To celebrate the international worker’s day, seven of us took May 1st off from work (it was a Saturday) and rode an epic mixed terrain ride. The course circumnavigated the peak of Mt. Cuyamaca, and included quiet country roads, dirt roads, rocky and rutted fire roads, and singletrack. 5600 feet of climbing, 6 hours, 42 miles. Harrowing descents and lots of climbing are hallmarks of riding in San Diego County, and there was plenty of that on this ride, including some very steep climbing pitches exceeding 20% grade.
To make it more interesting, most of us rode road bikes. The skinniest tires were 33mm Jack Browns on Chris’ Roadeo. I was next with 35mm Paselas on the Romulus. Sky’s 650B Hetres on the Nobilette demountable looked to be about the perfect tire in theory. David’s 40mm road tires on the Rivendell All-Rounder and Lee’s 50mm Big Apples wrapped around his MB-1’s 26 inch wheels seemed fully capable. But I’m sure all of us gave a longing glance or two at one point or another at the 29er Nanoraptors Dustin fit onto his Black Sheep adventure bike. I doubt none of us looked longingly at Christian’s 29er singlespeed that he used to conquer the course without trouble. He was awesome.
But the variety in tires on road bikes made the ride interesting in different ways. The night before the ride, I decided to take the Rawland, which is not a mountain bike, but an all-rounder that fits 58mm Pacenti Neo-Motos which would have been perfect for the course: 80% dirt. But on a whim in the morning, I took the fenders and 28mm tires off the Romulus and threw on the 35s. This was a Rivendell Appreciation Society ride, anyway.
The Romulus certainly served as my underbike. The soil in San Diego is full of rocks, and they gave me a good beating on some of the more challenging fire roads. At one point, I hit a large rock the wrong way with my front wheel on a descent through a minefield of stone, and took a slow-motion fall. I was fine, save for the ants biting my arm, as I landed on an ant mound. They were pissed. I brushed them off, figuratively and literally. Most of all, I really enjoyed the bike on this ride. True, parts were bonerattling. But the Rom rode straight through rocks and sand, held together on the bumps, and was a lot of fun on a twisty road section going down the 79. Singletrack was like butter.
We lost much of our elevation gain on an intense descent, crossed a creek, and headed up to Engineer Road. The climbing was steeper and the fire road less predictable. We made it to Lake Cuyamaca, stopped at the cafe for water, and then headed to a fire road that would take us along the slope of the mountain, which bore the brunt of the forest fire of 2003. There was some very steep climbing, and then the most intense riding of the day as we took the road bikes on some seriously rocky and rutted, and sometimes steep descents. This was the fun part. Plenty of portage. We passed a group on mountain bikers on the climb, and they never caught us on the way down, which surprised me. There was snow on these trails a week before, so we rolled through many wet sections. I stayed comparably clean by taking it slow (35mm tires!) and bunny hopping a lot of the water crossings!
We made it to the 79 and took a few miles on the road. That was nice. Then one more section of fire road that would take us directly to the parking lot where we started. This section constituted, for me, the most difficult part of the ride. With one part of my mind focused on the parking lot and the Mexican food that awaited in Alpine, I had less brainpower available to put “mind over matter” and finish the ride strong. Lee pulled me through the last section.