Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best of 2013

"Where did you go to, if I may ask?' said Thorin to Gandalf as they rode along.
To look ahead,' said he.
And what brought you back in the nick of time?'
Looking behind,' said he."
   - JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit.
And so, I'm both looking behind and looking ahead as 2013 fades with the daylight and 2014 arrives at the door. 2013 was a rather good cycling year for me. I discovered many wonderful (and not very well known) remote mountain roads to get lost on, found many new cycling friends to share sweat and pain with. My now nearly two years old aluminum road bike is still consenting to put up with me most of the time (and when it didn't, at least it didn't protest too loudly at me getting back on while covered in dirt and blood and other icky things that didn't add to both our look).

Looking back at 2013 on the bike...

Favorite roads:
1. Camino del Aguilar up Starvation Mountain: What can I say? It's scenic beyond belief, insanely steep for most of the way and no traffic at all to speak of. If only I live closer to Poway or Escondido I'd be riding that thing every week!
2. Millar Ranch & Miller Ranch Rds up Mt San Miguel: Another beastly climb with heavenly view and no traffic at all. A real mountain right on the outskirt of the city!
3. Montezuma Valley Rd (Montezuma Grade or hwy S22): Arguably the most scenic stretch of highway in San Diego County, and a great cat 1 climb to boot. Alas, it's quite far away from me even when taking public transportation part of the way, so I don't get to enjoy it often. And it's way too hot to attempt for much of the year. Winter is a great time to buzz up and down the Glass Elevator and visit Borrego Springs, though.
4. Harris Trail - De Luz Heights - Joan Ln - Cathy Ln variation from De Luz Rd: A lot of people ride the De Luz loop, but not many venture into the little gem that is De Luz Heights! From south to north this string of narrow country lanes is a scenic delight. From the opposite direction, a chain-stretching quads & lungs busting twisty series of all-too-vertical walls that makes your bike wish it's a goat.
5: Old Julian Hwy from Santa Ysabel to Ramona: Compared to the others on this list, this is a gentle climb when heading east and a lovely curvy descent when heading west. Gorgeous views along the way with lots of exotic animals sighting opportunities!

Favorite views:
Camino del Aguilar on Starvation Mountain.
Eagle Rock off PCT and Camino San Ignacio on Hot Springs Mountain.
The view west from the top of Mt Woodson.
Twisty Miller Ranch Rd winding its way up San Miguel Mtn.
Daily Rd & De Luz Heights view from Joan Lane.

Favorite San Diego weekend cycling groups:
1. Team Fun (sponsored by Carbon Connection Cyclery in Carlsbad): Rides start and finish at Carbon Connection Cyclery in Carlsbad. Usually starting at 8am Saturday or Sunday. This is an all-girls ride, but sometimes nice guys are welcome. The fast group goes really fast (20+ mph on the flat) and do challenging routes in the 40-60 miles range. Intermediate group go at a less taxing pace (around 15 mph) at 30-50 miles or so. The beginners group is 'no drop' and usually stay along the coast.
What could be more FUN than going riding on Saturday morning???
Team Fun is, well, fun! I like riding with them so much I'd ride 35-42 miles to Carlsbad in the ungodly early hours of Saturday mornings just to join them for a while before riding home. Great rando training for me. A 200km brevet every Saturday!

2. Sunday Road Riders (sponsored by Cal Coast Bicycles in University Heights): Rides start at 8am Sundays at Cal Coast Bicycle, whether in one or two or three groups depends on group size.
No one left behind on Sunday Road Riders rides!
I don't know about the fast group, since Sundays are usually my 'recovery ride' day so I haven't gone with the fast crew yet, but the intermediate group here is really easy going and go at relatively easy pace. Rides are 'no drop' and non-competitive with varied routes. Great socializing opportunity while seeing the town!

3. LUNA Chix San Diego Cycle: Sponsored by LUNA bar with a mission to encourage women to outdoorsy activities to stay healthy, and to raise fund for the Breast Cancer Fund, the LUNA Chix is a team of wonderfully supportive gals who ride safely and take great care of all ride participants.

A little LUNA push makes the hill more manageable.
The LUNA Chix rides take place all over San Diego County. Each ride is well planned and (wo)manned and usually break into fast, intermediate and slow groups. All of which are 'no drop'. Ride leaders are well trained and great at keeping group together. An ideal group to go with whether you're just starting out (and can use a lot of coaching on ride safety, etiquette and even some basic bike maintenance) or for seasoned riders to go for a sportive but socially relaxed rides and make new friends.

Memorable Cycling Moments:
1.On one of my rides around De Luz I stopped for a snack break off the side of Harris Trail when a big branch in the tree nearby did a giant sway. I turned around and saw... this.
A home-building red-shouldered hawk???
I think I surprised him as much as he surprised me. For long seconds we just goggled in place at each other. I think he even contemplated saying hello, but decided to hold on to the good cushiony branch he had in his beak instead.

2. Zig-zagging my way very agonizingly slowly up the hideously steep trail to Lake San Marcos radio towers in 90F heat with all sort of curse words bouncing inside my overheated head, and finally cresting the final ramp only to find all view blocked by the radio tower complex.
Guess I should have looked at the view while I was climbing, but when the climbing is all 10-20% grade, looking around was easier said than done!
And then deciding to keep climbing on the Ridge Line Trail to Double Peak instead of descending... silly If you weren't already nuts before you took up cycling, start riding a lot of hill and the nuts becomes you!
Hippy & Chris on Hillside trail on Mt Soledad.
3. Not getting dropped by the Hippy Chris during his Rapha Rising Mt Soledad Madness ride (we did 8 ascents together before I called it a day. I think he continued for another 5 trips up the mountain). It wasn't because he couldn't drop me, mind you, but that he wouldn't... It really made me appreciate the really great riders. They are beyond the 'I've got to prove it to everyone that I'm much faster/stronger than they are' mentality and are comfortable riding just fast enough to be good company to lesser riders while challenging them to get stronger all at once.

