Strawberry to Columbia

I’ve been eyeballing doing some big cross country trips in the Sierra Nevada for some time, and this weekend I was able to preview a big section of one of my longer route ideas. We started out our day off of 108 in Strawberry and pedaled 40+ miles to the town of Columbia. The ride was almost all dirt, with about 25 miles of single track & ATV trails, including some teeth rattling single track above Lyon’s reservoir called Pinball, about 10 miles of dirt roads, and just a little bit of road riding near the edge of Twain Harte and down Big Hill road on the way down to Columbia.

Our day started with some truly epic condiditions, we had 2″ of fresh powder on Sugar Pine trail (we call it Ewok trail), which was just deep enough to crunch nicely under the tires without slowing us down too much. This first part of the ride is probably the most memorable and my favorite of the day. The snow on the ground and the twisty single track were amazing, it makes me jealous of the fat bike guys riding up in Tahoe. The Ewok trail single track used to be a RR grade, but it’s been over 50 years since the tracks were there and it’s slowly reverting back to nature. While the overall grade is still 2% or so down, it’s filled with trees and there are sections where there used to be trestles where you have to go up and around. Overall, it’s an a+ section of trail and a spectacular start to the day.

After about 6-7 miles of that, we hopped on the road briefly before climbing up to a ditch trail which parallels Spring Gap road. If you are following this route, I suggest staying on the road for a bit before climbing to the ditch trail, as the first section after Frazier Flat will have many riders on and off the bike. The ditch trail lasts for about 4 miles before giving out to forest roads for a few miles to the Crandall Peak OHV staging area. From there we took some ATV trails and a bit more forest road to get to the beginning of Pinball Trail.

Pinball trail is rough, and the first half mile or so is mostly hike-a-bike, but there are some amazing sections on it where you are riding across lava flows and through some alien looking terrain. Though it is mostly downhill, the trail here is so rough it’s a serious workout getting through it. Jason and Kevin were champions through here, humbling the Ogre again and again.

Near the end of Pinball, we turned down into the Deer Creek watershed where there are a lot of ATV trails, this made for a fun, often fast descent down a mix of rough ATV trails. Some of the sections were armored with bricks or plastic grids designed to prevent erosion from the bikes. For us it was a bit like riding down a steep but skinny paved trail through the woods… tons of fun. To make things a bit more interested, it started raining while we were descending through the technical moto-trails.

At the end of Deer Creek trail, we popped onto Italian Bar road where we decided based on time and the rain that we should take the fastest/ easiest route back to Columbia which meant a brutal 5+ mile climb up towards Twain Harte where we found the ditch trail that goes most of the way between Twain Harte and Columbia. We spent the next 8 miles or so riding a slight downhill along a windy water ditch. Though the grade was in our favor, we were all pretty sore at this time (the Ogre whined a lot and slowed everyone down).

The ditch trail isn’t as adventurous as the alternative route, but it turned out to be the perfect choice because we finished up the ride just before Sunset and enjoyed some spectacular views coming down Big Hill road as we descended the final few miles to Columbia. Everyone had huge grins on their face when they saw Fiona waiting with the truck near the bottom of Big Hill road. Both because we wouldn’t have to pedal the last few miles of little rolling hills into Columbia proper, and because it was a truly amazing ride.

Enough chatter…. here’s some pictures!