Adventures are most heavily define by what you are able to overcome. Our latest bikepacking escapade had some challenges and some wins that took us by surprise. That is precisely what makes bikepacking so awesome and memorable. Come along for the ride.
Back in April of 2015, a group of high-spirited cyclists attempted an overnight bike tour. We were thwarted by inclement weather that left us wanting more. So, in August we attempted another slightly-less ambitious bike tour from the the heart of Orange County down and across the coast to the golden shores of Crystal Cove State Park.
Laguna is defined by scrub forest desert nestled against vast blue ocean.
Actually, we had been planning a new bikepacking/tour/whatever-you-want-to-call-it ever since we drowned our shame from the failure that was (or wasn’t) the Angelus Soaked ride in pints at Hangar 24. The same day we bailed from our cold water-logged adventure, we had decided to try the whole “bike adventure” thing again when the weather was more temperate. Of course, you know what they say about adventure, “It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.”
So emails flew back and forth over the following months until it was decided what we would do. Dates and a route were set and the Angelus Soaked Crew was back together again for their chance at redemption and promises of another good time.
I packed up my bike and gear the night before, and was out the door by 7am. I picked up Chuck on the way to the Fullerton Metrolink Station which was our starting point. We grabbed some quick breakfast on the way, and met up with our comrades by 9am. We were outta there in a jiffy once the whole crew was assembled. Brandon led the way since he planned the route. It was a beautiful, bright sun-shiny day in the O.C., and morale was high as we cut through neighborhoods and across the highway to Irvine. The five of us cracked wise as we cruised deeper into Orange County headed South West without a care in the world, stopping periodically to refill on water and snack up. As the sun began to rise higher in the sky, the temperatures began to rise as well. There was a scheduled high in the mid-80s Fahrenheit for the day, warm for sure but nothing some Southern California Boys couldn’t handle.
Waiting for the group at the Fullerton Metrolink Station.
A few hours in, getting closer and closer to Laguna Beach, we started to realize that there had been some potential errors in planning. The mercury continued to rise, pushing into the mid-90s. Sunscreen was applied liberally and water stops continued to become more frequent. We stopped at several 7-11s on the way and a local park in the hills above Irvine for some much needed shade. I joked that the trip was starting to turn into the opposite of our last one with high temps and a clear sky instead of cold blowing rain. Still nothing we couldn’t handle. We smiled as we dumped cold drinking fountain water over our shoulders and saddled up for the next leg across the industrial district, eager to feel the cool ocean breeze blowing up Laguna Canyon Road.
As we crossed into Irvine and neared highway 133, Chuck began to feel the heat and maybe his breakfast burrito too… We rushed down the road looking for a rest stop and ended up at the hospital. No real emergency. It was just the closest option for a restroom.
Laguna Canyon Road is an iconic drive and ride.
Once we were all good, we hit Laguna Canyon Road. The sun beat down on us and the road radiated its wrath back at us. That cool ocean breeze we had been looking forward to turned out to be a hot headwind that made the ride feel more like we were riding trainers in front of an open oven door. The temps did eventually start to drop as we continued down the canyon, a blessing in disguise. We flew past traffic in the bike lane, and before we knew it we were resting in the shade, chowing down on some great Fish and Chips right off of Highway 1, with a cool blue view. We made it! Our prediction was for smooth sailing from there on. Just a quick climb up the highway to our overnight haunt. We clipped in for the last few miles to Crystal Cove, excited to lounge about on the shore and cool off in the surf.
Adam and Mike fueling up and cooling down.
We hit the sand and then the surf. Oh, how refreshing! The cool water was just what we had been yearning for. However, changing out of bibs for a quick dip raised a few logistical problems at a beach with no bathrooms. A few of us decided to go for it, bibs on, but surely regretted the sand on the rest of the ride up to the campground. Chuck still wasn’t feeling well and, after due consideration, he bailed to go home, catching a ride from his wife. It was a shame to lose a fellow like that, but it was probably for the best. We kicked around at the beach for about a half hour before heading out for the rest of the day.
