Explore Soledad Mountain … Make sure you read the fine print first

(This will be the story of the A group. I will also post Michell’s B group tale separately!)

I think most people are catching on to my use of euphemism these days, although the mind has a way of making you see and hear what you want to see and hear.  Would it be a nice, leisurely day cruising around La Jolla, with maybe a little jaunt up Soledad Mountain for giggles, looking forward to the well-advertised snack at Bella Vista Cafe at the end?  It sure sounded like that, at least, if you gave the advertisement a quick glance.  On closer look, you might have noticed the words “four full ascents, including two on the steep side”.  You may have also noticed I mentioned Michell “cooking up” routes.  When you hear that, you maybe should be afraid – unless you love to have your limits pushed.  This is the woman who took me to Starvation Mountain after all, and the name of it still sends shivers down my spine.

I think Michell was overcome with glee as she laid out this particular route.  She could probably barely keep her hand from shaking to use Map My Ride, what with all the laughing and guffawing imagining our faces when we encountered that next one.  If she hadn’t been leading the B group, she probably would’ve loved to lie in wait in the bushes to snap a picture when each of us said, “WTF!”  She even rode this route earlier this week to make sure it was sadistic enough – maybe even tweaked it a little if the grade seemed too soft.  She didn’t want our knees to stop screaming for any significant length of time.

Funny, she seems so sweet.

Of course, I can’t totally claim I had no part in this.  There may or may not have been some Facebook chatting between Michell and I in which I essentially said, “Give us your worst.”  There were several options provided to me for the A route. I won’t describe the others – we will pretend they didn’t exist.

The morning began sticky and cloudy, and although I was in a bit of a daze (starting a ride at 6:20 am will do that to me), I got to the Gliderport much earlier than expected. By the time we finally got going (finally to me, since I’d been there way too early), I was feeling like an ice cube.  I should’ve bottled up that cool and remembered it for later in the day… When I’m cold, there’s nothing I want to do more than get that blood moving, so we shot down La Jolla Shores and were on our first climb in no time.

Descending La Jolla Shores with heavy marine layer

Descending La Jolla Shores with heavy marine layer

The First Climb – The Bridges Route

Surely one of the lesser known Soledad ascents, the Bridges route starts a little steep, then lures you into a little sense of complacency as you meander under bridges, around little loop-de-loops, and pass incredible homes and views.  You’re going uphill generally, sure, but it seems fairly easy going.  Then it pretty much hits you like a ton of bricks, and you’re wanting to stand for almost the entire rest of the way.  That is, until you get to the gate where you have to dismount on a 10%+ grade, remount on chopped up pavement, and hope you’re picking a smooth-ish path to the next gate.  Michell would say, “it’s only a few pedal strokes!”  But we know Michell is kind of a liar.  It’s more than a few, and well, we’ll put it this way – I’m lucky if that stretch doesn’t take out one of my group members when I take people on there.

That all said, we still made it up to the cross in pretty incredible time, at which time we decided to forego a snack and review the next descent/ascent.

Startled, Kim says, “Wait, what?  What do you mean the next ascent?  Are we just going to go up and down this thing all day?  I thought when it said we were “exploring soledad”, I was thinking a nice loop around the bottom.”

Heather considers that and says, “Hmm, no.”

And so off we went, descending and traversing back in the same direction as the start of the first climb.

Still smiles all around - end of first climb

Still smiles all around – end of first climb

The Second Climb – The Country Club Route

Funny, I remembered this route being a lot easier last time.  With the bulk of it being at an average grade of around 12%, I’m not sure how I could ever remember it being “not so bad.”  Maybe I have a really bad memory.

Country Club Dr

Country Club Dr

There were a few groans and moans on the way up, as there is little to no relief on this route, and although there are multiple turns, every turn seems to lead you to something worse than you’ve already suffered up.  When you reach the top of this one, you’re pretty much beaten down.  You limp your sorry little legs over to the cross.  Maybe you find a tree to stand under.  Maybe you say things like, “I feel like I have two pointy sticks jabbing up into these muscles around and just outside my sitz bones.”  Maybe you think that you really don’t like this “Team Fun” anymore, that all this joking about it being more pain than fun has really gotten old.  You definitely eat a snack.  You fear what’s next.


