|View from the Plunge. I couldn't get enough of the blue hills in the background!|
The inspiration for this ride struck this past summer, when Menso and I were driving Van Diesel around, en route to nationals in Mammoth by way of a few fun southern California trails. On the way up hwy 395 from Big Bear to Mammoth we stopped to camp at elevation on Sherman Pass. The following day I shuttled Menso on Cannell trail and then we ghetto shuttled (when you drive up, ride down and then hitch hike back to the car) Just Outstanding after. After JO, as we soaked our legs in the Kern River we talked about the possibility of linking all the good trails in the area together, an idea I thought was ridiculous at the time.
Fast forward a few months, the XC season over, I'd been doing a handful of epic rides, and suddenly I felt up for such an excessive ride. So I begged Brendan and Allie to help shuttle, Menso put together a spreadsheet of the route to estimate how long it would take, and we picked a date everyone was free. On Saturday Menso dropped off water and Clif snacks at the halfway point (the only downfall of this route is lack of water and food after stage 1 of 4), and then we all met up at Pizza Barn in Kernville for calorie loading.
Somehow I failed to look at the spreadsheet in too much detail, and was genuinely shocked to learn Saturday night that the ride had 14k ascent and was close to 90 miles. Those stats coupled with starting at 9,200ft after less than 7 hours of sleep put me back in a place of doubting I would complete the whole ride, but unreasonable optimism/stubbornness wins out more often than not, and I woke at at 5:00am with the guys to start what I was now worried would be an epic suffer fest.
|Sherman Pass, photo taken by Brendan MUCH later in the day.|
Then we hit the dirt! Cannell trail is a 26 mile playground, beginning with some seriously fun whoopy, bermy, twisty, joyous descending. But pretty soon the fun was broken up with some soul sucking climbs, at 9,000ft climbing loose steep trail isn't the most fun. I struggled a bit with the altitude, adjusting to riding with a heavy pack, and having not consumed coffee in the morning a general feeling of deadness between the descents.
The first 10ish miles alternated between short climbs, broad meadows we had to cross and swoopy grin inducing descents. The ground was crunchy frozen, and a few puddles on the trail were icy around the edges as well. We all bundled up at the start though, so besides frozen toes I was toasty warm. The southern sierra is incredibly pretty, and seeing it in the fall was kinda special. Meadows were bright gold, the fir trees towered over us and the rock formations took my breath away. Lack of memory space on my phone prevented me from taking many pictures, something I really regret now.
|Another pic from Brendan, of Karl on Cannell. Pure back country goodness right there!|
At the bottom, after many exclamations of OMG THAT WAS AWESOME!!! I stripped off my warm layers, dropped them at Dom's car (parked at the trail head) and rolled into town to find coffee. The majority of the pavement on the ride was the pedal into Kernville connecting the bottom of Cannell to the climb up to J.O. The boys had stopped to tend to a slow leak in Dom's rear wheel, so I had time to scarf down an apple turnover and 12 oz of coffee at Big Blue Bear. Starting before sunrise in 30 degrees kinda threw me off, and I didn't really eat or drink for the first 3 hours of the day, so the pastry and coffee were like heaven.
After a nice respite we headed off to climb Old State Road, a 4,000ish ft gain to get to the top of J.O. This route choice by Menso was a stroke of genius, Old State Road turned out to be the most pleasant smooth dirt road in the history of dirt roads, and the hour and 19 minutes it took to climb it flew by. On the way up we chatted about ADD, bilingualism and philosophy... we are intellectual like that, haha.
And then we hit Just Outstanding, a trail that very much lives up to it's name. Fourish miles of pumpy, swoopy, dh glory under a dense, low canopy of trees, this trail is my idea of what heaven is like. The tail drops 2,000ft with only one or two little ups, and at one point you ride through this tunnel of Manzanita trees that feels super spooky cool! I started before the boys, who stopped AGAIN at the top, under the assumption that they would catch me. I wasn't descending at 100% because I brought the Edict which doesn't have a dropper post. Consequently I was getting stabbed in the ovaries every time I got behind the saddle, and backing off a bit relieved me from the abdomen beatings. The boys didn't catch me though, so I rolled onto the fire road at the end shouting for joy to no one but the trees.
Once we regrouped Vinney decided to head down the fire road because he wasn't feeling it and our group was reduced to 3. The original route included the entire Wagy Ridge trail plus a climb out back to the top of Wagy, a little backtracking and then continuing on Wall st trail to the Keyesville DH (Dutch Flat trail). After a few setbacks, a later start than originally planned and some calculations about our estimated finish time we decided to nix the little loop. The best part of Wagy Ridge is the first mile anyway, and we were still hitting the 4 main stages of the day that make the shuttle epic.
Wagy is another must do trail in the southern Sierra, with some super fun swoopy, roller coaster like rollers, where you get just enough speed going down to carry you up and over the next rise. After the turn off on Wall St trail we had some climbing and then we hit the water stash and met back up with Vinney! This called for a sit down kind of stop to eat, and drink the cokes Menso ingenuously stashed. After only eating the pastry, a gel and some shot blocks in the first 65 miles of the day, the cokes and Clif granola bars tasted amazing! I was still feeling really good though, and completing the ride started to seem attainable at this point (in my mind I kinda always assumed I may not make it to the end, esp since the last trail was the most physically demanding). Vinney decided to call it a day here, and descended back to the car via the paved hwy, with an epic headwind the whole way... not much easier than what we did!
A bit of climbing and some really cool rock formations later we arrived at the top of the classic Keyesville DH, aka Dutch Flat trail. Once again I rode off the front because Dom and Menso were descending considerably faster than me, and Menso needed to stop and stretch at the top. This trail dropped 2,000ft in 4 miles of steep DG, with some tricky rock sections thrown in. The view took my breath away a few times, when it looked like we were about to ride off the face of the earth, with Lake Isabella still the gem of the vast expanse below.
I was surprised to not get caught by the bottom, so I rode in circles and waited, still feeling good but battling a gut ache from eating only ride food like gels, and dreading what stage 4 had in store for us. When the boys finally arrived Menso was looking pretty cracked. Dom and I cruelly joked for a large part of the day about enjoying seeing Menso suffer, but it was only something to celebrate because we were both used to getting our butts kicked by him. We rode out to Kernville River Trail on the Keyesville XC course, KRT is a right had turn on the far end of the course. At the turn off Menso decided to bail to the road as well, blaming a painful hamstring/not wanting to further injure himself.
And then it was just Dom and I, cruising the 16 remaining miles to the car parked at the bottom. The river trail was 100% punishment, so it wasn't much of a cruise, every fun, fast DH was rewarded with a kick in the face steep, long climb, most of which were sandy to boot. I resorted to steady forward progress, dialing it back a bit to guarantee I would survive to the end. Although my head and body felt great, my legs weren't able to put out as much power for the last 10 miles, so concentrating on just moving forward was all I could really do. Somehow the trail kept going up, every corner we rounded revealed MORE up, up up up. BUT eventually, finally, we came to the final intersection and MTBproject promised us it was all down hill from there (although it wasn't, there were 3 more little awful climbs).
And then it was over! The longest, most epic mountain bike ride of my life, one I originally thought I wouldn't be capable of finishing, was over! What a feeling that was. It would have been a bit more exciting had our whole group survived to the end, but we already have plans to go back and do it again... so maybe we can capture the satisfaction of surviving such a crazy big day with everyone soon!