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Jaunts: In and Around Ventura County | VENTURA COUNTY

Route to Winnings

Poker Trail Ride gives local cyclists a chance to raise funds for beach center.


Mountain biking and poker playing may sound like an unlikely combination, but droves of bikers will descend on Point Mugu State Park on Sunday for wheeling and dealing.

If you're feeling vigorous--and lucky--you can join them for the annual Poker Trail Ride, a gritty, bumpy loop through Sycamore Canyon, sweetened by a little five-card draw along the way.

This wacky combo is offered annually by Back to Blue, an environmental group raising money for a new visitor center at Leo Carrillo State Beach, near the Ventura-Los Angeles County line.

What's in it for you? The best poker hand at the end of the ride takes home a new mountain bike worth at least $700.

Back to Blue started its annual ride five years ago. Last year the fund-raiser drew almost 300 adults and kids to Sycamore Canyon, one of the most popular spots for mountain biking.

So don't expect a solitary wilderness experience if you sign on for this ride. And a shot at winning a bike will cost you--$25 if you register at the event, $20 before Sunday.

Here's how it works. You have your choice of two courses in the canyon: a 15- or 9-mile ride. Along either route, you pass five stations where you get a card. At the end of the event, the best hand wins.

So far, the winning hands have been modest. Last year, three of a kind took the top prize. "Nothing higher than three of a kind ever wins," said Ken Millius, one of the event organizers. "People think they're going to be big hands."

Trading cards is a no-no, and organizers have made it difficult to bend the rules. At the start of the ride, participants get a paper plate with their number on it to pin to their shirt. Then, at each of the five stops, a volunteer staples a card to the plate.

With 300 people playing one giant game of five-card draw, obviously it takes more than one deck of cards. But that presents a ticklish situation: What if someone winds up with, say, three aces and they are all hearts?

"You have to have a true poker hand," Millius said. That eliminates the unlucky player with the knack for drawing the ace of hearts.

The ride is not a race, and riders can depart from the Sycamore Canyon campground off Pacific Coast Highway any time between 7:30 and 10 a.m. "We have some hard-core people out there," he said. "They're not supposed to be racing but they are." During the event, a 15-mile-per-hour speed limit will be enforced. Helmets are required for all riders.

Both routes start out on a wide fire road that rises gently through the heart of the canyon and connects to narrower, steeper trails. They turn onto Wood Canyon Trail, and the longer route veers onto the Overlook Trail. Novices might want to tackle the gentler, shorter route. All riders get maps at the start. Be prepared for streams with running water.

Over the years, Millius has seen some unusual sights during the event. One year a bicyclist riding from San Diego to San Francisco happened by and rode the course on his touring bike with its skinny tires. Last year, a guy plowed over the course on an experimental bike, one with 8-inch tires designed for extreme terrain. Kids can ride, too, and the first year's winner was a 9-year-old girl. Entire bike clubs come, tandem riders are welcome, as well as anyone who wants to walk the course.

The event includes lunch: hamburgers, turkey burgers or veggie burgers served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The awards ceremony (prizes have been donated by bike stores and other sponsors) starts at noon, and the event wraps up at 2 p.m. Members of CORBA, Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Assn., will patrol the courses and talk to the group about biking on mountain trails.

Back to Blue has raised about $50,000 for the visitor center through its poker rides and other events. On Aug. 23 the group will sponsor its annual treasure hunt for scuba divers and onshore treasure hunt for kids at Leo Carrillo State Beach.

Their immediate goal is to raise $150,000, enough to break ground on the $3-million building, which will be designed as a hands-on teaching facility to educate the public about the fragile coastal environment.


Back to Blue's Annual Poker Trail Ride is Sun., 7 a.m.-2 p.m. at Sycamore Canyon Campground, just off Pacific Coast Highway in Point Mugu State Park. (818) 789-7866.

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