Winter Escape Riding

By: Matthew Karre Feb 22

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A bike trip in February.

First thing’s first. I don’t race cyclocross. I have in the past but I don’t anymore. I also don’t drink coffee. Never have. This has nothing to do with the rest of the story. So, for the three of you still reading (thanks mom), let’s get to it.

Sometimes, the urge arises to take a five day weekend down to southern California to escape the rain, grey and cooler temperatures of Portland. For the last four years, the urge arose in late January or February. Usually, my girlfriend Amy Campbell and I head south for several days. This year we decided mid-February and we brought two companions, Ward Griffiths and Doug Wilmes. When we booked the tickets six weeks prior it was raining all the time and generally in the mid-40’s. I love riding in Portland, even in the cold rain. But sometimes the sun beckons, or perhaps, the idea of sun (foreshadowing).

My brother, Ross, lives in San Diego. He’s a student at UCSD and thoroughly enjoys riding his bike. He rides a Ritchey BreakAway Cross bike with sensible 36 spoke wheels, Dura Ace 7800 parts and a Terry Fly saddle, of which he is very proud. He’s been there several years and knows many of the good routes and all of the great routes. You may have read about him in the latest Bicycling Magazine. In the article titled I’m Not Racing by Matthew Card, about unsanctioned, unofficial bike races, the Rapha Gentlemen’s Race in Oregon is referenced. Ross, Amy and I were on the the River City Bicycles team. Card’s description of our team was this: “…composed of…several serious racers (three men and one woman) and a recreational rider.” Ross is the recreational rider. There is perhaps nothing more definitive to the ethos that is the Recreational rider, or REC, than being distinguished, without name, in Bicycling Magazine, the bible of the REC rider. That said, he plotted some excellent routes for us, as usual.

We left Portland Thursday morning under wonderful sunny skies and a high approaching 60. The day before the Rapha Otto Miller lunch ride saw nearly 40 riders, lots of bare legs and blissful sun the whole 4 hours. Uncharacteristically fantastic. We landed in San Diego to similar conditions, got the bikes and headed immediately to Lucha Libre mexican restaurant. This establishment has a mexican wrestling motif that would take many pages to describe accurately. If you fly in there I highly recommend going. The tacos and burritos are worth it if not the ambiance. We made it to the little condo in Encinitas by 2 and were on the bikes by 3:00. At that hour, we had a little over two hours of daylight remaining. We took to the road heading toward Escondido to ride through Elfin Forest. By the name alone this ride is worthy. Round trip it was 40 miles, blinky lights just barely necessary.

Friday we had the day to do a bigger ride. Ross pointed us toward Mt. Woodson and Highland Valley road. Part of this ride was in last year’s Tour of California Mt. Palomar stage. Along the way we suffered a broken spoke and had to divert to a bike shop for a new nipple. Pat at Empire Bikes quickly replaced the nipple and spoke and got us rolling again. After a 15 minute climb up to Mt. Woodson, we headed north toward Highland Valley road. It’s the type of terrain most road riders live for; not too climby, not too technical and perfectly fast and fun. From Highland Valley road we turned onto Bandy Canyon road which was a long, mildly twisting descent through avocado groves, citrus trees and general bucolic beauty, perhaps antithetical to San Diego’s usual perception. Back to Encinitas we ticked out 88 miles.

Sometimes, when you plan on leaving the rain and grey and cold of where you live the timing doesn’t work. Sometimes, though not often, it rains in San Diego County. We headed into the desert in an attempt to avoid the rain but we failed. After a 40 minute drive to Pine Valley, we pedaled east and north to Kitchen Creek Recreation Area. On the way up the 15 mile climb it rained on and off with temperatures in the mid 40’s. The road is closed to traffic and winds up and around topping at 6000 feet. About two miles from the top the rain maker turned on in earnest and a few hundred meters from the top it started snowing. We had expected cool weather and a couple showers and dressed accordingly. We did not come prepared for 37 degrees and rain/snow. And a 9 mile descent. The ornamental shoe covers known as Slipstreams pretty quickly failed at their task of being ornamental to say nothing of their cold protection. This ride was supposed to be 60 plus miles but we cut it short with the immediate descent of the other side of the climb back to Pine Valley. Fingers failed within seconds of shifting to the big ring. Fortunately, the descent was incredibly satisfying from a riding and aesthetic perspective, if not the most comfortable. Strangely, this painful and miserable ride was actually the best of the week (possibly because immediately after we had biscuits and gravy form an old timey diner). A warmer, drier day would only have solidified that belief. Later that afternoon the sunset at Beacon’s Beach found more colors than I’d thought possible, a fitting end to a weather fueled day. Back in Portland it was 62 degrees, sunny and the bike shops were going crazy (in a good way).

The next day the sun came out and stayed out. We prepared for rain and never needed anything more than arm warmers. After 6 hours and 101 miles, we made it back in time to watch another glorious sunset. We later rolled down to Encinitas Ale House for expensive beer and giant burgers. We ate Cinnamon Toast Crunch for dessert.

We put in a good load of miles over the trip, road some great roads, took some clever pictures, froze some fingers and ate a lot of cereal. Who could have guessed the weather would have been better in Portland in February than in San Diego? Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you.



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