Saturday, January 25, 2014

Camp-Ride Report: San Juan Trail and Blue Jay Campground, Jan 2014

Camp-Ride Report: San Juan Trail and Blue Jay Campground

I met up with fellow Christian and KLR rider Jeff for a go at the San Juan Trail off of the Ortega Highway (Hwy 74). Instead of taking my KLR, I brought along my slightly bigger and taller new acquisition — a KTM 950 Adventure — to see how it did in the rough stuff. More on that …

We agreed to meet at the Blue Jay Campground on Saturday afternoon to plan our ride. It also gave me time to shake out my camping gear. I rode up the I-15 north from San Diego to lake Elsinore. I stopped by the lookout to enjoy the view with others who had the same idea.

When I arrived at 3:45 PM, the 55-spot campground was almost full. I parked in one of the 3 available sites and strolled around the ground. Hearing a large and boisterous group of drunks nearby, maybe I should have moved right then… An Adventure Pass is required for stopping in a National Forest, so I zip-tied the pass I’d purchased at REI recently to one of my forks. The campground was reasonably-priced, costing less than $10 each for the night. Each of the campsites included vehicle parking, a flat area for tents, a wooden table, a grill and a firepit; restrooms and water were nearby.

This isn’t the type of camping I prefer, but it really wasn’t to bad at all for those who don’t mind camping near others in a more structured environment.

Jeff arrived shortly after I did and we set up camp and cooked up some chow as we discussed the next day’s ride. Jeff has a highly-modded 1992 KLR that is made for this stuff. We didn't snap any photos of our tents and bikes, but this is more or les what it looked like:

We talked until about 9:30 and called it a night. The party continued at the Blue Jay campground well past midnight (that’s what earplugs are for).

Up early the next morning, we took our time cooking breakfast and packing up camp. Hitting the nearby San Juan Trail, I was a bit more loaded down than I would’ve liked…but how tough could the trail really be? I was soon to find out. We aired our tires down just a bit to contend with the soft dirt and sand and off we went.

The trail started easy, just hardpack dirt, some loose gravel and quite a few rocks to dodge. Soon, however, as we gained elevation, the trail gave way to ruts and rocks. I remained behind Jeff and chose a zig zag approach, staying in 1st or 2nd gear to negotiate the changing and somewhat challenging terrain. Due to the sharp changes in elevation, we encountered some tight switchbacks along the way. We didn’t come upon any oncoming traffic, though.

We passed about a dozen hikers on the 11-mile ride to the top of Santiago peak. We also passed a dune buggy driving slowly up the grade as well as a lone mountain biker. The views were pretty spectacular—maybe too much so, as the trail required my full attention. The few times I took my eyes off the trail to gaze at the nice vistas, I was rewarded with a deep rut or loose rocks. Keep your eyes on the road, boy! Ride reports I’d read before starting this ride stated, “If you have never ridden this trail, take it easy, don't go all out. There are many sections that are steep and exposed that come up on you without notice. Don't get caught off guard.” True Dat!

Jeff stopped at a couple of nice spots to snap photos of the scenery. At one stop, we were joined by 4 local riders on dirtbikes. They were really flying up the grade and having a great time doing so. We talked with them a while and they passed along some good info about side trails, gates and alternate routes. After wishing us well, they were off in a cloud of dust.

I took the lead and put it in 3rd gear, seeing what the big girl could do. The KTM Adventure is really a big dirtbike and she did very well on the rough terrain. In no time we had reached Santiago Peak (also known as Saddleback) and met up again with our dirtbike riding friends from earlier; they asked us to join them for a burger at Tom’s Farms later. Also stopping to enjoy the view (Catalina Island could be clearly seen) was a group of hikers who said the walk had taken them 4 hours to reach the top and they were on their way back down.

Starting off down the other side, the trail topography again changed to dust and looser, larger rocks. We both pushed it a bit, stopping twice for photo ops along the way. In no time at all we had reached the bottom and had to figure outhow to exit to the I-15. The trail ended in a fork – one side leading to a golf course, the other into a residential community with Stay Out signs posted everywhere. We were able to find our way to Tom’s Farms where Jeff and I parted ways. I wanted to get home and I still had 90 miles of asphalt to contend with. Jeff decided to skip lunch, too, so we filled up at a nearby Arco and aired the tires back up.

What a great ride that was! Fun yet just challenging enough to keep a rider on his toes. This was just one of the many off-road trails in the Cleveland National Forrest…so, what’s next?!

Info from the net: The San Juan Trail is one of the premier single track trails in Southern California. Many avid bikers flock to this trail to test their endurance or simply for an amazing downhill ride. Located just inside Orange County, the San Juan Trail traverses some classic SoCal landscape such as chaparral, dense oak trees and meadows of bunchgrass.
It begins high in the Santa Ana Mountains at around 3,400 ft. and carves its way down into Hot Springs Canyon at around 800 ft. This trail is a huge attraction for endurance mountain bikers and for downhill riders and should only be ridden by experienced mountain bikers! There are many technical (and often very steep) areas and quite a bit of exposure in certain areas ranging from 20ft to 100ft.

View current conditions here: