Video: A Weekend With the Lowelifes Trail Organization in LA

Feb 14, 2023 at 15:52
by Old Man Mountain  

A weekend with Lowelifes Respectable Citizens Club

When you think of Los Angeles, mountain biking probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But, if you look a little closer, you will find a thriving community of mountain bike advocates dedicated to uncovering trails lost to time & building more access for all user groups. I had the privilege of joining the Lowelifes RCC on one of their monthly trail work campouts to see how they do things down in Southern California. After spending three days in the backcountry with the SoCal crew, I can confidently say that I would join them again in a heartbeat!

Friday — Scouting

It had rained the three days before I arrived, which to me was no big deal, but to LA a little rain in the city means BIG TIME rain in the mountains. It sounded like the weather station nearest our trailhead, Red Box, had recorded over 10″ of rain the previous day! Erik and his fellow Lowelifes leaders, Matt and Rob, were worried about access to the zone which they were planning to work. We got to the trailhead and I took a solid 30 minutes to assemble my bike. I was impressed to find that TSA hadn’t messed around with my packing job, and nothing was missing. Erik asked if I was OK towing a BOB trailer with me that day. I obliged. Then he proceeded to put what looked like a demolition hammer and a handful of large batteries inside the trailer bag. After taking a few minutes to enjoy our breakfast burritos we mounted up and headed through a gate and down Rincon Red Box road.

The fully loaded demolition hammer in my BOB trailer made what would normally be a tame descent much spicier. As we descended, Erik pointed out all the washout damage from the previous storm. Some of the damage was small ruts and slides, but in other spots, entire culverts were washed out. We had some fun attempting to plow our bikes and loaded trailers through some of the extra chunk. Toward the bottom of Red Box Canyon we started traversing the West Fork San Gabriel River. Erik mentioned that this river runs year round, but that it is normally just a small creek. As we approached the first crossing I was thankful that I had brought my Goretex shoes. We ended up getting deep in five different creek crossings on our way to the campsite. We navigated through some mud and over a few washouts, then finally arrived at North Fork Camp to meet up with Matt and Rob.


Matt's Front Elkhorn Setup
Carson & His Rogue Hoe

The plan for the volunteers was to continue work on the southern end of the Silver Moccasin trail. This is a unique section of trail that descends from a ridge down into a creek bed. The trail meanders back and forth across the creek a few times, which in the summer is a challenging rock garden. Today it was more of a swim. We made our way up the trail to the tool stash. Matt, Erik, and Rob made a rough plan for the volunteers while I avoided stabbing myself on some nearby yucca. Then we headed back down to grab our bikes and head out. On the way down I had the chance to learn about some of the local terrain, plants to avoid, and past projects that the crew was stoked on.

Driving back down into LA as the sun was setting, you can really begin to understand why people fall in love with this city. Beautiful beaches that crash into a concrete jungle brimming with culture which eventually crashes into huge mountains filled with raw and rugged backcountry terrain. Whatever it is you love, you can likely find it in and around LA. I had the pleasure of spending the evening at Erik’s house with his wife, Peg. He showed me around their beautiful Altadena homestead before we headed into town to grab chicken at Zankou, and supplies for the campout. Then we called it a night.

Ladybugs Spawning in a Yucca Shrub

Saturday — Work Begins

Erik and I started the day with some oatmeal and coffee. With our bellies full we hopped in the van and headed back up to Red Box Trailhead to meet Matt, Rob, and the Volunteers. Lowelifes really nail the hospitality. Where Volunteers had to check-in and sign their wavers, there was a giant assortment of doughnuts, and other delicious homemade baked goods. Lowelifes also come packing some serious swag. Koozies, Hats, Tees, etc. If you wanna show off your Lowelifes love, they got you. Another unique aspect of the Lowelifes crew is that they encourage all types of trail users to volunteer. We had a handful of backpackers show up to join us. After all, the trails in the Angeles National Forest are multi-use, and Lowelifes are at the forefront of building better relationships between user groups. While the founders are mountain bikers at heart, it is the desire to expand trail access for everyone that drives their passion for trail work.

It was incredible seeing how much love and character went into all the bikes. Everyone had their own unique setup with builds to match their personalities. The bikes ranged from a fully rigid 27+ drop bar adventure bike, to a Titanium Hardtail with 160mm fork, and everything in-between. Check out the bikes and their setups below.

