Saturday, July 31, 2010

Big Bear Ride

Yesterday's ride had all the rich goodness of a long-distance adventure ride, albeit packed into one long day.  For a couple of months, riding buddy Mark (R1200GS) and I have been taking a day off from work during the week to ride - this month, we headed towards Big Bear Lake about 2 hours North of San Diego.  We knew generally we wanted to cruise up fast in the morning, poke around the lake, and sample some of the fire roads.  The plan was followed, but as I reflected later, what we really did was a dandy little compressed ride for big dual-sport bikes.

About a week earlier, I posted our intentions on the San Diego Adventure Riders web forums and asked for some advice about dirt roads suitable for big bikes.  Most of those cats it seems ride smaller, purpose-built, barely street legal cycle and can go up trails that would make mountain goats think twice...  A friendly rider, DSFOX, answered my call and totally delivered the goods.

Deb hooked us up with a forestry map complete with highlighted trails and notes about each one and her take on whether it was cool for the biggies.  There was way more to explore than we could handle in a day, but since she had just ridden the South side of the lake the weekend prior, that seemed like a good choice.

As always the day started early.  We left Mark's joint at 6am and traveled fast up Hwy 15 heading to San Bernoo.  Traffic wasn't bad at all - roads laden with "contractor trucks" easily identifiable by their racks, gear, and logo'ed doors - but when we hit Hwy 215 thru Riverside it became a small nightmare (you'll see later in the day why it was only "small").  Eventually, we popped out of the mess on to Hwy 10 East to the 330 towards Running Springs, Lake Arrowhead, and of course Big Bear Lake at approximately 7500' elevation.

Hwy 330, which turns into Hwy 18 about half-way up the mountains, is a clean and twisty biker paradise kinda road, winding up through the trees towards the heavens.  Again, a few contractors and some semis slowed our progress, but thankfully all used the turnouts to let us pass. 

Arriving near the top, the road went to one-lane due to construction, with flagmen at each end alternately stopping and releasing traffic in great long trains of vehicles.  It's a joy to have a bike at these times to jet to the front of the line.  ;-)

As we got closer to Big Bear, we could see some significant work being done near the dam that, well... makes the lake possible.  In fact, the road over the dam to the town was closed, so we detoured on the North side of the lake and stopped for breakfast at a town called Fawnskin (eewwwww!).  The Gold Pan Restaurant called out to us and we enjoyed the cool, 42-year old family run restaurant and bar.

The interior was filled with mementos of the glory days and lots of signed actor/actress publicity shots.  We sat next to guy who works for a concrete company and he explained what was going on at the dam:  it was built in 1911 and because the main road into town was built on the top of the dam (and 20,000 lb. trucks weren't around in 1911) it was crumbling fast.  The decision was made to build a new bridge and turn the current road on top of the dam into a pedestrian walkway. I think it was TARP money footing the bill.  He marveled at the construction of the dam, saying that in the old days plywood hadn't been invented yet, their "rebar" was square iron rods, and they didn't have the cranes we use today.  Just an observation and nod to the ingenuity of earlier generations...

After a hearty meal, we cruised to the east side of the lake to a bridge that of course we had to stop on - it was turning into a gorgeous day!  Mark got some great shots of the 2 bikes on the bridge and of course the BMW Rallye Pro 2 riding suit advertisement.  ;-)

We planned to try one of the forest roads Deb suggested right away to get our boots dirty.  Called "2N10", the road started off of Moonridge road near the Bear Mtn ski resort on the Southeast corner of the lake, and wound through the pines for at least 8 miles back to the lake.  Nothing too tricky, and the views were spectacular.

Mark was hot-dogging it around some berms, and there were some ruts to stay out of, but otherwise it was a piece of cake.  We emerged on the Southwestern edge into one of the many cabin-infested neighborhoods and then finally into the town of Big Bear.

Mark scooting around a berm on the big bike!
Dusty and now a bit more tired in the mid-day, Mark led us to a little bar right on the lake where we had some hot wings and cool drinks.  Taking in the boaters and jet-skiers sitting outside in the cool breezes was completely relaxing and a great way to ease into the second (and more difficult part of our day).

By the time we left the lake, we'd pretty much decided on another road from Deb's map called 2N93 which would take us from just outside Big Bear City and wind down through the mountains to link up with Hwy 38 to Interstate 10 and home.  On one map we had, 2N93 was labeled a dirt road and on another it was designated more like a 4x4 trail.

The latter proved to be true, demanding all our attention and skills to make it down the mountain.  There were times when it was a pleasant dirt path, but mostly it was a rock-strewn "scree-field" of a road where you just needed to keep the speed up and roll through the shards.  Other times you had to steer your front wheel slowly through the jutting rocks that could easily cause you to lose balance if they shifted.  This happened to Mark once and he dinged up one of his exhaust pipes and an engine cover - battle scars...

Even though I had plenty of close calls, I found the F800GS to be in it's element on the 12-mile road.  It wasn't too technical, just enough.  The switchbacks were not too tight for the long bike, just right. The up- and down-grades were challenging, but manageable. Most of my time was spent standing up on the pegs (and I'm feeling it today!).  I tried hard to ride the bike, not overly control it.  The snatchy throttle so characteristic of the F8GS was a bit tricky, but it was surprising how low you can lug it when needed. I'm really pleased by the bite and performance of the Michelin Anakee tires - while knobbies would have been better on the dirt road part, for an all-around tire I'm pretty stoked.

There was a pretty technical downhill part right in the last quarter-mile of 2N93 that had me relying on the F8GS's massive 21" front tire to roll me through then - eureka! - there was Hwy 38, a gleaming smooth ribbon twisting through the valley.  The amazing thing that completely spoke volumes to me about the versatility of the BMW dual-sport bikes, was this: we had come off a hard dirt trail, then in 30 seconds were shifting with ease through all 6 gears again, slicing and carving on an incredible twisty road, with nary a skip.  I took it easy through the first couple of corners wanting to make sure the dust was off the edges of my tires, then blazed on with reckless, giddy abandon until the next town, still about 2 hours from home.

We made a quick pit-stop at an A&W, victims of a roadside billboard, then were quickly into 5pm rush hour traffic.  Interstate 10 wasn't bad, but Hwy 215 - the bypass through Riverside between the 10 and Hwy 15 was a NIGHTMARE.  This was the opposite of the aforementioned "small" nightmare. The only thing I'll say about it is that 40 miles of lane-splitting through bumper-to-bumper traffic is no picnic - demands equal parts instincts, faith, experience, and insanity.

After all that, I was glad to have a little extra time at the end of the day to chill with my good friend Rod and his family in Temecula, still about 45 minutes from Buckwheat Manor.  He graciously offered a bottle of cool water and we caught up a bit on the back porch of his hacienda before I scooted for home.  My family wasn't there when I arrived at 7:15pm. That was probably a good thing as I was in desperate need of a hot shower.  A few minutes later, a cold beer never tasted so good!

So... this one had it all folks!  My checklist for a good all-encompassing adventure ride:  meet new people, ride twisty roads, share good meals, ride challenging dirt roads, marvel at beautiful scenery, be with friends, don't crash, see new places, have a blast.  Done, done, and done!  Until next time...