Meg Knobel is a staple in the bikepacking community. A down-to-earth, positive spirit, one of her major roles is being the race (dis)organizer of the Stagecoach 400, a popular bikepacking route in Southern California created by Brendan Collier. What makes this route special is the access to the coast, mountains, and desert all in one ride.
Starting in Idyllwild, California, the route drops down toward the coast of the Pacific Ocean and then heads through San Diego. New for this year, the route ventures further south, almost to the border with Mexico, then cuts back east over the Cuyamaca Mountains to the Anza-Borrego Desert. After crossing the desert, the route wanders back up to Idyllwild. Most people ride hardtail with 2.35 to 2.6-inch tires to help deal with the desert sand. Most people prefer something with suspension and probably flat bars.
A tattoo artist by trade, Meg is a co-owner of Outdoor Traditions Tattoo with her work partner, Angel Lopez. Outdoor Traditions merges the love of the outdoors with tattooing, creating nature-themed art and collaborating with rock climbing and mountain biking groups. The shop is currently moving to a space in Jamul, a couple miles off the Stagecoach route. “If I’m not mountain biking I’m probably tattooing or working on [the shop move],” she says. Meg initially got into tattooing in college. After graduating from Texas A&M with a degree in Political Science, Meg moved to California. Moving to California during the Great Recession was tough, but sticking it out in the tattoo industry really worked out for the best.
After her first time completing the Stagecoach route, Meg was “pretty obsessed with the route” and the variety that it offers. “There’s no right bike, there’s no perfect choice on what to bring.” When her good friend, Brendan, was ready to pass on the event, Meg was excited to take it on. Noting that it was a surprise when Brendan asked in 2019, she knew it was a no-brainer to say yes. As a person who is into planning and is organized, she and Brendan both know she would do a good job.
2020 was the transitional year for Meg taking over organizing the 400. “That was a crazy year,” Meg reflected. Brendan helped walk her through the process of the event, and Stagecoach ran during torrential downpours, ending in snow up in Idyllwild the week before everything shut down for the pandemic.
As part of Meg’s responsibilities, she makes sure that the route is running smoothly, noting whether there’s mud after a big rain, or whether there are any road closures. “Those parts are relatively easy.” Riders from around the region are helpful in providing beta about current route conditions. What’s most difficult, according to Meg, is managing the numbers. As an unofficial event, keeping the number of riders in check so as to not upset land managers or break rules about group size caps is important in keeping the event possible. Should numbers get out of control due to riders poaching the event, it would quickly devolve to individual time trials and touring only. “It is a privilege to be able to hold and participate in group starts like this.”
This year, the Stagecoach filled up within a couple of hours. Meg describes what happens next as an email explosion of people who wanted to be added to a waitlist or who were disappointed they didn’t get into the event. In order to address increased demand, the Stagecoach crew is offering a second group start event, the Stagecoach Sideshow. Running the week before the Grand Depart, the Sideshow features optional schedules for participants who want to ride a similar pace, check out points of interest, and camp together along the way. Meg found that offering this opportunity took a little pressure off the Grand Depart and appeased some people who didn’t get into the original event. Most of those registered for the Sideshow were veteran riders and friends, tough and fun loving folks with generally less need for guidance than the Grand Depart group.
This year’s precipitation has brought some challenges. Idyllwild has gotten 52 inches of snow so far this winter, meaning the Sideshow required a few snow detours. Meg isn’t sweating the Grand Depart though. She’s optimistic that another week will give the snow some time to melt. “Worst case we might have to skip some of the Idyllwilde stuff, but there’s plenty of pavement to connect it.” Meg’s prediction is that the conditions will be really good with all the moisture in the ground.
Most years, Meg starts with the Grand Depart. She gives her speech, “This isn’t an official event. You guys are just out for a bike ride, and you’re here with your friends and you can do whatever you want but make sure your choices reflect wanting to keep this event going,” then checks out as organizer and becomes a participant when the race starts in Idyllwild at 8 a.m.
Meg’s favorite part of the route is descending out of the Cuyamaca Mountains into the desert. “At that point, you’ve done a lot of hard shit. The descent is really rocky and fast and the temperature usually gets 20 degrees warmer as you go down. It can be awesome if you hit it at night because you’re cold up in the mountains and just having that warm welcome into the desert.” Meg remembered the times she descended this section right at sunset, “That’s probably my favorite.”
This year looks a little different for Meg with the busy shop move and rebuild, but she was still looking forward to participating in the Sideshow, riding from the Anza-Borrego Desert back to her house in San Diego, and camping out with her bike in the desert during the Grand Depart to see riders go through.
Meg encourages anyone who didn’t get into the Stagecoach but really wanted to do it to tour the route. “People have lost touch with the fact that you can just go bikepacking. The route is available all year (except there’s a short period in the summer that’s closed for bighorn sheep water rights, and dangerously high temps).” The best time to ride the route is in the spring or late fall. Meg’s favorite ride window is in November or December. Early April is a great time too. At the time of the interview, Meg’s partner, Peter was out touring the route over five days and having a blast. Touring riders can donate to receive thorough and up-to-date cue sheets. “Just go ride it and have a good time because there are so many cool things. There are mud caves and hot springs and old cattle runner cabins and tons of cool stuff.”
The Stagecoach Sideshow started March 17th and the Grand Depart begins on March 24th. You can watch dots on Trackleaders. If you want more information about riding the Stagecoach 400 route, you can find more information on the Stagecoach website.
For both of the events, all of the participants voluntarily donated to local organizations. The Sideshow participants donated to the Idyllwild Booster Club, an organization that gets kids on bikes. The Stagecoach 400 Grand Depart riders donated $2,500 across four organizations: Outdoor Outreach, San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, El Otro Lado, and the San Diego Mountain Biking Association.
Your support means the world to us. If you enjoy our work, please consider making a donation to help us with our mission.