Monday, December 29, 2008

Rough Riding Eastern San Diego County: Viejas Grade, Pine Creek, Mt. Laguna, and More

We love the whole Mt. Laguna region for cycling on- and off-road, for its beauty, its diversity, its flowers, its waterfalls, and so much more. It's truly an outdoor paradise, and it's located just 50 miles east of San Diego, along the I-8 freeway. We've ridden every road out there, and many of the trails, but we never tire of creating new ways of connecting together the various pieces we know, interspersed with some new treats along the way. Such was the ride we did on November 8, 2008, a 59.5 mile loop which started and finished at the relatively new Starbux located at 2963 Alpinie Blvd in Alpine, CA 91901. (Start location and mapping here.)

This route included the fabulous Viejas Grade ascent (pictured above), a gravel and dirt road which is a wonderful alternate to riding on I-8 just to the south (the corridor that 99% of all cyclists use out here for some reason to get between Alpine and Descanso). Viejas starts behind the Viejas Casino and climbs up to the top of the mountains immediately west of Descanso. It's a great climb, not that steep, and doable on road bikes with 23mm tyres if you're careful, though 28mm or wider is advisable. This ride then goes through Descanso, Guatay, and Pine Valley, then climbs the little known and truly EPIC Pine Creek Road (again, 99% of cyclists bypass this road and just climb Mt. Laguna on Sunrise Hwy for some unknown reason). Pine Creek is one of the very best climbs anywhere on the planet. At the top you go south on Sunrise Hwy, either directly to the summit - where you'll find a nice little Forest Service visitor's center, bathrooms, store, and rental cabins - or you can have some extra fun and a bit more dirt by cutting through the campgrounds instead (as we did, which you'll see in the slideshow and below), still ending up at the store and bathrooms.

From the summit you actually climb a bit more, then enjoy a very long descent down Sunrise Hwy back to Pine Valley. From Pine Valley there is a short amount of retracing one's steps in reverse to Guatay, but then we head south towards the I-8, instead of back to Viejas Grade. Then it gets extra interesting again where we investigate an alternate to either riding the I-8 shoulder or Viejas Grade to get back to Alpine. I had seen this third option, a clearly abandoned road, from the freeway over the years and finally checked it out on this ride. You can see what happens in the slideshow/video, but it's pretty neat. You do end up back on the freeway shoulder, but only for a downhill mile or so, before exiting back into Alpine. This was a really great ride and we highly recommend it! Post your comments about your own adventures on this route below!

Here is the route sheet. Note that not every turn is measured in. Bring a San Diego County map for reference, though if you have a good sense of direction and have plenty of time, you should be able to figure out this ride with what is below. Plan on about six to seven hours, total time.

0.0 Start at Starbux in Alpine and head east on Alpine Blvd.
Cross over I-8 at Willow Glen, then continue east on the opposite (north) side of the freeway.
Veer left shortly thereafter into the Indian Reservation.
Follow that road until it becomes Viejas Grade and turns to gravel - head uphill into Rough Rider heaven!
7.8 Summit Viejas Grade (still gravel).
8.8 Pavement resumes: Continue straight and downhill to Descanso.
Turn left at the T-intersection at the store and stop sign.
Turn left at the next T-intersection at the 79 / Old Hwy 80 stop sign.
Pass through Guatay, then drop down into Pine Valley.
17.8 Pine Valley Park (water and restroom; use these facilities!)
U-turn back a half-mile, then turn right on Pine Creek Rd (north); get ready to start climbing in a few miles.
After an extremely steep section (see the comments below), you'll cross a cattle guard, then make a hard right straight uphill (not straight onto the dirt there).
28.2 Turn right/south on Sunrise Hwy (T-intersection; stop sign).
33.0 Visitor's Center at the summit of Mt. Laguna (water and restroom); there's also a store next door.
Continue south on Sunrise Hwy, dropping down towards the I-8 and Pine Valley.
At the bottom, turn right on Old Hwy 90 to Pine Valley.
Pass through Pine Valley, including Pine Valley Java and Major's Café.
44.2 Arrive back at Pine Valley Park (water and restroom).
Continue west on Old Hwy 80 through Guatay.
Continue onto 79 - not back to the Descanso Store, unless you want or need to.
51.5 About a mile before hitting the I-8, turn right on Willow Glen.
About a mile later, there is a gate across the road and then the pavement starts to disappear: keep going!
54.0 Hike down onto I-8 and continue west on I-8 (this is a bike-legal bike lane shoulder).
Take first offramp, then left over the freeway, then right on Alpine Blvd, continuing west back to Alpine.
59.5 Finish at Alpine Starbux.

