Thursday, May 7, 2015

San Diego Local Road Cycling Speak: What Roads Are They Talking About?

A few local cycling favorites/locales are referred to more by their nicknames than the real/full ones, so, here are a few in alphabetical order.

- A to Z (or Z to A) = The obscure back roads connection between Rancho Santa Fe's Stud Loop and Camino del Sur by way of Artesian and Zumaque Roads. It's a gated passage with creek crossing that is usually dry (except for within a week of the last substantial rain in the area, of course), and involves steep climbing in either direction. A gorgeous short cut, tho!
- Boulevard = Boulevard Road Race, the big annual road race in Boulevard, CA (Imperial County).
- Cameron Junction = SR 94 at Buckman Springs Rd near Campo.

- ECR = El Camino Real, the main surface road running mostly north-south along the coast just east of I-5. South terminus in Del Mar.
- Four Corners = This one depends on which part of town you are talking about. There is an official 'Four Corners' neighborhood up in San Diego Country Estates SE of Ramona. Unofficially the junction of Lyons Valley Rd and Skyline Truck Trail/Honey Springs Rd is known to the Jamul locals as 'Four Corners'. Also, it could mean the junction of Morena - Stokes Valley Rd (previously known as Corral Canyon Rd) and Los Pinos Rd way way out SE of the Laguna Mountains, tho that is mostly known by the local off-road four-whelers.

Highway 76 east of I-15 is part of 'Gamblers' Loop'.

- Gamblers' Loop = (Hwy 76 - Valley Center Rd - Pala-Temecula Rd): Because of all the casinos on this network of narrow two-lane highways in NE San Diego, of course. On the north end is Pechanga Casino on Pala-Temecula Rd, then there are Pala Casino right by Mission San Antonio de Pala off Hwy 76, then a few miles further east on the 76 is the Pauma Casino. Continuing south onto Valley Center Rd there are Harrah's Casino in Rincon Indian Reservation, and then up the steep grade off from N Lake Wohlford Rd is Valley View Casino. What this means for cycling is, of course, nasty riding condition. All these highways are very narrow and curvy with little or no shoulder. And the casino traffic involves people operating their vehicles while under the influence... and quite a lot of huge Casino buses.

- Glass Elevator = County Highway S22/Montezuma Valley Rd, also known as Montezuma Grade, the deliciously twisty climb/descent between Borrego Springs and Ranchita. A category 1 climb and a marvelously scenic technical descent that drops 3400 ft down to the desert floor in just 11 miles. It may not be as technical or twisty-a-delic as Palomar South Grade Rd, but it arguably is the most beautiful descent around!

- GWL = Great Western Loop: a favorite 40 mile cycling loop comprised of Willow Glen Rd - Dehesa Rd - Japatul Rd - Lyons Valley Rd - Jamul Dr - Steele Canyon Rd. The classic GWL loop runs clockwise starting from the Rancho San Diego Starbuck. There are some variations possible (using Skyline Truck Trail instead of Lyons Valley Rd, or using Hwy 94 instead of Jamul Dr - Steele Canyon Rd, etc).

- HVR = Highland Valley Rd, a very curvy two-laner connecting Rancho Bernardo with Ramona around north side of Starvation Mountain. As good a climb as it is, it is an even better descent (albeit quite a technical one in two stretches).

Scripps Poway Pkwy climb (Purple Monster) to Hwy 67.

- Purple Monster = Scripps Poway Pkwy climb east from Community Rd to the crest just short of Hwy 67. It's the big climb on the San Diego Century's purple course, and its lower slope is lined with purple flowering jacaranda trees.

- RSF = Rancho Santa Fe neighborhood. It's full of curvy and well shaded lanes lined with spectacular ranchos and villas without much flat stretch to speak of. In short, a cycling (and horseback riding) heaven!

- Scissors Crossing = SR 78 at San Felipe Rd (S2)

- Smugglers' Run = Hwy 94 between Rancho San Diego and Tecate border crossing... for obvious reason! This is a beautiful stretch of rural two-laner, though what little shoulder it has comes and goes and drivers tend to add too much mph to the speed limit. Also, it's a main trucking route... so I'm afraid even tested local riders avoid riding the Smugglers' Run. A lot of time it is like playing Russian roulette... and the prospect of a new casino opening at Jamul Indians Village sure doesn't help things.

