San Diego '02



San Diego Christmas Bike Trip
December 26-31, 2002

Official HI-AYH trip website
When a Marathoner Tries Cycling, by Gary Lee

Elevation profile (click for larger picture):

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The Christmas trip was a supported ride put on by the San Diego Youth Hostels. They rent a support truck to carry everyone's overnight gear and clothing for the trip. Sleeping accommodations were floor space in churches, community centers, etc. Breakfast and dinner were provided; everybody was on their own for lunch.

Day 1 - 12/26/02
San Diego to Pine Valley
53 miles

The ride started at USD (University of San Diego), near downtown. Rather than wait for the "official" group start, I started riding with Gary - a San Diego local - and Peter and Allison. Riding with a local for the first stages of the ride was useful, as it made navigation easier.

We were surprised that no one had caught up to us yet. Someone finally did catch us, and although the specifics were unclear, we found out that one of the ride mainstays (Ralph Elliott) had gone down near the entrance of the bike path portion of the ride. Apparently most of the group had stuck around while waiting for help to arrive. Unfortunately for us, Ralph would not be able to join us for the remainder of the ride, as he had to stay in the hospital for observation.

After about 25 miles we made it through the last vestiges of San Diego suburbia and then followed Old Highway 80 (parallel to I-8). Then we started the climb towards Alpine, at 2000'. This was the place to stop for lunch, as well as meet some of the other riders. Everyone was really friendly on this ride.

After lunch was more climbing, most on the I-8 frontage road, and part on I-8 where there is no paved alernate. Several riders were rumored to have taken a dirt road alternate - I could see that road off in the hills in the distance looking from the freeway.

By the time we exited the freeway to get to Highway 79, another rider and I had (oops) dropped the others. It was a steady climb into Guatay (4100'), followed by a two mile descent into Pine Valley (3700') - arriving at the Pine Valley Community Center just after 3:15, right when the gear truck showed up!

While waiting in line for the showers I spoke with Bob, who had come out from Wisconsin for the trip. He thought he had come out to sunny California to get away from the cold. Ha! He was surprised at the cold morning - and I warned him that the next day's morning temperature could be in the 20s.

The spaghetti dinner was pretty good - better than the food on other Christmas trips, according to some of the other riders. This was followed by an activity called "Hot Seat" - an ice breaker where everyone sits in the "hot seat" and briefly introduces themselves. Most of the riders had done this ride previously. The youngest rider was a 7 year old girl who was riding on the back of a tandem with her dad steering.

Day 2 - 12/27/02
Pine Valley to Warner Springs
54 miles

The morning did indeed start off cold, somewhere in the 20s. By the time we finished our pancake breakfast (as well as finish my assigned "chore" of sweeping the floor), it had already warmed up to the 30s. I wore several different layers today - not just for the cold morning temperatures, but for the eventual descent down from Mt. Laguna.

After the mile climb to get to the Sunrise Highway, it had gotten warm enough to take off (almost) all of the clothes I had put on earlier. Luckily I had enough storage space on the bike (rear bag plus frame pack) for it all.

photo above - just enough room for all my clothing!

It was a gentle scenic climb up the Sunrise Highway, going from 4000' to 6000' in about 10 miles. At the beginning of the climb I was quickly gaining ground on the tandem with the 7 year old girl in the back. Once Katrina saw me, she started pedaling harder. Her dad then asked her why the sudden spurt of energy. Then the dad saw me coming up from behind, and he started pedaling harder. By the time I caught up, the dad was too out of breath to talk, yet somehow Katrina was able to talk to her dad OK!

Don, the trip leader, had found a good place to park the gear truck on the site of the road and set up his video camera to film riders on the ascent. Nearing the summit of Mt. Laguna, I was glad I brought all those clothes, as I needed to put them all back on. It was cold enough for there to be snow on the side of the road remaining from the last storm. 

It was a nice, mostly downhill ride to Julian for the lunch stop. There was the possibility of black ice on the descent, but luckily it had warmed up enough for this to not be a concern.  I had been riding with Linda from Seattle most of the day - we found a good place in the sun to eat. 

