Sunday, October 21, 2012

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).

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Thanks for stopping by. Be safe on the roads!