June Lake

June Lake

Swimming the June Lake Tri in 2013. Photo by Minaret Photography

There is something about this place. It’s nostalgic. I sip my coffee, close my eyes, and breathe. The feeling haunts me … but in a good way.

Yes, i used to have a road bike. Lune Lake Tri 2013. Photo by Minaret Photography.

In 2013, I did the June Lake Triathlon. Maybe it started there. After a stressful start, i struggled during the mile swim and flatted twice on the ride. I had to get a lift back to the expo area. A friend did the run for me while i volunteered for the local adaptive sports program (Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra). I manned the beer tent, pouring and drinking, forgetting the day’s woes, and just feeling stoked that i went for it.

Then there was the day I swam out to the rock and Freedom followed me, his paws striking through the crystal clear turquoise water above as i hid below, struggling to hold my breath as i held back the urge to giggle. He tried to climb up on the rock, but it was too slippery. We swam back to shore together and cuddled in the sun.

Freedom swimming.

It could be the day we drank too many beers and my friends carried me out to the rope swing at nearby Gull Lake. Dark round clouds loomed ominously overhead. The air was thick with humidity. We sat under the awning outside the brewery and watched the rain slam down, thunder rumbling in the distance. Over beers, i offhandedly mentioned i always wanted to get out to the rope swing, not thinking anything of it. My friends, of course, would not take no for answer and piggybacked me out there—a day never to be forgotten.

Gull Lake Rope Swing. It got weird.

Countless good memories swirl in my head. Memory soup. Now there’s June Lake Brewery and Ohana’s, the food truck out front. Together, they make for the best beer and food in the Sierras and are the main reason i go there. When i visit Mammoth, its a given that I will spend at least one day at June Lake, which is about 40 mins north, up the 395. The whole purpose is to eat some good poke at Ohana’s and drink some tasty beer at the brewery. But, of course, some flavor of outdoor adventuring needs to precede the tomfoolery.

Foxy and me on the fire road

Foxy and me on the fire road

This last trip, we hit a snag figuring out what trails i could ride and eventually defaulted to exploring fire roads. We had a good time. The views are unreal. The beers, deserved. Without fat tires, its pretty arduous riding due to the soft sand. I have much more research to do in that area. I used to swim and then road-bike the June Lake Loop. I want to get back to that—my usual swim in the lake, followed by a fun ride, and finish at the brewery. The perfect triathlon: Swim, Bike, Beers.

There are several other roads and trails i want to explore near June. One of them started as a sheep herding trail. It leads from the lake area to Reserve Peak. It would be ideal for the triathlon if it’s doable for me. That’s one trail I’ll be riding on my next trip. There are more off the June Mountain Ski Resort. My plan is to climb up the fire roads, and then downhill some single track. Ride it like a bike park.

Stay tuned for more on June Lake. In the meantime, please enjoy the views and shenanigans from my latest trip to June in the latest video from the UNP:

The Dance

The Dance

Stormy Dan (the Subaru) and LL Cool Grey (my bike) are both very dirty

Stormy Dan (the Subaru) and LL Cool Grey (my bike) are both very dirty

My email back to Sam was jumbled and verbose. I rambled on about how i could not really justify the time and expense to drive all the way back up to Northern California after just getting back from the Sea Otter Classic. Weariness from being on the road and a sense of responsibility to stay home and focus on editing videos took over, causing me to almost miss a rare opportunity.

Sam Tickle works for the Semper Fi Fund, an organization that is making a huge difference. Here’s their mission:

Semper Fi Fund provides immediate financial assistance and lifetime support to combat wounded, critically ill and catastrophically injured members of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families. We deliver the resources they need during recovery and transition back to their communities, working to ensure no one is left behind.

I recommend perusing their very compelling website: www.semperfifund.com

In full kit for the TDS Enduro, a private, invite only event in Grass Valley, CA

In full kit for the TDS Enduro, a private, invite only event in Grass Valley, CA

The Semper Fi Fund gets a group of adaptive riders together every year for the TDS Enduro, a private, invite only, mountain bike enduro competition reserved for the best riders in the world, and Sam was emailing to extend an invitation to me. I would seriously be missing out if i did not go. I almost said no to Sam, but something pushed me to get my ass back out on the road. I believe it was something old … a deep-seeded need to roam … that spoke louder than the tired old man who has grown strong within me.

