Sunday dawned in the tiny town of Pine Valley, CA, with temperatures in the lows 40s and a not so pleasant drizzle. Texting back and forth over breakfast, HB tried to convince HK that perhaps due to the frigid temperatures, we should start later. While I did happen to notice there was a “Wind Advisory” in the Pine Valley forecast, I was somewhat more fixated on the fact that it said “feels like 32”. “Feels like 32” sounded like a pretty awful way to start an adventure … or, I suppose, if you really wanted an actual adventure, the perfect way. I had no luck convincing her (since HK thrives in the climate of the frigid north country), and well, we were all up anyway.
We found a decent place to tuck away our cars for the morning and suited up, mainly in extra clothes brought by HK for the rest of us who are rather less skilled at preparedness (mainly, Jill and I – since Tammy is also mountain-ready). Jill, Heather K, Tammy, Heather B, along with our speedy husbands, David and Achim, set off up the first climb out of Pine Valley toward what was supposed to be the focus of the day – the Kitchen Creek climb. Oh yes, also, we had an even less prepared addition to our group named Steve – in shorts and short sleeves, on a bike with an 11-23, he joined the merry group for the day (Steve was simply also in the parking lot, and David being the friendly sort that he is, had him join the ride – poor Steve, he may have been misled by the “Fun” printed on our jerseys).
After the introductory climb out of Pine Valley (with the typical “hello legs!” feel), we felt like we were shot out of a cannon toward Kitchen Creek Road. I was thinking that Jill and HK were just really, really energetic and anxious to climb, not realizing that we were being shoved from behind with the force of a massive wind. That realization would come later. You never notice the wind when you start with it behind you.
On the surface, a climb described as 11.2 miles long with an average grade of 4% doesn’t sound all that intimidating. In fact, in discussing it with David on the way down, he stated, “That really seems like nothing at all when you say it that way. In fact, the whole road out to the “off road” climb should hardly even count.”
I’m not sure what he was remembering, but I certainly remembered there being some particularly nasty sections on that very road out to “the climb”, and add in a headwind, and you have yourself a pure suffer fest on your hands. This was my fourth time on this road, and I never remember it being so difficult. I remembered more tapering off, more lower grades, more downhills – I suppose when you have a wind working it’s way up from 15 mph to what it would be at the top later (I’m building the suspense), the easy portions of the road certainly seem to disappear. As I turned onto the “end of the road” where you inch around the gate to “the climb”, I thought “ouch”. We were all spread apart on our own personal journeys of suffering at this point, enjoying the breeze and brooding clouds in various states of undress. Although, frankly, with temperatures still in the 40s, I still felt a sting in my hands and a strong need for leg warmers. I am sure HK was thinking it was “warm”.
This was supposed to be the hard part of our ride, and no doubt there was a lot of suffering to be had. You don’t do a sustained seated climb for over 11 miles and not suffer, and there was certainly a great amount of relief to reach the Laguna summit proper after we all had regrouped. That relief was to be be very short-lived. Just prior to the summit, two very large deer ran across the road right in front of us. HK noted the speed with which they ran, “Almost like a mountain lion was chasing them.” I think, rather, they were hurrying home to hunker down in their dens for the wind that was whipping around. They were just… a whole lot smarter than us.
We took a little bathroom break at the Visitor’s Center, and within the short few minutes of standing still near the summit, we had at least one set of chattering teeth. The wind was whipping up through the trees all around, and I made the tentative suggestion that perhaps it would be best to just “call it good” and head back down the south/southwest side of Sunrise Highway directly back to Pine Valley, enjoy a nice little early lunch with some warm beverages, and feel satisfied that we at least got the Kitchen Creek climb in. HK says, “But then it will be a very short ride!” Defeated by her zeal (I am in fact fortunate she didn’t insist on climbing Cuyamaca Peak also), we headed off into the wilds of the wind.
Last time I enjoyed this route, a storm was moving in (it was July), and I recalled the cross winds being slightly hairy on the descent. I was trying out some fairly deep carbon wheels, and I remember feeling rather grateful to be off the ridge, but once down from nearer to the top, it wasn’t so bad and the rest of the ride was fast, smooth and fun. There would be none of that today.
The first sign of the excitement we were about to enjoy for our next ~20 miles was a huge gust of wind accompanied by a blast of dirt/sand in our faces. We were not yet out of the summit area and had barely begun the descent and were not even on the open portion. David took off as if this was just a regular old day, while a few of us started to hold back a bit as we first experienced how a 50 mph gust affects your balance.
