Wednesday, March 6, 2019

BWR Training/Adventure Ride Near Warner Springs

This winter has been so rainy that even a land animal like me has been wondering if I should ditch the bike for a boat to get around in. I know. Isn't that sort of thinking just positively insane? Luckily, though, we caught a now rare 5 days stretch of dry weather that coincided decently with my days off. I was very happy to get to spend one of those days on the road bike.

Whether the bike was happy about it, I'm not so sure.

The planned ride was a 54 mile loop from Lake Henshaw Resort to the east of Palomar Mtn, but as no one else had signed up for it, I figured some mileage inflation was in order and changed my start/finish to Harrah's Casino in Rincon instead.
The W curve on Hwy 76.
The sky was gloomy-looking when I set out from Harrah's, and Palomar Mtn was still sound asleep under a thick layer of cloud, but the road was dry and traffic was nice and light until I got east of the saddle where South Grade Rd branches out. Road crews were out and about setting up their work sites along the highway (they will be spending the next year or so relocating the roadside electrical poles), and the blanket of cloud turned into a sprinkly mist. By the time I rolled into the parking lot at Lake Henshaw Resort I was a drippy wet mess.

Lake Henshaw, looking all misty and brooding.
Would not have seen the rainbow happening behind me had I not have my rear-view mirror on.
Lake Henshaw Resort has a well stocked store and I spent half an hour there munching on a chocolate muffin and chatting with a nice elderly Indian lass who was hanging around waiting for her ride to pick her up as my lycra cycling kit worked its 'quick dry' magic. I'm afraid I don't recall much of our conversion since we were mostly drowned out by a bunch of hungry little birds in the nest just overhead.

The lake had grown quite large from all the rain we've had, and there were lots of swimming room for all sorts of water fowls to zoom around in. Herds of cows roamed around enjoying endless green grass, occasionally startling families of European starlings into the air. I could have sat there and watched them forever, but the hills called and I was supposed to get to Warner Springs by 10 am in case someone decided to pop up to join the loopy portion of the ride, so I said good bye to my new friend (and to more muffins) and got back on the road. 

One of the lark sparrows hopping along the barb wire fence.
I thought he was a kite, but he turned out to be a juvenile ferruginous hawk instead.
Road construction work continued Hwy 79. A series of road work from the 76 junction all the way to Sunshine Summit. Three stretches of K-rail-lined one lane highway with road crew directing traffic, and a few more temporary speed bumps made the 79 quite a bit of an obstacle course (with built in interval sprint to make it through the one-laned bit without being too annoying to motorized traffic).

I made it to the Warner Springs Gas Mart just before 10 am, and was pleasantly surprised by the well kept store, the clean restrooms, and the very friendly attendant. It is way nicer than what the street view of it on Google Earth reveals. Definitely recommended as a cycling stop!

Warner Springs Gas Mart.

The sun was shining in Sunshine Summit. Just in time for the 'wander into the people-less hills' bit of the ride!

Alder Ln made me feel old.
Puerta la Cruz, where I traded steep gradient for looser traction.
It started with the right turn into Warner Springs Estate retirement community. The road is called Alder Road, though it was unsigned off the highway. Boulders and gardens charm its mellow first curves before it straightens out and becomes positively beastly. The gradient is solid 9-. At the top of Alder Rd, a roped off old tarmac lane continues up the hill toward the community's water tank. I veered off it onto a dirt path branching off to the right. This is the unmarked start of Puerta la Cruz Trail.

More climbing was on the menu on Puerta la Cruz Trail.
Ooops, this bit of dirt proved much softer than it looked.
I dislike leaving tracks behind me, so I destroyed the evidence a bit.

It's a bit confusing looking up this road on map apps and on the Forest Service map. On the ground, the portion from the top of Alder Rd to the lone intersection on the route is only marked as 'Hiking Trail', and then the rest is signed as '9S05' (except for the sign off Hwy 79 that calls it 'Indian Flats Rd'). On Google Earth, the hiking trail and the rest of the dirt roads (on both sides of the intersection) are called 'Puerta la Cruz Truck Trail', connecting Chihuahua Valley Rd to the north with Hwy 79 via Indian Flats Campground.

On the Forest Service map, however, most of the 9S05 from Hwy 79 to the dirt roads intersection is called 'Indian Flats Rd'. Then the trail/road I took from Alder Rd to there is called 'Hiking Trail', and the dirt road from the intersection to Chihuahua Valley Rd is called 'Puerta la Cruz Rd', changing name to 'Old Mitchell Camp' north of Chihuahua Valley Rd.

So, if you are thinking of retracing this ride, do yourself a favor and look at the map and memorize the geographical landmarks before heading out.
The turn off to Puerta la Cruz TT North to Chihuahua Valley Rd.
You won't find any 'Puerta la Cruz TT' sign along the trail. Just follow the one labeled 9S05, and you'll be alright.