4. Getting dropped by Team Fun advanced group about 25 miles into our ride somewhere in Rancho Santa Fe. It was great! I had spent much of the year being the big fish in small ponds, so to speak, and not pushing myself for more speed, so being tested beyond my limit every so often is a wonderful thing. The nice lasses will try to excuse my blowing halfway into a ride with the fact that I had had a 35 mile ride in before their ride began, but truth be told I don't think I could have held their pace for another 25 miles even if I had taken the Coaster in instead. Being able to hang with them at their pace for the entire ride is a goal I'm aspiring to for 2014, though. Considering how the lasses could do sub-5 hrs century (which they did at the Palm Desert Century just a short while ago), that's going to take quite some work!
Team Fun advanced crew speeding along Paseo Delicias in Rancho Santa Fe.
At any rate, the day turned out to be a 115 miler for me, and the last 10 miles of it was spent in much agony; it didn't help that gluttonous me had picked up 5 lbs of persimmons from the Leucadia Farmers' Market along the way and felt all the extra weight my favorite deadly sin gave me climbing home up Torrey Pines and Juan St in Old Town. My legs were noodly for a couple of days afterward, but the persimmons tasted great and there is nothing more invigorating than finding a cool bunch of stronger riders that are willing to let me tack along!

5. Climbing Palomar Mountain by unpaved Nate Harrison Grade and running into ice and snow 1000 ft from the top. It wasn't bravery that landed me in that plight, but the sheer lack of good sense! I had known about Nate Harrison Grade for a long while as the gnarliest route up Palomar Mtn. It being a dirt road and me only owning a road bike made the climb a bit dicey, though waking up way too early one winter morning I decided on a whim to have a go.
Twisty Nate Harrison Grade from about half way up.
And what a go it was! The thing is 10 miles long at 8.5% grade with a few 14% grade ramps thrown in and a rear-tire skidding fest. Skidding tire is hairy enough when climbing, but skidding and always sliding to the lower edge of the really narrow road doesn't do much for one's nerve. Then on one of the 14% ramp I couldn't correct the sliding and had to put the foot down. On that steep and loose a slope, that meant hiking-a-bike until the slope became more manageable - which was aggravating. And to add more angst to the testy experience there was this guy parked somewhere off the right side of the road shooting off his rifle I don't know at what. I just kept hearing the bangs and the sound of bullets whizzing through the air and got more and more miffed at my inability to climb faster up the slippery steep slope to get away from the trigger-happy maniac.
Had to make it to the top just because I really didn't want to go down Nate's dirt road on a pair of 25mm slick tires!
Then, of course, a bit past 4000 ft elevation I ran into the snowed in road... It was pretty, but it wasn't bikeable! More slippery hike-a-bike up the slope for a good mile before I saw bare ground again... But I got to the top and got to descend down wiggly South Grade Rd and took Hwy 76 down to Valley Center Rd where this nice farmer lady at the fruits stand sold me a huge bag of fuyu persimmons for only $2.
My persimmons goddess on Valley Center Rd!
There still is no god, but the fruits sure tasted great after all that laboring!

6. During one of my easy-going Sunday morning rides with the Sunday Road Riders we were stopped at the traffic light on Navajo Rd at Jackson Dr in San Carlos when an SUV with open windows rolled to a halt beside us. In it were a pleasant young lad and his friendly mom. A few of us exchanged hellos with them and the boy enthusiastically declared that it was his fourth birthday. At that the whole peloton of us cyclists broke into the happy birthday song that ended with a roaring cheer and lots of bell ringing by yours truly.
Beware of the singing peloton!
And had the light not turned green again we probably would have tried to add a round of 'For He's A Jolly Good Fellow!' in to boot! Of course, slow that I am I didn't catch the episode on film but hopefully the drivers that stopped around us would recall the flow of good will both from the boy and his mom and from the bunch of singing cyclists the next time they come upon a cyclist on the road. We are all neighbors... and most neighbors would try to help rather than to bite you!

7. Having my Jamul - Barrett exploration ride plan bombed by a cadre of local dogs who decided to escort me up Mother Grundy TT and refused to go home on their own!
Are you comin'? Are you comin'?
I'm still a cat person, but those dogs almost converted me!

So what am I looking ahead to for 2014? Doing a few proper rando brevets and permanents, of course, and more fun rides with good friends and meeting more wonderful people on the roads (friendly pedestrians and cheerful drivers included). Hopefully also getting to explore more unfamiliar roads in various corners of San Diego and even Riverside Counties.

Local roads (in no particular order) on my 2014 hit list:
- Cuyamaca Lookout Rd
- North Peak Rd
- Snuz Mountain Rd
- Muth Valley Rd (off Wildcat Canyon)
- Barrett Smith Rd (off Hwy 94 east of Barrett Junction)
- Rainbow Hgts - Rainbow Crest Rd - Mt Olympus Valley Rds (in Rainbow)
- Stewart Crest Rd (north side of Monserate Mtn)
- Red Mountain Hgts Dr (Fallbrook)
- Alta Loma Rd (Jamul)
- Shogo Mtn Rd (De Luz Heights)
- Lyons Peak Rd... is very iffy. Even park rangers can't access that road nowadays.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone! Be safe and have fun on the roads!Cycling smileys


  1. Great post! Thanks for the kind words for Team Fun!

  2. Thanks very much! :o) I'm looking forward to bumming another ride with Team Fun soon!


Thanks for stopping by. Be safe on the roads!