15 October, 2008

San Juan Trail - San Juan Capistrano, CA

Holy God.

This is by far the best, trail I've ridden yet.

This past Sunday I made plans to go riding with my lil brother Stevo, I tried to gather some troops, but came out unsuccessful. I headed over to his house where I met up with he and Luke (Stevo's friend and ex-coworker). We had plans to go out and ride Aliso Woods in Laguna Beach, but instead Stevo wanted to show us his home trail, the trail he grew up on; San Juan Trail. We obliged without hesitation.

We set off in 2 cars; Stevo's Ranger and Luke's Suburu. Traffic wasn't too bad on the 405 South. We hit the 5 South and it remained nice. The exit is Ortega Hwy (74), then go left. We drove up the highway a few miles until we hit Lazy W Ranch, the same exit as the San Juan Hot Springs (haven't been yet, but will go soon). We should've bought adventure passes beforehand, but didn't ($5 at Big 5 or wherever). We parked Luke's car at the bottom of the Switchbacks (I'll talk about later) and loaded up the Ranger with everything. The plan was to shuttle to the top and ride down. I know a lot of XCers would shake a fist at that idea, but I don't have the lungs for doing this both up and down just yet, I'm working on it. Plus, we'd of been screwed on time for sure.

We got back on the 74 East and headed for Bluejay Camp, which is where we'd park (right at the trailhead). On the way up, Stevo pointed out a spot locals call "Drunk Man's Turn" where you can see several cars at the bottom of the ravine that obviously didn't see the slight turn in the road (probably after a good night of partying in Lake Elsinore). Just past that to the left is a road that leads to Bluejay Camp, it's a steep and windy road that leads right to a few spots to park. We did just that. Then we geared up, aired up, mounted up and we were off.

The whole ride was singletrack, no fire roads, nothing else. The entire path winds under oak canopies and blue skies, along cliffs and fields of sage, over rocks and scattered jumps, through ruts and obstacles. Most of the 11.4 miles was downhill, but the ride still maintained it's dignity with plenty of uphill challenges. I found it impossible to get up some of them without hiking it. Luke was a champ as he only had to put his foot down once (clip-ins really helped him out). Stevo and I found ourselves walking up the loose rock ladders, I more than he of course.

After plenty of areas that left us speechless/breathless, we arrived at Cocktail Rock. We shot the shit with some various dudes that were up there. This spot is a great spot to have an energy bar and take in the scenery, so we all did. We were lucky enough to be there on a day where it was possible to see all the way to Catalina. It was pretty amazing.

We let a few people take their time ahead of us down the trail in hopes that we wouldn't catch up to them. About 3 minutes into our descent, we passed up two of them. There was hardly any climbing once wee passed up Cocktail Rock, it was great. Mile markers would creep up on us faster and faster. Some stretches were much faster than others; at times, I felt like I was riding Space Mountain.

There weren't too many falls, and no bad ones (thank God). I slid down the inside of an S-turn about 5-6 feet, luckily I fell to the inside of the mountain and not just toppling over. I also put a lifesaving leg down and almost twisted my knee, luckily I pulled it back up in time to avoid that. Luke hit a canopied switchback a little too quick and fell into some bushes. Stevo had the best fall of all, but also the closest to death. He hit some loose sand and went over the edge of a cliff, luckily he only fell a few feet and not all the way down. I saw a bunch of dust as I approached and he crawled out with a smile on his face, thanking his lucky stars to be alive.

The last part of the run was a series of narrow and rutted switchbacks, a completely fun time if you ask me. I was pretty happy with how I navigated down them, only having to put a lifesaving foot down once in the lot of them. I must say, that once I realized that I was at the end of the trail, I wished there were more.

All in all, this trail has been one of the most challenging and fun ventures I've been on in my (so far) short, but sweet MTBing career. My right knee hurts a bit, but that's perfectly fine with me.

Don't worry, I'm still looking forward to Big Bear this Sunday.