The Stagepoach 420 – Kyle Ng and John Blackwell

The Stagepoach 420
Words by Kyle Ng, photos by Kyle and John Blackwell

Editor’s Intro: Kyle from Outershell and his friend John Blackwell took on the fabled Stagecoach 400 route last winter, writing up a damn good ride Reportage with photos of this rugged trail. I included Kyle’s note at the bottom that John’s bike was stolen, so keep your eyes out for a 29+ Falconer! Also included are the Outer Shell products used here, in case you were wondering.

Day 1: Mid March 2018. Me, John Blackwell and Jason Silverek meetup in San Diego one morning to ride the Stagecoach 400 route, a 400-mile bikepacking race that was supposed to start the same day. We were starting in southern San Diego, at the midpoint of the route. The actual race starts and ends in Idyllwild. Unfortunately for us, the race start was delayed due to a big storm coming in and the prospects of precarious mud conditions. Our plan was to hightail it all the way to the desert, getting through the would-be muddiest sections outside of San Diego before the storm came. We were all hung over.

But spirits were high and we made it all the way past Alpine to a big dirt road climb outside of Descanso. Then it started raining. We trudged forward until dark and setup in a pull-out. It rained all night and both our shelters eventually flooded from the bottom. In retrospect, we could’ve built moats or maybe found higher ground but we were all too tired by that point. Now we were tired AND wet.

Day 2. We stayed in a hotel, watched TV, and ate pizza. It rained heavily all day.

Day 3. Amped! The sun came out and we were well rested and dry. The route continued through some muddy, snowed-in trails so we detoured through Old Hwy 80 and climbed the road to Mt. Laguna before getting back on track. Epic scenery at the top with white dusted trees and clear skies all the way to the coast. We dropped into the desert by the end of the day and made it to Anza Borrego. *Note: Mason Valley Truck Trail (-3000′ / 12mi) is an insanely fun mountain bike downhill with huge rock features to get rad!

Day 4. The desert. This forty-mile section to Borrego Springs took ALL DAY. Really heavy sand and washboards slowed us way down. If you’ve ever experienced a cyclocross sand pit, just imagine that for ten miles. Pedaling as hard as we could, swerving all over the place and running into each other just to stay on the bike. It was so silly, we couldn’t help but have a good time. The scenery definitely helped too. Vast desert scales really puts things in perspective. Forests of blooming Ocotillo, Jumping Cholla, and Creosote stand vibrantly against the harsh desert landscape. After the dense flora section, we bombed down a huge sand dune called Diablo Drop Off and started traversing through the Carrizo Badlands. The three photos below show a panorama from the top of the dune, looking down at the badlands. Fish Creek Mountains are on the other side. Luckily, there is a slot canyon through the range called Split Mountain, so we didn’t have to climb over the mountains. This day was my favorite part of the route and I recommend it as a stand-alone section to ride. Keep in mind, you will need a lot of water for this short distance.

Day 5. Borrego Springs to Escondido. Our vacation time was running out by this point, so we decided to cut out a big section of the ride and head straight for the coast. This part was about a hundred miles and started with an amazing road climb called Montezuma Grade (+3300′ / 14mi). Another highlight was a perfectly graded dirt descent through the Mesa Grande Reservation. It was literally ten miles without braking or pedaling! Leaving the desert was bittersweet but I was thoroughly impressed with the network of trails the Stagecoach linked together for this section. Even through populated areas and highways, there were trails or bike paths to follow all the way to the ocean.

Day 6. The coast. We toured through Solana Beach, Del Mar, La Jolla and Ocean Beach, stopping at breweries along the way and laying on the beach. Since we started at the south end of San Diego and headed directly east, I hadn’t seen much of these areas. It was a stark contrast to the desolate desert we had just come out of, but just as essential to the culminating experience: the whole point of this route.

To link the deserts, mountains and oceans; to experience the transitions in between and the people that are a part of it. The route represents the unity of all these biomes, their interdependence, our connection with nature and our connection with each other. Being able to connect all these diverse places and communities on the bike really makes me think how superficial our differences are. We are not just observers of this world, but wholly a part of it. Thank you so much to Brendan Collier and Mary Metcalf-Collier for creating this route.

P.S. John got his bike stolen in Santa Rosa shortly after this trip, so please keep an eye out for it. Its a 29″x3″ bike built by Falconer Cycles.

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