The Plan

The general idea was to fly into San Diego, California and spend six days doing a modified hub-and-spoke tour of the surrounding area. None of the rides were reachable from the hotel so I rented a car and drove to the start of each ride. I was also looking forward to spending some time with my sister and her husband. He is in the Navy and was assigned to Camp Pendleton, just north of San Diego.

After consulting with the Farmer's Almanac, Weather.com historical data, and very helpful San Diego County resident Jeff Gross, I pinpointed the middle of July as the ideal week to travel. It would be comfortable and dry that week, which is what I prefer.

Jeff put a lot of work into creating a very well organized website with links to many, many route maps throughout the area. It's worth taking a look, if you're planning a trip to the area. Bike Routes of San Diego County


Getting There

There were two objectives: 1) Get the bike there and 2) Get me there.

Months in advance, I set up shipping through Bike Flights. They contract with FedEx but at much lower rates than most of us can get. About ten days ahead of time, they email you a prepaid FedEx shipping label. Drop it in a stick-on label envelope on the outside of your bike box, disassemble and pack the bike, then drop the box off at any FedEx location. After contacting the manager in advance and confirming acceptance (most will do this), I had the bike shipped directly to the hotel. On the shipping label, I hand-wrote "Hold For Arrival, 7-15-2013" and called them a couple of days in advance to remind them when it would arrive. It worked perfectly! I was able to fly with just a carry-on bag. When I walked into the hotel, the bike box was waiting for me. At the end of the trip, all I had to do was disassemble and repack the bike, change the shipping label, and FedEx picked it up at the hotel. It really doesn't get much easier than that.

To get myself there, I booked on Southwest. As usual, it was a smooth experience in both directions. Those guys really do know what they're doing.


Where to Stay

San Diego is a huge area and the county contains all four climate zones. The best choice seemed to be to pick a hotel somewhere in the middle of all of the rides. I chose the Hampton Inn in San Marcos. It was right next to the freeway, offered free breakfast and free wifi, and they agreed to accept delivery of my bike ahead of time.

Pretty much every other hotel chain is within a three or four mile radius and would have also been a good choice.


Day One - Torrey Pines to Oceanside Harbor

The morning started out with the typical low, overhanging clouds. These burned off by 9:00 am so no worries there.

I found UC San Diego with no problem and ended up paying for a one day parking pass to use the parking deck. Pretty convenient. From there, I headed off of the campus and started making my way north. Torrey Pinea sits on top of a tall hill. It was fun leaving there to start the day's ride but it was going to mean a 400 ft climb in one mile on the way back.

This area is extremely bike friendly. Plenty of wide, well-marked bike lanes and lots of other cyclists out. LOTS of them. Further down the road, I also noticed lots of surfers. And runners. And beach goers. Seriously... it's Tuesday. Don't these people have jobs????

Stopped at the beach at Torrey Pines State Park and dipped my rear tire in the ocean. The sun was starting to come out. A nice, leisurely pace as I made my way north on historic highway 101.

The people and the roads were quite nice. Some of the communities along the way had set aside entire lanes for cyclists. By and large, they were smooth, too. I commented to another cyclist about how nice the bike lanes were. He said they had recently finished them just for my visit and that my name was on the dedication sign. I'm not sure if I should believe him or not.

Mahi tacos at a harbor side cafe in Oceanside and then I headed back. The ocean breeze had been a bit chilly this morning but was comfortable now.

Back at Torrey Pines State Park, I took the park road up the side of the hill. This climb is NOT for the feint of heart! Sure was beautiful at the top, though.

A fun day and a beautiful ride! Tomorrow is Mt Palomar and the biggest climb of this tour.

Route map and ride stats on Garmin. Miles: 52.93


Day Two - Mount Palomar

Holy crapweasel!! If you're not an experienced cyclist who is excellent at climbing, DO NOT ATTEMPT this ride! Now, keep in mind that I've climbed mountains on other rides, I've ridden in extreme heat, I've done more than one century... but this is the hardest ride I've ever done, hands down. The scenery is very pretty. Some of Southern California's finest.

At the 18 mile mark, Shawn, my brother-in-law and today's riding buddy, couldn't go on any further. We called my sister and she picked him up. I opted to go on to the top solo. After all, it was only nine more miles. How bad could it really be? Stupid me. Shawn had the much better idea. After he left, the inclines got much, much worse. The bottom line is that I made it... eventually... but this is not a ride I will ever do again. It did set a personal record for longest time in the saddle in one day and highest climb. On the way down, my hands began to ache from squeezing the brakes so hard trying to keep the speed under 40.

Max speed: 38.7 (riding the brakes all the way) Calories burned: 6261. No, that's not a misprint.

Tomorrow's ride is a much easier trip through downtown.

Route map and ride stats on Garmin. Miles: 52.8


Day Three - Downtown San Diego and Coronado Island

Wow, what a day! It was chilly and breezy at the start. I parked at Balboa Park, rode down into town and needed to catch a bike path that happened to pass right in front of the convention center. Holy mackerel! COMIC CON!!! Thousands and thousands of people, many of the in creative costumes. Even one old, gray-haired lady had died her hair purple. I kid you not. Too funny. I made a couple of friends and then moved on down the road.

The route took me past some train yards, past the Navy base, and down to Chula Vista. There a met a couple of other cyclists and chatted about the area. You could easily see Mexico from where we were.

Then I caught The Strand and took it up into the south end of Coronado Island. Very windy and slightly chilly. A lot of the other cyclists were wearing jackets. Smart.

Coronado is a beautiful town with lots of parks and great views. I rode past a couple more Navy installations and the SEAL training center then turned up into town and ended up at the marina. There I had lunch at Lil' Piggy's BBQ and an ice cream cone at Coldstone. Nice lunch break.

