Sunday, November 23, 2008

Palomar Jaunt

Ever since I picked up the F800GS, I've dreamed of cruising up to Palomar Mountain northeast of San Diego via the Nate Harrison Grade. It's a twisting 10-12mi graded dirt road that climbs 4000 feet and deposits riders into the State Campground at the top. A hop, skip and a jump away is Mother's Kitchen, an all-vegetarian restaurant that has on any given weekend 20-40 sport-bikes parked in front. Tasty chile, tasty cookies, and some darn good coffee too.

The day started off misty and cold; heading up Hwy 15 where I was to meet Mark (Suzuki DR650) and Conrad (Kawasaki KLR650) I kept thinking that if it stays this cold, and drops as we gain elevation, I'm going to be a chilly boy.

The plan was to take all back-roads to the mountain, starting with Bear Valley Parkway to Valley Parkway to Lake Wohlford and on up through the Rincon Indian reservation (punctuated by the huge Harrah's Rincon Casino black-eyeing the landscape). Luckily, by the time we got to the sweepers by the Wohlford cafe, speed was up and so was the sun.

The singles were keeping up well at all sane speeds so prudence was the order of the morning, up to and including my decision to let them lead up Nate Harrison. The grade was named after a black man who settled in the area with the Indians and was a local fixture for many years around the turn of the century. A pretty complete history of the era can be read in the "Valley Roadrunner" online. For our purposes, the road was dandy with a hard-packed grade, somewhat steep at times, not too rocky, and with nicely bermed switchbacks. We stopped several times for pictures, not wanting to let this moment pass. One such picture spot was a sharp curve where Mark's Suzuki exercised it's freedom to act of it's own accord and simply laid down. A few scuffs and a bent brake lever was the toll of the road. We paid and were off again!

As the group broke through the treelines, we found ourselves surrounded by an enormous amount of cut wood, remnants of the fire that swept over this part of Palomar Mtn. several years ago. The shadows were tricky in mid-day, and we were all vigilant for potholes, frost heaves from years past, and logs/branches in the road.

We hit paved road near the campground where Mark, Julie & Rosalie spent a weekend back in September, so the route to Mother's Kitchen was totally familiar. He led us to lunch. Many sport-bikes parked in front, but all well-behaved. Lunch varied - Conrad took the last tacos of the day, only because he ordered before me - the rat!! ;-) Mark macked on grilled cheese and I had a salad and club sam'wich. I didn't follow my own advice and was waaayyy too full for a delicious oatmeal raisin cookie! Mark insisted on a pose in front of the Post Office - classic!

While in Mother's I spotted a sign that said the old Palomar Lodge was going out of business and everything (fixtures and all) was for sale. Eureka - our next move!

The Lodge is just down the road from Mother's, a handy left turn off of the East Grade, leading to a tree-lined twisty country lane that nearly "done me in." I was in the lead on a road that seemed to have a lot of leaves scattered about. Only one of those "leaves" turned out to be a fist-sized granite rock that I hit square with the front wheel. (Note to self: don't stare at rocks in the road). The 21" wheel of the GS rolled over it, but was deflected rightward, enough to jerk the bars and nearly throw me at 35mph. Credit some fast twitch reflexes honed on the CRF250X out in Ocotillo Wells to keep me from kissing pavement (thank you Roderick!). Or, probably dumb luck. Just afterward I noted the tenseness in my shoulders and felt like I'd pulled a muscle in my lower back. None the worse for the wear - God bless the "gyro!"

Palomar Lodge was picked clean, unless ya couldn't live without a ratty bear-skin rug, deer racks or a cornucopia of scantily-clad Indian maiden paintings. Fun! Well... not so fun was listening to the proprietor rant about taxation without representation, how California was an impossible state to do business in, and how he was definitely heading to Oregon or Wyoming to "really live." Oh yeah, and a final bit of advice from the fella: "Never let 'em repeal your right to bear arms, boys!"

The East Grade of the mountain, and the start of the trek home, was everything I recalled from distant years past. Wonderful sweepers, decreasing radius corners, pretty smooth pavements, cow grates in all the right places... as bad as Kim reminds me my memory is, it is for these kinds of details I'm pretty spot on. LOL.

We stopped at a "vista point" overlooking Lake Henshaw, and took in more of the scenery. A couple of other bikes were there, including a very cool looking Buell rocket that was a purpose-built cornering demon. It reminded me of a similarly purpose-built futuristic ship called a "Tie Fighter" (you know what I'm talking about!).

We had decided to visit the Chapel at Santa Ysabel as our last stop prior to jetting home. There were only a couple other touristas there on the grounds, which includes a very nicely appointed church, museum, and cemetery. Quiet (and quieting for the mind).

The singles led the way home through Santa Ysabel and Ramona; in the late afternoon, it was a chore chugging along in traffic. But, we stuck to the main highway and others on the road were traveling fairly smartly - no laggards. Probably the right pace for the road-weary.

The total mileage for the day was about 100. Throw in the crisp air, a dusty bike, and some great memories and you have a recipe that shall be repeated soon. Until next time... Press On Regardless!


Alex said...

Dude- Sounds like a sweet ride... I drove past Lake Henshaw on S2 this past weekend to take the girls out to Borrego Springs for camping. Something about that valley, the panoramic view, the rolling valley floor and the foothills off in the distance reminds me of Africa. We stopped for some photos and were surprised by a flock of wild turkeys cruising up the hillside behind us. Did you come up from Valley Center?

Kevin said...

Yah - the valleys out there are superb. I love it when there is livestock in the distant foothills too. The Africa analogy rings true (altho I've never been). I hear the wild turkeys are plentiful these days - a dude at the Hideway on the Center Loop (end of Mesa Grande) warned us that they will dart across roads and mess you up!

There's a vista point about 1/3rd up the East Grade overlooking Henshaw and the dam that's very nice. Among my other fav valleys are Mesa Grande looking back after that first climb and that little turn-out between Santa Ysabel and Julian just as you start up the hill from SY. Looking forward to seeing you and the family in a few days!

Mark said...

You forgot to mention that 2nd indecisive squirrel. You almost caught him on the way down the Mt. This one was luckier than the first.

Kevin said...

Whoa - I can't believe that you saw that squirrel too!

LOL - yeah, I was wanting to make sure if I was gonna do it I ran over him "straight." Don't wanna slide out on blood & guts!