From Clouds to Cacti: Three Southern California Ranges in Three Days

From Clouds to Cacti: Three Southern California Ranges in Three Days
Photos by John Watson, words by David Bangor with notes by John Watson

Intro: I’ll just jump into this before I let David do his thing. The idea of a multi-day road tour hasn’t popped into my head in years. These days, I want to be away from cars and people, on dirt roads, hauling my own shit. What was proposed to us with this ride was very different. We’d be taking on a lot of climbing and distance each day on road bikes but because we’d be in the mountains, we’d have to carry our food, clothing in case of inclement weather, and all necessities like tools or spare tubes. Our duffel bags, containing clothes, laptops and other on-the-road necessities would be shuttled from day’s end to day’s end. We’d stay at a hotel, a friend’s mountain top cabin, and ultimately in Palm Springs at our friend’s Air B&B listing for a few days of post-ride R and R. I have been riding road a lot lately, mostly because it’s easy to get out and get back in a few hours, but was I ready for this kind of ride? Much less, was I fit enough to document the whole damn thing with a camera and a few lenses? Check back in after David’s words and read on in the captions…

Ever since I moved back to Southern California, I have been scheming to take on a mini mountainous ride across all the Transverse Ranges of the glorious classical terrain encompassing the Los Angeles and Inland Empire basins. With all my maps and possible routes planned out, it was just a matter time until I found some like-minded people to take on such a journey. Finally, at the end of September I got a call from Sean Talkington from Team Dream, expressing a need for the exact route I had been planning out in my head for months. He put out the word and we soon had rough plan of three days in the saddle and a solid group of eight cyclists, all willing to take on a solid amount of elevation and miles.

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With maps of the terrain, possible routes in my head, and the key points of interests in Sean’s head, we settled on a manageable ride that would be challenging but not a complete death march. Specifically our route would lead us eastward through the monolithic boundaries of the San Gabriel Mountains, across the scorched high desert just below Cajon Pass, into the thick forests of the San Bernardino Mountains from the north, sinuously wrap around the San Jacinto Mountains, and eventually bomb down the the sandy desert floor into Palm Springs.

This route had it all…

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Day 1: Slow steady grades through the San Gabriel Mountains on HWY 2 to Newcombs Ranch, over Cloud Burst Summit, past the closed HWY 39 junction, over our highest elevation point at Dawson’s Saddle (7,901′), while avoiding a big horn sheep collision, soaking in incredible lighting at Inspiration Point as the sun set behind Mount Baden-Powell and lit up the north face of Mt Baldy.

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Day 2: After full stomachs from breakfast, we would take on a white knuckle descent into the scorched earth remaining from the Blue Cut Fire. Then to high desert landscapes leading to Silverwood Lake, photogenic canines and steep climbs into the thick forests of the San Bernardino Mountains before hitting Lake Gregory surrounded by steep switchbacks leading up to the Rim of the World. As the day ended, we’d take on a ripping descent back into the World, an accidental run in with a million bees, cool construction workers allowing us to ride through a closed road, and a torture ramp leading to the apple crazy community of Oak Glen.

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Day 3: A threat of rain looming all day, an initial descent through a forgotten stretch of tarmac called Jack Rabbit Trail, smooth “team (Kyle) time trialing” along the foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains and the Church of Scientology compound, a glorious climb up HWY 74 up to Mountain Center, continuing our ascent to Idyllwild with a bit of rain, mountain town vibes and a stop in at The Hub bicycle shop, incredible views through the valley of Lake Hemet, and a long sinuous drop to the hot desert floor into Palm Springs.

All together this was a wonderful route with a solid crew.

Outro: Yes, this was a tough ride that came in around 300 miles and around 26,000′, but with the right group of riders and the proper logistics (Thanks to Gus, Carla, Liz and Cari!) , you can tackle the route as well. Remember, you’re going through the backyard of a lot of California Rednecks. You will get honked at, or be told to “get a job”, or just simply have someone yell “TRUMP!” Just don’t let that take away from the views, the food and the pain you’ll feel in your legs after you climb 10,000′ of elevation back to back. All in all, I had three flats: one from hitting a grapefruit sized rock in the road while going 45mph, another was a goat head thorn, then a piece of copper wire from a truck’s tire. David flatted from a snakebite on Jack Rabbit Trail. Mild mechanicals aside, we arrived at our destination, unscathed, with sore legs, awaiting a dip in the pool and some home cooked meals…

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If you do find yourself in Palm Springs, Jason and Bret’s Air BnB is perfect for a group this size.

