Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Splendidly Sluggish Sunday

I'm having a fabulously lazy Sunday recovering from yesterday's arduous and very hot 75 miles ride (it would have been so much more enjoyable had I not spent the first 55 miles going up and down the hills with a rubbing rear brake. Smiley What sort of a dunce rides that long without noticing a mechanical issue??? It takes a smorg, I tell you!). Anyhow, have gone for a very easy going 30 minutes recovery ride, walked the dog, and am now settled down to recommence reading Herodotus' Histories and enjoy some really good music...

... courtesy of the amazing Marilyn Horne.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cycling Around Town: Mt Helix

I went out for a cool and leisurely morning bicycle ride a few months ago, heading east on relatively gentle El Cajon Blvd toward the mountain range that looms over the San Diego skyline. At about 11 miles mark (now on La Mesa Blvd) I spotted a lone hill dominating the south side of the road.
Mt Helix partly hiding in a low cloud in the unincorporated area between La Mesa and El Cajon
This, of course, was Mt. Helix, the steep 1365 ft (416.05 m) hill that presides over the Casa de Oro - Spring Valley area. Its tall peak punctuated by a cross at the top, making it a prime locale for a smorgish investigation! I pulled out the area road map and steered my bike onto Jackson St and then headed up Lemon St straight to the mountain.

Mt. Helix from Lemon St
The area is unincorporated, though the road surface is very well kept. A good thing since the road's shoulder is really narrow and there is no bike lane. Once past the intersection with Bancroft St, though, my ride became decidedly non-leisurely! Lemon St climbs steadily up and becomes steeper closer to the mountain, and the only real rest spot to be had is at the bend as it passes over the Helix Reservoir, where the road shoulder widens for a few meters. I don't know if one can get to the lake if one doesn't live there (the entrance is gated), but from the top of the Lemon St curve one can get a pretty good look at it while catching one's breath and rubbing some sense back into the legs.

A brief pause to admire Lake Helix.
That rest spot really is the last flat-ish bit of road you'll find on your way up Mt Helix, I found. Lemon St kicks up again as it runs into Fuerte Dr, the main roadway through the area (and a narrow and steep one at that!). Turning right on Fuerte, and then immediately turning right at Mt Helix Drive, there was no rest in sight as I pedaled up the long 8% grade entrance stretch. One rest stop under a small shade and more panting, I made it to the junction where one-way driving begins, and turned right up the first ring of the road...

Arrrgggghhh! Why does one have to go up a mountain before coming down it???
It's still all uphill, though this section is the mildest slope on the whole climb and serves as a bit of an active-rest stretch. The road kicks up as it curves north... though provides an excuse for a quick stop in the form of the famous Mt Helix rotating house! It wasn't turning at the time, but as you can see from the video, it must be quite spectacular living in a pad like that. You can go for a spin any time you want without even having to leave the house at all!

Mt Helix's rotating house, private road ways, Mt Helix drive.
The whole hill/mountain is pretty much privately owned, and many of the side roads are privately maintained... with 'proceed at your own risk' signs at intersection. I passed a few joggers making their way up or down the same road. Everybody was nice and very encouraging so that even though much of the view was still obscured by the lingering marine layer I felt compelled to keep on pedaling up the ickily tilted road.
Mt Helix nature theater.
And was rewarded by the sight of the magnificent nature theater at the top of it. I mean... have a look!

The park, like the rest of the mountain, is private, but is open to the public during daylight hours. It was privately built and dedicated on Easter 1925 to the memory of Mary Carpenter Yawkey by her children. I don't know anything about Mary Yawkey, but she must have been a really remarkable person, at least to her family, to warrant such a magnificent monument at such a location. And that the place is open to the public only makes it more grand! I looked up the Mt Helix Park Foundation after a good coast down the hill on delightfully wiggly Alto Dr. Will post a little chat with the park's director in a bit.

PS: Since my first multi-stop ride up Mt Helix on my old heavy mountain bike I have been riding up that hill once every week or two. Finally managed to go up it in one nonstop push yesterday on the lighter road bike, so now I'll turn to pick a fight with Mt Soledad - a bigger hill - instead. I'll still ride up Helix once or twice a month, though. It is a really great spot to hang out and soak in the atmosphere. It's like a great hidden gem in a touristy town. You can walk down the Yawkey Trail and spend a hour or two on its benches without seeing anyone at all!

