Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Box Springs Mountain's M Trail By Road Bike

I'm afraid I didn't get in many exploration rides in 2016, which will likely go down as the most terrible year I've had in a long while. But, but there were a few saving graces. One of them was the ride up Box Springs Mountain up in Moreno Valley!

Box Springs Mtn from Cottonwood Ave in Moreno Valley
Box Springs Mtn from Aqueduct Bike Trail in Moreno Valley.
Box Springs Mountain is pretty hard to miss for anyone passing through Moreno Valley on the 215 or the 60 freeways. It is the highest of the low hills south of San Bernardino Mountains, sports three separate sets of radio communication antennae along its peaks, and is marked with a large white letter 'M' on the Moreno Valley facing slope, and a big yellow letter 'C' on the northwestern flank above University of California - Riverside. Both big letters are favorite hiking destinations for the locals, of course!

I set out rather late one afternoon up Pigeon Pass Rd from Moreno Valley, spinning up the gentle climb into Spring Hills, the rural neighborhood of narrow lanes lined with farms, llamas, and patrolled by a rather large herd of wild burros. These four-legged cuties won't really approach you, but they are quite used to seeing humans and cars, so they'll let you get pretty close before moving off... and on... and off. It must have taken me 10 minutes to move 100 yrds when I ran into them just before Box Springs Mtn Rd branches off from Pigeon Pass Rd because they kept crossing the road back and forth in a weird attempt to both look at and get away from me at the same time.

Soon after the Box Springs Mtn Rd & Pigeon Pass Rd intersection pavement ends just as the slope pitches up to quite a ramp up the hard left-hand turn that had me up to my 34x28 gear ratio by the time it leveled off. This is a good bit of the road to remember on the way down, especially on my 25 mm road slick tires.

After that first ramp the climbing was pretty gentle (nothing steeper than 5% grade) and there was quite a bit of view to see down into Riverside and Loma Linda. After a mile or so I passed the Box Springs Mountain Park entrance where the road turns into a trail (it's still a wide fire road, but is closed to motorized vehicles). There isn't much there aside from the dirt parking lot, a few picnic tables, trash bins and a port-a-toilet.

Past the parking lot I rolled through the beautiful (and moderately flat) pasture and enjoyed the wild field so much I almost came off the bike when the road's packed dirt turned into moderately mushy sand for about 30 yds (it isn't exactly easy to see in the late afternoon light), after which the gradient picked up again on the left turn toward the first set of antennae. I think it's the complex atop the big C above UCR campus. It's still gentle enough for my 34x30 gear to cope with, until just after the 2nd encounter with Hidden Spring Trail where the road (now really just a narrow lane) makes a hard left turn into a huge set of ruts and a washed out 20% grade ramp. I don't know how I'd do with a full suspension mtb, but I'm no Martyn Ashton or Chris Akrigg on a rigid road bike and there was no way I'd have made it up that hideous section of the trail rubber-side-down. Heck, it was hard going even portaging the bike up to the switchbacks above!

Luckily that proved to be the only unrideable (at least by road bike) portion of the trail for me. There was another steep ramp (with some loose-ish sandy section leading to it) up to the next set of antennae, but it was still rideable. The road becomes much more trail-y and rough after that with the sharp turn-y descent and climb to the last antenna; the one directly above the big M.

Alas, the antennae complex was completely fenced in and it was too late in the day for me to venture down onto the .6 mile single track trail that leads around the complex to the actual M (I wanted to descend past all the sandy sections of the trail before it got too dark), so I just hang around on top and drank in the view for a bit. It was hard earned and beautiful!

Descending Box Springs Mtn Trail on a rigid road bike with dual pivot brakes and running 25 mm road slick tires was, I'm afraid, quite less than fun. I'm an above-average bike handler, and it took all of my skills and a lot of luck to make it back down to the flat-ish meadow path to the parking lot with all my bones intact. No matter how hard on the brakes you descend, you'll still carry too much speed down that trail to always be able to stay on a good descending line through all the curves - all the while hoping that the tires wouldn't go poof on you from all the skidding. Then, of course, there were the sandy sections and the ruts that you'd have to end up bunny hopping over simply because there is no way you can stop the bike with the dual pivot brakes and the no-tread tires... hoping that the landing on the other side of the ruts is firm enough for you to keep the bike under control. I think I must have aged 10 years in just 3 miles of riding!

