Idling in Idyllwild :: Mountain Bike Camping

While the Four Seasons suits me just fine, a little car camping never caused me any harm. In my earlier days, I enjoyed camping, backpacking, a little winter mountaineering. I’ve spent many a night in the back of an Xterra in KOAs across the country. Nowadays, however, I prefer a bed and breakfast to self-inflating mattresses and wood-fired coffee. But I could bend, a little, if that bending meant I could spend a few days in the high country of Southern California.

Lovely dinner.

It must not be so bad, however, since dinner was wild caught sockeye salmon, grilled asparagus and portabello mushrooms paired with a Wild Horse Pinot Noir.

It’s all around the Idyllwild Spring Challenge, a classic mountain bike race in the mountains of Southern California. Idyllwild, a small mountain community, is nestled amongst the pines of the San Jacinto mountains east of Los Angeles, and famous amongst modernists for the Pearlman Cabin designed by John Lautner. Apart from that, the area boasts superb mountain-biker-designed trails, not to mention clean (oh, that’s what color the sky is!) air.

The Idyllwild Spring Challenge attracts a small amount of Pros looking to actually win money for racing. While even the California State Championships pay Zero dollars, this small, well-run race with a superior course pays top dollar. The race has not, at least in recent years, been well attended by Nationally ranked Pros, however the competition couldn’t get any better. The riders who do show up mean business, and know how to ride, not just great climbers or great at fitness. Top names include Tinker Juarez, Zach Valdez and Allison Mann.

The course is classic. Singletrack from the very beginning with very little in the way of road, excepting one gnarly steep climb on pavement and dirt. Yes, the most difficult climb I’ve ever had to do in a race. This coming after yet another difficult singletrack climb. What can I say? The first real climb of the day was the Southridge singletrack which is 1.5 miles at 7.5% average. Not only steep, but technical enough to cause a foot down at an inopportune moment. After continuing climbing on the road, a fun descent leads you through Space Camp (NASA for kids) and then onto the killer of the day. 1 mile of 13.5% (plus a small steep climb in front of that!) takes you to the top. This climb was Tour de France style peppered with fans all the way up. Running with you, yelling, cheering, making this day completely worth it.

Jessica passed me at some point on this climb, but I managed to catch and pass her just in time to hit the descent. When I hit the descent, I was going all out no holds barred. After almost losing it in one corner I slowed enough to stay just on the edge. I knew more climbing was around the corner, and I settled in for the rest of the difficult day.

The end of the hardest climb I've ever done in a race!

My race came out OK, not as planned, but I had a great day on the bike. The Pro women threw down hard, and I had enough to take 5th, after being sadly passed on the final descent. I had a good back and forth with Jessica Cerra during the entire race, but she finally nabbed me on the final descent where I just lost steam on the rocky downhill. I also ran into a non-moving bush ripping a giant slash down my arm. I was, at this point, just ready to get to the finish line. That is, after 27.5 miles and 4500 feet of climbing!

I recommend Idyllwild for camping and riding, climbing, racing or what have you in the mountains. It is a gorgeous area, and any mountain biker will have a blast on the super fun trails!

To stay abreast of the 2013 Idyllwild Spring Challenge, check out the web site. I recommend this race for everyone, and if not to race, just come to ride. The trails are amazing, beautiful and outrageously fun!



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