Thursday, December 25, 2014

2014 In The Rear-View Mirror

Another eventful year on the bike, 2014 has been, though you probably wouldn't know it just reading the blog. I'm afraid when it comes to blogging I've trans-speciated into a sloth rather than a smorg!
The Smorgmobile; before & now
First off, the hardy all aluminum Smorgmobile experienced both Death and Transfiguration this year. The long-suffering steed was loudly neighing its way up steep slopes for months before the culprit crack was found on the inside the stem. Giant provides a life-time warranty for the fork & frame on its new bikes, of course, so a new fork was sent for... but because the 2012 Giant Defy 5 model had gone obsolete they couldn't find a fork that would fit the old frame. And so, this is why you should buy your bike from a bike shop rather than from a Walmart or a Target, Giant sent a new frame as well! All was swell until the parts arrived and we found that the new frame wouldn't fit the old cranks... Bwahaha. It took nearly 3 weeks, but by the time the dust settled my steed had gone from all aluxx to a nicer hybrid of lighter aluxx frame with carbon composite fork... with new cables to boot (since those were what we changed first when trying to diagnosis the creaking). It's almost a whole new bike!

A few of my escapees...
A few good cycling friends that had put up with my steepie-aholic tendency on our rides had left town for various reasons, unfortunately. We miss ya', Tim & Sue, Colin & Cynthia, Melissa, Lauren, and Jose! Hope the riding is flatter where you are...

I've also made many new friends on bike who have proven themselves more patient than Mother Teresa (you kinda need that to ride with me regularly without going insane). I'm afraid I won't name names or this will turn into something resembling an Oscar acceptance speech, and we really can't have that on this blog! It suffices to say that they are so addicting to ride with that I think I've done fewer solo adventure rides this year than I did group rides. How un-smaughly is that???

The fact that I've been riding with friends a lot rather than just soloing all the time doesn't mean that my local cycling ogres hit list went untouched, however. The meanest ogre on the list (a back way up to Muth Valley from Lakeside) came off on a solo ride, along with things like Montana Serena, Alpine Trails, Arouba Rd, Gomez Creek and Alta Loma Dr... But I was in good company when I went to battle with chain-stretchers like Cuyamaca Lookout Rd, Rios Canyon Rd and the hideousness that is just about all the roads up the south side of Dictionary Hill.

I've also made many bike commuting friends, a few of whom were instrumental in organizing commuter bike trains in Uptown area, and some successfully advocated for two car-free CicloSDias events this year. And then there are Sam Ollinger and the crew at BikeSD who tirelessly lobbied for many new bike infrastructures in town. Thanks a bunch, guys and gals, for making such fabulous differences!

A special mention to a few superb fighters who endlessly inspired me in their battle with health and the bike; Hugo, who went toothless for four months while his dentist messed with his denture (Hugo had fallen off the 5th floor of a building he was constructing in the 80's, see, and he left most of his teeth along with all the tail of his vertebrae at the crash site) and then decided to spend his birthday cycling the Great Western Loop with me... from City Heights! Then there is the Vzrd, twice the survivor of stage 4 malignant melanoma that claimed a lot of her lungs. She was bent on completing the totally sadistic Savage Man Triathlon this year, so we spent many months together beating up on the steepest walls on Dictionary Hill and Mt Helix to prepare for it. Heather B, Carlsbad's resident beast on the bike, had to give up riding (and hard core hiking) for months as her endometriosis took its time getting diagnosed and treated.

There are a few more friends who have been battling injuries on and off, and one who is proving herself tougher than any granite mountain as she helps her husband fight valiantly with adult onset ALS. I have been lucky in that my lupus hasn't been acting up much these last few years, so I've gotten more prone to whining than before. But every time I start to get going about how my right arm is still messed up a year after that last downhill crash, etc, I think of these guys and gals and how much worse they were/are having it, and that instantly puts the whiny inner-smorg back in its place.

