Increase In Homeless Population Along The Santa Ana River Trail in Orange County

On my last overnight tour around Southern California I took the Santa Ana River Trail dirt option. The dirt trail runs along the opposite side of the river as the paved tail for most of the route.


Some parts of it are more scenic than others. This would be one of the others.

I will post a write up of the full trip next, but I first wanted to focus on the homeless population along the trail. I have ridden the trail since the 1980s. Homeless people have always been present along the trail but in small numbers and hidden away. You had to be looking to see their shelters and I never saw a single homeless person out while riding the trail. I would consider them briefly as I rode by and I hoped and prayed that they would get help, though I knew it was more complicated than that.

This day as I was riding along I encountered a much larger group than I had seen before. I presumed it was because I was on the dirt side of the trail and I had a better angle on some of their hiding places.

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The people living in the river bed alarmed me. They were pretty vulnerable down there. When it rains this winter they will have to move. They could lose what little they have and could be in danger. Their presence there was illegal and it would be well known to local authorities, charities and emergency agencies. I did think it odd that people were out and around rather than staying out of sight. What I didn’t realize is that I had encountered the tip of the iceberg.

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The number of homeless communities I saw grew as I rode, even on the paved side of the trail, their numbers adding up to the thousands along a stretch of a few miles.

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The bike trail was crowded to the edges in many places with people, tents, their belongings and volunteer workers.



I was flooded with mixed emotions. What had happened to cause such a dramatic increase in the number of homeless people? This was not the usual reclusive homeless population. They were out and about, taking out their garbage and I presume using the many parks and facilities along the trail for their daily needs. Some were being very active, even playing team games in the sand. Given what I was used to along the trail, it was a surreal experience.

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Their presence there made riding the bike trail at a fast pace dangerous. Not because I was afraid of being attacked. Although there was a lot of angry chatter and shouting emanating from many of the tents. Locals were using the trail without looking for cyclists, standing across the trail, and storing their belongings on the trail itself. It had the look of establishing territory and discouraging other trail users from being there. And it was working. It was the Saturday morning of Labor Day weekend. Usually the trail would be crowded with groups of cyclists. But today there were eerily few riders on the trail. And many of them were homeless people wandering down the trail slowly, on the wrong side, etc.

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I hope that this is not a long term trend for the river trail. Many communities have worked hard to improve the trail for cyclists and equestrians, adding rest rooms, lighting, landscaping, benches,etc. The trail serves as a transportation corridor. The new transit center in Anaheim, ARTIC, is located adjacent to the bike trial, in an obvious effort to support cyclists for commuting and travel. I later read about the situation to learn what was happening. A quick web search helped me understand the causes. My heart goes out to these people, I hope they can get out of this situation quickly.023homeless12 023homeless13

Part of my mixed emotions about this are as a cyclist, however. Why is a cycling trail one of the places that the homeless end up going at a time like this? There are other areas: shopping areas, school campuses, wilderness areas, golf courses (like the one along the trail), government facilities (which are being used, too), etc. Their presence is illegal in all of these places, so that is not a reason for using the bike trail. I feel that cyclists are once again being treated as second class citizens and their concerns are less than other groups.

023homeless14Yes, I know it sounds selfish and I do have a hard time balancing my mixed feelings about the situation. If this is a relatively short term phenomenon, and the homeless population dwindles or is relocated quickly, then it will be one of those one time things. But from the looks of it, with volunteers bringing in supplies and residents coming out in the open to form communities and take over the area, it looks just as likely that the Santa Ana River Trail as a cycling destination will be diminished for a long time, perhaps permanently.

Panoramas With a Chance of Heat Exhaustion

I have been off the bike a while due to an infection (I prefer to skip the details about that, thank you), a twisted ankle, work schedule, wah, wah, wah, I know. So when I was finally able to get back on the bike I did what I usually do. I go too big rather than take it easy. I got so excited I didn’t sleep well, I didn’t check the weather forecast or other small details I normally do. It all just adds to the adventure I guess. By the end of the day, the route I rode was not what I had planned. BTW, I don’t know what is up with the Elapsed Time number, Strava is messed up.


Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain
15:19:59 04:20:42 29.65 6.82 28.86 2,913.39
hours hours mi. mph mph ft.

The day did not start off well. My fat bike/29 plus had one of its bottom bracket bearings seize up. This is not as terrible as it sounds. I ride my fat bike on ocean beaches. I have managed to beat back the effects of corrosion with all kinds of tricks, but my drive side BB bearings still live short lives. So I have a few cheap BBs around (expensive ones die just as fast, sadly), and I have gotten good at replacing them. 15 minute delay and I was out the door. The morning was sunny and cool and did not give any hint of the wave of heat that was to come.

I returned to a canyon that has no name I can find on a map, so I will call it Oso Creek Canyon, it is a network of trails that is more popular among equestrians than mountain bikers, but I find it perfect for my rigid 29 plus. The riding is not technical and the horses have turned some sections into deep, loose soil, but my plus tires negotiate it with no problem. This time I climbed out of the canyon on a trail I have never tried before. It rose above the beautiful campus of Saddleback Church which is nested at the northern end of the riding area.


