05 January 2011

All I want for Christmas is to RIDE MY BIKE! 54th Annual San Diego X-Mas Bike Ride Provides Multiple Gifts for All

Instead of flying back home to the snowy East Coast, or remaining in the damp cold wet that defines winter in the Pacific Northwest, I chose to travel south to sunny Southern California and participate in HI-USA's 54th Annual San Diego Christmas Bike Ride from December 26th-December 31st, 2010.

This six day, 400 mile fundraising ride for Hosteling International offered an exciting bicycle tour through the mountains, deserts, and seacoast around San Diego County. With many participants opting to return year after year (some with as much as 40 years of X-Mas Ride history) and an intimate, familial atmosphere, one couldn't think of a better way to ride out (pun intended) 2010 than with fellow cyclists under cerulean blue skies and warm winter sun. And despite the record-breaking and national newsworthy rainstorms that flooded the streets of San Diego (prompting some witty locals to transport themselves around town by KAYAKS rather than bike, car or trolley) just 3 days prior to the start, we were delighted the California sun chose to grace us with its presence...At least, until Day 4 (see below for a short re-cap of that EPIC adventure).

The undulating terrain of California continually astounds and amazes you with every twist and turn. Imagine, to your right, the CA Highway 1 coastline: sweeping vistas of cerulean blue ocean pounding wave after wave upon white sand beaches, craggy outcroppings and rock formations offering shelter and landing places to the sea lions (!) and sea gulls, and million-dollar homes dot the shore line. To your left, mediterrean desert brush, tall evergreens, an occasional palm tree and yucca plants all commingle as your gaze rises ever-upwards to the mountains (and I mean MOUNTAINS!) jutting up to the skyline. The velvety green and brown furrows fold in upon themselves as if they were folds of the Earth's skin, as we quietly roll along her valleys and hills below in admiration of her beauty. Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore....

What to expect? Temps were often very chilly in the morning (30 degrees in the mountains), but hovered around 65 degrees by mid-day; layering options and large jersey pockets (or a small pack) were keys to being prepared and staying comfortable for ever-changing weather conditions. Most days required thin long-fingered gloves and booties at the start and only knickers and knee/arm warmers paired with a short-jersey rather than tights and a heavy jacket. Once you got cranking up the climbs, the arm warmers came off as well (although lightweight shell and/or wind vests were nice to have on the descents to block the chill and protect your core).

DAY 1: December 26: San Diego to Pine Valley (a small mountain village near Lake Morena). 60 miles.

Huevos rancheros for breakfast, CACTUS burritos (a San Diego specialty) for lunch, and approximately 54 miles and 5,000 ft of elevation gain were all served up on Day 1. Sun was with us most of the day but dipped down to about 35 degrees by sunset. It DOES, indeed, get cold in SoCal in winter! Thankfully we have all that climbing to keep us warm :)

DAY 2: December 27: Pine Valley to Warner Springs, 55 miles. A great day of riding. Stop for apple pie in Julian!

Day 2 started out with an ice-covered sleeping bag, frozen toes, 30 degree temps and an 11 MILE climb out the gate to 6,000 ft elevation. Off-season legs and sea-level lungs had me gasping behind riders from Northern California and Colorado who regard 6,000 ft. as "base camp" and climb to 9,000 or 10,000 ft. elevation. Silently, I give props to all the pro cyclists currently training for the Quiznos Pro Challenge next summer and continued ever-upwards. Hot apple cider at the Laguna General Store never tasted so good; nor did the flying descent inland, basking in high desert warmth, or eating 2 slices of famous Julian pie. A taste of all three made the journey deliciously worthwhile :)

December 28: Warner Springs to Palm Desert, 100 miles. Great desert views & riding. Grab a date milkshake!

The century day to end all centuries. Where else can you enjoy a sweeping 12 mile, 4,000 feet descent named Montezuma Grade that constantly tugs at your heartstrings, pulling you between the desire to stay aero and pick up more speed around the next switchback, and sitting up to enjoy the magnificent views? Mountains, desert, trees and sea all rush before your very eyes as the wind whistles between your helmet and adrenaline courses through your veins. Beyond "WOO-HOO worthy," as my friends in Albany, NY might say.

