Southern California, March 2015

When we left Colombia, Colin and Julie invited me out to Southern California as they had some routes they thought I would enjoy.

Due to Colin’s endurance race and training schedule we settled on March. For me it would be great to get out of the cold and spend quality time, with good friends in a beautiful location.

I took a direct, long flight from Heathrow to LAX, landing late Saturday afternoon. The plan for Sunday was to jump in the van and head for Agoura Hills, just North of Santa Monica. The route would be 110km plus, hilly and hot. I bet you can guess what happened next……at about 80km, bang, empty. Will I never learn? A bag full of snacks later and I was up and running again and I managed a further hilly 30km. It was a great introduction to riding in the US and a chance to meet some of their cycling friends, two of which I take a spectacular journey with in 2017.

We took in some if the well known climbs in the area, Mulholland, Piuma, Topanga and the Latigo climb, to name but a few, 2500m in total.

P1020150The next day Colin gave me a tour on some of his local routes, comprising some long drags on the way to the coast, where we popped out at Newport Beach. Beautiful blue seas, golden sand and temperatures in the high 20s. Perfect!

We turned away from the coast at Corona Beach and rode down PCH1 until we reached Laguna Beach.

I am impressed by the consideration given to cyclist here compared to the UK. There are wide sections marked off to give cyclists priority, and most drivers are very patient.

Once at Laguna Beach, we took Laguna Canyon Road, back to base. A great introduction but, just part of what was to come over the next two weeks.

The following day is an early start for all three of us, the first of many, which enabled us to travel some long distances and still be on the road by 09:00. Today’s trip took us South to Julian, in to the Pine Hills.

We parked up in the high street in Julian, a town with a real “wild west” feel to the buildings. We headed in to the hills where you could see large areas of fire damage, that looked recent. We then dropped down and rode alongside Lake Cuyamaca.

P1020185At the junction with Sunrise Highway, we turned South towards Mt Laguna. This was an out and back of about 50km, a steady climb up to 1800m. At the top, we made the turn and headed back to the Julian Pie Company, where we had… yup, pie!

We then jumped in the van and headed to the Glass Elevator, as it was known. When we got to Ranchita, Colin and I re-mounted the bikes and started the decent, at which point I realised where it got it’s name. From 1290m to 300m in 10km, spiraling down to Borrego Spring, with views that covered miles of desert. We hit in excess of 70kph on the way down, which induced smiles all round.

We got changed out of our kit at the bottom and had a walk in the desert state park, then took a tour of the awesome artwork that has been installed in the area.

Another early start as we head for Fallbrook, to the North East of Oceanside. From there we roll up and down several beautiful canyon roads to a town called Rainbow, then on to Lilac, where we stop at a really unique stop, The Yellow Deli.

After lunch, we all rode to Bonsall, at which point Julie took the direct route back to collect the van, while Colin and I rode through to the sea at Oceanside. What a great way to end the day, under the huge palms that line the road at the seafront.

Another day, another road trip, this time North East to the Angeles National Forest, to the outskirts of Glendora. We mounted up and went skyward for about 15km on the Glendora Mountain Road (GMR) until it met the Glendora Ridge Road (GRR). Here we split up and Julie took the right turn up the Glendora Ridge Road (GRR) heading for Mt. Baldy.

Colin and I continued on and plummeted 8km and 500m in to the valley, at which point we stopped at the bridge, turned round and climbed back up to the GRR and proceeded to try and catch Julie. The GRR climbs a further 300m, before you hit the village of Mt Baldy, then you head out of  town and up to the ski lifts.

P1020254From the village of Mt Baldy it starts to hurt, 10km and 700m, really ramping up at the top, close to 1850m elevation. At the top Julie is waiting to greet us.

This is where Sagan finished 6th in this year, and went on to win the Tour of California.

We drop back to Baldy for lunch in a great restaurant with bags of character. Then it was kinda down hill all the way back to the van. Time to enjoy the views.

The following day Colin and I did a “recovery ride” from his house, working our way back to Newport Beach, but this time heading much further inland first. This took in a nice detour up, and down, Silverado Canyon Road. We dropped out of the canyon and headed to Newport, where we turned and go straight down PCH1, all the way to Dana Point in the South. Dana Point is a stunning spot, and a great place to catch your breath and watch it all happen.

We then picked up a cycle path that took us back inland and on to some smaller canyon roads. It looked like the ride was going to be close to 100 miles in length, so Colin threw in a loop, just to be on the safe side. Nice recovery ride!

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We were now on day seven of the trip, and Colin and I took the van North of Pasadena to the Angeles National Forest again. This time we where further West, and heading for Mt Wilson and a visit to the observatory. You know you are high when they build an observatory there, just under 1750m.

When we dropped off Mt Wilson we took a right and headed further up in to the hills, reaching just under 2000m. The aim was to reach Mt Williamson, but it proved too much for me that day, and I had to call it, so we started our decent. The old legs were feeling it today.

We stopped in at Newcombs Ranch, a well know meeting point for car drivers and motorcycle riders, and you can see why, the road is fantastic.

The next day we had a proper sight seeing recovery day, taking the van to just North of Dana Point and just spinning around the coastal residential area. It turned out to be just what I needed. It also gave us time to get prepared for an overnight excursion North of Santa Barbara to an unusual Danish town called Solvang.

To get the best out of the next day we set the alarms for a 04:00 start. This would enable us to get there early and get a ride in before we checked in to the hotel.

When we arrived we grabbed a bite to eat, change in to our kit and headed out of Solvang in to the Los Padres National Forest. The roads starts to climb steadily soon in to the ride, then we hit some gravel trails as we start to climb Figueroa Mountain. This area is quiet, we see very little traffic all day.

