Friday, October 4, 2019

Taakwish Pu'Shappila

In the old days, the Luiseno indians of San Diego's north county would look up at the high point of Palomar during rain storms and marvel at all the lightning sparks that Taakwish (Tahquitz), the fallen shaman of wondrous power, created as he pounded the bones of his victims on his favorite rocks atop the mountain range. Taakwish is notoriously man-hating and can't wait to beat up on people venturing up his mountain (Lily Rock on Tahquitz Peak), canyon, and his bone pounding places like the highest prominence of the Palomar range.

The base of High Point TT (8SO5) is quite sandy.
Getting to the first steep bit on High Point TT.
It wasn't the legend of Tahquitz that deterred me for so long before attempting to reach the high point of Palomar Mountain by bike, however, but the prospect of actually destroying my road bike on a rough people-less trail with nary a chance of being in cellphone reception range for a mayday call in mountain lion country. Having picked up a sturdier Fuji Finest with clearance for bigger tires and a good pair of disc brakes, and scoring a willing riding partner changed things, and one morning in April I cycled up to Aguanga where my partner, Mike, was waiting, and together we set off up High Point Truck Trail (8SO5) to pick a fight with the devil. 


Hike-a-bike stretch where High Point TT runs into Oak Grove TT.
The gate at the top of Oak Grove TT.
High Point Truck Trail, I must say, doesn't have much of a soft spot for rigid road bike running any tire smaller than 30mm. I was running a pair of moderately threaded 28mm, and had quite a bike handling work out on the many really soft sandy stretches at the bottom of the climb, and then again when the road gets rocky, rutty, and quite extremely pitchy as we stopped half-way up to have a look at Oak Grove TT to see if it would make a good alternative escape route from the top. For the record, it doesn't!

Rather than burning off as the day wore on, the cloud just sat on the road, wetting down the dirt.
A peek at Palomar High Point Lookout Tower.
We hiked the bike as much as we rode the last mile to the intersection with Palomar Divide TT (9SO7). My partner had road cycling cleats on, and the wet dirt was wreaking havoc on his ability to clip on and off his pedals. It was quite a lesson to me, as I had never used road clipless system (I went from riding flat pedals to mtb spd system). This proved to be quite problematic since his feet weren't secure on the pedals, and made riding pretty hazardous. With the lateness of our arrival to the Palomar HP saddle, we opted out of going up another mile and a bit to tag the actual top in order to start our descent as soon as possible.

The junction of Palomar Divide TT (9SO7) and High Point TT (8SO5).
Palomar Divide TT put up a lot of fight to slow our escape from Tahquitz's favorite bone grinder. The top part of the road is really rough and full of pebbles that made it almost impossible to stay on a good descending line. The decline is also interrupted by more than a few sudden uphill spikes that are both too loose and steep to ride up. Heck, there are even sandy stretches that preserve quite a few wild spoors - some more concerning than others. For a good couple of miles we found ourselves reverse-tracing footprints of a mountain lion and two cubs... It was enough to grow eyes out the back of our heads and almost hallucinating big cats peeking out from every boulder and bush along the road.
A mommy mountain lion and two cubs went uphill on this road not long ago.
Looking back at the white domes of Palomar Observatory.
We caught some fantastic views of Mendenhall Valley, San Jose del Valle, and Lake Henshaw on the descent (especially once we made it to the old pavement bit below the old Ware Mine. I'm afraid I had accidentally knocked the GoPro downward during the climb up Highpoint TT, and am left with pretty useless footage of a lot of dirt and rut and not much else. As I was counting on getting some good stills from the video, I didn't stop to take many photograph with my camera on our way down the rough road. I guess this calls for a redo ride on the other side of summer!

Looking over the ridge to Valle de San Jose and Lake Henshaw.
I must say, the old pavement on the lower 6 miles or so of Palomar Divide TT is really no picnic to ride as it isn't maintained and is quite chopped up in places and full of debris in others. It's still a big relief from the deep sand and rough pebbles of the upper section, however. I don't know if my road bike would have survived much more of the latter.

The oldly paved lower slope of Palomar Divide Truck Trail.
We somehow made it down to Hwy 79 in one piece (with one minor crash each, sort of as sacrifice to Tahquitz for having invaded his territory on such unsuitable manpowered machines. It was quite a long morning of rough-road riding in quite wetter weather than anticipated (no rain perse, but riding into a cloud that just sat still was still quite a soaking experience). Hopefully I'll get to challenge Tahquitz for a rematch soon... on a bit bigger tires and maybe a slightly bigger cassette, too.

Thanks very much to my riding pal Spinmotion for hanging in there with me both on and off the bike!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Belgian Wafer Ride 2019

It was a bit reassuring in a rather twisted way, that despite a serious bout with food poisoning in March, and two full weeks of the flu in April, I still arrived at the start of this year's Wafer ride, the shorter 72 mile option of the full 133 mile Belgian Waffle Ride, in much better shape than I did a year ago. Surely if I managed to survive last year's ride, this year's should be a given, no matter what on-bike shenanigans I'd have to pull along the way.

