Consider the ingredients necessary for the perfect Winter bicycle tour. A climate with typically dry weather and a break from harsh winters found elsewhere in North America. The roads have to be great for cycling. And to make it an Undiscovered Country tour, the location has to be, essentially, undiscovered—but not so undiscovered as to be without the comforts of civilization.
Amazingly, there is a region on the map that has the right mix of ingredients for the ideal Winter bike tour. Just a short distance away from the major urban areas of Southern California lies the Anza-Borrego Desert, a great dry basin ringed by high mountains. In the center of this large desert park is Borrego Springs, a “quaint desert resort town with no traffic and clean air”. Wide and empty roads stretch across the valley floor with mountain vistas in every direction. Two desert ecosystems merge in Joshua Tree National Park, an area abundant with diverse flora and fauna. Mild Winter weather, a quiet town, empty biking roads, great lodging and dining: these are the ingredients that make up an ideal Undiscovered Country trip.
And while cycling and relaxing daily through quaint desert resort towns makes for a wonderful winter tour, this trip also includes a healthy dose of adventure. Starting in Palm Springs, known as “the ultimate desert playground for outdoor adventure, arts and culture, gaming and entertainment”, the route encompasses the luxurious outdoor adventure destinations of Palm Desert and Indian Wells, pays a visit to Joshua Tree National Park, cruises through the Coachella Valley to the Salton Sea—California's largest lake (and one of lowest places on the continent at 227 feet below sea level), and rolls through the Badlands of Anza-Borrego Desert to quaint Borrego Springs. For an exhilarating challenge with a spectacular view, the tour climbs out of the desert on a road known for its vistas as “the glass elevator”.
If you like cycling rides in Winter without multiple layers of fleece and Gore-Tex, Undiscovered Country’s California Desert Escape was designed for you.
Got back last Sunday from doing the 8-day "Climbs of Northern California" tour with UDC. I could go on and on about the incredible routes that were carefully selected for this tour, the beautiful locations where we stayed (like Occidental & Boonville), the great accommodations (like the H2 Hotel in Healdsburg), and the fantastic meals (Lauren's in Boonville was so good that we ate there twice). All those things are true.
In my experience though what really makes a trip unique and special are the people involved. This is where UDC really stands out. Our tour guides Mike B. and his sister Kim took what would have inherently been a very nice trip (due to the factors mentioned above) and made it that much better. The daily routes were very challenging, with lots of climbing (as the name implies). It seemed that Mike or Kim were there at top of every long climb, offering words of encouragement, urging us along, and heck sometimes even ringing a cowbell! Their positive attitude throughout the entire trip really made it fun and helped us keep going through some of the tougher sections. One of them would ride along with us while the other would drive the support van (they alternated days riding & driving) so we always felt fully supported on the road. It seemed the van was always there at just the right time, with fresh fruit, water, ice, all kinds of snacks, etc. I ran out of water on the climb up Mt. Tamalpais and Mike was somehow there with the van to hand me a fresh water bottle while I kept riding. For a moment I felt like I was in a pro peloton!
I should also mention that mechanical support was top notch. This is another area where UDC stands above many of the other bike tour companies out there. The Scott carbon fiber bikes were meticulously adjusted to our specs before we arrived, so only a few minor tweaks were needed. I personally didn't need any further modifications to my bike however others in the group needed different wheels and cog sets on occasion, and some brought their own Garmins to use for the tour. These changes were handled with ease by our UDC guides and no challenge seemed to fluster them in the least. Each morning our tires were pumped up to our preferred pressure level and our bikes were given a quick series of checks before we headed out.
There was one snag we encountered in Boonville when my roommate and I showed up at our hotel and found out that our assigned room didn't have two full sized beds but rather a queen and a day bed, which is not the best option after 70 miles and 5500+ ft of climbing. Our UDC guides quickly got this straightened out and the result was that we each had our own room for the two nights at no additional charge.
It's worth mentioning that a lot of the roads used for this tour are pretty technical (lots of twists & turns and some of the roads don't have the best surface). Also many of the roads didn't have much of a shoulder, if any. For that reason, this tour (and I suspect many of the other UDC tours) are geared more toward very experienced riders. This should be pretty obvious from their website but I feel it's worth reiterating.
There are many more positive things I could say about this trip and about our UDC guides. Everything was professional from start to finish and no small detail was overlooked. What differentiates UDC from some of the other, larger companies out there is the personalized experience you will get. The next time I'm starting to plan a bike trip in CA, I will head straight to the UDC web site and don't plan to look any further! Thanks UDC, Mike & Kim for a wonderful, very memorable trip!!
TripAdvisor August 2013