Heather and Jill at Via Casa Alta

Heather and Jill at Via Casa Alta



The Third Climb – Soledad Mountain Road (was supposed to be Pacifica)

Luckily for you, you’re leader completely misread the route and wrote down the directions 100% opposite the way Michell intended, which was very fortunate for you indeed.  Michell had really gotten quite a chuckle, and I couldn’t quite make out the words, except for the name “Pacifica” when we started the ride.  She said the ramps where the worst on that part, but we’d be able to slingshot most of them.  Funny, once we got over to that portion, nothing seemed really set up for slingshotting, and we we began our ascent down Pacifica, I started to wonder if maybe having a glass of wine while I wrote the directions on my cards was a good idea.

If you’re from the area, Pacifica is that insane looking, mainly concrete street that is on the far right of the mountain, facing the 5 as you go north approaching La Jolla.  When a street is made of concrete, that’s a bad sign.  I made a lot of “whoa!” noises when descending this beast – it’s also a bad sign when I’m afraid to go down a pitch.  Another bad sign is the very slow, very pained pedaling of the men attempting to climb the hill – and it’s at the very start.  I realized when we reached the bottom that I had in fact opposite-routed that puppy, but there was absolutely no likelihood of me convincing my partners to turn around and do it properly.  It was not a possibility.  I think Jill almost shoved me forward and may have physically assaulted me if I had attempted to turn around.


So, off we went, up the long, slow meandering Soledad Mountain Road.  It’s what everyone considers the “easiest way up”, but that’s not to say it’s easy.  There’s no easy way up Soledad, unless you are in one of those Bike Tour vans, and they get out the cruiser for you at the top so you can ride around the cross (or whatever it is that they do – there’s not much room up there except to go down, steeply).

At this point, we still discussed considering adding a fifth ascent – maybe something straightforward, like Nautilus – to make up for our missing out on the joy that would’ve been the Pacifica ascent.

Still smiling following ascent #3 - Soledad Mountain Road

Still smiling following ascent #3 – Soledad Mountain Road

The Fourth Climb – Muirlands to Via Valverde

Then came the fourth ascent.  The descent took us to a few roads with which we familiar, and then we made a left turn on a street that said “No outlet” and contained a true wall.  My partners stopped and insisted, no, that can’t be right.  Come on, this is Michell we are talking about here!  Surely there’s some little gate to pass through at the top to some secret little neighborhood pass through, and of course she’d find the 20% grade!  I checked the map, and then we were reassured by a woman walking her bike down that beast that yes, it’s a great little neighborhood to ride in – you just need to walk up this hill.

Linda Rosa Wall - it looked worse in person

Linda Rosa Wall – it looked worse in person

Walk up this hill!  Crazy talk!

I think Jill was feeling a little more than murderous at this point, but we circled back a little and got a running start and made it up, and sure enough, it was a lovely little neighborhood meander after that.  Until of course, we hit the next torture fest – Via Valverde to Caminito Valverde, to end on that last 13% gem, Via Casa Alta (that we’d visited earlier on the Country Club climb).  There was quite a bit of grumbling, maybe a few curse words, couldn’t be too sure.  There were these happy fellows descending when we hit a steep part, and I wouldn’t have wanted to be them when Jill shot them the evil eye when they cheerfully said, “Nice job ladies!”  And also were saying something like, “Without pain, there’s no gain!”


[I imagine Jill’s mind a little something like this – if I could get off this bike right now, I’d use that little teeny bit of energy I have left to beat the living crap out of you until you shut up and stop saying stupid things.]

But then again, I think they were those same guys who were truly suffering up Pacifica when we were descending it.  So they did have their share of pain, I’m sure.

