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 ( ) 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 fight curve... and actually came off for a rest stop before I got to the next curve. It's a glycogen-smorging 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!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Single or double?

It's much faster for cars to pass a group of cyclists that is riding two abreast than in a long single file.... And it is safer for the cyclists, too, as doubling up really allows you to control the lane when it is too narrow to allow cars to squeeze past without changing lane (and you are more visible and predictable to drivers, unlike folks at the right edge of the lane who are liable to swerve into the lane/traffic to avoid stuff like broken glass, gravels, pedestrians, etc).

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The White Lightning on a Serene Mountain...

Having ridden through Crest a few times was enough to get me fixated on the tantalizing concrete white lightning etched onto the mountain side that serves as the town's landmark. Then my local adventure cycling guru told me it is called Montana Serena Rd, and is a 'must do' climb for aspiring adventure cyclists, which, of course, put the beast squarely on my hit list.
Montana Serena Rd: 0.9 mile, 12% average grade, max grade 43%.
The Beast, of course, is a 0.9 mile long gated road with the main entrance in the Gibson Highlands just off Rios Canyon Rd from Mountain View/Frances Dr. Being a Smorg comes with a liking for a 'different' approach, though, so off to Google Earth I went to scout out a non-routine way of getting on the ride's objective. As it turned out, there are a few different solutions to getting onto Serena Montana, two of them involving quite a bit of dirt-riding!
Looking back (ENE) down the initial ramp on Bullard Rd.
Most of Bullard Rd is firm and road-bike-able, some patches are loose, tho.
I caught the trolley to El Cajon Transit Center early one weekday morning and had a long warm up climb east on Old Hwy 80 past Flinn Springs toward Chocolate Summit. At the turn off where Old 80 turns into Alpine Blvd, though, I veered south to pick up a little lane between the houses. It's the slightly paved north terminus of Bullard Rd.

The friendly (and quite leashless) pitbull welcoming party.
After the fork, Bullard Rd does some gymnastics...
After an initial steep pitch the pavement abandoned me to my dirt-riding devise. Luckily the slope mellowed out soon after and was mostly firm and road-bike friendly. I had taken care to memorize how the route looks via Google Earth, which proved to be a good move as there is no sign at road junctions! I took the left fork at the first Y-intersection, which was well guarded by a lovely (and leash-free) pitbull and her mate before I was allowed to continue onto the deserted hillside. It was quite nice! There's a nice view of the mountains (El Cajon Mtn, Chocolate Summit, Cuyamaca) looking back north, and the road was completely deserted aside from a few mtb tire tracks and horse prints on the dirt.

At the 2nd Y-intersection I took the right fork and fish-tailed my way up the ladder-step-like zigzag until I came to a cattle gate surrounded by barb wire fence. There was no 'no trespassing' sign aside from a small sticker on the gate asking for it to remain shut to prevent the cattle from escaping into the brown inhospitable valley below. I guess that's because Bullard Rd is designated as the 2nd fire escape route for the Gibson Highlands community on the other side of the hill crest.

Bullard Rd gate.
After the gate...
Above the gate the road is much less road-bike-able; deep ruts and steep gradient made for quite a bit of hike-a-biking. A large house peeked up from the hillside about halfway up the climb, Shortly after that I hefted the bike over another gate and landed on a nice and smooth tarmac lane.
Looking back ENE from the 2nd gate.
The climbing continues on the tarmac Bullard Rd.
It's a lonely road and I didn't see any cow despite of multiple 'Cow in pasture' signs... I did see some nice orchards and a whole lot of solar panels, though. It's good policy to try to be self-sufficient when you live in a mountainous sort of isolation deep in the wild fire zone, I guess!
The scenic curve on the paved top of Bullard Rd.
Bottom of Bullard Rd, top of Montana Serena.
After a 1/4 mile or so I rounded a wide panoramic curve to find myself at the top of the white lightning. I have to admit... looking down the thing was a bit scary! It also doesn't help that the concrete surface is quite bumpy rather than smooth.

