Another weekend of perfect weather made outdoor adventures mandatory. Sally and I were feeling lazy, so I proposed a route that promised very few steep grades. Starting from my driveway, we pedaled companionably across town (if you can call Mentone a town) on paved streets, until we reached the conservancy in Marlboro Hills. There’s only one steep climb and that’s preceded by a thrilling downhill that allows one to use momentum to ascend at least a quarter of it with no effort.
We paused at the secret spring at the college entrance where a tiny pond collects enough water for small fish to propagate. Though it’s within sight of the road, it feels secluded as it’s surrounded by the natural canyon wall and some strategically planted eucalyptus trees. After a short rest, we continued up through the college, taking the most gradual route to the Crafton Hills Conservancy. Due to our lethargy, we contemplated turning towards home at various points but found ourselves at the Back Breaker intersection and again paused to consider our options.
Sally lay in the grass while I reclined on the bench, reveling in the childlike pleasure of having nowhere to be but in the moment. Continuing east meant climbing the fire road, which was mostly not very steep, and turning back involved one hike-a-bike climb (the previously mentioned thrilling downhill), so we opted for the continued gradual ascent. I suppose our old-lady-paced ascent had us feeling appropriately guilty, so I suggested we take the Long Cut which meant a short effort with a meaningful descent back to the fire road. By “meaningful”, of course, I mean exhilarating. We lowered our seats and pointed our bikes downhill, scouting ahead for ruts or other obstacles. The very end of the Long Cut drops off an embankment that’s about 15′ high and you can’t really see the trail until you’re committed, so it lends a bit of excitement.
Having roused our inner mountain biker instinct with a smidge of adrenaline, I continued down the ridge without consulting Sally. She, naturally, followed me. The next section of confidence-building trail had us at the intersection of three options: climb back up to the Yikes trail (not going to happen); continue down Escalator (not all that interesting); or ROLLER COASTER (shudder!). To my utter amazement, Sally voted for Roller Coaster. We were tired and it offered the shortest (read “steepest”) route home.
I know I’ve described Roller Coaster before, but each time we ride it, it’s a new adventure. The trail changes with every rain storm and the traction varies from non-existent to barely noticeable. What never changes is how sweaty my hands get when I describe it. After an introductory, gentle swoop down and then up, the trail simply disappears. Until, that is, your front wheel is over the edge and the hill falls away into an abyss with a menacing rut meandering along the line you want to ride.
Once you have gathered the courage to slide down the steepest part, navigated the berm that forces you onto the edge of the rut, there’s a lovely rollout to the next ascent. And then the trail rolls benignly through a tunnel of aromatic brush, until….you arrive at the final descent to the highway. Oh, I skipped a couple of interesting sections but they pale by comparison to the FINAL descent.
Honestly, the traction was pretty good and Sally was right on my wheel as I made the turn onto what’s probably, no definitely, the most challenging section of trail. At first it’s steep, but there are no real challenges as you can pretty much either control your slide or not, as long as you regain control by the time you get to the part where the ruts start to vie for your attention. At this point, you had better be looking ahead for a place to bleed off some speed because, if you brake too hard here, you will certainly slip into the rut. Okay, if I’m honest, you can ride the rut because it’s not that deep and it’s fairly straight. But, for the sake of the story, let’s say I skillfully avoided sliding into the treacherous rut. There was a point at which I was thinking of looking for a place to bail out, but short of laying the bike down sideways, there were no options but to focus and ride it.
Arriving at the bottom of the hill, breathless and pumped, I looked back to find Sally coming down, skillfully and in perfect control. She had never managed to ride this entire hill before and was justifiably proud of the accomplishment.
Feeling like champions, we rode the rest of the way down the wash trails, our fatigue completely obliterated by adrenaline. When a couple of manly-man, four-by-four, trucks rolled by with their tattooed drivers piloting them, I said to Sally, “They think they’re bad-ass.”
She replied, “They don’t know what bad-ass is!”