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North County's rural character hangs by a thread outside the rapidly urbanizing communities of Escondido and San Marcos. What better way is there to recapture the feel of that fast-disappearing atmosphere than on a bicycle? To do so, try this leisurely ride of 12 miles -- about half on curbside bike lanes and about half on rural roads. Heed my usual advice about avoiding the busy traffic periods by rising early on a Saturday, or better yet a Sunday or holiday morning.

A good place to start this easygoing loop is Jesmond Dene Park on North Broadway in Escondido. From the park, begin riding south on North Broadway. After a couple of minutes, turn right onto Country Club Lane. It soon becomes a divided road with a landscaped median. Cross Centre City Parkway, pass under Interstate 15, and continue past the Escondido Country Club golf course.

After Country Club Lane goes from two westbound lanes to one, swing left (south) at a stop sign to stay on it. When you reach El Norte Parkway, turn right. Continue west on El Norte Parkway, which becomes Borden Road at the Woodland Parkway intersection. Continue another mile and turn right on Richland Road, starting a gradual climb. At the top of the rise ahead, pause to enjoy the view north and west into Twin Oaks Valley, half filled with housing subdivisions encroaching from the south.

A curving half-mile descent takes you down into the valley itself. Turn right on Mulberry Drive, left on Olive Street, and right on Sycamore Drive. After passing Walnut Grove Park, you bend left, staying on Sycamore, and cross a creek. Just ahead you reach Deer Springs Road -- potentially busy with high-speed traffic. Turn right and begin a gradual, two-mile-long climb -- passing on your right, down a little driveway (if you happen to notice), the golden doors of the renowned Golden Door spa.

Just beyond the crest of the climb, you descend a little and cross Interstate 15 on an overpass. On the far side, turn right on Centre City Parkway, which parallels I-15. Ahead, past a driving range, turn left on Jesmond Dene Road.

The last two-plus, mostly downhill miles toward Jesmond Dene Park are a fitting conclusion for the ride. Live oak trees arch overhead, dappling the pavement with shadows. When the rains begin later this year, a small creek trickles alongside the road, its melodious trill complementing the soft swishing of your tires and the quiet whir of the chain and sprockets.

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