Adventure is something we all seek, but walk the line on reward.
Exploring Southern California by bike still feels boundless, but even nearby has its limitations.
Going deeper into the San Gabriel Mountains fuels my need for epic rides and doing the Santa Clara Truck Trail loop seemed like a natural progression.
A chopper over Big Tujunga. Not an ominous sign at all…
Just a few months ago, I made the ride up to Mount Gleason and continuing westward to finish it off seemed like an achievable goal.
According to my Strava map, it was a 70 mile loop with 8,100 feet of elevation which felt pretty attainable.
Save for the last hill going over Little Tujunga, but virtually all the climbing was done after peaking at the 37 mile mark of Mount Gleason…or so we thought.
I met my friend Tony at the bottom of Little T before 9am and thought getting back by 3pm was going to be an easy mark to hit.
Tony’s Torelli ready to roll
We started out making good time riding up Foothill before meandering onto Big Tujunga which was quiet enough that you could count the number of cars that passed on two hands.
Along the way, I could make out part of our route above us as Mount Gleason Road straddled the mountain top, but that would be many miles away.
We turned our way onto Angeles Forest Highway giving us a little downhill reward before a nine mile climb to Mill Creek which would be our last stop for water.
Angeles Forest Highway always has more climbing than you remember…
At this point, it was right before noon with just 28 miles covered, but I still felt good about the timing because most of the climbing had been covered….allegedly.
Crossing over AFH, we began our journey into remoteness starting with a bit of a climb onto Mt Gleason Road when something strange happened.
My phone started blowing up!!
Emails, text messages and other notifications led to a fury of beeping in a place I never would have imagined having reception.
Thank you T-Mobile??
Rollers can be fun…
Tony had a business call to make which took about 15 minutes which didn’t seem to be that big of a deal at the time.
As we crossed over to the south side of the mountains, the road flattened out for six miles of roller fun until we hit Camp 16.
It’s hard not to take a moment to look around at the ever present damage from the 2009 Station Fire, although this trip we explored a bit deeper than I had before not knowing the campus was larger than I previously thought.
The shadows of Camp 16
Leaving the site, we had our first stretch of dirt with a two minute descent before hitting pavement for a mile and a half of 10% steepness.
To reward ourselves, we turned off for a short climb to the peak of Mount Gleason that gives you depth to the San Gabriel Mountains.
You can make out Mt. Wilson, Baldy, Lukens and a number of other landmarks that gives some grounding to this vast range.
The last climb?
Getting back on track, we hit some descending goodness with the road turning to dirt that was in pretty decent shape.
We were both riding with 32s, but I was able to handle the speeds a little better because my tires were a bit knobbier.
After just a half mile, we hit our first junction meaning I had to verify which way to go.
The Panoramic from Mt Gleason
I thought the route back would be evident, but after 11 miles of not seeing another human, I still had cell phone reception leading us to our right.
From there we were rewarded with these long, sweeping curves of marvelousness with so much untouched wilderness.
After about four miles, we hit a little climb of with about 200 feet or vert.
It’s good riding, but is that a climb ahead?
It wasn’t tough, but what was strange to me was not remembering seeing this in my route.
My Garmin said we covered 8,600 feet which raised an eyebrow, but not completely strange considering it’s always slightly off and we mozied off a couple of times.
All systems were go again as the twisting and turning continued with a bit of brake gripping, but not so much that my arms got tired.
That was also aided by the fact even when there were ridges in the trail, they didn’t slow us down much because of their limited depth.
After five miles of this, we hit our next junction which was easy to navigate, but there was a bigger red flag.
This still felt like fun.
Over the next three miles, we had a climb of over 800 feet which is something I definitely would have noticed on my planning.
We were still feeling chipper and I had only gone through one of my four water bottles, but my concern was the extra time spent climbing instead of descend as the ride’s timing continued to stretch.
The good news was that the downhill soon returned and I could see a structure on top of a not so distant peak.
I hoped that it was Camp 9, which is a few miles over on the other side of Little Tujunga, but I was hoping this was such, I was pretty sure from the silhouette that it was not.
Wishing you were Camp 9
As we continued to wind our way down, we spotted a little bit of civilization in the North Fork Picnic Area below.
While it was good to have visual confirmation we were on the right track, moments later my cavalcade of mishaps commenced.
