Words and photos by Martin Rodriguez (@cathode_mech)
It has been so long since I last had a long and silent ride in the dark. I kept pondering in my head just how far we still had left to go before we’d finally reach the top. Any familiar long climb becomes unknown when done in the darkness. Not to mention, I was barely able to keep my dynamo light above a flicker as I pushed my pedals on the single speed. I could focus on nothing more than my breathing, my body attempting to push the pedals over and over. Together with Colin’s light source, I could make out the smoothest line along the patches of washboard as we worked our way up Viejas Grade.
Occasionally, I’ll look over my shoulder toward the now-fading lights of the Viejas Reservation below us. Our goal? To steadily work our way to the highest point near the top of Mount Laguna and camp along the PCT. There, we would wake up to the view of Anza Borrego Desert down below us. Until then, we would need to keep pushing up the now quiet and lightless roads of Cleveland National Forest to reach our destination. The following day, we made breakfast, stuffed away our sleeping gear, and drank our instant coffee to the view of the road snaking across the desert floor. Colin and I would split our separate ways that morning to pursue our own adventures for the day.
My Adventure would consist of leading the Adams Avenue Bicycle Shop’s quarterly campout for this year’s fall equinox. I was to meet with the riders as well as my co-worker and self proclaimed shop mom, Andrea Tobin. From there, we would ride as a group through Cleveland National Forest, making our way toward Lake Cuyamaca State Park. We would camp at the Paso Picacho campground and then return via a slightly different route back to our cars. At least, that was the plan.
I could feel the energy as I watched everyone arrive at the trailhead, smiling and yelling at each other as they recognized familiar faces on bikes set up for a successful bikepacking adventure. Discussion of the route, bike choices, and gear set up made it difficult to get everyone’s attention about our approaching take-off time. After a few loud announcements, we managed to get everyone’s attention, and the whole crew began to roll out. That energy would fade and turn into the momentum that now officially began the overnighter everyone had come together for. Our first stop would be the well known Laguna Meadow, where cows grazed and flowy singletrack weaved in and out of the treeline.
The shop first began to expand on the already well known Swift Industries Summer Solstice overnighter the year prior to the pandemic. We felt it would be perfect to plan four overnighters revolving around each equinox and solstice of the year. After resuming the social gatherings that the pandemic had left on pause, we invested ourselves in making this an event anyone of any riding discipline could enjoy. Locations typically vary from our local San Diego trail networks and venture as far east as the Cleveland National Forest and the well known Anza Borrego Desert. This year, our campground lies in Paso Picacho, overlooked by Stonewall Peak just south of Lake Cuyamaca. Riders are given the choice of choosing their ride difficulty or coming up with their own adventure. All are welcome to gather around the same campfire at the end of the day. Sharing and connecting as we work our way to the day’s destination is an important part of the experience, all while forming new friendships and strengthening the cycling community we share.
The first day for the short distance loop was meant to get riders to camp in the most enjoyable and direct way while still riding a good amount of mixed terrain along the way. Just enough to test their set up and riding skills, but nothing compared to the long-distance route I would lead. The long-distance route would split from everyone else to begin a loose singletrack climb that cuts across the mountains. Descending fire road after fire road until finally reaching Highway 79 and further descending towards Descanso. Descanso would be our key resupply spot before taking Boulder Creek. Boulder Creek is an amazing fire road that snakes its way up and around Cuyamaca Peak. It’s a very roundabout way of getting to the campground, but this would be how we would regain our lost elevation on our way to camp. It’s worthwhile climb to do on a fair weathered weekend ride, as well as a major climb for the Julian Bikepacking Challenge Mountain Loop.
Fortunately for the long-distance riders who anticipated a long day in the saddle of their loaded bikes, there was a change of plans. A major mechanical failure incapacitated my frame, and with luck I was able to call in a quick shuttle to the campground. My get out of jail card had now found me an early seat at the campground and left my good friend Jesse Salisbury to take the reins. Jesse would lead the group through an alternate route that would still include much of the fun singletrack and fire roads the mountains have to offer but with far less of the uphill grinding. Everyone arrived before dark and had the chance to still talk about the day’s ride and what each group experienced.
This particular overnighter was extra special to me as it would be my last one with the shop before setting out to explore what lies dormant in Southern Arizona. It had me thinking back to how I first started taking my bike further and further into the mountains with each passing weekend ride, discovering one exhilarating trail after another and taking in the views each bend had to offer. Having the opportunity now to have shared all of this with other riders makes for a terrain full of adventure and memories we all get to share and take back to the city. Overall, my favorite part has been the process of creating these different routes and figuring out how to best advise people on how to prepare for an adventure in the Cleveland National Forest. Although I’m leaving, I know that everyone in the shop will continue to welcome more and more riders in future overnighters to come. The outdoors belongs to everyone, and it’s all the more better when enjoyed with others around a campfire.
For more information on Adams Avenue Bicycles’ Fall Equinox Campout and their upcoming Winter Solstice Campout, head over to AABikes.net. You can also find more photos from the other participants at the campout on their Facebook page.
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