Mendocino Mountain Biking & Camping

Mendocino has been on Lynn & my mountain biking to-do list for a while now – especially once Lynn got the taste for mountain biking in the Redwoods in my old Santa Cruz stomping grounds. With winter approaching here in Tahoe, we decided to hit the road on an impromptu trip – tent, bike and gear thrown hastily into the flying green toaster on a Friday morning.

About five-and-a-half hours of driving through Grass Valley, Yuba City, Clear Lake and Willits on Highway 20 delivered us to Russian Gulch State Park campground, a beautiful but pricey site ($40 a night!) close to the few trails we’d turned up on the internet.

The park ranger pointed us to Catch a Canoe and Bicycle Too – a cool little shop on the side of the Big River – for a map and more guidance, where PBS was filming a family travel segment of some kind. Maps there were laminated, poster style, not exactly practical for carrying on a bike, which was our plan in a place with a reputation for no trail signs and no GPS signal through the dense canopy. Fortunately there was Mountain Biking the Mendocino Coast, 2nd Edition, a guidebook that was worth the purchase.

@tahoefabulous on a sweet piece of #redwoods #singletrack. #mountainbiking #mendocino #toasterroadtrip

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Saturday we rode Manly Gulch Trail in Jackson Demonstration State Forest, dropping in from a parking spot at the top down flowy, fast and sometimes exposed trail covered in redwood needle leaf litter with the occasional root ledge. It was a blast. Pedaling back up Forest History and Cookhouse was a grunt, but overall a super fun ride – worth the trip in and of itself.

The second day we started closer to camp, pedaling up the not-quite singletrack, not-quite fire road North Boundary Trail to Road 409, where we explored a spiderweb of unmarked trails in a dense forest. On the way back, a stint on the North Trail was worth the detour above Russian Gulch before coming to an end.

Camping got pretty chilly this time of year, but day-time weather was beautiful, and we passed the time when we weren’t riding site seeing around Mendocino and Fort Bragg, watching free divers hit the water for abalone. From our campground, we could pedal to a great beach or up to an overlook with fantastic views south.

Monday morning, as we planned to head south to Boonville, somewhere I’d never been – ominous smoke crept out to the coast, turning the morning light burnt orange. Texting with family and searching the internet from a local coffee shop – we first decided to avoid the numerous fires that sprung up overnight by heading back on Highway 20, but quickly turned around as we found news of more fires in the region.

Plan C became a drive straight down Highway 1 to my folks in Point Reyes. One of the most beautiful drives in the country – it was made otherworldly by a thick blanket of smoke. Each 2-lane highway that poured out of the hills onto the coast was bumper to bumper with people escaping the fires – and when we tried to stop for gas and lunch in Bodega Bay, we found the picturesque coastal community over-run, lines of cars 20-long out each end of the only gas station in town.

Point Reyes Station was out of gas as well, but after staying the night in Inverness we were able to make our way back to Truckee on Tuesday.

Mendocino is a remote destination no mater where you’re coming from, but worth the trip as their mountain bike scene continues to grow.

Mountain Bike Gear Tip for Mendocino

Light-lens Sunglasses: Both Lynn and I used rose-colored sunglasses, lighter than typical grey or gold, but in many places deep in the redwood jungle could have used clear lenses – and we didn’t even have fog or overcast.

 

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Honeymoon Mountain Biking Road Trip to the PNW, AKA #Toasterroadtrip

June 24, the morning of my wedding to Lynn, I awoke to rising song of a Swainson’s Thrush, a sound I’d come to associate with Point Reyes. On my parent’s property, the lush green of the forest was broken up by a rainbow of flowers, but tall stalks with delicate rows of hanging pink bells – foxglove – caught my eye.

That bird song and those flowers would follow Lynn and me as we worked our way up through Oregon, Washington, Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast on our month-long honeymoon – the latter occasionally standing six-foot tall and smacking me in the face as we road through them on Bellingham’s Galbraith mountain bike trails.

It’s safe to say this has been the best summer of my life. Our wedding was all I could ask for, and our honeymoon was a dream trip. Sure, it was stressful planning the wedding and the nearly 3,000-mile trip immediately after, but Lynn deserves most of the credit for both.

After about seven hours on trusty old I-5 North in the flying green toaster (my Honda Element), our first stop was Ashland, Oregon. I’d like to tell you the below view back to Mt. Shasta was from our campsite – but while I found out the Mt. Ashland campground was open – I missed the fine print that said that the road beyond where I took this photo to the campground was closed.

