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Resting high above the city of Escondido, Valley Center is well on its way to becoming a rural suburb. As more and more country estates pop up on big lots, the area is gradually losing its agricultural identity. Yet, citrus and avocado orchards still drape the rocky hillsides, and plenty of oak-dotted pastures can be found down on the flatlands. Valley Center remains nearly as good place to tour on bicycle as it was 10 or 20 years ago -- or at least that's true for rides early on Sunday mornings, when traffic volumes on the local roads are but 5 or 10 percent of their average, currently inflated rate.

This suggested ride, 15 miles round trip, through the southern fringes of Valley Center, will give you ample opportunity to practice climbing in low gear as well as enjoy the beauty of a nearly hidden reservoir -- Lake Wohlford. On the oak-shaded country roads hereabouts, you'll feel as if you're a long way from the nearly 200,000 souls in the Escondido valley below.

A convenient place to start is on Valley Parkway at Las Brisas Drive (a minor residential street) in northeastern Escondido. This intersection is about 0.3 mile north of Bear Valley Parkway and 0.1 mile south of Washington Avenue. Ample curbside parking is available.

Cycle north on Valley Parkway for nearly a mile and turn right on Lake Wohlford Road. Almost immediately, you begin a 750-foot-elevation climb on steep and winding pavement with little or no shoulder. Near mile marker 2 and a crossing of Escondido Creek, the road begins to flatten out. Just ahead, you catch your first glimpse of Lake Wohlford. Then, for the next two miles, the gliding is easy as you curve gently along the north shore, passing a small store and a resort community. Ahead, on the right, you may hear the sound of water rushing through the Escondido Canal. It shunts water southward from the San Luis Rey River to feed Lake Wohlford, which lies on a separate watershed (Escondido Creek).

After a total of 6.7 miles, you enter the flatter landscape of Woods Valley. Turn left onto Woods Valley Road. On this fine rural road, you pedal easily through pasturelands, wild grasslands, and shade-giving canopies of live oaks. Palomar Mountain comes into view on your right, while steep Bear Ridge lies to the left. You'll pass some citrus trees, and probably a pumpkin crop. On the right lies the entrance to the Bates Nut Farm, where tourists go to buy nuts and nut-related confections.

Woods Valley Road ends at Valley Center Road. Turn left to complete the loop. After a 0.7-mile climb, you roll over a summit and start a fast, freewheeling 3-mile descent back into the Escondido valley. The restriping of this road several years ago has made less room for bikes to share space with cars, so exercise extreme caution on this descent.

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