I'm so glad I don't have Rocky Ln on my hit list anymore. Whew!
Anyhow, a new year is just around the corner and there is much to look forward to on the cycling front! Here is what remains of my local 'hit list' I hope to lure a few bike buddies to go ride up with:

- Cuyamaca Lookout Rd
- North Peak Rd
- Sherilton Valley Rd
- Morena - Stokes Valley Rd
- Snuz Mountain Rd
- Muth Valley Rd
- Rocky Ln
  Rice Rd (Rattlesnake Mtn)
- Montana Serena
- The Crow's Nest
- Barrett Smith Rd (off Hwy 94 east of Barrett Junction)
- Isla Vista (Jamul)
- Maria St steep block (Dictionary Hill)
- 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 Holidays everyone! 

Friday, November 14, 2014

To Crest By Unconventional Way

With the cooling weather I'm back to exploration rides out east. Last week the Vzrd and I decided to go check out a few paved cul-de-sac connecting trails just down the Granite Hills from Crest before going up to the little town on the hill itself through Crestridge Ecological Preserve.

We met up at the Santee Trolley Station on the coldest morning in months. Feeling the need to warm my limbs up in a hurry I led us over Rattlesnake Mountain, the home of the posh Sky Ranch housing development, instead of around it on our way east.
The sneaky steepie road up Rattlesnake Mtn.
We lucked out as we approached the bottom of the Sevilla Rd climb and got up the steeper alternate route instead. The first ramp of it averages close to 25% (it feels way worse than Illion St in Bay Park and Lucinda St in Pt Loma... though not quite as bad as Maria Ave's 32% grade block), and we had to dismount just a bit up to hike the bikes around a rope gate (and, of course, remount and restart on a 21% -ish slope). I only made it to the first switchback turn before dismounting again since the entire lane was covered with more broken glass than you would expect after a Greek wedding plate smashing party. The gradient mellows a bit after the first turn, though is still somewhere north of 17%. We had to tread quietly pass a house near the top before taking the exit ramp back onto Sevilla Dr... thankfully after the steepest part of the road.
Looking SW from the sneaky steepie up Rattlesnake Mtn.
Mt Woodson & Iron Mtn from Ocotillo Dr.
The beautiful curvy descent down Golden Ridge Dr.
By now we were quite beyond 'warmed up' and took it easy traversing to the east side of the compound and descending down the always beautiful (and car-free) Valley High Rd gated exit. A delightfully curvy downhill  run on Golden Ridge Blvd then took us into Lakeside where we picked up Los Coches Rd south toward the Vons shopping center on the south side of I-8. I had spotted a few paved trails connecting cul-de-sacs in the little residential area just north of the shopping mall and wanted to check them out. They turned out to be quite rad.
Connector from Harwick to Avenida del Charro
The steepie roller coaster connecting Braewood & Harwick.
After fooling around for a while the Vzrd and I decided that we had better get our acts together and get on our main objective for the day - riding up to Crest by way of probably-not-road-bike-friendly (but also completely traffic-free) Rios Canyon Rd through the Crestridge Preserve. Having taken our road bikes onto not-so-road trails before, we were quite curious as to how far we could manage to ride our mostly aluminum steeds before we would have to switch and let our steeds ride us.
First gate on Rios Canyon Rd.
Entering Crestridge Ecological Preserve... with posted rules.
Well, the switch happened quite soon, as it turned out, as the paved Rios Canyon Rd is doubly car-gated at its terminus and we had to do some bike-tossing to get to the other side. After the second such gate the road turned into a wide firm dirt fire-road as we entered the northern boundary of Crestridge Ecological Preserve (open to public, but with rules you can find in foto above).
A steepie dirt ramp to nowhere off Rios Cyn Rd/Trail.
Rios Canyon Rd creek crossing (a proper little stone bridge there).
A milder climb up Rios Cayon Rd/Trail toward Gibson Highland.
Having been so sluggish in getting up that morning I hadn't had the time to re-memorize the Google Earth overhead look of the area before leaving the house (I had perused it the night before, of course). It's amazing how different things can appear when viewed at ground level! Naturally, I got us a bit lost up and down some nasty steep dirt ramps to nowhere that we ended up having to retrace out of. We stayed on the 'path' at all time, of course, though we now know that not all paths lead somewhere. Back on the main Rios Canyon Rd/trail is quite road-bike-able, though requiring quite a bit of determination and good line-picking. We were lucky that it had rained in the area the week before, so much of the trail was firm enough for 25 mm road tires (there are short bits here and there that are too loose and steep, however). We spent most of our time climbing in the small ring and fish-tailing liberally when the slope get steeper than friendly.
Trail gate at Montana Serena Rd.
Leaving behind the gated Montana Serena complex on Gibson Highlands.
Looking back on Serena Montana Rd (looks sort of lightning bolt-ish doesn't it?) from Mountain View Dr.
After much moaning and groaning we rounded a curve to see a house and the lower concrete section of the ever tantalizing Montana Serena Rd straight ahead up the hill that meant we were on the right path. Another hike-a-bike around a car gate (with more Crestridge Preserve rules sign) and we found ourselves back in civilization, so to speak, at the right turn bend on the base of Montana Serena Rd. We were tempted to give the concrete steepie a go, but it was getting quite warm and we had taken too long to get there, so we passed on it and descended out of the gated complex onto Gibson Highlands and Mountain View Dr instead. It was now close to noon and we pedaled mainly on fume up into Crest, dreaming of all sort of fattening fuel we would treat ourselves to at Sonora, the only restaurant in that hilltop community. Alas, it was closed, so we went next door to the Rainbow Farms Market to score some drinks and snack instead.
Rainbow Farms Market in Crest.
This is why you should control the lane while descending La Cresta Rd. Look out for root bumps right center of lane when you see pine trees along side the road.
We made a well-excused and executed speedy descent down bike-unfriendly La Cresta Rd into the Granite Hill. You see, the downhill side of La Cresta Rd has only one lane and no shoulder, with 50 mph speed limit that encourages some really mentally-challenged driving. It's almost suicidal to 'share the way too narrow lane' with speeding cars. Your best bet of survival is to ride down the center the lane as fast as you could until it levels out and more shoulder appears for you to scoot aside.
Bike Path along SR67 to Cactus County Park.