The BWR organizer had obviously learnt from last year's not-enoug-waffles-to-go-around glitch, and planned the catering process better. No half-a-block long breakfast line this time around, and no start time delay needed to facilitate my attempted transpeciation into a pig!

Breakfast of 'no-bonkers'.
Mariacchi music to get us into the mood.

This year's field had doubled from the previous one, and well more than a thousand riders were at the start line for the Wafer ride, which went off in one giant wave half an hour after the first of the three Waffle waves. I meant to drop off the back of the pack early in order to not run into the inevitable traffic jam on the narrow track of Lemontwistenberg, but the Wafer wave was just endless., and I ended up just toward the back of the stretched out main bunch going over the hump on Del Dios Hwy.

A big grateful thank you to all the CHP, local sheriff officers, and volunteers who were out directing traffic for us all along the route. They did a wonderful job of keeping everyone safe and were all so kind and encouraging to us riders. It just made such a taxing ride so much more enjoyable, especially toward the end when most of us were just riding on steam and could barely see straight. 

CHP-assisted U-turn on Del Dios Hwy at Calle Ambiente.

Lemontwistenberg (Eastbound Del Dios Gorge Trail)
I'm glad I pre-rode this thing the Tuesday before (in the rain and all, since that was my only day off that work week). The little shallow concrete creek crossing on the access road to Lemontwistenberg had recently been filled in with fist size gravels, and it rode quite differently from a year ago. You really can't steer thru huge gravels like that. It rides pretty much like non-sinking sand... where momentum (and the willingness to leave the brake levers alone) is your best friend. Luckily for me, never being able to stick with a diet plan means momentum is the one thing I have no lack of...

We were pretty much all strangers with unknown bike-handling abilities. I trackstood for a while waiting for the crossing to clear before riding thru. After all, I wasn't anywhere near the pointy end of the ride, and there really wasn't any point in 'racing' others thru crash-a-delic sections. A few others just plowed in right behind someone else, hoping that the person in front didn't stall.

Lemontwistenberg traffic jam.
Though, stalled we did become on the twisty low-traction singletrack of Lemontwistenberg, except for the few that were off the front and/or the back of the bunch. Once someone gets off and walks, the rest pretty much has to follow suit. There just isn't enough room.

Not to say that some didn't try to squeeze people out of their way with nary a thought of whether those people who got squeezed past would end up in the bush (or cactus) or not, kind of like the way some drivers would speed squeeze pass a long line of cars to cut in up the line right at the freeway exit.

The vast majority of riders behaved like matured adults, however, and kept up good banter to past the time waiting for the line to move along.

Hodgesmuurgate East
After a stretch back on the pavement of Del Dios Hwy, we hit the dirt again on Lake Hodges North Trail. This was one of the more fearsome sectors last year with long stretches of jutting hard rocks on the ramp to Bernardo Mtn Trail turn off, and the dreaded downhill right turn toward Felicita Creek where tires were shredded and spokes busted. The thick new layer of packed top dirt had taken most of the menace out of Hodges North, however. The downhill right hook was now smooth, loose, and still banking the wrong way away from the turn; I'm not sure if that is a safer combination for biking than the previous de-facto-speed-bump roughness was, but it probably gave Velofix fewer business than it did last year.

The now smooth downhill right turn on Hodgesmuurgate.
                                            Felicita Creek crossing.
Modest Mule (Eastbound Mule Hill Trail) and Highland Arenberg (Highland Valley Rd climb)
Rather than lingering at the Sikes' Abode pit stop at the start of Modest Mule like I did last year, I just grabbed a fresh bottle of electrolyte bottle and passed right on to the trail. You see, there's only one really rideable line through the deep sand pits of Modest Mule's mid-section, and it's on the westbound side. Last year I had to fishtail my way east on it because the lead Wafer riders were already heading back west through there as I headed east, and that rideable line wasn't available.

This time around, I had already gone through the sand pits when the first Wafer riders popped up on the opposite side of the narrow trail. From then on, I could relax a bit and take my time psyching up for the climb up the steep first mile of Highland Valley Rd climb.

Heading east on Mule Hill Trail. Battle Mtn in background.
The lower slope of wiggly Highland Valley Rd climb.
Just a couple more turns to the level out!
Wafer riders don't have to climb all of Highland Valley Rd (HVR), thanks goodness! We only climb the first wiggly mile to the Bandy Canyon Rd turn off, where we indulge in a few miles of paved descents into the San Pasqual Valley.  The sun had shedded its cloud cover by then, and I was starting to regret having on a vest.