I left early on a Thursday so that i could scoot through LA before the madness that is the I-405. When the sun finally rose and i could see the armpit beyond the Grapevine, i rejoiced as the US’s second largest city fell behind me. For you non-Cali people, i will impart some local knowledge:

  1. Locals don’t say Cali.

  2. All highways and interstates are preceded by The.

  3. The armpit is what we call the agricultural central valley of California. It probably has more cows than people and smells like it.

  4. The Grapevine is the mountain pass north of LA, the gateway to/from Southern California.

Grass Valley nestles into the western side of the Sierra Nevada and Yosemite. Its beautiful, and the town carries with it some interesting history. It was established during the gold rush in the mid 1800’s and was home to the two richest mines in California. A walk down Main Street, lined with historic buildings, feels a little like the old west.

By the time i was moved into the hotel room that would serve as my home for the next four days, there was no way i was going to meet the guys out for a drink, so i took my clothes off, showered, and got ready for one hell of a week.

The TDS Enduro was started by the Sanchez family. They began building trails and features for their son, Casey, who showed real promise as an up-and-coming mountain biker. Casey’s friends would come over and ride. More trails were built. One thing lead to another, and now their land is pretty much a full-blown bike park. The TDS Enduro began as a small handful of friends partying in the trees and has become a sort-of speak easy among mountain bikers, a secret to be kept and an honor to be a part of.

From left to right: Peter, Me, Fez, Art and Beamish

From left to right: Peter, Me, Fez, Art and Beamish

On the first day, Owner Ron Sanchez took us around to get a feel for things and see what could work. The best riders in the world stopped their practice to eat lunch, allowing us adaptive riders to explore traffic-free trails with our guides for an hour. We took to the dirt. Chris “Fez”mire, a good-looking young man, originally from Pennsylvania, who lost both his legs while in active duty in the Marine Corps. Fez rides the same bike my mountain-bike life started on in 2007. This thing is tough and can climb anything, but is completely rigid, and Fez impressed me with how hard he can push it. Peter Way studied Nursing at the University of Georgia and lost one of his legs as a Tactical Medical Officer in the military. Then there was me, a surfer boy from San Diego who was the only civilian in the group.

On the first run, I bent a steering rod on a wall ride and navigated the rest of the trails with my two front wheels pointed in opposite directions. I had driven a long way and was not gonna let anything stop me. By the end of the day, Ron and Sam had decided on four routes that would serve as four enduro stages for us. An enduro is raced in stages, and only the downhill is timed. You are not timed for the climbing. At the end of the event, whomever has the best time overall is the winner.

Its physics: When you brake, you loose steering capacity. Your wheels, which need to roll to go in the direction you are steering, are slowed down by braking. On Stage One, i was just not in my groove. The final stretch of the route is a wide open, high-speed road. I was not comfortable with the speed on the loose, dusty surface, so i was on the brakes. My steering was, therefore, compromised and i lost control, ending up off the trail and in the creek. Ron happened to be right there and helped me recover back to the trail quickly. Even with this significant setback, I still finished in second place, about ten seconds behind Peter.

Climbing back up

Climbing back up

I realized that i had trouble because i was not warmed up. My body was not “awake” for the quick firing of muscles that an intense activity like this requires. So i elected to forgo the shuttle ride and climb back to the top to get my arms pumping. Once there, i stretched, and when it was close to race time again, i “danced around” on my bike to the music … obliques, back extensors, small twitch fibers … all hailing to the movement. I was ready this time.

The crew backed me into the starting gate. The timing engineer counted down, “Five … four … three … two … ONE.” I released the brakes and let gravity take me, leaning left around a tree into a rock garden. The suspension took it. I could see iPhones snapping pictures in a blur as i passed. One berm. Two berms. I dared not touch the brakes. (A berm is a bank, which allows you to hold your momentum and gain speed through a turn.) I was going fast, my body feeling alive and activated. My peripheral caught my ride guide Jed’s red jersey off to the left, and i slammed on the brakes, almost running into the blue race tape that marked the trail. I missed the turn and quickly reversed by pushing my front wheels backwards in a cloud of dust. I redirected down the correct path and proceeded to follow Jed’s lead as fast, but as controlled and smooth as i could, using body-leverage to keep the wheels on the ground.