Some farm fresh eggs and local honey at Buchman.
Having spent all morning on abysmal mileage, thanks to our dirt road adventure, we decided to inflate the ride a bit on our way back to Santee by swinging up to San Vicente and Buchman Eggs Farm off Moreno Ave for a dozen farm fresh a piece to take home (grade A large go for just $1.50 per dozen!). Call us a pair of gluttons, but there's nothing like a fresh omelette with honey for a post ride meal!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Fun Time In Valley Center: Part 1: Lake Wohlford, Paradise Mountain & Lilac to Old Castle

Team Fun, my favorite Saturday group ride, scheduled an inland North County ride a couple of Saturdays ago with a lovely ccw loop from the Lawrence Welk Resort on Champagne Blvd down to Escondido, swinging northeast through Lake Wohlford to Bates' Nut Farm before a completing the loop back west on Lilac and Old Castle Rd.

I don't get to go riding that way often and had been looking to explore a few unfamiliar roads in Valley Center, so instead of starting with the group I opted to go off on my own before trying to catch up at or near the top of Lake Wohlford instead. This naturally involved ungodly wake-up time to ride from my pad in Uptown to America Plaza in Downtown to be sure of securing a space on the 2-bike bike rack on the 5:08 a.m. MTS Rapid Bus 235 up to Escondido (when you are traveling with a bicycle it is always best to get on as close to the bus terminus as possible or you might end up like the cyclist that tried to get on the bus at Boulevard Transit Station that morning. The rack at the front of the bus was full by then, and he had to wait for the next bus (and hoped that that bus' bike rack wasn't full, too).

