The plan was simple, ride an extended mixed surface riff on a storied route, bringing in the best paved stretches while departing wildly via some sweet gravel and dirt.
We enlisted the help of local artist, bikepacker and route expert Roman de Salvo to plan this birthday ride somewhere in the East County region of San Diego. The Great Western Loop (GWL) is an extremely popular rural cycling route along Willow Glen, Dehesa, Japatul, Lyons Valley Roads and Jamul Drive that stretches over 40 miles with some incredible views. For Roman, this was the perfect template to build from. We met up in Rancho San Diego that day in late March for what would be 65 miles of mixed-surface perfection with over 6500 feet of climbing.
The first dirt section would be on Sloan Canyon Road, for what would be a nice introduction to the unpaved backcountry. Large trees on either side of the canyon floor would last for a couple miles before we turned left at this gate to head towards Sequan Truck Trail. Steeper climbs and some technical, loose singletrack would then ensue. Fortunately there was still good cloud cover and cool temps at this stage of the day.
We eventually made our way to Alpine, for an espresso break at the local Starbucks.
From there we made our way over to Old Viejas Rd, a fantastic 4 mile dirt road climb that would provide wonderful views of the surrounding region.
We regrouped in Descanso, for a nutrition and water refill at the local store. At this stage we had already experienced two dramatic gravel climbs with over 30 miles and a majority of the elevation gain complete. What would soon come was certainly end up being the highlights of that day.
Shortly after leaving Descanto and just off Japatul Valley Road we approved a rural area with a large fenced in structure to the left. We turned off the dirt to have a closer look, and someone someone said, "Is that a lion in there!?" Someone else suggested it was fake, until he moved his large head to the right and we knew it was real.
We hung around for a couple minutes before moving on, but that lion stuck in our heads for the remainder of that ride, and the days to come.
From there we rode along Horsethief Ridge and deeper into the Cleveland National Forest. This section of the ride was easily my favorite, incredible gravel roads and pristine San Diego wilderness.
Riding down into Horsethief Canyon and up the other side would bring us to the Japatul Fire Station.
One last resupply at Lyons Valley Trading Post. At this point we were all pretty spent, and ready for some real food and cold beers. We decided to slightly modify the route which would bring us back to the start around 1:30pm.
After this epic birthday ride we packed up the bikes and headed for Helix Brewing Co, a perfect ending for such an awesome day.
The Gravelstoke Lion
To commemorate that day, we wanted to create something special. A lasting impression to wear and continue to tell the story. While this may have taken us longer than planned to post, our memories of that day persist. The lion came to represent that day, and what these types of rides can bring. Something completely unexpected, something unique, something wild. For us, this is why we ride "gravel", and why this type of riding is truly a new frontier.
Special thanks to our friend Roman who crafted the GWR route.