Andrew Villablanca is a Los Angeles based outdoors enthusiast. If he isn’t mountain biking, he’s out on an adventure in his truck to explore the Southwest. His 2006 Dodge Ram 2500 is equipped with a Yakima SkyRise HD rooftop tent, SlimShady Awning, and OutPost HD rack.
LA Weekend Road Trip: Leave the Home Office Behind
For a lot of us, 2020 has been anything but what we expected. With all semblance of a routine gone, it’s been hard to keep track of the little things, like working out or grocery shopping, much less trips or getaways. While I had planned countless trips for 2020 last fall, each month has come and gone without me leaving the office, aka home. After months of staying put, my girlfriend and I decided it was finally time to get out. While flying was obviously out of the cards, we figured why not take the social distancing thing to the woods, to get outdoors and enjoy some fresh air.
Living in Los Angeles means that we have a laundry list of interesting places to explore, but this time we set a two-hour perimeter for ourselves to keep things a little more manageable. We set our sights to the north east of the city looking for a mountain escape.
Just a couple of hours from LA, Big Bear, CA is a mountain oasis that feels far removed from the bustle of the concrete jungle. The winter months are perfect for desert trips to Joshua Tree, Mojave or Anza-Borrego, but the heat of the summer makes the mountains east of Los Angeles the perfect getaway. Big Bear is one of my favorite day or weekend trips to get out and enjoy some elevation. While the main drag of town gets crowded during the summer, hundreds of miles of forest, single track hiking, and dirt roads await those willing to go a little farther. It’s always nice to trade the noise of the city for the gentle whir of the wind through the pines.
Camping in the SkyRise Rooftop Tent: Ready for Rain or Shine
We left early in the morning, hoping to set up camp by midday so we could get out and take in the scenery. The hot day and humid conditions gave us a welcome thunderstorm as we rolled into town. As we drove over to Holcomb Valley to find a spot to set up camp, the rain intensified. It seemed like our day of hiking was going to be cut short, but we decided to truck on in search of the perfect camp site. Eventually after a few miles of driving we found a spot protected by tall pines and nestled up against a large rock feature. Like magic, the rain subsided to a gentle drizzle as we rolled up to camp and started to open the tent and get out our gear. It only took a few minutes to open the tent, set up the rainfly, and unfurl the awning to provide protection from the drizzle. When you’ve got the right gear, you’re never unprepared, which means a little rain isn’t the end of a camping weekend!
By the time we’d set up camp, the dark skies had started to part, making way for a perfect day. It was a welcome relief compared to the heat of the city, and a good reminder of why we came up to Big Bear in the first place. These days, work and our personal life have blurred together causing the stress of the job (or not having one) to stick with us. Traveling has become the way I hit reset and focus on the things that are most important to me. Not being able to get out and explore had taken a toll on us, but it was refreshing to be back outdoors again. Something about being out in the great wide open makes you realize how insignificant the little things that typically consume us are. The email that came in at 5pm Friday seems a lot less pressing when you have mountains surrounding you.
The rich, earthy smell of wet soil combined with simmering onions filled our camp as the sun set behind the rocky outcropping. As my girlfriend and I sat around the stove in our chairs eating we both smiled. The silence said everything so we didn’t have to. One by one, stars started to fill the sky as it transitioned from indigo to black. We laid inside the tent with the skylight open as we pointed to the stars we knew, and named the ones we didn’t.
Free To Roam and No Need to Make Plans
The next morning, we woke up as the sun peeked through the pines. We didn’t really have a plan for the day, which is my preferred way to travel. Putting any sort of schedule aside for the weekend helps me forget that the outside world exists.
We got up, wrapped ourselves in blankets, and climbed the rocks to watch the sunrise. The steam of our breath in the cold air didn’t last long, and soon the warmth of the sun radiated down. Using the leftover onions, we cooked up the best chorizo breakfast burrito scramble I’ve had in a long time. The cheese clung to the tortillas as we loaded up our plates with food. Since the rain had hindered our efforts the day before, we set out to explore the area, linking up with a few single track trails to hike up the hills.
Holcomb valley and the surrounding area have a long history of mining. While there’s only one currently active mine, the valley once played host to the largest gold rush in Southern California. In the 1860s, prospectors flocked to the area looking to make it rich on the flecks of gold washed from the granite hillsides in the spring thaw, or by seeking out quartz deposits as a sign there might be gold. The town of Bellville only lasted about 10 years before the prospectors moved on to richer pastures, but the miners left their mark. Today you can still see the remains of their efforts, with coal tailing piles scattered through the hills and valley. In the center of the valley, there’s a small cabin and gold ore separator that was left behind, and it helps us imagine what it would have been like to live in the Big Bear mountains in the 1800s.
After hiking, we quickly packed up basecamp folding up the SkyRise HD rooftop tent in a few minutes to head to the lake to cool off. Apparently we weren’t the only ones with that idea. The lake was bustling with boats, kayaks and paddle boards as people enjoyed the weather. Framed on all sides with pine studded mountains, Big Bear Lake is a gorgeous alpine playground; it’s hard to believe that it’s so close to LA. Although in a typical year, I find myself up here mountain biking for most of the summer this year has been a little different, and it was nice to come back even just for a weekend.
A cool dip in the water was exactly what we needed after hiking. I ran down to the sand, threw my shoes off, and dove headfirst into the cold water. Swimming back up, I wiped my eyes to see my girlfriend smiling at me as we splashed in the water. Laying on our backs, we floated in the sun, enjoying the warm rays on our stomachs as the cold water filled in behind us. It was the perfect end to the weekend.
As the sun set and we returned to civilization, normal life, and the daily grind, I was reminded of how important it is to take a step back. This quarantine has changed a lot of things for everyone, and I’ve found myself more caught up in the little things more than ever. Taking in fresh air, whether it’s in your backyard or out in the woods, is all it takes to hit reset and remember the things that really matter.