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.

9 thoughts on “Rut Ridin’

    1. Yeah, I still ride at least once a week, but it grows increasingly hard to find new things to blog about after forty years of riding the same trails. This year, with its multiple rain storms has been epic in terms of wild flowers, ruts, superlative traction, and even quicksand.


  1. e-bikes?!?!?! I thought those were for the gen z folks who really didn’t want the challenge of “real” mountain biking! Wait! That was before COVID. I guess the pandemic changed lots of things… Just kidding! The views look amazing and I was getting a little tense as I read about the quicksand and the ever increasing steep banks! So relieved that you found a path to the road. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had long promised myself that when I turned 70, I’d go over to the dark side. I bought a bike that is light enough (42 lbs.) that it can be ridden with the motor turned off, and I can lift it into the bike rack without assistance. The result is that I’m riding twice as often and having twice the fun, as having assistance means I can climb steeper hills, which if you read between the lines, means more steep descents. Each of my bikes has cost about double what the last one cost, so I expect this will be my last new bike. It’s gotten to the point where a motor cycle would be cheaper.


      1. Modern technology has some good sides. My youngest sister had given up regular bicycling well before age 60 because of all the hills everywhere. But along came ebikes and she bikes all over now and gets plenty of exercise but can get just enough help on the toughest parts.


        1. The trouble with regular bikes is that you have to ride at least twice a week, and climb steep hills, just to stay fit enough to have fun. E-bikes suit a lifestyle that includes having a life outside of cycling.


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