Afterward, I caught the ferry across the bay to Broadway street and rode along the harbor for a few miles. I made the climb up that very steep hill on Talbot street and then went down to Sunset Cliffs park. I almost didn't go down there but I'm very glad I did. Pretty spot.

Them I went north and picked up another trail that went along the San Diego river for a few miles. The climb up to the top of the hill to get back to Balboa Park was a nice challenge. Eventually, I found my car and the day was done. Great ride!

Route map and ride stats on Garmin. Miles: 45.34


Day Four - Mount Laguna Loop

After the Mt Palomar ride spanked me so hard just a couple of days ago, I had some concerns about taking on a 50 mile ride with over 4000 feet of climbing. The bottom line: This is a ride you really want to do!!!

It was an hour's drive to get to the Park and Ride off of I8. I geared up, chatted with a couple of other cyclists in the parking lot, and then headed out. There are plenty of places to stop along this route. One of the first is a cute little town called Pine Valley. (How cool is that?) There are several places to stock up on snacks and drinks before starting the climb.

The climb up the mountain is a steady 5-7% grade for about seven miles with no switchbacks. There were several scenic areas along the way and those were the only stops I made.

At the 5000 foot level, I stopped to take a photo of the elevation sign and noticed a rain cloud moving in over the top of the mountain. Hey, maybe it would bypass me. Another 350 feet of climbing brought me to a parking area where a number of mountain bikers were staging. There were two clean porta potties and I managed to duck in one just as it started raining pretty hard. You know you're living right when shelter presents itself right when you need it. The rain passed in a few minutes and I continued on.

The summit is a hair over 6000 feet and I stopped for lunch at the Pine House cafe, where the waitress happily abuses regulars and first-timers with the same enthusiasm. During lunch, I chatted with the delightful retired couple at the next table but it was soon time to head out.

The summit comes at about mile 18 on this 50 mile route. Much of the rest of it was generally downhill but there were also some rolling uphill runs sprinkled in there. The road surface on the uphill side and the downhill side is well-maintained so it was easy to cruise at a decent speed.

Shortly after lunch, I came across the remains of a vey recent forest fire. The damage went on for miles and still smelled strongly of smoke. A ranger was sitting on the side of the road so I stopped to chat with him. It was dubbed the Chariot fire. It happened just ten days ago and destroyed over 7000 acres of the Cleveland National Forest. Very sad. As I pedaled on, I saw where it had burned on both sides of the road and in a couple of places had even burned the road, itself. The clouds were very low and winding through the burned-out trees. Riding through here was very chilly.

Based on a recommendation, I stopped at Kwimee Point but the clouds were so low that I couldn't see anything.

The descent took me northwest, where I came across the beautiful Lake Cuyamaca area. Gorgeous. On a sunny day, it would probably be spectacular.

Right after Cuyamaca, the road surface was all pristine blacktop, windy, well-marked... and Yeehaw-downhill!!! Quite a ride for miles and miles.

What a thoroughly enjoyable ride! This is worth going out of your way for.

Route map and ride stats on Garmin. Miles: 50.54


Day Five - Encinitas and the Elfin Forest Loop

The day started out gloomy, cool, and drizzling. By the time I got to the start of the ride, the rain had let up but it was still very overcast and chilly.

Today's route took me along the sea coast, over the ridge to a man-mad recreational lake, past mansions and plush ranches, horse farms, very rural areas (queue the banjos), through beautiful suburban areas and back to the parking lot. There was lots of long hill climbs where your arms, chest, and back would be covered in sweat, soaking your jersey, and then you'd crest the hilltop and be doing 30 mph in 68 degree weather in a soaked jersey. Chilly. But too warm for a jacket. There were several pretty sites along the way, though.

Route map and ride stats on Garmin. Miles: 35.86


Day Six - Historic Highway 101

The original plan called for a different route today. However, on closer inspection I discovered it was in the same area and over many of the same roads as the ride yesterday. Instead, I opted for an easy, fun, relaxing day. I slept in a little, drove over to Torrey Pines State Beach, and rode up historic Highway 101 to Oceanside. This was about three quarters of the same route I did on the first day of the tour. Along the way, I passed through Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas, and Carlsbad. In Oceanside, I swung down to the beach and asked a lifeguard where the best burger on the beach could be found. He sent me to the Buccaneer Café. Boy, was he right! If you ever find yourself in Oceanside, do yourself a favor and swing by the Buccaneer Café for lunch. You won't regret it. Afterward, I started making my way south again. In Encinitas, I saw an ice cream delivery truck turning into a 7/11. Taking it as a divine sign, I decided to swing in and have an ice cream sandwich. All too soon, I was back at Torrey Pines State Beach and the last ride of this tour had come to an end. Despite a couple of unexpectedly chilly days and a spirit-crushing ride up Mount Palomar, it's been a great tour.

Route map and ride stats on Garmin. Miles: 39.93


Totals for this tour:
Miles: 277.42
Ride time: 24:37:52
Elevation gain (climbing): 17,041 ft
Calories burned: 20,544


Slideshow of photos

Click here to open an automated slideshow of the photos from this tour. Hope you enjoy.


Conclusion

This was a terrific tour! Lots more climbing than I prefer but that's where the beautiful views are found, so be forewarned. All four climate zones are found within San Diego County so watch the weather for the area you will be in and plan accordingly. There are plenty of places to stop on most rides (excep the ride up Mt Palomar) but it's still worth taking two full bottles of your preferred beverage and some snacks. Feel free to download the routes listed above or create a free account on RideWithGPS to create your own routes. (I won't create them for you.)

If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to contact me using the link below.