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Bicycle riding in the hills north of Oceanside is like touring the roof of North County -- at least on a clear day. Views stretch east to the Palomar Mountains, west to the ocean, and south across the still-patchy but increasingly dense suburban communities of Oceanside and Vista. Other than a short stretch of dirt, the 16-mile ride described here is entirely paved, so road bikes as well as mountain bikes are appropriate. A seriously steep 2-mile section practically mandates your participation with a seriously low gear on your bike. As has been noted many times in this column in connection with road rides: get an early start, preferably on a Sunday, so you can stay clear of most traffic.

A good starting point is Oceanside's Guajome Regional Park, on the Highway 76 expressway about 7 miles inland from Interstate 5. There's parking available for cars inside for a small fee, or for free outside on the side of the road.

Cycle back out to Highway 76 and head west about a mile to College Boulevard. Turn right and ride on the toll bridge crossing over the nearly dry bed of San Luis Rey River. This bridge is trivial in size compared to the Coronado Bridge (the county's other toll bridge), but bikes and pedestrians are allowed -- and they use it free of charge.

On the far side of the bridge, turn right on North River Road. A bit farther on, turn right again to stay on North River Road. On ahead the road narrows as houses give way to nut trees and row crops, and you sidle up fairly close to the San Luis Rey River.

After about two miles, Sleeping Indian Road intersects from the left. Make the turn and start a delightful journey (and an arduous climb) past fragrant citrus groves and north into the hidden rural community of Morro Hills. The breadloaf-shaped promontory on your left as you approach the summit of the road is called Morro Hill.

A little past Morro Hill turn right at Morro Hills Road and wind east amid country estate homes to Olive Hill Road. Go right there and proceed mostly downhill to a sharp left-hand curve marked "10 mph." Just beyond, find on the right the unmarked Via Puerta del Sol. Paved at first, then dirt for a half-mile, then paved again, it takes you back down to North River Road.

Now turn left and ride 0.5 mile east to Highway 76. Turn right, ride south 0.3 mile, turn right on Holly Lane and immediately left on Old Mission Road -- which is now blocked by a vehicle gate. The purpose of this off-the-beaten-track detour is to cross the San Luis Rey River on the old, narrow, arched bridge that was once the terror of both cyclists and automobile drivers. Thankfully the old bridge was left for cyclists and pedestrians to use after the new one was finished in 1990.

Pedal back up to Highway 76 on the far side of the bridge, and use the bike lane on its shoulder to return to Guajome Park.

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