On a whim I rode the “Big Tujungas to Wrightwood” permanent yesterday. At 217k with around 15k feet of climbing, it’s not the easiest route.
My day started out with some unexpected cyclocross action as I encountered a road crew paving the width of Sunland blvd – and with no real detours to get to the starting point, I switched back and forth between the gutter and the sandy horse trails (there is no sidewalk), passing through hot clouds of steam as an enormous machine laid down new asphalt.
With only three controls (the start/finish and Wrightwood), and on familiar roads, I eschewed a route sheet. After stocking up on snacks at 7-11, I turned up Oro Vista around 8:15AM, and began ascending Big Tujunga. Traffic was sparse and there were still pockets of green amidst the boulders, with small waterfalls draining into the creek. Flowers lined the roadside, and descents were a blur of yellow from all the Spanish broom.
Passing through the tunnel on Angeles Forest Hwy, you encounter Hidden Springs, but since the Station Fire, there has been no water here. This was also the first time on the ride I saw one of the dreaded “Poodle-dog Bush” plants:
Further up the road you get a good look at Mill Creek – worth a brief stop on the bridge to enjoy the sound of water and birdsong. At Monte Cristo station I topped off my bottles (the rangers/firefighters staffing the station let me fill up from their kitchen sink since the outdoor spigot is dry), then continued on up Upper Big Tujunga, chasing down a small friendly group of roadies before leaving them behind on the smooth 9 mile climb. Occasionally a motorcycle would blow by me at tremendous speed, but otherwise, this was a peaceful stretch with pristine pavement. A few mountain bikers, hikers, and jeeps were plodding around the off-road loops near Alder Creek, drawn out by the low water and early Summer warmth.
Reaching the Crest, there were still road signs from 5/17, warning of closures due to a bike race (Stage 7 of the Amgen Tour of California, no doubt), but I would see less than a dozen other cyclists on the road today. As I climbed up to Chilao, the Poodle-dog bush plants increased in number – as did the number of speeding motorcycles and sports cars. I filled my bottles again at Newcombs, and gave a nervous glance at all the weekend warriors on their 3rd bloody mary. Thankfully traffic let up significantly after this, with only one group of 20 tuned BMWs pushing me onto the shoulder on the way to Wrightwood.
I was finding it difficult to eat while on the bike, especially while climbing, so I had to take a lot of short breaks in the shaded turn-outs (which were a welcome respite from the endless chipseal) to catch my breath and nibble on a bar or some peanuts. I feared I’d have to re-name this “Crampburst Summit” on my return trip, but I managed to go the entire day without a sign of my legs seizing up:
I exchanged pleasantries with a lot of backpackers both at the entrances to the Pacific Crest Trail and along the highway itself. While the trail seems to be getting busier each year, I still envy these thru-hikers…but that’s an adventure for another day.
After Cloudburst summit, the climbing continues, with some rollers and descending before a long ascent to Dawson Saddle. I was spinning a very low gear, feeling a little sick and completely out of water by the time I reached the peak. I sat down in the shade for a bit, forcing myself to eat a few peanuts while distracting myself with the astonishing view down to the desert floor below. One of the rocky protrusions visible amidst the haze seemed to be Saddleback Butte – a surreal site to see it looking so diminutive when I found it a difficult and vertigo-inducing hike when climbing to its summit. Growing loopy, I imagined myself looking down from a Himalayan peak to wear I’m standing now at around 8000ft with a similar sense of unreality…I got back on the bike before my brain could zoom out to a perspective from the International Space Station.
I was hoping to find some water after this point, but the final point where the PCT bisects the ACH only featured pit toilets. I climbed a bit further and finally found relief at the Grassy Hollow visitor center, a very modern looking and seemingly well appointed hideaway, where I luxuriated in the cool (albeit cloudy) water from the bathroom sink (the drinking fountain was not working of course). Here I ran into another small group of older cyclists, beaming with the look of recent retirement, though I’m not sure where they disappeared to.
The mile markers finally started climbing more rapidly as I dropped into Big Pines, entered San Bernardino county, and then Wrightwood itself. I stopped at Jensen’s market for a repast – though I couldn’t make myself eat as much as I had planned. I managed a small bag of potato chips (salt/potassium/carbs – the perfect bike food really), a blood orange soda, and a couple cups of fresh pineapple. I filled up on water, had a brief chat with an older gentleman who was admiring my Yeti, called home to let my wife know I’d be late (it was already 2:30PM by this point), then began the gradual grind back to Hwy 2.
My legs felt fine, but I was dogged by nausea all the way home, even on the downhills – so I had to pull over a few times as I re-traced my route, to convince my stomach to keep everything in place and to allow my fingers to regain their feeling from the chip-seal battering they were receiving (although the Spenco gloves I was wearing offered significant nerve protection). I’d been feeling sluggish on the bike for the last few days, but was happy to see that all the extended descents were allowing me to make up a lot of lost time on the return trip.
Blasting down Upper Big Tujunga with not a car in site, this is the perfect segment to hit a record top speed should you so choose.
I pulled into the finish around 7:15PM, grabbing an apple juice and a receipt. I limped home over the mangled pavement through the industrial areas along Roscoe Blvd, happily settling into a bath, then dinner, then a second dinner.
Rando-nesia must have set in, as I’m already planning a re-ride (hopefully I’ll feel stronger next time and convince some friends to join me).