Looking at Shasta from Mt. Ashland.

Instead, we pitched our tent, strung our hammock and settled into the lower elevations of Emigrant Lake among the oaks and golden grass. Mountain biking – the main focus of the trip – didn’t go according to plan in Ashland either. We had the idea of catching a shuttle up the mountain to spend more time pointed downhill, but it turned out the shuttle operation was closed for the week. So we filled our hydration packs, clipped into our pedals and ground up a hot, steep road before turning down Jabberwocky, a big, machine-built flow trail getting a lot of well-deserved attention.

Our Ashland campground.

After a stop at Caldera Brewing and another night in camp, we turned north again, leaving I-5 for the coast, following the Umpqua River west to camp in the woods near Oregon’s famous dunes. The bikes stayed locked to the car as we worked our way through Yachats, poked around tidepools and visited the Oregon Coast Aquarium before camping just south of Newport.

Oregon Coast.

Before crossing into Washington, Buoy Brewing in Astoria proved to be our favorite brewery of the trip, and the drive into the Olympic Peninsula fulfilled one of my long-standing travel goals. My parents bought us two nights at the Lake Quinault Lodge as a wedding present – one of the grand old lodges like Old Faithful or Timberline, or whatever they’re calling the Ahwahnee Hotel now.

We hiked along the Hoh River, and I wished I could join the parties with big packs, ice axes and crampons to see the high mountains of the park. Next time.

I teased Lynn, a North Westerner born and raised, about the incessant sunny weather on the trip, casting doubt on the rain in Hoh Rain Forest. The dense trees, unending fern mats and dripping moss poked a few holes in my argument though.

Crowds and hipster nonsense photo shoots couldn’t ruin Ruby Beach.

Ruby Beach.

My first proper PNW ferry ride took the toaster, Lynn and me to Vancouver Island, and I got my first taste of Canada when the customs agent asked if we had any alcohol, and laughed at my reply of “maybe 2 beers?”

Canadian drivers don’t mess around – only giving the choice of 50 kph in the slow lane or 110 in the fast (when 80 kph was the signed limit), but the drive up the east coast of the island was beautiful, as was our first campsite – Englishman River Falls Provincial Park.

The view driving up the east coast of Vancouver Island.

Provincial Parks on the island were spotless, and there’s no rushing back and forth between claiming a campsite, filling out forms and paying at the gate. A friendly staffer came around, registered us and collected our money – noting our American license plate and offering sincere apologies for our political fumbles.

He didn’t abide by noisy campers, either, strictly enforcing the 10 p.m. quite hours, which I appreciated to no end.

The Hammerfest mountain bike trail network laid right outside the state park gate, pedalable from our campsite. A grind up a loose, steep logging road opened up a spiderweb-like network of singletrack to pick from on the way back down. Our first taste of Vancouver Island mountain biking, and it was a blast – dark woods, soft soil, berms, whoops and roots.

@tahoefabulous getting after the dark and loamy on the #hammerfesttrails of #vancouverisland . #mountainbiking #toasterroadtrip

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Farther north, the three Cs of Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland was our next destination. Cumberland’s mountain bike trail network was definitely one of the best of the trip, while the sea-side parks of Comox were beautiful when we needed to give the bikes a brake.

Our last campsite of the island was a little farther north still, in Elk Falls Provincial Park just outside of Campbell River. A techy, sometimes overgrown rolling cross-country trail broke up the fireroad up, singletrack down formula we’d followed so far on the trip.

Elk Falls.

It wasn’t our plan, but much of our trip put us a day ahead or a day behind the BC Bike Race – a multi-day crosscountry mountain bike race with 600 participants. Sometimes that meant we had helpful pink tape to follow in the complex trail networks of the island and Sunshine Coast. Sometimes it meant a trail had just been hammered by 600 people. But mostly it reaffirmed Lynn had picked the best mountain biking destinations in the region.

BC Coastal Range from the ferry

Our next ferry delivered us to Powell River at the northern end of the Sunshine Coast. It was a beautiful boat ride with views back at the glaciated peaks above Cumberland and toward the improbably pointy and dramatic BC Coastal Range ahead. We even saw some sort of whale or porpoise spouting in the distance on the glassy Salish Sea.

The toaster on the ferry.

