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The "back way" up Mount Laguna via the obscure Kitchen Creek Road offers bicyclists a challenge to their strength and endurance, and little chance of serious interference by passing automobiles. The gravity-assisted return, down along the gently twisting Sunrise Highway, repays handsomely for all previous efforts. Travel by car or motorcycle along the same route is rewarding, too, though at times motor traffic is blocked by gates on the middle section of Kitchen Creek Road. Hikers and bicyclists can always get through, however.

A possible starting point for the 26-mile looping ride described here is the Interstate 8 rest area at Buckman Springs, located some five miles southeast of Pine Valley. Cars are not supposed to be "abandoned" inside the rest area; to be legal, park outside the rest area itself and off of pavement.

On two wheels, head south from the rest area and later east on I-8's frontage road -- Old Highway 80 -- up and over a little rise to Kitchen Creek Road. Here begins the 12-mile trek from the scrublands of the lower Laguna Mountain foothills to the cool pine forest atop the higher slopes. The steady gain of 2600 feet of elevation on this lightly traveled roadway is interrupted twice, and then only briefly.

Nearly five miles into the climb, you pass Cibbets Flat Campground, which hunkers down amid live oaks lining Kitchen Creek. The creek, whispering now, could dry up completely by late summer. Around the next big bend, the road narrows and the smooth pavement is replaced by a thinner coating of asphalt -- still smooth enough for the skinny tires of "road" (as opposed to "mountain") bikes. Up along desolate slopes you go, through buckwheat, purple sage, and chaparral. At last, the first Jeffrey pines appear, growing in protected hollows where sufficient water accumulates in the soil. Nearing Sunrise Highway, the pines grow denser, and black oak trees appear.

Use Sunrise Highway and Old Highway 80 to return expeditiously to the I-8 rest area, an exhilarating downhill plunge with nary a pedal stroke required. Take care to keep your speed down on the sharper curves. Another alternative -- better if you're afraid of sharing Sunrise Highway with occasional cars -- is to turn around and head back down Kitchen Creek Road the way you came.

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