A Large Loop by an Inspired Rider
I have been an inspired rider lately. Working at an aid station for ultra-endurance runners got me thinking, “If seventy-five year old men and sixty-five year old women can run 100 miles in extreme heat, why are most of my rides less than 30 miles?”
At that same event I heard some fellow mountain bikers talking about doing 60 mile training rides. My previous best was a 60.6 mile trip around San Diego Bay, where the majority of the distance was on paved roads. I have never been real interested in racing but why are these guys doing so much more than I? And climbing? My previous best climbing total was 5,635 feet … not that great!
Exploration stimulates my interest. Without exploration I would soon grow bored and would most likely give up the sport for something else. But we can explore in different ways.
For instance, I had biked all the trails of this ride before, so I most likely was not going to see any new territory. This ride was more an exploration of myself. I wanted to know …
- How would my body react to a long ride with so much climbing?
- Could I plan the ride so I would have enough water?
- Could I continue to be an inspired rider facing a tough climb after mile 50?
- Could I hold my bike together on some pounding trails?
- How would my butt feel as the ride progressed?
- How long was the ride going to take me?
The Strava Track
On March 19, Derik (also known as Red Rider on Strava) posted an interesting track which I felt I could expand upon. His ride looked great except I wanted to do the entire Noble Canyon Trail. Derik had taken the Indian Creek Trail toward Pine Mountain instead. When doing rides in the Laguna Mountains I always try to incorporate the Noble Canyon Trail … the only epic trail in San Diego (in my opinion).
- To help visualize the landmarks I talk about in the rest of this story, or to aid in your own ride on the Cuyamaca_Laguna_ Loop, please enjoy this interactive trail map.
- The Gold Car marks the starting trailhead … I biked clockwise. Click the icons for info on land-marks, both general and personal to this ride
As many of you know I often take 80 to 100 photos on a long mountain bike ride. A biking friend of mine (and avid photographer) did a 42 mile ride taking photos. Then, two weeks later, he did the same ride without taking any photos. He claimed he saved an hour-and-a-half by not taking photos.
So, starting out my philosophy was to bypass taking photos, for I did not want to run out of daylight. But as the day unfolded I gradually lost my resolve, mostly due to the natural beauty of our local mountains. I just couldn’t pass by some of the scenery without taking an image with me.
My main concern was obtaining water. I knew I could get some at the Cuyamaca Visitor Center … only a couple miles into the ride. I had hoped the Noble Canyon (Penny Pines) faucet would be operating, but didn’t count on it. I felt pretty sure the old fashioned water pump at the Noble Canyon Trailhead in Pine Valley would be working like it had the last few times I visited … but that would be about 45 miles into the ride.
So, I started with a hydration pack (100 oz) full of water in addition to four 20 oz bottles of Scratch dissolved in water. I knew if I got too dry I could ride a few miles to the Laguna Mountain Village and refill my supplies.
I had done a ride like this a couple of years ago (Grand Laguna-Maca) and did not plan my time real well. I ended up riding from the end of the Indian Creek Trail to the East Mesa Trailhead under a full moon without a light. I also knew I was doing this ride on one of the longest days of the year … one week before the Summer Solstice. I did not bring either of my riding lights for I was sure I could finish before dark.
The Riding (Part 1)
I rode down the East Side Trail, up the West Side Trail, and passed the Cuyamaca Visitor Center. I continued up Coldstream and Cold Spring Trails and eventually topped out on the edge of the Cuyamaca Valley. I passed up the opportunity to get water at the Visitor Center ( I had not even taken a sip from any of my containers). However, I did feel a strong need for liquid by the time I reached the valley.
I resisted the urge to take photos of Cuyamaca Valley and the surrounding mountains … just guzzled the liquid and hit the trail.
I circled the valley and then rode the and Lucky Five and La Cima Trails, then got on the Sunrise Highway for my six mile spin worrying about autos.
I took the Kwaaymii Point turn off and entered the trail which leads to the Pioneer Mail trailhead. I just learned about this trail the previous week when I drove my truck down the pavement to check it out. There were not any signs when entering the trail except a highway sign with the message, “Dead End.”
While cruising down this trail I passed two guys with huge backpacks who stared at me as I passed. I began to wonder if I was on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which outlaws bicycles. When I reached Pioneer Mail I found a Kiosk and some PCT signs. I have made a vow to not ride illegal trails but I may not be able to stand by my commitment if those trails are not posted!
I cruised through the Penny Pines gate and went directly to the spigot, pushed down the handle and … nothing!! I just don’t know what is going on with this water at the top of Noble Canyon. Sometimes it’s on, sometimes off. It seems like every time I am doing a big ride it is off, and when I have brought plenty of my own water the faucet works!
I had plenty of water at that point but was worried about how much I would have after riding around Laguna Meadow, up Wooded Hill, back to Penny Pines, and down to the Pine Valley Trailhead … a total of 25 miles!
The Riding (Part 2)
The ride around Laguna Meadow was glorious, as usual. I love the contrast of the golden grasses with the dark green hue of the conifers all backed up by a bright blue sky. I passed a guy on a hardtail and he passed me back a few minutes later. That was the only human I saw in the meadow.