The route out of Julian (Farmer Rd. to Wynola Rd.) was a nice alternate to the main highway (79), going up a short hill, followed by switchbacks on the descent.

Although the last few miles of the ride were uphill into a mild headwind, this day's ride - even with the climb up to Mt. Laguna - was easier than the previous day's ride. The first day's ride got us from sea level to 4000' (with 6100' total climb), while the second day peaked at an elevation of 6000', with a total climb of 3500'.

The night's stop was at the Warner Springs High School. The shower situation was much better this day - the previous day we had to take turns using the showers at a neighboring motel. The activity for the night was the tire changing contest - prizes were awarded for the fastest times.

Day 3 - 12/28/02
Warner Springs to Palm Desert
98 miles

Up until the last minute this morning I was debating which way I would want to go to Palm Desert. The official route would go through Borrego Springs east to the Salton Sea, then northwest to Palm Desert, for a total of 98 miles. The alternate route would be shorter, at only 66 miles, but climbs up to the Santa Rosa Summit at about 4900' before going down Seven Level Hill (Highway 74) into Palm Desert.

Gary from San Diego was assembling an "alliance" for doing the longer route. That finalized my route decision, and so it was Gary, Bob from Wisconsin, Bill from New York City, and I who started off on the (almost) century ride.

The route retraced our steps on 79 for a few miles, and we then took S2 and S22 for the (relatively) short climb into Ranchita. This was followed by a spectacular descent from the summit at 4200' down some switchbacks to Borrego Springs, about 600'. Bob told me that had wanted to stop to take some photos of the view below, but didn't want to stop and lose momentum - an all too common "problem" for nice downhills.

Bill did not have to decide between enjoying the downhill or stopping to take pictures, as he had to limit his speed since one of his cartridge brake pads had slipped out of its holder on the previous day. He did get some good pictures for the rest of us.

After taking a break in Borrego Springs (Bill had tried to find a bike shop in town, but with no success), the four of us had regrouped to cover the rest of the 75 miles. Since the remaining miles were mostly flat, we organized ourselves in a paceline - one behind the other in order to minimize the impact of air resistance, each of us taking a turn at the front.

After an uneventful 30 miles (other than Bob's flat that we stopped to fix), we were in the next town with services, Salton City, 87 feet below sea level. Our two food choices for lunch were the Mexican place and "Super Burger". All of the cyclists were at the Mexican place - we went there also and were not disappointed.

photo above:  Bill, Bob, Brian, and Gary

We then had to go another 25 miles on Highway 86, a fast flat expressway, but with wide shoulders.  Soon we caught up to Lili, riding alone.  She was getting lonely, and since we had been making good time, we slowed the paceline down a bit to let her join in.

Soon after leaving Imperial County and entering Riverside County, the designation of the road we were on was going to change from Highway 86 to Highway 86S.  The route slip didn't indicate any turns, but I had noticed from perusing AAA map the night before that a left turn on 81st Ave. would be necessary to keep us on Highway 86.  Apparently north of this point Highway 86 is the old road, while 86S is the newer road eventually connecting to the freeway.  So after a quick left on 81st Ave. and then a quick right on 86 we were back on course.  That move earned me the title of "navigator" for the rest of the trip!  (It also meant that Bob would stop making fun of me for highlighting the route on my AAA maps the night before!)  But it left us wondering how many others might miss the turn.

This part of Highway 86 was much quieter and more pleasant than the expressway portion.  We passed by many date palms and orange groves, and we were still making good time with our paceline.

As we started getting closer and closer to civilization, I put my navigator hat back on (since I had been to the Palm Springs area a couple of times before, so I guess that made me the "expert"), and we made it to our host church well before dark.  

After getting settled in, we all walked over to a nearby hotel to take advantage of the showers and hot tub that were offered to trip participants.  On the way back to the church we decided to eat at a pizza place instead of having the group dinner at the church - good thing, since they were having "make your own burritos" for dinner (most of us had already had burritos for lunch).  Unfortunately, Bob had to leave before the food came in order to do his cleanup duties, but even so, he still didn't make it back in time.  He did enjoy the leftover pizza, though...

