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The elves got pretty good at eyeballing gradients. They declared Del Cerro the optical illusion capital of San Diego. Camino Rico in the block between Ridge View and Estrellado looked like a hot candidate. It has a slight curve in it, cutting the grade a bit, but when we ran the numbers, even cheating wildly to boost the figures, the best we could do was a little over 12%. Likewise, Del Cerro Boulevard between Cavite and Edinburgh is only 13. Elfin speculation: When you're on a road that is hanging on the side of a cliff, it seems steeper than it really is.

According to the Encinitas city engineers, Chesterfield Drive in Cardiff has a gradient of 15%. Nothing to write home about, but if you grab your surfboard and dive flat-out down the hill on your skateboard, there's a chance you could fly right out past the surf line and save all that paddling time and energy. Just a thought.

Our last Del Cerro candidate, Mill Peak Road/Adobe Falls Road (the name changes mid-grade), is a particularly charming nook. And a respectable uphill hike: 17%. I imagine there are a few more in the neighborhood, but no real blockbusters.

Wheeling south to Balboa Park, we perused Upas Street between Park and Florida, a sort of glorified alley between Morley Field and Roosevelt Jr. High School. Upas levels out a little near Park, but the steepest part has a gradient of 20%. A solid gasper of a hill, but only second place to Illion in Bay Park.

I hope the congregation at St. Mary Magdalene Church gets a discount on car maintenance for making the pilgrimage up that grade every week. From Gardena to the church, the gradient is 25%. And whatta view when you get to the top.

But overall, the prize still goes to the 32% grade on Maria Avenue in Spring Valley. We didn't even beat neighboring Chestnut (28.3%) or Point Loma's Poe Street (28.6) or Oliphant (26.6) or Mission Hills' Keating(26).

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