Little DR's, Big Mountains
After this trip, I now hold several new truths to be self-evident.
1. A fully-loaded DR350 does not a motocrosser make.
2. Baby wipes can do anything.
3. No matter how you shoot the photo, it looks like easy, smooth riding.
4. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, puts a finer exclamation point on a day of dual-sporting than sitting around a roaring campfire with a fine briar pipe, a bowl of fresh English tobacco, and a flask of Pedro Ximenez sherry. Magic.
For a Canadian leaving cold, rainy Ontario in mid-November, roosting through the high deserts and scrambling through the deep canyons of Southern California made me feel just about like this.
Ok, now for a little context. Living here in Ontario, I happen to be lucky enough to have one of my best, and oldest friends, living in sunny Pasadena, with a driveway big enough to store a few bikes. California lets me plate and own a motorcycle, so I now keep a cherry little 94 DR350S tucked away next to his house, begging for adventure riding whenever we can scrounge a few days off and a cheap flight. My buddy Wes (rinconrider) rides an F650GS most of the year, but keeps a DRZ400 for just such an occasion. We had hit Death Valley earlier in February, and this time, Wes had plotted out a interesting route.
We planned to head north from Pasadena across the San Gabriels on mostly USFS fire roads, then up the western part of San Francsiquito Canyon, through the Hungry Valley OHV area, across the mountains again to the Carrizo Plain monument, through the Plains and over to the coast at San Luis Obispo, then down through the Santa Ynez valley, over west Camino Cielo, down to Santa Barbara, and then along East Camino Cielo through to Ojai, and then back to Pasadena. At least that was the plan. The last part in particular presented a few challenges.
I found a cheap flight to L.A. leaving on November 4th. Turns out nobody wanted to travel Nov 4th. For me, it was great!
I had a 3 hour layover in Denver, and got the chance to peruse a New York Times at the Wolfgang Puck restaurant, watching the early election returns come in.
This guy kept me company with great conversation most of the evening. Turns out he was a political junkie, very well-informed about the electoral system and many of the intricacies of both local and distant state politics and races for seats in the House. I met a handful of really fascinating people while layed over here, and it greatly enhanced my experience and enjoyment of that amazing election day.
I was glued to this TV for most of the afternoon. I was so fascinated, in fact, that I missed my connection to LA... so I had to return to the Puck and watch for another 3 hours, though I did get to see them call Virginia, and thus the election, just before I boarded.
Bike prep the day before we planned to leave. I got sidelined with a leaking magneto cover gasket and we were scrambling to get it all prepped for early the next morning.
This made my heart skip a few beats when I took off the cover. A little more involved than I wanted it to be.
We got it all together and packed up, and this was about an hour into the ride, turning onto a USFS road past a locked gate just off the Angeles Crest/Tujunga Canyon road.
Locked gates are no problem for little dual-sports. :evil
Taking a rest stop at the bottom of this canyon. Riding fairly challenging off-road after months of commuting took a while for us to get our legs.
Unfortunately, this road dead-ended at a huge old rock-slide, which, based on the vegetation growing, had been there for years. You could barely walk through it, so we certainly weren't riding. Ah well, we'd get used to retracing our steps this trip!
High up on the Mt. Gleason road. California is remarkable for both the variety of the geography, and how close it's all packed together. Hardly an hour from Pasadena, we'd already ridden through a deep, rough canyon, and were now up at 6000 ft in breezy, cool pine forests with spectacular views over towards the Central Valley.
Bathroom break at a closed USFS campsite up on this road. Good thing the toilets weren't locked.
The next morning, after camping in some lovely olive groves at Lake Piru.
Riding back through the village of Piru the next morning, we stumbled across an open door to a fascinating chap who was doing restoration body-work on vintage European sports cars. Great find. He gave me some nuts and washers which had vibrated loose off my taillight the day previous.
The many, many hammers of a body-shop guy.
I think this was a late-50's Porsche 356D
Classic grill from a very old MG.
One of many classic, bleached, weathered buildings in Piru.