After the junction, 9S05 dives downhill in a rather fun series of turns and bumps.
After a while it sort of levels out and runs parallel to the creek.
One of the gnarlier creek crossings.
This used to be called Lost Creek Rd, though I don't know how anyone could lose the creek. It's right along side, and even crosses the road every tenth of a mile or so, making for some bike handling trials for rigid road bike (and not so floaty 28mm tires). I was quite glad my bike is equipped with disc brakes. It would have been much less fun with traditional dual pivot brakes on, wet rims and bumps and sand and all that stuff.
Indian Flats Campground in February 2019.
Done dirt riding for the day!
After much bike-surfing over cracks, creeks, ruts, and sharp ups and downs, the dark narrow pavement of Indian Flats Rd came into view from the top of one of the ups. It was a much welcome sight. Indian Flats Campground itself has been closed since a fire in summer of 2017, so no useful facility to be had, there. Getting back to the pavement, however, was a big psychological boost.

Indian Flats paved road.
And, a much welcome ride! A well earned fun after all the road bike acrobatic on shifty ground it took to get here.
Looking back north on Hwy 79 south of Warner Springs.
Hwy 79 at Mataguay
Sad to say (not!), I wasn't missing motorized traffic much after having gone 14 miles without seeing one, but Hwys 79 and 76 back to Rincon were much better ridden in sunny weather than in a chilly mist.
I even got to drop in on the Warner-Carillo Ranch House along the way, and had a good chat with the nice rancher that lives next door. I'd love to drop in for more stories, though currently the museum is only opened from 12-4pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

Lake Henshaw looked quite photogenic in the afternoon sun.
It was a good exploration ride, and one that needs repeating (with variations, of course. There are so many cool roads to explore out in the mountains while the air is still cool and clear of gnats) sooner rather than later... if only the weather would cooperate and stop raining so often!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

January 2019: Putting some hills back into my cycling legs

With the extended work hours (due to persistent human resource problem at work since November) and all the raining (my current living space isn't convenient for frequent bike-washing), I was very lucky to fit in a couple of proper bike rides in January. Gosh know I'm getting late preparing for the BWR again this year!

Once you get to Elfin Forest Rd, several alternative no-traffic paved routes opens up on the way to Double Peak.
Double Peak is still the favorite haunt when I only have time for a short ride. Don't mistake me for any badass, though. I'm a bona fide heat-wimp and only enjoy that climb when it is cooler than 70F out. Most of the year I shed a million tear grinding my way up the thing.

The view at the top of DP just doesn't get old.
San Elijo Hills, the neighborhood on the southern slope of Double Peak, is full of secret trails.
I take a lot of photos of that whole area whenever I ride there now. The view is changing rather rapidly with all the new houses being put in. A new view for the year, tho, is one of water overflowing the top of Lake San Marcos Dam. San Diego County, with all the rain we've had so far, is still officially in level 1 drought, so seeing frothing water flowing in local lakes and creeks is a nice thing!

Looking down on Lake San Marcos Dam and the surrounding greening hills.
In mid-January the stars finally aligned and one of the few short windows of dry weather coincided with two of my days off, and I finally got to introduce the new bike to an old friend - Palomar Mtn.

One of the nice things about riding with a helmet rear-view mirror is being able to spot a nice view happening behind me as I climb... so that I can stop and properly enjoy it.
New bike at Lake Henshaw
Some people climb Palomar for fun. I do it because it's a lot of hills to re-condition my legs in a hurry in just a few miles... And, of course, because of the 12 wiggly all downhill miles with just one stop sign descent. It's a kind of 'fun' worth paying/sweating for.

These cute little Oregon juncos are quite worth climbing hills to see.
Looking west from Palomar Mtn almost to the ocean behind the Cerro de las Posas in the distance.
There were loads of birds about, and a lot of time to gawk at them before dropping back into town again.

If only I could be out there every day...  

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Abusing the CX bike on the trails of Penasquitos Canyon Preserve

It's hard being my bicycles... Many of my friends are strictly mountain bikers, but as I already have two bicycles and am keen on resisting obeying the 'ideal number of bicycles to own = n+1' rule, I'd rather hang on to my road bike and my cyclocross bike rather than adding a proper mountain bike to my tiny little stable. Hence, the cyclocross bike is now serving as my 'go anywhere' bike.