Here are some photos (click any of them to see them much bigger):
Above: On Viejas Grade, looking west; You'll see lots of "Spanish Bayonets" in this region, as featured in the Rough Riders logo!

Above: Starting to climb Pine Creek Road.Above: Further up Pine Creek Road. What a view, in every direction!
Above: Near the top of the first main summit of Pine Creek Road. The previous photo was taken in the far left of this shot, looking up to where we are now. This road rules!Above: Cutting through the campgrounds, and enjoying all the fall colors, as an alternate to part of Sunrise Hwy, on the way to the Mt. Laguna Visitor's Center.Above: Ready to rumble! On Willow Glen, heading to where the pavement turns to dirt!
My Bike:
1994 Bridgestone RB-1 with 700x by 32mm Vittoria Cross XN Pro tyres and 38/28 low gear. On me: Major Taylor jersey and Moeben sleeves. (Her bike: 1974 Williams with 650B by 35mm Panaracer Col de la Vie tyres and 34/32 low gear.) Above: Willow Glen rough riding - pavement is overrated!

Below: Here's a video of the whole ride. There are 85 images, plus a soundtrack (turn up speakers), so it should be pretty fun and interesting. Let us know what you think by posting a comment below! Thanks for your support and interest!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rough Riding Northern San Diego County: Nate Harrison Grade up Palomar Mountain

The view of just the lower part of Nate Harrison Grade.
"One of the roads up Palomar Mountain has been known for five decades as 'The Highway to the Stars.' The road named after Nate Harrison might well be known as 'The Highway Back Into Time.' If you listen, besides the sound of the wind and hawks wheeling effortlessly overhead, you can hear horses straining against their leather harnesses, wooden wagon wheels creaking, and teamsters swearing and cracking the whip over the necks of the sweating beasts." So said David Ross in "Making the Grade: NATE’S ROAD HAS STORIES TO TELL" in a very lengthy and interesting article published in the Valley Roadrunner. Click here for the full story.

After two years of staring at the squiggly line on my Auto Club map of San Diego County which depicted an intriguing alternate - and unpaved - road up Palomar Mountain, we decided to go check it out in person on Thursday, November 6, 2008.

The dirt road itself, which goes literally all he way up Palomar Mountain, is 9.5 miles long and ascends about 4000 feet - from about 700' to about 4700'. Once you add in the last, paved, climb to the Boucher Fire Lookout, you've climbed 11.1 miles and ascended to 5438'. Then you have some rolling paved miles across the top of Palomar Mountain through the State Park to Mother's Kitchen, the General Store, Post Office, and bathroom. There you head over to the stop sign where you can take South Grade back down to where you started, for a total of 40 miles. Plan on five hours, to allow time to enjoy the views along the way and especially from the top, plus the water / food / bathroom stop at Mother's. Though the route can be climbed by an accomplished rough rider on a road bike with 28mm tyres, definitely I wouldn't recommend descending Nate Harrison without a full-on mountain bike. South Grade can have a lot of "crotch rocket" motorcyclists on weekends, so go on a weekday if you possibly can. This is really a phenomenal ride and we highly recommend it!
Above: Just a few miles up, you can see the road quality:
Pretty good. I could do it on 700by28mm road tyres easily.
Above: Most of the climb is very wide open, until you hit the tree line.Above and Below: Entering the forest.
Above: Near the end of the unpaved section, a lot of trees have been cut down - probably being cleared from the fires of recent years - so there is a lot of wood chips on the road, making it a little bit sketchy to ride for about 50 yards.
Above: The fabulous view from the top, looking south by southwest, from Boucher Lookout. My title for this ride and for this photo in particular is "All That You Can Leave Behind" - a reference to that idiotic casino down there, and the traffic associated with it and the other casinos which decimates the back roads of San Diego County.

Useful Links and Info:
"Nate Harrison Grade is on the southwest side of Palomar Mountain in the north end of San Diego County. Parking is best at Pauma School about 1/4 mile south of Highway 76 on Cole Grade Road. To reach this point take Highway 76 east off of Interstate Route 15 for about 15 miles, or Valley Center Road out of Escondido through Valley Center to Highway 76 in Pauma Valley and go west for about 4 miles. Thomas Guide page 1050 H4." (You can only park at the school on a weekend. We parked at the Casino Pauma which is amazing hard to find. It's at 777 Pauma Reservation Rd, Pauma Valley, CA 92061. Google Map of the location.)

"Nate Harrison Grade is on the southwest side of Palomar Mountain in the north end of San Diego County. This is one continuous climb that will certainly test your climbing strength. It has an average grade of 8% over 11.1 miles with some parts being much steeper. With almost 4700 feet of climbing this is a great workout ride with the reward of stunning views and a real sense of accomplishment at the top."

