By John Stewart
Fall is my favorite season in the mountains. I say its my favorite because we’re in it now. If it’s January and we are buried in fresh powder and you ask me: I’d say Winter is my favorite! The same goes for a hot summer day on the lake or a cool shower and flowing streams in the Spring. Hell, I love all the seasons. But now it’s fall. This is my most productive time of year by far. It’s just good working (and playing) weather. I usually park my dirt bikes during the hot summer months. So come September/October, I’m dying to go tear it up.
Today, the weather is cool, the dirt is wet from a fresh rain and I have a dirt bike with a license plate. I could go anywhere! Well, maybe not anywhere. I have responsibilities too. But today is cleared for an adventure.
I start to think of a destination that is far enough that will take all day but bring me back in time for dinner. I look over some maps, connect a few roads, download some stuff on my GPS and head out solo. I usually like to route myself a loop and try not to do any backtracking. My half way point/destination is The Brewing Lair in Blairsden, CA on Highway 70. If you have never been there, and you like great beer, go! The beer is amazing and the setting is definitely unique. A one of a kind place for sure. If you go…Look it up first. It’s kind of hard to find.
So I head out of town (Westwood) on our familiar haul road, out around Walker Lake and up toward the saddle that separates Moonlight Valley and Indian Valley.
I have found over the years several ways to get to Indian Valley from home on a dirt bike. Some are well known and some you might never consider. I wont get too specific here, but I make it to Indian Valley. I stop in at the Taylorsville store for some Riley’s Jerky and some other supplies. They make great deli sandwiches there, too.
I’ve only hit a handful of paved miles so far and there’s a few more ahead to get me to Genesee. I sometimes measure my success in how few paved miles I have to ride. They are not 100% avoidable when you have a destination in mind. Pavement is low on my list of favorite terrains to ride but it’s just a part of this type of travel. I’ll deal with it!
I make it to Genesee and take the main dirt road that follows Grizzly Creek and drops you at Lake Davis. But I wont be going that far on it. I’ve routed some other roads that I’ve never traveled that should take me west toward Grizzly ridge.
The first road off the main is a good one. It’s fast and fun with sand-like decomposed granite that made cornering a rear wheel thing. There were times I felt like I was racing the Sacramento Mile, flat tracking my way through the wilderness. The next road quickly gained elevation and was totally off-road. It soon got rocky and steep. I’ve been on many of these types of roads before that go up to a landing and just end. I hoped this wasn’t one of those. Every landing I’d come to I though, I think,“This is it!” But it always seemed to keep on going. This path took me up and over Grizzly Ridge. The roads from here to Highway 70 were steep and rocky and overgrown with brush. I made it to Penmen Saddle and continued to drop elevation with sneak peaks of the Mohawk Valley and the Middle Fork of the Feather River. I could see in the distance to the west, Eureka Peak and the Johnsville Ski park. That will be my route out of Blairsden.
I hit highway 70 exactly where I’d planned. Only a few miles of pavement to the Brewery. I ride up the winding dirt drive to the brew spot and the sun is shining and there’s a party going on. Perfect! It’s now mid afternoon and I’ve got a long way still to go. The Brewery doesn’t sell food because there’s no restaurant or bar. There’s none of those things that you would see at every brewery I’ve ever been to. But it’s on my list of favorite breweries. I’d say it’s a grass roots place that you’d drive right by if you didn’t know it was tucked away in the forest off the highway. It’s a great vibe with a south facing sunny side to relax in adirondack chairs on the patio, pet the owner’s dog and eat the lunch you brought. They encourage picnicking. This place is cool! I brought my growlers along and had them filled during my stop there. I relaxed in the sun and small talked with some other patrons while I ate my lunch and shared some with the dog, too.
Time to hit the trail.
I stop in Gaeagle for some fuel and head up to the Plumas Eureka State Park. The road that takes you through the park continues on under incredible granite peaks and over river canyons that drop 3000 feet. This is the Lost Sierra. The main is rocky and has lots of huge drop offs. So don’t overshoot a corner here; you might never be found.
The road takes me over McRea Ridge and just under Mt. Etna parallels the Pacific Crest Trail for several miles. The road ends at La Porte Road. I jump on the paved road and head 25 miles North to Quincy. As much as I despise riding tarmac on my dirt bike, I had a ball on La Porte. It’s worthy of a sport car commercial. It boasts 25 miles of twists and elevation changes with incredible vistas. There are only a few ways to cross the wild and scenic stretch of the Feather. This road is one of them.
I make it to Quincy and should have plenty of fuel to make it home. Wasn’t sure how much daylight was left though.
I head out Chandler Road by the high school and cross the train tracks. This is Mount Hough Road and it will take you to the top of Mt. Hough and Crystal Lake, a hidden gem for sure.
As I climb in elevation I can see the sun low on the horizon. I forget how fast the sun drops in October — and the temperature. I descend the mountain and slowly roll through Taylorsville. I almost stop at the tavern but I’m low on sunlight. It’s one of my favorite watering holes up here. I’ve met some interesting and friendly folks there.
I ride the North Arm of the Valley to Lights Creek. This is a main way to get from this valley to ours. It’s a fast and fun road. I drop into Moonlight Valley with just enough dusk light left on the horizon to silhouette Mt. Lassen. What a sight!
I ride through town with a feeling of accomplishment. Not only did I not get lost and die, I got to see incredible views and ride some fun roads, meet a few people, had some local micro brew, and mapped out a killer loop to take the next time I want to fill my growlers. We live in paradise! I say that every time I come home from just about anywhere. We are lucky to call this tiny slice of Nor-Cal home.