Readers Write: A Halcyon Road Trip

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By James Murren

Halcyon is a kingfisher. It is also a fabled bird that had supernatural powers to calm the sea and turn the sky blue so that it could lay its eggs in tranquility. Hence halcyon is also a word used to describe a time of peace and calmness, but it is often associated with the carefree days of youth. Mixed up in that is usually an air of nostalgia, a looking back on the days of yonder yore with a smile and slight dream to feel it all over again, if only for a fleeting moment.


No thanks. If I’m going to experience halcyon as an adjective, it’s going to be in the future. And for me, the idea of being carefree and experiencing some sort of inner calmness, well, that often happens while riding a bike on a dirt/rock trail in the mountains. Fortunately there are other people that desire the same thing. Fortunately-er there’s much trail to be ridden.

Six of us from around the USA met up to ride bikes for a week and some extra days, road tripping our way across the beautiful landscape of the American West. Destination: Sierra Buttes, aka the Lost Sierra, and its surroundings.  A lot’s been written about the area already, and it’s all true, from what I experienced. Yes, it was rugged, rocky and raw. Sure, it had some flow too. For certain, while there we were creating halcyon.

Our only immediate responsibilities were: wake up, eat breakfast, drive to the trailhead, ride bikes, drink beer, eat some more and go to bed, Then we’d get up the next day and do it all over again.

The sky really was blue and the weather was calm. Lots of laughter kept things carefree, until thoughts of work next week crept into our minds. (Other) Reality.

A rundown of keeping (other) reality away day-by-day:

Day 1: Take the bike out of the hard plastic shipping box, build it up and head to the Lagunas east of San Diego for a shakedown ride. Lucky 5 and Pine Mountain up to Champagne Pass was enough of a proving ground. The bikes were ready. It is so darn pretty up there.

Day 2: On the road at 5 a.m. with Lower Rock Creek of the eastern Sierra Nevada on our minds—and Van Halen. We parked at the lower trailhead and pedaled the road to the top. Aspen groves and the sound of water running over rocks, with some tech, during the first two sections was pure bliss. That lower section is a different kind of bliss—gnarly rock bliss, if that’s to your liking. It was to us. More rock bliss was found in Mammoth at a festival in town featuring David Lee Roth’s favorite Van Halen cover band. Spinal Tap? Yes!

Day 3: Mammoth two-track grind to single track. With scribbled lines on a basic map picked up at a local bike shop we wandered around the sand and gravel above town thinking we were lost but never being so. Eventually ended up on Mountain View flow back into town via the super flow of Uptown/Downtown.

Day 4: Sierra Buttes Lake Basin. By far, this was our favorite day. Grueling riding enhanced by rugged, raw natural beauty. A hike-a-bike up the final push of Mt. Elwell and then down its steep, nasty upper reaches was what mountain biking is all about for me. The views of the lakes, riding from one to the next, cleaning a few spots I had no business cleaning—i.e. I got lucky—put a permanent smile on my face.  A good tired.

Day 5: Countyline to Sheepdog to Mills Peak Downhill. We shuttled it and we had a blast despite that I gashed the rear tire near the end. Go do this ride!

Day 6: Downieville Downhill via 2nd Divide, with some Pauley Creek thrown in. Butcher was the highlight. That is some fine riding, even if I did unclip and walk when I got caught up in a bad line. Better to walk and ride tomorrow than …

Day 7: Hole in the Ground. We wanted to check out what Truckee had to offer. We were glad we did. More rocks that we could ride, more ruggedness, and the most diabolical descent over water bars that we had ever experienced. Madness. Crazy.

Day 8: Donner Lake Rim Trail. It’s a work in progress, but what is done is worth venturing out on. Yes, more rocks, and how this trail was built is pure rock art perfection. Fun, fun riding. We then made the long haul back to San Diego.

Day 9: Oakzanita Peak and its environs in the Cuyamacas. This is one of my favorite little trails in the Cuyamacas. The view up top is spectacular and the descent is a bit hair-raising in spots. We then meandered over to Deer Park to get in some remote riding. It sure is purty back there.

Nine days. Nine rides. One flat tire. One broken chain. One broken spoke. Zero broken bones. Six happy humans.

Bummed to be departing and going back to (other) reality we asked at lunch: where are we going next year? Maybe we can make it a two-week trip?

Spirits lifted.

Creating halcyon.


  • Smithneck Farms in Sierraville has a tasty breakfast burrito.
  • The Brewing Lair in Graeagle is an idyllic setting for drinking pints.
  • Yuba Expeditions in Downieville is top notch, as is Howling Dogs in Graeagle.
  • Canyon Ranch in Sierraville has basic cabins with a creek that makes for perfect sleeping conditions.
  • Support Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship when you’re in the area.

About the author: James Murren is a Dirt Rag contributor and independent writer. Read more about his trip at his website,