Its a dance, you know, the trail, the bike, your body. The sun pulses through the canopy of leaves above. The Earth flows underneath like a dirt river, every muscle part of a symphony. The exhale, the change of direction, nothing in your mind except what you feel. The information, not finding its usual hangups, goes directly to the source.

The Dance

The Dance

I made up an entire minute on Stage Two and elected to celebrate by pedaling back up again. At the top, i enjoyed a tasty beer with the guys and then promptly loaded my dusty bike on the back of the car. She required some serious attention, so my day was far from over. I gave her a high pressure shower at the local self car wash, which required a dance to an ATM and to two different gas stations to acquire the quarters that the machine demanded. Back at the hotel parking lot, she received a full lube job and a new steering rod. Ready to race again.

With my new-found dance warm-up strategy, I gained another minute on Stage Three, but when they called me to the starting gate for Stage Four, something did not feel right. My bike lurched, and something behind me made a grinding sound. Somehow, someway, my rear caliper came loose and bent the brake rotor. I was faced with a choice. I guess i could have raced with no rear brake. I was a full two minutes in the lead, after all! That is pretty much an eternity in the race world, so all i needed to do was finish without crashing. I steer with my rear brake a lot and, honestly, i am severely tired of being injured. So i elected to call it. Another DNF (Did Not Finish) in the books for me.

Fez coming through the finish. WOW!

Fez coming through the finish. WOW!

Eventhough i wasn’t racing, I really wanted to see Fez and Peter ride, so i had the guys shuttle me down to the main spectator spot where the crowd had amassed. When they came through, everyone was cheering their faces off, and the energy was palpable. I teared up. It was beautiful. What a perfect end to an amazing event!

It was not the end for us though. The next day, everyone left, but the Semper Fi crew got to free-ride. Now, I don’t send it often, but when i do, the conditions need to be right. Send it is a funny action sports phrase. It means “to send” yourself off a jump. It pretty much has evolved to encompass riding hard on anything. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a jump to be something you can “send”. For example, you could say, “Man, bro-brah! You sent it on that rock garden!” (Throw a hang-loose for good measure.)

Absolutely sending it in at Mammoth Mountain in 2006

Absolutely sending it in at Mammoth Mountain in 2006

If you’ve known me for a while, you might recall that i sent it big on a 100 ft ski jump in Mammoth in the Spring of 2006. This day felt very similar. The sun was out. People were having a great time. The vibe was good, and the Snowman Jump was calling. A snowman piñata hangs from a tree overhead on this jump. Able-bodied riders can whip their rear wheel around to slap it. That’s not possible for me, but, in any case, that’s how it got its name.

Its scary, rolling into a jump like that with enough speed to make for a major crash. The vibe was good though, and after a handful of practice attempts, i decided to let go of the brakes and send it. That’s what you have to tell yourself on the approach, “Don’t touch the brakes. Don’t touch the brakes.” I had enough time in the air to actually think. When you land a jump right, you don’t feel it. Its smooth, not jarring, and it takes letting go to feel it.

So, I left the TDS Enduro with a huge sense of accomplishment and some new friends. Thank God i answered Sam’s call.

Watch me send the Snowman Jump in the TDS Enduro episode from the UNP.

Sea Otter 2019

Sea Otter 2019

The Sea Otter Classic is the biggest bike event of the year in all of ‘Merca, and it takes place at the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, CA. Campers cover the surrounding grassy hills. Music and the smell of cooking meat emanate from the massive tent city that is the expo, where every bike company and bike-related product has a presence.

The Master Suite at Sunset

The Master Suite at Sunset

I go to promote the UNPavement trails project, show off the bike, meet cool people and just have a good time. This was my second year, and i didn’t feel so lost. Instead of wandering around in my wheelchair, pushing up huge hills, and trying to figure out where i needed to be, i just drove straight to the registration building and promptly set up camp.

Cooking setup is perfect. Marine-grade anti-rust stove/BBQ.

Cooking setup is perfect. Marine-grade anti-rust stove/BBQ.