The fountain in front of Valley View Casino.
I had meant to take the bus all the way up to Escondido Transit Center, but pre-dawn hours interfered with my thinking and I got off the bus at Del Lago Station (by North County Fair) instead. It was a ride-lengthening mistake! I now had 7 extra (and mostly uphill) miles to cover and had to now choose between exploring a bit of Daley Ranch or a bit of Paradise Mountain/Hellhole Canyon before rendezvous-ing with Team Fun rather than being able to do both. I opted for the latter. It was an easy decision to make.. on the Saturday before Halloween, the earlier in the day you cycle up Lake Wohlford Rd the better! (La Honda Dr climb to Daley Ranch is south of the Lake Wohlford Rd turn off while Hellhole Canyon is further north).

It was still quite dark and cold when I set off up Bear Valley Blvd, and the sun was still behind the mountain tops when I made the turn onto wonderfully traffic-free ('cause most motorists are sensible and were still in bed at 7:20 a.m. on a Saturday) Lake Wohlford Rd. That made that two mile grind of a climb quite more bearable. Alas, my camera doesn't do well in low-light setting, but it was just as well since I had ridden through there many times before and needed to save memory card space for the 'unexplored' bits of the day's ride.
Up the perilous Paradise Mountain Rd.
Paradise Mountain Lane turn off.
By the time I got to the Woods Valley/Paradise Mountain Rd turn off I was in need of a restroom break and a water bottle refill, so I continued north for a bit to pit stop at Valley View Casino. By the time I came back out the sun had finally started to shed its mountainous blanket and my camera could work its magic again. I was in business!
Take the right fork on Paradise Mountain Lane.
Paradise Mountain Lane, turning pretty around the bend.
"Old Tom in summertime walked about the meadows
gathering the buttercups, running after shadows,
tickling the bumblebees that buzzed among the flowers,
sitting by the waterside for hours upon hours." - JRR Tolkien, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
Going east - uphill - on Paradise Mountain Rd on a fat-burning two-wheeled vehicle is a perilous business even in the early morning. The road is very narrow and mostly shoulder-free (and when what little shoulder turns up, it is full of broken glass and other debris). It is also quite curvy and undulated, which is a bad combination in a bike-hiding sort of way. Also, it heads ENE... into the rising sun, and made me very attached to my rear-view mirror. I think I was only passed three times by fast traveling cars and trucks, and thanks to the mirror I spotted them far off and managed to find a place to turn off the road so they could pass me without giving the drivers the 'oh shit, where did that bike come from' moment.

Mind you, I had had enough of anxious riding by the time I got to (private) Paradise Mountain Lane turn off, so I took the much less traveled paved lane detour instead of staying on the main road... and was in for quite a lovely surprise! After a couple of blind curves, the lane dips into a treed-in stretch that is something of a paradise for Tolkien-loving bikers like me.
Looking back west on Paradise Mtn Ln. Coming down that steep & loose dirt ramp on a pair of 25 mm road tires was a tad shy of fun!
More tree-covered goodness on the dirt section of Paradise Mtn Ln.
Soon after the sweeping right curve the pavement turned to gravel and I rode quietly past a group of houses. I almost made it past the last one before one of the many guard dogs figured out that my bike wasn't a car and wasn't going by as speedily as he would like. A barking storm ensued and I was only happy to round the next turn and got out of their view (I like saying hi to country dogs, but not when they're waking their masters up too early on a Sunday morning!). Well, the turn also pitchs rather steeply uphill as the firm dirt road turns considerably looser and ruttier, making things technical to cycle up since I was running a pair of 25 mm road tires! I'm afraid I left a bit of a trail...