Freehub Magazine, a mountain bike magazine out of Bellingham which produces some great videos – first brought the Sunshine Coast to my attention. Small, remote communities in lush, dripping woods surrounded by a network of mountain bike trails – it sounded too good to be true.

@tahoefabulous on the bridge of #alohatrail in #powellriverbc #mountainbiking #toasterroadtrip

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And while it was beautiful and we got some great riding in, there was a catch. Opening up the Trailforks trail map app on my phone, we were faced with an inscrutable tangle of trails, making left or right at the fork decisions seemingly every 100 feet or so. And inevitably, we made some bad choices – whether it was finding ourselves neck-deep in thorny blackberry brambles, or me taking the two worst spills of the trip – back to back – on maybe the worst trail I’ve ever ridden.

That goes with the territory riding new places, however, and we still had a great time. We also took a break from the bikes to paddle around Sechelt Inlet. A guide shepherded us through narrow passages, around rocky islands with native petroglyphs, over jellyfish blooms and sea stars. We even saw a mink fishing at the water’s edge.

#kayaking in #secheltbc with @tahoefabulous – it can't all be #mountainbiking on the #toasterroadtrip #beautifulbritishcolumbia

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Two more ferries south landed us at the southern end of the Sea-to-Sky Highway up through Squamish and Whistler, one of the most beautiful drives on a trip full of beautiful drives. I gawked at the huge granite cliffs and towering snow-covered peaks just above town, the glacier-green sound just below.

Armored up and flat pedals fixed, we headed for Whistler Bike Park, one of mountain biking’s hallowed meccas. While Lynn was fully in the zone, I felt like a Joey most of the day. I found myself walking some steeps on blues. Blues!

Every time we re-enter America, it makes third world banana republic bureaucracy look efficient, and this time was no different. Oh well, on to Bellingham to stay with Corey and Becca!

Photo by Corey Vannoy

Corey showed me the ropes on a side of Galbraith I hadn’t ridden before while Lynn took the day off the bike, and it was unsurprisingly great. Throw in a visit to Kulshan Brewing, a barbecue on Lake Watcom with Tommy and Morgan and a visit to Transition Bikes (who sent us wedding presents, how cool is that!) and you pretty much have why we try to get to Bellingham at least once a year.

A drive through the North Cascades was also high on my to-do list, and the alpine peaks begged for more exploration. We were both excited to check out Winthrop and its growing mountain bike scene, but east-side heat and smoke from Canadian wildfire prompted us to cut our stay short and head for Reardan to stay with Lynn’s parents.

Lynn in the North Cascades.

The toaster’s brakes were pretty much, well, toast when we screeched to a halt in Reardan. Fortunately, Lynn’s dad’s friend – a mechanic at the school’s bus garage – was extremely kind in helping us (OK, we helped him by occasionally turning a screwdriver and staying out of the way) replace the rotors and pads.

We had a second wedding reception in a beautiful barn down the road from Lynn’s folks for all the friends and family in Eastern Washington that couldn’t make the trip to California, and then hit the road again – pointed south for Hood River.

Driving west along the Columbia, the flat-sided toaster complete with Yakima sail Rocketbox buffeted in the wind that makes Hood River a kite surfing destination, the transition from east-side brown to west-side green came quick, and after a brewery stop for dinner we climbed up to Kingsley Reservoir Campground for the night.

Our time was running out and we wanted to break the drive home up with another stop in Bend, so we only went for a short ride on Dirt Surfer at the top of the Post Canyon trail network. After a few dirt roads generally wrecked by the moto crowd, we were both amazed by the singletrack – we’ll definitely be back.

As with last summer, our last campground was Smith Rock State Park, one of our favorite campgrounds, and just 45 minutes from Bend. An obligatory visit to Crux, a really cool chat with the guys at Crowsfeet Commons and a walk along the Deschutes River reminded us why Bend is such a special place.

Faced with the end of the trip, I had to remind myself we were heading home to Truckee – not a bad thing at all. Still, I was ready to do laundry, take a shower and head back out on the road. Once you hit the rhythm of a trip like this, it’s hard to give it up.

 

 

 

MTB in the PNW – An Oregon-Washington Road Trip

I’ve been a Sierra snob for a while now. And a California snob too. But Lynn has dutifully, gradually opened my eyes to the Pacific Northwest – a few quick family and friend trips to Seattle, Reardan and Bellingham, and an impromptu road trip to Bend in the middle of winter.