Innocently enough, my rear tire got a pinch flat which didn’t seem like a big deal at the time.
Little would I know I’d be getting a flat 100 yards later…
It was a typical ten minute change which included using the hand pump, but while it was looking like I may be a little late to early pick up of CV Jr. from camp, things didn’t look that bad.
When we reached the camp site, we doubled back to double check the map on the boards just keep the confirmation process going.
Just as we were leaving the grounds, the only person we’d see on this route appeared out of nowhere telling us we were 14.3 miles away from reaching Little T.
We were just a few miles away from “Fucked”
My numbers said we were more like 10 miles from this landmark, but I sided with this info as it just seemed to precise to turn down.
As bummed as it was to heard about this extra milage as the sunlight was getting longer, sure enough we had another unexpected climb in front of us.
Turns out, we had about another 900 feet of going upwards the next three miles, but that wasn’t the biggest problem.
After a few minutes of starting the climb, I somehow got a pinch flat on my rear tire again.
Here goes nothing…
I had another fresh one to install, but after a lot of trial and error, we realized the valve was broken and wouldn’t hold air which cost a lost of time doing R & D.
On my first flat, Tony actually patched my original tube while I was making the change, but the bad news was this wasn’t holding either.
As a Hail Mary, we patched the first spare which seemed to dubiously hold air, but we had already spent forty minutes doing this exercise meaning it may be getting dark on the final portion of this ride.
Where’s Waldo?…or Tony
With our small margin of error, I did consider going back to find our friend from the trail, but I couldn’t tell from his clothing that he worked for the Forest Service or was a camper, so onward we went.
After we reached the peak of this climb, our situation looked slightly hopeful as I made out that structure on the ridgeline to be Magic Mountain (not the fun one).
The road also returned to asphalt with patchy dirt spots, but far less rocky that I remember it on my failed sojourn years ago.
Still, my frustration started to mount as another 300 foot climb presented itself as the math for getting home before sundown was getting hazy.
As the sun got lower and lower, it became difficult for my eyes to adjust to the constant transition of looking directly into the sun to wading into deep shadows.
Just the start of long shadows…
Of course, this played out at mile 56 as I didn’t make out the pebbly surface coming around a hairpin turn.
It was a slow motion moment as I flew off my bike head first in the sliding manner that would have made Yasiel Puig proud.
I knew stretching out my body might not pay off, but I think I came out a head with minor cuts on my palms, knees and my upper left leg.
Fortunately, the bike was fine, but it took a few minutes for the numbness to wear off of my hands and to wipe enough blood off to grip the handlebars.
We continued to descend with a little bit of hope as Little T was roughly four miles away.
Just as the road flattened out, Fortune’s Fool reared its ugly head as once again the contrast in sunlight made a rock large to cause a pinch flat temporarily invisible long enough to cause you know what.
At this point, I was done and wanted Tony to go ahead on his own, but we tried doing everything but the Heimlich on our remaining tubes before he went ahead.
My guess is that I was about fifty minutes from reaching Little T which I clearly would make before Tony made it all the way back to my car and then drive back.
I had already called my mom to pick up CV Jr. followed by a “guess what” call to my wife for who would be picking up dinner.
The battery on my phone was pretty low, so I texted Tony to pick me up at the Bear Divide turnoff which is a two minute walk from the Santa Clara Truck Trail gate.
I made it to the rest area a little before 6pm with a couple of “recreationalists” hanging out in their cars.
My guess was that Tony probably wouldn’t make it until 6:30pm and while I had opportunity to ask for help, I felt like the opportunity to complicate matters wouldn’t pay off by asking for a ride.
…hello sullen face!
Around my estimated ETA, my phone battery went from 15% straight to dead, my fellow campside mates drove off and traffic on LIttle T literally ceased.
I was able to tell time off of my camera and it was nearing 7pm which put me a bit in panic mode.
There wasn’t a lot of possibilities that I could come up with, but just as hope nearly dried up, Tony drove up from the Santa Clarita side.
He didn’t get my text, but he was waiting at the truck trail gate the whole time and I don’t know how I would have missed him, but I didn’t care at this point.
I never would have imagined it taking seven and a half hours to cover 57.5 miles, but the only way I could come to terms was actually living through it all.
I’m sure I’ll be back at some point for a more successful run, but I’ll be waiting for a little more sunlight next time thank you very much….