I normally play it safe on my bike rides, especially as of late. Too many times, I've been caught in the middle of nowhere with mechanical problems or gotten lost or been stuck somewhere in the dark. Too many times, I've ended up on a narrow, busy road or on a road that dumps onto a highway or ended up doing too many killer hills on a recovery ride, or set out to do 40 and end up doing 75 and just trashing myself. One time, I ended up in a bad part of town and was harrassed by a gang of teens.
When I lived in St. Louis, I went exporing all the time. For a 40 mile ride, I would never plan ahead. I would head west 15 miles, go south for 5, east for 15 and north for 5. That's it. A new road every time. All of them flat and oriented in a grid-like pattern. Nothing to it.
After moving to San Diego, I quickly suffered the mistake of riding out without a plan or map. I'll just ride for awhile and then turn east, then south and go home. Not so simple. Turning east, I soon learned, gave you a route full of hurt, as I deliriously suffered up endless "hills", which in St. Louis, we would call mountains. A road starting out south would suddenly veer hopelessly east. I would search in vain for a street to turn right and thus south on only to be staring into a vast canyon that stretched endlessly into the distance dotted at the bottom with cacti. Usually, by this point, I'd reached the point of no return where to go back on my tracks would be double the distance I had planned. I would either have to stop at a gas station to ask directions or make the call of shame for a pick-up. Jason began to dread when I headed out and dreaded accompanying me on my nightmarish rides even more. Very quickly, I learned my lesson.
Lately, I've been doing lots of out-and-back rides for my mid-week routes. They're safe. However, inevitably, boredom sets in. Recently, I realized that with all the daylight offered by summer hours, I could try inviting new routes again. I quickly pushed the thought from my mind.
After creating my own weekend bike ride, I've gotten the itch to explore again. I've been studying maps and reading other clubs' in the county route slips. I chickened out last week, my legs still annihilated from the weekend's ride and ended up doing a very pleasant out-and-back (albeit on new terrain).
Yesterday, I decided to tough it up and do something new. After much research, I printed out my own route slip and map and set out, cell phone, cliff blocks, water bottle and flat kit in tow (still forget lights--shoot).
I took off on Torch north down the Torrey Pines hill. For some reason, I felt apprehensive. Maybe b/c I was riding alone, doing a new route, when I have had bad experiences in the past. I checked my watch. 5:30. Okay--2 hours until sunset. Enough to go 33 miles? I knew it would be cutting it close. Still, I had been bitten by the adventure bug.
Turned right on Carmel Valley and sucked it up through the traffic along El Camino Real (played it safe and took the pedestrian crosswalk through the intersection). After passing through a business park, I reached a little area of farmland and horse stables. I breathed in deeply, smelling the faint aroma of sweat, manure and fly spray. All of the barns were immaculate. Not a single fly in sight. To the left, I passed a big field of people waiting for a sunset hot air balloon right. Giant colors of canvas began inflating from the ground as the balloons were prepared for flight.
Turned right again on San Dieguito Rd. and enjoyed miles and miles of stable after stable, making might heart ache with longing for the sport I used to be so actively involved in. I glanced at the horses who peered strangely at me and Torch. Glancing down at Torch, I had to agree. As sleek as he might be, he will never be as sleek as one of those fine equines.
Left on El Apajo, I began snaking my way through Rancho Santa Fe. The pavement was really rough from construction and despite the carbon frame, the constant bumpiness was really jarring over the next several miles. However, I still enjoyed the lush gardens, citrus groves, private mansions, and of course, more immaculately groomed stables.
Up and down and around and around--that's what Rancho Santa Fe was like. I was relieved I had my detailed map. I was constantly turning this way and that. Nodded to a few cyclists out for their evening workout, which made me relax--feel not so alone. By the time I finally reached Encinitas and had hooked up with San Elijo Rd., I was chasing the sun, trying to beat the sunset.
I reached the coast and all my apprehension melted away. I suddenly realized how silly it was to worry and how much energy I had wasted. Couples walked on the beach in the sunset. Surfers caught their final waves. Kayakers enjoyed the view from the ocean. Small groups of people sat on beach chairs from their summer condos, out to see the sunset show.
The setting sun was so breathtaking, I could finally relax. I knew my way home now and knew I would make it. It felt silly to be worried about trying to make it back by a certain time. I would get back when I would get back. I made it to the top of the Torrey Pines hill as dusk settled, tired, relieved and exhilarated. It was a great ride. Next time though, I'll probably plan a shorter route instead of racing to beat the sunset.