Armenia/Artsakh and the Janapar Trail

In the summer of 2015 I went to Armenia for my first time. Before I left on that trip I searched the internet for trails in Armenia. The only trail I could find was the Janapar Trail in Nagorno Karabakh known as Artsakh to the locals. This land is historical Armenia and is populated by Armenians. There are many incredible historical Armenian sites to be found here.

After reading about the trail I wondered if this could be a good Mountain Biking adventure. At the time I could not find anyone that had ridden it and really only accounts of a few people who had hiked parts of it.  I posted on the Janapar Trail FB page and the administrator Raffi was quick to reply. He was not really very familiar with mountain biking or what was ridable on a bike. I decided I would just have to round up a crew and try it out. I talked to a few friends about it and slowly interest was building. Most of my Armenian friends seemed nervous about going to this war torn region. After all there had been sniper shootings along the border and in April 2016 the Azeris launched a full scale offensive in an attempt to reclaim some of this land. Despite this it seemed as though it was safe to go. The trail is after all not that close to the border.

The two usual suspects my Colombian friends Andres and Julio that have ridden with me in several States and Countries were very interested.  Our friend Randy who is from Venezuela and had toured with us in El Salvador and Guatemala also was enthusiastic about joining us. It was exciting to be bringing three non Armenian friends along on this trip. After all most people that I know who visit Armenia are Armenians from the Diaspora.

Luckily my friend Roobik decided to join in on this adventure He was also the only one in our group who had been to Artsakh and is also fluent in Armenian. That would certainly come in handy as we navigated our way through Artsakh on this 150 mile journey.

After reviewing the maps and elevation profile I decided we would do the trail in reverse order from the way Janapar.org had it laid out. We would be starting from Vardenis near Lake Sevan in the Republic of Armenia and finishing in Hadrut n Artsakh. The trail is broken down into 16 segments. The idea is a hiker could walk one segment per day. Segments typically start and stop in villages where people can find supplies and home stays or pitch a tent near the village. Our plan was to ride an average 3 of these hiking segments per day.

The plan was to ride the entire trail. It is 177 miles long and the exact elevation gain was not known but we did know it is a very mountainous region with some dense forest so going in we knew the ride would have a fair share of climbing and would be a challenge.

Another issue is there are no bikes shops in this area so if something were to break this could quickly end the ride. We brought some extra tires, tubes, spokes and the basic tools we might need.

This would be a supported trip and my friend Gevorg Gasparyan from Arevi Travel would carry our gear, transport us to the trailheads and back and arrange a few home stays along the way. All we needed to carry was the days food, water and some basic tools. I also packed a water filter which we only used one day. There are plenty of water sources available so a self supported trip is very doable.

I had met Gevorg on my previous trip to Armenia and he guided our group from the Armenian Hikers Association on a tour of Western Armenia and to the summit of Mt Ararat. He is a great guy and really made this trip work well.

Shortly before the trip a friend found a blog post from a couple who had hiked the entire trail. To my knowledge they were the first people to hike the entire route, Their report came in handy. We decided to skip one segment that they reported was very overgrown and difficult to follow.

October 4th

Check in was a breeze and checking in the bikes was a breeze!  Sometimes traveling with a bike can be a hassle as we are often hit with extra baggage fees. No extra fees were charged with Qatar Airlines. Our bikes were just part of our free luggage.

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October 5th

Travel day

Arrive in Yerevan at 12:40 am. We were all happy to see all of our bikes and luggage had made the trip. On our trip to El Salvador Randy’s bike got lost and he had to rent a bike to ride. Renting a bike in Yerevan does not seem to be an option at this time. There are a few bike shops with basic supplies. Cycling does seem to be slowly growing in Yerevan and renting a good bike may be an option in the future.

Gevorg picked us up at the airport and drove us to an apartment he had arranged for us near Republic Square. This was a relief since there was no way we were going to fit our bike bags and luggage in a taxi!

As I started putting my bike together I realized my left peddle was missing as was my brand new mount for my phone. I wanted to mount my phone to my handlebar so I could use the View Ranger app to navigate the trail. I thought these items must have been lost when my bike bag was inspected at the airport. A few days after I arrived home I would find them tucked into a zip lock bag in my garage!

We went to a bike shop in Yerevan were I would find a standard platform peddle. This made the ride extra challenging not being able to clip in. Also my bike shoes are not designed for this type of peddle so my shoe did not grip very well and would slide off the peddle occasionally.

October 6th

Touring around Yerevan. Gevorg picked us up in the morning and we went to the Artbridge Cafe for breakfast then drove to the Garni Pagan Temple

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Charents Arch

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Garni Temple

with a stop at the Cherants  Arch along the way. We then drove down to see the Symphony of Stones followed by a visit to Gerhard Monastery. These are some amazing places to see! That evening we took a walking tour of Yerevan.

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October 7th First Day of Riding

Vardenis to hot tub near Karvachar

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The ride started on the outskirts of town on a dirt road. It started with a gentle climb which was a nice way to ease into this. Jet lag was still a factor, probably more for me than the other guys since I could not sleep on the plane. It was a challenge to climb with the one platform peddle as I knew it would be.

I was a little ways behind the rest of the group and I saw the guys ahead talking with a local farm hand along the road. As I approached him I did not expect him to speak english. He had a bag of snickers bars and he handed me one and said in english. “ Have a snickers you are going to need it.”  Apparently the other guys had told him what we were doing.

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First small Village we passed through

We passed a few ruins and figured we must now have entered Artsakh and that these were likely abandoned Azeri homes. Since we were on the back dirt roads there was no border station or even a sign to indicate we had entered Artsakh.sam_0216

The climb got steep near the top of the pass and the temperature dropped. It was still comfortable riding weather just a little chilly on the downhill sections. At 9000’ this would be the highest point on the entire route.