It is only a short hill, however, and the drop on the other side is even a bit steeper and looser, so it was something of a fluke that I managed to glide down it on a one-foot bike-glissade (it really didn't help that the loose dirt surface turned into gravel toward the bottom) without ending up rubber-side-up, so to speak. Luckily for me, the road pretty much levels out after that and turns into a firm dirt lane until it joins the well paved Cll de Encinas, which I took back up the hill back to Paradise Mountain Rd and Los Hermanos Ranch Rd and then Kiavo Dr north toward Hellhole Canyon Preserve. It was now 9 a.m. and I couldn't linger much if I were to successfully ambush Team Fun just as they crest the Lake Wohlford Rd climb.

Turning onto Kiavo Dr on the way to Hell(hole).
A steep drop down into Hell(hole).
Hellhole Canyon park ranger during Halloween season...
The preserve's entrance is on the top of Santee Dr from Kiavo and there was nobody around except for the nice man leaf-blowing the dirt parking lot who informed me that bicycles aren't allowed on the preserve's trails. I stopped just long enough to look around a little and used the nice and quite wide (and clean) port-a-toilet and refill my water bottle from the water faucet before saying good bye to eight-legged preserve guard and headed off down the mountain.
Hellhole Canyon Preserve staging area with nice port-a-toilets and a water faucet.
Rodriguez Mtn from Hellhole Canyon Preserve.
One of these days I shall return to properly hike this beautiful bit of mountainous San Diego, but I had an appointment to keep and was very happy to find that the downhill lane on the upper part of Paradise Mountain Rd is quite wider than its uphill partner. A few more cars were around now to give me a good excuse for fairly bombing down the curvy drop back to N Lake Wohlford Rd at great speed (I had taken the precaution to note the condition of the downhill lane when I climbed up the road earlier, see, so I knew where the few spots of 'debris on road' were. It's a good habit to develop when riding an out-n-back route).

Lake Wohlford Rd heading south toward the town.
Frankly, I find it ridiculous that the speed limit is that high on this narrow and curvy a road...
The fun stopped upon turning back uphill on N Lake Wohlford Rd, of course. It is completely ludicrous and ridiculous that this narrow, curvy, well shaded and mostly shoulder-less rural highway has a speed limit as high as 50 mph... Why do we keep using the 85 percentile speed as the speed limit when most people are keen on driving far too fast already???

Anyhow, I made it back to the Lake Wohlford cafe bend (where Smokey's Cafe is, just north of the road's crest). There was no sign of Team Fun, though I had past couple of cycling groups going the opposite way on the road, so they were liable to show up soon. There is a clearing on the hill overlooking the cafe and the lake that I had espied on Google Earth overhead view while browsing through the area looking for places to explore, so I headed up and hoped that the gals wouldn't go whizzing by down on the main road before I could get to the place. It isn't really hidden. There is a rough trail/steps leading up to it from N Lake Wohlford Rd that even has a blue trash bin at the bottom... and you can even get to it from the mostly paved road. The view on top is quite awesome...
The road to the Lookout.
Lake Wohlford from the lookout.
 I didn't get to the wonderful ruin/perch a minute too early, as it turned out. Team Fun gals came zooming around the cafe bend just as I got my camera out to document the scene!

The 'could have been' castle overlooking Lake Wohlford.
Part 2 coming up in a bit...

Fun Time In Valley Center: Part 2: Bates Nut Farm, Lilac & back to Escondido

Part 1: (Paradise Mtn, Hellhole Canyon & Lake Wohlford Castle Lookout.

Team Fun was (as to be expected after a long-ish climb) scattered a bit with Heather K, Judy, Jill & Andy in the lead group, zooming through at great speed. A few seconds later came Julie, Ariel, Dee & John, then my steepie-climbing partner the Vzrd and Sian bringing in the rear. I snapped a few shots as they rolled by before scrambling back on the bike to play catch up.