Day 4 - 12/29/02
Palm Desert to Hemet
61 miles

The first part of the story for today is brought to you by one of my co-riders, Gary Lee:

When a Marathoner Tries Cycling, by Gary Lee

Those of you that have been cycling for a while have probably faced strong winds before. You’ve experienced drafting in a pace line and know that “sucking wheel” makes pedaling 25% easier. When a particularly vicious wind is blowing, large, strong riders watch smaller, lighter riders take shorter pulls and stay in the back longer. I can’t quote my high school physics but it’s all about wind resistance, surface area, and mass. Small, 100-pound women on bikes get blown around like dander when 50 MPH winds are blowing.

Experienced cyclists know how to deal with headwinds. On a supported ride, the wise or exhausted hop on the sag wagon and get hauled up the road beyond the wind then get off at the top of a long hill for an easy downhill finish. The other way is to grin and bear it. You put on the bravado and convince yourself you’re building character and grind on as the light of day all but drops from view. Experienced cyclists, on a long tour, know these are the two choices when the going gets tough.

But are there only two choices? This story is about another choice. It’s about how Lili, a petite, woman marathoner, new to cycling, encounters her first gale force wind on a ride from Palm Springs to Hemet. It’s a classic tale of male/female differences. It’s also a wonderful illustration that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Well, maybe not, but logic versus emotion somehow is part of the whole Yin/Yang, Male/Female duality. Now that I think of it, I believe Lili’s last name is Yang - maybe that’s significant, maybe its not. You be the judge.

The story takes place on the fourth day of the 2002 Annual AYH Christmas Bike Tour. After a leisurely and friendly 100 mile ride the previous day with pace line buddies Brian, Bob and Bill, we awaken to a beautiful day in Palm Springs. Bill a “glutton for punishment” decides to take the alternate route over the Seven Level Hill with an elevation gain of over 5,000 feet in 20 miles. Brian, Bob, and myself decide to do the traditional group start for the standard ride. Lili, who had been riding alone part way through the previous day, until we invited her into our pace line a few miles past Salton City, also joined us. It seemed only natural as we had been teaching her pace line etiquette and giving her tips on improving her bike handling skill. Lili a runner and a marathoner was strong and endurance trained, but her bike handling skills were at beginning levels. The ride to Hemet would be a continuation of mentoring for Lili.

photo above:  Gary, Brian, Bob, Lili

When the pack of about 20 or so riders took off, it was sunny with no wind, and memories of grueling winds from previous trips seemed to drop from mind. As we got about 6 miles into the start, the “A” group began to pull away and we slowed down to keep our group of 4 together. Along the way, we saw Mai walking her bike and we stopped to assist. She had a broken spoke and we got her to a nearby bike store and waited while her bike was repaired. As we waited, the mechanic described our route as the windiest place in the lower 48. But when we started again, it was still calm. The last time I rode the Christmas ride was about 12 years ago. I remembered the winds but I had forgotten where they kick in. It was not long before my memory was refreshed.

As we left Palm Springs behind, the winds started or maybe that’s when we noticed them. We were out in the open and ahead of us lay a steady climb through a “V” shaped valley that acts as a natural funnel to focus and intensify the winds. All along the way were modern windmills for generating electricity. This place gets wind all right and I was remembering it head on. A passing storm front made the winds even stronger this day. We later learned the winds were 50 MPH. That seems about right.

By this time, both Brian and I dropped to our granny gears. I remember sitting behind Brian and watching him spin at 90 RPM or greater and only making about 7.5 MPH. For you gear-heads, Brian had his Litespeed Classic setup with a Cook Bros triple crank running a 24 granny. In the rear he had an XTR derailleur with an 11-32 cassette. That’s basically mountain bike gearing or gearing for fully loaded touring. I’ve got a Campy Record triple crank with a 30 granny and a 12-29 cassette it’s essentially for old guys who can’t spin a double any more but still want to say they’re riding Campagnolo.  (Editorial comment:  "Cramp-and-go-slow"!)

