During the summer I refuse to leave Flagstaff’s 7,000-foot oasis to visit certain places. Phoenix is first on my list of “oh hell no” destinations. Southern California–especially the inland part of southern California–is next on my list. If given the choice, why would anyone subject themselves to places like Needles and Barstow when you could drive in the other direction–through monsoons on the Navajo Reservation–and reach the San Juan Mountains of Colorado in an afternoon? In August 2012 rain in Needles, CA fell from the sky at 115 degrees Fahrenheit! Did I mention the AC in my van has broken for the past five years?Last week I decided to keep my snotty vacation attitude in check and give Big Bear Lake, California a try. I’ve heard that Big Bear is to LA what Flagstaff is to Phoenix–a small mountain sanctuary with dry, hot desert on every side. So Artec, Bender (the dog), and I piled into Artec’s old Corolla (the AC works most of the time) and drove through Needles and Barstow and then up to Big Bear. We had a damn good time! Here’s why you should come with us next year:
- On the six-hour drive through the hot desert you will have two #winning moments to share on Instagram. The first will occur as you climb either into or out of Kingman with your AC blasting and your iPod playing an enjoyable folk-pop mix. You will notice that the Corolla is no longer tailing you. I will text you to let you know we are okay, but roasting inside the Corolla, because we have to turn the AC off on the hills so it doesn’t overheat.
Also, we are listening to the radio but all we are getting is some sort of Christian-country music. I’ve chosen that over one of the many love-dovey mixes a variety of Artec’s ex-girlfriends have made him over the years. I will probably cave and put one in the CD player very soon.
- The next #winning moment will happen when you get to Big Bear Lake three hours ahead of Artec and me. This will mostly be because the Corolla can’t go over 60 miles per hour into a headwind with the bikes on the roof. There is always a headwind in southern California. You will also gain some time on us because Artec likes to stop a lot on road trips.
- We’ll all meet at the Black Forest Lodge in Big Bear Lake. This place is horrible and wonderful all at the same time. You’ll be glad you’re early so you can air out the cabin you’ve rented because it will be stuffy and hot and smell like cigarettes. When you ask the pasty man with a pot belly working the counter for a fan (the cabin won’t have one) he will first insult you by calling you a wimp and then try to tell you that this place is about “getting back to nature.” He will say all this to you with two fans blowing in his face. But don’t worry, if you bug him enough he’ll bring you a fan by the second night of your stay.
- The Black Forest Lodge is worth it because we can have dogs!
Bender will continue to run back into the Corolla as we unpack, but don’t worry, he’ll eventually warm up to the place.
- The people in Big Bear Lake can be a little obnoxious, but that adds to the charm. At dinner we’ll sit next to a couple with two purebred Pomeranians. The Pomeranians will bark (it’ll be high pitched and awful) throughout all of dinner. The couple will refer to each other as Mom and Dad to the dogs, feed them pieces of Ahi Tuna, watch a baseball game on an I-phone and not bother to quiet the dogs even once. This will make Artec really, really grumpy. But none of this will matter because the food in southern California is really, really good. Yes, Telluride (the summer vacation destination for most people in Flagstaff) has more class and better scenery, but southern Californian’s put avocado on everything and it is delicious!
- If southern California is in another draught next year (it will be) the course for the race will be really sandy. But that’s okay because the trails are awesome! The course is 70% single track, and because we know how to ride bikes in Flagstaff, we will all have really good races. The course is like this: 50 miles of single track with Elden Lookout Road sandwiched in the middle of it.
- After the race, those of us who win carved bears will carry them downtown and tourists will ask which store we bought them from. Each storefront in Big Bear has a similar bear out front. This will make us all feel cool. Or maybe dorky. But at least we will be in it together.
- The dogs will get to play in the giant bathtub ring around Big Bear Lake. It’s too muddy for the humans to want to swim, but the dogs will love it.
- The hot tub at the Black Forest Lodge is really hot and the pool is really cold. It’s the perfect place to recover from 100k race with 10,000 feet of climbing.
- When you finally make it back to Flagstaff monsoon season will be at its peak. The trails will be soaked but you’ll be too exhausted to ride anyway. You’ll lie on the couch drinking a Tower Station (the beer is not quite as good in southern California) and dream about the “Avacado Bomb” you ate on your trip. The “Avacado Bomb” was a tempura fried avocado smothered in chipotle aioli and stuffed with ahi tuna. It was by far the best part of the trip!
Artec and I will probably make the trek west again next year. After all, I’ll need to defend my win, and the women’s cash purse is bigger than any of the National Ultra Endurance Series races!