Tale of Tunnels

Tale of Tunnels

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A trail exists that haunts me. A tight corridor covered by a canopy of spooky Scrub Oak and Manzanita trees weaves down the northern end of Delmar Mesa. A natural tunnel, riders tell tales of ducking their heads to avoid being close-lined and the raw beauty of this phenomenon. I often find myself analyzing their Strava maps to see if they rode it.

Tunnel 4 in Los Peńasquitos Canyon is somewhat famous in the area, but actually, my little brother and I named it For-Tress when we were kids. We grew up exploring this canyon as children and we spoke to a homeless man one day in For-Tress. I wondered why he was there and questioned him. He seemed taken aback by my audacity. Things were very different in the 80s. This was OUR fort!

 Fairy Shrimp

Fairy Shrimp

Apparently, according to Head Ranger Gina Washington, this trail does not belong to me or my brother, but was an old migrant path. Decades ago, Mexican nationals used it to trek northward from the border. Now its an MTB icon in San Diego.

Also, rare vernal pools along the Mesa house a unique order of crustacean called Fairy Shrimp. These tiny creatures are why the trails in the area are so protected. When the pools dry up, mountain bikers ride through them, collecting microscopic eggs on their tires and distributing them to places where they will not survive.

 Matt lifting me through Tunnel 4

Matt lifting me through Tunnel 4

This area is obviously very special and this trail became one of those things i just had to do. I had to get back to For-Tress! I did try it once and it took a looooong time to get down, getting lifted through trees and supported along cambered sections. Fun for the adventure of it, but too much work to do on a regular basis. Obviously not something i could surmount on my own.

As part of my trails project, my goal is to construct a loop (not just an out and back) which includes some trail (not just fire road) that is safely navigated by adaptive riders in each mountain biking area. I thought, how cool would it be to include the coolest trail in THIS area! So i contacted Washington, and to my surprise, she was all for checking it out with me.

After a lot of back n forth, the day finally came for us to meet in the canyon and "walk" the trail together. Turns out, it wasn't going to take much at all to make the trail suitable for me and hopefully other adaptive riders. In Episode 4 of Weekly Ride, my YouTube series, i tell the story...

The UnPavement

The UnPavement

 Photo by Jeff Fox

Photo by Jeff Fox

In my travels, i have run into a problem: There is no way for me to know if i can do a trail or not. The information is just not out there. Refer to helicopter rescue in previous blog. I feel so much anxiety before going out for a ride in an unfamiliar area or on a trail that's new to me. The options are to schedule someone to go with me or stick to trails i know, but neither of those things is in the cards if i am traveling alone for a speaking gig or something. In this case, i will stop at a local bike shop and get some advice, but that is usually to just stick to the fire roads and that's no fun!

After a few mishaps, i took it upon myself to contact MTB Project. They are the number one resource for trail information for mountain bikers. If you ride, you use their app. I sent a heartfelt email about the problems i have run into, explaining the need to document trail accessibility information for adaptive riders, and they responded with a vehement 'YES!'. They insisted that this was something they have wanting to do for a long time now and The UnPavement was born.

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Title: The UnPavement

Slogan: More Than Access

Brief Description: In partnership with MTB Project, helping adaptive riders navigate more wild places confidently and safely by providing detailed trail accessibility information because everyone should have a relationship with nature that does not depend on concrete.

Mission Statement: 'The UnPavement' is about removing the pavement of our minds. Many wheelchair users feel stuck, relegated to a life on the pavement, finding themselves staring into the wilderness wishing they could go there. Adaptive bikes get them out there, but knowing if they can do a trail on their own is the problem. That's where we come in. The UnPavement and MTB Project are out there, documenting the information necessary for adaptive riders to know exactly what they are getting into. Eliminating the surprises...and therefore the anxiety...allows individuals living with disabilities to enjoy more of the wild places this world has to offer and to get home safely when the adventure is done.

 Photo by Nick Isabella

Photo by Nick Isabella

What does this mean in practice?

I will be documenting my trail experiences with video, pictures and detailed descriptions, all to be presented on a Trail Blog. This blog will be linked to by MTB Project for each specific trail that has been documented. This link will point to "Accessibility Information" and indicate a rating system:

  1. Can navigate trail solo
  2. Ride buddy advised
  3. Help Crew advised
  4. Do not attempt trail

Each description will be very detailed. "At mile 6.47 you will encounter a narrow cambered portion of the trail with an uphill rock and will need help around it. See picture."

Advice on how best to prepare (gearing, tire inflation, equipment, etc) will also be included. Not having the luxury of being able to walk your bike over technical terrain or walk it out if its damaged, makes preparation for adaptive riders that much more crucial.

The goal is safety. Know before you go so you can not only enjoy the ride, but get home safely. The concept of More Than Access is about quality of life. I want to do more than just be able get in the front door and be able to use the bathroom. I want to be able to explore the wild little corners of this earth confidently.

 Photo by Jeff Fox

Photo by Jeff Fox

We kick things off in January, starting with San Diego, since its my hometown and year-round riding. We will start with the most popular trails in the most popular areas, branching out more and more, collecting information over the years, recruiting other adaptive riders to pitch in for the effort.