The Stagecoach 400 is a route developed by Brendan Collier and Mary Metcalf Collier of The Hub Cyclery in Idyllwild, California. The Hub is a Salsa dealer and has become a hotspot of cycling, bikepacking and inspiration. Brendan and Mary are incredibly talented and dedicated cyclists, advocates, frame builders, parents and endurance athletes. They developed this route and ran the inaugural Stagecoach 400 endurance race earlier this year. It’s an impressive route over incredibly diverse, and at times difficult, terrain.
Earlier in the year, I hatched a plan to take an actual not-work-related bike vacation to tour the Stagecoach 400 route. I invited a diverse bunch of friends that I thought would enjoy it. Five of us embarked on the route with the expectation of touring it at a moderate but doable pace. We knew we’d have long days, but we had no intentions of really treating it like any kind of race or suffer fest. In fact, since this was a vacation, I really made it a point to say that we’d take time on this trip to enjoy it. While I had a plan for the trip, I found out later the trip had a plan for us.
This vacation started like any other bicycle vacation; travelling to the destination, driving a few hours to Idlywild, assembling our bikes from boxes, making final gear and food choices, and heading out. Our destination for day one was Bailey’s Cabin out in Coyote Canyon. We set out en route late in the day and rode well into the night.
Day two started mostly with excitement. We'd gotten our pre-ride jitters out the day before and made our adjustments to gear and bike. It is an incredible feeling knowing that your only worries for the day were route, food and where to stop and sleep. It is that simplicity that I was seeking in this vacation. As we rolled through the desert wash, bushwacked and rolled over desert roads, we quickly realized our pace was a bit slower than we had anticipated but we also knew we had time to make it up if we fell behind. Flat tires didn’t help our pace either. Slow and steady was the name of the game. Moving forward and enjoying the scenery was our mantra.
Day two also marked the start of heading up Fish Creek into the Anza Borrego Desert. For me personally, this was the section I was most looking forward too. I had researched the route and loved how it followed this wash right into and through a stunning desert canyon. I had visions in my head of the beauty of this section and in reality, the beauty exceeded my imagination. We rode into the dark again. This time we stopped rather than pushing on as finding a rideable path through the desert wash was proving difficult and a bit unsafe.
We arose to a beautiful desert sunrise. As we broke camp, I took a brief and intentional moment to step away from camp, sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee in the rising sunlight. I knew the day would be tough and I am thankful that I took that time to reflect in that moment. Looking back now, that moment is the strongest and most impactful memory I have from the trip.
As we pushed further and further into the canyon, the road narrowed and became less rideable. Soon we were pushing short sections followed by brief sections of riding. In no time at all, we were pushing long sections with little to no riding. In the end, I took off my shoes to avoid blisters. The sugar sand made moving forward very difficult. We were pushbiking.
Our goal for the day was about 80 miles. We had a destination and possibly a brew house near the end of our day in mind. Our shortish 20-25 miles to the next checkpoint turned into a 7.5 hour slog through the desert. It was fairly crushing. We ran out of water about seven miles from check point three. The final blow to our egos was when we reached the final saddle to descend about six miles to our food and water stop, and found we couldn’t even ride much of the downhill because the sand was too soft and deep.
It is this next sentence I still struggle with writing and sharing. A decision was made to not push on the intended route, ultimately changing our plans entirely. It is no secret within our group that I struggled with this and that the decision to not press on left me very unsettled. While I appreciated the following two days of riding bikes in and around Los Angeles with friends without any stress, I had more to give and left the route knowing I had left it incomplete.
It is moments like this that push us and challenge us that we have the most to learn. I learned on this trip that it all works out if you let it. I had a plan for the trip, but the trip had a plan for me. In all honesty, as a result of the trip taking a new direction, I returned from this trip refreshed and relaxed as opposed to exhausted. It was a vacation with friends after all and even though it did not go as planned, I got what I needed. I got five days in a row of riding bikes with friends.
This is part one of this post. In part two, I will lay out my bike, gear and another lesson learned. Stay tuned.
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Growing up as a Minnesota farm boy, I developed an appreciation and love for land and open space. This appreciation has fostered two passions, cycling and photography. Both of these passions provide freedom, encourage me to explore and foster creativity. More importantly though, my journey with a bike and a camera reminds me that the world is big and I am small.