Wednesday, December 26, 2012

An inauspicious beginning

Breakfast is pumpkin pancakes, yogurt, and coffee. I make for the elevator, but the doors are already closing. Wait several minutes as it lurches down, then up again. In the lobby, I ask the desk about the shuttle for the Christmas Ride. The hostel folks look at me dumbfounded. "What?" I said. It was 7:00am.

"It just left," one of them managed to get out. After a little push they phone the driver and the van circles back for me. I choke down the righteous indignation and get in. Can't wait to get my bike and become self-reliant. It's a grey and rainy day-after-Christmas, barely dawn. We miss a turn or two on the way to the start. Hoping the ride itself goes better than this.

The mood is brighter at University of San Diego. It's a big meet and greet! There's Mark S. and Michael K. Nancy from Death Valley, Ellen and Jeff from SuperTour. The venerable former organizer, Don. They've improved things a bit, starting at the bottom of the hill, inside a parking garage. There's my bike, leaning against the curb! I snag a pink frosted cake donut. The sugar rush is not enough to ensure that the repacking goes smoothly. My camera gets left in the duffle and is loaded onto the truck.

One thing hasn't changed - we roll at the crack of 9. In California, we have cities and then lots of suburbs all around, connected by strip malls. At mile 26 a rider next to me says "we're halfway there and we're still in stoplight hell". Yup. She's from San Marcos, Texas. That's a large town about 1/50th the size of San Diego. I'm not the only one who prefers things on a smaller scale...

It's been threatening rain all morning, and we've even had a few giant drops. We climb to Alpine for lunch, usually the best part of the day. It's the day after Christmas so there is one guy at the deli, probably the owner, making dozens of sandwiches. There's a huge rain shower while we wait and eat. No one is too happy about that.

Time to compare notes on what's next. Three options: Interstate 8, a longer, hilly loop to the south, or beautiful dirt Viejas Grade. There's some panic about what the rain has done to the surface of Viejas. Almost no one is willing to go. In the end it is 3 women: Patti, Ellen, and me. We brave the snarling dogs and find what I guessed we would, hard-packed sand. Good for riding. Beautiful views and zero traffic. Things are looking up!
Viejas Grade: like this but with wet, packed sand and dramatic rain clouds.

Yeah, it is harder than I recall, climbing 3.5 miles on an irregular, unpaved surface. But, shades of Route 66. You can climb the hill on the interstate or you can climb it on a deserted dirt road. Had some really good conversation with Patti and Ellen that would not have happened on a main road. Also fending off raging canines (No! No! NO!) has a way of creating a bond among packmates.

Extending that experience, in Pine Valley Ellen and I work on dinner. We wash and chop 18 heads of lettuce, 10 tomatoes, 10 red peppers. Add shredded carrot. Voila! Salad for 128 people. A record turnout this year.

The night is cold (as usual) and the facility is cramped (as usual) and everyone is amazed I'm sleeping in the tent outside. I can't believe they're sleeping in a couple of huge stuffy rooms, like sardines. That's why mummy bags were created. Whatever, Day 1 is behind us, as are the stoplights. Tomorrow we head into the Laguna Mountains for some sweet bike roads.


  1. Pfft - I'm glad they called the van back, but annoyed for you that you had to push for it to happen. "stoplight hell" made me laugh!
    How big were the dogs? I had a similar experience on the Stockton Delta ride.. but it was a chihuahua puppy chasing us away from his property. He could have fit inside my shoe. I hope yours were small and slow as well.

    1. They were big! It's reservation land so no animal control and loose dogs might be encouraged. They're the Welcome Committee. They keep out the riff-raff :(

      They weren't slow either. But as long as we were 3 in a pack, we could yell and make them stop.