48.14 Miles; 3,084 Feet of Gain; Big Bear, CA to Silverwood Lake, CA
Janna and I slept-in due to the bed and cabin situation. We felt comfortable leaving later in the morning because we were going to remain relatively high up in the San Bernadino Mountains. We ate breakfast leftovers before cleaning the cabin followed by packing up the bikes. That put us outside on the front driveway by 9 am. We locked the place and started off with sore butts towards the north shores of Big Bear Lake. We had spent all of the past two days getting groceries and riding along the south shore. The north shore was arguably less developed, had more National Forest abutting the lake, and way less vehicular traffic. The morning was easy cruising through small cabin hamlets along the lake coupled with frequent stops to gaze out on sage colliding with deep blue water. The west side of Big Bear Lake had lots of boats and beaches to swim and play. It looked inviting and gorgeous underneath the blazing summer sun. Cars were parked end-to-end along any pullouts as recreators made their ways to the waves.
At the far end of the lake, the mountains "bowled-up" around us, pinching the lake into a narrow outflow that had been dammed (thus forming the reservoir). Here at Bear Lake Dam, Highway 18 started a twisty and narrow climb up into the San Bernadino Mountains as the road became known as the scenic "Rim of the World." And it was truly spectacular for the sights. Big 'ol craggy peaks white with granite and streaked with conifers rose around us. Although the highway was curvy with a good flow of traffic, the shoulder was wide, welcoming, and frequent with pullouts. And we used the pullouts to look back down on where we had climbed and descending cliffs of mountains above the smoggy sprawl of Los Angeles thousands of feet below us. It certainly had a "sky island" feel to it all: the desert low and expansive while we are all high and tree-cupped.
There was ample climbing and even the elevation couldn't fully abate the sun's summer intensity which meant we had good sweats going. By mid-day we were rolling into Arrowbear Lake where we stopped at a Valero gas station for Gatorade and snacks. It was also a good moment to use the restroom (not much privacy from cars or private land along Rim of the World) and reapply sunscreen. Renewed, Janna and I began the beautiful crawl along the ridgeline road. The highway took a particular turn that exposed the totality of LA at the mountain's feet. It was a striking contrast to where we were.
The two of us turned one more corner and saw a sign up ahead for Heaps Peak Arboretum - a tree sanctuary centered in the San Bernadino National Forest with a grove of some of our first sequoias outside of the ones planted in the town center of Idyllwild. It was shady and wondrously cooler than the sunbaked highway, so we leaned our bikes against some picnic tables and took a long-meandering walk along a trail loop through the arboretum. Some of the largest Jeffrey Pine pinecones lay strewn about and they dwarfed my hands. The Memorial Grove of Sequoias was cool to see, albeit these were young and not nearly as large as those to come in the Sierras. I closed the loop hike and lay on the picnic table benches for a long shady nap. The two of us awoke in mid-afternoon, ate some snacks, and decided to push on.
Rim of the World began a sizeable plunge down the mountains such that we were no longer along the rim proper, but on some steep slopes the highway cut into below. Suddenly, the highway merged with another road along a roundabout and became a massively busy stretch of pavement where the shoulder began to wane. This was coupled with a massively steep and strenuous climb back up and over the rim once more. Cars whizzed by and then one pulled to a sudden stop, joined the shoulder, and began backing up to us. We stopped our bikes as a couple got out and began talking to us excitedly. They were avid bike tourers and were stoked to see us out here on our own ride. Our two groups chatted for about 10 minutes before they offered us some cold drinks and the opportunity to stay with them in LA. We declined saying we actually were heading over the range to Silverwood Lake tonight, but were grateful for their offer. We said goodbyes and started up the climb again. It became even more steep for the last part to such a grade that I simply got off my bike and hike-a-biked up the highway shoulder.
