I had wanted to go for a nice bike ride up in the mountains. It had been a while since the last time up there. About a week before, I had posted on sdbikecommuter.com about the ride, asking if anyone wanted to go along. One did reply, Sigurd, from San Diego. He came over at about 8:30 am and picked me up. The drive out was fairly nice, though seeing ice alongside the freeway was a bit disconcerting. Still, I wore plenty of warm clothes and was planning for it to be cold.
Arriving in Pine Valley, we parked the car behind Major’s Diner, got our stuff together, and headed out. We started by heading east on Old Highway 80, cold at first, but warmed up after the climb up to Laguna Summit. On the way down the summit, we passed the border checkpoint, which had two nasty speed bumps sitting across the roadway. I managed to bypass them in the dirt, Sigurd rolled right around them. It was otherwise a nice descent into the valley by Buckman Springs. We only encountered light winds, so the ride across the valley was pretty good. As Sigurd hadn’t been through here before, I pointed out various things, including Kitchen Creek. Hwy 80 crosses Kitchen Creek a couple of miles west of Kitchen Creek Road. Another short hill later, we finally made the turn onto Kitchen Creek Road. The weather was still good, even with the ice in the shadowed areas. We saw only one car as we made our way up the road, which is about average. After the first hill, we finally descended into the canyon of Kitchen Creek. It had a fair amount of water in it, enough to make the ride up the canyon quite pleasant.
As we gained elevation, we started to see more snow in the shadows. We also found some ice across the roadway just before the gate. We avoided it, but it gave us more to be cautious about for the rest of the ride. After the gate, the fun part of the road begins. For the next few miles, there would be no cars, just the road and us. The views up the canyon were quite nice, with some small cascades visible along the canyon floor. We also had noticed that we had a slight tailwind, helpful for climbing hills such as this one. The higher we climbed, the more snow we found. At a few points, snow had completely covered the roadway. It was fun to ride through, with my new fenders I didn’t worry about getting splashed or wet. Temperatures also were dropping, but that was to be expected. They were forecast to be in the 30’s at the top of the mountain. After passing the upper gate, we finally reached the pine forest. Most of the climbing was behind us now, with only a couple of short climbs ahead to the top. Before reaching Sunrise Highway, we saw many others that had come up to play in the snow. One group had asked us if we were cold, we said no, and were almost too warm! We had climbed up the mountain on our bikes after all.
Finally reaching Sunrise Highway, the nice empty roadway we had been riding was replaced with a road with snow piles as a shoulder. It wasn’t too much an issue, traffic was still light. It just made things a bit more interesting at times. The snow looked to be about three to four inches deep around this area. We briefly crested at 6000’ near the Wooded Hill turnoff and then descended into the Mt Laguna community. It was about the coldest I’d felt so far on the ride. Brrr! We made it to the Mt Laguna Store, got some snacks, and took a short break on the porch. Before we had arrived, someone had apparently had some trouble with the snow or ice, as their car was lodged against the stop sign at Los Huecos Road. Their attempts to free the car gave us at least some “entertainment” while we snacked. Eventually, a few others came along and helped push them along. The stop sign was at least still standing after they left. After we were done, we went over to the visitor’s center next door, which was having some problems. The water in the restrooms had frozen, but the water in the drinking fountain had not. Yes, even in San Diego County, the pipes can freeze. Well, after we took care of what we needed there, it was time to get on the road. A few hundred feet down the road, we turned off to a nice vista point above the Imperial Valley. It looked so warm, and we were so cold. After we got back onto Sunrise Highway, it would be a couple of miles of downhill riding. Now, we had been mostly climbing so far, keeping us warm. Heading downhill was a different story. It felt a whole lot colder now. My feet and hands were feeling quite numb by the end. I stopped at the Noble Canyon trailhead to try to warm up a bit, it helped. As we dropped in elevation, the temperatures were at least rising. The amount of snow had diminished as well. With all the snow and ice we’d seen so far, I was getting a bit nervous about our next road, Pine Creek Road.
Just about a half mile past the Noble Canyon trailhead, we turned onto Pine Creek Road. So far, the road looked alright. As we went further down, we encountered more mud and more snow. The worst section for both, especially mud, was around the Noble Canyon trail crossings. Still, it wasn’t that bad and we made it through without much trouble. We encountered only a few vehicles on the way down. We made one final stop at the tree above the steepest descent. Sigurd was having some trouble with his brakes, and it was a good place to regroup. While we were stopped, a truck with a bunch of downhill mountain bikes past us. We’d seen a lot of bike tracks on the Noble Canyon trail, so we assumed they had been riding it. It wasn’t a good idea, as the trail was really muddy, and riding it like that can cause damage to the trail.
After descending the steep part, the road heads into a narrow canyon, which is lined with oak trees. It was very nice and didn’t have the ice problem I thought it would. The ride the rest of the way down was quite pleasant, with no additional roadway problems. After we left the Forest, we turned off of Pine Creek Road, into a residential area on the east side of Pine Valley. Taking this road instead of going to Hwy 80 would save us a bit of riding, and had lighter traffic. After a few miles, we got back to the car. Overall, it was a good ride. We had lots of fun. The ride finished with just shy of 40 miles, about 4500′ of climb, and a 10.5 mph average. Sigurd got to see some new roads and I got another ride around Mt Laguna. There will be more rides up there as it is a fun place to go.