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Sunrise at Cherry Canyon
A 6:00 am door-to-door session at my favorite local trail system.
One Tuesday evening in November I got one of my favorite kinds of text messages: My friend Heather had just gotten a mountain bike and was looking for local trails to check out. In my excitement (briefly forgetting how much I dislike early mornings) I agreed to introduce her to Cherry Canyon that Thursday morning at 6am.
Over the years I’ve learned social pressure can be one of the most reliable motivators for early morning activities.
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Cherry Canyon is a 131 acre preserve tucked next to Descanso Gardens, between the 210 and 2 freeways. Fire roads and singletrack weave their way through the chaparral and oak trees, crossing back on one another like a net thrown over the hillside. To the southwest, the ocean is visible beyond the downtown skyline. To the northeast, Mt. Wilson and the San Gabriels tower above Pasadena. You can even catch panoramic views of the snow dusted San Gabriels if your timing is right.
Like most all trail riding in Los Angeles, you pay for fun descents at Cherry Canyon with not-as-fun steep climbs. If you’re going to get into mountain biking in LA, the sooner you get used to going uphill the sooner you’ll start having fun.
I still repeat this mantra to myself often.
I left my house at 5:20 and rode in the dark to meet at the trailhead. By the time I arrived, the dark had dissolved into gray morning light. We pedaled up the fire road toward five corners just as the sun crested the horizon to the east. Whatever residual pain lingered from the early morning wake up dissipated as soon as the sun hit our faces.
We arrived at five corners and wondered aloud why we don’t watch sunrises more often.
The pink yellow light painted on the San Gabriels provided an immaculate backdrop as we dropped down Owl Trail, our first single track of the day.
Maybe these trails weren’t quite as beginner-friendly as I’d remembered. The first hundred yards had a few rocks, a loose off-camber corner, and a sandy wash. Oops.
Heather had specifically texted me two days before:
“I should preface that I suck and need a wide trail.”
Owl Trail is not wide. Strike one. Turns out it’s not incredibly easy either. Strike two. Fortunately, she made it through the tougher sections and enjoyed the ride through the oak trees down to the bottom. The light had turned golden and danced down in beams through the criss-crossing branches. Her first singletrack in Los Angeles was in the bag, and we pedaled back up to the top for the second half of the morning ride.
Part of the fun of Cherry Canyon is discovering all the small side-spurs and loop-arounds which connect the trails. I’d ridden right past the entrance of one of my now-favorite trails half a dozen times before noticing it.
I’m still discovering new ways to link up the best climbs and most fun descents. Sure, you can look up recommended loops online beforehand if you want to, but Cherry Canyon is just small enough that simply winding around is the most fun way to get to know it.
We stopped at the top to catch our breath before heading across the ridge to the Conservancy Trail.
In 1986, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy provided a $1.3-million grant to help the City of La Canada Flintridge purchase the first 55 acre parcel of Cherry Canyon. Their namesake lives on in what has ended up being my favorite trail at Cherry Canyon. The ¾ mile trail drops 150 feet back down to the staging area.
For a quick after-work ride, I often simply loop the Conservancy trail three or four times and head home.
We got back to the cars around 7:30am—the time I’m normally hitting snooze on my alarm clock. We agreed we should do more sunrise sessions at Cherry Canyon, especially through the winter when it’s harder to find daylight after work.
Turns out, MTB Project ranks Conservancy as an intermediate/difficult trail. Whoops. Good news is that Heather still wants to keep getting into mountain biking, and I promised next time we could take some actual beginner trails.