By now the wind is blowing at us from a slight angle and to compensate, we are leaning 10 degrees to the left into traffic. It’s getting really hairy. When a big truck passes us, it blocks the wind momentarily and we fall rapidly to the left and then get blown upright again all within a fraction of a second. Its quite nerve racking. Maybe that’s why Bob and Brian forgot to take a picture.

Within a very short time, Lili is off the back. Remember, Lili is only about 100 pounds if that. We slow the pace line down to 6 MPH and continue fighting the wind to make slow, steady progress. We also continue to hang on for dear life as trucks whiz by. No one is talking. I think we are all realizing that this is going to be a very long day. Suddenly Lili blurts out, “This is crazy. I can run faster than this”. Lili stops and we all stop.

Bob, Brian, and I have a puzzled look on our faces. It’s the look that men get when they’ve been married enough years to know that some incredible statement is going to be made by their spouse and they will have a trial of patience and an attempt at a logical discussion. Predictably it comes. “I’m going to run”, says Lili.

The look of patient logic is on our faces. I can’t remember who said it, but it doesn’t matter. It’s the male logical response we were all busy formulating. “How are you going to run in cycling shoes”?

“I’ll run in my bare feet”, is the answer.

“But there’s glass on the road. You might cut your feet”.

“I’ll leave my socks on”.

At this point the males can say nothing. Logic has lost and to say anything of the futility of running through this pass in stocking feet would be impolite. Now comes the test of patience. Lili has taken off her cycling shoes and hoisted the bike over her shoulders. She then starts to run down the shoulder of the highway. The guys say nothing, but the male mind is thinking the same thing. “Hmm, this is going to be interesting. I wonder how long this is going to last”?

Had we been anything other than shocked, Bob or Brian would have hauled out a camera and taken a picture. Clearly this was a Kodak moment. 

Lili is off at a good clip and the guys snap into their pedals and slowly follow. We say nothing. We don’t have to. The male mind knows this can’t last too long. After about a hundred yards or so, Lili puts down the bike and stops. We roll to a stop and wait for the explanation.

“It’s too windy to carry the bike”, she says.

The guys say nothing. We wait for Lili to put her shoes on and get back on her bike. Finally we get started again. We continue at 6 MPH with Brian and I spinning a cadence around 90. Once again everyone is thinking the same thing. It’s going to be a long day.

Later, when the guys are by themselves, we curse ourselves for not taking that picture. Somehow a picture of Lili running down the highway in stocking feet with her bicycle hoisted up over her right shoulder and sand swirling in spirals down the road would truly capture the Yin and Yang of Life - the male logical view versus the female emotional decision. Oh well, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a thousand words is worth that lost picture. I hope you enjoyed that picture.

While riding along in our paceline, I noticed that Lili's headphones (she wasn't wearing them) were starting to fall out of her Camelback.  Rather than startle her by asking her to stop, I decided to ride alongside her and try rescue her headphones.  The bicycling gods beat me to it, though, as her headphones fell out and dropped into the rear cassette.  This time I had no choice - I had to yell for her to stop before the drivetrain locked up on her.  We soon untangled the mess and got on the road again.  (Later I would find out that her MP3 player was also missing, it probably fell out at the same time, but we didn't notice it.) 

During the "headwinds" stretch, we caught up to Amy, Max, Sandra, and Al.  We decided to ride together to the "dinosaurs" for a late lunch in Cabazon so that no one would get caught out in the wind without any help.

photo above:  left to right - Lili, Gary, Max, Amy, Sandra, Al

photo above:  Bob returning from a "pit stop"

At the restaurant, some riders decided to "sag" (get a ride in the support vehicle) out of the headwind zone, while the rest of us pressed on.  The worst of the headwinds was over, although it was a drag riding through Banning and Beaumont.

