Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year 2013!

Apologies for being such a negligent blogger of late! The cooler weather means much more pleasant riding condition in the mountains east of San Diego. I've been spending much of my free time stalking hawks and other cool wild animals out of the city... and when I get back to town I'm too wasted to sit down and write a proper blog entry.
Getting a bicycle was really the best thing I did for myself in 2012. I picked up a used mountain bike from a pawn shop nearby in February, mostly for transportation purpose. It was a Giant mountain bike with front suspension. Had to put two new (and well slimed) tires in along with new brake pads. The rear cassette's small cogs were rather worn, so I couldn't use the speedier gears, but I wasn't bent on going fast anyhow, so that stayed in (I just needed the low climbing gears to get myself up the city's many mesas). It was fun discovering bike-friendly routes to get to familiar places around the city, and even making forays to farther away places like La Jolla or Torrey Pines or even Mission Trails on occasions on that heavy steel bike.
My old Giant Yukon mtn bike on OB bike path near Hotel Circle
I went from just walking around my immediate neighborhood and catching the buses/trolley to other cooler places once or twice a month, fitting as many destinations and chores in as possible to the bus/trolley travel days... to regularly making the 20 miles round trips to Ocean Beach or Cabrillo Monument to sight see, and being able to spread out my grocery shopping, post office, library, and other chore runs on different days rather than having to jam them all in on the few days that I buy the bus/trolley day pass on. Then I upgraded to a light aluminum road bike in May...
The new Giant Defy road bike at Torrey Pines Gliderport
That was when my world sort of exploded... in a very good way! With the road bike I could range all the way to Escondido or even Oceanside and back in a day. An 80 mile bike ride isn't all that unusual now, and after 7 months I'm still having a blast discovering more awesome cycling routes around San Diego County (county rather than city!). I even survived a brutally long, hilly and hot organized high speed group ride, the Giro di San Diego Gran Fondo from Solana Beach to Palomar Mtn in September. Alas, I didn't quite survive an even higher speed group ride just a week later when one of the tracksters I was pace-lining with went down on the descent from Cabrillo and ignited a chain reaction group crash. Luckily everyone escaped without serious injury (and so did all the bicycles)... Yours truly now sports an inch long scar on the mug, however. A good reminder to listen to my misgivings next time around and drop out when a group I ride with starts to push for too much speed on too narrow a road.

Anyhow! It's been a great year on the bike. I made a lot of cool new friends and learned a lot of things about myself... and this amazingly beautiful and varied city I live in. Here's a compilation video of a few of my favorite cycling hang outs in San Diego County so far. Looking forward to discovering more new haunts next year.

Wishing you all a very healthy and happy 2013! Ride safe (for both you and others) and have a blast!

Monday, December 3, 2012

A ride out to El Capitan Reservoir

Winter is just about here. I'm sure the weather is less cycling-friendly elsewhere than here on the Southern California coast, though even we blessed San Diegans must check weather forecast before riding east toward the mountains this time of year.
Fashion Valley Transit Center on a foggy morning.
It was foggy out as I waited for the green line trolley to whisk me out to Santee from my Uptown abode for my leisurely ride to El Capitan Reservoir east of El Cajon. I had checked the live webcams of all the areas along my route before I left the house, though. They, along with the weather report, looked promising for clearer sky an hour or two down the road.

Mimi's Cafe front room.
If anyone wants to organize a group ride out of Santee area, Mimi's Cafe at Santee Towne Centre is an excellent venue to meet up. There's lots of parking. The facility is easy to find and has really nice and cozy waiting area. And positively the best restroom for miles!

After indulging in a huge muffin and excellent hot cocoa at Mimi's I rolled out and headed east toward Lakeside. Traffic was nice and light on El Nopal, so a lone cyclist was something worth goggling at, even for a pair of bored ostriches...

 It was a morning of many curious animal encounters. I was rolling through placid Lido Lake when I spotted this modern day dogs-drawn chariot out on a morning exercise along the lake path... 