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Follow David on Instagram, Sean on Instagram, Kyle on Instagram, Max on Instagram, Adam on Instagram, Jen on Instagram, Marc on Instagram.

View our routes at Strava:
Day 01
Day 02
Day 03

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  • dickey

    California is nuts.

  • Antonio Jicquel
  • cnm

    so, so, so, so good….

  • Nate Kaiser

    Absolutely unreal coverage of this John! I lived in Idyllwild for two years and have never had so much fomo from leaving…glad you guys got to spend some time with the fine folks over at The Hub though!

  • breed007

    This article makes me wish I could go back to the 70’s and ride around California before there were 38 million people living there.

    • We met a lot of really, really rad people on this ride. Don’t let the few bad apples we experienced ruin the lot of California. :-)

      • breed007

        West coast people are the best. There’s just way too many of them for someone from the Midwest.

  • Jen Kyle Whalen

    Looking at these photos just made me all warm and fuzzy. What a special time.

    • It was great having you along Jen! I’m glad you could summon your inner squirrel in Idyllwild.

  • Milochky

    This is awesome, true camaraderie. so much feels and jelliness.

  • Søren Nejmann

    Love those pictures! John watson, which skewers is that on your speedvagen? Look like they would match my gold Chris King headset!

    • They’re PAUL rasta skewers but they’ll do all gold for you.

  • Kawika Samson

    So good!

  • You guys are so allroad right now.

  • Great post. Highway 18 up on the rim of world is a special site to see.

  • Mark Hespenheide

    Glad you could make it up to IDY. A great little town, and Brendan and Mary at the Hub are good people. Plenty of other good people up there, too…

    • Such a rad town! Love it there…

      • Mark Hespenheide

        I was lucky enough to live there for seven or eight years. I remember it well… Check with Brendan or Mary and ask about some of the mountain biking near there. Some really good stuff.

  • Gordon

    Damn. Just damn. You’ve captured what its all about. Thank you!

    • I try! This ride was tough, but at least the photos were easy. ;-)

  • JG

    What IF frame is that? Crown Jewel?
    Thanks in advance – Great shoot.

    • I think so. I’ll shoot the bike in the near future for sure.

  • CTDSAC

    Fantastic photos John!

    Anyone know what seat bag Kyle is using?

  • Jonathan Raspa

    First photo: Classic Max face.

    Great photoset; loved the hand-drawn route maps especially!

  • STW

    Jack Rabbit Trail? Trying to find it on a map. Idyllwild is all too familiar, but maybe I’ve missed some roads?

  • Alan

    I would love to see a photo shoot of the Ritchey Road Logic. Looks so good in #43.

    • Josh Caffrey

      Agreed!

  • As an east coast guy, I have to say, these photos are just stunning. My bike would not be fit for this kind of ride, but I sure would love to take on something like this. Thanks for sharing john.

  • Max Duck

    Aww snap you done did it! Really great work John, totally captured the magic. Oh, and cracked! As if!!!!

    • It was the crack that was heard around the Rim of the World! ;-)

  • Froste

    Wow, that would make a sick 400k brevet! Getting excited about riding far!

  • marc marino

    Love this.

  • Josh Caffrey

    Looks awesome, jelly.

  • Drew Devereux

    Great route and write up. The hwy 35 closure affects cars only, last time I was there, a few years ago anyways. The 5 mile section from hwy 2 to crystal lake is paved, car free, and goes thru the bighorn sheep area. Here is a day loop I did that goes thru there and returns on hwy 2 via Mt Wilson:
    https://ridewithgps.com/routes/3225720

    • Yeah, we did that a few years back. It’s a big day when you leave from Golden Saddle and return over Griffith. Topped over 11,000′ elevation.

  • Robert Mead

    john, what saddlebag is on the speedvagen?