- Stud Loop = La Valle Plateada, El Vuelo, and Las Colinas series of side-road detour on the south side of Del Dios Hwy/Paseo Delicias in Rancho Santa Fe. Del Dios Hwy is part of a local favorite cycling route (see next entry), and most riding groups will stretch out so much that the studs end of the group can duck onto the Stud Loop detour and pop out back on Paseo Delicias at Via de la Valle right in time for the slower elements to arrive and regroup. It's only about a mile of added distance and some minor climbing, but the view is absolutely gorgeous and there is hardly any car traffic to speak of.

- Swami Loop = The usual Swami A ride loop involving Del Dios Hwy & Elfin Forest Rd. I think the ride usually goes clockwise, but it's still a nice ride either ways.

Torrey Pines 'Inside'.

- Three Witches = San Dieguito Rd (series of 3 climbs from El Apajo to Camino del Sur)
- Tidepool Hill = Cabrillo Rd, the paved service road in Cabrillo National Park that goes down to the tide pools. This is a popular hill-repeat site for local cyclist. The climb is 0.8 mile long at near constant 7.5% grade.

- Torrey Pines = N Torrey Pines Rd between Torrey Pines State Beach and the golf course. There are two different climbs; Torrey Pines 'Inside' refers to the park service road (accessed from State Park entrance at the beach), is a shorter but steeper climb within Torrey Pines Preserve. Torrey Pines 'Outside' is N Torrey Pines Rd, a wide main thoroughfare with a wide bike lane and gentler incline. As of summer of 2014, though, bicycles are banned from descending Torrey 'Inside' for safety reason.

- In Valley Center, 'The Grade' means Valley Center Rd between Lake Wohlford and Woods Valley Rds.

Did I miss anything? Leave a comment and let me know!

Friday, May 1, 2015

May is National Bike Month

Did you know that May is National Bike Month? If you ever wondered what it would be like to try to bike around town running errands or sight-seeing or commuting to work, there isn't a friendlier time of year to give it a go!
Look how many bikes you can fit into a single car parking spot!
I know, riding the bike on the roads within the San Diego city limit can be an intimidating experience. Even with all the new bike infrastructures (sharrows, new bike lanes, 'Bike May Use Full Lane' signs, etc), there is still much work to do for our town to become truly friendly to non-car mode of transportation. One important factor in making that happen that you can contribute to, though, is to increase the number of bikes on the roads.

Have you ridden on the new buffered bike lanes on 4th & 5th Ave in Uptown, yet?
The more drivers see bicycles, the more aware they are of bicycles... Sounds like a no-brainer? It is! Often time, no matter how narrow or curvy a road is, the biggest determinant of how safe that road is for everyone (driving, cycling, walking, or just standing there chatting with the neighbors rather than all cooped up in a room fighting with strangers on facebook or other social media page) is the mindset of the drivers on that road. The more you are reminded of slower road users on the same streets, the more habitually you look out for them... and that benefits everyone! (Because... unlike in the movies, real life accidents have real consequences for everyone involved).
I've had my years of 30000 miles/year behind the wheel of a car, but I think I've seen a lot more of the neighborhoods and countrysides here since I switched to almost exclusively traveling by bike. You see cool and curious things in your own neck of the woods that you wouldn't notice speeding by in a car (or even when you aren't speeding, but just sitting there stuck in traffic... but not looking out the window. Cars do that to you, cutting you off from your surroundings and often making other people outside of your little steel-encaged environment seem a lot less people/real).