Riding a bike load with gear adds some work to hills.
But, you can’t really beat the scenery.
We left the beach, and rode over to a nearby Starbucks to fill up on water and ice (glorious ice!) for the night, and also hit up the the Trader Joe’s for beer and and some much needed Aloe Vera to sooth my poor lobster hands. We headed up the last climb through the back country of El Morro Canyon to our campground at Crystal Cove State Park. We stopped briefly by the ranger station to double check for any last minute cancellations in the campgrounds with running water. No Dice. So, we finally ditched the pavement for dirt, and headed up a deceptively steep fire road into the canyon.
Suncreen is your friend.
My pale skin wasn’t quite prepared for the searing sun.
The sun was still beating down on us even as it was starting to head down towards the horizon. It was still in the 90s or maybe even hotter, and the added exertion of hauling a bike up 6+ percent grades, loaded down with water and camp gear, made it feel that much worse. As the climb up the canyon continued, the gaps between us grew. Shade was still scarce and water rationing had begun. We had plenty of it, but we would have to ride out and climb it all over again to if we needed to get more.
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
These climbs are more brutal than the appear.
Adam and I reached the first peak in a string of rises along the Jeep Trail, and waited for our friends to catch up. Riding without shirts and joking about the new-found popularity bikepacking had found in our sport by way of the the Instagram popular “Ultra Romance” cover story in July’s Bicycling. I was dubbed “Super Lust” due to my beard and apparent hipster ways. We regrouped one by one, and eventually made it up and over 3 of the steepest hills I have ever tried to ride my bike over, and crossed down into the canyon only a few short miles from our camp spot.
Brandon working to successfully avoid cacti.
Mustering up our best inner MacGuyver.
I was the first to ride the switchbacks, but I recklessly crashed my panniers into a cactus on the way down the trail, causing some perforations to my leg and and some food stuffs in my bag. Shortly after that, I also lost my rear rack bolts which had been backing out slowly all day. Nothing like a little jury rigging on the trail with your spare water bottle mounts and a few zip ties to make your day. A real bummer considering we were only a few hundred feet from the camp spot… At last, with all that aside, we had made it, and camp was set up. We cracked open the beers (which had warmed considerably) to go along with our dinner. And, when we ran out of beer, we cracked open the flasks for a merry time, toasting our fallen comrade Chuck and recounting our greatest cycling stories one by one until we had killed the last of the booze and the stars were hanging bright in the sky.
Dull the pain of our sunburned skin.
We woke early the next morning with the summer sun, and broke down camp in a hurry hoping to get the worst of the climb out of the canyon done before it really heated up. We cooked up some coffee and a little breakfast, and were on the bikes again by 8:30am. It was a warm and picturesque morning in Laguna Beach, and the people were already out hiking and running the trails, enjoying themselves by the time we reached the park at Bommer Ridge. We refilled our water at the park before heading out down Ridge Park Road, and then cruised at what felt like 45mph down Newport Coast Drive, which was quite harrowing while loaded down, even with disc brakes.
A bit of breakfast to power us home.
Getting ready to tear down our camp.
We debated heading back to Crystal Cove for showers but decided against it due to time, so instead headed North on Highway 1 (PCH) through Newport Beach all the way to Huntington where the Santa Ana River Trail (SART) dead ends at the coast. This would be our route home. More water stops on the way and more coffee too. Also a prolonged game of super car bingo as we cruised past the exotic car dealerships. Not a bad Sunday morning, after all.
Smooth sailing once we hit the SART bike path.
And, kind of pretty for what it is.
Once on SART, it was a breeze getting back to Fullerton. It ended up being about 80 miles total, and we finished out the early afternoon with a Beer at Bootlegger’s Brewery and Pizza from Two Saucy Broads. Nothing like Pizza and ice cold beer to cap off a day. It was quite a weekend and we really enjoyed ourselves, even if we danced with dehydration and flirted with a heavy sunburn. When I got home and checked the high for Saturday, I discovered it had been 103 degrees across parts of SoCal, a shocking twist considering our last adventure. But like I said, it’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.