I don't think it enjoys that role all that much. Gotta give props to KHS, the manufacturer of my entry level aluminum cyclocross bike. That thing is built like a tank (and weighs very much like one, too). I have been far from gentle with it, but it has survived all sorts of rough rocky and sandy trails. I'm running 33mm clincher tires, and have never flatted on the trails (I have caught 2 flats on paved road, though. Go figure!). The wheels are so sturdy that they are still running true after all the hard bumps. Truth be told, my next CX bike will probably not be a KHS since I don't like how it handles all that much (and the severe toe overlap is really hard on my ankle during trackstand and other maneuvers). The bike is a good and sturdy entry level bike for those into adventure riding rather than racing, though.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Post work de-compression rides on the trails of Carlsbad

A wonderful thing about living in San Diego's North County is the easy access I have to many cyclocross-bike-friendly trails... and the fact that one of my adventurous pals works nearby and doesn't object to going out on occasional after-work-bike-rides with me to decompress from less-than-optimal days at the office.

Here's a favorite route (with no map or route sheet, I'm afraid. Some of these trails are better kept 'less ridden' than not... for continuing access purpose.

Lilting up storm in the background soundtrack is none other than the fabulous Elina Garanca singing the aria from Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras #5, which is a star on her wonderful Deutsche Grammophon CD: Aria Cantilena.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Belgian Wafer Ride 2018

A few months ago a few riding friends suggested that the bunch of us sign up to do a notoriously crazy on/off pavement cycling race in the coming spring. It has a degreasing amount of mileage, brutal elevation gain, bike/back-breaking miles of off-road segments, and best of all, all-you-can-eat freshly made Belgian waffle pre-ride breakfast. Having heard so many horror stories about the Belgian Waffle Ride from various survivors who still shudder as they recall the experience during Swami's rides, we opted for the Waffle's more humane shorter version, Belgian Wafer Ride, instead. We even attempted to train for the thing.

Alas, various illnesses put paid to our plans (a month long bout with the flu almost did me in in February, and various injuries did the others in) and I found myself alone in the crowd at the start line of the BWR on Sunday April 15th, wondering what I had gotten into.

It had been disturbing hot the day before while riding the trails of Penasquitos Canyon with a few friends, now I was shivering in the morning cold at the BWR breakfast line. The start time was pushed out almost an hour just to make sure that we hungry horde got all the waffle we needed. I'm talking freshly made waffle, too, not the frozen and then nuked ones. They were really worth standing in the long line for!

I set off near the back of the Wafer pack and dropped completely off about 7 miles into the ride when I stopped to start up my Garmin (of all the rides to forget to record, this one isn't it!). By the time the Garmin woke up and registered where we were, I was all alone and had the infamous 'Lemontwistenberg' AKA Del Dios Gorge trail all to myself. That worked out quite well!

The speedy front of the Wafer pack was already heading the other way on Del Dios Hwy as I climbed west!

The narrow and zesty (both horizontally and vertically) Lemontwistenberg.
Getting to pick your own line, set your own pace, and use the entire width of the narrow fine-gravel trail without having to worry about anyone else makes a lot of difference! I was hardly a fifth of the way into the ride and had already passed more than a handful of riders on the Lemon Twist; they were sidelined by either a mechanical (flat tires being the most common, dropped and stuck chain being the next) or a crash. Some were able to fix themselves and get back to riding, others were doomed to hike their bike to the nearest trailhead in search of neutral support vehicle.

Neutral supports were kept quite busy with the multitudes of  mechanicals.
A brief respite back on the pavement on eastbound Del Dios Hwy from the dam to Elm St was much welcomed before The Hodgee Monster appeared on the side of the road to beckon me back to the sand and jarring rocks of Lake Hodges North Trail.

'Come back to the trail!', called Hodgee.

Eastbound on Lake Hodges North trail, before it gets rough and bouncy.
The North Trail on Lake Hodges used to be a lot more mild-manner than it has become since the winter storms at the end of 2016. Now the section east of the climb over Bernardo Mtn's south flank is a long expanse of exposed little rocks with special hatred for skinny road tires. I was running 32mm threaded cyclocross rubbers, and still bounced around like a pingpong ball slotting thru the narrow rut between the rocks. A few more riders littered the side of the dirt abusing their tire irons, and another group hung just below 'pinch-flat alley', cheering on other riders as they waited for their friends/teammates to catch up. This is one of the cool things about riding on the non-competitive end of the race. People encouraging others and stopping to help rather than just bickering about the amount of pulling they have to do.

The BWR course was really well marked!
Rock-hopping (while carrying the bike, mind you. I'm no Chris Akrigg or Vittorio Brumotti!) over Felicita Creek and onto the paved trail to Sunset Dr on the east side of I-15, the fabulous volunteers at the Mule Hill trailhead pit-stop insisted on filling my two almost empty bidons with ice-cold electrolyte mix while I attempted to eat all of their cut bananas and other good grubs. It was good to have fresh calories to burn entering the Moderate Mule sand and the climb up Highland Valley Road!