Fixing the taillight outside of his shop.
All bolted up and ready to go, outside the body shop.
Love the photography.. I have just returned from California and was amazed at the diversity... Sequoia Nat Park being my favorite. Looking forward to the rest of the report.
First canyon ride on Day 2, heading north up the western side of San Francsiquito Canyon. Water crossing!!
Wes almost took me out. Good thing I had a weather-sealed camera lens!
Gaining elevation up the canyon. Perfect, glorious day.
Beautiful ridgeline trail in the northern part of the canyon, heading towards Lake Hughes. There was NOONE else up here, and the views were spectacular.
Gorgeous mountain ranges.
Trusty steel horses. These little bikes were thrashed soundly, and never missed a beat. They are rugged indeed.
Best cajun chicken sandwich I've ever had, at the Rock Inn in Lake Hughes.
Setting up camp that night in the Hungry Valley OHV area. Gorgeous high-desert, and bitterly, bitterly cold at night.
Morning prep in Hungry Valley. We unloaded the DR's and took some gnarly, jaw-dropping, heart-pounding (for us!!) singletrack in the OHV area, trying to keep up with dudes on CRF450's and KTM 2-strokes. This was an amazing experience, and certainly gave us some skills that came in handy later in the trip... unfortunately we didn't get any pics from the OHV ride. No way to carry the cameras!
Lunch stop on the mountain pass after leaving Hungry Valley, headed towards the Carrizo Plains. This was the Mil Potrero/Cerro Norestre road, which now ranks as one of my all-time favourite paved rides. Every turn positive camber, every view was phenomenal, great campsites enroute. Awesome stuff.
More great views from Cerro Norestre. I quite literally almost rode off the edge of the cliff a few times, I was so preoccupied with the view.
I live in Castaic,Lake Hughes and Gorman are within an hours ride for me. Glad you enjoyed our neck of the woods!:clap
Cool man. Makes me wanta get out and ride this morning. :lurk
After the great ride over Mil Potrero/Cerro Norestre, we started our desert romp through the Carrizo Plains. This was wide-open, lonely, beautiful country, with high mountains flanking the desert valley.
Wes heading towards a steep sandy hillclimb.
You can spot the Hi-Viz from anywhere. He almost made it to to the top!
Beautiful views looking back east at the top of that same hill.
Rest stop at a cattle fence in the middle of the Carrizo Plains. This was a phenomenal route section. We were standing up, elbows out a-la "Neduro", huge rooster plumes of dust behind the bikes, throttles pegged in 5th gear, feeling for all the world like Marc Coma and Cyril Despres. Days like this keep me feeling alive for a long time. :clap
Light falling at the end of the Plains, the sunset illuminating the surrounding hills. The road we were on dead ended in the middle of the Plains, and we had to do a little cross-country desert riding to find the main road out to the highway.
DRZ in the Carrizo sunset.
We were sure that this sign couldn't refer to the two of us on dual-sports. Of course not :evil
After making it out of the Plains at sunset, we blasted over the next set of mountains to San Luis Obispo where we took the only hotel of the trip, as it was cool and rainy, and we were feeling well and truly beat up. After a dirt ride like that through the Plains, I'm pretty sure we set a few DR/DRZ speed records on the twisty paved highway over to the coast. Nothing like riding loose sandy hills to increase your confidence on the tarmac!
An iPhone shot of our celebratory Mexican dinner at Pepe Delgado's (sp?) in San Luis Obispo. I would sell a kidney for good Mexican food in Canada. Great, classic lime margaritas on the rocks wash away the desert dust very well indeed!
I think we sent these photos back to our wives and kids at home, with the caption that read something like "Trip sucks. Totally boring. Wish I were back home :D " What will be even better, of course, is repeating a trip like this when our two boys are big enough to join us. Can't wait!
This is my boy back home on "his bike". I'm sure he can't wait either. Now if I could only get a street-legal plate on the CT70...
Remainder of the trip report coming soon. Thanks for reading so far!
Excellent inro to your excellent adventure :thumb
that CT70 is the first bike I ever rode!