I love the contrast of the freeway and singletrack

Zig zagging my way up the canyon was not as difficult as I thought. Unfortunately the only descent I could find was along paved roads. Not the best reward for my singletrack climbing efforts, but I hope to fine tune the route now that I have ridden it.

I am very familiar with Aliso Woods and put in a big loop of the park. Someone has made a Strava segment of the route all the way from the parking lot to Top Of The World, the highest point in the park. It is a Cat 3 climb, which was surprising: that is bigger than I would have categorized it. The air quality was exceptional, affording awesome views in every direction.


A great view all the way to Saddleback Peak


Riding off the back of the park affords some nice ocean views

I personally do not have a problem with the discomfort of riding in the heat. But it would seem there can be a big discrepancy between your perception of something and your body’s reaction to it. While I personally felt invigorated by all the sunshine and warmth, my body was shutting down, and it took a while before I realized what was happening and tied the two together and ultimately did something about it. Weird, huh?

As I was making my way up this Cat 3 climb, I was doing what I have been doing more of lately, and that is watching my heart rate. I have been trying to ride more of the time in an aerobic zone so I burn more fat and my body will start to produce more power in that range. That means dropping my pace to a boring level. It has been paying off, BTW. But in the heat that was just not happening. No matter how slow I went, my heart rate would not drop and I could not recover. I can just picture all of the people with medical backgrounds nodding their heads right now. I was making sure I was drinking a lot so as not to dehydrate, but that alone will not stop the heat exhaustion. I was getting slightly dizzy so I got extra cautious on technical sections, even walking a few of the tough sections. I found a picnic table in the shade and managed a power nap and food, even though I did not want to eat. I woke up to a reduced heart rate, but it raced up again as soon as I started riding again. Fortunately I found some entertaining scenery along the way.


I was thinking of parking my bike at the end of the line before taking the picture

My brain became so disconnected that I crossed an intersection against a red light directly in front of a car stopped at the intersection. I looked at the light in the wrong direction, made eye contact with the driver and proceeded straight in front of them. I am guessing I looked like hell because the driver cut me a lot of slack and even gave me a very polite warning with a couple of taps on the horn. It was not until I was across the intersection that I realized what had happened. It was quite the wake up call. I proceeded with even greater caution at that point, but my climbing was not done.


My kind of gate. Open.

My plan was to continue my climb around the Oso Creek Canyon along Bluff Trail (that is what Google calls it anyway). I know my brain was still on the fritz because I was still waiting for a second wind and recovery. In retrospect that was just not going to happen. The temps were not going down and neither was my heart rate. I finally got to a point along the ridge where a sustained cool breeze helped me recover a bit. A bit farther along I got a good view of the burn area from a recent fire in the canyon.


Ironic that I was enjoying the view of a recent burn while fighting off heat exhaustion

The cool breeze must have worked because I finally realized that I needed to bail and end the ride ASAP. The bouts of tunnel vision also clued me in. The bluff trail was proving to be a major effort so I turned back. Even the fastest way out included a small climb in the direct sun that I managed to push up. From there on it was mostly downhill and fast pavement. By the time I returned to my car I was feeling a little better. I forced more fluids and managed to eat something, went home and slept and fought off minor stomach irritation. I was probably closer to a serious bout of heat exhaustion than I realized. All in all it ended fine and was a learning experience. You cannot rely on your own judgement in a situation like this because you are impaired.

I can’t wait to do it again.

A Morning With Big Sur PCH All To Ourselves

One of my favorite stories from my bicycle tours comes from a ride I did circa 2007. My riding buddy Joe (which may or may not be his real name) and I loaded our bikes on the Amtrak train from southern California to Salinas so that we could ride back along Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). We chose to go in the spring, before Memorial Day to avoid much of the traffic along PCH. Our route was part of the popular Pacific coast route that goes all the way from Canada to Mexico.

The train schedule brought us into Salinas late in the day. The station stop was minimal, without so much as a platform cover. Our bikes boxes were unloaded quickly and the train promptly disappeared into the waning daylight, leaving Joe and I with two disassembled bikes to put together as the sun set. I had planned the ride meticulously so I broke out my knife and mini tool that I had set out for just this task, and we made relatively short work of putting our bikes together and finding a dumpster to dispose of the bike boxes in.

We rode to the nearest hotel and checked in with at least partial riding gear on. The clerk asked us if we would be part of the “event”. I did not get details but there was a big run or ride or walk or something somewhere in the area the next day. I dismissed it figuring that would be the last we would hear of it. The area has a lot of outdoor activities and many great venues for them.