We rode through some incredible scenery and saw some interesting rock formation. These segments are not marked but for the most part the track was easy enough to follow until the village of Tsar. This got a bit confusing there once we got into the ruins of the old village. There were several roads in the area and we realized we were off track but just kept heading towards what looked like some occupied houses. We saw a truck parked near a house and a lady was nearby. We stopped to ask for directions. Roobik tried talking to her in Armenian but found out she did not speak Armenian. She replied to him in Russian and he said to us any one speak Russian. She then said how about English. Her english was very good and she was very friendly and invited us in for coffee and tea but we were pressed for time to make it to our camp site before dark so we had to turn the offer down. She said well at least let me give you some cheese. She ran to the house and came out with a big block of home made cheese. In exchange we gave her some energy bars. She and her Armenian husband were from Moscow and she said it was his idea to move there.

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Village of Tsar

She was a english teacher at the local school. The village had about 40 residents and the school had 10 students. They had power but no running water. Each morning they would get their water from the nearby stream. There was a lot of cattle around so she said the morning was the best time to get water before the cattle became active. She said she had only seen a few hikers through there this year so I imagine having some outside contact was nice.

We came down to the main dirt road to where we found Gevorg was waiting for us. He had water, bananas and other snacks for us. After a quick break we continued down the main dirt road to the Tak Jur (hot springs) We chatted with a few of the locals who told us there was good camping spots just a few kilometers down the road. We decided to continue and set up camp before soaking in the tub. We found a nice grassy flat area along the creek and next to an abandoned house.

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Camp Site

We rode back to the hot tub and met some other very friendly locals who were soaking in the tub. It did not take long for them to offer us a drink of Vodka. They told us they were working on the construction project we had ridden by. From what I could understand it was a Geo Thermal power plant. There were new towers going up along the road for the wires. After soaking in the tub for a while the guys decided to take them up on the offer of a drink. They learned a new cheer as they raised there glasses “Anush”

Since I don’t drink, I was concerned with reports of locals offering alcohol to tourists and not taking no for an answer. This was the only time we were offered alcohol during the trip so it was not an issue. We were offered food, coffee and tea many times though.

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Back at camp Gevorg found some firewood cooked sausage and potatoes in the fire. We also had some of that home made cheese and Lavash.

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A Soldier stopped by this evening around 9:30 pm to check on us. He wrote down Gevorg’s passport and license plate numbers. He was a very nice guy and Gevorg told him what we were doing and the route we would take the next day. He seemed to know the route well. I assume he drives it on his patrols. He said the route would be difficult with very steep climbing.

October 8th Day 2

The temperature dropped last night to around 25 degrees which made it hard to get out of the warm sleeping bag this morning! Everything outside was wet from the heavy dew. We had left over sausage, sweet bread and dried fruit for breakfast.

When we started the ride at 8:45 it was a cool 32 degrees. The skies were clear and the wind was calm. Not far from camp was our first wrong turn of many for the day.

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We made our way to Karvachar along the dirt road. We found out later you can easily bypass this village by staying straight along the road that parallels the creek. The trip up to Karvachar Village was well worth it though. The first thing we saw as we rolled up the hill and into the Village were these huge stone wheels. There were four of them and they were hollowed out in the center. Since there were four we thought maybe they were for an ancient wagon but they just seemed to big and heavy for that. Later on during our trip to the Tatev Monastery we found out what they were for. At Tatev they have an ancient vegetable oil mill. To grind the seeds there were big stone wheels with a small log in the center to hold on to and roll the wheel around. There are historic artifacts like this all over the place.

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The Walls of Karvachar

Down the road we saw a Grandma with two little ones. This was Andres’ first chance to pass out candy. On our tour of Cuba the kids would chase us and ask for gum so this time he came prepared. The candy proved to be a big hit. After he gave the candy to them the little girl handed him her apple in exchange.

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Andres making Friends

Once through the village we came down to the same dirt road along the river. We missed our next turn over the bridge and rode a little ways passed. We saw a local guy and Roobik asked him where the Janapar Trail to go over the mountain was. He said to go out to the main road and take that because the road was broken and to difficult to go over the mountain. This is something we would hear often along the way. Most villagers did not seem to know anything about the Janapar Trail and they certainly were not familiar with mountain bikes and the type of terrain we ride with them. Plus Janapar does mean road in Armenian so this may have confused them.

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The turn we missed over the Bridge guarded by Geese

We backtracked a bit and found the bridge and followed the track up the steep dirt road. After several miles we came to a remote village. We saw a couple local guys and they yelled out to us. Roobik replied in Armenian. I then heard the guy ask Roobik if he was Armenian. It seems the locals don’t expect to see Armenians doing this sort of thing and would be surprised.

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They were very quick to invite us in and offer us coffee and probably the best berry juice we have ever had! The villagers don’t seem to have much but they are so generous with what they do have. The younger man in the bunch had been studying english online (Yes in this remote village they have internet and wifi) He wanted us to speak to him in english so he could practice. Like many young Armenian men he had dreams of making the lottery for a visa to leave the country and go to the U.S. This is a very harsh reality of the struggles the country still faces with high unemployment and low wages especially in these remote villages. We hung out there for probably an hour chatting. It was definitely to long as we still had lots of ground to cover but mixing with the locals is a great cultural experience and it is hard to pass up or rush through.

As we left they told us it was 4-5 km to the summit. We may have hit a false summit after 4-5 km but the road kept climbing and seemed to be getting steeper and less traveled. We came across new road cuts most likely for the new power line towers. We could see either the old towers laying there or the base for the old tower.img_0338

Once we reached the high point the road seemed to end and the track was above us. Randy hiked around looked for a trail but there was no evidence of any trail. We tried a few of the different road options but we would quickly find ourselves off of the track. After an hour or so of searching around for the route I could see more power towers in the distance so we decided to follow these and see where it took us even though we were moving away from the track. After a few miles we were able to hear Gevorg on the radio but he could not hear us so at least we knew were were getting closer. We set up a few landmarks and continued down the road. A few more miles and we could now see a village on the right and and a few houses to the left. These two villages seemed to be 5-10 miles apart. The more defined road took us to the right so we continued down it towards the village. Once we got closer we could see the Village was in ruins. We saw cattle grazing in the Village but we could not see any signs of life.

We continued down to a well used dirt road and tried to call Gevorg with no luck. We now knew the Village of Zuar was the other Village we had seen far off to our left so we turned left on the dirt road and after a few miles we were able to reach Gevorg on the radio. Not long after we came upon the Zuar Tak Jur. It was packed with people soaking in the tub and a few groups barbecuing nearby. One of the first sites we see is three other cyclists and we quickly went over to chat. They were from the Ukraine and were bikepaking from Yerevan. We had trouble communicating but that didn’t matter because we were instantly bonded by our bikes. They asked about our trip and our bikes and we did the same. They took some of our bikes for test rides. Gevorg showed up and was able to translate for us. We also chatted with some locals as well as a couple from Tehran that were moving to Stepanakert.

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Party at the Zuar Tak Jur with locals and cyclists from the Ukrain

Gevorg had food and a home stay arranged in Dadivank 15 miles away. It was getting late and would be dark soon so we had to say goodbye and continue our ride. Lucky for us the road was now a slight downhill though it was very rough we made good time. After 11 miles we hit the newly paved road. By then it was totally dark and we followed closely behind the taillights of Gevorg’s van. Since we did not plan on riding at night we did not bring lights. Luckily the road was as smooth as butter and we made good time to the house.

Once at the house it wasn’t long before the good food started coming out and we ate like kings. Our hosts were a mother and daughter. The mother told us she lived in the Azerbaijan capital city Baku before the war. They were lucky to get out alive. Once the war was over the government gave her five houses in Dadivank. One for her and one for each of her children.

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October 9th

Dadivank to Vank

 

We woke up to some heavy winds that had us concerned briefly. By the time we were ready to roll the wind had almost completely stopped.

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Gevorg said hey guys look up the hill. We could see the top of the Dadivank Monastery in the distance. That would be our first stop before continuing the route towards Shushi.

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We had a 12 mile road ride on the smooth newly paved road which went by really quickly. I had my eye on the right side of the canyon and dreamed of a potential trail weaving through the trees up off the canyon floor that would avoid the pavement.

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War Memorial for those lost in battle

Of course we missed our turn onto the dirt road at the start of the next segment. We doubled back after realizing it and found the road. The dirt road became steep rather quickly and we struggled to climb steep sections of the road that kept coming for the rest of the day! After a while we came to a small village and asked the locals where the Janapar Trail was. They told us to go to the main road and take that. We said but the map shows the trail going over the mountain not on the pavement. They said you don’t want to go that way it is steep and muddy. Well thats what we are here for so off we went! After a few more wrong turns we found our way. Another few miles and we came across our first Janapar Trail sign!img_0387

We stopped along the way a few times to pass out more candy.tzyg4230

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Most of the Kids were shy at first

We felt good once we saw the Janapar Trail signs but with the recent logging work going on it was still a challenge to follow the route. Some parts were very muddy and overgrown. We were deep in the forest and the scenery was incredible! Some parts were so steep we had to hike with our bikes.

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Hike a Bike section. It’s steeper than it looks!

We came across some spent shells along the trail. It seems this steep road was likely hastily made during the war. A little later we would see the Gandzasar Monastery in the distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A short while later we would see the houses of the Village of Vank. Once we got to the houses some kids came running after us so we stopped and chatted with them. I let one kid ride my bike around. 

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Can I ride your Bike? This was a common question we would hear along the way

A short while later we met up with Gevorg at a small road side restaurant not to far from the Monastery. We enjoyed some of the local cuisine. It is a Lavash bread stuffed with herbs that is very tasty. It is called Jingalov hats.

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We drove up to the Monastery while they prepared Kebob for us.

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After visiting the monastery and eating the Kebob we loaded onto the van and drove to Shushi. We decided to skip the section from Vank to Shushi due to reports of it being overgrown.

We spent the night in the Shushi Hotel. We all had the best nights sleep we have had so far during this trip. The ladies at the hotel washed our biking clothes for us and prepared dinner and breakfast the next morning.

Gevorg surprised us with his Piano playing talent.

October 10th Day 4

Shushi to Karmir Shuka

We skipped segment 6 after Gevorg talked to a local friend who said it was very muddy and blocked by fallen trees and logs. It is the season for cutting of firewood and workmen are busy collecting wood.

We headed out of town on the paved road and then merged onto segment 5 near Karentak. After a few wrong turns we found the start of the segment using View Ranger and then some faded blue marks painted on rocks. The climb was steep in sections as was to be expected by now. The forest was thick through here. Once in a while it would open up to grassy meadows. A few vehicles passed us. One was a large truck likely going to get wood. We could hear the buzz of chainsaws in the distance.

About half way into the segment somehow we missed the trail markers and once again could not find the route. We backtracked looking for the turn but could not find it. The dirt road we were on seemed like a well travelelled road and we could see houses in the distance so we thought that was the town of Avetaranots and the end of the segment. once we reached the houses we stopped to talk with a guy who told us the town was not Avetarnots and that town was down the road about 10 Km. We chatted with him a while. He talked about the war and historical Armenian lands. He mention Tigran the Great and the ancient Tigranagert. Roobik told him we were Armenian – Americans and that Julio and Andres were originally from Colombia and Randy from Venezuela. He said no one knows of the Armenians so it is good we were here so we can go back and tell our friends and family about this place. It was obvious he was a very proud Armenian. He would be the second local we talked to today that seemed very well informed about world politics and geography.

We made our way down the dirt road to Avetaranots. We stopped when we saw the Janapar markers once again. There was a few people near the intersection of the main road and the Janapar and Roobik talked with a few of them. We did not realize but we were in front of a small school. The kids came out and they started to gather around us with curiosity. Andres started to pass out candy.

We talked to Gevorg and he told us he was near Karmir Shuka and had food for us. Now it was easy to follow the Janapar signs and this dirt road seemed well traveled. Gevorg was waiting for us at a beautiful waterfall.img_0612

We had lunch, enjoyed the view and then continued riding to the village. Gevorg had arranged a home stay for us with a family. They had one big room with five beds for us to sleep. Gevorg slept in his van. When Gevorg had talked to the lady earlier she said we could stay but she did not have food for us. So he went to the market and bought food for them to prepare.

Gevorg wanted to show us some sites so we took off before dinner.

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2000 Year Old Platunus Tree

 

 

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Aramas Monastery

We returned to our homestay for a nice dinner.

