I recently had a nice, cool day off for a leisurely and minimally hilly bike ride that doesn't involve the super-flat Mission Bay or San Diego Bay. Where else to go but to follow the San Diego River east to El Capitan Reservoir, one of the most scenic lochs San Diego has to offer?
Through Mission Valley
Starting on the Uptown mesa, I crossed my fingers and descended down Texas Street to Camino del Rio, connecting to Friars/Mission Gorge Road by way of Ward Road. There are rolling hills to navigate, but none uncomfortably steep or long. The marine layer kept me cool as I pedaled over the Kwaay Paay–Pyle's Peak saddle into Santee.
Traffic is less friendly east of the mountains, though, so I veered north on West Hills Parkway to take Mast Boulevard East, making my way to El Nopal into Lakeside.
The ostriches and the emus were already out at Hilliker's Eggs Farm at the elbow turn on El Nopal, so I stopped in to say hello.
Run by the same family since 1942, Hilliker's is one of San Diego's ultimate family businesses. The place is always worth a visit, even when the shop is closed. There are almost always some exotic birds roaming around the fenced-in front field, a colorful peacock or two patrolling the property, and a huge bird cage full of chirpy finches. The farm also has cattle and some goats, though they were being shy and only the long-legged birds were out strutting their stuff.
The low clouds were starting to burn off, so I hit the road again and turned east on Lakeshore Drive just to pass through the couple blocks of quaint old buildings of Old Town Lakeside and to take the nice paved path that bisects intimate, arboreal Lindo Lake on my way to Julian Avenue.
Lindo Lake is the lake that Lakeside is named after, of course. San Diego's only natural freshwater lake has been doing some serious shrinking of late, and the portion east of the path now doesn't seem to have any water at all.
El Monte Valley
Julian Avenue becomes El Monte Road after crossing Lake Jennings Park Road, and the traffic all but disappeared. The sky was now sunny and clear and El Cajon Mountain was looking quite splendid up ahead. I think after the initial descent to the riverbed the road is always climbing eastward, but the gradient is so mild that you can hardly feel it.
El Monte Valley is something of a gem. The road is narrow and curvy with no shoulder to speak of. Traffic is light and the view epic. A beautiful range lines the north side of the dry riverbed, with varieties of farms and ranches along the roadside. Wild turkeys cross the road at the County Park, and squawky blue scrub jays dive into trees.
El Capitan Reservoir (and back)
Once past the reservoir's lower gate just 1/2 mile from the dam there is quite a bit of curvy climbing to do, but nothing very steep (this road is quite beginner-friendly). El Monte Road (top) crests at the dam before dropping a bit and leveling off, following the southwest margin of the reservoir to the visitor center/boat launches/concession stand facility.
It's a scenic stretch, with nothing but a widely spaced line of eucalyptus trees separating the narrow (and amazingly cracky) road from the shoreline. Bouncing along on my rigid road bike, I wondered if the pavement is intentionally left in such abominable condition in order to discourage drivers from speeding. After all, the main parking area at the end of the road is a model of smooth pavement!
There were only a few boats in the lake and a handful of cars in the parking lot. I bought a can of soda from the concession stand and spent a blissful hour perched on one of the picnic benches strategically placed along the side of the road, just drinking in the view and peaceful solitude. A few hawks were ganging up on something across the lake, a family of waterfowl congregated by a little cove near the dam. If only the sun wasn't getting a bit warm for comfort, I would’ve stayed out there all day.
The ride back retraced the route in, of course. I stopped in at Hilliker's again and bought a dozen of superbly fresh-grade AA large eggs for only $1.65. All of them survived the bumpy ride home in my backpack and made for a delicious post-ride omelette.
A morning well spent on one of the least taxing 60-mile rides in the county!