The Places in Between

Spring’s green grasses and cool breezes are always too ephemeral in Southern California. Already the grasses are going to seed, and the once cheerful wildflowers are struggling to hold their place against the more aggressive weeds. As soon as the thermometer tops 80 degrees in the valley, Sally and I start looking to the mountains for relief.

Mountain Home Creek Road starts at 3,900′ and climbs to 6,000′ which makes it about 20 degrees cooler at the top than the valley. The trail that snakes up the canyon from valley to mountains is newly entertaining with its fresh rock slides and fallen trees. This year’s plentiful snow and rainfall restored creeks and created waterfalls where none have been seen in a decade or more.

A stream crossing that we normally can pedal through is so deep and fast flowing that we were forced to carry our bikes across.

A jet’s water vapor trail (or evidence of the government’s conspiracy to seed our skies with chemicals to keep us submissive) bisects the sky over the canyon.

We interrupted our ride for some breakfast at The Oaks. Our favorite server, Vincent, happily served us on the porch where it was abnormally quiet because the National Forest is currently closed to recreation. I’m not sure why that is, perhaps because the Search and Rescue teams have grown weary of rescuing stupid people who traipse off into the snow, unprepared for the vagaries of winter travel in the mountains.

Wet shoes and socks that were only going to get wetter.

With full bellies and limited energy, we pedaled up the trail only to find our way impeded by slushy snow. Being the intrepid (read foolish) cyclists (now hikers) that we are, we pushed on, riding where it was clear and wading through slippery slush where it wasn’t.

All went well until we encountered a fallen tree.

Undaunted, we clambered over and hoisted our 42 lb. bikes, one at the front wheel and the other at the rear, over the barricade.

All of this was just to arrive at this panoramic view…and for the fun of getting there.

Ride ‘n Dine

Last Saturday, I was suffering from a toothache and some other perhaps related discomforts, so Sally and I agreed to do an “easy” ride, followed by lunch.

Said easy ride consisted of a gentle two or three mile warm up, and then a seriously steep ascent of the trail we call Joint Point South. The ascent was complicated by waist-high weeds that all but obscured the trail and wrapped themselves around the drive train at every opportunity. At the top of the climb, I noticed that I could feel the throb of my heartbeat in the tooth and the harder I pedaled, the faster and harder my heart beat. So, we again resolved to take the easiest route to the top of the Crafton Hills fire trail. That lasted for about a quarter of a mile until another super fun trail that went straight up the ridge beckoned.

Riding relatively flat tracks on an e-bike is cool because one can go so fast (up to 20 mph). But, climbing a trail that’s so steep it takes everything you have in your skill set just to keep both wheels on the ground while you’re pedaling as hard as your lungs can process air into oxygen, leaning over the bars to keep the front wheel from coming up and weighting the rear wheel to keep from spinning out, now that’s real fun!

Our favorite lunch stop du jour is a little, strip mall restaurant called Bella Italia. It used to have a couple of tables outside so we envisioned eating with one hand and holding on to our bikes with the other. E-bike theft is so rampant that simply keeping one in sight isn’t adequate insurance against theft. We found that since the terror of Covid has mellowed, they had moved the tables inside and when we asked if we could either bring the bikes inside or move a table outside we were denied. The waiter (the son of the owner) volunteered to “watch” our bikes and acted like I was unreasonable to decline his offer. Later, when he delivered our food outside, he said he had looked up our bikes online and now understood my intractability.

I was prepared to forfeit the luscious eggplant Parmesan and go to El Pollo Loco across the street, but Sally had her heart set on Italian. So, we wrapped the bags of our carry-out food around our hand grips and pedaled a few blocks to a quiet street where we could sit on a large boulder to enjoy our lunch. We split the eggplant Parmesan sandwich and cream of broccoli soup. Then I divided the generous serving of tiramisu and handed the container to Sally. It slipped from her hand and mine and went splat on the rock between us. We reasoned that what with all the rain we had had in the last few weeks, any residual dog pee that may have been on the rock, had long since been washed away, and scraped it back into the container. I think Sally even licked the rock when I wasn’t looking. Seriously, the tiramisu from Bella Italia is THAT good.

Rut Ridin’

Spring is finally here in full force. While the mountains are still draped in white, the valley is warm and lush. Theoretically, the snakes aren’t out yet, so riding the overgrown trails remains reasonably safe…for the moment.

Sally and I loaded the bikes for a revisit of Potrero Canyon and to make another attempt to find Surprise Canyon. The image above gives you some idea of how many canyons there are and how elusive the slot canyon that shelters the sandstone carvings could be. We got lucky and found it on our second try.

The heavy winter rains have softened the features of the guardians of the canyon.

The motorcycles had gouged a deep, wide rut down the narrow defile that was just wide enough to accommodate our pedals but left no margin for error. Soon enough, the trail widened to where we had a choice of line, but then the slimy clay soil held small puddles of mud that were slick as snot and made cornering an exciting endeavor. I’d left my knee guards at home, thinking this would be a tame ride. Fortunately the ground was saturated and forgiving as I toppled over in the slime a couple of times.

Begrimed, we left the confines of the slot canyons and descended a wide, grass-covered valley that offered opportunities on both sides for trails that ascended hills of varying degrees of steepness. We opted to climb a long ridge, made possible by our e-bikes. We might have climbed it on regular bikes a year ago, but we would have suffered acutely. The view from the top was well worth the effort and we lingered to watch some guys on motorcycles climb a seemingly impossible slope on the opposite side of the canyon.

We made our way back towards the car via the paved road, stopping frequently to enjoy the flora and fauna (mostly audible).

Snow-capped Mt. San Jacinto peeks over the hills of Potrero Canyon.
Canterbury Bells against a sandstone background
Sally awash in a sea of grass

When we came to where the road crossed the creek, we found the road had been washed away. In its place was a broad stretch of nicely compacted sand. The wash seemed firm enough to ride and looked far more interesting than the road, so we boldly followed the tracks of a couple of motorcycles up river. At first the sand was dry and firm, and the banks were low. We knew there was a dirt road that would take us where we wanted to go that followed this wash, so we figured we could exit the wash if the going got tough.

Keeping an eye out for quicksand, we sailed merrily along, using our bike’s highest level of assist to stay on top of the mostly packed sand. Occasionally, we would bog down where the creek’s water ran close to the surface, but we could escape its clutches by pedaling furiously and shrieking like girls.

The farther upstream we got, the more frequent the spots of quicksand appeared and the steeper and higher the banks rose around us. We anxiously looked for a path of egress from the wash as the sand grew wetter and finally became a shallow stream. We came upon some scattered slabs of reinforced concrete, an indication that there had been a paved road crossing somewhere up stream, and sure enough, there was a cut in the cliff that was overgrown but not too steep to push our bikes up.

Mt. San Gorgonio stands in the background, the highest peak in Southern California at 11,499′.

The hard-packed, dirt road skirted the creek, making for an easy ride back to civilization. We agreed that life didn’t get any better than this day.