Just Outstanding!NOTE: This report was previously posted at www.MyBikeSite.com
This past Thanksgiving  I was visiting my parents near Lake Isabella, so I took the opportunity to head up to Kernville and sample another fine southern Sierra trail. Since I'd tried the obvious choices (Cannell, Rincon, Whiskey Flat), I decided to stop at a mountain shop in Kernville and buy a guidebook. Now, using a guide book violates my primary MO, but this is such a big region I needed a hint on where to start next.
The guidebook had a lot of good ideas, but I had heard about one trail and it's connection with the Kernville Fat Tire Fest. The Just Outstanding Trail ("JO Trail" for short) provides as varied an experience as the Cannell Plunge, but in a smaller package. Plus, it's famous for a section called "The Manzanita Tunnels." Well...so what! Manzanita is frikken' everywhere!!!
I awoke to sunny but cool weather. The sound of the nearby creek served fittingly as 'alarm clock' on this liesurely Friday. I did the coffee ritual, had breakfast, then zipped down into town to pick up a guidebook.
The book was somewhat helpful. I learned that many of the trails that sounded interesting were also above the current snow level. UGH!! Fortunately, the JO Trail began right at that ephemeral boundary, which today was at approximately 7200 feet.
I picked up Highway CA-155 in Woofford Heights (an upscale suburb of Lake Isabella) and headed west into the Greenhorn Mountains. As I neared the pass at Alta Sierra, I noticed a dense cloud layer spilling in from the west. I turned south on the road to Shirley Meadows ski area and headed up into the clouds.
I parked about 1/2 mile past the ski area and prepared to ride. The mists were slipping over the ridge, now and then obscuring the sun. Across the road from me, a large buck Mule deer walked over the embankment. He took a quick look both directions, then signaled for the rest of the family - a younger buck and three does - to come on up. They munched on a bush for a few minutes, the old buck keeping guard, then they moved on up the road.
Dropping from the ridge into dense subalpine fir forest, I followed the JO Trail out the ridge for a ways. Then the trail dropped to the east through some confusing intersections with other trails and roads. I was glad I brought the book, and was able to carefully navigate through with only one slight detour.
After some time riding through beautiful stands of fir and cedar and black oak, I entered the first of the manzanita tunnels. Hmmmm...neat...but not impressive. Then the second tunnel...cool. Then the third...Wow! Then the fourth...OmiGod! Each successive tunnel was a more complete arch, the red-and-white branches condensed into an Escher-like motif. I had little time to oggle, though, as the trail was a bit tricky and required concentration. The Tunnels were beautiful! There was an exotic feel to the whole section. I almost felt as if I wasn't in California anymore.
After the Tunnels, the trail dropped through an open forest of black oak and Jeffrey and pinyon pine. I passed a family out for a spin on motorcycles. They were trying to get one of the kids up a steep, muddy grade and not having much luck. I cheerily bid them good day and cruised down into a meadow before climbing over a hill and reaching a dirt road that would lead back to Alta Sierra.
I started down the road, but after about a mile of excellent descending I realized that 'down' was not the direction I should be going. I had misread the directions for this part of the loop. No biggie...it was a nice detour anyway.
An hour later I was nearing Alta Sierra, and the temperature was dropping. The clouds were breaking, but the sun was so far west that I was in the shade much of the time. Climbing the grade back to Shirley Meadows was a miserable experience. I was dead tired, the cold fog was drenching me, and my stomach was making rebellious noises.
I passed through the Shirley Meadows parking lot, where a group of late starters was assembling bikes and donning gear. I waved and passed on in the growing gloom. I reached the truck and collapsed. Relief...food...was there and I availed myself of this simple pleasure. After munching a bit and putting the bike in the back, I drove down the scenic CA-155 to Bakersfield, then hopped the freeway over the Grapevine - a rude kind of 'recompression' before returning to LaLa Land.