Anyone who has lived in Southern California the last decade has undoubtedly heard the word “drought” a few hundred times during their time here. The record-breaking drought started in December 2011 and, after 376 weeks, finally came to an end March 5, 2019 (according to the California drought government site.) Of the 20 different regions in Southern California where rain data is collected, 18 have seen precipitation far above that of a normal rainy season (the rainy season is from June until March). Keep in mind that California has not had a “normal” year of rainfall since 2011, and the numbers become far more significant.
Riverside County is one such area that has seen a steep increase in rainfall this past year. Rainseason numbers measure the total rainfall from October to the end of March. In 2018, Riverside County received a total of 4.08 inches (103.632mm) of rain during this season. For 2019? The same county has been drenched with a total of 12.64 inches (321.056mm) of rain.
This huge influx of water has brought about a massive superbloom, one not seen on this scale in decades. One of the regions that has been most affected is the city of Lake Elsinore, a subsidiary of the aforementioned Riverside County. The hillside off of the 15 freeway in California has exploded with wildflowers. While this is great news for California residents as a whole, Lake Elsinore residents have been inundated with travelers from all over eager to experience this possibly once-in-a-lifetime event. According to the Twitter account of the city of Lake Elsinore, all exits related to the superbloom have been closed, and a shuttle has been created to transport visitors to the fields. The site estimates that up to 20,000 people used the Elsinore shuttle service alone for the weekend of March 23–24. This does not account for the thousands of visitors who circumvented the shuttle to find their own way to the fields. Wait times, according to the site, are up to two hours for the shuttles.
While going to see the superbloom only requires a lot of patience, riding bikes through it presents an entirely different challenge. None of the main regions hit with the superbloom allow for bikes, and even if they did, there are no trails available anyway. In order to ride bikes through the superbloom, you would have to find a spot tucked away from all of the visitors that offers preexisting trails to ride on so as not to destroy the flowers.
It was a typical day after some rain, and I was driving out to my buddy Colton Haaker’s house to go ride moto. For whatever reason, there was way more traffic this Saturday morning on the freeway near Lake Elsinore than normal. I thought there was probably an accident or road work, but then started seeing all these cars parked on the side of the road parallel to the freeway and hundreds of people walking around the hills. I didn’t really give it much thought, as I was in a hurry to get to Colton’s house so we could go riding in these prime conditions. Once out in the hills riding, it dawned on me why all those people were walking in the hills. Large sections of the trail were being overtaken by these beautiful flowers, and they were everywhere. The hills were literally glowing orange with hints of purple so dense that it was hard to see the trail in some areas. The benefit of exploring in hard-to-get-to places is that there wasn’t a person anywhere in sight.
As an athlete who isn’t racing full-time anymore, one of my duties is to create content and get media coverage for the companies I represent. Sponsors are always looking for great pictures, and it’s not getting any easier to find different zones and landscapes that haven’t already been shot. I like being unique in my riding, and one of the best parts about this era of my career is being able to be creative and selective. I now have the choice to ride, build and shoot the areas and obstacles that I want. I’m not confined to the racecourse put in front of me. I knew instantly I had to come back and capture this beauty nature was providing us, because these photos would be like nothing I’d ever seen before.
My first call was to Brian at Shreddyshots to see if he had time in the next couple of weeks to get out there and shoot. I wasn’t sure how long these flowers were going to be in bloom, but I knew I didn’t want to miss this opportunity. With his schedule open the next two weekends, I didn’t waste any time getting back out there on the moto with my buddy John Levey. My sole intention this time was to find a few spots that were easily accessible for Shreddyshots to drive into.
After a half day out on the motos scouting, doing a bit of shovel work, the locations were chosen—three spots close to one another, all sections of trail that were engulfed in California poppies. A few small berms and jumps were made, rocks were cleared, and the stage was set to capture the most colorful photos I’d ever taken.
The day of the shoot, the plan was to leave early, giving us plenty of time to get the shots while the light was perfect. Good thing we left early, as the traffic was even worse than anticipated. Shreddyshots was concerned about crowds being out viewing the superbloom, but I reassured him over and over that nobody would be way out where we were heading. After nearly three hours in the car and some overly aggressive off-roading in Brian’s Subaru, we made it to the location.
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