The Sierra Cascades climbed over the rim into a small town where we took a welcome backroad clear of traffic down through rural neighborhoods set in the forest. We stopped to watch a big rattlesnake cross the road, which I excitedly took photos of. From there it was another spate of steep up-and-downs that had my brakes burning or my legs pumping. We hit Highway 138 which was exposed, low, and so much hotter through the heart of Miller Canyon. But then penultimate blue Silverwood Lake reared up on our rights, beautifully set among the dry desert-mountain hills. We pulled into the State Recreation Area and were able to grab a hiker/biker site set back in the tree-scrub with an overlook of Silverwood Lake. It was a truly beautiful campsite.
I setup the shelter and we got to work performing our daily bike maintenance duties (cleaning chains, checking wheels, etc.). I had no sooner finished cleaning my chain then Janna called me over to her bike with worry in her voice. She showed me her Shimano 9-speed chain which had multiple pins and rivets sticking our at weird angles, on the verge of breaking. My eyes flew open. Janna said that her bike had been making a weird noise for several miles but she didn't think it was anything until she bent down to lube her chain and realized it was on the verge of shattering at multiple points. I told her I could fix it using some Quick-Links we had brought, only to find upon looking that we had never packed them. "Shit!" I though as a I dug around, but she didn't remember packing them either. I got out the chain tool and worked several pins back into the chain, but they were all kinked and compromised now. The chain would hold, but not indefinitely - sooner rather than later, it would kick apart with little force at all and we would be in trouble.
I got into problem-solving mode and zeroed in on ways to get this situation solved. We had no extra chain to use and no Quick-Links. I looked up the nearest bike shops and found them 40 miles away in LA and several thousands of gain of feet from here; her chain wouldn't make it. We were high in the mountains still. I started calling to AAA to see if we could use them to get to a shop. That was a negative. I looked up and started calling some tow trucks. One company would take me to a bike shop, but not back, and not with a bike. That was a no go. One company would take me to a bike shop but wanted nearly $600 for a 40 mile drive down to the desert out on the north side of the mountains. I affirmed a negative on that. But, they gave me an idea because I hadn't looked out on the high Mojave desert on the north side. There was a single bike shop in Hesperia that was open tomorrow, but their website revealed that they were going out of business. With the given supply-change bike-part shortage, I didn't want to get out there and not have a way to get back along with not having a chain for sure. I walked up to the rangers at the front station and asked if I could pay any of them to take me down. They said that would violate their job rules. Disheartened, I walked back to the campsite. I had one last idea. 9-speed bikes are fairly common and I had seen a few people riding bikes in circles through the campground. I told Janna to come with me and that we should offer to pay someone for their chain right off their bikes.
We started working our way through campsites. The first couples of families with bikes listened to our predicament and invited us to examine their rigs. Unfortunately, they were all 8-speeds. We continued on when a guy passed on his bike. I yelled out to him to stop and explained our situation. He had a 9-speed. I offered him cash right there. He told me no, despite the amount I offered, because he said all he wanted to do was ride in circles through the campground and go home. Deflated, we headed back to camp where we stopped by one last couple with bikes on the back of their RV. The couple were named Don and Karen. Upon listening to our situation, they invited us to examine their bikes. Unfortunately, 8-speeds again. The look of defeat must have been strong on Janna's face because Karen immediately became a protective mother hen of us. She started walked around saying they were going to help us get a chain no matter what. She told us to head back to our site and that she and Don would come down to talk options with us shortly.
Karen and Don began looking on their phones for bike shops and found the one out by Hesperia that I had seen going out of business. It was the closest one and they decided they were taking us there on their RV tomorrow morning first thing, which is what they relayed to us when they came down to our campsite. Janna and I were utterly blown away by their kindness. I asked Janna if she was comfortable going with them, and she affirmed saying they reminded her of her own parents. Don and Karen talked with us at our campsite for a while, listening to our tour, relaying their own adventures, and making sure we knew they were going to "parent" us with their actions. Evening, and coolness, began creeping on, and Don and Karen went back to their RV. Despite their assurances, Janna and I honestly had no way of knowing whether this would all work out tomorrow or not. But, the situation was the only workable one right now. We got into the tent in the warm desert night and slept restlessly with our thoughts and predictions for tomorrow.