October 11th

Karmir Shuka to Hadrut Day 5

After another good nights sleep we had breakfast prepared by our host. There are really no other dining options in these villages! Today would be our last day of riding. We talked to two hikers the day before from Israel. The told us that part of the second segment was very overgrown and they did not think we could get through with the bikes but we figured we would try it anyway. After some bushwhacking on segment 3 we decided other wise. After the the first half of segment 2 we came to a junction were we could get on the paved road or take or chances and see if we could get through the overgrown segment. We opted not to chance it and took the paved road. It was also much shorter and we were to the junction where Gevorg was waiting for us near the start of segment #1.

This segment seemed to climb for a very long time. We missed a turn where the trail goes straight up a ridge line. We realized we missed something so we turned around and ran into a local guy who told us the trail went up the ridge right by a cross.

It was steep and overgrown so we pushed our bikes up the ridge and then started to ride down the other side and once again realized we missed the markers. The blue marks are very difficult to see while riding a bike especially on a rocky section like this where you are concentrating on where you are riding.

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Remnants of the war

We stopped and hiked back up to find the markings. From there it was very thick brush and difficult to find the trail. After bushwhacking for a while we found the trail. It was a deep fall line trail that was very eroded and followed the ridgline. We came upon the Khachkar the local guy had told us about. We stopped for a snack and observed what looked like sacrificial animal remains such as chicken claws and plastic bags tied to branches. We continued up the steep ridge line trail that was mainly a deep rut. Sometimes it was to steep to ride so we pushed out bikes up.

This would be the first actual single track trail we would ride so far. Everything else had been dirt roads though some were so overgrown they were about as wide as a singletrack trail. Once at the top we would be treated to some really fun, rocky challenging trail for a few miles into town

Our stats for the trip were 151 total miles in five days of riding with 19,197’ of elevation gain.

We had a few minor mechanical issues along the way. Julio had some issues with his peddle but managed to make it work. Randy had some issues with his rear hub not spinning freely. Luckily neither of these issues became a serious problem.

Its amazing how many edible plants there are everywhere. We saw herbs, vegetables and fruits growing everywhere. There are Turkeys, Geese, Ducks, Chickens, Cattle, Goats and Pigs roaming about. No one is going hungry here! And that smoked fish from Lake Sevan was very tasty!

This was more of an exploratory mission to see what can be improved on the trail and also to get more accurate GPS tracks and stats. I will be working with the Janapar Trail team to improve the trail.

In June 2017 I will lead my friend ultra runner Telma Altoon on the trail. She will run the trail I will ride. This will be a fundraiser to pay for improvements on this trail as well as other trail projects in Armenia. More details on that to come.

Gevorg and I will be organizing two Mountain Bike tours in the summer of 2017 on the Janapar Trail. One will be in June and the second one in September. For more details on these tours or for more information on the trail you can contact me at otbhans@gmail.com

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Telma

This is what some of the guys had to say about this trip.

This is what Julio had to say:

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Tour de Hayastan – October 4 – 13, 2016

When Hans suggested riding the Janapar Trail, starting in Armenia and then through Karabakh, I felt it was a long distance to travel for our next bike tour.  However, Hans had toured Colombia with us in 2015 (my birthplace), so I felt we owed it to him to visit his ancestral homeland.  I initially joked that we can simply ride a Tour of Glendale and achieve the same result, but boy was I mistaken!

This trip was special from the very start as we secured very affordable airfare on Qatar Airways during their promotion of flights to Yerevan, Armenia.  Our bikes and 3 bags were free on Qatar, along with 3 very good meals and amazing service.  We landed in the modern and diverse city of Doha, Qatar before transferring to Yerevan.

Yerevan was very impressive with clean streets, no graffiti, and a very European flair.  The food was amazing and even better than I had expected, with very fresh fruits & vegetables, great breads & cheeses, and excellent chicken, lamb, beef and fish.  But it wasn’t until we ventured to Karabakh that I truly fell in love with this amazing country.  The history of Hayastan was mind blowing as we were blessed to visit numerous ancient monasteries and former war zones.  The Armenian people were so gentle, caring, and welcoming that we did not want to leave.  Many of them asked us to stay in their homes with them, and we shared meals with families in small villages throughout the country.  The majestic mountains, impressive farmland, uninhibited wildlife and perfect weather made us all feel like time had stood still in this patch of heaven.  That was even before we experienced some of the best and most challenging mountain biking we’ve ever encountered.  By the time the trip was ending I had fallen in love with Stepanakert, Karabakh and Armenia in general, and felt at one with the people and the mountains.  My only regret is that more Armenian-Americans haven’t visited this sacred ground, as it is a treasure that has transformed me into a Karabakhian-Armenian forever.

This is what Andres had to say:

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Armenia and Karabakh October 2016

In 2004 we started touring on our bikes when we rode 500 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles in five days. Since then we have ridden every year, our biking journeys have taken us to six different states (California, Oregon, Arizona, Wyoming, Montana, Utah); we have also ridden in Cuba, Mexico, France, Monaco, Spain, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Colombia. We now add Armenia and Artsakh to our list.

We finished our mountain biking trip through Armenia and Artsakh with an epic five day adventure along the Janapar trail. We leave thankful for their hospitality; nurtured with their smiles, stories, words of encouragement, and great food along the trail; amazed with the country’s beauty, and the people we met along the way.

We rode through amazing mountainous landscapes, rivers, canyons, grasslands, and deep lush forests with beautiful colors. Unknown terrain for all of us, the first known mountain bikers to go through the entire Janapar trail, but even when getting lost (which took place many times everyday) we found great beauty at every turn.

There is a special connection when you travel on a bike; Armen, one of the many friends that we met along the Janapar trail might have said it best: “It is good that you came to Armenia, go and tell the world about us, they do not know who we are”. We’ll definitively spread the word…and the pictures. We leave humbled by this experience, the rich history and culture of this great Armenian land…Thank You!

And many thanks to Hans Keifer for bringing us along on this adventure.

