A Difficult Day: SDR Kitchen Creek 200K

The Kitchen Creek ride promised to be rigorous: 11K feet of climbing in San Diego’s mountainous backcountry. It also promised some very beautiful views and interesting riding: from rolling hills to a peek at the U.S.-Mexico border, then a long and car-free climb up Kitchen Creek road to the top of Mt. Laguna. That’s where we stopped, but the ride continued to Julian and back up and along Mt. Cuyamaca. I was lucky to ride with Aaron, Dustin, and Joe. We arrived late, so I only saw my friend Andrew in passing glances along the course. This was his first brevet, and he finished! My photos from the day can be found here. Dustin’s write-up can be found here.

We began in Pine Valley, CA through beautiful country and skirted along the border before turning around in Jacumba. Aaron and I arrived at the start just before 7am, and missed the riders’ meeting. We rushed to get our stuff together, but Dustin and Joe waited for us and soon we were off. We were careful not to bomb through this first 35 miles or so, because the big climbing would be later in the course. This section of the ride seemed to have a lot of climbing, but by the time we reached Kitchen Creek, Dustin’s Garmin told us that we had lost more elevation than we had gained. Regardless, everything felt great for me and we were having a fun time.

Bikes and banter on the way to Jacumba

Aero tuck pose. Photo by Dustin.

Heading toward the border

By the time we made it to Kitchen Creek, I think we were all in a good rhythm. There was a water refill and apples/soda in the shade underneath Highway 8. Then we started up the climb. For about 5 miles, the road is open for auto traffic (I saw 3 cars) and follows the namesake creek. It is really lovely. Joe and Dustin charged up ahead of Aaron and I. About this time, my right hamstring began to come close to cramping every time my right pedal was up. A numb right foot bothered me since the beginning of the ride (I blame the five-toed Injinji socks – damn them!), but this hamstring business was no fun. At several points, I had to get off the bike to ward of a big cramp and stretch. Aaron was very kind to wait while I stretched. But it was a complete bother and distraction from the work that needed to be done to get to the top of Mt. Laguna. At one point, it felt I was getting off the bike to stretch every 400m or so. Then my quad started cramping. I couldn’t stretch my quad without coaxing my hamstring into a full-blown cramp. So we proceeded this way.

Attempting to exorcise the cramping hamstring demon

Where the county road ends

The view from the lower part of Kitchen Creek

All this on-again-off-again riding may have helped contribute to my exhaustion. The other factor was the weather. Forecast called for highs in the low 80s. From what I remember, Dustin’s Garmin measured 105 on the exposed asphalt of the Kitchen Creek climb. Regardless, my exhaustion really set in. I was at my limit. Once we reached the tree level, I asked Aaron if it was OK if I rested for a bit. We took about 15 minutes in the shade so I could gather my wits. I thought that I might be able to regain my mojo. Well, I didn’t. We continued on slowly (thanks for waiting for me, Aaron!), and made it to the top. I had run out of water and at this point decided to DNF and turn around at the Laguna Mountain Lodge control.

Romulii at a nice place for a rest. About 2 miles to go.

I was coaching Aaron on how he could try to finish the ride – he still had a lot left. But we were surprised to see Dustin and Joe waiting for us at the Lodge – they had been there about 45 minutes. They were well-rested, but done for the day, and we all talked about riding down Mt. Laguna and enjoying a nice lunch. With 5K more feet of climbing and another half of the course ahead of us, that sounded quite nice to everyone. The ride down Mt. Laguna was spectacular: twisty roads and speeds up to 35 mph along beautiful pine forests and green meadows. As we passed hot patches as we descended below the tree line, the thick memory of Kitchen Creek’s heat filled my mind. It was a thrilling descent. I finally found my mojo! Downhill provides. We had a bit over 80 miles on the day.

Just a couple of thoughts for next time: 1). I think I’m going to finally clip in. I ride platform pedals so that I can move my foot around. Numbness in my right foot hadn’t gone away, and while my Camper shoes have a pretty stable thick rubber sole, I think the more rigid bottom of cleats will help; 2). I need to get serious about supplements on longer, more difficult rides. My cramping might have been eased if I was taking electrolyte pills the whole time. I also really enjoyed my first bottle of Perpetuem. While suffering up Kitchen Creek, I pulled a warm Lara bar from my saddlebag and nearly vomited from its nutty, mushy consistency. 3). I need to do more cross training and think about fitness in more diverse ways.

Descending Mt. Laguna - the best part of the day

And one more note in equipment, as I often get questions about what matters over distance. While we were enjoying lunch, complete with air conditioning, I saw the first finishers come in on spartan, modern race bikes. They must be incredible riders. Most folks had versions of carbon, aluminum, and steel that seemed practical for the ride. The weather was warm, so one didn’t need too much baggage. I would still have liked a front rando bag to carry some more variety of food. Regardless, it was nice to see this Boulder Randonneuse, equipped with full fendes, a Berthoud bag, and ridden by – you guessed it – a Frenchman.

