Friday, April 13, 2012

Nor'Easter San Diego: Mission Trails & Lessons In Mud

This is right about the time I started to wonder if I needed to carry the bike back to the parking lot.

I followed the wife this week to a conference in the beautiful city of San Diego in sunny Southern California.  While she's been busy learning the latest on workplace wellness programs, I've been busy learning the lessons only mountain biking in a strange land can bring.  Foremost of those lessons is that mud is not the same everywhere you go.

Looking toward North Fortuna from the fire road.
Ever since my wife told me about her work conference in San Diego, I've been scheming to sample the mountain biking trails in the surrounding hills and mountains.  First on the list was a trip to Mission Trails in the hills just to the east of the city.

I found a place with full-suspension mountain bike rentals and was able to "check" the bike with the hotel's bell service for the night, which saved me the worry of leaving the bike in our car.  

Now, whoever wrote the song "It Never Rains in Southern California" is a liar, because it rained pretty steadily on the morning of my planned trip.  However, by the time I reached the trail head the rains had subsided and the sun broke free from the clouds.  There's an excellent visitor's center at the park and it was a quiet weekday so I was able to chat for a while with the ranger who oriented me on the location of the trails relative to the surrounding hills.

Fording the river with shoes in hand.
My loop took me down to the San Diego river where I took my shoes off and waded through the three foot deep water with the bike.  It was then climbing time and granny gear was my friend as I climbed straight up a  gravely fire road toward the surrounding ridgeline.

When I reached the top I soaked in the views and savored the descent back into the valley.

As I started to descend on the eastern slope of the hill a strange thing began to happen.  I could feel the bike getting heavier as mud started to grab the tires.  With the consistency of dog shit the mud stuck to anything and everything including my bike tires and even itself. So as I rolled down the hill I might as well have been rolling on Playdough.  Robbed of any traction I slowed down, which only made matters worse as the lack of speed allowed the mud to collect even faster. I slowed to a halt as the mud became stuck between my tire and the frame and the tires were no longer able to turn.  Soon I was WALKING my bike downhill holding off to the side of the road so that the tires were running along the grass and not collecting mud. This was some seriously misbehaving mud.

By the time I reached the bottom of the hill I was starting to wonder if I would need to hike back to the car with the bike on my shoulders, however either the soil consistency changed or the ground becamedry enough so that the sticky mud patches soon were few and far between.  I found a short singletrack run and then turned and headed up a fire road under the powerlines up to the Fortuna ridge.  Several extremely steep sections sent me into hike-a-bike mode until I reached South Fortuna peak, where the bike trails ended.

I turned and headed back down and over the ridge into the Grasslands area on the eastern side of Fortuna ridge, and eventually found my way to the dam.  There I rode a paved road back to the visitor center and my car.

The infamous muddy fire road.
Although the scenery was phenomenal, I wasn't able to locate much singletrack.  The map provided to me by the park ranger indicated that most of the interesting looking byways were hiker-only.

While Mission Trails wouldn't make the Pantheon, it is a great place to stretch the legs within an easy drive from San Diego.  

Just wait a little while after it rains.


  1. With a rental bike I'm surprised you didn't ride through that three foot deep water!

    1. It probably could have used a good bath. It was covered in about 3" of cement grade mud. It was an okay bike: The Jamis Dakar XC Sport. It was pretty heavy (more than 30 lbs) for a XC bike. Especially with all the mud. I liked my rental in FL much better (Kona Tanuki Deluxe).

  2. ranger rick hates mountain bikers

    1. Ranger Rita didn't so much hate me as not understand the whole concept of mountain biking in her park. After seeing all the doubletrack I began to understand.