Sunday, September 09, 2012

Santa Rosa & Thomas Mountain Ride

Recently an old friend reached out to me, wondering if I was still riding (natürlich!). Jeff had bought a fully kitted KLR 650 thumper up in Idaho earlier in the year and rode it home here to San Diego - my kind of guy!

He was itchin' to explore some roads in our local environs and after kicking tires over lunch at Sushi Deli #3 in Kearny Mesa, we hatched a plan: hop on the big bikes and explore the dirt roads above the town of Anza near Ilyllwild along the Palms to Pines highway some upcoming Saturday.

My next call was to long-time riding partner Mark who damned sure needed to throw a leg over his very capable R1200GS and show us how it's done. He had been camping up in the area a few weeks earlier with his kids and thought Little Thomas Mountain would be perfect on the bikes. From there, we'd let serendipity take over and explore. Ha! We sure got our fill that day, gentle reader!

Top of Thomas Mtn.
Being on the 650 single, Jeff's a big fan of choosing two-laners over the super slab. He led us out from our early morning rendezvous near the North County Fair shopping center to the frontage roads between Escondido and Temecula. I'd seen these roads that parallel North Hwy 15 for decades, but never taken the time to explore. They lead by some charming but poor neighborhoods, a golf driving range, the fabled Lawrence Welk resort, through Fallbrook and more — never touching the super-highway. Very cool!  Jeff was a speedy and capable leader here and knew the roads well. I kept a reasonable pace, as did Mark, but we were both surprised at one point by a 20 mph decreasing radius corner made even more "puckering" by the fuel tank semi-trailer cutting into our lanes.  We heeled the bikes over OK, hearing the siren call of the challenges that were to await us the rest of the day!

After a quick coffee and gas stop featuring a "Hot Babe Driving a Bentley" viewing, we motored out Hwy 79 eastward to the 371 which would take us through Anza. It was truly a glorious morning with the clear air, light wind and rising sun foreshadowing the heat we would face later in the day. Where Hwy 371 intersects with Hwy 74 (AKA "Palms to Pines" highway), there's a nice little joint called the Paradise Valley Café where the team shared a quick omelet and downed some cool water before heading to Little Thomas Mtn. Onward!

Mark led to the turn-off and almost immediately we began climbing up the curvy Jeep trail with trees on either side. The dirt was fairly hard packed, but rutted from recent rains. Placing the bike on the best lines demanded no small amount of concentration, competing with quick glances to Lake Hemet and the layered mountains in the distance. Both Jeff and Mark were quite a bit quicker than I was despite my new Heidenau K60 tire fitted to the rear of the F800GS. This tire is my first true "knobby" on the bike and absolutely rocks in the dirt.  My speed up the mountain was limited by what's between my ears, not the bike between my legs!

At the top of the mountain, we saw a radio/repeater station and parked on some concrete pads which might have been foundations for building long ago. Taking off the helmet, I was struck once again about how much altitude changes one's perspective. Looking down on the desert puzzle-patchwork of Anza from the trees was a joy, made even better by the camaraderie of friends.

This is the goal.
As we were getting ready to ride, a foursome of 4x4's rolled up. We'd seen this crew at the Paradise and admired their rigs from afar — now we got a chance to see them up close. Wow - slick units! My favorite was a 2-door Jeep Rubicon with a stretched wheelbase and a very cool single-axle trailer. Turns out these are fairly popular among the off-road world and are made by a company called "Adventure Trailers." This thing was da bomb: off-road clearance, affixed tent on top, slide-out refrigerator and camp stove, marine batteries & propane, 18 gal of water and another 10 gal. of gas, and a hitch mount that would permit the trailer to rotate 45 degrees to the Jeep.  Crazy cool - a new bucket list item!

After the "tire-kickin'", we headed down Thomas Mtn, past some additional transmitter stations and through a nice neighborhood of summer (winter?) cabins. It was good to get on the pavement again, but I was also itching for our next tracks.
Kev coming down Thomas Mtn. Photo credit: Jeff

Our new friends were also very knowledgeable about the local area and gave us a couple of tips for our next route. We never found the first road we looked for which was Indian reservation land, but their directions led us eastward on Hwy 74 to a gritty, challenging trail up Santa Rosa mountain.

Jeff led the way without hesitation, directing his steed seemingly straight up the hill and out of site. As usual, I brought up the rear picking my way over rocks, around ruts, and around corners plagued with soft sand.

Non-descript entrance to Santa Rosa Truck Trail
The way the road switch-backed up the mountain, into valleys, and back up into adjacent ranges, I quickly gave up catching the other boys and concentrated on riding my own ride—slow and steady, with some snatches of speed.  The bike is capable of soooo much more, but until I get more time in the dirt, my comfort level remains that of a street rider toying at dirt riding! ;-)

Top of the hill, baby!
Though I'd fallen well off the pace of the guys, we all had a common goal to reach the top of the mountain. Our 4x4 friends had said the views of the Salton Sea and Palm Springs were amazing and that drove us on. I figured at every intersection, if there was a choice of "go up" or "go down," I'd choose up every time!  Mark waited for me at one of the intersections, but our next stop was the top. Jeff had been up there for awhile, checking out the views and hanging out with a very large piece of heavy construction equipment on tractor treads called an Excavator - they have a boom, bucket and a cab on a rotating platform. Very cool—exactly the same gear that my Dad is using to carve out his runway back in Ohio!

I have to admit that in the mid-afternoon with no lunch and not a lot of water in me, I was feeling pretty fatigued. It's best on these roads to stand up on the pegs and lower your center of gravity. However, this ride was kicking my butt (and quads) so I found myself just standing on the rougher stuff...  The road one-way up Santa Rosa Mtn. is about 15 miles of the same rutted, rocky track that we did earlier in the day. In fact, I needed to hang out a while to recover and drank the last of my water before descending the mountain. I knew I'd need to take it easy and careful—every accident I'd ever had on a bike was at the end of the day, and that played in my mind on the way down. On the other hand, I was feeling more comfortable on the bike in the dirt (so that was a plus!).

Jeff pointing out the Palm Springs airport.
Once again, Jeff led the way while off-road back to Hwy 74. Mark had picked out Jilberto's Mexican restaurant in Anza and made a beeline for it once we hit the tarmac. I was feeling pretty good again, having "survived" another descent and back on canyon-carving roads where high speeds work in my favor. Jilberto's had only recently opened with a restaurant on one side and a bar/dance hall on the other. It's a big place for Anza and I hope they succeed; the food was excellent!

There was some talk during the day of taking some dirt roads and two-lane highways back from Anza, but the team was pretty tired methinks. Plus, time was getting on and we were still a couple hours from home.  However, Wilson Valley road tugged at our memory banks as a road to try, so off we went. TOP SECRET!  This road is EPIC. Twisty, clean, lonely, and it bypasses a really boring part of 371.  ;-)  Sshhhh... don't tell anyone!

The ride back after Wilson Valley road (and its companion, Sage road) was pretty uneventful, but a good cap on the day's amazing journey. Even though we blazed down the highway at 85 mph, it's was a nice time to reflect on all the great on- and off-road motoring that took up our day.

Onward, ever onward!
Mark at speed. Photo credit: Jeff
KLR at speed, tired and headin' home. Photo credit: Jeff