Last Friday I got up at 4:30am to catch the 5:55AM bus up to Escondido
to pre-ride the hardest section of the Giro di San Diego gran fondo route
next Sunday (had to stop to see to a neighbor's dogs before leaving, hence the early wake up time). Long bus rides to remote cycling routes is the price one has to pay for not having a car, I'm afraid. I'm lucky that there's a bus connecting San Diego to Escondido, though. I wouldn't be able to get up there for less than $10 otherwise!
I had planned on taking off from Del Lago bus station in south Escondido by 7:10AM, though my bus driver was so safe she refused to go faster than 50 mph on the freeway even though the speed limit was 65 or 75... so I didn't get to there until 7:45AM. Thirty five minute didn't seem like much... until a few hours later when the sun started its attempt to melt me into a mushy goo climbing up the big mountain in the heat of noon. At 7:45AM it was still cool enough for me to keep my arms and legs warmers on, though, as I rode up Del Lago Blvd to Beethoven St and spotted the bike path entrance on the north side of the road.
|Bike path between Kit Carson Park & Beethoven St in Escondido.|
On the left side was Kit Carson Park. Looked much like an ideal start/finish place for rides up in this part of San Diego. There were a few joggers and dog-walkers using the path. Pavement was pretty good, though lots of brush debris that may hide tire-puncturing goat heads.
|Bike path along east side of Bear Valley Pkwy|
Turning north on Bear Valley Parkway past the San Pasqual turn off (you'd turn right there to go to the Zoo Safari Park) another bike path appeared on the right (east) side of the road. An extremely ill-maintained one this time, though I had to use it since the main road has no shoulder and the cars
were in the hurry to get to work. There was a bit of gentle climbing up the Bear Hills. A good warm up stretch before the turn off to Lake Wohlford Rd.
|Bear Valley/Valley Pkwy at Lake Wohlford Rd|
The real hills began going ENE on Lake Wohlford Rd, with the narrow road shoulder that were prone to pebbles of various sizes, slid down from the cliffs above. Aside from a couple of semi-trucks that whipped by me in a shower of dust and the dreaded bike-sucking slipstream
(I'm never keen on being vacuum-pulled up a hill behind a truck when there are other trucks coming up behind me!), it was a nice 2 miles long ascent on a moderately scenic and pleasantly curvy road. The gradient was pretty consistent at 5-6% until the bridge near the top of the climb.
|Lake Wohlford Rd|
turned up on the right (east) side of the road, looking all cool and majestic, and well visited by hawks and water birds. Alas, the place is now only open on weekends. Beyond the lake were a few restaurants and shops. I didn't stop since I still had plenty of water and the sun was getting hotter all the time.
|Watch out for those cow crossings. They're grated irons across the pavement... almost as bad as railroad tracks.|
After the lake, I descended into Valley Center
and its dairy farm scent. The sun was getting high in the sky and the temperature was on the way up. Turning right onto Valley Center Rd toward Rincon
I rolled down the most scary bit of riding for the entire day when the narrow and ill-paved road hugs the hill to the left and drops right down to the valley floor.
Cars and trucks trying to speed past on my left, a huge vertical drop to my right, and the road surface under my tires that looked and felt like it had caught a particularly virulent strand of small pox. The bike bounced
around so much that it was all I could do to hang on for dear life. By the time
Valley Center Rd finally leveled out my arms and legs felt like they had caught the spell
Gilderoy Lockhart used in his attempt to mend Harry’s broken arm in
‘Harry Potter And The Chamber of Secrets,’ – quivery and quite practically
|View of the mountains to the east of Valley Center Rd (S6)|
Naturally I didn’t manage to get a
photo of that stretch of the road… As it was, my favorite water bottle bounced
its way off to Lalaland some way down the grade without me even noticing. I
only found out about it when I reached down for a drink to find a whole lot of
nothing being held by the down tube bottle holder.
Annoyed, I was, though I wasn’t all that concerned since up ahead was the big building that was Harrah’s Casino at Rincon, a gas station and a 7/11 store where I popped in and downed a 6 chocolate donut package and a bottle of Gatorade before re-emerging with a fresh bottle of Sprite to serve as my second ‘water’ bottle (along with using the restroom and re-filling the other water bottle with tap water, of course).
|Water stops at Rincon|
I wasn’t familiar with the area, so I decided to fill up at the first opportunity I saw… The 7/11 store was well stocked and has a really nice and clean
restroom, though food price was a bit steep. Next time I ride in the area I would try the Rincon Market down the road instead. Don’t know if it is better, but at least I’d be supporting local business.
|Jilberto's Taco Shop on Hwy 76 just east of Valley Ctr Rd, the traditional start of Mt Paloma climb.|
Turning right onto Hwy 76 I spotted Jilberto’s Taco Shop
on the left side of the road that usually marks the start of Mt Palomar climb for local cyclists (from this point on the road goes up at 6% grade and doesn’t level out any until a little stretch just before the turn off to South Grade Rd).
