Summer weekends in San Francisco usually mean cold, foggy days. Ideas of escape to feel the warm sun on my face swirl around in my head. When I factor Friday into the escape plan that gives me 72 hours of serious playtime before I have to be back in the concrete jungle on Monday morning. That is plenty of time to have a microadventure.
The small town of Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierras was the destination. The 5-hour route to Mammoth consisted of a customary In-N-Out Burger stop and then on through the wilderness of picturesque Yosemite. There is nothing like a blast of fresh mountain air to the lungs and the sight of mature evergreen pine trees to get me excited about being in the Sierras. Mammoth Lakes is just a half hour beyond Yosemite’s backdoor. It is home to several beautiful lakes and amazing hiking trails so I made sure to set one day aside to explore the area by foot. But the main attraction for me was mountain biking Mammoth Mountain.
Mammoth Mountain covers more than 3,500 acres and boasts one of the longest ski seasons. But once the snow melts Mammoth Mountain becomes a mountain biker’s paradise. Very little is required in both areas of prepping and packing for a weekend here. I grabbed a couple of my outdoorsy friends, rented a condo there and the prep list was complete. Adding the standard bike clothes, shoes, helmet and hydration pack in with my basic weekend clothes and toiletries was a no-brainer. Less baggage on a microadventure is better. It leaves more room for fun.
I opted to leave my mountain bike at home so I could rent one at the Adventure Center on the mountain and experience the ride of a newer model. My friends and I cruised up the mountain via the gondola and exited at the summit. At 11,053 feet the 360˚ vista was breathtaking. From here I could see into Yosemite’s backyard. Mt. Ritter, Mt. Banner and the jagged peaks of the Minarets were also part of this picturesque backdrop.
There are over 85+ miles of single-track trails to choose from and although I am an avid cyclist it had been a long time since I had been on a mountain trail. I always have a sense of “keeping up with the guys” and this trip was no different. I wanted to ride every trail, intermediate or double diamond, they picked without hesitation. So what if one was an ex-triathelete and the other works out daily? I could keep up.
The first intermediate run started above the tree line in sandy dirt and had a gentle downward pitch to it. My leg muscles barely had time to warm up before I was upon the soft pumice dirt of tight switchbacks. I was a bit squirrely with the first one and coming out of its 180˚ turn I found myself brake too hard, went over the handlebars and landed on my back. Although I’m no stranger to bumps, scrapes and bruises in the pursuit of fun, my female pride forced me to regain my composure without hesitation. I dusted myself off and continued on to regroup with my friends. At the side of the trail I got a lesson on how to brake on this terrain and went on to tackle the next several switchbacks with more confidence and an occasional foot down for support.
Trails led us past Red Lake and through the thick pine tree forests as the terrain shifted from pumice to more sand and rock, which gave me more control of the bike. I stopped a fair amount of times, not because I could not keep up, but because I didn’t want to just blow through this beautiful area. I wanted to take it all in. This trail, like most on the mountain, eventually ended back at the Center where I dismounted my bike and rediscovered my John Wayne walk— the one I get after sitting on a bike for long periods of time.
After lunch, with bellies full and bladders empty, it was time to get back on the gondola and the afternoon run. I soon had my second pass at the switchbacks. Now anchored by the confidence of having navigated through this zigzag trail already I was determined to get through each one without fail. Taking up the rear relieved any peer pressure and I went through them with more ease and better agility.
Trails crisscrossed the face of the mountain and as we took one heading south it became clear that at some point I left the comfort of my intermediate trail for the challenge of an expert one. On thing is for certain- this mountain does not disappoint in testing my biking skills.
Having successfully maneuvered off the expert trail I continued on a path that swerved in and out of pine trees, my tires crunching twigs beneath me while I sped along dodging imbedded rocks. I completely enjoyed hearing the birds, coming across squirrels and watching the sunlight dance between the trees while feeling the much-needed warmth of the sun on my face. At the end I took my tired, dirty self back to the condo content that I had just enjoyed a challenging, yet extremely fun day on the mountain.
Mammoth Lakes really exposes its scenic beauty in summer and a microadventure here that includes biking on Mammoth Mountain is a great way to experience it.