Taking the stage
When I signed on to ride the Stagecoach 400, it's because I saw an opportunity to immerse myself in part of California that I otherwise would likely never see. I could appreciate the big forests and open space of the north, the Sierras of the east, the cliff-lined coast, and my own comfortable perch between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the San Francisco Bay. But Southern California, in my mind, was the domain of glass buildings, bland deserts and marine life in tanks. And because I despise biases even when they're my own, I thought a 400-mile mountain bike tour would be a perfect exercise in shattering expectations.
The Stagecoach 400 route was the brainchild of Idyllwild frame-builder and bike-shop owner Brendan Collier and his wife, Mary. Mary finished the Tour Divide one year before me, in 2008, but now the two are parents and business owners and don't have as much time for extensive bike tours. Brendan wanted to create a route that he could get excited about, and I presume recruited friends and others in the region to add their own input. The result is a diverse range of landscapes and trails strung together so compactly that it would be difficult to believe they all exist in the same region if you weren't the one linking them up yourself. As fellow rider Katherine put it, "It's like having a local take you on a tour of all their favorite trails, for 400 miles." The Stagecoach 400 really is a cool route ... even if it turned out to be considerably more strenuous than I expected. But that's what you get, when you set out for an adventure purposefully ignorant of what's in store.
managed to climb 6,150 feet over the long day. It was a good target, but I originally expected to be further along after 14 hours on the trail. I rolled out my sleeping gear and laid on my back for seeming hours, gazing at stars. It didn't feel like I was ever fully unconscious during the fitful night. But I hoped I had managed sleep at some point, because I still wasn't certain I had the wherewithal to handle three more days of this.