Mountains and Headwinds

Distance 58.94 miles

Climb 3861 feet

Average Speed 9.3 mph

Average Heart Rate 142 bpm

The day started inauspiciously with a flat rear tire. Since it was in my garage, I decided to fix the tube, instead of just putting in new. So I ended up starting almost an hour later than I originally planned. My goal was to ride from my house to Tamarisk Grove in the Anza Borrego Desert, camp overnight and ride home in the morning. Sometimes things don’t quite work the way you plan. This is the map of my planned route.

Poway to Tamarisk Grove Camp Grounds

The route: Poway to Tamarisk Grove Camp Grounds

Poway to Tamarisk Grove Elevation Profile

Poway to Tamarisk Grove Elevation Profile

My bike was loaded with bags, so it weighed close to 100 lbs. I was carrying a tent, sleeping bag, air mattress, tools, cook stove, food and a change of clothes. My first ascent was from my house in Poway to Highway 67. According to bikely this is about 1260 foot of climb in about 6.8 miles. I took my time and tried not to rush, because I knew I had a long ride in front of me. With a fully loaded touring bike, rushing is kind of out of the question anyway. Since I left later than I planned, there was quite a bit of traffic on Poway road going up the grade. There was hardly any shoulder and a steep climb. With the fully loaded front panniers and handlebar bag and slow speed, handling was suboptimal. I did however, manage to make it to the top and continued on toward Ramona on Highway 67. I pulled off at this turnout just before I reached the top, where Poway Road and Highway 67 intersect.

Near top of Poway Grade looking back

Near top of Poway Grade looking back

I’ve ridden from Poway to Ramona many times over the years, so I kind of know where I can expect to coast and where the uphills are. With the fully loaded touring bike, acceleration wasn’t nearly as fast going downhill, and I didn’t seem to be able to carry my speed through, as well. By the time I reached my next turn at Dye Road, I had climbed another 476 feet and covered another 6 miles. It had taken me almost 2 hours to cover a little over 12 miles! My optimistic prediction of five hours to Tamarisk Grove was looking very unlikely. Mount Woodson is across the road, from where I took this picture. Later you can see the same peak from the other side of the valley. My riding companion Frigid was along for the ride.

Entering Ramona on Highway 67

Entering Ramona on Highway 67

My next big climb was Old Julian Highway. I avoided downtown Ramona, by taking rural roads around the periphery. Another fairly flat 6 miles got me to Old Julian Highway. Along the way I stopped at San Diego Organic Farms and bought some beans to cook for dinner. They had some of the biggest radishes I had ever seen. Too bad I didn’t think to take some pictures there.

Old Truck

Old Truck on the side of Old Julian Highway

What a gorgeous day. The sun was shining brightly, the wild flowers were in bloom all along the road.

Wild Flowers in bloom

Wild Flowers in bloom

This is why they call California the golden state. Yellow and orange wild flowers blooming on the hill, creating a golden hue. What a sight!

When I reached the point where the road starts really climbing, at the corner of Old Julian Highway and Vista Ramona Road, I stopped in the shade, ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and drank a bunch of homemade energy drink. There were a lot of motorcycles passing on their way up to Julian. Because Old Julian Highway twists and turns, it’s a favorite route for motorcyclists on the weekend. They were out enjoying the weather in their own way.

Once I topped the first little hill, I started to notice the wind. We were having “mild” Santa Anna winds. To me, climbing on a 100+ pound bike the winds were not mild. Even the downhills seemed tough. I even had to pedal going downhill! As I started up the road, some other riders, members of the San Diego Descenders passed me. They were all slim and fit, riding lightweight racing bikes and it seemed like they went by in a flash, relative to my slow plodding pace. At the switchback on the last big hill one of the Descenders rode up alongside, slowed and asked me questions about my ride. The usual type, where are you going, where did you start from? After talking to him, I stopped to take a picture of the overlook of the Ramona Valley. The peak in the distance is Mount Woodson where I took the picture of the Welcome to Ramona sign.

Ramona Valley looking West

Ramona Valley looking West

I’ve ridden this part of the Old Julian Highway as many as a dozen times. There is one point, where a horse fence starts, that lets you know you are at the end of the last big climb. When I reached it, I was ready to take a breather and coast a little. Unfortunately the road is not shielded from the wind, and I got the full blast of the Santa Anna wind, right in my face. Not only was I not able to coast, but I had to pedal, to keep moving forward! The 1378 foot climb felt like at least twice that, with the wind.

