I spotted the trail while looking out the window of the airplane. I was returning from the Black Hills and was lucky enough to get a window seat (I get to fly for free but have to take whatever seat they have available). I had done a couple rides heading south out of Pine Valley but had never known about this trail. I knew the Corte Madera Ranch lay to the west, for I had checked into riding there before (and found a huge gate with many NO TRESPASSING signs). But this trail looked to stretch out along the eastern edge of the ranch.
When I returned home I immediately booted up the computer and went to Google Maps to see what this trail looked like. Yup, there it was … starting just past the Bear Valley Trailhead at the southern end of Pine Valley Road and heading almost straight south.
When I zoomed in I could see I was not looking at a “trail,” but a seldom used doubletrack. An uncharted route in San Diego County? My “exploration gene” kicked in and I could hardly wait to get out there to check it out. A half hour drive to explore a new trail? Well worth it!
I got up, got all my gear loaded into the truck, and headed east. Just before pulling onto the Pine Valley off-ramp I looked to the south to catch a glimpse of my trail. Instantly I knew why the trail existed … telephone poles!
I pulled under the Interstate 8 bridge around 9:30. I knew I was not going to be able to do a huge ride, as I had promised Cindy I would attend her retirement counseling appointment (she is retiring in 3 weeks). Her appointment was at 4:00 but down by the coast in San Diego. I told her I would be home and ready by 3:15. So, I would just be doing a little exploration ride.
After pedaling up the short piece of Pine Valley Road and past the Bear Valley Trailhead I looked to the right for my new trail … only to find a locked gate! But wait, there were no KEEP OUT or NO TRESPASSING signs posted. I knew my “trail” was a actually a pole line road, obviously owned by San Diego Gas and Electric. The gate was obviously there to keep off road vehicles and motorcycles out, right? SDG&E didn’t care if people hike or biked on their pole line roads. No way!
So, I lifted my bike over the gate, jumped over, and began to pedal up the hill.
I have biked up many a pole line road and most of them are pretty smooth … this one was not!
Like many an old, ill maintained trails this road had lost most of its dirt … leaving a wide swath of loose rubble. I usually have no problems biking over this type of surface unless the path is steep uphill.
This road immediately took me up, then down, then up, and down, back up, etc. The ups were hike-a-bike material, the downs very ride-able.
At the top of each climb I was rewarded with incredible, far away views in all directions except east, where stood a pencil sharpened Long Peak.
After more than a mile of traveling over terrain shaped like a giant pump track the pole line road took me into a small tree covered valley where a well worn dirt road branched off to the right. I chose to continue south on the horrible pole line road as I was sure that smooth dirt track heading west would surely bring me onto the Corte Madera Ranch. I passed through a couple of cattle gates as I moved south, with Los Pinos Peak continuing to grow.
Just about a mile farther south, in the middle of a large meadow, I came to the end of the pole line road. I could still see the telephone poles and wires stretching off to the south but the road ended … just sort of dissolved into the grass. On the far side of the meadow I could see a house. The road providing access for the house clearly approached from the west.
By looking at my GPS I could tell I had two options … go back the way I had come or head west over to the road. I slowly pedaled south through the meadow, climbed over a fence, and found myself on the driveway to the house. After riding 40 yards to the west I came to a nice, paved road. I pulled out my phone to see where to go next. The Strava map had the road labeled Los Pinos Road. Going right would surely bring me back onto the Corte Madera Ranch. Going left would bring me to Los Pinos Peak.
I looked at my watch and finally formulated a plan for the rest of the ride. I would ride up Los Pinos Road until I reached the fire lookout on the peak (which I had visited before) and then turn around and come back down the way I had come. Yup, an out and back to Los Pinos Peak would end up getting me back to the truck with plenty of time.
I rode up the paved Los Pinos Road until I came upon a group of houses, where I stopped, not knowing which way the Los Pinos Road was going. I was on the side of the road ogling my phone when I felt the vibration of an auto coming near. I hoped the vehicle would stop (so I could ask which way to go) and it did, right next to me.
I looked up only to see an ancient pickup and the scowl of an old man, framed by the driver’s window and his cowboy hat. “How did you get here?” he snarled. I started to explain, “I was riding and,” but I stopped talking when he cut me off, asking me another tough question. “Who are you a guest of?” I responded with, “I am not a,” but he cut me off again, and uttered with a little more emotion in his voice, “You are trespassing! Did you know that? You’re a trespasser!” I figured I might try to explain again, but only got a couple of words out when he said in a cold, quiet voice, “I don’t really care how you got here. We have this ranch locked up pretty well … ” and trailed off, mumbling something indistinguishable. All I could think of was … I was facing Curly on City Slickers!