In July, we bit off a bigger chunk of the PNW, linking together Oakridge, Bellingham, Leavenworth, Reardan and Bend with a mountain bike theme over the course of a little more than a week. That’s a lot of miles, a lot of hours behind the wheel, but also a pretty incredible swath of country outside my usual roaming territory.

Seven-plus hours in my packed flying toaster (#toasterroadtrip) on the back roads of north-eastern California and Southern Oregon delivered us to Oakridge, a small, sleepy one-time logging town that’s been the topic of a lot of talk on the economic engine that is mountain bike tourism.

Sure enough, after setting up the tent and hammock in the lush green moss-veiled forest campground just up Salmon Creek from town, we found ourselves in the local brewpub (Brewers Union Local 180) among many other Northern Californians from the Bay Area, Nevada City and elsewhere.

 

Shuttle booked for the famed Alpine Trail, we hit the sleeping pad early in a mercifully quiet campground, and woke up early the next morning.

The Alpine Trail did not disappoint. The shuttle (Oregon Adventures) grunted and bounced us up a dirt road into the soil-soaking clouds – the driver stopping a couple times to explain trail crossings and intersections. Soft, black loamy dirt and a brisk first climb delivered us to a cool, foggy meadow with views to other wooded ridges decorated in wisps of mist.

Not a technical trail like, say, the Downieville Downhill, smooth, flowing singletrack with great berms and occasional steeps and tight switchbacks quickly had me counting this as one of my favorite rides. As we lost elevation, soil occasionally gave way to loose shale or dry dirt with a few sections of steep exposure off the side. And while the majority of the 14 miles were downhill, both Lynn and I were spent by the time we were done.

Another long drive through some Portland and Seattle area traffic landed us in Lynn’s college town of Bellingham, Washington. The last trip here in February sold Lynn on her Transition Smuggler, and she was eager to bring it back to its native habitat – Galbraith. This time our loop of SST was dryer and we were both a little quicker, but I did enjoy the tackier winter conditions of our first trip. Amazing trail building really keeps you on your toes – and while I love my Trance – I did kind of miss the Transition Patrol I demoed last time. Must resist.

The drive up Highway 2, over Stevens Pass, had this Sierra snob wide-eyed on our way to Leavenworth Washington, where we met up with Lynn’s parents and friends. One of her friends, Tommy, lead us on the Freund Trail. Starting off in quickly rising temperatures and a longer, steeper climb than we’d done in a while had me doubting, but once the trail turned downhill into an endless series of berms and whoops, I took it all back. Lynn said it was her favorite ride of the trip, and while it didn’t dethrone Alpine Trail for me, it was a blast.

On the Wenatchee River. #toasterroadtrip

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After a stop in Reardan, Washington near Spokane, where Lynn grew up, we pointed south, crossing into Oregon at The Dalles, and set up the tent in a familiar favorite – Smith Rock State Park, just north of Bend. While we brought a rope, harnesses, shoes and other climbing sundry, the crowds and heat dissuaded us from tackling Smith Rock’s amazing walls. Instead, we spent our days mostly in Bend, checking out breweries, hitting up some great restaurants, and sampling the Phil’s Trail Network.

Early morning at #smithrock #toasterroadtrip

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This area was decidedly XC compared to our previous destinations. Starting up the smooth and gradual Ben’s, we cut over on Voodoo into some chunky and awkward terrain before a seated pedal “downhill” on Phil’s. I’m betting this is a network that takes some time to suss out the best stashes and sequences.

A day after getting back to Truckee and I’m already poking around the internet, looking at videos of Ashland, Oregon and Issaquah, Washington, pondering the next trip. I think I might be willing to expand my territorial range in a northwesterly fashion.

The baby bear to the momma bear in my last post. #leavenworth #pnwonderland #toasterroadtrip #latergram

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Fall Trip Down the Eastern Sierra

A few weeks ago, Lynn had to go to Bishop for work, and we decided to make a weekend out of it. Snow had recently fallen, always a welcome addition to the Eastern Sierra, and we hadn’t been in months.

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As we went up Conway Summit, north of Mono Lake, a big bird of prey took off in parallel to the highway, and I pulled over just as it landed in a juniper. We debated golden eagle vs immature bald eagle (tough lot, being immature and bald) – and landed on the latter.

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Mono Lake with a long lens.

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We spent Sunday in the Happy Boulders, and while there were more cars than we’d ever seen there, all the people were clustered around two or three main boulders. This gal skated up this route after to ripped shirtless dudes were shut down by it. At the top, she asked where the down climb was – so it wasn’t evidently a well-practiced route for her.