All taxpayers pay for the non-freeway roads regardless of their mode of transportation. We ALL own the roads and have the right to them whether we are driving a car or not.
You can stop and hop off the road just about anywhere to check out that cool looking bookshop or cafe that you have been meaning to stop by forever... but never did, or to walk the bike through a local farmers market, or even to just lean against a rock to enjoy a fleeting spectacular view. Getting a parking spot at Torrey Pines State Beach so you can watch the sunset into the ocean is a lot easier on bike than in a car, for instance.
Did you know that you can get free refreshments and other swags at pit stops around town during Bike To Work Day? Click here for San Diego region Bike To Work Day 2015 pit stop map.
Think your commute route is too hilly? This guy has to climb Honey Springs Rd on his bike commute between Jamul and Chula Vista!
Think cycling is too physically taxing for you? This young dude here is paralyzed on his right side...
Biking to work and to run errands or even for exercise isn't as hard as you think! Try it for a day (Friday May 15th 29th (original date postponed due to rain) is Bike to Work Day) or even for a week (May 11-15 is Bike to Work Week)... or maybe even for a month! You'll save a load of $$$ (gasoline isn't exactly cheap these days, and so are car maintenance fees), get a bit less chubby while getting to eat more goodies than you used to, pollute the air we all breathe in a lot less, and get to know your own neighborhood and neighbors a lot better!

If you have never cycled much in traffic before, there are a few cycling safety videos you might like to watch before heading out.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Another visit to Bandy Canyon and Camino del Aguila

Also quite a while back... because a smorg is only ever a few letters different from a sloth, Team Fun was planning on a ride east to Bandy Canyon and the lower bit of Highland Valley Road (HVR) and team captains were conspiring to go pre-ride the route. Since HVR is one of the many cool cycling roads that I had been neglecting of late, I figured I'd ride out to hang with Jill and the Heathers for a bit. It was a cool and foggy Wednesday morning when I got to South Escondido and started east on San Pasqual Rd.

San Pasqual Rd, shedding what little shoulder it has at Orfila Winery.
The 'milky' bit of Old Milky Way.
Looking SE down on Ysabel Creek Rd from San Pasqual Batterfield.
I really would not recommend cycling on San Pasqual Rd east of Orfila Winery, no matter how experienced a cyclist you are. Drivers are pretty crazy on that road... if you ride by the right edge of the pavement, they'll squeeze pass you at 40+ mph in the fog, and if you control the middle of the lane they'll still try to pass you at speed approaching blind corners (and honk bloody murder while they're at it, too). It's pretty insane how much many drivers will risk for just a few seconds of travel time. 
Memorial plaque on a boulder at San Pasqual Battlefield.
The pavement comes and goes on Ysabel Creek Rd.
Bandy Canyon Rd toward HVR, just before it really climbs.
It was quite a relief to finally get to turn off onto the much more mellow Old Milky Way/Old Pasqual Rd where the local cows thrive, and then onto mostly paved Ysabel Creek Rd to pick up the last flat bit of Bandy Canyon Rd before it turns uphill toward Highland Valley.

A male kestrel in the field.
Llamas in the ranch near the top of Bandy Canyon Rd.

Bandy Canyon Rd is a mostly gentle climb with much sparser traffic compared to the lower climb on Highland Valley Rd. The only sounds I heard spinning up the short steep-ish pitch were the humming of farm machinery in the valley below and a whole lot of bird chirping in the bushes. A few roadrunners scooted across the pavement as I approached, the last one stopping for a good look - probably trying to decide if I was really a harmless cyclist or a sneaky wily coyote.

Camino del Aguila winding its way up the west face of Starvation Mountain.
I topped out with so much time to spare before Team Fun captains were scheduled to arrive, of course, and standing around waiting after having sweated a bit on the climb would just make me cold... What to do but to sneak up to visit my most favorite climb in the San Diego North County?

Camino del Aguila AKA the Eagle, is a queen of a country road. The primary climb from the dip just beyond the little pond to the west col is only about 0.8 mile at a gnarly average gradient of 14.5% grade (maximum grade around 24%), but the view is worth every bit of suffering it inflicts! Besides, if the climbing proves too painful, you can always stop by at Altipiano Winery at the bottom for some recovery wine-tasting!

The west col with dirt connections to The Heritage complex off Old Coach Rd in Poway.
I hung around the col for a while, checking out the dirt roads connecting to the Stage Coach complex and Starvation Mountain Rd closer to the top before it was time to roll back down to the top of Bandy Canyon Rd to rendezvous with the gals. Descending the Eagle is quite a technical thing... I wouldn't recommend it to anyone new to mountain riding, especially in warmer weather. You have to know the road really well and know where to let the wheels run a bit to dissipate braking heat while always tightly control the speed to make all the sharp switchback turns whose gradients vary from 15-30%, depending on the line you take. Half way down I stopped to chat with a local lady who was out for her morning walk up the mountain. She thought it a marvelous exercise for me riding up and down the Eagle... I thought it even better exercise for her doing it on foot!