We sat there in silence for a couple of seconds. I figured he was planning what to do with my body after he killed me. Finally he broke the silence, saying in a voice slightly above a whisper, “Where are you trying to go?” I quickly answered with, “Los Pinos Peak … the lookout tower.” He told me to follow him and he drove fifty yards off to the east, to an unlocked gate I had been eyeballing earlier.
When we arrived he got out of the truck, opened the gate, and gave me several instructions, which, if I followed them, would get me to the mountain. “At one point you are going to have to climb over our locked gate,” he said. “Once you get near the peak you will probably find some signs, or you can just take the road that goes toward the peak.”
I said thanks (but for the directions or not shooting me I wasn’t sure) and pedaled off.
Curly’s directions were accurate and I easily followed the road to the base of Los Pinos Peak. I did have to scale their gate and found a couple of signs forbidding passage (the first of those type signs I’d seen all day).
On my way towards Los Pinos Peak I got a nice view of the other large mountain in the area … Corte Madera. Unlike the surrounding mountains Corte Madera displays a huge dome of granite.
Once at the bottom of Los Pinos Peak I had some decisions to make. Time was ticking away. Should I …
- Ride up to the tower, take some awesome photos, ride back down, jump over Curly’s gate, pass through the gate he had opened, and ride like hell to get off the ranch? That would complete the out-and-back ride I had formulated earlier. This option would certainly get me back to the truck soon enough … if I survived!
- Ride up to the tower, take some awesome photos, ride back down, take the Espinoza Trail to Corral Canyon Road, and ride pavement all the way back? This would be one large loop.
- Not ride to the tower, miss out on some awesome photos, take the Espinoza Trail to the Kernan Cycle Trail which would lead to the Long Valley and Bear Valley Roads. Those dirt roads would dump me back at the Bear Valley Trailhead and just past that … the truck. This would be a very large loop on dirt.
I reasoned like this, no matter what I decided I did not have time to visit the tower. I was too chicken to chance facing Curly again, so I headed down the Espinosa Trail. Giving up the peak was torture, for I am the type of person who likes to get to the top of everything to see what I can see!
The Espinosa Trail turned out to easily be the best riding I’d ex[eroenced all morning. The majority of the trial was a narrow hallway cut through thick brush. What I would have given to be able to ride the Espinosa Trail all the way back to the truck!
The Espinosa Trail dumped me onto Corral Canyon Road, which I shot down, quickly coming to where the Kernan Cycle Trail crossed the road. I sat in front of the trail marker, looking at my watch, and trying to figure out if I had the time to stay on dirt or take the quicker route … the pavement.
The time … 12:15 pm. Could I do the dirt route in two hours? That would get me back to the truck at 2:15. I could be driving down the highway by 2:20, and home by 2:50 … well ahead of my 3:15 deadline. But could I get over those mountains in two hours?
The pavement route would have circled around most of the mountains and would certainly be quicker … but I hate riding on old highways with no bike lane or shoulder.
Dirt or Pavement?
I took the dirt. I new I was going to have to hurry.
I had “biked” up the Kernan Cycle Trail a few months previous and knew I was going to have to do some hike-a-biking. This trail climbs almost 1,000 feet in less than two miles, and is quite torn up by motorcycles. I rode and pushed hard, hoping to make Cindy’s appointment and to see if I could get a PR on that trail (turns out no one has ever set up a segment for it!)
Why do trails seem so much longer when we are in a hurry? The route from Corral Canyon Road back to the truck seemed to stretch on forever, with several climbs I just didn’t remember!
I rolled up to the truck at 2:54 … strapped the bike down, peeled off my pack, gloves, helmet, and halo … started the truck, and got out of there.
Traffic was horrible!
At about 3:15 Cindy sent me a text saying she was at home.
I rolled into the driveway at 3:25 only to find Cindy standing next to her car. I apologized for being late, and then ran up to the pool … slipping off my riding shoes, socks, and jersey. I jumped in, quickly scrubbed my body down, and ran upstairs to grab some shorts and a shirt.
We were on the road before 3:35 and I am happy to say Cindy make that 4:00 appointment … just barely!
During most visits I take many more photos than I can place on a page. To view every image I captured … 80 photos in all, please visit my Photo Gallery site.