When you live in Los Angeles, you sometimes forget that we live in such a diverse conditions to allow us to get away in places like the beach or up in the mountains. On March 10, 2015, a few of us picked the mountains as our quick escape from the hustle and bustle of this great city of ours.
A collective of Los Angeles’ bike touring shops (Topanga Creek Bicycles & Golden Saddle Cyclery), Salsa’s own west coast brand manager, and a few of us adventure seekers met at a home near the start of the Gabrieleno Trail which carves east of the Hahamongna Watershed Park and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) in Pasadena.
Meet & Greet
The meeting time was set at 8PM in the evening. I got there just in time and waited only a few minutes before I saw the familiar bike hauling vehicle of the Topanga Creek Bicycles (TCB) guys. We converged at John’s house, who was our tour guide through JPL on Wednesday (I’m jumping ahead). One of his co-workers, Carlo, was also at the house. They both greeted us with excitement as we lingered to watch the TCB guys (Chris & Jay) equip their bikes for the night and checked out each other’s rides. A little after that, Julie arrived with her brand new Fargo, which she had just picked up a few hours before the trip! That’s what I call initiative. Errin (who I’ve featured a few times on Milestone Rides) and Ben from Salsa finally rolled up to complete our group of 8. Of the 8 bikes, there were 7 Salsas (1 Warbird, 1 Vaya, 1 El Mariachi, and 4 Fargos) and 1 GT mountain bike. It was practically a Salsa Cycles demo ride / commercial.
We rolled out close to 8:30, heading north towards the trailhead, which was just up the street. The path went from paved to packed dirt, and eventually narrowed to a single track rocky formation. My light, with fresh batteries, helped illuminate my way up, while others had much more elegant lighting solutions. Our destination was the Gould Mesa campgrounds in the Angeles National Forest.
There’s one main thing I learned that night: I’m not a good mountain biker. My first mistake was that I forgot to deflate my tires before the ride. I was running at at 55 PSI when I should have been down to 30 PSI to help improve on my traction. The second mistake was that I was riding outside of my comfort level. This was my first offroad night excursion. I made sure I took precautions and walked some parts, but I inevitably succumbed to my mistakes and paid for it on a minor rocky incline which I got caught with no where to go. This resulted in me rolling backwards and landing on my backpack with my bike crashing right down on top of me. I got up, quickly dusted myself off, rearranged my seat as that got mangled, and checked my wounds. Nothing too serious, just surface scrapes and no serious bleeding, thankfully. We crossed over 3 streams. Most people pedaled their way through, but I chose to wade my way across. I didn’t care. I didn’t want to fall again.
After about 2 miles of mountain biking, we reached our campsite. Another rider, Pete, was already there waiting for us. We all set up camp and unwinded on the bench next to the fire pit. People consumed their burritos for dinner, while others enjoyed some alcoholic beverages provided by TCB. My camping set up was a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and tarp while others brought tents and bivvy sacks. I remembered how my last offroading Ojai trip went, and I wanted to make sure I was narrow enough so I didn’t get in the way when we were single-tracking our way through. There were at least 3 guys who had panniers on this ride. There goes my theory! Carrying the backpack wasn’t too bad though.
We Have Company
When the fire broke out, and we huddled around for warmth and company, 3 other guys rolled in from the Golden Saddle Cyclery. They rode in after work from Silver Lake to camp. I soon called it a night at around 11:30 – 12. I brought ear plugs and a Buff to keep the noise and luminance level at a minimum. Unfortunately, that didn’t help avoid the mosquitoes. I’m still scratching at 3 bites on my face while I write these words. While a majority of us went to bed, a few guys from the Golden Saddle group and Pete decided to ride up the trail to the dam. John told us that this was a challenging ride up. They all didn’t get back until morning time.
Everyone seemed to be aware of the departure time the next day as 6:30AM spawned a whole slew of activities. I have to say that not having to pack up a tent was perfect. My setup and breakdown time was never this good in the past. I was one of the few ready to rock and roll when 6:30AM was upon us. Only 2 guys from Golden Saddle stayed behind. It was a brisk 2 miles down the same way we came up. We crossed the 3 streams again. We found our way back to the paved roads again.
Time for Coffee
Half of the group (the faster riders) decided to peel off to make it to #LARiverCampCoffee by 7:30AM. The other half (which I belonged to) was led through Hahamongna Watershed Park through gravel roads parallel JPL and south into the Rose Bowl. We made our way down the Arroyo and eventually onto the Arroyo Seco Bike Path. We weaved through Highland Park during rush hour, and then eventually got back on the LA River Bike Path. We got there at almost 8:30.
There were a lot of people (20+) there enjoying their coffee and pastries as we rolled up. Many familiar faces greeted us. We all stayed to the end before the original “slow crew”, Errin, Ben, and Gio (he works at TCB) decided to make our way out of the LA River towards Eagle Rock, where we agreed on a delicious pit stop at Donut Friend. Errin & Ben took off back to Errin’s house because Ben had to make his way to Ojai’s The Mob Shop, and Errin needed to get to work.
JPL was Calling
The rest of us (5), rode back up to JPL. John led our way into the JPL campus, where we were given guest passes and met with Marty, who was riding a Surly Pugsley fatbike. We rode up more inclines through the campus. John showed us really cool things that JPL is working on. We got to see a simulate Rover in action. We saw a control room in action. He brought us down to the area where there was going to be a bikepacking presentation given by Chris of TCB. A handful of people came by to check out the presentation. They examined all of our bikes and asked questions about bike camping.
When the presentation was done, John took us through the museum and then the gift shop, where I picked up a NASA sticker (when in Rome). We finally got to ride downhill out of the campus. John treated us to the fun way back to his house. This was a dirt path used by horses through the park. We eventually made it back to the same dirt trails that we took the same morning and found ourselves ascending back up towards our starting point. From there, Gio and I went home on our much deserved downhill ride home.
I was so happy to get home to just clean my wounds and shower. Reflecting on the events of the day, I can’t help but smile and feel good about all the positive things a bike can bring. It brought so many people together and an opportunity to explore JPL. It also brought more opportunities to learn about myself. You ask what a bike has done for me? It’s changed my life.