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After getting everything dialed and stuffing our faces with baked goods, we departed. The group made their way down the Rincon Fire Road. Everyone tackled the challenging washouts and ruts with confidence. It was especially fun watching everyone’s style getting across the various river crossings. Some volunteers rode in with sandles and walked their bikes across, others just charged right through hoping for the best. We were all flirting with wet feet the whole weekend. We arrived at camp and everyone claimed their spot. The plan was to setup camp and the kitchen then head out for work. Just like with the bikes, each volunteer had their own setup. There were bivys, hammocks, traditional backpacking tents, and lightweight tarp setups. I brewed a cup of coffee and packed all my camera gear up to head out.

The work is tough. I am used to moving ferns and working with beautiful clay-rich soil that packs into features with a few slaps of a shovel. The SoCal soil was mostly sand and decomposing granite. It is loose and doesn’t want to pack. On top of the soil there’s a handful of flora that you need to avoid. This was my first encounter with poodle dog bush, but you also need to watch for poison oak, and you need to avoid getting speared by yucca and white thorn. It seemed like everything in the forest was trying to get you, but boy is it beautiful down there. A half-hour drive from LA, and a short bike ride and you find yourself deep in the backcountry. Rad.

Handpressed tacos with braised meats and accoutrements in the backcountry

Safety First
Unusual to be wet enough for a fire in LA

We wrapped up work about an hour before sundown and made our way back to camp. I had heard rumors of the gourmet spreads they put out for dinner, so I was excited to experience it first hand. Matt manned the grill firing up various meats & meat-like fillings. There was Pork, Chicken, Chorizo, and Soy Chorizo. Erik was manning another burner, hand pressing tortillas and pan frying them to perfection. In the middle of the table were bags of toppings. There was a literal gallon of guac — apparently Californians have little regard for how precious avocados are. They also had a brilliant assortment of hot sauces. Matt started to grill quesotacos as it got dark, and everyone ate as much as possible. After dinner the group sat around the fire to share stories, and connect. It is unusual to be able to have a fire in an area that is usually so dry, so we savored every moment of the fire.

Team Meeting

Sunday — Work & Depart

It was a chilly morning, but everyone was in high spirits after the big meal and campfire the night before. Everyone had their own breakfast supplies, and we broke camp after enjoying some hot drinks and small meals. We removed our footwear and forded the river once again. Each group returned to their respective work zones to continue work and push to finish as much as they could in the limited timeframe. The winter work parties have to deal with the cold, the water, and the lack of daylight. Especially in the canyons where the sun can disappear quickly, and the temps can drop sharply.

bigquotesThere’s something very rewarding about putting in long days on the trail. It helps build a physical connection to that specific zone. The unique smells, textures, and feels all build an unforgettable bond between person and place.

The Lowelifes crew has an intimate relationship with the San Gabriels, many of them knowing the trails like the back of their hands. We reached the cars as the temps dropped right before sundown. The group exchanged high fives, indulged in the leftover baked goods from sign up, and posed for a quick group photo.

Sunday night I spent hanging with Matt, the co-founder of Lowelifes. We showered up and headed out for some delicious Thai food. Matt and I chatted about the nuances of trail building over laarb and Thai tea. Matt has a breadth of experience and a charisma about him that makes it easy to understand why he has such a loyal crew of volunteers — remember, most of the volunteers come time and again. Matt talked in depth about the very real struggles of dealing with wildfire damage, and heavy winter rains. We chatted about their biggest project, the Condor Peak trail, and what made it so successful and unique. Unfortunately with storms rolling in the day before and day after, we were unable to ride it this trip, but I am excited to come back and have Matt show me the trail. The overall consensus is that the trail is legendary — a backcountry experience under an hour from our countries second largest city. After dreaming of single track heaven, we headed back to his place to crash for the night.

Setting up the Old Man Mountain Divide

The Lowelifes Experience

I went into this trip not knowing what to expect. I assumed that LA was full of pretentious riders on fancy bikes, just there to be part of a scene. What I discovered was a wonderful group of humans with a passion for giving back to their community through trail work. Each leader and volunteer offered a unique perspective, and a unique motivation. The crew was friendly, warm, and welcoming.

