Thursday, July 17, 2014

Hillbillies Steepies Ride: Dictionary Hill, Mt Helix & Grossmont

A few friends and I have been going on a ride or two during the work weeks this year. We are a loose cycling group called 'Hillbillies', which ought to tell you something about the nature of the rides. We like hills... a lot! (Though we go at pretty mellow pace and don't drop anyone)

Cosmos Coffee in La Mesa is a favorite fueling spot for local cyclists.
This week we revisited a little riding loop that has become something of a group favorite, a 19-25 miler (depending on which variation we opt for. Hillbillies are a bit attention deficit when it comes to riding routes and we like to shuffle the deck/climbs a bit to keep things fresh) up and down Dictionary Hill and Mt Helix. Three of us - DD, Dark Horse, and me - showed up right on time this morning at Cosmos Coffee in Old Town La Mesa, the day's meetup spot.
DD & Dark Horse making light of the Kenwood Dr climb.
Kenwood Dr is a pleasant little curvester.
The last two times we rode the exact same route heading east on Lemon St to begin the first climb up Garfield and Panorama, so today I tried to spice things up a bit and took us down Palm Ave... and then promptly missed the Fresno Ave turn off (I was thinking of looping up to Garfield St and Alpine Ave and keep climbing all the way around on Panorama Dr), and so we just took Spring St down to Campo Rd instead and didn't begin climbing until we made the right turn onto Kenwood Dr in Spring Valley.
The Dark Horse showing his KoM form on Crest Dr.
It's a stingy little warm up hill with little traffic and nice curves to keep you guessing what may lie up ahead. We then made a careful descent down across Bancroft Dr to hook up with Helix St and then left onto Lamar Dr for our second climb of the day. Lamar Dr itself is a nice climb, but the less well driven Vista & Crest Drs variation is even better for steepie-fettish like us! Short-ish ramps of up to 20% grade are followed by short mellow rest stretches, and our legs were feeling the burn by the time we turned right onto Montemar and crested the north side of Dictionary Hill.

The Dark Horse was built for the steep stuff, however, and he sprung very admirably lightly up the double digit ramps and soon disappeared from view as DD and I crept our way to the crest of the hill... where a family of peacocks is always crossing the road. Don't ask me why, but they always seem to wait around the side of the road until we came along huffing and puffing, and then they'd herd their chicks across to the other side of the street while shooting stinger looks as if we were causing them inconvenience!

DD soldiering her way up the 16% grade ramp on Lamar St.
The family of peacocks at the crest of Lamar Dr climb.
Helix St's curvy descent into La Presa on the south side of the mountain is a fine reward for all the suffering... especially since school is out and there is hardly any traffic on the road. Turning left onto Jamacha Rd we made a quick stopto adjust DD's squeaky rear brake before tackling Dictionary Hill's resident bad apple. I first climbed Apple St last year and, five ascents later, the thing doesn't seem any easier! The proper climb is 3 blocks long and averages 16%, though the final long block is solidly over 20% until very close to the top (max grade 28%). With the 30x26 granny gear I still have to put in 4 zigzags in order to make it without stopping. My partners were straighter shooters, though (having a bit smaller low gear helps!), and went straight up.
Sweetwater Reservoir... looking as depressingly low as all the other reservoirs in San Diego County!
Apple St just about does me in... every time!
We hung around the top for a bit enjoying the view west to Downtown San Diego and the depressing sight of the very dry-looking Sweetwater Reservoir before descending down the east side to Jamacha Blvd and back north up the mild slope of Sweetwater Springs Blvd - our only 'rest' bit of the ride before another shift down to the small gear ring as we take Casa de Oro Blvd/Challenge Blvd up the lower south slope of Mt Helix.
What is life without a little suffering, ay?
We meandered through the neighborhoods a bit and made liar out of one 'Not A Through Road' sign before popping up on Grand View at Resmar. In previous rides I had opted for the 'easy' climb of Mt Helix; turning right and going up Mt Helix Dr from Fuerte Dr. Since we had missed our first climb of today, however, we went left and got up La Mesa's resident beast by the beastliest route (Lavelle - Beaumont - Alto) instead.
Another turn up another steep ramp on Lavelle St on Mt Helix.
The Dark Horse enjoying the view from Mt Helix Dr's 2nd ring.
By the time we spun up to the top the clouds that had provided respite from the summer sun had all but burnt off and we were treated with a beautifully clear view of the San Diego Coastal Range. The Christian Youth Theater is putting on a run of Les Miserables at Mt Helix Nature Theater this month (July 17 - Aug 2). The stone amphitheater is quite transformed! I regret I can't attend the show this weekend, but I'm hoping to catch one next week.

It was miserable at the top, I tell you!
On the way down I looked at my watch and saw that it was still quite early, so I asked my partners in climb if they felt like adding another hill before rolling back to Cosmos. Like true Hillbillies, they said yes! And so we enjoyed the full descent of Alto Dr before abusing our small ring some more to climb up Mt Helix's sister peak, Grossmont.

Grossmont is quite overshadowed by Mt Helix, but it is quite a gem! Narrow lanes lined by boulders and old growths, with gorgeous houses blending into the landscape. The local folks are really nice, too. It's a close knit neighborhood up there where folks walk around knowing all the neighbors' names... along with their (usually off-leash) dogs. One local pooch came out to say hello as we crested the hill, though we weren't nearly as attention-commanding to him as his master's tennis ball. Once he spotted that bouncy little green thing we no longer even registered at all!

Top of Grossmont
From the top of Grossmont it was coasting almost all the way back to Cosmos Coffee. We gained 3390 ft of elevation in about 23.5 miles. Not bad for a short weekday ride!


  1. wow mister Smorg, you are cycling away!! So neat to read your cycling adventures!

  2. Hola bella Bere! Sorry it took me so long to see your comment. Been having internet difficulties the last couple of weeks (hopefully will be fixed before next weekend, tho. Getting a new router). :)

    I've been having fun riding around town indeed. San Diego is such a cool place. Lots of interesting corners you can't see very well driving by. It's also surprisingly hilly! :P Guess that's good for keeping me in shape, but I wish there's a more mellow way of getting back up Mission Hills from the north side. Ugggh!

    Thanks for stopping by! Hope you and los gatos are staying cool in this summer heat! :)


Thanks for stopping by. Be safe on the roads!