Bikewhacking Across California

The bikewhacker in her element. Here, oaks and old roads through the San Gabriel Mountains

Cycling north from Southern California back to the Bay Area, I couldn’t make up my mind. Dirt or road? Apples or oranges? Plotted on a map, the predominantly northwest track loops and detours, an interpretive dance along the state highway system.

My intent was to follow rural roads on the backside of the Coast Range, generally hugging the San Andreas Rift Zone. Inevitably, I would spot a dirt road tangent. Confirming those findings with hiker, cowboy, a mountain-biking fireman — well, off I went. Without exception, that rolling strip of singletrack turned out overgrown, covered in ticks, a jungle of poison oak. I might have spent half my days riding dirt but, oh baby, lucky if I made one-third of the mileage compared to a day riding pavement.

Reluctantly, I realized my bike and my gear were not built for this sort of thing. My bike is neither Surly nor Salsa. This secondhand Miyata is an old lady from Taiwan with a Japanese name. Sure, she’s sporting a Revelate saddle bag, riding like a deer with it’s tail in the air, tucked safely out away from the chaparral thorns. But that bright pair of rubber panniers crashes through brush like big yellow elephants. My tires are neither knobby nor gnarly nor plump. I walk her uphill a lot. At times, downhill too. One day, she just plumb tuckered out. I carried her up the vertical ascent of overgrown switchbacks.

I admit to a certain covetousness for the bought elegance of a purpose built steed, outfitted in a bespoke suit of bikepacking bags, running monster-tread tires straight out of the motocross arena. And yet, every day I spent on dirt was stunning, stupendous, awesome. Under the full moon or a slow lingering sunset, spiritual even. I whack bikes around, whichever bike happens to be around. If bikepacking is the pinnacle of dirt road bike touring, then I am a bikewhacker. I am a bikewhacker and proud.

Sometimes, you find dirt road perfection — rolling, pebbly and hardpacked — at the apex of Arroyo Seco Road.
Sometimes you’re bikewalking.
Other times, bikehoisting.
Pick a road and head for the hills. Lake Elizabeth Road threads westward, a welcome respite from the suburban crush of Palmdale.
Pavement soon turns into dirt. Here, I’ve climbed to Sierra Madre Ridge from Santa Barbara Canyon on the southeastern edge of Los Padres National Forest.
Early morning after wild camping in the Carrizo Plain, where the San Andreas Rift Zone is bordered by dramatically eroded Pleiocene hills.
Bikewhacking at its best: steep singletrack overgrown with every type of twiggy, spiky chaparral plant — buckbrush, oaks, yuccas — along Hog Pen Trail.
And it’s a perfect end to a long day of bikewhacking.

9 thoughts on “Bikewhacking Across California

  1. Nice work, Ginger! I was in Carrizo two weeks ago. What a spectacular place. Enjoy the interior South Coast Ranges! One of the best places on Earth.

    1. Dude, I had no idea what beauty was out there until you introduced me to Hwy 33. I ran into another botanist down in the Carrizo — one of the professors from my Master’s committee in fact. We were both flabbergasted. Just can’t get away from academia, ha!

  2. Hey, great meeting you at the Farmer’s Market today! I’m looking at doing some longer treks like this sometime this summer- will definitely follow this blog!

    1. Anselm, awesome to chat with you. I’ve done a lot of local bike camping and that’s likely what you’ll see on the blog this summer. Weekend trips are a great way to get into longer travels. Stay in touch!

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