Finally we turned south on Highway 79, taking us out of the winds!  The climb up the hill towards Hemet was easier than the headwinds.  Then it was a short downhill, and with the sun setting quickly, Gary, Bob, and I found our way to the church for the night.  We barely made it in before dark; next time I'll be sure to keep a rear red blinkie on the bike in case we cut it so close again.

Our stop for tonight had a TV and VCR, so they were playing videos of old trips, as well as some video footage from the helmet camera from one of the riders.

Day 5 - 12/30/02
Hemet to Fallbrook
53 miles

They were playing some more old Christmas Trip videos this morning.  It was funny to see the bikes and helmets of the mid-1970s.  I could recognize parts of the route which used to go over Ortega Highway and through San Clemente when there was less traffic in Orange County (although my riding buddy Dan and I still do the Ortega Highway ride on early weekend mornings).

There always seemed to be an unofficial alternate route each day, and today was no exception.  "Alternate route" Bill went off with some other riders towards Sage, while Gary, Bob, and I headed out on the official flatter route.  The terrain was mostly flat between Hemet and Temecula, as we rode through a combination of farms, new suburbs, and geezerville.

Since there were no services between Temecula and the end of the ride, and we had made good time until now, we had a leisurely lunch at a Thai restaurant.  This was Bob's introduction to Thai food.  It was a lot more spicy than the "cheese curds" (I never did figure out what the heck he was talking about!) he was used to in Wisconsin.

After riding through Temecula, we headed into the hills towards De Luz.  The riding consisted scenic rolling hills - quite unusual terrain for "flat or mountainous" Southern California.  There were a few stream crossings - some dry, but some wet.  This was the terrain that Bob was used to, and he was kicking our butts through this section.

Bob was having problems with his rear tire again so we stopped to change it.  Ajay had stopped to talk with us.  He noticed that I was using the buttons on the insides of my shifters to toggle through my Shimano Flight Deck computer.  "So that's what those buttons are for", he exclaimed!  He had wondered about the purpose of those buttons on his shifters (since he didn't have the optional Flight Deck system) - he thought they had served as stress relievers or something like that!

Tonight was the "awards banquet", where people nominated others for T-shirt prizes.  (Lili won a prize for her "running" incident!)  Everybody donated a T-shirt, so everyone got a prize in the end.

photo above:  Katrina (age 7) nominating her Dad for a prize

Day 6 - 12/31/02
Fallbrook to San Diego
55 miles

photo above:  the gear ready to be loaded on the truck

The last day of the ride was basically a cruise down the coast.  I had done this route several times before.  Gary added a couple of twists to the route for the benefit of those from out of town - a detour down past the pier in Oceanside instead of the busy Hill Street, and a ride through the beach area of Del Mar instead of the Old Highway 101.  I had known about the first detour but not the second.

I sprinted up to the top of the hill at Torrey Pines so that I could get a few photos of the other riders.

First Bob ...

... then Gary (yes, that is a Death Ride Jersey) ...

... and then Amy.

Unfortunately, we didn't have time to do a La Jolla detour.  So after getting us to the Gilman Road turnoff, Gary went straight home.  The rest of us continued on back to the ride finish at USD, where we said our goodbyes and exchanged email addresses.  Good ride.

Lili's shoes.  I wonder if they're SPD compatible?  :-)

Recap/Final Impressions

Great ride, and I will most certainly do it again; next time I'll convince a few friends to come along for the ride (any takers?).  A couple of minor gripes, though.  The first is that I wish there was a bulletin board with meal and other key times on it, as you could never guarantee that everyone would be in the same room when the ride leader had to make an announcement.  The second is that the route slips could use a little bit of updating (see Day 4 story).

Other Web Sites/Links/Photos

bulletMike Vermeulen's trip writeup and photos
bulletMike Vermeulen's slide show from the trip
bulletOfficial HI-AYH trip website
bulletRide photos on the HI-AYH website
bulletMy photos (without commentary)
bulletAjay's photos (without commentary)
bulletA couple of photos from Bill: paceline group and Borrego Springs downhill
bulletMore photos from Bill
bulletI found this ride report from the 1997 Christmas Ride
Page Last Edited (though probably not for content): 14 September 2010