It was as awesome a time as I'd ever had on a bicycle, mind you, but the next time I brave Box Springs Mtn, it'll be on either a mountain bike or a proper cyclocross bike!

Here is a short video clip of the Smorgmobile 1.2's last adventure:

Thursday, January 5, 2017

TBThursday: A LUNA Chix ride full of lessons for newbie rider

TBThursday: Riding to Lyons Valley Trading Post from Donny's Cafe in Bonita with the San Diego LUNA Chix in 2012.
Heading east on Otay Lakes Rd at lower Otay Lake with the SD LUNA Chix in late spring 2012.
 I had only been cycling for 3 months then, and boy, did I have much to learn! It was the most challenging ride on the LUNA Chix's schedule that season (the LUNA Chix have since warped into the Wheel Women of San Diego, of course, though they still welcome non-competitive guys on their rides); a 50 or so miler with a lot of climbing. I made several mistakes that resulted in my only unfinished ride that isn't due to crashing.

#1. I washed the bike the night before and didn't put the rear wheel back on right... because I had never tried taking out the rear wheel and putting it back on myself before. 😶 It is rarely a good idea to try doing new things to the bike just before a tough ride!

#2. I only checked tire pressure before rolling off, but never gave the wheels the spin check (to make sure they are spinning true and not rubbing the brakes, because, you know, I was green and didn't know better.

#3. I didn't ask the more seasoned LUNA Chix ride leaders to check the bike for me before we started riding (since I had taken off the rear wheel and put it back on myself for the first time. It's always a good idea to have someone else check your work for you!).

So, of course, it all went quite wrong. I rode in to the ride's start at Donny's from North Park and the bike already felt quite heavy. It didn't improve after we had taken off up the warm up climbs of Otay Lakes Rd and the rolling hills east to Pio Pico rest stop either. I brushed it off as being a bit over-trained (I was riding a lot because I wanted to ride the Giro di San Diego ride from Solana Beach to the top of Palomar Mtn and back a couple of months from then)... and thought that the heaviness of the bike was a symptom of my having a 'bad legs day'... After all, I checked the tire pressure often, and they were definitely not going flat. 

#4. I sensed that something wasn't right, but didn't tell any more-experienced rider or ride leader about it.

By the time we turned uphill on the long climb of Honey Springs Rd I was dropping off the back end of the group and struggling mightily to keep moving. I occasionally smelled burnt rubber, but it was a hot day (it must have been close to 100F on that slope by then), so it didn't feel that out of place for me. I only made it half way up the climb and turned around to make sure that I could make it back to Donny's. The rest of the group went on and tagged the Trading Post, then caught and passed me on the rolling hills back into Eastlake. One of the ride leaders even gave me a push up a hump on Otay Lakes... It was pretty darn demoralizing to implode so spectacularly on a sub-50 miler less than two months before the slated 111 mile torture ride with 10000 ft of expected elevation gain.

I only found out the culprit when I stopped by at an old pal's place before rolling home and finally thought to give the wheels a spin before mounting the bike. The rear one couldn't even complete a single revolution. I had put it on a bit off and it was rubbing the rear brake so much that the normally shiny brake assembly was completely blackened by rubber debris. I was lucky that the rear tire didn't blow out when I bombed down Honey Springs Rd 18 miles earlier.
LUNA Chix Ellen, leading B group up Cabrillo Tidepools Hill a year later in 2013.
I had one thing going for me on that ride, though. I was riding with Team LUNA Chix San Diego and they took care of me. The ride's sweeper, Ellen, absolutely refused to leave me behind until I got to a safe place (my friend's pad). She practically saved my butts!

You live and learn, but some days are more full of lessons than others!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Neighborhood Cyclery's Pain Is Temporary Tour: Palomar Mtn by South Grade Rd

A couple of months ago my buddy Hugo and me participated in the 2nd leg of Neighborhood Cyclery's Pain Is Temporary cycling tour; this was a series of SAG-supported rides that invites cyclists of all abilities to attempt one or more of Southern California's toughest cycling climbs. The 2nd leg of the series was San Diego County's only Hors Categorie climb, Palomar Mtn by Hwy 79 and South Grade Rd. There was quite a big turn out!

We started and finished at El Ray Mexican Restaurant on the north side of Hwy 79 just west of Cole Grade Rd. A few of my other San Diego cycling pals also showed up for the ride. Dean, Neighborhood Cyclery's proprietor, gave a good pre-ride safety briefing before snapping a group photo and sent us on our way. I was quite curious to see how this climb would feel, as I hadn't done it in almost a year (and the weather was forecast to be slightly on the warm side... so there'll likely be bugs!).

