Tera and the pups enjoying another fine camping spot in Clark Canyon, California

Van Life, part 6

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So Tera and I just hit our one year anniversary in the van, I can’t believe how fast it’s gone by. We have been all over the Western US and Canada, and now found ourselves circling back to where it all started, California. Tera’s sister just bought a house in Santa Cruz so we figured it was time for a visit, with a few stops along the way of course.


two humans and two dogs relaxing on the beach, watching the ocean
Hanging at the beach just outside of Santa Cruz


Now that winter has come and gone, van life has gone back to a careful balance of climbing and biking. The plan was to head to Tahoe for a few days, then to Bishop, and over to Santa Cruz. Unfortunately the weather didn’t totally want to cooperate with us so we had to bounce around a bit more than we planned, but not a big deal.


Our first stop was Clark Canyon for some climbing. Clark was a really fun spot. It was mostly sport climbing, short steep routes of volcanic rock with multitudes of holes and pockets. I was definitely feeling a bit rusty and weak so it was a nice spot to get back into climbing mode.


a clouded sky looms over hot springs being enjoyed by humans and dogs alike
Tera and the pups making the most of a rainy day at some hot springs outside of Mammoth


We only climbed in Clark Canyon for one day. The weather looked like it was going to take a turn for the worse and the dirt road in was about max what the van could handle so we decided to get out when we could. The next day was wet and rainy so it was good we left when we did. We made the best of it though, with a trip to the hot springs.


We had planned to head to South Lake Tahoe after Bishop, but the weather looked cold and rainy there, while the weather in Santa Cruz looked sunny and perfect. So we hit up Tera’s sister and asked if it was ok if we came a little early.


 mountain biker rides a smooth trail through an evergreen forest
Tera enjoying the finely crafted Demo Flow trail


Trailforks has been an awesome resource for finding sweet trails in new areas, but I have also started using YouTube. With the GoPro craze, there are a lot of trail videos out there, and I find it’s a great way to see a trail and get a feel of if I want to ride it or not. When I looked on YouTube for trails in Santa Cruz, I came across quite a few videos of a trail called Demo Flow in the Soquel Demonstration Forest. It was awesome! Fast, flow, really well built and thought out. I ended up riding it twice, I had so much fun. We did a few other rides in Santa Cruz, but that was definitely the highlight. We spent the rest of our play time there getting out butts kicked by the waves pretending to be surfers.


belayer’s view, looking up at a rock climber climbing an offwidth route
Tera about to begin the though offwidth section of Traveler Buttress


After Santa Cruz, we headed over to South Lake Tahoe. We had been there a few years ago and couldn’t wait to get back. Our first stop was Lovers Leap for some climbing. Since Tera is the climber, she usually has an idea of what she wants so climb and I just follow along. The first climb she wanted to do was a really fun 4 pitch 5.9 called Traveler Buttress. The second pitch had a really, really hard offwitdh section that I was very proud of Tera for making it through, I definitely had some moments where I wasn’t sure I was going to make it up it or not.


 two climbers pose for a selfie at the top of a climb, amidst grey rock and evergreen-dotted mountains
Hanging out at the top of Lovers Leap


After a few fun days of climbing at Lovers Leap, we headed to South Lake for some more biking. South Lake has definitely become one of my new favorite places to ride. There are a lot of techy granite boulder sections and some fun fast flowy trails.


dog follows a mountain biker around a corner of a trail through an evergreen forest, with snow-capped mountains in the background
Tera and Patsy on the Armstrong Trail


We have only scratched the surface there, but so far some of my favorite trails are Cold Creek and Armstrong Trail. Cold Creek has a few sections that remind me of Moab on granite.


mountain biker rolls down a smooth rock slab under dappled sunlight
Image: 88166 6Mike riding a fun little granite slab section of the Armstrong trail


With so much great riding and climbing so close to each other, I see South Lake Tahoe as a place we will be visiting for a long time.


Overall our time is Cali was amazing. It’s such a great state with so much to do and such a vast and varying landscape. There is always something new and exciting to check out.


climber coils rope over her shoulders
Tera coiling up the rope after finishing up a great day of climbing on Lovers Leap


Mike Schirf, jans.com Photographer