Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Mount Laguna Loop

Lenticular clouds outside Cuyamaca Lake
Our visit to San Diego County this year occurred in between rain storms. Looking at forecasts, it appeared that I would be able to have one or two good weather days in the mountains of eastern San Diego County, so I decided to bring the bike. So I brought my recently renovated 1980 Mercian Olympic. I built this bike for trips like this.

A screen shot of the ride as plotted by the "MapMyRide" phone app.
The map above shows my route as recorded by the MapMyRide app on my phone. This is a favorite ride of mine and I have done it many times and on many different bikes. This year I decided to reverse direction and rode the route in a clockwise direction. It's funny how reversing a route can change your impressions of a ride! This ride was no exception.

I drove up to the Park and Ride at the Descanso turnoff of Highway 8. This is almost always my starting point. From there I followed Highway 79 towards Cuyamaca Lake, riding through Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

I had a relatively late start, having had to drop Shelly off in Ocean Beach, I didn't actually start riding until 11:15. It was warm enough to start in just riding shorts, but cool enough to warrant a wool jersey with a lighter long sleeve over that.

Entering Cuyamaca Rancho State Park on Highway 79.
Riding Hwy 79 in this direction offers one big advantage: You ride through the busiest and narrowest stretches of this ride early on. On this quiet weekday there was relatively little traffic and I made good time heading to Cuyamaca Lake.

Your ride up Hwy 79 is overshadowed by Stonewall Peak.
Eventually you wind up Hwy 79 to Paso Picacho Campground. This is the highest point of the ride on Hwy 79, from there you descend to Cuyamaca Lake.

At Paso Picacho, you are at the high point of you ride on Highway 79, it's downhill from here to Cuyamaca Lake.
I had forgotten to bring any food this time so I needed to stop at the lake's general store to pick up a really expensive Cliff bar, cookies and a Gatorade. The store also has a nice looking cafe which would be a great place to lunch if you have time.

Lake Cuyamaca is a good spot to pick up snacks and drinks if you need them.
Departing Cuyamaca Lake you continue north on Hwy 79 a few miles to the junction with County Road 1, the Sunrise Highway. In this area you cross into Anza Borrego State Park. At this point the wind was starting to pick up a bit. The picture at the heading of this post shows a lenticular cloud which indicates a strong wind flow aloft, and some of that was reaching the upper elevations! This certainly isn't unusual for this area, but another advantage of doing the ride in this direction now became evident. Instead of facing a demoralizing head wind, I had a tailwind or, at worst, a crosswind. This made this long climbing stretch a lot more tolerable. The prevailing wind direction here is from the west or northwest. This stretch also afforded a broad shoulder and very light traffic. You actually start to feel a little lonely on this part of the ride!

Coming to San Diego County Road S1, the Sunrise Highway. You're entering Anza Borrego State Park at this point.
Your ride on S1 starts in open and somewhat arid country and gradually climbs to the wooded highlands of  the Mt. Laguna region, most of which is part of the extensive Cleveland National Forest system.

You eventually climb to a point that offers really magnificent views of the desert below. I continued my habit of stopping at one particular overlook and snapping a picture of my bike with the view as a backdrop. I need to collect all of the versions of this picture I've taken.

This year the desert had a decidedly green cast to it, a result of this years abundant rainfall!

I snap this picture every time I make this ride, an overlook into the Anza Borrego Desert. The desert actually looked a little green this early in the year!
Shortly after the overlook, the radome of the Mt. Laguna USAF station came into view. Riding in this direction you can see this feature much easier. Going in the other, you have your back to it.

The USAF radar station, approaching Mt. Laguna.
The little village of Mt. Laguna is just a short ride from this point. Here there is a small store/restaurant which is open year round. There is also a Forest Service visitor's center which has water available in case you need it. This year I only needed two water bottles since the temperatures were relatively cool. In fact, it seemed a little chilly in Mt. Laguna this day and I was beginning to think about donning a windbreaker.

Descending down S1, Pine Valley and Interstate 8 is just visible to the upper right.
You have a very short and gentle climb departing Mt. Laguna then you start a long descent to Pine Valley. As I descended I noticed the temperature seemed to moderate pretty quickly so I didn't bother with the windbreaker. I warmed up nicely as I took the twisties down to the junction of S1 and "Old Hwy 80", just above Pine Valley.

At the junction of the Sunrise Highway, (SD County Road S1) , and Old Highway 80 just east of Pine Valley.
From here it was a quick descent to Pine Valley, then a pretty good climb up to Guatay.  These two places are opportunities for food and water if you need either, but now you're quite close to the end of your ride. You pass the turnoff (Hwy79) which you took earlier to go to Cuyamaca Lake, then pass through a small commercial district (a couple of cafe's and a store), then you're just about a mile to the Park and Ride.

A shot of the Mercian at the Descanso Park and Ride. Actually this was taken at the start of the ride.
This is just a wonderful ride with good roads, great scenery and enough climbing to keep you honest. I think riding this route in the clockwise direction works well, better than going in the other direction.

The gearing I used, (a compact double crank (48/34) with a 12/26 8 speed cassette), was perfect for this terrain. Total distance was just over 50 miles with an elevation gain of over 4700 feet. I managed to hit 40 MPH on the descent from Mt. Laguna, and had an average speed for just under 13 mph.

One last look and the Anza Borrego Desert.