At the beginning, the trip was designed with the best of intentions. Ultimately though, it was not meant to happen on that day. After planning and arranging a camping/biking trip, I instead was reminded by the mountains that it was ultimately their domain, a place where foolishness was not tolerated and could be dangerous to the point of being deadly. However, considering my age-related, cautious demeanor, I, at all points, had a solid backup plan: turn around and go home to try another day.

Working up to the trip, small challenges arose regarding schedules, bike mechanical or two, and weather that finally led me to turn around and go home. First, the rig I planned to do the trip with wasn’t completely built yet, due to issues with parts vendors, followed by my daily rider suffering from rear hub failure. Luckily I was able to remedy the rear wheel situation and provide myself with a rig, although I questioned the terrain I would be entering for the first time …in November…at 4000-5000 feet. So, there were still some questionable variables.

This trip was intended to be a preliminary scouting trip for an eventual through-ride of the Palomar Divide Fire Road, a route I am trying to develop. The weather at the peak had been a steady mix of highs in the 60s and lows dropping between mid-40s to high 30s at night, similar to New England spring/fall conditions. I brought my 15 deg synth sleeping bag figuring that, even if it was weak from age/use, it would still be able to function fairly comfortably (I usually sleep in base layers and pants when backpacking/camping) in the upper 30’s, with some wind. I was unfortunately, frigidly, and miserably wrong.

Whenever I plan a trip, I always start a gear/food list a few weeks prior. This gives me an ample amount of time in which to think critically about what to take, what needs to be fixed, what needs to be replaced, and where all my damn AAA batteries are (They were right there in that little clear container, I swear).

 

This time, I did not do this.

 

Instead, I ended up running around two different stores with various combinations of USB micro chargers, mandarin orange segments, a 20-count pack of batteries, tire tubes (the bike I wanted to bring was tubeless, the one I DID bring wasn’t), and Peanut M&candies (not a typo, just not sure of infringements). This was by compounded by my not having done laundry, meaning that I wouldn’t have the gear I needed until the morning of the trip (working Thanksgiving week backlogged some habitual tasks), backing up my departure time to much later than I had intended.

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I ended up getting to the campground just as the sun set, leaving me to set up camp by the light of my headlamp. The temperature was swiftly dropping without the warmth of the sun, so I began to boil water for food, raise my tent, and attempt to start a fire in the fire ring for some warmth (I usually have a couple pieces of firewood in my car…not sure if that’s weird). The last task proved to be the most difficult. I was able to get my food cooking and the tent assembled, but the fire was proving to be a challenge. Using three pieces of pine, some newspaper, a pocket knife, and lighter, I was finally able to get it started, and things seemed to be looking up. You can see in the diagram provided what the build looked like and the small video edit right after I had finished the fire (the process of finishing the fire was kind of profane so I left that part out) showing the results along with my joy of finishing.

Fire assembly

The blue is the fresh air feeding the flames, grey is smoke. By moving the top 2 logs closer I could protect the flame, but had to be careful not to choke out the flame by blocking the path of the smoke

After cooking, cleaning, and roasting the traditional mallow’o’marsh, I decided to hunker down for the night. I discovered as I packed my sleeping bag, that I had left my pad with my other bag from an earlier trip. Cursing myself for not adequately planning, I got out my bivy and used it as a ground cloth to prevent leaching of my limited body warmth into the earth.

Wrapped in fleece, base layers, mid layers, a several-seasons-old “15 F” sleeping bag, and a fleece hat, and using my puffy down as a pillow/hood, I thought I would be in the comfortable range of my gear. Unfortunately, after heavy use over the years, my bag was no longer up to its labeled rating (it’s closer to a 2-season now), so while I was not comfortable, I was still well in the survivable limits of my gear. The main environmental factor seemed to be the winds (due to elevation), as the ambient temperature was around 37-39 F/ 2-3 C during the coldest parts of the night.

I had planned on getting up early to ride along the Palomar Divide Fire Road to the fire-lookout west of the observatory, and watch the sunrise. When I awoke at 4:25 AM, five minutes before my 4:30 alarm, needing to relieve myself but unsure where freezing to do it would be ideal, I decided to consider my options prior to moving forward with a plan:

  • I had a map, compass, phone, and adequate lighting, but no actual experience on this particular terrain/trail.
  • It was still dark out, with about 1.5 hours till daybreak and 2 hours before sunrise, and the temperature with the wind-chill was in the 20’s, but when riding would probably feel colder.
  • I had slept poorly and awoke exhausted/sore from cold.
  • At best, I make it to the peak before sunrise; at worst, I lose the trail early (because of my lack of experience/natural light) and become disoriented and lost.

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As a believer in every lesson being a learning experience, I decided to be humbled by the mountain and not push my luck. I had taken a few lumps and could always try again (next time showing up during daylight to get a sense of the area, and arriving with a better sleep system); however, to go forward in the less-than-ideal conditions was just not intelligent. I found relief from the cold in the camp restroom, where they maintained a temp of about 40 F/4 C to keep the pipes from freezing/bursting. After landing on the decision to return at a later date, I packed all of my gear, waited for my car to warm up, and headed down the mountain. As the sun began to rise, I decided that while I could still go on a ride when I got home, the colors and the mountains in front of me were too beautiful not to capture. Enjoy, and see you out there. #dontdie

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