Thursday, March 31, 2016

Carlsbad Stagecoach bikepack

I recently completed a 5 day bikepack trip in the San Diego county area with my good friend John S, who put a lot of effort into the route planning. He was inspired by the Stagecoach 400 bikepack race but instead chose to make the route start and end in Carlsbad where we had access to a nice base of operations. The two of us tackled the route and despite a number of difficulties, we made good decisions en route and ended up sticking to schedule, staying mostly safe, and having a great time.

Credit for all pictures goes to John and myself.

The route started along the coast, climbed over the mountains, into the desert, and back again. The number of micro-climates we passed through was remarkable:

We sent the bikes ahead via FedEx to Carlsbad. We booked the shipping via which is a great service, highly recommended. They charged us a third of the retail price that FedEx wanted to stick us with. Minor assembly required on the other end though:

We made three stops the first day along the Pacific Coast Highway south out of Carlsbad, once for doughnuts, once for coffee, and again for a full breakfast. John new the best places for each and bikepacking really is just all about the food:

Eventually it was time to get to work and burn off those calories. Some highlights of day 1 which ended in the mountains:

 We rough camped somewhere in the Cleveland National Forest the first night:

On the way into Julian during day 2 we stopped for some refreshment and friendly conversation with these charming ladies:

Lunch in Julian, the chocolate shake was an appetizer:

We explored around Lake Cuyamaca during the afternoon of day 2 and found some very nice but little used single track:

Then it was a long haul to the Agua Caliente camp ground. It promised showers and a spa, so we were motivated to get there and kept the pace high, even after dark with our tiny emergency lights:

We arrived at Agua Caliente too late do take pictures, but we did the next morning:

Day 3 was the big desert day that started with a 35 mile haul on an old stage coach route. The sand was really soft at times and it was slow going. We started to worry about water but thankfully never got into trouble:

Five hours later we emerged from the sand onto packed dirt and then asphalt but also crazy head winds. Resupply was lacking, but we finally found a biker bar that was willing to serve us. I don't think lycra-clad skinny bikepackers are the usual "bikers" they cater to:

A few more hours of fighting insane winds gusting to 50 MPH (that was the official forecast) we finally made Borrego Springs, where we got good food and a place to camp:

Day 4 was all about looping back west to exit the desert back into the mountains. A few miles of pavement, past a prophetic wind warning sign, took us to a trail that took all morning to negotiate. It was simply not rideable, but we gained over 3000 ft on foot in about 10 miles. The hike a bike with loaded bikes was tough, and all the agave and cactus tearing at our legs didn't help:

Everything in the desert wants to hurt you, sand, sun, wind, and especially the plants:

The fourth and final night we stayed at a cabin, the idea of bivying in high winds just wasn't appealing. Our cabin overlooked Lake Henshaw:

The fifth and final morning we got our usual crack of dawn start, after assessing my food supply for the day: 

This day started with fog and the coldest temps we'd seen yet but it was still warmer than the Colorado winter we were used to. We climbed above the fog pretty quick though, it pooled above the lake below us:

Our final day of riding covered the best terrain so far, mostly dirt and mostly downhill. The wind was even better, no worse than 30 MPH or so in the afternoon:

John got our only flat due to a ripped sidewall somewhere along the way. This late in the tour and with all the cactus behind us, he just threw in a tube instead of attempting a tubeless repair:

The terrain grew less arid as we continued west towards the coast:

And finally the ocean was in sight again. We beelined to a great fish taco place along the Pacific Coast Highway: 

And then to Carlsbad where we spent an hour in a spa with beer, picking cactus needles out of our legs. Then dinner, sleep, and back to the airport the next day on the train:

We arrived home on the heels of a blizzard that had completely closed the Denver airport the prior day. The Denver airport was a mess with luggage piled in heaps in baggage claim, people sleeping on mats in the terminal, and heaps of snow in the parking lots, but we got home trouble free. Just one more example of how this trip turned out pretty much perfect.

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