“De Luz is an unincorporated community in San Diego County, California. De Luz is 6 miles (9.7 km) northwest of Fallbrook and due west of Temecula. The region is approximately 12 miles (19 km) east of the Pacific Ocean and lies at the southern end of the Santa Ana Mountains.”
We will pretty much take anything as an excuse to bike somewhere new. This time, our excuse was the desire to complete the Strava “Gran Fondo” challenge (at least, for two of us). Since the regularly scheduled Team Fun ride was postponed, we decided to complete the challenge last Saturday. The challenge simply requires you to bike 130 km (or ~80 miles) in a single ride. We were tossing the idea around, and I was highly in favor of heading somewhere new (or less traveled), rather than something obvious like biking through Pendleton. Maybe I’m the only person this ride bores to tears, but I had heard of a few routes recently I’d never done – such as the Great Western Loop (we decided it wasn’t long enough and the start too far) and the mysterious “De Luz” – that had my attention. We settled on De Luz, the other Heather B. mapped out the route, and off we went. There were a few peeps of “I’m a little scared” the night before, but as David likes to say, “It’s not really an adventure unless you aren’t sure you’re going to finish.”
Speaking of David, he decided to accompany us on our start out in the wee hours of the morning. There was a little, “I hate riding this early,” and, “it’s so cold,” and, “who rides at this hour” (all from David, mind you – me, I live for the chill!), but by the time we made it to the end of the 76 bike trail things were looking up – we were on the brink of the adventure. We parted ways with David and headed toward our first challenge, Sleeping Indian.
Looking back on it, Sleeping Indian seemed like peanuts compared to what we had in store, but in the moment, the five mile off-and-on climb (with at least one pitch >10% for about 0.5 mile) was quite the challenge. During the first mile and a half, you always think to yourself, “Why does everyone say this is so hard?” And then you see it – and you tell yourself, I bet that’s not as bad as it looks (it is). And then you reach the top of what you could see from a distance, and realize you turn a slight corner and have another hefty pitch ahead of you. It’s a little exhausting, no doubt. If I had considered the length and difficulty of the ride I had ahead of me, I think I would’ve taken it quite a bit easier, but I’m not always known for my forethought and planning when it comes to cycling.
The end of Sleeping Indian was the limit to my cycling knowledge of the area – from there on north, it was undiscovered country for all of us.
Not long after passing through the Morro Hills area, we found ourselves entering the town of Fallbrook. As we passed through the town, we took note of such things as a donut shop (wouldn’t mind hitting that joint on the return!), a “Bicycles” sign (presumably advertising a bike shop), and not long after, the sound of air releasing from Jill’s back tire. We were within yards of De Luz Road when we had our first sideline. Jill ably changed the tube, and not long after, we were on our way again.
De Luz Road descends pretty sharply into the midst of wild countryside, or so it would seem to your average North County coastal cyclist. Roads heavily shaded by trees, strangely in an autumn-like state (orange, pale yellow, and browns), twist and turn … and twist and turn… and then, whoa! They shoot up, real quick. We took the right turn onto Sandia Creek, and not long after, encountered one of the most difficult stretches of road I’ve been on in a long time (Coronado Hills, last part of Monte Bondone, Pine Creek at Laguna… all come to mind). I took a picture of the other Heather B’s sad face at the top of that hill, but I’ll leave it up to your imagination. Instead, here are some horses I failed to notice toward the end of the climb (Jill notices these things).
Nothing on the rest of the loop (Left on Carancho, left on De Luz-Murrieta, left on De Luz – back to Fallbrook) was quite as challenging as that first whack on the butt provided by Sandia Creek, but that’s not to say the rest was a cake walk, either. Someone said to me when I mentioned we were riding to De Luz to, “make sure you have your climbing gears ready” – little did I know how literally she meant that. My big ring did not get much use on that loop.