The next day we started the ride and I was very excited. I was familiar with most of our route having driven it, but riding a bike along the route was a wonderful contrast as always. As we approached PCH, detour signs, balloons and banners began to appear. It looked like the event that the clerk mentioned would be nearby somewhere. I hoped to get a look at it as we rode past. But as we approached PCH it became clear we would have a much more intimate encounter with it. The event was the Big Sur Marathon. It went between Carmel and Big Sur, which just so happened to be our route for the day. PCH was closed for the event. Along that stretch there is no alternate route. Even after all my ride preparation, I had not anticipated that.


Local car traffic was allowed through only in small occasional escorted groups. Not being part of the run, and not being able to keep up with the cars, I was not sure what we would do. The event was very popular and the bike lanes were filled to overflowing with spectators in many places. I felt uneasy about riding my bike along PCH during the marathon. But we took it a step at a time and kept going. We managed to get around the start/finish line and weave our way slowly through the spectators. As we rode, we noticed that there were other cyclists along the route, most of them there in support of the runners, and none of them had any problem making their way around the busy event. So we finally got off the shoulder and on PCH and rode it during the event with confidence.


It was wonderful and amazing riding Big Sur with no cars. But it went beyond that and into the surreal as we rode on. Our timing was more perfect than we knew. The runners and big crowds completely vanished as we rode south and the road remained closed. The event featured staffed rest stops under big canopies along the road, all of them with live music. They too were enjoying having PCH to themselves. They had turned up the music far louder than it ever would have been during the run. It echoed off the cliff walls and down the road toward us. A whole different festival atmosphere came to life. We rode from tent to tent, stopping briefly at some, waving at the musicians and everyone there. They had broken out coolers of beer and other refreshments not intended for the runners. It was easy to imagine that this is what the event was really all about: a sort of Woodstock along the cliffs of the exotic Big Sur coast. It went on for a delightfully long time.


But eventually we saw the rest stops start to fold up their awnings. And then the first oncoming traffic appeared. Then the traffic coming up from behind us appeared. Our mystical moment in a mystical place had come to an end. But we did not have far to go to get to Big Sur village where we would spend the night. We got an early start the next morning to avoid traffic. And it worked, there were not many cars. But it was not like having Big Sur PCH to yourself as a surprise, and even if we manage to time it and do it again, it will never be like it was that first time.

Steampunk Tourer, Commuter, Soldier, Spy

My current multi purpose bike features some unusual component combinations that may be of interest to other bike builders. It is a fairly techy build, so warning: this post may cause eye twitches and other assorted muscle spasms in retro grouches. You have been warned.

The frame is an Airborne Carpe Diem, circa 2004. And since I have new parts on an old(ish) frame, I choose to call it my steampunk project. It is a bit of a stretch, I know, but it is my bike and I can call it whatever I like.

Airborne has since been acquired and is now making completely different bikes. But back then they were all about affordable titanium. The Carpe Diem is a light touring/cyclocross frame. It predates the current wave of adventure/gravel bikes. It does cannot handle a very wide rear tire, which keeps it out of those categories, as well as the fact that is it not suspension corrected so you can’t put your favorite RockShox on the front. Besides having an awesome name, the frame has some interesting design choices. For example, the rear dropouts have 132.5mm spacing, which is just plain showing off one of the great traits of titanium. To be specific, road bikes have 130mm spacing. Mountain bikes back then were all 135mm. Nothing was, is, or ever will be 132.5mm. But titanium can handle being pulled wider or squished in by 2.5mm. Not so much with other materials. So the Carpe Diem can be fitted with either road or mountain wheels without having to modify the dropouts or use spacers, etc.. The frame also has IS disk mount tabs in addition to canti/v-brake mounts. So a road bike/disc brake combo was possible with this frame way back in 2004, a little ahead of its time, don’t you think? The frame also features some nice tube shaping at the junctions, nice looking welds, etc. Some Lynskey/Moots/Seven/Litespeed owners are quick to point out that Airborne had some quality issues with some bike’s welds, and by all accounts it looks like they did, but I think by now it is safe to say my frame has proven to be one of the good ones.

Airborne Carpe Diem headtube
The top tube flattens at the head tube. The down tube does the same thing at the bottom bracket. Old school non tapered steerers must be paired with Chris King headsets, right?

I have been waiting for road integrated shifter/brake levers for hydraulic brakes to come into existence so I could install them on this bike. After a decade of waiting, Shimano’s RS685 were among the first available and I snatched up a set soon after they came out. I got mine as a “pull off” set and they came paired with BR-M447 calipers – a bit of a mismatch because the levers are Ultegra level, while the calipers are probably more like Alivio. But they are totally compatible. My white babies have awesome stopping power nonetheless. I had Avid BB7s on the front before getting these. These deliver more stopping power with less effort and great feel and modulation.

But hydros for a touring bike? Yup. “Aren’t you afraid they will fail and leave you stranded?” Nope. When was the last time you heard about hydro lines bursting or whatever? About as often as you hear of brake cables snapping. I bled these myself and they are super easy to work on. It is just a new skill you need to develop.

Airborne Carpe Diem dropout area
IS mounts on a road bike were a little controversial when this bike came out because they were not legal for cyclocross racing. They are still not legal for UCI road races. And yes, it is safe to mix a Magura mount and rotor.