Hwy 79 east of Valley Center Rd had was re-surfaced not long ago, though, and we enjoyed the smooth tarmac as much as we could get... which wasn't much considering that the shoulder comes and goes and there isn't much room for bikes in between the rumble strip and the raised curb/brush/multiple fields of broken glass and other things.

This being on a Saturday, there were also quite a few motorcyclists enjoying the road.

Hugo, Teresita, and I made slow but steady progress up the long constant climb. Hugo had gained a lot of weight after 7 years in the wheelchair after falling off the 5th story of a building he was constructing, but had lost over 250 lbs of it since taking up cycling a few years ago. He was still carrying more on him than you'd expect of anyone attempting to pedal up Palomar Mtn the steep way, though.

Dean and his mom were manning the SAG wagons and it was always a treat to spot them as we would come around a blind curve (there are many blind curves on Hwy 79 and S6!).

I'm afraid Hugo popped his hip out of its socket as he got out of the saddle on the lower slope of Palomar South Grade Rd, which made pedaling on quite a pain in the behind for him (no pun intended). You've got to be a tough b*st%rd to keep turning the pedals around on the constant 6-9% grade road for 4 miles with a popped hip, though. I can't even imagine how he did it, but he made it to within a mile of the top before having to call it a day. Would have taken my helmet off for him, but I sort of needed it for a while longer yet.

Teresita and I caught up with a few other riders after we split from Hugo and even got to snap a good shot of Danielle, Dean's wife and co-owner of Neighborhood Cyclery, about 2 turns from the top.

A couple of my Wheel Women of San Diego cycling pals had stormed up the slope ahead of us, so by the time we topped out, they had already came back to Mother's Kitchen from Palomar Observatory. These gals are good!

The Palomar South Grade Rd downhill, of course, is always a treat on its own. I'm afraid there were too many cars on Hwy 79 than I would have liked, but that didn't stop Teresita and I from swinging off the road at Valley Center Rd to patronize a local farmers' fruit stand. The young farmer there sold us huge bags of strawberries, oranges and avocado. He even rigged up the mesh bags with piece of rope to turn them into temporary backpacks for us!

Better yet, everyone sat down for a hearty and very tasty fine Mexican meal at El Ray after the ride. It was a nice morning ride with good friends old and new, and we got to patronize local business in the process, too. A morning doesn't get more perfect than that to me!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Out of and then back in shape on Texas St

It's been a crazy few months since just before Thanksgiving. Yours smorginess spent the entire holiday season mostly out of town on a couple of work trips and got seriously out of hill-climbing shape. I also caught three bouts of the flu that kept me bed-bounded for weeks. By the time I got to take the bike out for a proper ride again I was in a woeful cycling shape!
Didn't get any climbing done this winter, tho I got to see a lot of holiday lights up in Riverside.
When you're past a certain age, it takes so much longer to rebuild fitness... and the rebuilding process is so much more painful. Luckily, there is a monster-ish hill almost next door to whip me right back into some sort of shape. Now, as a rule, I detest repetition (and so hill repeat really isn't quite my preferred training method). But when you need to get fit fast, you just have to go with the most effective (if not the most painless) method. For me, it's ten-peat-ing Texas St hill from Mission Valley to University Heights in the cooler hours of the morning... and hope to get all the laps in before rush hours traffic commences.

