“Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action.” – John Muir, The Mountains of California
The Backbone Trail is a 70ish mile point to point route from Will Rogers State Park to Point Mugu State Park, heading up, over and through the magnificent Santa Monica mountains. It includes appox. 14,000′ of climbing, and gains fabulous views of the Pacific Ocean and even makes the city look pretty in the distance. It’s primarily a hiking trail and has recently become popular for trail/ultra runners. Unfortunately, a few sections are closed to bikes and/or equestrians for various reasons (terrain, wilderness designation, etc).
When I first got into mountain biking about 12 years ago, tackling the section from Will Rogers to Temescal Ridge (aka The Hub) left an indelible imprint on my brain. This opening section climbs 2k over 7 miles. It beat me up, and tossed me around in the pain cave. But that sense of accomplishment. Fighting through adversity. The satisfaction of conquering the seemingly insurmountable – soaking in the glory at the The Hub. That’s what stands out the most. It was ear to ear grins descending back to my car. That feeling of challenging myself, and pushing limits… that addiction still drives me today. Singletrack is my drug.
So yeah, I’ve ridden most of the legal sections of the Backbone over time (and maybe even accidentally poached some of the hiking only stuff too). I’m moving to Idaho in a couple of weeks, and decided to do it all in one go. Kind of a “last hurrah” although I know I’ll be back. Self-supported, with no outside help or caching of food/water. One long grinder of a day on the bike. Just me, myself, and I and some tunes. Just how I like it!
Let’s go! Draw a gpx track with ride-arounds. Load to the garmin and phone/gaia as backup. Pack 3 water bottles (only filled two for the start) on the bike and one fold up Platypus bottle in case. Stash food and snacks, charge lights, ready to rock.
My amazing wife and kids woke up at the butt crack and drove me to Will Rogers. 5:06am. Rride away. Bye traffic. Bye smog. Dark and quiet. Smell of horses sleeping. Listen to my misty breath. Settle into a climbing rhythm. Dismount for the bridge. Buzz kill. Ok, maybe being forced off the bik was OK. City lights. Drink. Reflect. Snap photo. 5:38am. Back on the saddle, rhythm. Sunrise. Unreal. 6:10am. Dirt Church. Reached The Hub. 6:34am. Photo. Warmed up now, legs feeling great. Sun’s out, guns out. Wow… that was pretty easy… much different than 12 years ago. I’ve come a long way. Long way to go. Wordplay, much?
Down to Trippet Ranch (ride around for the illegal Musch Trail section). Around 7am. Pass through an Xterra start/finish line… weird… people setting up tents, getting ready for the 8am race. Stares and glares as I filled up my two empty bottles at the spigot behind the tables lined with Gu and Clif Bars. Peace sign. Onward.
Froze my balls off on Old Topanga. Inversion. Bohemian homes. Shivers. Welcome the discomfort. I’ve been too comfy lately. Red Rock Canyon, top out at Calabasas Peak Motorway. 7:28am. Bomb down to the Piuma Trailhead and rejoin the Backbone. Brekky time, a yummy burrito from Trader Joes. 7:56am. Hi to the hikers starting out. Bathroom and sink, water you can drink. It’s on the map and I called the Ranger in advance to double check – yes, potable. Fill up 3 bottles. Back of napkin calculations = 25 miles and 5k of climbing until the next water at Circle X Ranch.
Belly full, hit the crux climb (longest/steepest) of the route. Gain Mesa Peak fire road. Ride the labyrinth. 9:06am. Slick rock HAB. Corral Canyon Trailhead. 9:17am. Boom, biggest climb done and doner. Burned out car. 9:20am. Up and down, along the spine – wash, rinse, repeat. Kanan Trailhead. Brekky #2 – buffalo chicken wrap. Not super into it. A few peanut butter cups and trail mix, better. Stoke level on high.
Ah yes. In the zone now. Flow. Approach Encinal. 10:58am . My favorite section awaits. Legs are ranting, but climb to Etz Malloy almost effortless with the grade reversals. 11:43am. Forgot to take pics on most beautiful section of trail. 4 miles of bliss after crossing Yerba Buena Rd and heading towards Mishe Mokwa. 70 degrees and sunny. Views on views of the ocean and mountains while traversing luscious dirt. Lost in La Mancha. Blessed that I’m physically capable of days like this on a bike. Human powered. Relish every minute. You never know when it might be taken. Rest in peace, Gabby.
Pavement descent to the ocean. Fly past Circle X Ranch – 1/2 bottle left, no need to stop. PCH. Neptune’s Net. Don’t stop. Keep on keepin’ on. Wide shoulder, 4 miles of coastal pavement. I’ll take it. Sycamore Canyon. Camel time, fill 2 bottles for last push. Legs yelling like an old couple. Reach Danielson Ranch, where illegal Backbone opens it’s arms to bikes once more. Water by outdoor fireplace, no need. Up Wood Canyon Vista. Feels like I’m hammering. Looking down to my cassette says otherwise. 2nd from granny. Then granny. Teetering on bonk vibe. Fighting cramps. Been here before. Tingling. Embrace it. Mouthful of yogurt covered pretzels. Gulp gulp gulp de agua. Mouthful of sour patch kids. Let’s go! Meet Overview Trail, YES! Let’er rip. Junction of Ray Miller Trail. 3:17pm. DONE. Ray Miller is the last 2 miles of Backbone, but not open to bikes. So this was my official end. Relish for a moment. Coast down Overlook to Sycamore campground. Some hugs and fizzy water. Hot shower. Baja Fresh. Coke and an ultimo burrito. Thinkin’ about the next.
Stats. 74.3 miles and 11,100′ climbing according to Mr. Garmin etrex 30. Strava + iPhone says only 10, 321′ climbing. Hmmm…
Drank or Drunk? Approximately 6 bottles (24oz) agua con various electrolyte powders
Grub: Two bananas, 1/2 a clif bar, Trader Joes brekky burrito, Trader Joes buffalo chicken wrap, 2 peanut butter cups, yogurt covered pretzels, cashew/almond/chocolate trail mix. I packed way more food than I needed. Better safe…
Do this as an epic day ride. Just enough water resupplies to do it without caching anything. Hoot!