My ride down Los Gatos Ravine was, once again, a blast! I hit all the jumps and rode most the logs. These obstacles are perfect for a guy like me … nothing too large, nothing dangerous.
My biggest surprise were the water spigots at the El Prado Group Campground … less than a mile from the trail. I knew the place had pit toilets and therefore no water near the bathrooms. I was headed to the Laguna Campground but stopped dead when I noticed a couple of spigots between campsites in the El Prado Group sites! At that point I was thrilled, for I knew I would have enough water to make my entire trip.
I filled a bottle and gulped it down. The water was cool, but not too cold, perfectly refreshing! I refilled all four bottles with water and mixed in some of the Scratch I’d brought in baggies. This would easily get me to the next water stop … the Pine Valley Trailhead.
The Riding (Part 3)
Noble Canyon is the best trail in San Diego County … ten miles of fast single track, rock staircases, creek crossings, small drops and climbs, all in the middle of nowhere. Once again I wore a big smile as I threaded my way down.
As I pounded down the last 50 yards of Noble Canyon (before the extra credit) I passed a guy walking his bike up. When I stopped at the junction (to grab a swig of Scratch) he yelled back down at me, “Hey man, what happened to this f**king trail? What’s with all these f**king rocks?”
I yelled back an answer to his question, “Trails tend to get rockier as water washes away the dirt. That has happened to many trails I have been riding for years.”
Then I then gave him the bad news, “It gets a lot rockier up there,” and pointed east (from where I had just come).” Then I yelled, “You’re not trying to ride up Noble, are you? Nobody rides up this trail.”
He countered with, “Dude, years ago I remember f**king riding here and coming back a week later I could still see me f**king tire prints!”
So, I yelled back up to him, “This is the best trail in San Diego. On any given weekend this this thing looks like a parade.”
“Hey, I am f**king 65 years old, how am I supposed to f**king ride up this?”
At this point I decided I would like to hear more of what this guy (he later told me his name was Mike) had to say. Mike definitely came across as an interesting character!
So I lay my bike down and slowly walked back up the trail, gradually taking in his appearance.
Mike looked to be in great shape, especially for his age. If not for the a little gray in the beard and the gray mop of hair hanging out the back of his helmet and halfway down his back I would have guessed he was 45 years old.
Mike said he rides a bike most every day (which explained his physique) but mostly on the road. He asked me about other trails in the area and I told him about the one that runs right next to Pine Creek Road.
I suggested he ride up Pine Creek Road and then come down Noble. I made sure I let him know Pine Creek road was incredibly steep and Noble real rocky in places.
Then Mike asked me about mine shafts. He said he had visited several in the area when he was younger but couldn’t remember where they were. I told him I had not seen any shafts, although I had heard of them in the area. ” I remembered seeing a miner’s cabin marked on a map … but when I got to the site I saw nothing but an empty field. I got off my bike and looked all over for a shaft. But my search limited by excessive thickets of Poison Oak. The cabin, supposedly located right before the junction of Deer Park Road and Indian Creek Trail, simply does not exist.”
After a good twenty minutes with Mike I had to get going for I still had many miles to go. He said he was going to continue riding up Noble and then maybe try some other stuff.
The Pine Valley Trailhead did have water … just pump the handle and out it comes. I found the water cool … but tasted a bit like iron. I could not detect any mineral taste when I mixed it with Scratch. I drank so much I had to use the bathroom, then loaded up all my full containers and headed out.
The Riding (Part 4)
Riding up Pine Creek was the usual grind … with some parts so steep I could hardly stay on my bike in granny gear. The last time on that road I had to walk a bit, this time I was in better shape and rode it all.
I did walk a few stretches on the Deer Park Trail. Just like I told Mike, many trails that used to be smooth have turned into river beds. Parts of the Deer Park Trail fit that category.
Once I got up by the Harvey Moore junction the grasses grew heavier and stickers filled my socks. Once again, the contrast between the dark trail, brown grasses, and the trees made this inspired rider stop to take a photo.
More Miles and Climbing Needed
When I reached Granite Springs I began to get worried about my mileage and climbing totals. I did not want to do all this riding and not quite set new standards. I figured I could ride to the truck, check the totals, and ride down to Green Valley Falls if needed. Or, I could ride to the top of Oakzanita Peak and back, then continue to the truck.
I knew the round trip to Oakzanita Peak involved a ride of about three miles and a little bit of climbing, so that’s what I chose. I was especially glad of my ride to the peak since I was able to get a few good photos. I was able to catch Cuyamaca, Stonewall, Middle, North, and Oakzanita Peaks all in the same shot. After I signed the guest book I started back down to the truck.
I thought I was going to freeze to death as I zoomed down the East Mesa Fire Road to the truck. I had worked up a good sweat climbing Oakzanita Peak and was riding extremely fast under the shade of the oaks on the way down.
Upon my arrival I checked my Garmin Edge only to see 48.5 degrees, a whole lot cooler than the 98.2 degrees I had faced earlier in the day.
My day worked out perfectly. I did continue to be an inspired rider over many miles and lots of climbing, and I did set new mileage and climbing bests!