Thursday, February 11, 2010


Back many years ago, I co-authored and authored two 'Where To Ride' type guide books for mountain biking in the local forests. In so doing, I rode/pushed/dragged my bike over nearly every reasonable and not so reasonable road and trail on the map. Some of those places I have never been to since!

Very near to my house is a remote canyon with a couple of access points. We used to ride this area all the time as a group but it has been years since I was in there. It seemed like it was about time to reconnect to that old ride spot and see it again. I grabbed Ed the Tall and we loaded up the singlespeeds in anticipation of moderate climbs and muddy sections of trail.

Ed and his Selma.

We headed up the paved Department of Water and Power access road and rode past history, and an infamous history at that. This was the site of one of the worst disasters in California when the St Francis dam failed and swept through the valleys below and to the sea some 50 miles away, killing many in the process. Add in the fact that Ed is a geologist by trade, and it becomes a bit of a lesson in "benches" and "soils" and 3 dollar words that I don't even remember (like in the article below) as Ed gets all techy with the dam and its demise.

From the Web:

The St Francis Dam before the disaster.
"The St. Francis Dam failed catastrophically three minutes before midnight on March 12, 1928, only a week after the dam had been filled within inches of the top for the first time. The failure began with the collapse of the eastern abutment, which was caused by a massive paleomegalandslide when an ancient and inactive fault between the Pelona schist and Sespe conglomerate formations reactivated, possibly caused by hydraulic piping. Water rushing along the eastern side caused a rotation in the dam, which allowed water to escape through an opening under the right abutment. When the dam was about half empty, the right abutment failed leaving just the central “tombstone”. It took about an hour and fifteen minutes for the 12.4 billion gallons of water to empty out of the reservoir. The water traveled down the San Francisquito Valley until it joined with the Santa Clarita River and turned towards the ocean, destroying everything in its path. The water had traveled the 52 miles to the Pacific Ocean by approximately 5am, carrying tons of debris, mud, and bodies. Bodies of victims were recovered as far south as the Mexico border. An accurate death toll is not known, but estimates range from 450 to 600 deaths. The disaster was the second worst in California’s history, behind only the 1906 San Francisco fire, and the worst civil engineering failure of the 20th century."

After the dam failure. The remaining section, known as the "Tombstone", was dynamited later on.

The ride up took us right over the dam location. In the two pics below, the first one shows the white rubble of remaining sections of the dam material in its original location and the second shot points to some of the dam debris down stream.

You would never know that these are silent markers of a great tragedy. Soon enough we hit the dirt and mud. To make it worse, there was some heavy construction going on in the area and some BIIIIGG dump trucks were using the same roads we were on. They kept stirring up the deep water sections and mud, making it a challenge to find the 'clean' line, if any path today was clean.

One of the better sections.

Singlespeeds rock. Have I said that before? Everyone should have one. We rode through (and carried around) about 20 mud bogs/puddles/swamps today and never even got stuck shifting problems, nada. Nothing but forward progress. How sweet it is. If I would have been pedaling that Epic with the $$$ XX stuff today, I would have not been nearly as blissful.

I also was trying out some new tires I just got in the mail. The Specialized Purgatory, 2.2 S Works. More on those later, but they were a stellar performer today in the loose and sloppy conditions.

Vassago Jabberwocky and Purgatory tires, all dirtied up for the dance.

Ed is a lot like me in that we don't need a stunning ride to have a good time. Today was a revisit for me, brand new horizons for Ed, muddy, not that zoomy, but all in all it was a great day out for three hours of pedaling mirth and merriment.

And singlespeeds absolutely ruled the day.

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