An even more pleasant sight (for perpetually hungry cyclists like me). Persimmons are in season, and many houses around the area are running a surplus, so they leave out baskets of the fruits on their front porch along with price and a little jar for purchasers to put their money in. Good old fashion honor system. I lose a dollar bill and added four plump Hachiya persimmons into my backpack. These Hachiya persimmons aren't as ready for eating like the wonderful Fuyu persimmons are, unfortunately. I wish someone had told me that before I bit into the thing, bitter skin and all. Smiley

El Monte Rd with El Cajon (El Capitan) Mtn in the background.
But, I was out for a scenic ride rather than for sweet street-side fruits! There was plenty of the former to see along El Monte Rd east of Lake Jennings. The imposing mountain with the big rocky face is actually El Cajon Mountain, though the locals call it 'El Capitan' due to its resemblance to that famous wall of granite in Yosemite Park many many miles to the north of the state. The only road in and out of it, El Monte Rd, runs along the San Diego River gorge, and so is much gentler than one would expect, riding east into the mountain range. As it winds its way toward the park, El Monte never climb enough to make you suspect that you are actually riding uphill... that is until you pass the park gate and start the 1/2 mile climb toward the dam.

The pitch to the dam is spiky at around 6-8% grade, but it is too short to create much discomfort. Once past the dam, it becomes level again and exceedingly twisty and narrow with really lamentable pavement quality (I suspect the park leaves it that way to discourage boat-towing trucks from speeding. Come to think of it, boat-towing trucks are things you should be on the look out for when you cycle on El Monte Rd. Expect the car that is passing you to be a lot longer than the usual cars on the street!). The El Capitan Reservoir entry fee for cars is pretty steep ($8), but bikes go in for free, thank you very much! Smiley  And the view?

Oh yes... Well worth the miles and even the bitter bite of the Hachiya persimmon... 

By the way, if you want to visit, El Capitan Reservoir is currently on winter schedule and is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween bike ride thru Bay Park & Clairemont

It's (supposedly) the spookiest night of the year. I'm afraid I forgot to shop for candies to ward off all the sweet-toothed local goblins and monsters. Luckily I live in a unit that isn't very visible from the road, so no trick-or-treaters have wandered my way so far.
The Cardiff Kook as the Halloween Zombie...
I did venture out for a bit earlier today, though. Gotta give the computer a little break from spending too much time with me or it'd go ape. Today was a late-October-ish day with a lot of sun and comfortably cool temperature. I meant to only go for an hour long easy ride, but after a few sprints up the rolling hills of Mission Hills I got enthusiastic and decided to do a little route-scouting ride in hilly Bay Park.
Tantalizing Illion St climb from Tecolote Canyon Nature Park
No Bay Park ride would be complete without a trip up fearsome Illion St, of course. I had a good look at that terrible hill from a new vantage point today when I was investigating Tecolote Canyon Nature Park nearby. I have a feeling that this hill will never be a comfortable climb for me, but my lungs weren't exploding by the time I crested it today... considering that I was in blue jeans rather than comfy cycling kit, that was something quite worth being pleased about.

I headed east on Milton St, away from Mission Bay. There's a bit more climbing to do there, but it paid to look behind me every now and then. Milton St's ickiest section (15% grade according to the road sign) is between Galveston and Illion, but I didn't have to ride it since I came up Illion... not that that was less of an exercise. After a bit of a faux flat it kicks up into about a block worth of 12% grade before leveling out toward Bergener Blvd. I hung a left there and went all the way up to Mt Acadia Blvd with it, but if I ever take anybody riding up here I'd probably detour east a couple of blocks to Cowley Way (a bit more climbing, but worth it to miss the heavy school traffic).

Mt Acadia Blvd just before its 10% grade drop into Tecolote Canyon (from the west).
A right turn at Mt Acadia and a hair-raising plunge down into Tecolote Canyon. I used to drive through here when I was still golfing and remembered there used to be a stop sign at the bottom where it intersects with Snead Dr (to go to Tecolote Golf Course). Now the stop sign is only on Snead and not Mt Acadia (which has also gotten much wider!), so this stretch is much more fun for cyclists since you can sling shot part of the way up the other side.