From the moment I landed until the moment I left, I felt like part of their family. Over the weekend I built a great bond with the leaders and volunteers, and I look forward to returning to Los Angeles to join them on more campouts, rides, and other shenanigans in the beautiful Angeles National Forest. Trailcrews survive on volunteer hours. If you have the means, I urge you to donate your time and money to your local trail advocates. If you are in the Los Angeles area, please take some time to join Lowelifes on one of their work campouts. I promise you wont regret it

The Angeles National Forest is ancestral lands of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians and Gabrielino / Tongva People

Author Info:
OldManMountainRacks avatar

Member since Nov 5, 2021
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  • 100 9
 Pinkbike More of this type of content pleas and fewer press releases announcing some unknown rider signing with a team.
  • 48 5
 Or, more of this content while continuing to celebrate the achievements of others?
  • 3 0
 Yes please! Thanks for this dream video. Much appreciated!
  • 8 5
 You know you don't have to click on the articles you don't want to read, right?
  • 8 1
 @stevemokan: Thanks for the pro trip.
  • 5 0
 You forgot to add that those riders may be unknown to you.
  • 9 5
 @pioterski: My personal opinion is that even if I know a rider I really couldn’t care less what team they are on. Maybe there are lots of people out there that do care, but ultimately it’s a quick, albeit lazy way for Pinkbike to add content. Ever since Outside took over it seems there’s more lazy content and less quality content. Just my two cents.
  • 6 14
flag onawalk (Feb 18, 2023 at 20:06) (Below Threshold)
 @kwl1: Oh jeez,
What a lazy comment, super easy to go ahead and blame the Outside buyout.
Heres a thought, go produce youre own content, find the story, write the story, edit the story, build the website, maintain it, then go frig right off on it.

So good of you to be the gatekeeper of what someones elses website should and shouldnt publish

Absolute muffin stump.
  • 2 0
 I want that drill/hammer!
  • 3 0
 Thanks for saying this. I don’t think professional mtbers have more impact than the builders and advocates for accessibility/trails in our sport.
  • 1 0
 @kwl1: Agree on what is happening to PB. On the other hand, I do like this time of year when the rumors show every couple of days.
  • 1 0
 @onawalk:Struck a nerve hey?
  • 16 0
 There is some great riding in LA. Whenever I am there, I try to do a loop up Brown Mountain and back down through El Prieto. (Which is down near the bottom where the trails they are showing here are located). Contrary to what many think about how LA people are (and I grew up there and moved away), the other users on the trails are very nice. Far more so than most users I run into in the SF Bay Area now.
  • 14 0
 Some interesting history about El Prieto trail
  • 5 0
 I'm lucky enough to live 10 minutes away from that trailhead, and El P is my go-to weekday ride. It's really awesome to be able to live in the city with all the excitement that brings, and still have access to such awesome riding.
  • 3 0
 There is some good riding in LA. I have only ridden Laguna, Santiago park, and Fontana. Laguna and Santiago park had some steep technical trails. Surprised me. Fontana not really, but known for their downhill race series. Looks like above Pasadena (Mt. Wilson), Santiago Mountain, Simi Valley, etc have some seriously good technical trails. Definitely have to do some more riding there.
  • 4 0
 @erikhillard: thank you. El Prieto is a gem and this history enriches the experience.
  • 16 0
 This is so awesome! Thank you for all the work you've done on the trails in Angeles National Forest. I live and ride in LA, and I'm ashamed to say I didn't know about this organization until now (although come to think of it I've definitely seen the stickers around on some signposts in the Mt. Lowe area). Just checked out your website, and I'm definitely interested in learning more about how to get involved! I get so much enjoyment out of the trails in the San Gabriels and would love to give back.

Thanks Pinkbike for putting this on the front page today!
  • 14 0
 Come on out! Best way to keep informed about our trail work days is to join the mailing list and follow on Instagram
  • 8 0
 We really hope you join them. They are an awesome group of men and women. We've been supporting them with our thru axles since long before the organization officially started. Raising the awareness of this organization and trail maintenance in general was the reason we sent Charlie down there to do this video. Connecting you up with LoweLifes is the best possible outcome. For everyone out there, get out and support your local trails and get involved in your community!
  • 6 0
 @RobertAxleProject: your support has been so essential to our volunteer work! Thank you so much! BOBs & Racks for life! :-)
  • 2 0
 @RobertAxleProject: hadn’t heard of you until I got a Boltcutter Peacemaker with your axels. Cool stuff. Thanks!
  • 12 0
 Big thanks to Old Man Mountain for all the support for our little crew! And kudos to PB as well for giving Lowelifes RCC some coverage alongside other builders, bikes, and riders.