Lying in ambush on top of Bandy Canyon Rd.
Team Fun crew arriveth!.
HVR descending fun...
The Heathers and Jill arrived not long after, along with turbo George of REV in San Elijo Hills. I'm afraid they didn't see the llamas on their way up, but were properly greeted by a few roadrunners nonetheless. I rolled down the hill on Highland Valley Rd with the group before splitting to do some roadside housekeeping (pox on people who keep throwing drink cans and bottles and other trash out of their car!) and indulging in a really productive bird-watching session on the Kreitzer footbridge across the water-free eastern portion of Lake Hodges.

Kreitzer Bridge over Lake Hodges.

Kingbirds battle!
A boy kestrel and his lunch.
It was a load of fun, of course. We ended up modifying the Team Fun route a bit to avoid San Pasqual Rd, and the actual ride turned out quite a blast. Hopefully I'll head out that way again before it gets too warm. There won't be any kestrel around now (those cute buggers were just migrating through during the winter months), but I've heard rumors of bald eagles out in the hills... How fitting it would be to encounter one while climbing the Aguila!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Lilac Hills, Cougar Pass, Valley Center's Oz 'Hood, the Anthony's and Sierra Rojo Exploration Ride

A few months ago my friend Ariel and I had a day off from work and decided to go poke around the quiet hills between Escondido and Valley Center. We packed our road bikes onto Ariel's car and drove up to Escondido's Grape Day Park, where we left the car and rode north on N Broadway, leaving behind the bustling city in search of unusual sights...

It didn't take long before the sights became quite unusual!
Adagio Dr is pretty stingy even at adagio cadence...
A few miles north of town we veered right onto Arco Dr and immediately put our small rings to work. Continuing on up Adagio Dr's well paved curve drove the last bit of sleepiness off me... and we weren't even at the base of the day's first objective steepie yet! By the time we crested the half mile long 11% grade average ascent (with max grade around 20%) and dropped down on the east side I was feeling much less enthusiastic about my first encounter with Lilac Hill Dr's fearsome climb to the water tank.

Spritely Ariel sprang lightly up to the top as I dragged and lagged behind and was quite ragged by the time I topped out. A dirt road continues north toward Daley Ranch behind a car gate at the road crest... One of these days when I finally get myself a Salsa cross-bike I'll return to investigate.

The base of Lilac Hills Dr.
Lilac Hills residents have their own way of filling pot holes...
Lilac Hill Dr steepest ramp.
Passing over the ridge again on our way back to N Broadway we detoured south on Sky Dr just for fun. A heavy duty fences/gates barred the way after just about 200 yds, but the view was worth the short steep anaerobic sprint.

Cougar Pass Rd climbing toward Daley Ranch.
The western entrance to Daley Ranch from Cougar Pass Rd.
Cougar Pass Rd becomes paved again after Alps Way.
Retracing back to N Broadway and then up the well-graded dirt Cougar Pass Rd along the western boundary of Daley Ranch was a load of mellow fun. A bit past the park entrance the road became paved again and climbs steeply NW toward the Mountain Meadow complex. Low-tech me got a bit disoriented since the names on the road signs didn't quite agree with what I had seen on Google Earth before hand. Luckily Ariel has a smartphone with GPS, so we found our way down the steep ramp to the dirt road that connects to Lake Turner.
Cougar Pass Rd (not quite signed at the intersection) dropping north toward Lake Turner.
Were we following in a leprechaun's footsteps?
The was worth putting up with the dirt descent toward Betsworth Rd & Lake Turner.
It's a fabulous little dirt road with an open view to the NE approaching the first switchback. I managed to stay on the bike, but it was a technically demanding descent with the 25 mm road tires and cantilever brakes. You have to pick a good line and speed control like crazy so as to not skid and have to brake while in a curve.

Ariel was smarter than me and risked no spill coming down the steep dirt ramps.
At the bottom we were taunted by Wilkes Rd which continues steeply straight up the hill to the north, but I was determined to not blow my legs out before getting to the Ozland neighborhood of Valley Center, so we instead turned east onto paved roller coaster Betsworth Rd.

