Andrew was in a bit of panic as he unloaded his bike from his boss’s SUV. His hub had lost a few pieces and wouldn’t tighten when he fastened the quick release. I quickly was on the mend and gave him a loaner wheel for the trip. More panic settled in as he started analyzing gear and clothing choices. Chris walked over to Andrew and told him that this was the worst part of bikepacking. Usually, talking oneself into going, then showing up and overanalyzing every small bit of the trip is pretty normal for any adventure. This was the first time after multiple invites that Andrew had joined us on our weekly “UnPredict Your Wednesday” trip, when we close up the shop in search of adventure. We locked the doors to the shop, loaded up our gear, and hopped in the car for our three-hour drive to Big Bear.
After a quick burrito stop, and surprising light LA traffic we were driving up to Big Bear Lake (approximately 7000 ft elevation). It’s hard to see the beautiful views and incredible scenery in the dark, but you know you are at elevation when you start seeing tiny city lights below. Upon arriving in Big Bear and checking the maps a few times we finally settled on a route and place to start our journey. We began pulling our bikes off of the racks, re-installing our bikepacking bags, and filling up on water. It was about 11p.m. and Chris, Andrew and I set off into the woods.
The first part of the route was a steep paved uphill into the San Bernardino National Forest. Twenty minutes later the road eventually turned into gravel, and then finally dirt. The temperature was just about perfect in the high 50’s with low humidity. We were comfortable but still stopped at the trailhead to refuel. From there the trail turned into a rock, sandy, and loose section of singletrack. It seemed important that Andrew inform us that he had never ridden off-road, let alone on singletrack since he had bought his bike a year and a half ago. His rigid singlespeed 29er had been converted to a commuter with slick tires and a rack for urban use. Granted, Andrew is no stranger to long miles as he lives in LA with no car and rides everywhere, both for recreation as well as necessity. But, we had no idea how new this seasoned cyclist was to the dirt world.
After reassuring Andrew that he would be just fine on this trail, we were off with our headlights shining bright. The trail meandered along downed trees and groves of Manzanita trees. It seemed to take longer than the last time I had ridden the trail as it often does while riding in the dark. We came to our left turn on the Skyline Trail. This segment of our route was a long fire road that runs along the southern ridge of the mountains surrounding Big Bear Lake. We had originally thought of camping out somewhere randomly in the national forest, but having seen a sign for a group camping site we decided to investigate. Minutes later we were in a wide open clearing with a picnic table and fire pit. We would call this home for the evening.
Chris and Andrew set up their tents while I unrolled my bivvy. Andrew asked if one of us could help him set up his rented tent. Dropping another surprise on us he told us that he had never been camping before, let alone set up a tent! Chris enthusiastically ran over to quickly show Andrew how to get all set up. We were shocked that Andrew had never ridden off-road or gone camping. But, he was in good company and we felt a sense of accomplishment getting him settled. I’m not sure if it was the campfire reflecting in Andrew’s eyes but he was different that night. Something had clicked.
That morning Chris was up first making coffee and called out for us to get up and get the day started. Andrew and I slowly crawled out of our shelters to a view of 50-foot-tall pine trees illuminated by the morning sun. A quick cup of coffee with some oatmeal and then we were packing up the gear.
The singletrack trail from the campground led to a wide-open clearing with views of the surrounding mountains and a bright blue sky dotted with white clouds. We were in for a treat. The skyline fireroad dipped and dove until finally dropping back into town. We ran into some bikers at the trailhead on our way down. They asked us about our gear and where we had come from. We told them we rode out and camped the night before and were finishing the rest of our route today. They showed us a couple of local trails on the map and pointed out some good sections of trail to us. We thanked them and were off again.
We stopped at a café in town for another quick cup of coffee and pastry. The route from the cafe was paved as we navigated through the small town and crossed a bridge to the other side of the lake. Soon enough we saw a sign that read “PAVEMENT ENDS”. Our legs powered us forward as the terrain began to gradually climb uphill. The higher we rode up the mountain the rockier the terrain got. A sign on our left indicated the famous Pacific Crest Trail. This is a hiking network from Mexico to Canada along the backbone of several mountain ranges. I stopped for a quick photo. Andrew and Chris rolled up and I heard the hundredth “Wow!” out of Andrew’s mouth as he observed the surrounding beauty.
Later in the day we paused again on the Pacific Crest Trail to stop for lunch. Andrew had packed two full glass jars of peanut butter and jelly in his gear. Chris pulled out the thin sandwich buns, and after little prep time lunch was made. We were starving and ate like we had never seen food before. What followed after lunch was a winding trail named the Blue Quartz Road.
After navigating the curvy ascent we were rewarded with beautiful views of the lake below. The sun crept through the grey clouds just long enough for us to take in the sights before returning our focus on the trail. Our tires rolled through Fawn Skin Campground where we filled up on some fresh water. The sections of trail following the campground can only be described as some of the most beautiful and flowy singletrack I have ever ridden. A narrow path traversed boulders above the campsites and then led us into a section of trees completely burned and dead from a previous forest fire.
I watched as Andrew (having never ridden singletrack) flowed effortlessly through the trail on his over-geared singlespeed. He navigated corners and through rock gardens like he had been at it for years. I smiled like a proud parent watching a man fall in love with mountain biking. Andrew began to get a little more talkative as the day progressed and it was apparent that something had indeed changed in his mind. He began to rethink living situations, relationships, and job opportunities.
Our ride back the car was a blessing and curse. Our legs were tired from the ride but our hearts wanted more. Many say that after a long trip in the wilderness it is often hard to reintegrate back into society. Even after our short sub-24-hour trip we were feeling the same. A local burrito spot caught our eyes as we left town. We put our glasses in the air to toast to Andrew’s first adventure and relived memories throughout the day.
It was very clear to Chris and I that this trip was more than just getting Andrew out bikepacking for the first time. Getting out of the daily grind, riding your bike, finding some adventure, and most importantly having fun can do so much good for so many people. The hardest part of any adventure, bikepacking included, is making the commitment. So, pack your gear, make some plans, and get out and do it.
ABOUT THE GUEST BLOGGER: JAY BARRE
Working at shops for half my life I have experienced a lot of things in the bike industry. I picked up endurance racing a few years ago and it helped to push limits of what I thought was possible in cycling and in life. Landing at Topanga Creek Bicycles a year ago opened my eyes to new adventures. Our "UnPredict Your Wednesday" trips have taken me all over California and helped to encourage others to explore new places.
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