Again, next time I ride thru here I'd hang a right at Acworth and then left on Boyd instead of staying on Mt Acadia after getting back up from the canyon. Another school and its traffic. By the time I got to Genessee I had already been out for more than an hour, though, and needed to get back (despite of appearance, Smorg does work many hours a week) so I turned south and followed Genessee down to Linda Vista Blvd. A bit past Ulric St turn off I spotted a rather tantalizing sign off on the right side of the road. Filipino lumpias! If you haven't tried one of these, my friends, you've got to. They are all that's right about deep fried food!

U of San Diego's Alcala campus off Linda Vista Blvd
Anyhow, a big attraction about going south on always busy Linda Vista Blvd is passing by the gorgeous campus of the University of San Diego, of course. Lots of cars on the road, but the bike lane is wide and mostly well paved. There are a few icky spots once you hit the really downhill bits after USD, though. One was a round manhole that was indented quite a bit below pavement level and covers the entire bike lane (you definitely have to swerve into car lane to avoid it, so spot it early to allow time for a safe merge).

This is what you look like when you lose yourhead over Halloween, I guess.
Took Morena Blvd down to Old Town, then climbed up Juan St back into Mission Hills. That was hungry work, though not so hungry as to not pedal slowly thru the area looking at some rather cool Halloween decorations.

Some folks really go all out with this spookifying of their property thing... It was great! I almost liked Halloween decor better than I do Christmas. More variety and more humor. I'm afraid I didn't put anything up at my pad, though. It's out of the way and nobody would see it anyway. Besides, the place is guarded nearly 24/7 by a black cat... That ought to be spooky enough to begin with, oughtn't it?

The lumpias made it home intact, of course. I tossed 'em into the oven while I took a shower, and when I came back out they were perfectly hot and crisp.
Yummy Filipino lumpias from Olga's in Linda Vista.
I guess I didn't lose any weight after all that riding after all!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Photos from Giro di San Diego Gran Fondo 2012

Some photos from this year's brutal Giro di San Diego gran fondo. If you rode or volunteered in it and see yourself in any shot, feel free to download the shot(s) for your own use.
Giro di San Diego registration tent at Bike Expo in Solana Beach.
There was a Bike Expo and Taste of Solana Beach festivities the day before the big ride.
Race packet contents

All the riders got their race numbers (one to attach to the bike's handle bar and the other to the back of the jersey), race bible (containing info and route maps), and a few swags from the event's sponsors. 
Race bible has maps of all the fondo rides.
They must have had the race bible printed really late since the routes were changed significantly 5 days before race date, and the book contains the updated routes. I signed up to ride 106 miles and ended up doing 111.

I arrived an hour before start time to find stuff still being set up.

Registration area the morning of the ride. Volunteers wore neon green t-shirts.
This fondo wasn't quite a well-oiled machine. Still, all the volunteers and organizers worked really hard to get things rolling.
Revolution Bike Shop mechanics checking bikes out before start time.
Thanks a bunch to Revolution Bike Shop of Solana Beach for providing mechanical support at the start/finish and also along the routes! 

First group of gran fondo riders at the start line.
I'm afraid I didn't take many shots once I took off. I figured the organizer would have photographers taking professional shots along the route... At any rate, the group I started out with went out really hard from the start and ran practically all the traffic lights along Lomas Santa Fe Rd as they headed to the PCH. I had to run the first red light along with them since I was right in the middle of the peloton and didn't feel like causing a nasty bunch crash by hitting the brake. I dropped out of the group right after the intersection, though... and did the same (without running lights) with the other 2 or 3 groups that followed. Somehow I doubt that any of those speedsters were professionals... From what I know, the pros generally take off leisurely and pick up speed toward the end while amateurs do the exact opposite. To be clear, the race bible specifically instructs Giro di San Diego riders to obey all traffic laws (including traffic lights and stop signs) at all time.
Elfin Forest Rd was still under construction, so all the fondo routes were re-routed up San Elijo Rd toward San Marcos.

The gran fondo and the medio fondo riders went all the way thru to Escondido. Our first aid station was on Valley Center Rd just south of Lake Wohlford Rd. The volunteers here didn't get their neon green shirt, but still managed to feed us hungry cyclists delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, watermelon, chips and sport drinks.

Up Valley Center Rd toward the mountains

Man, was I glad we climbed Cole Grade Rd from the south side...
The medio fondo riders veered off to climb Lake Wohlford and then turn back. We gran fondo riders went up Valley Center Rd to climb fearsome Cole Grade Rd, happily from the south side (the original route would have us climb that thing from the north side right after Mt Palomar... Eeeek!).

