The two-nighter.

We thought about trucking the bikes up to Big Bear to avoid the two-hour freeway ride, but then we slapped ourselves back into reality: The first day of our trip is going to be a six-hour pavement party to Phoenix. If two hours of droning up I-15 was going to be that mentally tiresome — no sipping doppio lattes while in transit?! — where were we going to find the Right Stuff to gut out an extra four across the desert? We decided to ride from San Diego, but with a compromise: We’d take the back roads so we could get in some twisties and then we’d camp the first night on Thomas Mountain, south of Big Bear. We hit the road late Friday afternoon after Wayne got off of work.

I’m not sure if they exist elsewhere, but in the national forests of San Jacinto and San Bernadino there are “yellow post” campsites. Unlike the regular campgrounds, the yellow post sites are dispersed and offer no amenities, except for maybe a picnic table and/or fire ring. They’re better than regular campgrounds because a) you’re not right next to some jackass with a boombox and b) it’s free. You mean we get to pay zero to NOT be near some dude with an alcohol-fueled voice modulation problem? Fucking SIGN ME UP.

Thomas Mountain was quiet on this early Friday evening. The only vehicle we passed on the fire road was a Rhino-like ATV trundling down with a father/son-looking combo. We eventually came across a yellow post campsite and set up camp in the perfect windless evening.

Wondering why “perfect” can’t co-exist with “windless”? Here’s a hint: bzzzzzzzzzzz…SLAP. Yes, mosquitoes. When it’s windy, not only is your irresistible carbon dioxide and other fragrant whatnots dispersed, but the bastards’ little wings aren’t strong enough to allow them to pull up a chaise lounge and probe you silly. Between the gnats, flies and mosquitoes, there was a whole lot of slapping going on. I did pack insect repellent, but I figured I’d forego it for one night and just go with the interactive killing method. Huge mistake. A few days later as I type this, I am still scratching at the many bites. I blame my ignorance on being a coastal San Diegan. We have no insects here. No kidding — they are turned away at our many Border Patrol checkpoints. The BP agents will even look under your car with a huge dental mirror to make sure no insects are clinging to the undercarriage. It’s fabulous the lengths they go to to make San Diego a safe, insect-free place. Given my lack of transparency to insects, I’m going to buy one of these:

Hold your sartorial jabs. I’m well aware that I will look like a suburban dork on safari, but sacrificing my pride is superior to scratching until I’m bloody.

One important thing I brought that we didn’t have on the last trip was an extra rainfly from a retired tent. Is it necessary? No. Is it awesome? Yes! It gave us a place to disgorge the contents of our bikes (we’re not always going to have a fancy picnic table). I know camping is a dirty undertaking and I should just suck it up, but women (and possibly tranvestites) have special needs in that we can’t stand sand in our lip gloss. It’s as appealing as a crunchy jelly donut. Hence the need for just a modicum of domestic tidiness.

Bonus: Before turning in for the night we could wrap up the stuff in the rainfly to keep the dew off of it. However, the one piece of gear I won’t leave outside are the helmets — one ant infestation episode many years ago taught me the intimate discomfort of Things With Mandibles Near One’s Face. Never again.

I made two key sleeping changes for this trip: 1) I left the wafer-like Thermarest at home and took the Big Agnes pad, and 2) I modified my mummy bag to have more leg room. The problem with the Big Agnes pad is that it takes a while to blow up. I figured I wouldn’t have any problems if I took a break now and then. Well, after the first round of blowing I was lightheaded and had no desire to do any more so Wayne was gentleman enough to take over.

As for the mummy bag, I sewed a stretch panel across the lower part of it so I can leave it unzipped but still keep air from freely moving in and out. When it gets really cold I still have the option of zipping it up. If it weren’t for the fact that in the past year I’ve become an insomniac, I would’ve slept fabulously. Still, the hours I did sleep instead of tracking the moon’s path was sound. Share with me my future on the TAT between the hours of 11pm and 2am:

The next morning we headed down Thomas Mountain. A few of the other yellow post camp sites were occupied, but overall the place was surprisingly empty, given its proximity to LA and SD. Just as we passed a campsite, I looked in my rearview mirror and was gobsmacked — Simon had fallen or jumped out of the backpack and was chasing after Wayne’s bike. WTF?! Simon was hysterical, running and barking like the last train had left the station. But hold on…Simon was also staring down at the same scene I was taking in. Oh, that was a dog who had torn out from the campsite. It happened to be the same size and almost all white like Simon. An impressive stunt double it was, and feel like a maternal failure I did!

After leaving that scene of horror behind, we headed over Idyllwild, through Beaumont, and then up to Big Bear. Along the way there was a nice stretch of road that went through the town of Oak Glen — check it out if you ever find yourself in that area.

The morning was awesome and not yet warm enough for Simon to go into panting mode:

After months of trying to dial in the suspension, this trip was an important milestone. My DRZ has a lowering link and the extra 50 pounds over the ass end made the front way too light (spare gas, three liters of water, and a month’s worth of dog food is nearly half the weight). At freeway speeds the front-end weave was simply dangerous. To address this issue, Wayne modified the forks by cutting down the springs and machining spacers. This critical change returned the DRZ to a level stance so my suspension now had a fighting chance.

When we hit the rockier stretches the bike stayed planted — epic, spine-tingling relief! I now had a machine that would work both on the freeway and in the dirt. Still a pig? Yeah, but nimble is not the primary goal — not being murdered by every mile travelled is. To that end, the bikes were perfect.

There was a good mixture of terrain where we could test our loaded bikes:

Recovering burn area north of Holcomb Valley:

Weird still life moment: I call it “Rover, Please Come Home.”

As late afternoon came, we started keeping our eyes open for an unoccupied yellow post campsite. Except for this one shadeless site in the burn area, all the ones we came across were occupied.

We eventually came across a ranger and asked him if he thought the farther-flung yellow post campsites were occupied.

He said they might be and asked if we planned to have a campfire. We said no. If that was the case, then we could camp anywhere as long as it was 200 feet from the road and water sources. That surprised me because I had perused the San Bernadino Forest Service web site many times and it was never clear that “dispersed camping” was different from yellow post camping. In fact, if you go to the Dispersed Camping page, it lists a bunch of yellow post sites; hence, my conclusion on why they were one in the same. The friendly ranger told us of a good camping spot nearby and also wrote us a permit to legally use our little Jetboil unit. Bless him and any ranger-tots he may have!

Once again I got through a round of inflating before I had to hand the task off to Wayne. Since getting home, I’ve resolved this inflation issue, which I’ll cover in a separate post.

The next day we took the backroads back to San Diego. Here I am following what I will now call Rule #1: “Rest stops must be in shaded areas.” Why? Because a woman with heat exhaustion is as pleasant to be around as a bear passing a whole pine cone. Maybe I speak for dudes, too. Or, maybe I speak only for myself. Whatever the case, the west side of Dudley’s Bakery has one big tree, and it’s a good friend to all who sweat.

With another 500 miles of training under our belts, we’re actually feeling like we may be ready for the TAT.

  1. Apparently ‘the mozzies’ don’t find humans that eat garlic, tasty. However, if your one of the unfortunate few that enjoy bananas, they’ll find you extra tasty.

    Also, you are not the only one who seeks shade for rest stops. Anything above 85 degrees means you’ll find Alex in the shade, drinking a gallon of water an hour, trying not to die.

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