My bedside light flickers as the power in my 10 by 10 foot shack is diverted to my space heater, and the batrachian choir outside is drowned out by the convected air. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan greets me on my pillow, the novel a testament to the insatiability of my farsickness since leaving Hawaii in January.
I’m just outside of Ramona, California, around 40 miles Northeast of San Diego. I wanted to go somewhere warm to ride this spring, and met a cool family in Hawaii with a property out here. In exchange for a few hours of work a day, I have my own little “bungalow,” and food for a week. San Diego and the surrounding area is entirely new to me, and the change is welcomed.
As is a consistent theme with me, I’m trying something different. Since I’m working and still in school, the hours I’m putting in on the bike are far fewer than the typical training camp, but I’m totally okay with that. This feels quite a bit more balanced to me, and there’s comfort in the rurality and individuality of where and how I’m living.
The riding in Ramona isn’t the best, I’ll be honest. The shoulders are small and often covered in gravel or glass, and the cars drive quickly. That said, the riding is still good, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every kilometre so far!
I thought I’d highlight for you my favourite ride from last week.
Starting in Ramona, I took the 78 Northwest to Escondido. The shoulder was small and traffic was constant, but as I began to descend below Cranes Peak, I was suddenly, very obviously, riding in California. The road curved along the side of the hill, tracing its many spines and showcasing a view of the valley, and I couldn’t help but cheer – no one heard me.
After making my way through Escondido on the busy S6, which has a lovely bike lane, I turned onto the narrow Lake Wohlford Road. I immediately found myself climbing for a couple of kilometres to Lake Wohlford which was a brief warm up for what was to come. I continued to meander along until I met with the S6 again, which I rode to Rincon.
At Rincon, I turned onto the 76, and started my 20 km climb to Mount Palomar. The road curved and traffic was pretty heavy, but when I turned on to the South Grade Road of Mount Palomar, I saw only a handful of cars over the remaining 10 km of the climb. The road was perfect, quiet, and the gradient was steady and gentle, around an average of 6.8%, as I navigated miles of switchbacks.
The climb is so consistent that I managed to find a very comfortable rhythm, and the hour of climbing went by quickly. There was snow at the top, and I took the first few km of the East Grade descent cautiously due to meltwater on the road. I’d love to come back when it’s dry though, because the surface on the East Grade is immaculate and the turns are super flowy.
I was cracked by the time I finished the descent and passed by Lake Henshaw, around 100 km in. This being the longest ride of my season so far, I realized I’d need a Red Bull and a Snickers; the following 50 km would not be possible without such supplements. I indulged then hit the road again, under the impression that the climbing was done.
I was wrong.
My route took me up Mesa Grande which introduced itself with a rude, steep climb for a few km. At first, I was upset. Cracked and alone, the last thing I wanted between me and my shack was a hill. But, as bike riding goes, I pedalled on, and was soon rewarded by one of my favourite roads of the ride. It was a quiet, peaceful, and beautiful twenty km of sunny countryside solitude. I soon found myself back on Highway 79 to Santa Ysabel, before turning West on Julian Road (78) back toward Ramona.
Of course, on the homestretch, I flatted. That’s okay though. One flat on a six hour ride is acceptable! I soon turned onto Old Julian Highway, which much like the Mesa Grande Road was beautifully quiet. I passed by camels and baby goats and willed myself home.
In the end, I climbed 2700 m, rode 155 km, and was moving for just under six hours (yeah, yeah I’ll get faster soon). The ride was stunning, the roads were amazing despite a few potholes and narrow shoulders, and I would honestly very highly recommend this ride. If you’re staying in San Diego anytime soon, consider driving to Escondido and riding from there. Or, even drive to the base of the mountain and simply ride the climb! Pack some thick tires for the shoulder grit, and enjoy the ride!
Here’s my route if you’d like to try it.