Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Single or double?

It's much faster for cars to pass a group of cyclists that is riding two abreast than in a long single file.... And it is safer for the cyclists, too, as doubling up really allows you to control the lane when it is too narrow to allow cars to squeeze past without changing lane (and you are more visible and predictable to drivers, unlike folks at the right edge of the lane who are liable to swerve into the lane/traffic to avoid stuff like broken glass, gravels, pedestrians, etc).

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The White Lightning on a Serene Mountain...

Having ridden through Crest a few times was enough to get me fixated on the tantalizing concrete white lightning etched onto the mountain side that serves as the town's landmark. Then my local adventure cycling guru told me it is called Montana Serena Rd, and is a 'must do' climb for aspiring adventure cyclists, which, of course, put the beast squarely on my hit list.
Montana Serena Rd: 0.9 mile, 12% average grade, max grade 43%.
The Beast, of course, is a 0.9 mile long gated road with the main entrance in the Gibson Highlands just off Rios Canyon Rd from Mountain View/Frances Dr. Being a Smorg comes with a liking for a 'different' approach, though, so off to Google Earth I went to scout out a non-routine way of getting on the ride's objective. As it turned out, there are a few different solutions to getting onto Serena Montana, two of them involving quite a bit of dirt-riding!
Looking back (ENE) down the initial ramp on Bullard Rd.
Most of Bullard Rd is firm and road-bike-able, some patches are loose, tho.
I caught the trolley to El Cajon Transit Center early one weekday morning and had a long warm up climb east on Old Hwy 80 past Flinn Springs toward Chocolate Summit. At the turn off where Old 80 turns into Alpine Blvd, though, I veered south to pick up a little lane between the houses. It's the slightly paved north terminus of Bullard Rd.

The friendly (and quite leashless) pitbull welcoming party.
After the fork, Bullard Rd does some gymnastics...
After an initial steep pitch the pavement abandoned me to my dirt-riding devise. Luckily the slope mellowed out soon after and was mostly firm and road-bike friendly. I had taken care to memorize how the route looks via Google Earth, which proved to be a good move as there is no sign at road junctions! I took the left fork at the first Y-intersection, which was well guarded by a lovely (and leash-free) pitbull and her mate before I was allowed to continue onto the deserted hillside. It was quite nice! There's a nice view of the mountains (El Cajon Mtn, Chocolate Summit, Cuyamaca) looking back north, and the road was completely deserted aside from a few mtb tire tracks and horse prints on the dirt.

At the 2nd Y-intersection I took the right fork and fish-tailed my way up the ladder-step-like zigzag until I came to a cattle gate surrounded by barb wire fence. There was no 'no trespassing' sign aside from a small sticker on the gate asking for it to remain shut to prevent the cattle from escaping into the brown inhospitable valley below. I guess that's because Bullard Rd is designated as the 2nd fire escape route for the Gibson Highlands community on the other side of the hill crest.

Bullard Rd gate.
After the gate...
Above the gate the road is much less road-bike-able; deep ruts and steep gradient made for quite a bit of hike-a-biking. A large house peeked up from the hillside about halfway up the climb, Shortly after that I hefted the bike over another gate and landed on a nice and smooth tarmac lane.
Looking back ENE from the 2nd gate.
The climbing continues on the tarmac Bullard Rd.
It's a lonely road and I didn't see any cow despite of multiple 'Cow in pasture' signs... I did see some nice orchards and a whole lot of solar panels, though. It's good policy to try to be self-sufficient when you live in a mountainous sort of isolation deep in the wild fire zone, I guess!
The scenic curve on the paved top of Bullard Rd.
Bottom of Bullard Rd, top of Montana Serena.
After a 1/4 mile or so I rounded a wide panoramic curve to find myself at the top of the white lightning. I have to admit... looking down the thing was a bit scary! It also doesn't help that the concrete surface is quite bumpy rather than smooth.

The White Lightning looks nice from the distance but is quite bumpy up close!
So... it's a 19-42% grade drop... on a hard and bumpy concrete!
After a very cautious (and slow) first descent I turned around when the concrete gives way to tarmac at the bottom, shifted into the lowest gear I had (30x26), and moaned my way back up the hill. After the first curve there is a clear view for miles and miles on the right side of the road, but I didn't see any of it. I was too busy zig-zagging and trying to not tip over and die of exhaustion.

Already zig-zagging not far up from the base... hence the photo angle. Bwahaha.
Half-way up and already ran out of my cursing repertoire... The thing is a beast!
Surviving a hideously steep and rather long climb requires something of a myopic mindset. Your whole world is confined to only a few meters at a time, and you can't look too far up the slope lest the futility of your efforts becomes too apparent and quitting too soundly reasonable. It hurts like hell, but all you can do is to keep hurting just shy of 'too much'. There is no way the pain will go away and you don't want to think of how long you still have to go. It is enough to keep it from getting worse... just for this second. It is a second that has no ending until suddenly it does. You are at the top, with your legs still attached and your head had miraculously failed to explode. Montana Serena Rd had been eliminated from your hit list.... and you don't ever have to climb it anymore.


Heading out of Montana Serena complex. The gate has a metal sensor and opens automatically outward.
Montana Serena Rd from Gibson Highlands Rd.
 There are still plenty of monsters on my local hit list, mind you. But it is quite a comfort to me to know that the next time somebody mentions Montana Serena to me as a 'have you done that yet?', my answer would be; 'Been there, done that, and am cured of the sickness!'