Heather K, Judy, Andy & Jill on Lake Wohlford Rd.
The lead and the chasing group in the process of disappearing up N Lake Wohlford Rd.
Being a smorg, however, means that instead of immediately hitting N Lake Wohlford Rd in hot pursuit of my favorite cycling fun gals I made a pit stop at Smokey's Lake Wohlford Cafe even though it wasn't Friday and there was no all-you-can-eat catfish deal to be had... then (they have since expanded that to an everyday deal!). It was getting to be a warm day and they have fountain drinks sold by very fetchingly engaging staff. I just couldn't resist!
Smokey's Lake Wohlford Cafe.
Smokey's Halloween bar mate.
Smokey's cozy and well spooked out interior.
I shot off a little text to Judy (Team Fun's B group ride leader for the day) before hopping back on the Smorgmobile and zoomed after my cycling buddies. Traffic was really picking up now and I found myself doing a lot of control & release maneuver on the uncomfortably narrow and shady N Lake Wohlford Rd.
Step trail to Lake Wohlford Lookout.
The merry gang at Bates Nut Farm.
Turning left(west) onto Woods Valley Rd on a weekday or almost any other time of year would normally be quite a relief in traffic compared to staying on N Lake Wohlford Rd into what's locally known as the Gamblers' Loop (casino-rich narrow highways servicing Valley View, Harrah's, Pauma, Pala and Pechanga casinos). But this was the weekend before Halloween and Bates' Nut Farm was THE pumpkin patch to go on this side of Escondido and soon there wasn't a stretch of empty pavement to be found. Team Fun's fun gals were patient, though, and waited for me at the extremely busy Bates' and we had quite a merry reunion, so to speak.
After a bit of looking around and chatting up unsuspecting firemen who were out fundraising for charities we took off again, west with traffic to Valley Center Rd, which was quite less busy north of Woods Valley turn off. Yours truly hung in the back under the pretense of picking up the 'sweeper' job while in fact I was starting to feel the effect of a morning spent cycling (mostly)up and down hills and was doing my best to draft while I could (since my ride wouldn't end at Welk Resort like the group's would).

We turned west on beautifully repaved (with still not much shoulder to ride on) Lilac Rd and suffered our way up the steeper pitch on Old Castle Rd (not quite my preferred cycling road due to traffic, but you can't have everything your own way!) before enjoying the fast and curvy downhill run to Champagne Blvd (Old 395). I had hoped to sneak in a mid-downhill stop for a new good pic of the Woreland Castle in the Pamoosa Valley on the south side of the road, but Sian and I were being passed by a couple of trucks just then and it just wasn't safe to do a pull-out maneuver.
Heading west on Lilac Rd in Valley Center.
Looking back east on Old Castle Rd just before the crest.
We re-grouped at the Champagne Blvd intersection and had uneventful last couple of miles back to Welk Resort where I had multiple offers of a car ride back to Escondido Transit Center (because I have awesome friends!). Being a lot of a mule that I am, though, I turned them down and went circling about Welk Resort's little shopping center looking for a way of getting into the Pizza Hut there (they were repaving the sidewalk and had that place surrounded by ropes! A few other people were also walking around trying to find their way in to the restaurant from the shops next door. Hungry folks can be really persistent, I tell you!).

Fortified with pizza and iced soda in my insulated water bottles I headed back south on Champagne Blvd which turns into Centre City Pkwy upon entering Escondido. It's marked as a bike route, I think due to the presence of a wide bike lane, but I really wouldn't recommend riding on this thing for longer than a block since it keeps getting interrupted by uncontrolled merging lanes! After braving a few of those I gave up and scooted one block east to continue south on the quite safer-to-cycle Escondido Blvd instead.
Rolling back to Welk Resort north of Escondido.
Heading south on Champagne Blvd to Escondido didn't earn me any level-ground riding!
Cycling-unfriendly high speed Centre City Pkwy... and its many uncontrolled on/off ramps.
If only I'm a more dedicated randonneur I would have cycled all the way home, but hot weather made me lazy and so I hopped on bus 235 instead. It was another good day on the bike, especially since I got to spend part of it with such fun friends!