A regular winter ride in my neck of the woods is normally one of several local trails, either in the wash or the foothills that surround the valley. But February, in Southern California isn’t your typical winter, with warm sunny days and sleep-with-the-windows-open nights. Daytime temperatures in the high 80s, motivated Sally and me to load the bikes onto the bike rack and drive to Mountain Home Village (elevation 3,700′) where the Mountain Home Creek trail begins the ascent to Angelus Oaks (5,800′). Just a few weeks ago this route was impassable with snow, but today the trail was in fine form.
A couple of years ago, a utility company had restored the abandoned road to a navigable two-track in order to bury fiber optic cable. This had destroyed what had become a beautiful single track trail over the years. Fortunately, there had been a bit of a flash flood in the mountains, in November, which all but restored it to its previous condition. Rock slides, fallen trees, deep sand and wash outs all made the trail interesting again.
When we came to The Avalanche, I had some trouble making it up the steep incline because the traction was loose and mostly because I’m a klutz. I made it half way before spinning out, so I turned the bike back downhill to try it again. A couple of hikers were closing in which was incentive to clear it on the second attempt. Nearly to the top, I stalled, this time high centered on my seat and unable to clip out of my pedals as I was momentarily unsure of which way the bike was going to go over. As luck would have it, the bike tipped towards the outside (towards the downhill side) which probably looked pretty exciting from below, but I got my foot on the ground before there was any danger of toppling over the edge. When I turned around for the third try, the old hikers (probably my age) were standing in the trail waiting for me to clear the way. The old gentleman kindly mansplained to me how I needed to put more weight on my back wheel and then stand up to pedal to the top. I showed what I thought was commendable restraint by not saying anything unkind in return. In his defense, I did look like quite the novice. On the third assault, I found the sweet spot, the perfect speed and gear, and sailed up as I’ve done at least a hundred times before and I’m sure the gentleman was left with the belief that his generous coaching had enabled me to succeed.
We climbed as far as The Bench and decided that there was no compelling reason to pedal the last two miles to The Oaks restaurant as the food wasn’t that good and we were tired, so tired, in fact, that even the downhill seemed like more effort than we cared to expend. But, of course, as soon as we pointed the bikes down the newly restored trail, we regained our enthusiasm. Riding The Avalanche from the uphill direction is merely a matter of carefully gauging your speed as you come into it. Approach too slowly and you are going to have to pedal to the top, which as described previously, can be problematic. If, on the other hand, you sail up too fast to make the slight turn at the top, you could fly right off the trail. Oh, and one more consideration is that approaching from the uphill side, you can’t see if anyone is ascending from the downhill side. I really didn’t want to mow down the elderly hikers…well at least not his woman companion. As fate would have it, just as I accelerated for the ascent, a guy on a gravel bike crested the top of the berm coming from the opposite direction, oblivious to his peril. I skidded to a stop with room to spare but his eyes were as big as saucers.