More photos of the trip can be found here: Janapar Photos

 

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OTB 500K Tour of Colombia

It had been 10 years since our tour of Cuba trip and we had planed to return this year. After checking flight times, ticket prices and the extra fee for bikes we decided against Cuba and agreed on Colombia, the homeland of Andres, Julio and Juan Diego. Julio’s dad Delio also decided to join us.

We booked our flights on Avianca airlines. They have nice planes, good service and bikes fly free. Most airlines these days charge as much as $150 each way for bikes so this was one of the deciding factors on where to go. Avianca also seems to be very timely with their flights. In fact we were enjoying a Pupusa in San Salvador thinking we had some time before our connecting flight when we heard them calling Delio over the P.A. system. We quickly made our way to the terminal to find everyone was already boarded and they quickly got us on the plane. IMG_5890

We arrived safely in Medellin to find all of our luggage and bikes had made it safely as well! Andres’ Cousin, Aunt Rosa and his Friend Miguel were there waiting for us. We headed over to Miguel’s Ranch for dinner and to spend the night. The Ranch was close to the airport so that was nice to not have to drive very far.  IMG_5891

11/18 Day one of riding Miguel’s Ranch to Medellin

Ride Stats: 42 miles 3159′ Elevation Gain

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We woke up unpacked and assembled our bikes and got ready for the ride. We had a nice breakfast and then a tour of the Ranch. What an awesome place it is!

Miguel had found a guide for us named Nester. An ex pro racer who had traveled all over the world racing. Andres had discussed the rides we wanted to do with him and Nestor planned the rest. Nester showed up as planned at 9:00 am. After introductions and some chit chat we loaded our things in his van and began the ride.

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Juan Diego and Nester outside of the Ranch

Today would be our easiest ride of the trip. Julio said lets take it easy as he started to hammer away into the first climb! I guess he was excited and could not help himself!

Not long into the ride it began to rain. The rain would become a regular part of our days. Living in Southern California we don’t have to ride in the rain very often. We were prepared with rain coats I just wished I had brought some clear glasses! I got mud in my eyes on several occasion.

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At the plaza of the first town we rode through

We stopped at an old warehouse building that had been converted to a small indoor mall with lots of shops and restaurant. It was a nice place to get out of the rain for a bit and have a hot beverage.

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Did I mention the Colombians had matching outfits almost every day!

Coming into Medellin there is a long downhill. It was raining steadily and there was a lot of traffic. Some kids went zipping by us with no helmets on BMX bikes. They were weaving through traffic. It was a little scary to watch. We were told later by Julio’s cousin that this is a regular thing for the local kids. They grab on to trucks and get towed up the hill and then blast down as fast as they can!

11/19 Medellin to Rio Negro

Ride Stats: 91 Miles 6627′ Elevation Gain

https://www.strava.com/activities/435835619

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Nester sprays some type of heat rub to loosen up the knees

 

We started in Medellin with a long climb. The road was busy for the first 5 miles and then it started to lighten up. Andres and Julio were charging up ahead and Juan and I hung together trying to keep a good pace for the duration. The cars and buildings became less and less the further we rode from Medellin. IMG_3507The country side was beautiful to see. It was so green and tropical just how I had imagined it would be. We saw street signs warning of Anteaters, Boa, Mountain Bikes and Cattle crossing but all we saw was Cattle!

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First time seeing a Mountain Bike crossing sign

We had ridden 32 miles when the sky opened up and it began to rain! Nester pulled ahead and we stopped to put on rain jackets.
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Rain art

For the next hour or so we rode in the heaviest rain I ever remember seeing much less riding in! The entire time there was about an inch of rain covering the surface of the road. Our brakes did not work very well with all the water on them and with the thought of sliding out the downhill sections were challenging.

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New recruits

We came across a small restaurant and pulled in for some hot drinks and snacks while the rain continued to pour from the sky.IMG_7587
We sat there for around 45 minutes and it started to lighten up so we decided to get rolling again. IMG_7600The rain would start and stop in various area. At times it would be pouring and then we would hit the crest of a mountain and drop down the other side and it would be dry.

The end of the ride was in a small town called Rio Negro When we ended the ride at a restaurant for a late lunch. The food and service were great and we all left stuffed!

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Yes, its one of those biking trips we gain weight on!

Then Nester took us down to the river for a dip in the cool water. It was a little muddy getting in so after swimming around a while Andres spotted some steps 100 yards down river and we decided to float down to them and take them up to the road.

We then had around a two hour drive to the town we would stay in that night. The motel was decent except there was no hot water. Andres said this part of the country is generally very hot so usually a cold shower is good.

11/20 Mariquita to Alto De Letras

Ride Stats: 38.4 Miles 8970′ Elevation Gain. The rest of the crew had 50 miles with over 12000′ of climbing!

https://www.strava.com/activities/436897331

We were up shortly after 5:00 am packed our gear and rode our bikes down the street for breakfast. We wanted to beat the heat and traffic.
This ride starts close to sea level and goes up to 12000′. It is rumored to be the toughest ride in the world. After today we believe it to be true! The ride started with 1/2 mile flat section and then it became very steep and pretty much stayed that way for the next 50 miles. There were a few very short downhill sections to allow short breaks.

The weather felt hot and humid and the grade was steep! It was too steep to get In a good warm up. We met a few other riders and chatted with them a bit before they turned around to head down. The elevation gain was adding up quickly but the mileage was barely ticking away. Julio and Andres were still together up front and Juan and I were together for a while.

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It was a tough day on the bike but the scenery was spectacular!

I think we were all feeling it! The climb was relentless. My upper back began to ache and I stopped to stretch a few times and Juan pulled away. The views were spectacular and as we gained altitude the weather got cooler and cooler. After a while I passed Juan and continued climbing alone. It was getting cooler and it began to rain about 30 miles in to the day.

The constant climbing was to much for my back and shoulders so I decided to bail out at 38 miles after 7 hours of riding. Just before I bailed out Juan and another rider we had chatted with at the restaurant caught up to me. The other riders wife was driving support for him. They would continue to the top together.