Awesome RR! What camera are you shooting with? The blues seem very crisp?
I was shooting with a Canon Rebel XSi and a 17-40L lens. Wes was shooting with a Canon 20D, also with a 17-40L.
I used a circular polarizer much of the time, which accounts for the saturated blues.
ok, on to the next section!
Early in the morning on day 4, we headed out from San Luis Obispo to Pt. Buchon and Montana de Oro State Park. This was our first view of the Pacific, which always gives me spine-tingling thrills, having grown up on Vancouver Island. Now I live many thousands of miles from the ocean in Eastern Ontario, and I miss it every day.
Lunch stop in Los Olivos, where we were looking for good wine and food.
We found some great wine and decent food at Patrick's Side Street Cafe in Los Olivos. They certainly weren't cutting us any deals on the pricing however. Wine culture seems to have definitely upped the cost of living in the Santa Ynez valley since the last time I was through here, more than 10 years ago. The downside (if there is one...) of fine wine. :photog
We tried hard to make it up to West Camino Cielo, then along that road down into Santa Barbara, aiming to camp at Carpinteria State Beach, a place I know well from my yearly pilgrimage to Disneyland as a youth. Unfortunately, we ran out of light. This is heading up the mountain, almost at the Camino Cielo start, with the light obviously leaving us quickly. We made it to the road, and even took the first few miles of it, but it was frighteningly cold, windy, and foggy, and when it turned pitch black as well, we thought the better of ourselves and headed back down to the 101. Sigh.
Morning after a warm, temperate night in Carpinteria. You can see in this picture, two of the trip's essential items - wine and baby wipes. Is there ANYTHING that baby wipes CAN'T get clean??
Morning stroll down the Carpinteria beach to the tar deposits. Though the beach remains beautiful, like so many other experiences or places from my youth, my recollection of the campground was considerably more favourable than its reality. Either it has shrunk by 50% and gained 200% more RV traffic, or my mind's eye has been seeing it through the misty veil of my early adolescence. I think the latter is probably true.
Can't deny the beauty of the beach, however.
You can see the Santa Ynez mountain range off to the right - this is where we were headed, up to East Camino Cielo. Unfortunately, this whole hillside is, as I write this, up in flames.
I love these sand dune plants, though I still don't know what they are.
Last section, East Camino Cielo, comin' up.
Dude looks like you guys had a killer ride!
Awesome ride:clap:clap Looks like the DR was the perfect bike for the trip:D
Ok, I spent an hour typing up the last section last night, only to inadvertently click the red "X". Arrgh!
Here it goes again.
We left Carpinteria heading for East Camino Cielo after confirming with the USFS office that it was indeed open. It had been closed for quite some time after wildfires some weeks earlier. We were determined to ride some of the Santa Ynez ridgeline road after missing out on West Camino Cielo the night before.
On our GPS's, it looked like there was a way to connect from ECC through to the highway near Ojai, and then we planned to boot over the San Gabriel's back into Pasadena via the Angeles Crest. More on that later...
This is heading up Gibraltar Road in Montecito, towards the junction of West and East Camino Cielo. There are some houses on the way up this road that make my credit line cringe with fear. Truly gorgeous stuff. Unfortunately, only a few days after we rode through this area, it erupted into flames, destroying hundreds of homes, and it will likely remain closed again now for the near future.
Looking west over the town of Santa Barbara.
Looking north up the coast.
This is taken right from the East Camino Cielo road, now up at almost 5000 ft, with these incredible hills plunging down to the ocean. The ECC road literally follows the highest ridgeline on the range, with dizzying drop-offs on either side.
As I was taking this shot, I was pondering that if you blew a turn up here, you would most certainly meet your Maker. The whole road gave me the slightly nauseous scared-of-heights feeling in my groin almost all the way.
After the end of the paved section of ECC, we ran across this unusual sign, which pointed down a steep, rocky section of singletrack which was unmarked on our maps or GPS's. We opted to stay on the main road.
Heading down the canyon, off the ECC road now, towards Big Caliente and Little Caliente Hot Springs.