I sort of have a thing for the corner mirrors...
Betsworth Rd rolly polly
Striking view along Vesper Rd
Valley Center Rd isn't that bike-friendly a road even on the wide bit of it going thru Lilac junction, so we hopped onto the less traveled Vesper Rd at the right hand bend and were treated to more remote country road riding with some quirky roadside views along the orchards. After a couple of miles we made a left turn on Sunset Rd and then a dippy block on Fruitvale Rd to find ourselves at the base of the partly paved Yellow Brick Road.
It sure doesn't look like Kansas around here!
No sling-shotting thru The Yellow Brick dips...
Just about the only yellow non-orange stuff around...
I have to say that there isn't much yellow along The Yellow Brick Road aside from the ripening oranges in some of the orchards. And I haven't a clue why this whole neighborhood has roads named after stuff from The Wizard of Oz either. There were some hints about the Tin Man, Jack Haley, having lived here, but according to Bob Lerner at the Valley Center Museum, that's just a myth:
"actor Jack Haley, the tin man in "The Wizard of Oz," was often thought to be a resident of VC (he was in town so often during the 1940s and 50s), but he actually was just a very frequent house guest of the Salomons, AND he owned a cattle ranch in nearby San Pasqual." (The Paper, 28 Oct 2004)

Deja vu all over again along The Yellow Brick Rd.
No munchkin or wizard hiding around the corner.
The neighborhood is cut in grid, so most of the roads (with the exception of MacTan Rd) are straight, which make for quite a sight when you travel them on bicycle. They just go straight over a series of steep ridges, one after another. The Yellow Brick Rd sort of alternate between paved and gravel blocks, so we couldn't sling shot the first few dips. There aren't a lot of houses up there yet, though, so we did catch some really nice view of Rodriguez Mtn & the Rincon Valley from the ridges.

Hideaway Lake successfully hid its water from us!
We opted to get back to Valley Center Rd via the more interesting (AKA less straight) MacTan - Fruitvale - Cole Grade Rd, stopped to patronize the local market, and then headed back up the hill on Lilac Rd... with a side detour to check out the gated in Hideaway Lake, which proved really adapt to hiding its water. We couldn't find a drop of it anywhere!
Anthony Rd becomes quite narrow and cracky after a bit.
But cracky pavement & steep gradient were neutralized by a very friendly house pig!

Living up to my reputation for not being able to stay on the main road, we detoured yet again after a couple of miles on Lilac Rd, to check out the dead ends of Anthony & Anthony Ridge Rds. They don't go through anywhere, but are quite a pair of good rides all by themselves... if you have a thing for narrow, curvy and spiky country lanes, of course. Even on a very overcast day the view was very good, and only improved when we were checked out by a lovely neighborhood Babe!

Making it up the first steep triple ramp on Sierra Rojo Rd is something to smile about!
One of the handful of 12-16% grade dirt climbs on Sierra Rojo Rd.
I'm tellin' ya, this is fantastic riding stuff!
Getting back to Lilac Rd I presented Ariel with two choices; the wiggly well-cycled detour north to W Lilac & Circle R Rds or the unknown (and muchly unpaved) adventure that is Sierra Rojo Rd... I'm afraid adventure won out and we found ourselves once again grinding on the lowest gear ratio we had up and down nasty steep ridges in orchards country seemingly going farther and farther away from civilization. It was wonderful!
Wilkes Rd heading to Old Castle.
What Old Castle Rd is named for.
Why local shops & restos should like having more cyclists in town. We need a lot of refueling!
It's no wonder why Sierra Rojo Rd is often included in the (in)famous Belgian Waffle Ride... I just wish my road bike would allow >25 mm tires... At any rate, we eventually made our way through to Wilkes Rd and onto the not-so-bike-friendly Old Castle Rd descent. Luckily we got on it in between rush hours and didn't have to share it with many speedy cars. At the bottom we mellow spun our way south back to town on Champagne Blvd (Old 395). Even for a very overcast day it was a tremendously scenic 50 mile exploration ride that was only made better by a long-suffering and cheerful company!

Video recapping...