A lot of kudos is owed to the BWR organizers, support staff, CHP officers, and kindly volunteers! The course is exceedingly well marked and cheery volunteers were posted at all the trafficky key spots. There were also a bunch of CHP's out both in patrol cars and on motorcycles to allow us riders and drivers to share the road safely. 

Highland Valley Road is a serious climb!
The first serious climb of the day was the 'Highland Arenberg', of course. It isn't a long climb at just 1.4 mile, but its 6% average grade belies 11-15% grade ramps and twisty shoulderless nature. I normally avoid this patch of the road on weekends on account of non-local drivers, but with over 1000 other bikes on the route and a lot of CHP presence, traffic wasn't the main concern for me; the rapidly thinning of the cloud cover that was keeping the temperature below cooking point was!

Descending Bandy Canyon Rd into San Pasqual Valley.

More awesome volunteers making sure we stayed on the route.
At the bottom of Bandy Canyon Rd the route veered left into San Pasqual Valley trailhead for a very sandy section of the Coast to Crest Trail dubbed 'Sandy Bandy'. More cheery volunteers were on hand to refill both of my bidons as I downed some more cut bananas and PBJ sandwiches.

Sandy Bandy was relatively kind to me, though several tire tracks that ended in the brushes (and some brushes were more cactus-y than leafy) along the way gave good motivation to stay focused on the trail. I'm afraid several riders were either blind to the route arrows or had had enough of sand riding and opted to retrace up the pavement of Bandy Canyon Rd instead. At any rate, we all exited the trail back onto the road for the really only 'woohoo' bit of the day, the curvy steep descent of HVR.

Lest I got carried away Woohoo-ing, the fun came to an end at the start of the Mighty Mule back to Lake Hodges North. It's really just the reversed direction of the same trails I took east earlier. Somehow, heading the opposite way makes the Mule mighty rather than moderate. The wind was now in my face, and the squishier sand seemed bent on turning my bike into a squiggly fish.

The route west stays on Lake Hodges North trail past the Hodgee Monster and through a series of rock fields of varying ride-abilities before a gate-crossing onto the gravel service road. I found myself at the tail of a small group of easy going guys and was enjoying a bit of on-bike conversation when the road turned into a narrow fenced-in trail that pitched straight uphill over a series of mini boulders. By the time I reached the summit (and the start of the Lemontwistenberg Omgekeerde) I was all alone again and thankful for all the electrolyte drinks I've had along the way.

The Lemontwistenberg Omgekeerde starts off with an OMG-inducing set of speed-scrubbing downhill zigzag.

We made it back to the Del Dios Gorge trailhead pit-stop with all our limbs still attached!
Alas, summits came and went on this ride as the reversed Lemontwistenberg is full of false summits, zesty twists, and even a downed powerline cable. I took a long break at the trailhead pit-stop to sew all my limbs back on before taking a final ride over the Del Dios Hwy climb and heading NW to the enchanted forest of Harmony Grove.

I took it way easy on the pavement of Elfin Forest Rd. People only talked about how hard it was going to be climbing up Double Peak at the end of the ride, but I've been this way before and was more in dread of how roughed up my poor legs would get just getting over the Atterbury hump on Questhaven Rd. The thought was enough to make me hallucinate bacon and bikini-clad dancing pixies...

The Questhaven Oasis apparitions
Oh wait, that wasn't a hallucination?

Unless you can bunny hop like a Martyn Ashton, there are two mandatory bike-hiking spots on Questhaven Rd.

Anyhow, let's just say that there was an epidemic of two-wheeled zigzagging on the narrow pavement of Questhaven Rd even by guys much fitter than me. The lovely people of San Elijo Hills cheered us battered souls on up the climb to 'Mur van Dubbelberg' where more snaky and shaky climbing broke out to some rousing roadside rock music.

I squeezed the last ounce of glycogen from my legs huffing over the dirt top of the hill before starting down the dusty descent of the Dubbelberg Twistenweg, known locally as the dirt 'Ridgeline Trail' of surprises to Twin Oaks Valley Rd. For all the suffering already endured, we had to hop rock steps, anti-erosion beams, coyote poos, and punch up a steep final dirt ramp before we were allowed back onto the pavement!

But at least the course arrow was pointing straight on La Moree at Coronado Hills Dr, so all is gratefully forgiven.

I'm not sure if the foray onto La Moree on the final stretch home was meant to be a reminder of what sadistic options were mercifully left off for the ride. I was just glad there were still plenty of food left behind the finish line for me to figuratively dive into (I would have literally dive... but my legs really didn't have anything more than a ginger walk left in them).

And I only did the Wafer...

Much kudos to everyone that finished the full Waffle. You guys are all aliens!