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Wheeling and Dealing on Poker Trail Ride

Cyclists receive cards as they traverse Sycamore Canyon. Best hands win prizes in the fund-raiser for a beach visitor center.


More than a hundred mountain bikers are likely to be sweating their way up Sycamore Canyon in Point Mugu State Park Sunday, hoping something better is in the cards for them--literally.

It's the fourth annual poker trail ride, an oddball event that somehow manages to combine all the thrills of five-card draw with all the spills of mountain biking.

It's the brainchild of Back to Blue, a fund-raising group aiming to finance construction of a new visitor center at Leo Carrillo State Beach at the Los Angeles County line.

To ride and play, it will cost you $20 ($25 on Sunday). But play your cards right, and you could pedal off on a new mountain bike. The best poker hand wins a $700 bike, and second- and third-place winners get bikes valued at $470 and $300.

It works this way: During the ride, you pass five stations where you get a card. At the end, the best hands win. In past rides, participants haven't been dealt flashy winning hands like four aces or a royal flush.

"Most people don't get very good hands," said Ken Millius, organizer of the ride. The winners are usually three of a kind or a straight. Two years ago a 9-year-old girl won. It's not a race, so it draws novices as well as hard-core riders.

Riders leave the Sycamore Canyon campground, off Pacific Coast Highway, any time between 7:30 and 10 a.m. The best poker hands are determined between noon and 1 p.m. Also, biking paraphernalia will be raffled, and riders will get burgers for lunch--beef, turkey or veggie.

Sycamore Canyon is one of the most heavily traveled spots around for mountain biking. A wide fire road rises gently through the heart of the canyon, and narrower, steeper trails connect to it.

Bikers can choose from two routes. Both the 15-mile ride and the nine-mile ride head up the main fire road. Then they veer off and get onto Wood Canyon Trail, finally looping back. The longer route also swings down onto the Overlook Trail. Novices shouldn't have too much trouble with the shorter route; the longer one is a little hairier. Maps will be supplied.

"There's water up there year-round," Millius said. "They might have to get off the bike for a couple of crossings."

Before they start, riders will get a paper plate with their number on it to pin to their shirts. At each station, volunteers will staple a card to the plate and record it.

A case of card decks was donated by a Las Vegas hotel. Since many decks will be circulating, that raised a sticky problem for the organizers: What if a player gets a good hand, say three aces, and they are all spades.

"It has to be a true poker hand," Millius said. The three aces will have to be different. There are a few other rules too: There are no wild cards, no more than five cards will be given to anyone, and trading is a no-no. Helmets are required, and there is a 15 mph back-country speed limit.

Each year, the event has grown, and last year 120 riders signed up. Because not everyone rides at the same time, the trail doesn't get clogged with bikes, according to Millius.

"It's a party atmosphere," he said. Members of different riding clubs wear their colors.

Millius, a Sun Valley landscape contractor, was among a group of contractors from Ventura and Los Angeles counties who got together about five years ago to do something for the environment. Because many of them were scuba divers, they decided to do something to benefit the ocean.

They settled on funding the visitor center at Leo Carrillo State Beach. So far, they've raised about $30,000, but they think it will take about $150,000. Their other annual fund-raiser is a treasure hunt for scuba divers at Leo Carrillo and an onshore treasure hunt there for kids. This year it will be Aug. 26.

The state beach's visitor center is now housed in a trailer. Back to Blue hopes the proposed center will help educate kids about the fragility of the environments. Perhaps it will have a miniature tide pool similar to the natural one at the beach, Millius said.


* WHAT: Poker Trail Ride.

* WHEN: Sunday, 7:30 to 10 a.m. departure times.

* WHERE: Sycamore Canyon campground, Point Mugu State Park, just below Point Mugu, off Pacific Coast Highway.

* HOW MUCH: $20, $25 on event day.

* CALL: (818) 789-7866.

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