Locked gate at the turnoff for the Hot Springs. We rode around it, only to find a really impassable fence a few hundred meters further. It was gorgeous down here though, and the Hot Springs are definitely on the list for a return camping trip. We had to turn around and retrace our steps back to that motorcycle sign.
Taking the "motorcycle" road, we found ourselves back on a track that the GPS indicated was East Camino Cielo, but it was rough, rocky, and unbelievably spectacular. The trail map dead-ended on the GPS, but then picked up again about 4 miles to the east. We figured that Garmin must have not completed the road mapping, and that we could connect through to the other side. Ah, hubris...
You can see the ridgeline trail we were following here. Words can't describe the scenery up on this ridge.
This was the first (of many) bits of carnage. After a few tricky hillclimbs, we both were soundly beaten by this very steep, loose, rocky section. It was steep enough to be quite difficult to even walk up. While I made it a bit farther up on my 350, you can see it lying on it's side at the top of this photo.
Me standing by my trusty mountain goat, taking a rest. I'd hit a huge bowling-ball rock, was glanced sideways and the front wheel drove up the side of the cliff as the bike looped over top of my head. I remember it in exquisite slow-motion detail, and the bruise on my back reminds me every time I get out of bed...
We didn't take any more pictures of the ECC trail after this, for a few reasons. First, it became, for us, quite difficult with repeated steep loose hillclimbs and tight singletrack. Wes in particular was having a very tough time, and had lost confidence in his ability to ride this terrain (and he has plenty of ability). We were picking up bikes at almost every hill, and really beginning to struggle.
At about 3:30 pm, after a climb up a narrow ravine that was barely footpeg-wide, the trail completely dead-ended at the edge of a cliff, in the middle of trackless wilderness. The sun was due to set at 5 pm, we had run out of water, and my good friend was not feeling anywhere close to 100%.
We experienced one of those moments that makes adventure motorcycling such a unique and intense sport. We had only two options, one of which was quitting, and we weren't about to quit. Without becoming too philosophical about the whole thing, we had to somehow find an extra, seemingly impossible wellspring of energy and confidence to try and retrace our steps before dark, in far less than half the time it took us to get in.
We slapped each-other on the back, made positive arm-pumping speeches to get in the right frame of mind, but inwardly we both were more than a little nervous about the situation.
Wes made it back down the ravine and up the first difficult hill, and I cheered out loud inside my helmet. Then he made it up the next hill, and the next. Suddenly, he was absolutely tearing up the trail, flying over sections that we crawled through, walking and pushing not an hour before. We slid to a stop on a plateau with huge grins and he yelled out "Even though were f*$%ed, I'm still having a blast!".
Hill after hill fell beneath the DR's, and we experienced a sense of exhilaration and confidence that was addictive. Everything felt easy. We could see and avoid every obstacle, and no hill was too steep. Retrospectively, I am still amazed at how much of motorcycling is a mindset; a psychological, rather than a technical endeavour.
We made it out to the paved section of the ECC road in an hour, almost a quarter of the time it took in reverse. The sun was low in the horizon, but we had enough light to make it down off the mountain.
Once on the paved section, in this almost super-natural state, we rode those dual-sports like we never have before. Rear wheels sliding around every corner, pegs dragging, lean angles on large knobbies that we could have never imagined, and grins so large they hurt. It's always the rider who is the limiting factor, not the bike. On any other day, I would have never been able to match that pace on any modern sportbike. It was, in a word, exhilarating. I've never felt so alive, so excited, and yet so calm.
Sunset from Gibraltar Road, heading back towards Santa Barbara.
We made it back to the 101, then strafed the freeway with the throttles at the stops, all the way back to Pasadena. Sure, I missed my plane that evening, but nothing could replace that afternoon.
It's a amazing sport we share, and I count myself among the unusually fortunate to be able to both experience it, and to share it with my closest friends.
Thanks for joining me for a bit of this adventure. Now I must start spreading out the maps and planning the next one. Mex 2 Can, with any luck!!
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