11/21 Manizales to Alto De Minas

Ride Stats: 100 Miles 9734′ Elevation Gain

https://www.strava.com/activities/436896325

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Nester is also a good massuese

Julio and I had a rough nights sleep last night. There was a concert down the street from our hotel that let out around 1.00 am. Our room faced the street and the window was about as sound proof as a piece of paper. Concert goers passing by our hotel were very loud and this continued for over an hour. After that just the noise of vehicles kept me awake and I did not sleep for the rest of the night.  The other guys were lucky enough to have their rooms facing the other side of the Hotel and did not hear the noise. IMG_3546
We had breakfast at the hotel, prepped our bikes and started the ride from the hotel.

The ride started with a long almost 30 mile descent out of the city. It then flattened out and we rode along the river for another 40 miles. We had a lot of Repichitos (Nester’s word for short climbs) in that 70 miles But it was relatively easy miles compared to the previous day’s ride. I made one wrong turn when Andres directed us to make a right turn. We stopped on a bridge to take photos and then I continued on.

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I didn’t get the memo that we were just turning off to the bridge for a photo!

After a 1/2 mile of climbing up a country road I came to a junction so I waited. Finally Nester showed up to tell me I went the wrong way and to turn around. We stopped for lunch in the town of La Pintada after lunch we had a 28 mile climb to reach Alto De Minas! We stuck together for the first 10 miles or so then a piece of wire wrapped around Julio’s wheel. I kept riding at a slow pace. It took a while for them to catch up and when they did Juan was not with them. They quickly passed me and pulled away. Juan dropped out shortly after that due to back pain and I would see him in the van shortly after.
The weather was very hot and Nester poured cold water over my head several times along the route to cool me down. He also gave me bananas and other snacks. The support along this climb was much needed and appreciated by all of us.
With about 15 miles left to go my feet were killing me for some reason! I contemplated stopping and taking my shoes off a few times but just wiggled my toes and kept going. Then I saw the van and nester was holding out a cold Coca Cola for me so I stopped, took my shoes off and walked around while enjoying the Cola. They informed me Julio and Andres were just 5 minutes ahead. I felt like I was barely moving and thought they would be much further ahead so this helped lift my spirits. I strapped on my shoes and pushed on!
Another five miles in and it was so hot I found myself wishing it would rain. I could see the dark clouds ahead and heard thunder in the distance. A few more miles and I got my wish and it began to rain. It was very refreshing.
The road was getting very busy and the top of the climb seemed to never come! Just as I hit the 100 mile mark I saw the van and the guys cheered me on to the top!IMG_6119

11/22 Medellin Ciclovia to Barbosa 

Ride stats: 60 miles 2858′ elevation gain
Today our guide Nester joined us for the ride. We rode from Andres’ Aunt Rosita’s house. We rode through some heavy Medellin traffic to the Ciclovia route. Once on the Ciclovia route it was nice to not have to worry about cars but we did have to worry about all the other riders, walkers and skaters. At least it was not as crowded as the Los Angeles Ciclavia. Maybe because they do this every Sunday!IMG_3568
A couple of other riders joined us and we began to chat. They said they mostly mountain bike and when we told them we did too the conversation turned to the great mountain biking Colombia has to offer and the beautiful places you can go. Phone numbers were exchanged and a future trip involving mountain biking and hiking to some of the more remote locations is a strong possibility! IMG_6206
Though today was less climbing then the other days the heat made it seem really tough. We were all wishing it would rain to cool us off but today would be the only day it did not rain during our ride. The rain came just as we finished the ride. Also the pace was a little faster then I liked for what was supposed to be our recovery day.
That night we went to Rosita’s for a delicious dinner and family gathering. It was also a birthday celebration for one of Andres’ Cousins who lives in Australia. A video was made of everyone singing happy birthday to send to him. It was a fun time and Julio and I felt very welcomed.IMG_6235.jpg
That evening we went to see Colombia Magia Salvaje. This is a documentary showing the incredible scenery and wildlife of Colombia. Though we had ridden 350 miles around Colombia after watching this movie it felt like we had only scratched the surface.
Both Andres’ and Julio’s families were very welcoming and made me feel right at home. Though we had never met many of them knew me from the photos and videos Andres has shared of our many trips together.

11/23 Tourist stuff in Medellin

We rode the Metro to the Botanical Gardens. Went to a museum and rode a gondola car up to some hillside neighborhoods. We also visited a few malls looking for bike jerseys and some gifts for Andres and Julio’s kids. In the evening we headed back to Miguel’s Ranch to pack the bikes and get a couple hours of sleep before our 3:00 am wake up to catch an early flight home.

More photos click here

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Sespe Wilderness Backpacking Trip October 8-9, 2015

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In mid September my friend Shawn invited me to join him and his two Daughters Jessi and Alison on a backpacking trip into the Sespe Wilderness. Shawn’s friend George would also join us.IMG_3367

It had been a while since I had visited this area. I did one hike into the Sespe with Natasha and my Niece Teresa about 20 years ago. Before it had became a Wilderness area I would ride in the area on my motorcycle from Hungry Valley. That was before 1992 the year it became wilderness.

I did not really know what the plan was or much about the route except that Shawn said it was one of the easier routes into the Sespe. He mentioned a 10 mile hike to the campground and I had my concerns about that being a long hike for the girls.IMG_3343

We would start from the Piedra Blanca (White Rocks) Trailhead. It was about a two hour drive from my house.

Thursday 10/8/15

Shawn picked me up and drove so that was nice! We arrived at the Trailhead at 9:00 am to find George already there and ready to go. We gathered our gear and began hiking at 9:30 am.

The temperature was warm at the start but it was nothing compared to what was going to come later. By noon it was around mid nineties and there is very little shade on this route. Everyone seemed to be handling it okay. We would get a breeze once in a while to cool us off. The beautiful scenery did wonders to keep our minds off the heat.IMG_3364

After 10 miles of hiking we came to an old sign with names of places we did not know. Someone had scratched Willits into the sign and it looked like it said 1.5 miles! We had expected to arrive at Willits after 10 miles but that was not the case. On the map it showed a campground and we figured it was just ahead in some trees. We decided to check it out. We found one small camp site among tall grass and thorny plants. Not very appealing! I walked down to the streambed while the others rested in the shade. I could not find any better camping sites. The stream was dry and there were lots of Bear prints in the dried mud.