Never did a banana taste so good as at the top of that fourth climb.  I could’ve eaten about four of them, but didn’t want the extra weight for the next climb, or what I thought would be the next climb.

“So, are we going to do Nautlius now?” I ask my partners.

“No.” Jill says with finality.

Jill’s not usually one to say No, pretty much ever, so I knew this wasn’t a time to push my luck.  She did have to work that afternoon, after all, and it would be pretty cruel and unusal to deny her a little end-of-ride snack before work in favor of yet another climb up the mountain!  Sure, there’d be more breathtaking views…. boring! Give me the snacks, give me the coffee!  Bring it!

We did decide to go to the cross one last time, and just as we were entering the park area, Kim says, “Let’s sprint to the cross!”  I thought she had gone completely crazy, but of course I had to go for it anyway!  I felt all kinds of odd tingles in my legs after that effort, but it was a nice end to a tough day of climbing.

Bella Vista Cafe

Mochas, iced or hot.  Brownies. Couches.  Not climbing Mt. Soledad.  Ahhh…


Coffee at Bella Vista

Coffee at Bella Vista




The Ride Home

Then came the ride home.  It started with a lot of ouch, with the muscles in my quads firing in odd rhythms.  Fortunately by the time I got to the bottom of the Del Mar bridge climb, I was fully in some kind of adrenalin/caffeine/over-climbed induced haze and I can barely remember the rest.  I was on auto-pilot.  When stopped at a light in Solana Beach, some random guy waiting to cross the street started chatting me up.  I’m not usually super friendly to begin with, so this took me off guard.  He asked me how far I was going for the day, and I said 80, and mumbled some complaints about heat and humidity, and he said, “Just be glad you aren’t in Yuma.”  I guess he was from Yuma.  Poor sap.

There were the usual packs of dudes in beer-themed jerseys – I thought most of them would’ve taken part in the San Diego Century that morning, but no – there were still plenty of people to avoid on the coast highway heading home.  I had two thoughts – get to the 130K mark (a stupid Strava challenge I could only finish that day) and then get off the bike.  It was slightly cheering to realize I was moving faster than the traffic on coast highway for much of the way.

Ending the Night

After stuffing myself to the gills at Crust’s happy hour with the Krauss’s and David (who all completed a century+), I went home to what I hoped would be a relaxing evening.  My son, who had dental surgery Friday, decided that he’d had enough of this lying around and was concerned about his muscles wasting away with this one day resting period.  So with David off to a swim party with Lucy, I am dragged into his little mini-trainer routine involving pushups, wall sits, hill sprints, and the like.  I could barely do anything.  I was wasted.  Jill thought this was a hilariously perfect way to end my day.


Kim stopping to enjoy the view on the La Jolla Scenic Drive descent


3 responses to “Explore Soledad Mountain … Make sure you read the fine print first

  1. I only wish I could have included the Ridgegate Row climb to your route. Alas, it’s a gated community. You’d have enjoyed it. It starts all the way down at the I-5 and it’s a beautiful climb (though is steep for more than a few pedal strokes)! 😀

    Seriously, tho, really spectacular riding! The Soledad steep routes are a lot more fun when you don’t have to ride in and back all the way from Carlsbad! 🙂 Major kudos!! (Tho you still have to come back to do Pacifica properly next time! 😉 )

  2. On another note, I do chuckle too much when thinking of the Soledad climbs! 😀 I really meant that you could sling shot most of the Alta La Jolla – Parkview Terrace – Coral Reef traverse from Cardeno to Soledad Mtn Rd. I’m afraid there’s no way of sling-shotting Pacifica, tho. Luckily it usually is my first climb when I go hang around Mt Soledad, being the closest thing to Rose Creek bike path. The rest of the mountain seems so much easier when that ascent is out of the way. 😉

  3. I think Via Capri skewed what I thought of Country Club when we did it a few weeks back. It definitely didn’t seem worse than the bridges and not all that bad. Next time do Via Capri or Pacifica first, then go ride Country Club and see what you think. Great write up.

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