May Day Ride: Circumnavigating Mt. Cuyamaca

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.

Yoshi's map of our course

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.

Heading up Boulder Creek from Descanso, we were treated to a long climb, first on a quiet country road, and then turning to mellow dirt road. The views were stunning.

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!

photo by cyclotourist

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.

photo by Dustin

The day was lovely, and we saw a lot of it as we pedaled and hung on for dear life through some beautiful sections of San Diego County.
Next time, I’ll take the Rawland.


    • Esteban

      It was indeed an adventure. Really cool stuff out there. It will warm up in the summer, but wildflowers everywhere and green hills… quite nice.

  1. The Tourist that Cycles

    A fantastic route. I know Dustin’s been wanting to do this for a while. Glad we got up there for it! We really had perfect timing, too. No storms, and not 100F heat. I can imagine how blistering that first climb would be.

    As for tires, I’m betting that those Big Apples were just perfect for the conditions. Didn’t seem to be keeping Lee down!

    • Esteban

      It was a lot of fun. I’m hunkering to do it again! Yea, I think Lee had the perfect tires if he wanted to do the whole course pretty fast. He rocked those Albatross bars!

      • Michael Futch

        It was fantastic! We missed the turnoff for the final fire road, but otherwise stuck to the same route. We had some real rough riders on 28mm tires plowing through patches of snow – though I opted for some nice fat big apples.

        • Esteban

          Sweet! Its a great loop – and fine if you take the road down and pass the last singletrack/fire road patch. Man, I’ve got to visit the SDBCommuter boards more often!

  2. Pingback: If Seven Riders Go on a Nice Ride, and At Least Five Don’t Blog About It, Did the Ride Really Happen? | Chris Kostman

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