By the time I hit the base of Palomar South Grade Rd the sun was feeling macho and seemed bent on scorching the joy out of all living things. There was a company of paramedic at the turn off with warm coolers of water and a bunch of O2 tanks. Their thermometer read 103F and quite a few exhausted riders lined up to be revived by some fresh gas.
Riders taking a breather in a shaded spot along S6 up Palomar Mtn. SAG cars along the route provided energy bars and water.
Never saw any cow on the mountain, but there are 4 cow crossings along South Grade Rd that were icky to ride over.

Yes, I got passed by a few really fit ladies... I plead guilty to being slow!
Even seasoned century riders were taking frequent breaks at various little shaded spots along the way up that last 6 mile bit of continuous 6.5% grade climb. 

Half way up I passed one exhausted rider walking his bike up. The dude was spent, but still wasn't willing to give up! Another dude ran out of water and food a mile or so from the top. Luckily I started with 3 bottles and still had one nearly full one left then, so I half the liquid with him and gave him my last energy gel before going on up the road. He came riding up a bit after. Gotta give these riders kudos. They were down, but they refused to throw in the towel!

There was a volunteer guy at the base of the climb (on Hwy76 just past Valley Center Rd) recording our bib number and time for the King of the Mountain contest. There wasn't anyone recording our finish time on the top of the road by the time I got there, though. At any rate, plenty other volunteers were there in front of Mother's Kitchen with tablefuls of goodies; apple pie wedges, watermelon slices, chips (good source of replacement salt!), and more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches along with bottles of Pepsi and sport drinks. 

You'll pardon me for not taking any photo on my way down twisty South Grade Rd... I maybe moderately crazy but I'm not suicidal. Thank you very much. I did turn back and took a shot at a group coming down Lake Wohlford Rd after me while waiting for the traffic light to turn green. That was my last road shot of the day, though. It was almost 3PM then and I was overheated beyond caring. To heck with fishing out the camera to shoot anything. I just wanted to make it back to Solana Beach before dark!
The salad was soggy and the pasta cold, but the lemonade and the iced tea were cold and tasted wonderful!
Which I did... just in time, too. They stopped serving food 10 minutes or so after I arrived.

Thanks very much again to all the volunteers at the gran fondo!

- Giro di San Diego gran fondo official website
- My pre-ride of the mountain part of the gran fondo route

Pre-riding the hilly bit of the 2012 Giro di San Diego gran fondo (Lake Wohlford, Palomar South Grade, Cole Grade Rd) II

Part 1.

That's the same road I'm on now, South Grade Rd (S6). The wiggly thing kept doubling back on itself!
So there I was, leaning against the Palomar Artesian Springs rock basin in the shade on the hillside of South Grade Rd considering my options: I had never ridden this way before and didn't know how far I still had to the top. It was now past one in the mid-summer afternoon and I only had 2 gulps of water left in my bottles. I knew that if I turn around before the top, I would be coasting downhill all the way to the Oak Knoll Campground (and its little shop with cold drinks and even ice-cream)... so perhaps it wouldn't be that foolish to keep going up until I really ran out of all water - something I wouldn't do in other circumstances. I should have paid more attention to the roadside mile posts at the start of the climb, but the road was supposed to be only 6 miles long and I had passed 47.2 (and remembered 41.something on my way up), so I had to be quite close!
OMG! This road wasn't endless after all!
Sometimes you just have to risk it a little bit (especially when it is well calculated). This time it paid to resolve to go on since the bend that houses the artesian springs turned out to be the next to last bend from the top of the South Grade Rd climb. The S6 junction with S7 (East Grade Rd) marked the official top of the road, and the mere sight of the sign from 150 or so yards away was enough to adrenaline-rushed me up the last bit of the slope.
Smokey the bear is always looking to beat wildfires up with his shovel.
Cresting the top to pay a visit to Smokey bear and his fire danger level sign I gained a new appreciation for the eternal plight of the boulder-hauling Sisyphus. Not only did I get to reach and stay at the top (well, not the real top of the mountain per se, but the top of the official South Grade Rd climb), I would also get to rest up and refuel at the famed Mother's Kitchen Restaurant, too!
I think the place is famous for chilli, but it was 88F outside so I went with cheese quesadilla and fountain soda instead.
The dining room was very nice and clean in a charming mountain rustic sort of way. There was even an outdoor patio dining area out the back of the place. The hostess was really nice. My lunch costs $10 (including tips). Not bad at all. I loved that they have fountain drinks, so I could put fill my bottles with ice and Sprite, and they would stay cold for a while into my descent.
Palomar Mtn General Store, Mother's Kitchen Restaurant, Post Office
Next door were the Palomar Mtn General Store and the post office (and also the public restrooms in a separate building. Very nice and clean). I dropped in at the post office to send off a postcard, then wandered into the general store in search of energy bars and an extra bottle of Gatorade for the road
Not feeling very local just now...
..and sure wasn't expecting to find a bunch of Russian Orthodox icons, matryoshka dolls and even Buddha icons and statuettes on the retail shelves! They do have candy & energy bars for sale along with coolers of cold drinks, though (no fountain drink, unfortunately). 