If y'all would like to know more about our group, please check out @lowelifesrcc on Instagram and Any support or publicity is much appreciated. Drop us a line if you're local and want to help out. We will teach you.

And if you're outside of LA and looking to give back to mtb and the trails you love, but don't know where to start, there's probably a trail stewardship org and dedicated builders in your area: do a little research, then step up and move some dirt for the good of your community. ⛏️
  • 13 1
 The trail work with a hard hat and chacos is an aesthetic I can get on board with
  • 10 0
 I rode some of the trails out there a few years ago, I thought the biking was superb, and I was indeed surprised at the quality. thanks to the lowlifes for the hard work
  • 7 0
 Love this video! The San Gabes contain some of the best and most slept-on trails in the entire US!!! I had the pleasure of riding with Eric and Matt a few times before I left LA, and am so stoked to see the work they're doing with the Lowlifes. Even though I don't live in the area any more, I chip in and support their work on my favorite trails by purchasing their dope merch. Cant wait to check out Condor Peak this summer! Thanks Lowe Lifes!
  • 11 0
 Lowelifes... the best name out there for a trail organization
  • 6 0
 This is amazing. Big respect to this crew. As a guy with a newborn at home and living 1.5 hours away from these trails, is there anywhere I can donate a few bucks for tools or post trail work day beers? I don't see a donate link on the Lowe Life's site. I plan to ride there a few times this year but having time to volunteer ain't in the cards for me now Frown
  • 6 0
 Here's the donate page on the Lowelifes website

Another great way to support & share the Lowelifes mission is to sport a shirt..

Thanks for any support you can give! Every donation really helps out
  • 9 1
  • 3 8
flag ryanandrewrogers FL (Feb 18, 2023 at 12:24) (Below Threshold)
 or in general. cool organization though
  • 6 0
 respect to the lowlife crew
  • 5 0
 I am amazed they were allowed to do this. So hard to get approval to do work like this.
  • 11 0
 A solid relationship with our local USFS land manager is critical to Lowelife's successful projects. Shared goals, good communication & good people can make a lot of progress. Our relationship has grown over time and we are proud to have the USFS support & confidence in our trail crew.
  • 6 0
 LA sucks for MTB don't come Smile
  • 6 0
 More trail building content please
  • 4 0
 7000 hours of volunteer time is bonkers. Nice work, Lowe Lifes. Condor Peak is really a special trail. Thanks for all your effort.
  • 3 0
 Trail work and Sandals, didn’t know that was a thing !

Wherever you live, support your local builders.
Thanks for the work.
  • 4 0
 This specific weekend, sandals were key while hiking to/from work areas and keeping your trail work boots dry. Heavy storms with over 10" of rain preceded the weekend and stream crossings were unusually deep and swift. Definitely didn't want wet feet Saturday night and all day Sunday.

So glad to see PinkBike showing more local builders. Hope they keep it up and share more!
  • 2 0
 Awesome video! Those older CCC trails can be really cool- great initiative.
  • 2 0
 Paniers are full but the trailer is always empty?
  • 3 0
 On the scout & prep day, the BOB trailers were used to haul in some extra tools & supplies for the full weekend of trail work. Some of the footage is from the ride back out from that scout day, thus the empty trailers.
  • 4 1
 Good work Charlie!
  • 2 0
 Bike check would be nice. Any ideas were it can be found?
  • 1 0
 demolition hammer???!!! holy trail budgets batman
  • 1 0
 Respect or all the diggers out there!
  • 2 5
 In between waxing mustaches
  • 1 0
 Live Free or Die
  • 1 3
 @cogsci: It's obvious they do, just the irony of "THIS IS LITERALLY STOLEN LAND", but we're different cause we're building mountain bike trails is just funny, like what is their point? That they're exempt from the "land stealing" cause they put a disclaimer in an article. Just a very funny circle jerk, that the mtb/ski/hippie west crowd eats up.
  • 2 0
 @pbfan08: I didn't watch the video, but what is the facetious/virtue signaling part? From my POV it doesn't hurt to do land acknowledgements, I personally find the history of the west interesting like books from Timothy Egan.
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