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Lynn messes around on a fun boulder in the Buttermilks in her new approach shoes.

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Me goofing around on an overhanging problem on one of the big boulders.

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While Lynn worked, I drove around with the camera, and made it up Highway 168 to snowline – around 7,500 or 8,000 feet.

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The view on the drive back north, from near Crowley Lake.

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While we were in town, we went to the Craggin Classic, saw a UFO missile launch, spent time at the fantastic Mountain Rambler Brewery and hung out with some of Lynn’s friends. Bishop is one of my favorites, and getting down their in cool fall weather reminded me why, once again.

Honda Element Love, aka #toasterlife

About six years ago I was two winters deep into living in snow country (remember when Truckee/Tahoe was snow country) in a 1991 2wd Toyota Camry – not ideal. I knew I needed something all wheel drive, and the vehicle du jour of Tahoe is the Subaru Outback.

But I had always had a soft-spot for the box-on-wheels that is the Honda Element. I found a used 2005 in a green I like to think evokes the fragrant sage of the high desert eastern Sierra, and it became my ultra-light minimalist motorhome. I loved it from the start.

Getting the coffee and tea ready in the morning, Bishop, Ca. Photo by Lynn Baumgartner.

Getting the coffee and tea ready in the morning, Bishop, Ca. Photo by Lynn Baumgartner.

I’ve driven it up to Portland Oregon and down to San Diego, all over the Sierra and California Coast. I’ve packed it with camping gear, climbing gear, bikes, skis and buddies – sometimes all at once. I’ve slept in it, read books while waiting out storms in it, and worked on my laptop in it.

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Eastern Sierra Breweries – Mountain Rambler & June Lakes Brewing

Lynn and I took a spontaneous trip down the Eastern Sierra to Bishop over the weekend, with loose plans of climbing, camping and mountain biking. We bouldered in the Happy’s and the Buttermilks, I screwed up mountain biking by forgetting my shoes – but two new breweries, one in Bishop and one in June Lakes, really stole the show.

We’ve always been big fans of Mammoth Brewing Company, and the 395 IPA has always been one of my favorite beers – the use of Eastern Sierra sage and juniper instantly transport me to the high desert below jagged granite peaks – no matter where I am.

At Mountain Rambler - Photo by Lynn Baumgartner (tahoefabulous.com)

At Mountain Rambler – Photo by Lynn Baumgartner (tahoefabulous.com)

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Smith Rock, Oregon

I unzipped the upper edge of the frosted door of my camping tent, looking out across widely spaced juniper trees and low green ground cover permanently stunted by high desert life, and Smith Rock jutted up before me.

It was cold, too cold to emerge from the down pile Lynn and I had collected in the tent, so I burrowed back down and waited for the sun to do a little more work. We listened to geese honks echo off the canyon walls.

We were here, just north of Bend, Oregon, on an impromptu trip put together in part by a few site visits Lynn had to make for work and some unexpected free time I found on my hands. We had swung through Sacramento, spent a warm weekend in Point Reyes, stayed in I-5 side motels under a tarnished silver overcast in the northern Central Valley, and finally popped out in Bend, where we hit the ground, and the breweries, pedaling.

Bend and Tahoe seem to get a lot of cross pollination, and spending time there, it’s easy to see why they attract similar people. Often the same people in fact, as it seems we’re always hearing about someone moving to Bend from Tahoe or meeting someone from Bend, newly arrived in Truckee, Kings Beach or South Lake Tahoe.

We grew impatient, packed up my rope, quick draws, our climbing shoes and harnesses and worked our way down into the canyon. Putting up my first sport lead in some time, we didn’t just take turns climbing – but also standing out in the sun, trying to regain sensation in our fingers and toes.

Driving to Bend each day from Smith Rock, we looked up at the volcanic Sisters and Mt. Bachelor, wishing for more snow, just as we did in Tahoe. We pedaled our mountain bikes on singletrack along the Deschutes River, ducked into local breweries (word to the wise, Crux Fermentation Project may be the best brewery in the world) and wandered around town.

Smith Rock, Oregon

The trip ended too early, and we pointed the flying green toaster south as the first drops of a storm began to fall. So many things left to do – backcountry skiing in The Sisters, swimming in the rivers … even more breweries to sample. I have no doubt we’ll be back again soon.