Now see, when we lived in Idaho, David became super-charged by a windy day – the windier the better. I recall one day in particular the winds were supposed to exceed 60 mph and he set off on a ride completely thrilled. About a month ago, he made a bit of splash by taking off as it started to downpour on the windiest, rainiest day of the year at the coast. There is something not quite right about him.
So, here we are, continuing down this twisty road with very little room for bikes, with the wind seemingly getting worse and worse. My grip on the handlebars got tighter and tighter, and at one point, I asked myself, “I’m not sure what you are ‘holding on’ to exactly…”. My shoulders hunched up around my ears, teeth gritted (or gnashing, there was definitely some gnashing), and eyes occasionally blinking hard to keep my contact lenses from flying out of my eyes, I didn’t take too well to David’s suggestion as he rode along happily next to me that, “I should just enjoy it! The wind can’t hurt you. This is awesome weather, I love it!” I would’ve rolled my eyes if I could have spared the moment to NOT focus on getting blown off the road, and it may have just increased the likelihood of losing a contact lens or two. Eventually he just swerved off, weaving like a happy kid on a sunshiny day.
Each little bend in the road had the blessing of offering a new surprise – would there be a gust? When would it hit me? In which direction would I swerve? How far to the right could I got blown before I fell off what appeared to be a cliff on the right hand side? There was screaming from behind me. And then some more screaming. And more gusting. And some screaming. And then all of a sudden… slam! We start up through a little passageway through some rock faces where the wind funneled perfectly.
Winds blowing against mountain barriers tend to flatten out and go around or over them. If the barrier is broken by a pass or a valley, the air is forced through the break at considerable speed. When wind is forced through narrow valleys it is known as the funnel effect and is explained by Bernoulli’s theorem. (http://www.tpub.com/weather2/3-22.htm)
I actually completely stopped my forward motion for a few seconds until it hit me that I would have to pedal insanely hard to continue on. It seemed like I was climbing about a 30% grade. Or biking through an extremely viscous fluid. Or in some twilight zone where the wind was out of control and maybe I was on an alien planet or something. I heard Tammy laugh almost hysterically behind me, the laugh of someone who realizes when they thought it couldn’t get worse and it suddenly does and there’s nothing you can do about it except laugh at fate. Or cry. I thought a lot about crying.
We eventually made it down to route 79, what was to be our mainly southerly route back toward Pine Valley to complete the loop. There was a considerable amount of weeping and gnashing of teeth (at least on my part), as we suffered gust after gust and continual walls of wind. Not long before we reached the intersection, I came up upon HK who when beginning the final push toward the end shouted, “My gears aren’t working!” We regrouped at the intersection, and it was concluded that her shifting was in fact toast. David, who had offered several times previously, offered again to just “ride back as fast as he could toward the car”. I probably a little too enthusiastically accepted the offer, and then realized maybe I spoke too soon and everyone else just wanted to suck it up and continue on in the worst wind imaginable…. because, my friends are a little intense. They don’t like to give up on things they start, and really, I wasn’t even 100% sure HK would let the fact that her gears didn’t work stop her from finishing the ride. But there was a bit of relief all around, and I think maybe Jill stopped clenching her jaw and staring straight ahead. There was some hope. Three little miles into the wind to go, and we could enjoy that hot beverage that was surely awaiting us at the Lake Cuyamaca restaurant.
[Just to pause here and give a little perspective on exactly how windy it was… you might be thinking, sure, right – it was “crazy” – with 50+ mph gusts. That Heather is known to be a little on the dramatic side with her storytelling, right? How about this then… the motorcycle that was blown into the ditch? Certainly she didn’t ride down there intentionally (the rider was ok, just looked a little perplexed with her many hundred pound shiny machine in a ditch). Does that provide perspective?]
So while we enjoyed a couple rounds of coffee, some cups of chicken enchilada soup and a plate of fries, David, Achim and Steve (poor guy) headed off to get the cars to rescue us. And who said chivalry is dead!
The good news is that we all made it safely back to our cars, and safely back to Major’s Diner for a hearty lunch – well, some heartier than others (I’m looking at you, Achim, with the “Garbage plate”!).
There was certainly no lack of adventure on this month’s adventure ride! Maybe I’m just speaking for myself, but I could use slightly less next time. Note to self: when they post wind advisories in the east county mountains, they are no joke! Also note to self: grateful for friends who will join me on these crazy adventures, but who also know when to call it good, and also exceedingly grateful for a husband who is strong enough and crazy enough to ride back to the car to help me when I needed it.
Certainly a ride for the memory books.
(Photos courtesy of Jill, as always!)