As we drop out of the forest we hit the town of Los Olivos, location for Michael Jackson’s Neverland and then back on to the road leading to Solvang.

Once back at the hotel, we changed, started some laundry and headed back in to Solvang for a pre-dinner snack. It is a fascinating town, like a Danish theme park, with buildings all with a distinct style.

After a great nights sleep, we had a relaxed start, dropped the bikes on the van and headed for Buellton, where we parked up and started the ride. Once off the main road, we took the road to Los Alamos, and time for a stop at the General Store for a break, before heading out to Sisquoc.

Once past Sisquoc, we started an out and back, 16km climb on Tepusquet Road, with average of only 3%, it is not steep, but stunning views.

We dropped back around the valley through the vineyards and back to Los Olivia, working our way back through Solvang and back to the van at Buellton, the home of Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.

Well, it would be rude not to, so we did. It is an amazing micro brewery, with a bar overlooking the area where the beers are brewed. We watched them cleaning out the vats while we sat and drank in the great atmosphere, and collected some samples.

We were due to leave Solvang today, but if we left early we could drop in to Mission Canyon, just North of Santa Barbara. This would give us the chance to ride Gibraltar Road, a 20km climb with an average of 4% and  some good ramps. No wonder it is used regularly on the Tour of California. We got a few miles in when Colin took a piece of wire in the rear tyre. This was a great chance to sit on the climb and look down on the coast at Santa Barbara.

From the top of Gibraltar Road, we continued onward and upward, to the radio antenna on the peak, which offered a great views back down to the coast. Once over the top, we took a left to Painted Caves, through the San Marcos Foothills Nature Preserve, then back in to the car park in Mission Canyon.

Next stop, Subway in Santa Barbara for a refill, before the long journey back to Mission Viejo.

Two days left in The US, and this had been a trip of a lifetime, seeing stunning parts of this state, from a saddle, guided by people who have cycled it for years.

This was the 12th day in the saddle, and it was going to be a good one. Colin and I jumped in the van, early, and headed South East to Lake Henshaw. Once, lycra’d up we grabbed some snacks and started with an out and back, up the Mesa Grande climb, only 2km, but an 8% pull. Good way to warm the legs up and some cracking views.

We then roll back down to the lake and take the right turn up the S7, East Grade Rd. The first part of the climb is about 17km long and takes you through the Cleveland National Forest. The road then meets the South Grade Road and past the famous diner, Mothers Kitchen and the local post office, with the flag flying outside.

Another 10km after Mothers, with gradients of 5% to 8% and we made the Palomar Observatory at 2000m. We had a walk inside the 200 inch (5m) reflector telescope, and while in there, it started to rotate, and it was interesting to watch the entire upper part roll around on the large bogies. Then once in place, it fell silent again. I would have loved to have been able to view the stars through that one evening.

As they say, it’s all down hill from here, all the way back to the lake. A quick stop in to Mothers Kitchen for a feed before we continue the descent. We stopped at a few points on of interest, one of which was a memorial to a Native American, Gregory Pacheco, of the Pacific Pueblo tribe, who lost his life in the La Jolla fire in October 1999. This tribute will become more significant during my next trip to the US n 2017.

Before we know it we are back at the van and heading home.

Sadly, this is the last day of this great adventure, and Julie had the chance to join us as we head out on a big one. Another early start, and we transfer to Oceanside, a 75km drive and we get ready beach-side. From here we head along the seafront through Oceanside, out towards Carlsbad and along South Carlsbad state beach.

We continued South with sea to our right, keeping a steady, comfortable pace, stopping along the way for photographs.

Just outside Leucadia, we stopped for coffee and cake at Pannakin tea rooms, a converted railway station. We sat in the sun for a while, then, reluctantly, hit the road again, Southbound.

Continuing on the coast road we went through Encinitas, on to Solana Beach and Del Mar until we took a left away from the coast up to Torrey Pines, a picturesque State Park.

Once through the park we dropped back to the coast and in to La Jolla. La Jolla is beautiful, but man you could smell it before you could see it. This was down to the abundance of wildlife concentrated in the area, mainly stinky seals. The bird life was amazing, with huge pelicans sat on their nests, totally unaffected by all the passing tourists. Well worth a visit (take a peg for the nose).

P1020447Onward and further down the coast to Bird Rock and Pacific Beach, where we make another photo stop.

We now reach the outskirts of San Diego, passing behind SeaWorld and on to the viewpoint at Sunset Cliffs.

We take a right turn and head to Point Loma, past the huge Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery and on to the Cabrilo National Monument. This is a big navel area, and from here we can look down on to the Halsey Field navel air station.

We retrace our steps back in to Loma Portal and hit our usual food purveyor, Subway, for a refill. I know…., but when you work up a hunger, it is good to get something that you know it going to get you home.

At this point Colin make a suggestion that we should go over Mt Soledad and drop back down North of La Jolla, who am I to argue. The climb is 6km and ramps up 15%, it’s a steady climb as it’s hot day.

On top of Mt Solidad there is the most spectacular war memorial, which is clad in stone tiles, all engraved with the names of the servicemen, including photographs. A real tribute to these brave people.

What goes up….does eventually drop down as the road takes us North, back to the university and Torrey Pines. We roll back out on to the coast road and start our return back to Oceanside. There is one impromptu stop when P1020458I see a bike dealer that stock the brand of bike I was riding. In the shop was the actual team bike that was ridden by Jurgen van den Broeck, when he rode for Lotto Soudal, and the bike was identical in looks to mine. Cool!

One more refreshment stop and straight through to Oceanside, where I ritually let the tyres down as a mark of the end to the trip.

I am so grateful to Colin and Julie for the time spent in the US and it was a great introduction to cycling here, but certainly not the last time I would ride with them.

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