Happy Birthday Vesselina Kasarova

Vesselina Kasarova, the Bulgarian - Swiss operatic mezzo-soprano par excellente turns 47 years old today, though she hardly looks or sounds like it.

(Here she is, singing Ferrandini's Il pianto di Maria with Yordan Kamdzhalov and the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra in Helsinki, Finland earlier this year. Youtube clip posted by: LyriqueMGK )

So, честит рожден ден, Frau Kasarova! Best of wishes and many happy returns! 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Just a smorg update

Just a little Smorg update because I've been bad about emailing lately. Sorry! I got into cycling a lot this month. Had this wild idea to ride 20-40 miles a day while the Tour de France is going on in Europe. It's nothing compared to what those pros are doing, but it is making me appreciate more how tough they are. I ride a fraction of what they do each day (and climbing no hill comparable to the Alps or the Pyrenees), and after only a week even my eyebrows are sore.... not to mention everything else! 

Then I went on a hilly group ride in the North County on Saturday. Had a blast... then decided to ride all the way back home instead of catching a bus (so the day's tally was around 56 miles). I made it back, but was completely spent... and nursing a sore throat - which then became a full blown flu by nightfall. 
Venturing a bit off topic, I'd just like to formally register a complaint here that those Christians who think it charitable to turn their radio on at full blast at 6:30AM on Sundays to force everyone around them to listen to their favorite pastor's fire & brimstone sermon are really a bunch of inconsiderate assholes. One of those assholes lives in the apartment complex next door to me, and this was the 3rd Sundays in a row that he'd done that. What a lousy attempt at evangelization. Let a Muslim blare his radio at you at 6AM on Sundays to broadcast his god and see how you'd think of Allah then... 
Anyhow. It's a type of flu that blows itself out quickly, I think. After 2 days of crashing in bed I'm much better now... and will answer the emails soon! Thanks very much for your patience!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

San Diego Steep Streets: Climbing the Short City Mesas (Part 1)

For a city with no major mountain within its limit (Mt Soledad is really just a big hill rather than a proper mountain, I think. It takes only 10 minutes or so to drive up to its top... not exactly alpine!) San Diego boast a surprising number of hideously slopey streets. With its succession of mesas, there is hardly a flat stretch of cycling to be had once you get inland from the immediate waterfront.
Lemon St heading toward Mt. Helix
After my escapade of a first group ride where I spent a morning staring at the rear ends of a group of 'advanced' cyclists and got repeatedly dropped whenever we went up a hill I've spent hours on the bike riding up a lot of hills mostly south of the I-8 in the San Diego city limit. It's been great! I'm still no mountain goat on two wheels (though may sound strikingly like one when the grade gets higher than 15%), but after two weeks I'm no longer the terminal pudgy slowpoke that can't handle a double digit slope grade either. Here are some of the steepest streets and notable climbs that have played host to my (sometimes barely) spinning wheels so far:

Tide Pool Hill in Cabrillo. If you get there before the park opens at 9AM you can play on this climb for free. Once the park opens there is a $3 entry fee, tho the pass is good for 7 days.
Tide Pool Hill in Cabrillo: This stretch of Cabrillo Road between the proper Cabrillo National Monument and its famous tide pool is neither the steepest nor the longest non-mountain climbs in the area, but it is just steep enough (avg 7%) and long enough (.8 mile) to serve as something of a landmark climb for 'beginner' cyclists to graduate to the 'intermediate' rank. The road is beautiful! It's smoothly paved, and there isn't much car traffic, which is just as well since it's narrow-ish. I don't know how crumbly the cliff it is etched into is, but there are occasional rocks and pebbles on the cliffside shoulder, so watch out for those.

Juan St from Haney to the Sunset Rd bend is not fun going up or down.
Juan Street in Old Town: Probably the best known 'steep street' to even non-cycling city denizens, this .4 mile long (measuring from the uptick at the intersection with Haney St in Old Town where Heritage Park and the Mormon Battalion are past the S-curve to the top of the climb where Sunset Rd turns into Sunset Blvd) is testy both for its 10% grade and its straightness. There is a stretch of faux level about halfway up the hill that provides a bit of respite before the nastiness continues. The surface is concrete pavement with cracks and bitty bumps. The road itself is pretty narrow from the parallel-parked cars (worse when there is a fest going on in Old Town), and there is no bike-lane. There is good view of the bay and the San Diego River to be had once you get to Sunset Rd.