Once the descent run-out shoots cyclists along CA S-22 and CA Highway 86, the desert basin and the blue horizon of the Salton Sea beckons riders on the right; those lured by the hopes of a quick dip will quickly discover that unless they intend to be pickled, they'd best search for a less briny bay. By the time we hit the Anna Borrego Desert State Park, the morning's cold-weather gear was stripped off to reveal pale arms, pale legs and beaming faces. (Is this REALLY December 29th?! And we're riding in SHORTS?!) Fresh orange and lemon groves, date farms, and palm trees ushered us into Palm Desert, where the ride organizers were thoughtful enough to arrange shorts and a jacuzzi soak at the end of the day. Life on 2 wheels is good.

Day 4: December 29: Palm Desert to Hemet, 64 miles. "Head winds build character. "

Mama said there'd be days like this. After 3 days of riding and blissful sunshine and dry skies, we rolled out to battle pouring rain, 30 MPH wind gusts strong enough to knock you right off the bike. Several riders had crashed along the highway; due to dangerous conditions and chance of overlapping wheels, drafting was not an option. The giant windmill farms to our right were cranking along to gather both the wind and the rider's flagging energy; as I pedaled along at 4MPH, battling to stay upright, I became increasingly convinced their low hum was the will to live being sucked right out of me. Two crashes, gravel paths and cyclocross-worthy terrain, flooded roads (the rumors were true! if only I had packed snorkel gear!), flat tires and one endo over a curb--hidden by cascading water flows--later, we arrived in Hemet soaked to the bone, bruised, shivering and thankful to be alive. Three hours later, after laundry was done and sushi was eaten, we declared it to be an EPIC day.

Day 5: December 30: Hemet to Fallbrook, 50 miles. A fantastic ride along oak tree shaded country roads.

Taking pity on her children, Mother Nature decided to return the sun and strike the sky blue once more in preparation for the day's journey to Fallbrook. Reports of more flooded roads forced ride organizers to post an alternate route that diverted us from De Luz Canyon; not to be deterred, some riders persevered regardless and had the time of their lives.

Photo above: High-five on Day 5! Little did we know then Chris already had the engagement ring in his jersey pocket for his proposal to Christina later that day...

Photo above: The newly engaged couple. Chris proposed to Christina in De Luz Canyon in the middle of the bike ride: first time in 54 years THAT's happened on the San Diego Christmas Bike ride! Somehow I doubt that's the last time this power couple is going to make history together.

Day 6: December 31: Fallbrook to San Diego, 55 miles. Soak up the sea air as you ride along the stunning San Diego Coastline.

Riding alongside the San Diego beachfront on New Year's Eve, smelling the salt of the ocean and feeling the warm of the sun on our back as we pedaled along, was a sublime experience for participants. Once again, CA Highway 1 Coastline shows us the very best California has to offer.

During the Christmas Day dinner put on by the Point Lomas San Diego Hostel, I browsed trough their lending library and was immediately drawn to volume of short stories by Miranda July entitled, No One Belongs Here More Than You. 7 days later, back where I started from and yet simultaneously freer, happier, and forever changed, I can state with utmost certainly that book could not have been more aptly named for this two-wheeled journey.

While the sweeping mountain vistas, challenging climbs--and even more rewarding descents--and stark beauty of the desert make the Christmas Bike Ride all worthwhile in and of themselves, it is the riders present and the sense community they build during those 7 days that make this journey truly memorable. I am honored to have gotten the chance to meet, know, laugh, and pedal with each and every one of the 80+ participants.

Am now back in Portland...and still dreaming of warm sandy beaches, the crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean, and a faint citrus smell of orange and lemon groves wafting in the California breeze. Hope to see many of you on the 55TH ANNUAL Ride in Christmas 2011!


Anonymous said...

Great summary, Jennifer! I love that: "No One Belongs Here More Than You". Similarly, I distinctly remember on Day 2 thinking "I don't want to be anywhere but here and now." Thanks, again - happy new year!

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