Day 2 is co-authored by Morgan; many photos are from him as well
It’s important to begin our recap of day two by starting with night one. While sitting around the hot tub Morgan set our expectations for the next day’s riding – in particular, that there would be about 1,000ft of climbing throughout the ~60mi day. This seemed reasonable since the elevation profile we had seen online went downhill. And since it was the climbing (and uphill push-biking) the day before that was the biggest mood killer, we were banking on day two being better.
Day two was Sunday. Easter. It was a really cold morning, with me (Ben, throughout this post) wearing almost everything I had and still jogging in place to stay warm while we packed.
We left camp around 9am and hit a scenic dirt climb about two miles from camp. We quickly took off our layers as we heated up. We were feeling pretty good for most of the climb, though everyone was starting to wonder how the day could be just 1,000ft of ascent if we were climbing so much so early. We reached a plateau with beautiful open fields and cruised along, with Morgan periodically bouncing items from his bike and Tom picking them up as he rode behind. It was nice but slow going.
We came across a primitive campsite that had been on our ‘Potentials’ list for the day before as a possible place to spend the night. Obviously we weren’t in shape to get that far the night before so we arrived on day two. The campsite had a hand-pump well. We were feeling pretty good though so we decided to bypass the water instead of refilling. It was a decision we’d regret later – and a mistake we’d never make again.
After some more up-and-down through the grasslands, we hit a 2 mile shale climb. At this point we were already more than two hours into the day, hot and tired, and had ascended some 1,500ft or more – all in just 8 miles! The shale climb featured even more bike pushing, but this time with the added bonus of a steep and rocky cliff face falling away to our right. Wanting to get it over with as soon as possible, I hit the gas and even managed to stay ahead of a few unloaded recreational mountain bikers who joined the trail not far behind me. The climb ended in a grassy valley and I sat down to wait
About 45 minutes later, the other three came through. Tom had flatted when he ripped his sidewall on a rock. Now over 2,000ft into the day, all eyes were on Morgan and the previous night’s proclamations of a 1,000ft day.
We spent 45 minutes resting in the valley and trying to fix Pete’s stem before heading out and up into IHateMorgan climb. It’s called IHateMorgan climb because we really hated Morgan at this point. Also because you need something to sing as you push your 50lb mountain bike up a narrow, shaley trail trying not to slip off the side.
On this climb we started running low on water and people were feeling rough. Tom even took a few spills.
Thanks Youtube stabilization for making the trail just after the photo above look super nice and rideable! It fucking sucked!
We descended from the climb and Pete and Tom were pretty much done at this point. We’d been traveling for 5 hours and were less than 14 miles into the day. It was so much more difficult than any of us had imagined, and the number of unknowns (water stops, food stops, sleeping spots, trail conditions, amount of uphill vs downhill, etc) was high. To make matters worse, the next section of trail on our cue sheet turned out to be closed for maintenance and we had to find a detour around it.
No one was quite sure how to handle this. Morgan and I didn’t want to stop, but we also didn’t want to leave our friends in the middle of nowhere with no idea of where to sleep, where to get water, where to buy food, or how actually to get back. We went out of our way to find possible water mentioned on the cue sheet, but no luck there either. At this point we decided to head toward a main road we’d be meeting up with anyway to look for ‘seasonal’ water that might not even be running. On the ride we discussed the potential of Pete and Tom continuing with us to our campsite for the night and trying to find a ride back from there. Or trying to take roads back from our present location, but that appeared to be a much longer route through unknown areas. The third option was to head back the exact way we’d come, but with all the up-and-down it would have been just as brutal in the other direction.
By some great fortune, as we hit the main road we found a parking lot full of cars and a few hikers. And two MTB guys who had just finished their ride! They had a pickup truck and were going back to San Diego. Morgan asked if they’d give Tom and Pete left, they said yes, and off they went.
It was a bit surreal. We’d planned this trip as a foursome for months. We bought our tickets together, packed our bikes together, suffered through a 5 hour layover together, and spent the last 36 hours riding together. We’d come out here to do this ride together. It hadn’t even been all that long that we were trying to figure out how Pete and Tom would modify their route.
And then suddenly they were gone. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up – a ride leaving right that minute from where we were to the town they had to get back to; an Easter Miracle we came to call it – but still it felt odd. We’d started as four, and then there were two.
