You can go home again. That’s what I realized today as, for the first time in 26 months, I rode the Upper Brown Mountain Road/trail all the way to the top. This trail ride had become an almost weekly pilgrimage for me until the Station Fire ripped over the mountains in late summer of 2009. I ended up riding the trail twice after the fire and before the area had been closed. The last time I rode it was September of 2009. It’s been closed ever since. Several months ago they, the Forest Service, did reopen lower sections of the trail which was great but it really didn’t fulfill my need, my desire. The Upper Brown Mtn trail (and it really is a trail now, there’s no way to drive a truck up this anymore) takes you much deeper into the soul of the mountains and it was great to reestablish connection. If I sound less than overwhelmingly ecstatic it’s only because I think I’m in shock and/or dreaming.
I left the house this morning with no clear destination in mind. Mainly I was just going out to complete some errands. I had a slight inkling that I could ride up the Arroyo to the trailhead just to say hello. But I was also kind of tired as I’ve sort of been crushing the running mileage lately. Plus there was that little Brunch Ride yesterday up into the depths of Sierra Madre – Mary’s Market. But it was a nice day and I had some time so why not go for a nice little bike ride on Mindful Mule?
Errands completed, I continued up to the trailhead where I was rather pissed off by the Forest Service’s decision to cap the drinking fountain! Yes, I know it’s been a little leaky lately, but if you’re going to take the time to cap it you might as well fix it. What are thirsty hikers supposed to drink out there!? Well, yes, there’s the stream, and it’s probably clean(?!), but not even I have taken that option (yet – although, I’m contemplating it. I bet it’s fine. I just don’t know how much giardia I’m willing to gamble with.) So there I was at the trailhead with Mindful Mule and about 5 ounces of water left in my bottle. Oh well, I thought, it’s not a very hot day. I’ll just ride up a little way and turn around when I’m out of water. Then I can easily refill down at the Rose Bowl. I knew I’d only go up about three miles from that point anyway because everything above that was closed as it had been for the last two years.
Of course, once you point Mindful Mule up that trail it’s a rare chance you’ll be able to get him to turn around, dehydrated rider be damned. I knew that and I was fine with that. This is a recurring theme with us. So up we went! As we approached the Saddle (the 3-way intersection with Upper Brown Mtn trail and the route over to Millard Campground) I started thinking, “You know, it’s Monday morning, there’s almost no one up here, why not just ride to the top? Fuck the closure! It’s been closed long enough. I’m not going to be hurting anything. I know I won’t be the first one to pass the closed sign.” But at that point I only had a couple sips of water left, so, while I liked my line of thinking, I realized that I could not go to the top until I came back with water and probably Humble Horse, anyway.
But I got to the Saddle and lo and behold there was no sign. The route to the top was open at long last! Well, open in a relative sense. It was open in the sense that the unawares bicycle rider had no reason, without prior knowledge, to suspect that any part of this trail was closed. So there I was, already with premeditated federal offense lingering on my handlebars, and no indication of any kind of closure to stop me from proceeding up to the top of the Brown Mtn trail, and well, what kind of goody-goody am I, presented with a chance like this, after over two years of mis-f.-management of the trail system… I was going – fuck dehydration! And, thank God for that genius hiker (we’ll call her a hiker rather than a mountain biker here because we don’t want to spread any more ill-feelings about bikes on trails even though it was undoubtedly a male mountain biker of some kind) who pulled the posted “trail closed for forest restoration” sign out of the middle of the trail and tossed it over the side of the mountain. Thank you! Why did that take so long!? At least, that’s how I imagine it all went down.
As soon as I rolled, unbelievingly, onto that trail I was home. “It feels so good to be home,” I literally said.
The condition of the trail was surprisingly good. Not much different than it had been right after the fires. A few more slides here and there but still mostly rideable. Changed, for sure, but still worth every pedal stroke to get back there. I kiss-waved and high-fived Oak Tree on the way up and then kiss-waved the peak of Brown Mountain rising high above the trail-top. Even standing at the top of the trail I couldn’t really believe this was all happening. I couldn’t absorb it. It’s not a place you can absorb in one pass. But, hopefully, that closed sign will stay good-and-lost and I’ll get another chance to absorb a little more real soon and then again and again and again and pretty soon my soul-bowl will be refilled with Brown magic for me and Mindful Mule to bring back down the mountain because that’s what you do “when you get to the top of the mountain,” as that saying goes.