Here is Mountain Bike Bill's map of the route.
Here is Mountain Bike Bill's topo of the route
Here is Mountain Bike Bill's route description
(talk about a consistent gradient!)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Rough Rider Linkages!

Greetings, fellow Rough Riders and Rough Riding fans!

Since we brought this blog online in March, 2008, we've had 10,754 Visits, resulting in 19,869 Pageviews, as of December 7, 2008. Thanks for the enthusiasm, everyone!

According to our webstats, here are the sites which link to us, in order of most number of click-throughs first. Some of them have been linking to us for a long time, which is why they rank highly here, while others are only recently pointing to us and are now providing a surprising number of click-throughs. Thanks to everyone who links to us. We sure appreciate it!

Everybody, let's return the favor and check out all of these sites, because you know they're cool and have taste if they're linking to us here! ;-) (One of the coolest cycling sites on the web, featuring the "hard man" lifestyle of pro cycling in its broad sense, with a nice appreciation of cycling history, reviews of really exceptional bike shops - which are often de facto museums - plus its namesake, "Belgium Knee Warmers," which is a slang term form embrocations applied to bare knees to ward off the stinging cold of winter in Belgium and beyond.) ("Wool, Twine and All Things Fine in Cycle Touring") (We used to run some ads in their very cool magazine.) (Ritchey featured my LA Times article photo in March of 2008, as I was on their bike for the photo shoot.) Note, their blog has now moved here: (Our little 3-Speed Adventure Society website.) (A Canadian frame builder who includes a Rough Rider bike in his custom line-up.) (A 320 mile bike race on gravel and dirt roads in Iowa in May, in which I will be competing. We're also a sponsor.) (A cool, progressive Marin County bike shop. I met the owner during the 50 Mile Ride, featured here.) (Our local randonneuring club, of which we're a sponsor and a regular rider.) (Website for our Furnace Creek 508 event.) (Way cool urban LA bike club / social group / email group / participants and volunteers in our events. Alas, their blog is "dead in the water" lately.) (Presumably chatter on their forum. Anything good?) (They published a very nice article about me, which is reprinted here on this blog: "Chris Kostman: Who Needs Him?") (Our other blog.) (Frame builder Megan Dean of Swarm! is also a two-time fixed gear relay team veteran of Furnace Creek 508.) (Organizers of the Good Life Gravel Adventure in Nebraska. I want to check this event out some day soon.) (Not sure what this is about. Help?) (Ultra athlete and vegan adventurer Deanna "Aye-Aye" Adams is a veteran of our Furnace Creek 508 and CORPScamp Death Valley. We love her.) (Two of my fixed gear conversions, one for off-road, are featured on this site. Links below, however I don't see any links to our blog on their site. We recently started advertising our AdventureCORPS events on this site and are getting A TON of traffic at as a result. Highly recommended on many levels!) Here are my bikes (both of which I've subsequently sold): (George "Red-Eyed Vireo" Vargas is a three-time finisher of our Furnace Creek 508, including once on fixed gear. He will also be racing Trans-Iowa. Great athlete, guy, and coach.) ("A critical inspection of bicycling culture and marketing by a veteran bike racer (23 years)." Quote from the author" "I was never a winner, but i've always finished with a little bit extra... so i'm pursuing longer races and randonnee` rides.") (Matt "Desert Locust" Ruscigno of Swarm! is a multiple Furnace Creek 508 finisher, vegan, and honcho in the LA Cycling Scene.) (Not sure where we are mentioned on this site.) (Guitar Ted is one of the Trans-Iowa organizers, an event in which I'll compete in May.) ("Landscapes by bike and foot; topographic writing; landscape art and photography") (SoCal distance cyclist; I must know her, but am not sure as I don't see her real name on the site. NOTE: I've subsequently learned that her name is Mary Elizabeth.) ("The Prairie Peddler is a small family owned bike shop located in the heart of the Driftless Region of Southwest Wisconsin, on the Mississippi River." Note: I love that Rawland 650B rig! I want one!!!) (OK, I love this site and visit in semi-regularly - don't ask why, but it's not weird, trust me - but I don't see how, when, or why there could be a link to us there. Does Blogger sometimes think a linkage occurred if you used the same window for one site, then moved to another in that same window???) (A vegan fixed gear rider in PA.) (Jeff "Jaguar" Martin is a veteran of our Furnace Creek 508 and CORPScamp Shasta, and we featured a post of his about mountain biking in China on this blog.) (Not sure if or where he links to us, but I've been checking out this French randonneur cyclist's website for several years.)

OK, let us know if we (or our webstats system) missed anybody who links to this site! We appreciate your support!

- Chris Kostman