismount was less than graceful and I ended up on the ground, tangled in my bike. Sally kindly refrained from any disparaging comments about my lack of skill, knowing that to do so would invite a similar mishap when she made her own attempt. Following my failed example, she stalled too but stepped gracefully from her bike.
There’s one short stretch where we are forced to ride on the side of the highway. The road has been cut through a hill, so there is very little shoulder and on weekends, the traffic is fast and heavy. Leashing the dogs, we look for a break in traffic and then pedal as quickly as we can, hugging the edge of the road with the dogs on the shoulder away from traffic. Sadie is trained to trot alongside my bike without pulling on the leash. She matches my speed and sprints when necessary. I saw there was no traffic coming downhill in sight, so we made our move. About halfway through the gap, a huge bus descended on us traveling about 50 mph. The sudden whoosh of the passing bus spooked Sadie who shied away from my bike. Instinctively, I leaned away to keep from being pulled over on top of her and when she gave to the leash, I toppled left, into the lane of traffic. Pity the poor driver following the bus! He probably hadn’t even been able to see us on the shoulder until the bus passed. As I scrambled to get off the pavement, Sadie looked on with horror at what she had done. I was uninjured thanks to my padded knee/shin guards and gloves. A bruised palm and bum are a very small price to pay for such a potentially lethal mistake. We may have to rethink how we access our trails above the cut as there isn’t any safe way to walk or ride along the edge of the pavement. Maybe we need to add trail building to our multi-tasking list.