Sandy Bandy (San Pasqual Valley Trail) and Bandyweg (Bandy Canyon Rd climb)
I did spend some time at the well stocked Sandy Bandy pit stop, where the kind volunteers from Olli and Tasco pumped me full of banana and electrolyte water. I'm afraid I passed on the beer, as I could barely ride straight when sober. Being able to stick to a narrow line is something necessary on a trail like Sandy Bandy, with its many unfriendly cacti hiding in the brushes lining the path.

Sandy Bandy Pit Stop
Sandy Bandy's deceptive sand singletrack
Exiting Sandy Bandy onto the cracky tarmac ramp to Bandy Canyon Rd.

Mighty Mule (Westbound Mule Hill Trail) and Hodgesmuurgate West (Westbound Lake Hodges North Trail)
I made it down the hill and onto Mighty Mule in pretty good time. The headwind wasn't too mighty, yet, and having the whole trail to myself through both of the sand pits was extremely nice. I grabbed a fresh new electrolyte drink bottle at the Sikes Abode, and took it pretty easy on the first bit of Hodgesmuurgate while getting some Bloc Shots in.

The firmer bit of Mighty Mule.
Fresh cold electrolyte drink bottles being handed out at Sikes Abode.
Wild mustard were abloom along Hodges North Trail.

Kakaboulet and Hodgendam (Lake Hodges North Trail from gravel road to Del Dios Dam)
Kakaboulet is the going Flemish word of exasperation we mutter under our dirt beards as we try to ride our way past the many rock field of various rideability on the Hodges North Trail between the access road and Hernandez's Hideaway.

I lucked out and wasn't stuck behind anyone on those crash-a-delic trouble spots, however, and rolled onto the Twistenlemonberg (westbound Del Dios Gorge Trail) at good speed. Last year the Waffle ride leaders passed me as I exited this sector. I was quite keen on getting through this narrow trail again before I'm caught this year. Gosh knows how terrible it would be to be struggling up one of its steep narrow ramps with the ride leaders stuck behind you.

As it turned out, I made it thru the sector uneventfully, had a good refueling at the pit stop, and was just about done climbing back up Del Dios Hwy to Citracada when a police cruiser came screeching to a stop in the middle of the intersection (a couple other riders and me were waiting for the left turn light to go green) and screamed at us to get out of the way. That could only mean that the Waffle leaders were hot on our heels, so we sprinted off, were passed as if we were standing still on Country Club Drive, and managed to tail the leading group through the Harmony Grove intersection before getting left in the dust, and back to riding a more humane tempo west into the Elfin Forest.

Questhavenbergen (Questhaven Trail)

The Oasis ran out of bacon before I arrived! They had cold Coke and other good stuff, and they gave you colorful pats on the bottoms... but they didn't have bacon, and that's what I'm going to blame the double quads cramps that hit me while climbing the worst of the paved Questhaven Dr ramp to Attebury Drive on. If only there weren't a bunch of overly cheery dudes hanging at the top of the climb watching and egging me on, I'd have gotten off the bike and attempt to play dead. But I was spotted before the thought struck me, and was compelled to keep up appearances one agonizing pedal stroke after another until I cleared that ungodly bit of road.

I don't think I ever got above 5 mph from that point on all the way to the top of Double Peak. Muur van Dubbelberg is nasty enough on fresh legs. With both quads going crampy even before I got onto San Elijo Rd, I just did enough work to keep the pedals going around while cramming as much gels and electrolyte drink in as I could.

I think someone I knew was yelling out encouragement half way up the climb, and a penguin tried to offer me some tasty Twizzlers as I inced my way toward the green watertank (after which the gradient would drop significantly). A few friendly locals were stationed at the last bend giving out high fives. Everybody was just so happy. They totally made up for the lack of bacon!

I had a better time descending the Twistenweg (Ridgeline Trail) back to S Twin Oaks Valley Rd than a year ago, except that I didn't make it completely up the final ramp this year. It's a weird instance where prior knowledge hurt rather than helped. Last year I only spotted the uptick as I descended down the middle of the trail, so I shot for the right side opening as I swung back uphill, and made it up to the park. This time around I knew that the clear opening is along the right side of the ramp, so I lined myself up on the right side of the trail to slingshot straight up through the gap. Alas, I didn't account for the side bumps... which bounced me back to the center where I hit the last wood berm and stalled just before the top. Oh well. Sometimes one can know too much for ones' good!

So... I finished another Wafer! It didn't feel any easier (except for the Hodges North bit, of course), but having finished last year was priceless in mentally convincing myself that I'd also finish this year. I'd be surprised if the route stays the same, even though that would probably make life a lot easier for the organizers (I bet it's quite a headache getting approval from all the different agencies that are in charged of all the trails and roads along the route to put on an event this big).

Whatever it turns out to be, I'm definitely signing up for next year's ride!

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!