After a brief rest in the shade we all decided (some reluctantly) to push on! We would pass along some areas of the trail where there was lots of black rock and it felt like we were in an oven. Alison slowed way down so Shawn stayed with her and gave her some words of encouragement! Jessi, George and I found a small shady spot on the trail so we decided to take a break and let Alison and Shawn catch up. When they did we had a hard time getting up and going again!IMG_3379

After 11 miles of hiking we found a nice campsite under the tree canopy! We set up camp and Shawn and George went looking for water. Luckily they found a spring! Then we waited for the sun to drop a bit before hiking  another 1/2 mile to the Willit hot springs and a much needed soak! Yeah it was green but it felt good!IMG_3329

On the way back to camp we stopped at the creek and filled up on water while Jessi chased frogs around. IMG_3325

Once back at camp we made some dinner. It turned out I did not need to bring food because Shawn brought enough for three days for everyone! IMG_3357IMG_3332

I suggested we get up early the next day to beat the heat on the hike out. Though it would have been nice to lounge around a bit in the morning everyone knew it was the best idea.

Friday 10/9/15:

We were hiking out around 7:00 am and it was already feeling warm. Our backs were lighter and we were making good time hiking out. The sun was low enough we still had some shade.

Three hours later and we had 8 miles behind us. It was getting really hot now! In the distance I could see what looked like water. I thought I must be seeing things so I just kept walking and did not say anything to the others. As we got closer I was pretty sure it was water so I pointed it out to the others. The girls asked if we could go swimming. I am sure at this point we were all thinking the same thing. We found the oasis after one wrong turn and could not believe our eyes. The water was deep and crystal clear. Everything seemed so dry out here so finding this seemed like a dream! The water was cool and refreshing! It was a nice break but it sure was hard to leave! IMG_3341

Hike Stats: 23 Miles out and back Piedra Blanca to Willits Hot Spring

10/8 https://www.strava.com/activities/409893219

10/9 https://www.strava.com/activities/409893243

Posted in Hiking/Backpacking, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Epic Chilao Bikepacking Trip 6/15

Each year we do our annual Epic Chilao ride and campout. The 2009 Station fire led to us missing a few years after the Angeles Forest was closed to allow the forest time to recover from the fire. Once the trails started to reopen many of the trails were overgrown with Poodle Dog Bush. This plant follows fires and last 7-10 years. It is worse than Poison Oak with similar symptoms.

The last time we did this ride in May 2012 most of us suffered the effects of the Poodle Dog Bush and some are still to scared to return to the forest!

Traditionally this ride had a support vehicle to carry our gear from Millard Campground just above Altadena to Chilao Campground. This year we decided to bikepack it. That means we would carry our own gear and be self supported. Of course most of our buddies aren’t set up for this so the crew was narrowed down to Igor and I.

IMG_2621Having backpacked for years I planned to use the same gear as I do on foot. I packed everything into my backpack for the two nights and three days. My pack weighed in at just under 20 lbs.

Igor invested in lightweight gear and bike mounted bags to carry his gear. He would use a small backpack that he rides with all the time to carry some gear and water.

We met on Thursday afternoon at Millard Campground. There was a light steady rain coming down. This precipitation we knew was due to the dense marine layer known as June gloom! We figured we would ride up for an hour or so and rise above the marine layer but it was much thicker than we realized.

We started riding around 1:00 pm. Of course Igor wanted to ride up Sunset Ridge Trail. The much more challenging option of the two options available. It gave us a chance to test our gear set ups and of course or riding abilities! The trail is a little overgrown and anytime we would brush up agains the wet brush we would get a shower. This gave us a chance to also test the waterproofness of our gear. Mine held up well. Igor’s not so well.

Once we were riding for an hour or so the rain stopped and we began to dry out. It was not until we were almost 10 miles in that the sun would come out. Though it was very brief and we could see the marine layer moving up the mountain as if it was following us!

Igor pushing through the brush on Valley Forge Trail

We dropped down Valley Forge Trail. The trail seemed to be in good shape for the first 500′ or so and then things got bad! The trail was so overgrown you could not see the trail tread. The overgrown brush was mostly Buckthorn with some Poodle Dog and Yucca thrown in here and there! As the name implies Buckthorn is thorny so it was not long until some blood was shed!

We thought about heading back up the trail and taking a different route but then we would see an opening in the brush and it appeared that it would be okay ahead.

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These open sections were short though and it would get thick again! We pushed through it and made it down to the Gabrielino Trail after 45 minutes of bushwhacking. By comparison my usual time down this trail is about 15 minutes. We were happy to see the Gabrielino Trail was in pretty good shape even though Igor said the brush was thicker than it had been just a few weeks prior.

West Fork Camp

West Fork Camp

We would only see one other trail user today. The wet weather kept the bugs away too! This time of year the gnats can be pretty bothersome in this area so that was a nice thing about the rain. West Fork Campground is a small free campground with about 6 sites and a pit toilet. The West Fork of the San Gabriel River seems to be always flowing so there is water available. We had the place to ourselves until just before daIMG_2630rk when a backpacker came down and made camp.

For dinner we brought some preprepared meals. Hope had made a pasta salad the night before and it really hit the spot! We had a peaceful nights rest. The sound of the river flowing by was soothing.

For breakfast we had oatmeal, dates and trail mix. IMG_2628

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Marin Layer

Our ride today would take us up the Silver Moccasin Trail to Chilao Campground. Igor had ridden it about a month before so we knew the first 1.5 miles through the Canyon had several fallen trees to climb over. Fallen trees are a common thing these days in the Forest after so many trees were killed in the fire. In the month since Igor had been there last the brush had grown quickly and it was very thick in places. There was a lot of hike a bike sections. Once we left the Canyon floor the trail was in good shape. Though it is a very steep climb up to Shortcut Saddle.

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Chilao Campsite

From Shortcut Saddle we could see the marine layer hugging Mount Wilson. We were well above it now enjoying cool temps, a nice breeze and sunshine. I had tried to ride the Silver Moccasin Trail through the Charlton area a few times in the last couple of years but it was to overgrown with Poodle Dog Bush. It was nice to see it has all been cleared and it is in good shape! Thanks to our friends Mike, Robin, Steve and others that have worked on it!