My lust for hydro drop bar brakes created a chain reaction of updates because I needed to go 11 speed to get them. That was a problem. Shimano 9 speed road and mountain bike components are highly compatible. You can pair 9 speed road or mountain triple cranksets with road or mountain cassettes with road or mountain rear derailleurs and road or mountain shifters. It is touring bike building nirvana. (Front derailleur compatibility aside). But Shimano got away from this with 10 and 11 speed. So it was SRAM to the rescue. Many of its road and mountain 10 speed components are compatible. But road hydro did not hit the scene until 11 speed, and neither SRAM nor Shimano road and mountain groups are compatible with 11 speed.

But wait, it gets worse!  Road hydro shifters are currently only available as 2x, i.e. no 3×11 road groups are out yet. So no 3×11 crankset either. There are 3×10 cranksets that would work fine if the shifters ever come into existence. This unfortunate situation is happening at the same time touring/gravel/bikepacking bikes are growing in popularity. For those kinds of bikes you want wide range gearing that you can only get by mixing road and mountain components. My fearless prediction is that this situation will be fixed with 12 speed and maybe later with 11 speed. All we really need is long cage 11 speed road rear derailleurs.

But for now the solution to this is 2 parts:

  1. An adapter known as the Shiftmate from a company called Jtek. Several other companies now make equivalents. It changes the cable pull ratio of the shifters to allow 11 speed road shifters to throw 11 speed mountain bike rear derailleurs.
  2. A great big honking pie plate sized cassette. This delivers a wide gear range with a double crankset. I use an 11/42T Sunrace cassette. Paired with and 34/50T compact road crankset, it has about the same low gear ratio as a 24T chainring paired with a 34T large cog on a 9 speed mountain bike cassette.
Airborne Carpe Diem cluster
The Jtek Shiftmate, the huge 11/42T cassette and the 11 speed MTB derailleur deliver a wide range of gearing with a 2×11 drivetrain.

I actually like this gearing/drivetrain BETTER than a triple combos. 2x shifting is simpler and better than 3x. You have the option of even wider range cassettes. There are 11-46T Shimano cassettes and 10-50 SRAM cassettes. Some of those are marketed as 1x cassettes, and you may have to modify your rear derailleur to get them to work. Mostly by installing a longer B tension bolt. A few notes about my specific set up:

  1. The 50T chainring and 42T granny cog combo takes a full uncut 116 link chain to wrap around it. If you decided to use a bigger cassette or crankset you will need 2 chains. Recumbent riders are used to this, so it is not totally weird, but be aware of it.
  2. The drivetrain is quiet and shifts everywhere surprisingly quickly
  3. Setting up the Shiftmate is a little fussy. You need to set it up so that the flat section of the adapter does not rotate so far that the cable crosses it again. If you set one up you will see what I mean. AND if you ever release all of the tension on the cable you may have to carefully position the adapter wheel again. But probably not.
The Kona Project 2 fork, thus named because it weighs in at 2 pounds. It held up great under touring loads.

I have had many touring cranksets, but none of them has shifted nearly as nice as a good ol’ Ulegra compact. Builders will note that this technically gives me a bad chain line when paired with a 135mm dropout, and it does. But that only affects cross chained gear combos. Mostly.

Overall this makes for a beefy feeling road/tourer in spite of the relatively lightweight build. The big Salsa Cowchipper bars contribute to the big feel vs. a road bike. It can handle a heavy load with no problem. Compared to full touring frames it handles a little twitchy. Compared to a road bike build it feels like a tank. It can handle light off road duty with cyclocross tires. While it may not be as flexible as the latest round of adventure bikes on the market, it is still my indestructible, unstoppable, post apocalyptic, steampunk urban guerrilla bike.

A Wilderness Encased In Suburbanite

In celebration of the longest day of the year I wanted to go big and change things up a little bit from the normal canyon ride I have been doing lately. So rather than leave from my house I drove to a point somewhere along the route, which allowed me to venture farther into other areas. Gear changes? I was riding my newer shoes, widened using my shoe stretcher, which I covered in a recent blog. I am liking the Pearl Project shoes a lot. I rode with them very loose most of the day as they break in, but the length and heel cup are a great fit.

Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain
05:35:44 04:08:50 29.25 7.05 38.03 3,087.27
hours hours mi. mph mph ft.

I parked at the Sports Park off of Crown Valley Parkway, which offers great access to Arroyo Trabuco. It affords a nice view of the canyon and its contrast with the surrounding areas. The location and preservation of the canyon in stark contrast to the development around it continues to fascinate me.canyon1 canyon2 canyon3

When riding for a blog I have to balance my activity. Part of me does not want to stop. For anything. Ever. Part of me wants to make a very few, very short stops just to eat then get back on the bike. I digest food better when I stop to do it. I can eat while riding and I do sometimes. But if I want to blog I have to take a moment to look at my surroundings and compose good pics. I am thinking of getting a shoulder strap mount for the camera so I can just snap a pic while moving, but I have not worked that out yet. If I do, I will blog on how I did it.