I first went up this thing on my old heavy mountain bike and had to stop 5 times in the up-going process. The last time I passed through - on a much lighter road bike now - I climbed it nonstop and put in 2 repeats for good measure, though. The third time up was hard going (didn't rest enough after coasting down the 2nd time), but a car was tailing me so I couldn't really stop. That was better than having a cheerleader! At any rate, Juan St doesn't haunt me anymore!

Presidio Dr at The Indian and the intersection at the top of Cosoy/Jackson St.
Presidio St & Jackson/Cosoy St in Old Town: Presidio Dr is probably the least painful cycling route up to Mission Hill from the river. The narrow and curvaceous 7% grader even provides a mid-stretch flat relief for beginner cyclists in the form of the Serra Museum parking lot. The route is scenic all the way (tho you probably won't notice much view huffing up it on a bicycle). Once past the Mormon Battalion Memorial hill (and the worst of the climb) you can continues to wind up to Mission Hills proper (to connect with Ft Stockton Rd) past the park area, or loop back down the hill on Cosoy St which turns into Jackson Rd halfway down and connects to Old Town by bearing left on Mason St or continue on down until it turns into Presidio Dr back up the hill again. If you are feeling like a steeper climb than Presidio Dr you can climb up Jackson/Cosoy from Mason St instead. It is a shorter way up and steeper at around 10% (harder toward the crest). Both routes are very narrow, though. No bike lane (in fact there's hardly enough room for cars to pass each other going opposite way on the slopes!). 

Juniper St Dip in South Park: This dip between Felton & Commonwealth is what happens when the city engineers opt to pave a road down and up a ravine between mesas rather than making a short bridge across the chasm! Unlike Juan St where the thrill of downhill riding is ruined by the 4-way stop sign near the bottom of the hill (at Haney Rd), there is no speed brake in between the top of the mesas that Juniper St spans (this is to the east of 30th Ave), making this stretch a fun sling-shot of a ride. Indeed, I imagine it would be quite nasty to climb up either side of the road if you choose to stop at its bottom. I think it is steeper going west than east, with the steepest part about halfway up the hill (about 13% via eye-balling... the climb isn't long enough for me to accurately measure its grade).

South Park's Juniper St dip, North Park's Polk St out of Florida, B St east of Downtown
Polk St between Florida and Georgia in North Park: I chanced on this short block of horror while coasting about the neighborhood a while back and decided to have a go. It has a grade of 17%, which may seem intimidating, but its brevity makes it easier to conquer than you might think. This was the first >15% climb I tried my wheels on (and have since became a favorite 'repeat hill' whenever I roll through this area). If you haven't cycled up this steep a grade before, the most unsettling thing about it may be the sensation that the bike is trying to fall backward on top of you. Once you've sprinted up it standing up a few times it actually gives you a good shot of adrenaline rush! The surface is smoothly paved concrete, and it's a normal city backstreet (which means there's a 4-way stop at the top and the bottom of the hill... don't just roll on past the crest without checking the cross traffic first!).

B St between 20th and 21st in Downtown/Golden Hill: I found out about this out-of-the-way steep stretch of B St reading Matthew Alice's list of steepest streets in San Diego on the SD Readers and decided to check it out the next time I rolled into Downtown. With all the one-way designation thingy down there it was a bit tricky getting to this little slope that bites. B street is a one-way west going road from 19th St toward the bay. East of that it is a normal two way city street... except for the 22.5% gradient for the city block between 20th and 21st, of course! I'm afraid there is no view to be had, and this isn't the only (or best) route out of Downtown to South Park. The only attraction is the nastiness of the slope... but that in itself isn't unique either. The next street on the list features a section that is just as steep, but with infinitely more interesting views both above and below.

