Stagecoach 400

300 meters into the ride, there was a hard left onto the trail and less than five meters later I failed to account for the extra weight hanging from my handlebar bags, my front wheel washed out, and I launched an inelegant Superman over the bars and onto my ass. Oh, the humanity!

What is the Stagecoach 400? It’s a 400 mile bikepacking route through Southern California’s alpine forested mountains, bone-dry desert, and Pacific coast. It starts at about 6,000 ft in the mountain town of Idyllwild, snakes its way down through the mountains along dirt roads and singletrack biking and hiking trails past Escondido to San Diego, then meanders east through Chula Vista and up into the mountains past Alpine and through the Cuyamaca mountains. After cresting near the summit of Mount Laguna, the route dives down again into the Anza Borrego desert through sandy washes, slot canyons and truck trails to Ocotillo Wells and Borrego Springs, and then ascends Coyote Canyon back up to Idyllwild.

Some race the route in the spring and do it in 3 – 4 days. The five of us did it in mid-January and completed it in six days – we needed every minute of available daylight to do it! Sometimes it felt incredibly isolated. At other times we were downright exhausted. But the small towns and various resupply points made for an excellent introduction to the rigours of backcountry bikepacking.

Each day we crawled out of our tents before dawn (when the temperatures were at or below freezing) and then pedaled our bikes (weighing about 70 pounds with gear) through stunning scenery until nightfall. Progress was often painfully slow but our spirits were always high. Most of our fuel came from coffee, oatmeal, mac ‘n cheese, energy bars, trail mix and disgusting little foil packs of tuna or chicken.

Highlights included sleeping in a barn one night at the invitation of the owners (and waking in terror at 2am to the ungodly racket of their horse breaking into the barn to get at his oat treats), soaking in a gorgeous and unexpected hot springs, beer and hot dogs at a legendary dive bar, mesmerizing sunsets and sunrises, fending off a rampaging pit bull with pepper spray, and bombing down some of the most beautifully graded dirt road descents ever seen.

The trip was very tough (earning its 5 star BSTC difficulty rating), incredibly rewarding, and just stunningly beautiful throughout. Truly a trip to remember!