This is along the trail that parallels O’Neill / Live Oak Canyon road. Some interesting history there, albeit not that old.plaquestopplaque plaquestop2

This is how bad asses roll in the OC. A professionally printed menacing statement (featuring an emoji) on a customized, clean, late model, low mileage Ford Focusocroll

Speaking of badasses in the OC, Cooks Corner is the cross road for all things on two wheels. There was a couple groups of cyclists as well, but they are always vastly outnumbered by the motorcyclists.cook1 cooks2

The big feature of the ride was the climb up Santiago Truck Trail, STT. It starts with a short, very steep climb up paved Modjeska Grade Road. Actually the climbing starts at Cook’s Corner. I have been riding lately to keep my heart rate down in the aerobic range based on some training methods I have been reading about. That is supposed to help you burn more fat and train your body to put out more power at lower heart rates. But it takes time and I have not been doing it for long so I cannot speak to how well that training works. But the climb up STT threw that out the window, there was no way to keep a reduced heart rate on such a long steep climb.stt1 stt2 stt3

The 29 plus did a great job as always, but it met its match an then some on the Luge. I usually do not miss the suspension much on my rigid steed due to the tire width and wheel diameter. But the steepness, length and frequent large drops on the Luge were just too punishing without suspension. And there was definitely room for improvement in my riding technique. One of the things I like about riding a rigid bike is helps you develop your riding skills. Choosing the right line, proper braking, good leaning, etc. are much  more important when you lose the squish. stt4

My initial plan was to return by the canyon all the way to my parking spot, which would have meant staying on the dirt. But as I descended the canyon my energy was getting seriously tapped out. If this were a big organized century I would have stopped to recover and pushed through it. One of the things the canyon offers is frequent “bail out” options. I was happy with the ride and how I had connected existing routes to make a new bigger one. So I climbed out of the canyon and finished up on pavement on Antonio Parkway, stopping to rest only briefly for my final food

I have yet to do justice to my commute in a blog, which I promised in a previous post. I hope to get some good pics of that as well soon.

Using a Shoe Stretcher on Cycling Shoes

Shoe stretchers are hardly anything new. But I have never heard of anyone using them on bike shoes. I thought it might help the fit of some of my shoes. I tried it and I had good results, so I want to share it here.

A little background: I was having issues with shoe / pedal / cleat comfort for some time. At first I thought I was getting “hot foot” from my choice of pedals on both my road and mountain bike. The fact that it was happening with two different sets of pedals should have been a clue that the pedals were not the culprit. Nonetheless, I switched to bigger platform pedals. They did not make a dramatic improvement. I then noticed the sensation of heat was due to the shoes being too tight around the toe box. I like the feeling of snug shoes when I start riding. But I realized that my feet were swelling as I rode. This is normal, actually. It is why cycling shoes are made with on the fly fit adjusters. All of my shoes were the right length, had a comfy snug heel cup, and the toe box was comfortable for about an hour of riding. But after that the fit was just too tight, even if I loosened all 3 of the adjustments all the way. I realized I needed to get wide shoes. Sidi makes size wide on many of their shoes. But getting all new shoes, or even getting one new pair in size wide was not appealing. My shoes were in great shape and had broken in nicely. I even had an unused pair.

And they were all real leather. So I decided to try stretching them. Bike shoes are “techy” and have a lot of synthetic materials like velcro, composites, etc. compared to fashion shoes. I don’t know if bike shoe makers discourage stretching. And since I have never heard of anyone doing it, I feel like I must make some kind of disclaimer about manufacturers and support and all that. So if you want to try this on your shoes you might want to check with the shoe manufacturer. I didn’t. But I lead a risky life that way.

So here it is:


A shoe stretcher. No carbon fiber, no lightweight alloy. Weird.

A few notes: This is a nicer model with no plastic bits. After reading a few reviews I decided to spring a few more bucks and get the nicer stretcher. I have not been disappointed. With the nicer model you only get one and it works left or right. Unless you are in a hurry to stretch your shoes I see no reason to get a pair. I allowed stretching to go 12 hours so. I just timed it so I was not without shoes. Those metal knobs can be moved to the different holes corresponding to where you are getting hot spots. I stretched my tightest shoes twice with the knobs moved to different positions.


Using a shoe stretcher is as exciting as watching a shoe stretch. But the results are worth it.

When I stretched my shoes I removed the liner. I think the liner would just get crushed. And I undid all the straps. It seemed like stretching with the straps tight would put a lot of stress on them.


Slather them up with whatever they call that shoe stretch liquid stuff

I also used shoe stretcher…um, liquid? Spray? There does not see to be an agreement over what to call it, but the shoe store that fixes all of my shoes recommended it. I have never stretched without it so I can’t really say if it helps. But the result was good and the spray was cheap, so what the heck. The results?


A stretched shoe. Contain your excitement, please.