Texas St hill is the rather intimidating looking roadway that curves up the south side of Mission Valley in between I-805 and Hwy 163. The closest Strava segment looks like this:
I'm more keen on getting the whole climb in and not just the steepest bit, of course, and also on having it easy with traffic on the way up, so my Texas hill repeat lap starts from Camino del Rio S about half a block west of Texas St instead of east (I start where the road starts to pitch uphill in front of the First United Lutheran Church), so I can make a right turn to continue up the main climb on Texas. Also, the Strava segment somehow ends at Adams Ave, which actually makes no sense as Texas St goes under the Adams Ave overpass and most cyclists would exit at Mission Ave just shy of Madison Ave. So, the Texas lap for me is about 0.6 mile and averages 10.6 % grade (with max grade at 15% just before Adams Ave bridge); pretty much a San Diego version of the famous Cauberg climb.
A look down on Texas St from Adams Ave in University Heights.
Starting from the west side of Texas St means that I have to make a left turn at the bottom of the descent (a rather intimidating descent if you aren't used to riding in traffic. It's steep, the 'bike lane' that pops up after Adams Ave bridge is mostly useless due to encroaching brushes and the exploding population of broken glass and other debris, and... there's a traffic light intersection near the bottom, so speed control is vital for survival). But, but, getting to the left turn lane by the bottom of the hill is quite easier than you would expected since traffic comes in waves, regulated by the traffic light intersection at the top of the climb. If you are, like me, equipped with a good helmet rear-view mirror, it's easy to feather the brakes in the bike lane at the top of the drop and wait for the end of the current wave of cars to end before scooting over to the left lane before the yellow 'traffic light ahead' sign half way down the slope (you do want to make it to the left lane by the time you get to that sign, tho, as morning traffic will generally back up to there soon after the light turns red at the bottom... and sudden or hard braking should be avoided at all cost when descending Texas St!).

Descending Texas St on the bike looks intimidating even for me, too! Look how narrow and shaded it is (and do you see that hideous sunken manhole cover in the middle of the bike lane?).
I'm afraid I've been having problem getting sensed by the traffic light loop sensors on the left turn lane onto Camino Del Rio South over the year. I'd send in a re-calibration request to the city's Traffic Division, and they would come out to fix it, though it apparently likes to desensitize against bicycles (even the mostly metal ones like the Smorgmobile is) over time. The one good thing about riding during rush hour traffic is that usually there'd be a car or two (or more) pulling into a stop behind me and tripping the light so I wouldn't be left hanging.

The bike lane heading west on Camino Del Rio S from Texas St can be quite sketchy, also. There is a patch of brush that likes to grow into the already too narrow lane, and the palm trees following those brush like their patch of the bike lane well decorated with palm fronds and other slippery stuff. Again, navigating this bit is much easier if you have a helmet mirror and can see what the drivers are doing behind you without losing sight of the road in front (honestly, it's much better if you just take the lane until the road opens up a bit as it flattens out, though some drivers are very impatient at 7:30 in the morning even when you are doing the posted speed limit down that steep ramp). 

The icky sunken manhole cover in the middle of the eastbound Camino Del Rio South bike lane marks the start spot for the hill repeat.
Turning around just past the First United Lutheran Church (and avoiding that icky sunken manhole cover in the middle of the bike lane), there is a bit of road to work my way down to the low climbing gear. Honestly, the initial climbing on eastbound Camino Del Rio South can be quite a demoralizer. I don't know exactly how steep the gradient is (there is no Strava segment on it), but would hazard a guess at 8-10% before the short mellowing out for the intersection where taking the left turn on the downhill run pays off with the free right turn on the way up (no stopping and starting at the run, trying to get across before the light turns red again antic!).

The Texas St uphill buffered bike lane.
Once on Texas St proper, it's legs v hill all the way to the top! There is some minor variation in gradient on the way up, but, frankly, 8% grade doesn't feel like that much of a relief when it is bookend by 15% ramps that blend into each other so well you can't see where the break is. Basically, I vary my hand position a few time up the climb, usually in the drop from the base to a bit past the first curve, on the hood in the middle section where I may or may not do a short out-of-the-saddle punch sprint, on the top of the bar during the second nasty ramp just before passing under Adams Ave bridge, and then back onto the hood for the 'hit-back-at-the-hill' sprint past the top (this isn't as hard as it sounds, since the climbing gradient starts to shallow out two lampposts past the top side of Adams Ave bridge).

It's really counter-intuitive, but you do recover much faster if you sprint the top of a climb like this. By the time you are spent, the steep bit is over and there is no prolonged agony... and the psychological boon from going on the offense after having taken the beating for so long (3-5 minutes, depending) is quite an effective painkiller!

Where the jogger is on the sidewalk is right about where I usually start my hilltop sprint.
How many time to repeat the climb? As many as you can, of course! I aim for at least 10 laps, which generally takes me 2 hrs (do have to deal with traffic lights and cars on the way down, among other things). Sometimes when I haven't got two hours to spend, though, 6 laps will do if they are full of 'I hate my life' interval sprints. I still hate doing hill repeat, tho this one I do regularly simply because surviving it makes climbing other things like Torrey Pines Inside or Cabrillo or even Palomar Mtn seem so much easier.