At this point I was still optimistic about reaching the Tamarisk Grove Campground. My legs were aching a little, but I felt pretty good. I turned east on Highway 78 and started to climb again. Shortly I started feeling cramps in my legs. I decided to get off and walk a little while, to stretch my legs and hopefully work out the cramps. I had been riding for nearly four hours now, and the walk would do me good. I walked about a mile, then decided to get back on the bike. A few hundred yards later the cramps were back.

I was at the halfway point of my route and it was decision time. Should I continue on, or was there another option? I figured I could make it to Santa Ysabel, but I was concerned about the mountain I need to climb over to get to the campgrounds. The more I thought about it the more difficult was the decision. I figured I could make it to Santa Ysabel. The problem was that no matter which way I decided to go from there, I would have to climb out of the valley. As far as I know there is no place to pitch a tent and camp in the valley.

I decided that I would turn back, and go back down the mountain. It was disappointing to miss my goal, but I’ve been in this situation before. If I continued climbing, the cramps likely would start getting worse. At some point they might get bad enough to stop me from continuing on, for several hours. All the land in this area is posted with no trespassing signs. So I couldn’t just go back off the road, into the sparse vegetation and camp. My options seemed limited.

As I rode down the hill the thought occurred to me that I might camp at Dos Picos Park. It’s a nice county park on the west side of Ramona, that has camping. As I rode toward the park I started seeing signs “Ramona Music Festival”. When I got to the ranger station at the park, I asked about hiker-biker camping spots. The rangers didn’t seem to know what I was talking about, but said he said he had two tent spaces left, cost $20. I thought about it and decided I’d rather sleep in my own bed, than spend $20 to camp 13 miles from home. So I pushed my bike toward home.

I have friends that live right next to the Park. As I was leaving Sherry stopped me to say Hi. We talked a little and I told her about my ride, the wind, etc. I said goodbye and told her to give my best to Sam. So I headed off toward home. Just before I reached the highway, Sherry drove up. She said Sam had invited me to camp in their yard, which is much the same as the Park with Oak trees and weeds, er, wild flowers. I thanked her profusely but since I had already decided to ride home, being the stubborn fool I am, I was going to continue. It might not have been the wisest decision, but I stuck with it.

I arrived home after six and a quarter hours in the saddle. I was tired, and immediately laid down and took a two hour nap. Although I didn’t make my goal, I did learn a bit about riding with a full load on my Surly Long Haul Trucker. It doesn’t handle quite so well at slow speeds with a big load on the front. I may want to experiment with redistributing the load. Six hours in the saddle is a long time. I may want to take longer breaks along the way, to better pace myself. I need more practice riding fully loaded. My stamina is improving, but not nearly as much as I thought. The extra load of four panniers really makes a big difference in how fast and how far I can ride.

I’m not giving up. These overnight excursions are part of the learning process before I hit the road for longer tours. It will be a challenge, but I  think I’ll be able to meet the challenge.

Ride Safe and keep the rubber side down!


5 comments to Mountains and Headwinds

  • I have to agree on the beautiful Golden State.

    I have to admit I’ve never done any rides that have taken over a day. It looks like a lot of extra weight to carry while riding. The most I’ve carried is two panniers at the rear with clothing and extra water bottles inside.

    Good to hear you’re working out all the details on your bike. It’s great once you’ve got everything “just right”. Look forward to even more pictures when you make it to the destination next time (don’t forget pictures of the giant radishes).

  • I’ll have to work on getting more of the food from the handlebar bag into the pannier. Most of my food is in the left front pannier. Clothes in the right front. Based upon comments, I’ll have to figure out how to reduce the load. I need to weigh the equipment empty to see what my base weight is. I’ve been trimming, but it seems I’m still overweight. And I don’t even have much electronics, except my camera, yet. I was planning on carrying a netbook and radio that I don’t own yet. They’ll probably add another couple of pounds.

  • doug peterson

    You mention handling changes when loaded. Try putting more of your weight in the front low riders, and maybe less in the front handlebar bag. I have an Atlantis (same geometry) and keeping the weight low and forward makes the bike quite stable. I try to keep my front bag (Acorn boxy rando on M-12 rack) under 10 lbs but food is heavy. The Atlantis and LHT are supposed to be “rear loaders” but my experience differs from the conventional wisdom. Good job on testing all this out before going on an extended tour.

  • I watched the video. I had never heard that legend before. Very cool!

  • Noticed the mention of Santa Ysabel, just happened to have written a book about the legendary Baja treasure of Santa Ysabel.


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