So far so good. I noticed the difference right away. My shoe fit is now in the middle of the range of strap adjustment and not somewhere past the widest setting. I still loosen as I ride but I never reach the limit of the range of adjustment. And I realize I need to start loosening my shoes before they get too uncomfortable. Recovering from an over tight shoe takes a while and can be downright distracting. I store the shoes with nice wooden shoe trees so they don’t shrivel up and go back to their old size. I don’t know if that would happen actually, but a shoe tree can’t hurt.

So while your mileage may vary, my experience with stretching bike shoes has gone well thus far. Whether or not you need it or if you should stretch your (probably) expensive bike shoes is up to you!

A 29 Plus Ride Along The Ocean Bluffs And A Few Repairs

It was time for a shakedown ride of a pretty new set of chainrings and chain on my 29 plus.


It is a well-loved crankset, but a new set of rings sure look nice.


A good place for a shakedown ride, I say.


Time out for a pose or two.


Oh, THOSE unstable cliffs.

The coast had recently been battered by a big storm, ripping away much of the beach, and in some cases, all the beach and frontage parking lots.


The parking lat that was.

Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain
02:17:02 02:01:36 17.75 8.76 22.37 748.03
hours hours mi. mph mph ft.

On the tail of a storm

Before I get into the details of this ride I need to talk about mountain biking in the rain in this area because it is easily misunderstood. Nearly all of the local wilderness parks in the area close their trails for a day or two after a rain, and for good reason. They are all areas with mostly clay soil. For most hikers and bikers, using those trails after a rain is either impossible or causes loads of trail damage. The wet clay clings to anything that touches it with amazing tenacity. And that includes the clay itself. There really is nothing similar to it. If you wanted to make some kind of cement or glue with the same properties you would not be able to do any better than nature has already done with southern California clay. As you attempt to walk over a wet clay surface, your first stride acts like some kind of shoe shaped cookie cutter, plucking a 2 – 3 inch thick chunk of clay out of the ground which stays resolutely attached to the bottom of your shoe and weighs in at approximately ten pounds. You hope your next step will shake the mess loose, but instead the clay on your shoe stays firmly in place while it grabs another chunk just like it from the surface of the trail. Within a few steps you look like Gene Simmons and you have no control over what direction you are going because the clay is super slippery. Mountain bikers fare no better. Usually 1-2 wheel revolutions pack mud out to the bike frame making it impossible for the wheels to turn. Cleaning your bike can take forever and the clay takes a toll on your bike’s drivetrain and anything else it can get into, which is everything, basically. But the clay is not always that bad, and not on every trail. So if you can manage to propel your bike over the clay it usually leaves a deep impression in the trail surface. If nothing disturbs it, the trail will harden that way. Not good.

So why did I go riding on wet trails on a rainy day? Do I have a desire to destroy trails? Do I just not care? Of course not. The simple rule is to ride on surfaces that are not clay, and that is what I did on this ride.


Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain
04:09:41 03:04:38 26.37 8.57 32.88 1,896.33
hours hours mi. mph mph ft.

Surfaces that are good to ride on when wet include decomposed granite, gravel, sand and of course pavement. My route was along Trabuco Canyon, and the canyon is a river bed, naturally rocky and sandy. Some sections of the trail are even raised road beds, so they are even better in the wet. One temptation while riding a wet trail is to stay slightly off the trail in the ground cover. Don’t do it. It widens the trail unnecessarily and increases impact and erosion. It also helps that I was riding my 29 plus bike with floaty 3.0 tires, dropped to 14psi and converted to tubeless.


Decomposed granite: good


Gravel: good


Pavement: duh

I arrived at the trailhead greeted by the last cloudburst of the day. I had been watching the real time weather reports and I timed my ride almost perfectly. Once I was ready to ride I enjoyed a few minutes of Pandora inside my car watching the puddles in the parking lot as the last raindrops hitting them tapered off. El Nino is bringing warm rain showers, so a light jacket was all I needed to stay comfortable.


As I rode, the skies turned from this…


Into this

I started with a big pavement climb to get me to the decomposed granite trails of Ladera Ranch.


I was skeptical

I encountered this silly cone on the sidewalk section of the climb. Gardeners were trimming trees and there were a lot of cuttings all over the sidewalk. But seriously, close the sidewalk for some sticks? Weren’t they being a little overly cautious? Further down the trail I saw why they had closed it.


Ok, sidewalk closed, I get it

This bad boy was straddling the sidewalk. So I guess the sidewalk really was closed. I went around, no problem. But if you had a stroller you would have to turn back.


Bigger than usual

Trabuco Creek was running deep, as expected. You have to be careful in conditions like these. Often the stream keeps rising long after the rain stops. But that was not the case today. I was able to ride about half the crossings. I walked the remainder, using my bike as support.


A mud fender. And bottom bracket. And pedals.

I have ridden my Fatback with full 4.7″ fat tires on this same trail, and they did work. But I like 29 plus better. It was actually a lot of fun negotiating deep gravel, loose sand and wet conditions. It is where the big hula hoops show off their biggest advantage over smaller tires.


