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... 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Another (Extreme) Steepie Bites The Dust: Crow's Nest

Winter had gone by and I had knocked no steepie off my ever growing hit list... Something had to give! It's weird how sometimes it takes something like an impending heatwave to psychologically kick a sluggish Smorg out of bed early in the morning to go pick a fight with hills I don't even like to walk down on. Weird, huh?
The Crow's Nest, as seen from its nearly as evil twin, Montana Serena.
Anyhow, the Crow's Nest Lane going up the spire on the east side of Harbison Canyon had been tantalizing me for a long long while now. I had gotten into a couple of fights with its evil twin, Montana Serena, before, but somehow hadn't managed to pay the amazing looking Crow a visit. A lot of it is because I loathe to cycle on Harbison Canyon Rd... which, though not nearly as deadly dangerous as Wildcat Canyon Rd is, still is too narrow and full of shaded blind curves for comfort, especially when combined with casino-bound traffic. I had been assigning the Crow as my optional target whenever I rode to Alpine, but hitting that severe a slope with so many miles (a lot of it uphill) left on the home leg of a ride just wasn't a very appetizing idea to me (I mean... why climb Via Capri Dr on the way home from UCSD when there's mostly flat Rose Canyon trail?). Yesterday, the Crow's Nest Lane was the ride's objective. I wanted that goriness off my hit list!

My ride started in Uptown where I live, of course, but posting maps leading people within a mile of home would be a very un-Smorgly thing to do... so this route map ( http://ridewithgps.com/routes/7292516 ) starts/finishes a safe 9 miles away in La Mesa instead.

Heading NE on gentle Molly Woods Ave on Grossmont.
There are many ways of getting across Grossmont, and Molly Woods Ln to Grossmont Blvd is by far the most pleasant. No steep ramp, hardly any car, and lots of beautiful gardens and houses around each of its many curves. The Grossmont Blvd descent to I-8 has been crying for resurfacing for a long while now, though. I hope the City of La Mesa gets to it while it is doing all sorts of road works along Fuerte Dr next door. If you had never gone that way before, refrain from bombing down Grossmont Blvd to the freeway as there are loads of icky potholes and cracks toward the bottom of the thing, and most of them spend most of the day being well hidden by the shades.
The south side of the beautiful Merritt Dr climb.
Top of Merritt.
I veered right to W Chase at the bottom of El Cajon Blvd and slow rolled my way to the ride's secondary objective - the little hill known to locals as Mount Merritt. It proved to be a really nice climb from Grove Rd side (from Merritt Dr side, tho, it's pretty spiky). Grove Rd east of Merritt Dr turn off is currently closed for construction (the signs say until July!). Traffic was very light and the climb up the south side of Merritt quite nice. Nothing steeper than 10%, I think, with lots of curves and shade trees, and lots of locals out and about walking and chatting. A nice lady out talking to her neighbor saw me coming 'round the bend and gave a nice cheer and thumb up. It's very Mt Helix-esque!
El Cajon, with Rattlesnake Mtn (L) and El Cajon Mtn (R) in background.
A red-shafted (Northern) flicker on Mount Merritt.
Merritt Dr descent...
I hung around the crest of the road for a while, enjoying the beautiful open view of Rattlesnake & El Cajon Mtns and the many cool birds that hang out in the many well trimmed trees and bushes. I even spotted my first northern flickers!

The morning was getting older, though, so I made my way down the lovely Merritt Dr descent (it's sweet, tho too pretty to rip down and miss all the sights!) to pick up S Anza Rd north to Main St, where the riding got quite more trafficky on my way east to Greenfield and then La Cresta Rd, at the bottom of which I swabbed my arm & leg warmers for sunsleeves instead.
The private lane connecting Old Bend to Calle de la Sierra.
It took me a few tries, but I caught a shot of this very camera shy hooded oriole in the end!
La Cresta Rd would be such a lovely climb if only the drivers on that road wouldn't have such a phobia for using the left lane to pass bicycles... It is, also, a very dirty road! I started at the bottom with a mostly empty backpack and by the time I topped out in Crest the thing was filled with 43 discarded aluminum cans (mostly beer cans)... and I had passed by this way doing the same thing just a month ago. Why can't people just keep their drink cans in their car when they're done???

