Saturday was yet another beautiful day for a ride, and the ride we had on tap was one of my favorite local routes. I learned this route through exploring the routes posted by contacts on Strava, and I will be forever grateful. The ride begins with a solid warm up down the coast to Cardiff, and then heads inland to Rancho Santa Fe for an approximately 20 mile loop all within Rancho Santa Fe that boasts almost 100 ft/mile – a very respectable amount of climbing. The seven ladies of the A group, and the six ladies of the B group, had the pleasure of experiencing the full route with all its twists and turns, rollers and even a few steepies mixed in. The three ladies of the C group also headed to Rancho Santa Fe, but took a more direct route through the main avenues and headed back along the little lake on the north side of RSF (apparently it is called San Dieguito Reservoir, according to Google maps).
We always start the ride with a few helpful ride instructions for the specific route – in this case, single file on Manchester and throughout RSF, warnings concerning some seriously sharp turns, and a reminder to watch out for pot holes – especially on the final descent out of RSF.
I particularly like to do this route as a team because there are several opportunities to learn to work together, but also places where individuals can choose to push the pace and instigate sprint points. When you are new to the ride, it just seems like maybe you are going in endless circles and you start to wonder whether this crazy ride leader is going to ever stop taking you uphill (and also maybe, when is she going to slow down a little so I can take in some of this scenery!). When you have done it a few dozen times, you start to break it up into all its fun little pieces and you start to work on how to maximize your strength on the terrain. This route, along with Heather K’s persistent teaching, have taught me how to be a MUCH more capable descender than I was two years ago.
The lead in to the RSF route itself is also a great stretch to work as a team – San Elijo Avenue to Manchester is a fabulous rolling stretch of road to turn on some speed. Averaging speeds well above 20 mph, it was a perfect spot for Michell to catch us in action.
This route enters Rancho Santa Fe via a left turn on El Mirlo, an approximately 1 mile climb at 5% grade. We decided to forego letting our legs loose on Manchester in favor of working on PR’s on this challenging little slope. The group climbed with style, and some of them decided they had enough left in reserve to push the pace again not long after on the Montevideo roller to Paseo Delicias (the main drag through RSF).
The route crosses Paseo Delicias and heads onto some of the lesser traveled roads of RSF, where I don’t believe we saw more than a handful of cars for the rest of the route (unless at crossings for the main throughways). The next loop is known by locals as the “Stud Loop”, although we were traversing it in the “reverse” direction – which, arguably, is much easier but I would hesitate to say you are any less a stud for doing it hard this way than the primary “studly” direction. The loop is just over two miles of fast downhill turns with about 4 little quick uphill pitches.
This leads you back to Paseo Delicias, which you take west toward the left side of the Rancho Santa Fe Inn, descending La Gracia to the twistiest and most tree-covered portion of the route, affectionately titled “Enchanted Forest” as a Strava segment. The first turn is onto a street called Via Del Alba, which very quickly ramps up to an uncomfortable grade – so much so, that I usually yell, “Gear down, gear down!” as I’m making the turn onto the road (in addition to yelling, “Right turn – gravel – get ready to gear down!” – I am so used to saying it, I’d probably even yell it riding on my own at this point).
After the enchanted forest, you find yourself suddenly popped out onto Via De La Valle. Not to worry, the route does not stray long from Rancho Santa Fe proper and quickly heads back uphill at Las Planideras – perhaps the steepest 0.3 mile portion of the ride (Strava says 8% average – I think it’s more in the 10% realm). This is a very deceiving climb, since it is rather daunting on first presentation. The hill shoots up seemingly out of nowhere and doesn’t seem to let up much, even when you round the corner at what you think is the top. You are saying to yourself, “Self, you know, it sure looks like it should be easier but somehow it’s not…” and then for the next 1.25 miles or so, you are wondering when this pain will end. It just doesn’t look steep at all, and yet… I’m not going that fast. It’s actually an awesome little road if you aren’t oxygen-depriving yourself – you might even be able to wave to the old couple walking their dog on the side of the road.
After Las Planideras, you get a little reprieve with the downhill on El Camino, and depending on your mood, you might get a little more break if you cruise across La Orilla. If you feel like turning it on, though, taking the bottom sharp turn hard and then starting on a full sprint to the end of La Orilla gives you just about a full mile of pure adrenalin – little twists to the road, usually the wind is behind you, and there’s no one to watch you panting except for a few horses on the side of the road wondering why the heck you’re trying so hard.
(By now you can tell I’ve done this thing a few times!)
A little left on Rambla de Las Flores, and then you have to make the choice to do the last climb or skip it – El Secreto. It seems at first that this is hardly a hill at all, and you’re cruising along enjoying your bike again – until you make the final turn and Heather Krauss has just said, “Are we almost there yet?” and you say, “No, the worst is about to start!”… and the road kicks up to another stand-worthy grade until you make it to the delicious descent of Avenida Maravillas.
The ride finishes with a mostly gentle climb up San Elijo back to Via De Fortuna, and then descends El Mirlo to make a full circle RSF loop. The 7-11 is perfectly situated at the end of the RSF loop for replenishing, except with the drawback that they apparently have no public restroom (much to a few of our group members’ chagrin!).
There are several ways to make your way back to the coast from here. We chose to head back down and around Manchester and go all the way through Encinitas and Leucadia prior to returning to the home base at Carbon Connection in Carlsbad. As we reached the intersection of Leucadia Boulevard and Coast Highway, it had been a long, hard ride (with my ride to the shop in the morning + the route thus far, I was registering 52 miles). When the light turned, the group set in motion. I had clipped in and pushed down once, maybe twice, when all of a sudden, all I could feel was a tremendous push to the right toward the ground. I knew I was going down, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Completely caught by surprise, I registered being on the ground, seeing a car directly behind me, a bike somewhat on top of me containing Kim (who managed to stay vertical, very competently, I might add), and Heather Krauss saying, “Is that Heather?” And then I found myself thinking to myself, “Is this me on the ground?” I realized I should gather myself and get up (there’s always a bit of shock, even if nothing is too hurt), and I picked up my bike and went over to the corner. I felt very stiff, but clearly nothing was broken, I didn’t hit my head, and I was, in general, in one piece – as was my bike – well, with the exception of the fact that it didn’t pedal. Fortunately, I was within sight of our favorite Friday coffee ride hang out spot – Cafe Ipe – and I settled in with an almond milk latte and cinnamon twist donut (and a nice bag of ice) to wait it out until I could be rescued by a team mate).
The drivers at the intersection, aside from the gracious driver that chose to not run me over when fallen in the lane, were rather impatient with the whole business of me having an accident and what-have-you and saw fit to beep horns and generally throw fits at the fact that my little accident caused them five, maybe ten seconds of delay in getting to where must have been an absolutely essentially end destination. I can’t say that I didn’t lose my marbles at one them.
Eventually, all the groups made it back with smiles on their faces, and even my banged up bike was made whole once again. Hopefully this is one everyone will want to return to again!