After a particularly grinding stretch of road, we heard this screeching overhead, and lo and behold, there were two birds of prey, flying low to our right. Jill said, “I’m sure they aren’t thinking of eating us – we don’t have much meat on us.” Right, because I was looking pretty fattened after the free-for-all over the holidays, and also, I was looking like a pretty easy target (they go after the weak and lame!). I tried to buck up and look a little tougher, and fortunately for us, they appeared to be after some poor unsuspecting rodents down in the brush.
Not long after that, in the middle of another grinder, we suddenly heard the insane cackling of what could only be a band of coyotes delighting in a fresh kill (or fighting over it – unless I lost track, and ended up on the Serengeti, and those were in fact hyenas??). If you’ve ever heard that sound, you know what I mean when I say it’s a little unnerving. Fortunately, it sounded far enough off that even at the sad speed I was going, I would probably be far enough away to not be worth the effort to chase down and tear out my achilles (not that I think of these things).
It’s not exactly that we were tired and looking for an excuse to stop, but we did run across an awfully cool photo op spot that we simply had to indulge in. I’m not sure what the property is called, but there are quite a few old wagons, appearing to date from say, the Oregon Trail times.
The roads out this way truly do seem to be magical. There are few cars, although every now and then you’ll be passed by what seems like an Audi convention, or perhaps they are shooting a BMW commercial, and at those times, you will be wishing the road was a little wider. Don’t expect bike lanes in these parts. Do expect tons of shade and oodles of houses to ogle over. We also expected, at pretty much any moment, we’d round a bend and there would be Jason Mraz, strumming his guitar, just waiting for us to drop by (except that his avocado farm is in Bonsall!). We did manage to encounter some super creepy ragtime music, coming from… what appeared to be nowhere, but alas, no Jason Mraz.
Although we were seemingly surrounded by fruit groves (pomegranates, citrus, and avocado), I failed to stop and pilfer any for my depleted tummy. Toward the end of our loop, we noticed large stands of leafless trees with globs of orange fruit. None of us had ever seen persimmon trees before, but here they were – by the hundreds. I taunted Jill that she better take a picture of them while cycling, uphill, but then thought better of it as poor Jill is swerving all over the road doing her best. I think they turned out well.
It was noted somewhere along the loop that Jill’s tire seemed to be a little low, but not wanting to kill the mood and trooper that she is, Jill just soldiered on with her low tire pressure, and eventually we worked our way back up to Fallbrook. We decided to head to a bike shop to get her fixed up properly for the remaining ride home, and so headed to what appeared to be a bike shop on Main Street (according to its Facebook page) – no such luck. So we headed back toward the “Bicycles” sign we passed on the way in to Fallbrook. See the sign below, it really does look promising, right?
If you wanted to drink, smoke, or get your hair cut, well, then this shopping center was for you (there was a hookah shop directly beyond that sign), but getting your bike fixed? Not so much. So Jill took her bike maintenance into her own hands again, and while attempting to add more air, apparently blew the tire off the rim (imagine a gun shot type noise). Sadly, there would be no Gran Fondo for Jill today. We were told by a helpful individual leaving the hookah shop that the bike store was in Bonsall (apparently Jason Mraz wasn’t the only thing I mistook being in Fallbrook). At this point, Jill was sidelined, and the other Heather B was needing to get home for a social event, so I was left on my own to complete the adventure. I had about 1/3 a bottle of Gatorade and no food, and an unknown amount of miles to get home (I was thinking 20-ish), so I took the most direct route I could think of – back down Olive Hill Road to the 76 and then back on the ol’ bike trail to Oceanside. Luckily I heard from my family, and they said they’d meet me in Carlsbad Village. And here I am, living to tell the tale – 89 miles and about 6000 feet later.
There was singing, there was laughing, and there was probably a little crying (at least, from me, on those horribly steep hills). This ride had it all. Was it certain at any moment that we would finish? Not until we finished, so adventure it was!