It had been a while since I got to ride down a winding 7% grade highway that was longer than a couple of miles, so I was more interested in memorizing this technical descent than I was at living out one of my all time favorite youtube sport clips in real life. This was more so when I had a near miss and only avoided hitting a pothole that was laying in ambush just behind a right-turning switchback by less than 2 inches. After which I sat up and ate the wind the rest of the way back to Hwy 76... which was pleasant enough above 3500 or so feet. Below that the air turned so hot that it felt much like having my face stuck in front of a blow-dryer for 5 miles in a row. 
A cow crossing on South Grade Rd.
I might let it rip coming down this hill during the Giro di San Diego, but it was a good thing that I didn't my first time around. The descend is very technical, and there are the 4 cow crossings that took some getting used to (I never saw any cow on that mountain, but it was unsettling screeching down the road on two skinny wheels doing 35 mph to see the pavement ahead interrupted by iron cross bars... It's best to get out of the drop onto the hood and keep the grips light as you flow over the thing... Do not apply the break! It's less jarring going over them at speed).
Cow pasture on the faux flat section of Hwy76 west of South Grade Rd
Alas, my camera batteries died shortly after I got back down on Hwy 76, so no more photo from the ride. It was just as well... I had heard about Cole Grade Rd before, but nothing prepared me for the sight of the base of that monster a mile or so wsw of Hwy 76 turn out. The climb was only 3 miles long (whereas Palomar Mtn climb was 12; 6 miles on 76 and 6 miles on South Grade Rd), but at 9% grade in 90+ F on a midsummer day, after completing an HC category climb... this was something quite inhumane! There was no rest stop/water hole along the route either... I must have stopped 4 or 5 times before the top, my legs felt like bombed out noodles and my brain cooking inside out.

There was no fun descent to be had after the apex of the climb either. The road was considerably less steep on the south side, and there were two or three rollers to go over before the legs had had enough time to recover. By the time I reached Valley Pkwy on my way back to Del Lago bus station I was quite convinced that I wouldn't be able to complete the Giro di San Diego gran fondo route. It wasn't Palomar that was going to kill me, but Cole Grade Rd! skull 

I was only doing a portion of the ride (68 miles rather than 106) and I could hardly get back up the Bear Ridges, the mild hump on Bear Valley Rd coming back south. On the real ride next week I'll be starting at near sea level in Solana Beach and would have plenty of icky rollers (San Elijo Hills included) on my way back west after mile 70.

But, hey dudes, I'm not a professional cyclist and I'm not entering a race. I only signed up for the gran fondo because I wanted to climb Palomar South Grade Rd in a group... (a bit ironic there. I wanted to ride up that thing in an organized group for safety reason, but here I was, going up it solo the weekend before because I don't like to ride any route blind! Bwahaha). So now I know I can climb Palomar from the steepest side along with Wohlford and Cole Grade. Hopefully this takes a lot of the sting off when I do get swept up by the broom bus next weekend...sick 

Update: I did survive the Giro di San Diego gran fondo... though not a little fast pace group ride the weekend after (crashed out and will be off the bike for a while).