For a taste of some fast-disappearing rural serenity in inland North County, try the following looping bicycle route through hills and valleys straddling the San Diego-Riverside County line. You'll gain and lose about 1300 feet of elevation over a distance of 23 miles -- a 90-minute ride for "tigers" and a two- to three-hour trek for leisure riders. Because the popularity of the Pechanga and Pala casinos has drawn much more traffic to inland rural roads than ever before, it's recommended that you ride early on Sunday morning, when traffic along the route should be light.
The ride begins in the community of Rainbow, which has mysteriously remained practically immune to the creeping suburbanization that's hit nearby Fallbrook and the galloping suburbanization that's overwhelmed nearby Temecula. To reach Rainbow, exit Interstate 15 at Mission Road and follow Old Highway 395 north to Rainbow Valley Boulevard. Turn right there and go east about a mile to an intersection where Rainbow Valley Boulevard turns sharply north. Park along the road shoulder at any convenient spot.
Pedal north on Rainbow Valley Boulevard through the serene Rainbow Valley. Rainbows have nothing to do with its name; the place was named after a Mr. J.P.M. Rainbow, a former county supervisor, who helped lay out the town site in 1888.
After about 1.5 miles, Rainbow Valley Boulevard joins Old Highway 395. Continue north (passing into Riverside County) over a gentle summit and begin a twisting descent down through boulder-studded hills toward the carpet of homes in Temecula below. At the bottom of the hill, turn right (southeast) on Pechanga Parkway, formerly Pala Road. After a couple of miles, and beyond the Pechanga Indian Reservation, the road reverts to the name Pala Road and you pass a sign announcing your return to San Diego County. After a few grunts and groans, you reach a summit -- the start of an exciting, curvy spin toward Pala. Shaggy slopes smothered in dense chaparral (in fragrant bloom now) frame range after range of blue-tinted mountains as you hurtle south.
The downgrade ends abruptly, and a final, nearly flat mile takes you through the Pala Indian Reservation and to an intersection with Highway 76. Make a right there, and continue west for about three miles to Rice Canyon Road, where a right turn returns you to truly rural serenity. This paved country lane meanders uphill, gaining about 700 feet of elevation, then drops into a ravine packed with a dense growth of coast live-oak trees. After an additional few hundred yards, the road bends right, leaving the canyon, and climbs another 200 feet to reach the east rim of Rainbow Valley. Turn left at the T-intersection, and you'll soon arrive at your starting point.