Morgan and I had no idea what to expect for the rest of this ride. If day 2 had broken our friends, how long could we last? How far would we get before we cried mercy? And how remote would the area be when that time came? How would we get back?
We didn’t know so we did the only thing we could do – we continued down the road. We found water a short distance away and chatted with Chea. The water was at a junction of the Pacific Crest Trail and Chea was on day 4 of his Pacific Crest Trail hike in memory of his brother. He is raising money to help families trying to cover funeral costs for their loved ones who have committed suicide. Chea is still out there on the trail – it should take some 4 months or more for him to complete the route – and he’s still raising donations. You can read more on his site.
After a long stretch of road riding, Morgan and I crossed into Anza-Borrego Desert State Park territory. Morgan had been looking forward to this for a long time. Eventually, he would come to regret that. But at that time, we found ourselves hopping off the highway and onto beautiful singletrack running alongside the road. We rode through flowers and flowed up and down hills and had some of the best riding of the entire trip. I even lost a flip flop off my rear bag during this section and wasn’t even mad.
From the singletrack we crossed the highway into a field of flowers. After a brief uphill on an old fire road / jeep track, we (FINALLY!) started most of the day’s descending. It was around this time that Morgan ran over a snake while bombing downhill in front of me. His rear wheel kicked it up into the air where I narrowly avoided smacking it with my face.
It was also in this area that we chatted with an old couple who were out hiking in the middle of nowhere in Tevas and socks, with no water or bags and far from anything that looked like a trail head or parking area. In blazing sun. It was super bizarre. They seemed surprised to see us too.
The area was remote and in our minds was the constant worry about cut tires or falls and injuries. We knew help of any kind would be a long time coming.
At mile 34 and eight hours into the day we reconnected with the road. It was HOT. Like, 85-degrees-in-the-shade-according-to-the-thermometer hot. We stopped at an RV park with a general store where Morgan picked up what has now become his signature hat. Sunburn was a real concern and since we were often averaging 5mph or less on the uphill sections there was plenty of time to ride without helmets.
From the RV park we made good time the next 10 miles into Agua Caliente. Agua Caliente is listed on the cue sheet as the last stop before the desert. It’s not much more than an RV and a small building with a big gong and a wooden striker out front. Hit the gong to summon the owner. He came out and opened the door for us and apologized that he had already started “medicating” (smoking weed) to relax for the evening. He also told us it was after normal business hours but he’d let us in since we were on bikes.
He told us about how dozens of SC400 bikers used to come through when the route went clockwise because his place was the first stop after the desert. But since they reversed the route direction a few years back he doesn’t see nearly as many people anymore. He also explained that the helicopter and emergency vehicles that had passed us on the way to Agua Caliente were for a person driving a 3-wheel motorcycle that crashed and had to be Life Flight-ed away. It was a reminder of just how dangerous things could be and how far we were from any real medical care.
He told us the route we were supposed to take was okay but had seen some washouts because of recent rain and that there was a parallel trail that wasn’t quite as hilly and was in better condition. It would also cut 6 or 7 miles off the route, and since it was approaching 5pm and we still had quite a ways to go, Morgan and I took him up on his offer of more detailed alternate directions.
Our goal for the evening was to finish the day at the intersection of the Arroyo Seco Del Diablo and Diablo Drop Off trails. We didn’t know what the area was like, but it was where the cue sheet and our new route met back up. Getting there ended up being the lowest point of the trip for me emotionally. The trails were super sandy and while I was on a mountain bike, the biggest rear tire my bike can fit is a relatively narrow 2.1″. It was a struggle. Combine the sand with 20+mph blowing headwinds, hunger, and exhaustion, and it made for a really dispiriting finale for the evening. Plus 30 minutes trying to pitch my tent while it continually blew away and my stakes pulled out of the sand. (Eventually I put rocks on them, hoping each time I picked up a new rock that I wouldn’t find a scorpion or rattlesnake lurking.)
Our campsite was the most remote place I have ever spent the night and we could see forever with not a single person around. We cooked freeze dried food, ate hummus and pita that we had bought at Agua Caliente, and talked about the craziness of everything we had experienced in the last 48 hours.
It was a really intense mix of emotions that night, especially for Morgan. The accomplishment of what we had completed mixed with the pain in our legs, and the awe of the beauty around us swirled with the sadness of being without out friends. Neither of us could think of much to say that night or how to say it, so we finished our food, set our alarms, and went to bed in silence.