Once we arrived at Chilao we rolled into the Little Pines Campground. It was completely empty. After a few laps around the campground we picked a nice site and set up camp.

I had my tent set up and my sleeping pad, pillow and sleeping bag inside and was getting ready to stake it down. A gust of wind came up suddenly and my tent was airborne! It took off like a kite flying 30-40′ in the air. It came down and then another gust blew it again. Luckily it settled down and landed 120′ away on some brush. My sleeping bag had blown out and landed on some Poodle Dog Bush!

Once we had camp set up we continued riding up the Silver Moccasin to the Santa Clara Divide Road and then looped around Mt Hillyer. The trails in the Chilao area were in great shape and it was a really fun ride!  We did hear some thunder nearby and saw some dark clouds but never got rained on.

IMG_2637Once back at camp we took baths under the water faucet, got a fire going and had some dinner. The temps were cool so the fire felt great! We sat around and discussed possible routes for our next backpacking trip.

That night the low was 40 degrees so Igor had a chance to test out his new 40 degree rated sleeping bag. IMG_2638

Igor’s new lightweight tent weighs just over 1 pound! The first night was a challenge to set up but the second night he had it up very quickly.

The ride down on Saturday was backtracking the Silver Moccasin to West Fork and then the Gabrielino Trail to Red Box. We then went up the Mt Wilson Road to Eaton Saddle. I was feeling tired so I opted for the Mt Lowe Fire Road while Igor took the singletrack down.

IMG_2623I brought my two man backpacking tent which was my heaviest item. It weighs 4 1/2 pounds. For the next trip I am thinking I will get a Bivy sack to save some weight. I will probably do what Igor did and attach the Bivy and sleeping pad to the handlebar to take some weight off my back. Igor thinks he might need a warmer sleeping bag or to get some fat on him for insulation!

Ride Stats:

Day one: 15 miles and 3717 elevation gain. https://app.strava.com/activities/319914117

Day two: 22.3 miles 5371′ https://app.strava.com/activities/319914162

Day three: 26.7 miles 3510′ https://app.strava.com/activities/319914240

Posted in Bikepacking, Mountain Biking | Leave a comment

Historic Ridge Route Road Bike Ride

5/24/15

The history below is from the Ridge Route web site.

What is the Ridge Route?

“The Ridge Route Highway is that section of road that winds over the San Gabriel and Tehachapi Mountains between Castaic Junction on the south (where I-5 junctions with Hwy.126 to Ventura) and extends to the bottom of Grapevine Grade on the north where I-5 enters the great San Joaquin Valley.

The “Grapevine” is the 6 1/2 mile segment of the Ridge Route that extends from Fort Tejon to the bottom of Grapevine Grade.  Many people erroneously believe that the “Grapevine” got its name because the original 1915 highway had a series of “switchbacks” which allowed early vehicles to gain elevation as they climbed the grade heading from Bakersfield toward Los Angeles.  The serpentine path resembled a giant grapevine.  Although this observation was true, the name actually came from the fact that early Wagoner’s had to hack their way through thick patches of Cimarron grapevines that inhabited “La Canada de Las Uvas,” Canyon of the Grapes.  Traveling the grade today, look for patches of what appears to be ivy on both sides of the canyon near the truck run-a-way escape ramps.  What you see are descendant vines which date back to the 1800s.

The news media Incorrectly refers to the entire Ridge Route as the Grapevine.

There have been (3) Ridge Route highways.  The 1915 highway which is the focus of this web site; the 1933 three-lane Ridge Alternate Highway identified as Highway 99 (in 1947 converted to a 4-lane expressway); and today’s 8-lane I-5 freeway completed in 1970.  The Ridge Alternate was severed with the construction of Pyramid Dam.”

Back in Spring 2005: 

I had what my friend Otto would call ” One of Hans’ brilliant ideas” I laid out a route I would call the Wildflower Century. The plan was to ride road bikes from my house in Granada Hills to the Poppy reserve in the desert near Palmdale.

This was before we had such things as Map my ride and Strava where you can easily plan out a bike route and show distance and elevation. Back then it was maps and some guesswork. I figured we would do a loop through the Poppy Reserve and it would be around 105 miles. Part of the loop would take us on the Old Ridge Route which none of us had been on before.

I figured it was a chance to take in the history of this historic road. The problem was the road is not maintained and  2005 was an El Nino year. The heavy rains had washed out some of the road and many rocks, sand and mud had slid down onto the road. Not to mention my miscalculation of mileage!

Once we made our way onto the unmaintained section of road we already had 95 miles logged! We were still at least 35 miles from my house!

As we started the first downhill section the road became really rough and we started to get flat tires! We would repair the flat and keep on rolling. I don’t know how many flats we had but I can guess it was close to 10 flats between the three of us. The sun was setting and darkness was upon us before we knew it.

I decided to call Hope to bail us out! She agreed to help us so I gave her directions. In the meantime we kept riding slowly in the dark while fixing the occasion flat. About an hour later when we saw the lights of Hope’s car approaching we all felt relief. The road was very dark and Otto commented about how brave Hope was to make the drive on this isolated unmaintained road alone. We were lucky she did!

Since that ride I always wanted to go back and explore this road. When my buddy Bernie told me he was going to ride it I decided to join him. This time I would ride it on my mountain bike. Ed would also join us on his mountain bike and Bernie would ride his gravel bike which is basically a road bike with heavier duty tires and rims.

We started the ride in Castaic and would ride 26 miles to the Sandberg Inn site and then return the same way. The terrain was mostly climbing though we did have some downhill sections that we would have to climb on the return trip.

We had perfect weather with an average temperature of 70 degrees. The skies were clear offering us some outstanding views. The gate was open so we did see a few cars and motorcycles. I am not sure if the gate is always open or not? We also saw a few other cyclists.

The road was in better shape this time around. The large landslides we had to hike around in 2005 had been repaired. It was nice to be able to take in this bit of history that I along with many other people have driven by on the 5 freeway just a mile or two away so many times before.

This time around we had zero flat tires and all went smoothly!

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