Last year, I was very uncomfortable with my camping setup. My tent was low to the ground, making it difficult to get in and out with my rotator cuff injury and weakened triceps. I was also freezing cold during the nights, so this year, I decided to alleviate these issues by getting a tent i could roll right into, a blowup mattress i could transfer easily onto, and a super thick cozy sleeping bag. I even ran electricity into the tent with a long extension cord so i could charge my bike battery and be able to make coffee immediately upon waking. We called the set-up the “Master Suite.” An at-home pre-setup test proved that everything was good to go, but at camp, the mattress ended up losing air during the night and the first morning i woke up a taco, sinking deep into the middle. i just could not get myself to inflate it, disturbing everyone camping around me. The super cozy sleeping bag proved to be too short too. Even though i am just average height, i had to bend my legs in order to pull the bag up to my face.

Also, setting up a tent from a wheelchair is totally do-able, but at my age, it’s just way more than i prefer to do. All this to say that i am going to be on the road a lot, promoting the project and mapping trails, so i promised myself i’d get a camping trailer or van. Hopefully, setting up the project as a non-profit will help make this happen.

After setting up camp, I geared up and headed to practice. My first run was terrifying! After spending the whole day in the car, jumping onto the downhill course cold was an intense wake up. Next year, i will give myself time to pedal around and get all my muscles firing so that my body is ready. My second run was more on point, and after three practice runs the next day, i felt prepared and confident for the event.

I don’t touch my brakes at all on this berm

I don’t touch my brakes at all on this berm

Race day is a whole other mental game though. You gotta get all geared up and get over to the race course just to find out when your race time is. My race time was in a few hours, so i killed time by cruising the expo and kicking it back at the campsite. The riders have to make sure and get back to the race course early, before their race time, but when i arrived back early, they were about an hour behind schedule. So, by the time i was actually on the course ready to go, i had been sitting in the sun for over an hour—tired, thirsty, and definitely not in an ideal mind-space to do my best in front of a crowd.

Racing in front of a crowd is exhilarating.

Racing in front of a crowd is exhilarating.

The countdown timer still goes off, no matter how you are feeling, and I was rolling down the course through a cheering crowd and the fog in my head. I navigated all the features well enough, but not as fast as i did in practice the previous day. After a 3 1/2 foot log drop, a steep S-turn, a G-out section, and a table-top jump, there is a deceiving straight away where it feels like you can relax a little bit. This is where i made a dumb mistake. The section is slightly off-camber and curves gradually right, so you still need to be focused on a bike like mine.

In my brain fog, i thought, “Oh no! I forgot to turn the camera on!” On this straight away, i looked down at the camera for a split second, and that its all it took for me to lose control. The surrounding tall, soft grass felt like i was falling onto pillows, but absolutely no one was around. I yelled for help, answered only by silence and the sound of the racers zipping by. I had to eject from my bike to flip it over. Getting back in with the slope of the hill proved to pretty difficult. It took every ounce of strength i had, and about twenty minutes or so, to get back into a position to finish. But now there was another problem—no one had alerted the race directors that I’d crashed, so the race traffic was never stopped. I had to dart dangerously back onto the race course, immediately behind a passing racer, go the absolute fastest i could possibly go, and hope the next racer did not catch me. Ruining someone’s run would be terrible!

Darius and Rodrigo

Darius and Rodrigo

It all worked out okay. I got down safely, and no one caught up to me. I felt really alone though. No one talked to me afterwards. No one knew i was out there struggling. Everyone else seemed to be surrounded by friends and have their crew with them. I left the course, climbed back up the road, and headed back to camp.

Despite being in a weird mood and not feeling up to riding more, I texted a guy named Darius from the Monterey Off-Road Cycling Association (MORCA) that Brent Hillier from TrailForks had put me into contact with to show me some surrounding trails. Despite my mood, I felt a deep sense of responsibility to take advantage of being there by documenting at least something in the area. To my surprise, Darius answered and agreed to take me on a tour.

The Fort Ord area is not known to be spectacular riding, but it is breathtakingly scenic and stunningly bright green this time of year. I was blown away. This ride changed everything. Darius’ pal Rodrigo, who is a knowledgeable park ranger, came along and provided interesting information about the area and plenty of laughs. It was nice to be riding with some really cool guys. They took me down the two trails that are part of the enduro course, and i had a blast! This ride turned out to be the highlight of my trip, and i can’t wait to go back. Hopefully, i will be sleeping in a nice comfy camper and the Taco-Mattress-Tent-Master-Suite is a thing of the past.

Watch my latest UNP video about the experience.