I needed to get out and spend some time on the new bike in unfamiliar and more challenging terrain to get a bit more intimate with the little dear. Time in the saddle and obstacles in the trail will sort things out pretty well and determine if the relationship will last.
What better way to do that then to put together a nice loop that blended two trails I have done in the past, one I have not ridden in quite a few years, but never as a bigger loop. And, of course, ya gotta invite some friends to share in the day. So the emails went out and the route was planned. Ya gotta love Google Earth. Combine that with a regular map and some knowledge of the area and you can really get a feel for what you are up against.
I had last ridden Blue Ridge Trail, located near Mtn High ski area in the San Gabriel Mtns, about 15 years ago. I was doing book research and I was by myself, but I was amazed at how good it was. Really good. Nearly perfect, actually, if you like flowy, smooth singletrack through the pines. Manzanita Trail is a horse of a different color. Always challenging, it requires much more from the rider in skills and endurance. Not killer techy, but difficult, it is still a great ride for the more adventure minded.
As a loop? Who knows. I figured 30 miles and 4 hours. We shall see. This is what we ended up with.
So, the ride:
We began by getting lost driving to the ride start. Well, not lost, but just misplaced a bit. Since we had Roger, a recent addition to the list of crazy guys who go on rides with me, meeting Tony, Pat and I at the trail head, we had to get started some time this morning! Finally we got our act together(my act, actually, being the seeing eye dog leading this trip) and headed up the road.
The ride begins with a few miles of uphill pavement up Big Rock Creek Road, not steep, but certainly not flat either. We had Tony on his Titus, Pat on the carbon wunderbike Stumpy, and Roger on his new and shiny El Rey 29er. Me, the Lev. Pat had forgotten his Camelback bladder, so he was riding light with two bottles and not much else but snacks. I had forgotten my bottle of Accelerade at home, so I was running on pure water. That could be bad. Say hi to the camera, Pat.
The end of the pavement brought us a really ugly dirt climb. Covered in loose, broken rock and very steep in places, the only blessing was shade. 5.27 miles and 2400' of gain later, we were at Vincent Gap at Highway 2 right near the trailhead of Mt Baden Powell.
From here, we decided to climb to Inspiration Point on the highway and not more dirt, so up Highway 2, which is gated as a thruway due to a road closure. This cut the traffic to almost nil and made for a nice climb.
Mt Baden Powell in the background.
A break to look for water for Pat...no luck, so we finished the push to Inspiration Point, at 8.52 miles and 3235' of climbing.
Turning toward Blue Ridge campground, we climbed some more on a broken paved road which ran right past the chair lifts of Mtn High.
The beginning of Blue Ridge trail is just at the east end of the campground and we broke here for a minute to snack and get our wind back. At 7900', we could feel the elevation and we had 11 miles and nearly 4000' feet of climbing on the odometer to this point. Pat looked fresh. A ways back we were talking about fitness, etc, as we spun up Hwy 2. Pat casually mentioned that he had been tested to have the same hemocrit level as Lance Armstrong. Nice. I, in contrast, have the same hemocrit level of Jack Wickosky, a plumber in New Jersey.
The trail is sublime. Fast, smooth, twisty. Not too many pics, too much fun to stop. I dialed it back a bit to allow for the unknown trail dangers and hikers, etc, but it was still uber-groovy.
We dropped out on Big Pines Highway at 13 miles or so and made a decision to cut the loop a bit shorter in the interest of time and energy. We were going to drop to Jackson Lake and climb over the dirt to Vincent Gap and the trailhead for Manzanita Trail. Instead, we turned off of Big Pines Hwy onto Hwy 2 and climbed back up to Inspiration Point and dropped like 4 well dressed rocks to Vincent Gap. Tony flashed by me in a blaze of Titus mounted glory.
The trailhead for Manzanita Trail.
This is a cool trail if you have the patience to hike-a-bike a bit and the skill set to ride a narrow and loose trail. Not really exposed except in a few really dicey parts where you need to creep across some scree slopes with your bike, it drops pretty consistently and is not very brushy, just loose and covered in acorns, small rocks, and leaves.
Roger is a very fit dude for the 'old guy' of our not-exactly-young group, but I think we slightly exceeded his abilities this day on this trail. New to Mtn Biking, I think he crashed about 4 times, one OTB. Marred but undeterred, he pressed on, only pausing to adjust his stem each time he sampled the soil. After a while, we would wait in the shade and along would come Roger. I would ask if he stopped to adjust his stem again (code phrase for crashing) Roger would just smile, shake his head, and press on. Good man, Roger.
The trail dropped out at Southfork CG and a short dirt road brought us back to our cars and waiting coolers full of chocolate milk, the recovery drink of champions.
24.48 miles, 5,111' feet of climbing, 5 hours and change.
Oh, the Lenz? What a good, good bike. Simply rock solid, predictable, agile, light feeling, and just no-nonsense progress down the trail. I can see why endurance racers like this 29er FS. It just works. I think I will keep it.