Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas bike ride in the desert

Pinyon Mountain Road and Fish Creek Wash to Split Mountain
A rare rainbow in the desert

For a brief winter break vacation, we made a 2-day trip into Anza-Borrego for some trail running (Kathy and Anya), mountain biking (Roland and Obin), and hiking (all of us). The desert can be very impressive at the right time (in the winter, after some rain). 

Cactus spines glow golden in the low winter sun

Usually the environment is too hostile to leave positive impressions: brutal heat, no shade, no water, deep sand. I have ridden my mountain bike through that area several times as part of a longer tour in March or April and always was glad to get out of the desert. But in December after a storm, it should be different. 

Kathy and Anya dropped us off on County Highway S-2, which also goes by the more vivid name "Great Overland Stage Route". Before it became a great overland stage route (mid 1800s), it was the Mexican mail route. Kathy and Anya went running nearby on the PCT.
Girls went running on the PCT

From the highway, we climbed Pinyon Mountain Road, a sandy road. Conditions were excellent, the sand was well packed and we could ride up without any problems. I remember going the other way a few years ago when the sand was so deep that I had to walk downhill. 
Obin riding up Pinyon Mountain Road (blue jacket is him, red jacket me)

It is about an hour of solid climbing, topping out around 1250 m. We didn't see anybody all day, the only recent tracks were a motorcycle who must have gone through a few hours before us.
near the top, recent moto track on the left

From there, into a labyrinth of rugged canyons, twisted arroyos, and mud hills. The next hour or so is the best riding, mainly downhill with mildly technical parts. 
not a stretch I remembered, but interesting

Mainly downhill, but I only have time to take a picture on the uphills

At one point we ended at a cliff that I couldn't remember, very easy to make a wrong turn here. We didn't try to climb down, though, and after a few minutes of backtracking were on the right route. 
doesn't look like a good way to bike

Fish Creek has always been a deep sand slog for me. This time was mixed. Initially, we had the same old tedious sand, unchanged from other times of year, but it was surprisingly short. Maybe 20 minutes. Then it turned into hard pack. 

Recent rains packed the sand nicely here

Because we started after 12 and the days were short, we didn't have time to explore side canyons.  By the time we got to around the intersection with Sandstone Canyon, the surface has gotten softer again. Every canyon and wash we passed seemed to add water and the surface became softer and softer. 

It didn't take long before the resistance from the soft ground overcame the gravity from the downhill slope and progress was laborious. 

The sun was setting before we reached the Wind Caves, so didn't have time to hike up. And now the surface had unambigously turned into mud. 

Almost, but fortunately not quite, sticky enough to block the tires. Sticky enough to cause chain suck and disabling shifting. It dried up hard by morning, didn't fall apart to loose sand. 


There is a bike chain somewhere under this layer

Now back home and enjoying some of Obin's beer and wine. Love the label of his wine, which reflects how they took home their harvest (on biycles). Obviously limited the amount of wine they could make. 

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