The snakes sure are out early this year. Saw 8 dead ones on La Cresta & Dehesa Rds. Alas, only one was a rattler. The rest were nice non-venomous bug-eaters.
Hello gorgeous! The Crow's Nest is quite striking to look at coming down Mountain View/Frances Dr.
An organized group bike ride was coming up Harbison Canyon Rd when I got down Frances Dr.
I passed straight through Crest, was moderately tempted to pay the White Lightning a visit, but restrained myself lest I get too tired out to visit the Crow afterward. I got down Mountain View/Frances Dr to Harbison Canyon just as a large (and moderately stretched out) group of cyclists came riding up from Dehesa. A bunch of brave folks! Harbison Canyon Rd with its shoulderless narrow two lanes of shaded blind curves and casino traffic is one of the few roads in the county that I'd only ride down on and not up. The group took a break at beautiful Old Ironside County Park where I split off down Noakes Dr to Silverbrook to pick up the day's goriest climb...

Harbison Canyon Rd at Old Ironside County Park (Canyon Market on left/west side).
Old Ironside County Park is a shaded beauty with water fountains and restrooms.
Descending Silverbrook toward the Crow's Nest Ln. Yes, we're going to the top of the spire... at 18% average grade!
The Crow's Nest Lane is technically a private road, I think, but not yet gated and there are only four houses on it so far. Two are occupied (including the one at the very top) and two are for sale. The road is just wide enough for two cars to pass and pretty well paved, though there is quite a bit of slippery dirt & gravel debris washed onto the pavement from the side slope, which didn't make the already uncomfortably steep climb any more pleasant. I started out immediately on my lowest gear ratio (30x28) and broke into a series of zigzag on the first right curve... and actually came off for a rest stop before I got to the next curve. It's a glycogen-depleting beast!

No breath left to crow crawling up the Crow's Nest.
I climb for the view... looking back down toward Mountain View/Frances Dr.
Stopping to smell the flowers (and reassemble lungs and legs).
This being a dead end with only 4 houses on it, though, means there is practically no traffic on the road and not a lot of barking dogs either. I stopped twice on the way up and got to enjoy quite a lot of fantastic view and the fresh wild flowers blooming along side the road. The two little speed bumps were quite un-bike-friendly on the way up, though... They come in the middle of the 23-33% grade ramps, and caused spontaneous wheelies just when I didn't feel like wheelie-ing. The second one even came in combination with a rear wheel slip courtesy of loose debris... which I would like to cite as my excuse for the 2nd rest stop, though I think I would have had to stop even if my rear wheel wasn't attempting to dance. My legs were dissolving into jello!
Top of the Crow's Nest Lane.
Dirt connection to Wilson Rd (probably gated).
From Crow's Nest top looking toward Sycuan TT.
And toward Sloane Cyn & Dehesa.
These two funny quails took offense at my swearing while grinding my way up the slope, and took off into the bush!
After the icky steep ramp following the hard right with circular sink hole the slope shallowed out to the mid teens, which felt amazingly mellow after what came before it. The house near the top on the left proved empty (and only half constructed, looking almost abandoned), but the one at the spire is occupied. The Crow's Nest paved lane turns into a dirt road descending the other side to the top of Wilson Rd above Dehesa Valley. I was almost tempted to try to go down that side (being able to avoid taking Harbison Canyon Rd at all seemed a very pleasant idea), but I hadn't scouted out gate condition and didn't want to get stranded and have to hike-a-road-bike back up, so I just took my time sight-seeing at the top before slow-rolling down the hill.

No photographing on the fly while riding down the Crow's Nest!
The beast, from the bottom.
I sure hope I never feel the urge to ride up that road again!
I'm afraid descending the Crow on a road bike with dual pivot brakes is quite a nerve-wrecking experience. The severe gradient and the loose dirt debris make for a very slippery combination that gave my hands quite a load of work out on the way down. I couldn't let the bike run at all without risking it breaking into a runaway train. By the time I got to the bottom the rims were almost hot enough to fry an egg... and this is only the second week of spring!

Got to chase two friendly guys on Dehesa & Willow Spring into Rancho San Diego.
I'm a bike buddy... and I couldn't fit any more trash into my backpack by this point on Willow Glen Dr. It's full to capacity!
Challenge Blvd heading west is a nice low-traffic ride.
The rest of the way back was pretty uneventful. A few friendly cyclists out on Dehesa Rd, going the Great Western Loop ahead of this weekend's heatwave. Ran into a strong lass in UCSD cycling kit crossing Mt Helix by way of Challenge Blvd - Vista - Bomar, who proved quite a chase rabbit. Alas, she veered off to Fuerte from Resmar, so I had no rabbit to chase on the lovely curvy descent of Grandview/Edgewood back to La Mesa proper. The tally was 52 miles with a bit over 3100 ft of climbing for the day... and one gory road off my hit list. The latter, at least, was worth a couple of scoops of post-ride chocolate ice-cream all by itself!