Fickle Tijeras Creek

The new section of the ride for me was the upper section of Tijeras Creek Trail. I made a couple of wrong turns but negotiated it without much incident.


Please stay on trail



I will be staying on this side of the trail, thank you

I had planned a much bigger ride, but before I reached Santa Margarita Parkway, all of the soft trail surfaces, stream crossings, getting on and off the bike, etc. had taken its toll. I still pulled off a big ride as you can see from the Strava numbers. But is was time to execute my exit strategy. Rather than returning via the canyon, I returned along Antonio Parkway, which was a fast easy descent. It means I did my climbing on the more technical terrain and descended on easy terrain, which is the opposite of what I like to do. But a bail out is a bail out, and the ride was still good. I did not even feel like I had been a big baby when I stopped for my last bit of trail food.


It is OK to baby yourself a little when riding tough conditions

I am still focusing my riding on Trabuco Canyon loops. If the trails dry out fast enough I will be back in a couple of days to see if I can do the big loop I had planned for this day.

Attack of the tumbleweeds

Here it is late February and I have a few days of downtime as I change jobs. So what should I do? Go riding, of course!

Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain
04:32:05 02:55:58 24.12 8.22 35.12 2,079.40
hours hours mi. mph mph ft.

President’s Day was unusually warm. We were supposed to be getting slammed by El Nino driven rain storms by now, but they have not materialized yet. El Nino has until April to deliver its rain to southern California, we can only wait and see. For this ride skies were blue and temps rose into the 90’s. The rain we have been getting has been sufficient to transform much of our brown natural landscape green, which is a welcome change. So it was strange to see tumbleweeds at several locations on the trail. No doubt they were loosened up and collected into clumps by our recent Santa Ana winds.


Excuse me guys

Tumbleweeds turned this short section of fire road into singletrack

You never know what you will find along the trail as you ride in and out of civilized areas. Like this impromptu rest area complete with folding chair and umbrella, near nothing in particular. A glass of wine and a good book maybe?

Whatever works for you

Farther along I have discovered a way to cross San Juan Creek at La Novia that does not involve the narrow bridge. There is a creek crossing very close to the bridge. The creek is dry and the creek bed is typical deep loose sand. But the 29 plus tires have no problem handling the loose stuff. And the crossing features a strange old piece of hardware I cannot identify. Maybe it was a pump of some sort, or part of a bridge that used to be here.


Hmmm, lets have a closer look


Something has seen better days

I remain excited about the extension of the paved bike trail around the Ortega choke point. Since I rode it last time, San Juan Capistrano has painted lines and the construction equipment is gone.


It looks more official now with the yellow line

Once nice thing about suburban mountain biking is having access to civilized pit stops.

Lunch break

I stopped at Taco Mesa at a plaza on Crown Valley Parkway. I had a single fish taco a la carte. That is all I can handle eating in the middle of a big ride. If I eat more than that my energy level and stomach do not cooperate later on. Taco Mesa has a well earned good reputation, I give them a thumbs up. The large soda was almost five bucks though, so look out for that. Ice water is better for you anyway. After a brief lunch I stopped at the Circle K in the same plaza to top off the Gatorade in my Camelbak and I was on my way again. Try that when you are climbing Santiago Truck Trail!


The trail crosses the stream here

I went inland along the canyon as far as Oso Parkway, crossing the bridge there and returning along the other (west) side of the canyon. All of the bridges over Arroyo Trabuco afford a nice view of the canyon below. The trails along the other side are not as well traveled, and it was the first time I rode this section. I had to navigate some pavement through a neighborhood to access it. I was surprised to look at my Strava results after the ride. The large segment in that area had only been ridden by 11 riders, so I was able to claim 6th overall, even though I was riding in “exploration” mode. It featured some nice singletrack.


Don’t do it!

Also while on the bridge I spotted this lone rider in the distance trying to figure out if they should cross this sketchy section of trail. He took too long to decide so I continued my ride without knowing what he decided to do.


A crossroads

Later in the ride I stopped at the park by the bridge over Trabuco Canyon near the confluence of it and San Juan Creek. There is always a lot to see there. That day there was a barbeque, someone playing in the concrete riverbed (not recommended), multiple riders going past, and a great view of crowded 5 freeway nearby. The bridge is signed telling cyclists they must walk over the bridge. I have no idea why. And I have never seen a single cyclist walk their bike over the bridge in the many years I have ridden by it.



Near the end of the ride my chain broke. For the third time. So it is time for a new one. This time I caught it before it broke since it was skipping around the cassette. I had to actually break it myself, which always seems weird. Making the best of the situation, I made the busted link pose for an arsty pic.

I am back to to plan more changes to this loop. I don’t know when, if ever, I will tire of exploring all of the riding options available along this route.

New bike trail, new direction, new ends

If you have followed my ride reports you may have noticed that I have done a similar loop lately, changing the route a little every time. Today’s change was that I did the loop in reverse, eliminated some climbs and did more mileage instead.

Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain
03:48:28 03:02:51 27.02 8.87 30.20 1,649.61
hours hours mi. mph mph ft.

The first thing I met of any significance was of GREAT significance. San Juan Capistrano has extended the bike trail from Reata Park all the way to Calle Arroyo, which means cyclists do not have to brave the “Ortega choke point” anymore.


A trail to allow cyclists to avoid the Ortega choke point






Ahh, the smell of a new trail


Down Crown Valley

Down Crown Valley



Kinda artsy

The Crown Valley bridge over Arroyo Trabuco actually has some nice architecture to it and affords a good view of the valley it crosses as long as you are on a bike or on foot and able to see it. The view from the cars is not so interesting.


Do you people know what an interesting bridge you are on?


Splain dis to me homey

‘splain dis to me homey

Since I had two contradictory signs to chose from, I chose the park sign and proceeded. I have passed by this many times in the other direction and never looked back and saw the gate. When you enter the trails in the other direction there are no “No Trespassing” signs posted.


One of these days I want to visit that winery.

The winery is at one end of my short trek down Camino Capistrano. I stopped for a break in the open space area.


Meta photography

Due to sufficient rain this year the local vegetation is turning green. It is a nice change.


I likey

I got a cheap grip/bar end combo from a Chinese seller on Amazon. The bar ends had a small burr under the finish and the left grip rotates slightly even when tightened properly. In practice I did not notice either problem while riding, and I do like the bar ends. I was in them most of the ride. The red Togs (thumb over grip system) works well. Between the two of them I have multiple additional hand positions on a simple flat bar. FYI, the Truvativ T40 Noir carbon flat bar comes with plugs that are aluminum inserts to support lock on grips and bar ends.


The gates of…Saddleback Church

The other end of my ride down Camino Capistrano was Saddleback Church. The campus is really beautiful featuring a pond, a chapel and buildings that look like they were inspired by the missions. I will have to take pics of them on a future ride.

Once past the church you enter the San Juan Creek area.


This place was green before green was cool

The area is full of remnants of an Orange grove and who knows what else. I mean someone probably does know, just not me. Like this thing, a large concrete bowl that won’t be hanging on much longer.


I hope this is not important to anyone

Or a semi trailer that probably can only be removed by a helicopter lift.


Free to a good home

Or this poor nursery which I have taken pics of before.


Guilty of releasing greenhouse gasses

And the occasional unexpected amazing view. Well, it would be unexpected if you had not seen it in a blog already.


A wild canyon hiding in plain sight in suburbia

This area is not popular among mountain bikers. It is mostly fire road, not singletrack, so mountain bikers find it boring. I have seen very few mountain bikers back here. But I have seen many more equestrians. Like the two I encountered on this ride. Sorry, I did not get pictures but I wanted to describe what happened with them. I have had many riders on horses tell me that there is no need to stop for horses in an area like this. Riders should not be riding horses on multi use trails that get spooked by bikes. But I am still accommodating of riders. I slow down, make eye contact and try to get some kind of gesture that it is OK. Then I ride by, slowing down if I need to. When you ride as slow as I do, slowing down is not always necessary. On this ride I encountered a horse that got spooked by me from a long way off. I stopped and waited for the rider to go by. He brought the horse a little closer to me as he rode by, I presume to get the horse comfortable with bikes. The rider even explained in passing that the horse never got spooked by bikes. I have to presume it was my 29 plus tires. They have the same effect on roadies.

That raised my sensitivity to horses. Just minutes afterward  I was riding a long shallow descent and flying along the trail nicely. A tree blocked my view past a sharp turn, but looking through the tree I was able to see another horse rider coming up the trail. I slowed down and the rider pulled the horse to the side of the trail. This rider had nothing to say, but I always complement the horse as I ride by,”beautiful horse!” Riders seem to universally appreciate it. And I mean it, too. It is sort of like saying “Nice hawg” to a Harley rider. It is a good way to break the ice and maintain good relations with other trail users.

The trail continued down to the beach. The tide was very low at the time. My 29 plus bike is actually a fat bike with 29 plus wheels and tires, so I am familiar with riding beach sand. I broke off the trail and hit the sand. The plus tires were fine in sand like this. They tended to sink in a little more than the my 4.7″ Big Fat Larrys of course, so they were a little more effort in the sand, but manageable.


My Fatback, at home on beach sand, even with puny little 29 plus 3.0 tires

A low tide usually means a high tide, and a recent high tide took out part of the parking lot at the beach.


No parking. Seriously. No. Parking.

Farther down the beach there was a strange visitor.


Nice doggy?


A little bit of a disappointment

I left the beach via a railroad underpass.


Bye bye puppy. Kinda. Whatever.


Under construction

The final leg of the ride took me under the 5 freeway which is being widened. While under construction it looks like the entire thing is being held up by exclusively by wooden supports. It was a fitting end to ride the featured new trails, a new direction and new ends.