A nicely appointed Boulder Bicycle



  1. el tejano

    as a passive lurker/reader I was kind of surprised to find that you weren’t clipped in on your longer rides. I think you’ll like it- I’ve always felt that there was a huge difference. And you can still adjust for some “float” so your can move your feet around.

    sorry to hear about the cramping though- that sucks

    • Esteban

      Yea – I’ve always been very comfortable on touring pedals. But this numbness has been creeping up on me. Time to go over to the dark side 🙂 At least with the performance set-ups.

      I’m kind of stoked to try it, though. I think it will feel great.

  2. Beany

    Excellent writeup!

    I’m impressed with what you accomplished yesterday, I really thought you’d finish especially since you seemed to have prepared the most, so was surprised to read that you hadn’t. The cramping issues was a terrible thing to have had though. I’ve experienced severe cramping problems on long distance rides in the past and the possibility of a cramp always scares me.

    • Esteban

      All in all, it was a nice day and some challenging riding. During a brevet without the heat and this degree of elevation gain, there’s so much to enjoy the whole time. This was certainly going to be a challenging ride – you knew it before it began.

      The cramping was putting DNF ideas into my head early. Anything can be overcome – its just about mental preparedness and toughness. I didn’t have it yesterday, and that’s fine by me. Andrew had it, though! After walking 2 miles up KC, he finished at about 12:30. How awesome is that?

  3. Chris

    Great write up Esteban! Sorry to hear of your cramping… The ride up to Mt. Luguna sounds really nice (or at least the ride back down anyway…), I need to try it sometime…

    You should look into the Shimano pedals that have an spd/mountian type of pedal on one side and a platform on the other side… the model is the PD A530


    Great job buddy!


    • Esteban

      Thanks, Chris. Man, I gotta say, the ride down Laguan was phenomenal. A short, enjoyable ride would be from Pine Valley, straight up Kitchen Creek, then down the 79. That wouldn’t be too bad.

  4. Robert in San Diego

    Ouch! I’ve got only one DNF in my rando record (and I’m another “no retention” rider), but it hurts when you have to quit. As for supplements for electrolytes, I’m a fan of the small cans of V8 (and a bag of salted peanuts at store controls), but this is definitely “your mileage may vary” country. Especially since I ride with cargo capacity.

  5. Pingback: Kitchen Creek Rando « Paleo Vélo
  6. paleovelo

    The Kitchen Creek cooker got us all! I’d definitely be up for doing some shorter 50-60 mile loops up there with lots of climbing. Quality/intensity v. quantity is the new name of the game for me.

    If you think Kitchen Creek is bad, wait till we do Pine Creek! That turns into hike a bike for a lot of people, at least for short stretches.

  7. Leaf S.

    Great write-up. Sorry to hear about the DNF but those things happen. Certainly seems like you made the most of it.

    I can’t say enough good things about Perpetuem, Endurolytes, Hammer Gel and all the other Hammer products. Since last year I’ve been using Perpetuem and Endurolytes on all my brevets and for rides longer than 80 miles. They work great. I still eat regular food if I can but if I can’t that stuff will keeps me going. Like someone else mentioned V8, peanuts and other things work. Find what works for you.

    I’ve pretty much always used Sidi shoes. If you have wide feet consider the “mega” sizes. They’re nice and wide and have worked well for me. Still, I’m heading the other way and find myself pedaling “free”.

    Looking forward to your next ride report. Keep pedaling and keep writing.


  8. Joan

    A suggestion: carry some Tums with you, as they can definitely help alleviate cramps if you get them. Electrolyte products are great, and V-8 has saved many a ride for me, but the Tums are easy to carry and for that rare occasion when the cramps just come no matter what.

  9. Turbofrog

    The Kitchen Creek 200 was a nice little ride. An interesting thing: all the riders who passed me several times between the start in Pine Valley and the Mt. Laguna control did not make it to the finish.
    The lack of ice cooled Chardonnay at the bottom the Kitchen Creek climb did slow me down a bit since I was reduced to the usual mix of Gatorade and plain water. If enjoyed one hill at a time and at a slower pace it was the perfect “flaneur ride”.

  10. Andy

    Great job on the ride and the write up! I’m sorry to hear about the DNF, but I think it will get used as a good learning experience. And like Leaf, I can’t say enough good about all of the Hammer Nutrition products. For me, being diabetic puts quite a strain on longer rides, especially when the temps are rising, but the “Hammer” has always treated me well, and no simple sugars 🙂
    FWIW, I started commuting (20 miles one way) with toe clips a few weeks ago, and I think I’m about ready to pull them off, I like the benefit of being able to move around on the platforms.

    • Esteban

      Now… we need an emergent framebuilder to make a custom pickle-juice bottle mount and we’ll be in business.

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