Laurel St at State St (Reynard Way going north) in Bankers Hill.
Laurel St in Bankers Hill: Truth be told, there is a whole neighborhood full of way-too-vertical slopes in this part of town, but the nastiest of them all has to be the block of Laurel St between State and Union. At 22.5% grade the block is something of a monster. Taken as a whole, though, climbing up Laurel St from the airport to Balboa Park is actually a good sporting route! The steep 3-4 blocks from the I-5 underpass up are naughty, but then you hit leveled out intersections that provide good breaks in the exertion. The planes' final approach to the airport runs just south of Laurel, so you are buzzed every few minutes by commercial jets that seem to descend down the hill nearly low enough to give the palm trees a close shave. The view down to the bay (and airport) from the various parts of the road is awesome. Then when you get to Front St there are a few really beautiful historic Victorian Era houses to peruse.... And then you get to the top and continues on El Prado into Balboa Park, cycling over the Cabrillo Bridge and the park's Spanish-themed west gate. Laurel St is one climb you have to make at least once to be a serious cyclist in San Diego!
Upas St from Florida Canyon up to Park Blvd. A nasty looking bit of pavement, isn't it?
Upas St between Florida St and Park Blvd in Balboa Park area: The whole stretch of Upas St between Florida St and Park Blvd averages 10% grade, but the long section between the curve near the bottom of the hill to the crest is an icky 20% grader. It is longer than the likes of Bandini, Polk, or B St, though the gradual leveling near the top comes just in time for fit cyclists to get up this thing without stopping, I think. Upas is a delightfully pitchy road in its entire length. Cyclists can keep going west on it past the boy scout camp (the road is closed to cars from that point on) down the old service road that now serves as a hiking trail and over the bridge across I-163 and then up the steep hairpin climb on the other side to pop up right by Marston House on the north end of Balboa Park. I don't necessarily recommend it for road bikes, though. The trail section has a lot of loose gravel, sand, and other debris along with quite a few pot holes.


Bandini St between San Diego and California Avenues in Old Town/Mission Hills: Riding my mountain bike northwest on San Diego Ave toward Old Town one day I espied this really naughty block of steep road going up the hill on the right side and decided to try to pedal up it. That was a bad call that resulted in a rather undignified method of dismounting and a lot more cussing than my mother would have approved of. I've since gone up it a few times on the lighter road bike, though. Once you cleared that icky first section the going is much easier as the road twists its way up toward Orizaba St that connects to Sunset Blvd into Mission Hills proper. Gorgeous mansion houses and great view of the bay from all over the place. Street surface is smoothly paved all the way up, too, and traffic is very light. A nice route up Mission Hills for sportive riders!
Bandini St (25%) and Torrance St (26%) in Old Town/Mission Hills.
Torrance St between Keating and Pringle in Old Town/Mission Hills: Just a few blocks to the southeast, going up Keating St from where India St turns into San Diego Avenue there is a queue of nasty steep blocks connecting Keating to Pringle (a good climb on its own at 13% average grade to Washington Pl). The nastiest of them all is Torrance St at 26% average grade. The first time I tried to pedal up the thing I died about 3/4 of the way up (about 10 yds past the beginning of the tarmac section) and the bike just fell over sideways. I have since climbed it, but in a decidedly undignified manner via zigzagging.
That's enough steep hills to entice you for the day, I think. More listing of San Diego's steeply cyclidelic streets to follow in a bit...

Monday, July 2, 2012

Quiz: Do You Know These Views of San Diego

Think you know San Diego, California very well? Let's have a quiz! What are these views of and where do you think the shots were taken from? Acers of the quiz get bragging right and a renewed urge to explore more unfamiliar corners of town:



Come on, San Diegans! Where are we? And where are we seen from?sunglasses

8 Jul 2012: Answers:
A: San Diego Bay between Shelter Island & Pt. Loma. Shot from the bottom of Owens St in La Playa. B: Ingraham St bridge & Mission Bay. Shot from Church of St. Mary Magdalene on top of Illion St in Bay Park. C: Sorry this one is a bit unfair indeed. This is on the wall of Bay Cafe on the Embarcadero. Right by the Coronado Ferry. D: Ocean Beach Bike Path along the San Diego River. Shot form the section just west of Robb Field. E: Mt. Helix Nature Theater on top of Mt. Helix in Casa de Oro. F: Grinding Rocks in Mission Trails. G: The San Salvador Build Site on the west end of Spanish Landing. H: South Bay salt pond. Shot from the south part of the Bayshore Bike Way. I: This bronze sailor is hanging off a lamppost on Shelter Island Drive... about where the pier is. J: The ocean-overlooking cross at Pt. Loma Nazarene University. Shot from Lomaland Dr. K: The San Diego Youth Symphony has free open practice at Casa del Prado in Balboa Park every Saturday. L: The Cactus Garden in Balboa Park. Shot through the bottle tree. M: The entrance to the Philippine Museum in the Gaslamp Quarter. N: There are a bunch of flying pigs on the outside wall of Kansas City Barbeque in Downtown. Shot from the Seaport Village trolley stop.