It’s 17 miles to the top of the mountain from here. It was also 11AM and the sun was flexing its muscles a bit and I was starting to appreciate every little bit of shades the road side trees threw my
A mile or so up the road was the turn off to Cupid’s Castle
; the daft resort castle that you could actually spot from the road if you looked for it, which I did if only to mark it as the ‘a mile or so back to the Valley Center Rd junction’ landmark for the way down.
|Hwy 76 climbs on and on east toward Mt Palomar.|
Turns on the road didn’t bring any relief in its gradient. After what seemed like miles a green sign finally appeared on the side of the road marking 2000 ft elevation. At what elevation did I start riding from this morning? I had no idea! I knew that the top of Palomar Mtn was a bit over 5000 ft, though. That
meant I had 3000 vertical feet yet to climb. An icky thought when my legs were
already starting to feel a bit worn.
Spinning the next-to-easiest gear on up the road as my supposedly sweat-proof sunscreen started to melt into my eyes. The road seemed to be endless! It was supposed to be only 10 or so miles to the junction… but 10 miles on a 6% incline slope tend to dilate time a bit.
But just as I started to seriously wondered if I had missed the turn off to
South Grade Rd somewhere in my myopic ‘climbing a bit of the road at a time’
mode, the road leveled out (and even dropped a little bit, just enough for a
little recovery coasting) and the turn sign turned up on the side of the road.
To be honest, as happy as I was to finally turn onto the S6 (South Grade Rd) up the mountain, I was even happier to see that the Oak Knoll Campground
at the base of the road had a store that sold cold drinks! I was hoping for fountain drink (so I could put ice in the bottles), but they only had bottled drinks… But they were cold, and there was even a chest of ice cream bars, too (now you know why it took me so long to
complete the loop. I kept stopping to eat!)!
|Oak Knoll Campground general store.|
Loaded with 2 ½ bottles of drinks (1 ½ bottles of Gatorade and 1 bottle of water) – I would have taken 3 full bottles, but my light backpack was already feeling like the big globe on Atlas’ shoulders – I turned back up South Grade Rd and immediately started suffering. It didn’t help that every few minutes I would hear a motor roar from above and one or a pair of motorcyclists in full body armor would come flying out of the blind curve up ahead.
|Here comes another pair of speedy motorbikes roaring down South Grade Rd.|
You know how some people can’t stand the sound of paper squeak or metal on metal rubbing? I can’t stand the sound of revving motorcycle
engine… especially the unmuffled Japanese-made ones.
I don’t know why they put down a mileage marker every .2 mile instead of every mile, but it was tremendously helpful in getting me up that twisty road of endless aggravation! I kept promising myself that I’d quit and turn around at the next marker… I got to, say, mile 42.4. It’s at the left-turning switchback, so from the up-lane bike lane I got to take the shallowest incline around and the ride wasn’t feeling so bad. Let’s get to the next marker instead. Got to 42.6, feeling like dropping dead, but there was the 3000 ft elevation marker up ahead. Let’s get to that!
|This road sign wasn't talking to me...|
Now there... why not get to 42.8? 42.8 was at an icky right-turning switchback where the bike lane goes up the steepest line of the turn… but it would be so unseemly to quit just short of completing another mile! No, go to 43 even and then I can turn back!
Got to 43… well the gradient must have dropped half a degree since my legs weren’t feeling so dead. Maybe I’ll make it further yet… Mile 43.2 marker; oh gosh, this is awful. I’m not gonna make it! But how unesthetic! Quitting at .2 beyond a mile? Let’s at least get nearly to 43 ½…. You know the story. I actually don't remember where on the road all the markers are, but that was how it went... Had to keep breaking promises to myself the further I went.
By the 3000 ft elevation sign, though, the most aggravating thing about the climb manifested
itself… Dive-bombing kamikaze flies that will crash land on your face in their
attempt at eating it! It was past noon now (my original 'turn around time') and I had been sweating up a deluge. The evaporated sweat left salt on my face that the flies found irresistible, so they swarmed around my head like a pack of bees after the Pooh bear. I only managed to get rid of most of them by splashing precious drinking water on my face to wash the salt off every so often.
|Palomar Artesian Springs on South Grade Rd. All dried up in Sept 2012.|
|They used to charge 25 cents per gallon, I suppose. None of the faucets are working now. All the levers were removed.|
Anyone of you that have heard of the Palomar Artesian Springs
a mile or so before the top of the climb can stop counting on it as a source of water refill while climbing this route up the mountain. The levers were removed from all the water faucets. The place still constitute a nice resting spot with its shaded rock wells... I sat there for five minutes or so feeling quite utterly depressed. I didn't know how far I had still to climb and there was now only 2 gulps' worth of water left in my bottles.
(This is getting epic. Part 2
coming up in a bit)