I would have loved to have a partner riding with me on my first ride of the GWL, but the route is reportedly most bikes-friendly on weekdays and early in the morning (part of the route is subjected to Sycuan casino traffic... think older folks in big trailers and casino buses) and that sort of interferes with most people's work schedule.
At any rate, I got up early a few Wednesdays ago and decided to go explore it on my own. By 6:30am I was on the green line trolley heading east to El Cajon Transit Center east of the city. I had decided on making the Starbuck's coffee at Washington Plaza my official start/finish point, and do the clockwise loop. This is not the same Starbuck's that serves at the GWL meetup spot for most GWL rides, however. I chose this shop further north on Jamacha Rd because it's closer to the trolley station and to avoid traffic going east on Willow Glen past the golf course.
|Starbuck's on Jamacha Rd at E Washington in El Cajon.|
|Dehesa Rd drops down into Singing Hills|
|Dehesa Rd at Harbison Canyon Rd|
|Information post at Loveland Reservoir|
|The steeper bit of Japatual Rd a couple of miles before Lyons Valley Rd turn-off.|
The right turn onto Lyons Valley Rd brought welcomed relief as the road levels out before plunging into a long, twisty and amazingly scenic downhill stretch. Crumbly rock wall lined the right side of the road, and a sheer drop with a panoramic view of the valley and mountains surrounding Barrett Lake to the left. The two lane road is quite narrow and there's no shoulder to speak of. There were enough pebbles small and big-ish on the pavement to necessitate keeping an eye on the road most of the time. This would probably be worse right after some rain. Something to keep in mind riding around here during the winter months.
As scenic Lyons Valley Road curves back east it levels out and more climbing commences. It was a bit disappointing, really. After hours of climbing I had expected the downhill stretch to last quite a bit longer. The couple of miles of climbing back up to Four Corners (the intersection with Honey Springs Rd/Skyline Truck Trail) was grinding without much interesting view to keep one motivated. The narrow road shoulder was in the process of eroding off, and the trees blocked much of the view.
|Scenic Lyons Valley Rd between Four Corners and the trading post.|
|Lyons Valley Trading Post|
|An acorn woodpecker attempting to quack in tune while flying|
|The Lyons Valley donkey|
The road climbs a bit steeper to the junction with Lawson Valley Rd where you can hang a left to stay on Lyons Valley Rd or veer right to join up with Skyline Truck Trail. I stuck with Lyons Valley since both roads are now heading downhill and Lyons Valley Rd has twisty fun curves ahead to offer. If I were taking a group riding there I would descend on Skyline Truck Trail. On my own, I'm a fast descender and can just ride down the middle of the traffic lane since cars aren't going to pass me having to cope with the tight turns on their clumsy 4 wheels.
Lyons Valley Rd and Skyline Truck Trail join up again and descend into Jamul as Lyons Valley Rd. I took Jamul Rd turn off on the right side halfway down, however, and was treated to another bit of really fast descent into Steele Canyon. This descent can be rather hairy when there's a lot of cars on the road. The shoulder is really narrow and there are lots of broken glass debris.
A quick right turn onto Steele Canyon Rd and then left on Willow Glen (nicely paved and wide bike lane there!) takes you to Jamacha Rd. There is another stretch of climbing to take you back to the Starbuck's, but nothing indecently steep and there is good road shoulder (and even bike lane on some stretches) to ride on.
I'm afraid I waited too long to write this up and lost most of the photos from the trip when my hard-drive crashed last week. Luckily I made and posted a youtube video of the route earlier...
It was a good ride! The whole loop took me 3 1/2 hrs at moderate pace. The views were very enjoyable and the climbing not very taxing. There are bits along Japatul Rd that are vulnerable to flooding from mountain run-off and bits on Lyons Valley Rd that tend to get covered with pebbles from the cliff-side after a bout of rain, though, so I wouldn't recommend this ride if it rained in the mountains that morning or the day before. The valley also gets very hot during the summer months, so anyone wanting to ride it from July-November should pack extra bottles of water (remember, there's only one water stop in the mountain).