The White Lightning looks nice from the distance but is quite bumpy up close!
So... it's a 19-42% grade drop... on a hard and bumpy concrete!
After a very cautious (and slow) first descent I turned around when the concrete gives way to tarmac at the bottom, shifted into the lowest gear I had (30x26), and moaned my way back up the hill. After the first curve there is a clear view for miles and miles on the right side of the road, but I didn't see any of it. I was too busy zig-zagging and trying to not tip over and die of exhaustion.

Already zig-zagging not far up from the base... hence the photo angle. Bwahaha.
Half-way up and already ran out of my cursing repertoire... The thing is a beast!
Surviving a hideously steep and rather long climb requires something of a myopic mindset. Your whole world is confined to only a few meters at a time, and you can't look too far up the slope lest the futility of your efforts becomes too apparent and quitting too soundly reasonable. It hurts like hell, but all you can do is to keep hurting just shy of 'too much'. There is no way the pain will go away and you don't want to think of how long you still have to go. It is enough to keep it from getting worse... just for this second. It is a second that has no ending until suddenly it does. You are at the top, with your legs still attached and your head had miraculously failed to explode. Montana Serena Rd had been eliminated from your hit list.... and you don't ever have to climb it anymore.


Heading out of Montana Serena complex. The gate has a metal sensor and opens automatically outward.
Montana Serena Rd from Gibson Highlands Rd.
 There are still plenty of monsters on my local hit list, mind you. But it is quite a comfort to me to know that the next time somebody mentions Montana Serena to me as a 'have you done that yet?', my answer would be; 'Been there, done that, and am cured of the sickness!'

Monday, January 26, 2015

Back-roading my way to Alpine

T'was a clear and cool winter morning... as winter mornings in San Diego often go. The Smorgmobile was pining for the mountains, and Alpine fits the bill just so!

La Cresta Rd climb to Crest.
Many roads we could choose to take up the mountain, but none as pretty as La Cresta, of that I was quite certain...

Up and up the gentle slope we crawled, until a chanced side-exploration called. We had reach Vista de Montemar's purple gate. It was open and I was in no haste...

The view west from Vista de Montemar: Mt Helix & Grossmont on left, Cowles & the Fortunas right center.
Back down Vista de Montemar to La Cresta.
A little climb with more than a little view. It pays to not go straight up scenic hills!

Traffic was light but it was speedy, and Crest itself was looking empty.

Skirting along South Lane Park in Crest.
Alta Pl's magical switchbacks.
We looped the town and its dead ends, and found its many crooks and glens.

But the morning got old and I needed coffee, but up in Crest there's no cafe! So off we went down Mountain View Dr, which turns to Frances as it takes a curvy dive...

Down Mountain View/Frances Dr into Harbison Canyon.
Turning off Harbison Canyon Rd at Galloway Valley Rd.
No coffee on the offer at Canyon Market, so north we went up Harbison Canyon Rd.
Most folks would go on to Arnold Way, but Smorg's head was feeling fuzzy, so we took a long cut the Galloway Valley way.

Taking in the view from Alpine Trail Rd.
A wrong turn or two before we made the clue, and popped up on Alpine's new scenic patch of flues. The roads are new and most plots still un-housed, Alpine Trail is quite a cool hang about!
The second ramp on Alpine Trail Rd.

Riding such a view requires a bit of clout, before too long the engine was throwing me a pout... or two... or three. Steep roads can really wear you out!

Finally a bit of a descent on Alpine Heights Rd.

It's downhill most of the way to turn around, but Janet's coffee scent was on my snout. So I pushed on up the hill on South Grade Rd and turned west toward the roast on old Foss Rd. Janet really knows how to espresso, and a hot mug after the climb makes quite a tango!
                                               Hot coffee animated emoticon
Yes, yes, I know... climbing 3000 ft in just 23 miles for a cup of joe is really only for weirdos...