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!!