We had an incredible night mountain bike ride on the San Juan Trail in the Cleveland National Forest.
Biking buddy Kent was kind enough to take me up on the trail for an epic night ride. This was an awesome night ride, I can't wait to try it during the day.
We parked at a campsite (? at least a parking area) off of Hot Springs Canyon Road, which is off of the Ortega highway. A map to the parking area and our starting point is below:
Kent and I arrived at 5:30 in the pitch black and geared up in the parking lot at the base of the trail. This was one of my first night rides on a mountain bike, and I was a little nervous - but with a guide like Kent I couldn't go wrong (unless he left me behind).
A quick note about gear and night riding - I rode with the Magicshine 900 Lumen light that I've been reading about on all of the forums lately. I managed to break it during a not-too-brutal fall (well, I did scuff the housing. The fall may actually have been brutal). It's easily repairable and I'm giving it a B+ overall. It's BRIGHT and a bargain at the discount price.
The start of this trail is a little rough - it's fairly steep and technical single track with a lot of switchbacks. From memory, there are probably more than 1000 switchbacks, but when I review the map I count 16 sharp, tight switchbacks in the beginning of the trail. It seems that my memory exaggerated the pain. This is common for me.
The entire trail is tight, tough single-track and with my larger bike (and in the dark), I wound up hiking more than a few of the switchbacks.
After the switchbacks we climbed, and climbed, and climbed. Once we were tired of climbing, we climbed some more. Kent and I couldn't have asked for better conditions for a night run in November... the air was clear, there was no wind, and it was warm - probably 68 degrees. Occasionally we would stop and take in the complete and utter silence. On the right portions of this trail there are no planes, cars, or woodchippers to be heard, it's just you, the Cleveland National Forest, and the mountain lions (of which we saw none).
We reached Cocktail Rock at about 8 PM that evening after just under 2 hours of climbing (about 6 miles into the trail). Here, we rested and shot the breeze for a little bit. After getting our wind back Kent and I turned around and rode back down the trail. The downhill portion is when the trail really gets amazing. But first, here's the elevation profile for the trail to Cocktail Rock:
The ride down was epic - more than 6 miles and 2500 feet of elevation loss, a fast, gravity fed singletrack the entire way. The whole trip down, I probably only pedaled on a about 3 corners.
We covered the downhill in just under an hour. Grooves and ruts in the trail that made climbing painful made the downhill fast and safe. I can only imagine how amazing the trail would have been in the daytime - definitely it would have been faster.
When it was all said and done, our trail time was about 3 1/2 hours, with two stops for technical issues and a few breaks to let our lungs catch up.
This was a fantastic ride, but not for beginners. You must be physically fit enough to climb for about 2 hours to do this - you'll definitely work hard on the way up. The San Juan trail is the longest stretch of uninterrupted single track I've ever been on. I can't wait to do it again.
I've included a trail map (click for larger):
and the GPS file, which you can load into Google Earth or your GPS guidance gadget of choice.