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Saturday, February 12, 2011

How to Plan a Route When Going Bicycle Camping

Let's start with our basic situation.... bicycle camping is fun - yes, it is! - but it involves (a) hauling weight (b) over relatively long distances.  Both parameters present issues.

Neither is particularly burdensome when riding on flat terrain.  But the problems compound exponentially the moment you start to climb a hill.  Thus, the strategy becomes: keep your route relatively flat.

Now, I can already hear the scoffing, the clucking of tongues, from the athletic crowd.  Sticking to "flat routes" doesn't sound very manly, now does it?  No, and if you're simply piloting a bare bike I say climb away!  But we bike campers can be carrying up to 50 pounds of camping gear and thus we are subject to a whole host of unique considerations.

So yes, I'm going to stick with my premise.  The strategy for us bicycle campers is to keep our routes relatively flat.

In the past I've gotten myself into trouble by relying on Google Maps in planning my routes.  That's because Google Maps does a poor job of indicating climbs or dips.  When you look at it - even in "bicycling" mode - the roads simply become lines.  Meandering along merrily.  I've tried the street view trick ("Hmm... does that look like it's climbing?") but that isn't very effective in determining where are the hills.

There is, though, an excellent resource available to you - my bicycle camping brethren - and it's free.  You're probably already aware of it.  It's called Map My Ride and I think it works excellently.  Here's an example:

I'm planning on riding to Dos Picos Park out near Ramona.  Since I'm coming from the south (National City) I'm already familiar with a big part of the ride.  It would seem most advantageous to ride my usual route to Pomerado Road.  From that point I'm using Map My Ride to determine the remainder of my trip.

Here I've selected Scripps Poway Parkway to get me to the 67, and then proceed from there to Mossey Grade and down to Dos Picos (when opening links, I suggest right-clicking and selecting "Open Link in New Tab").

Map My Ride, besides being pretty easy to use, summarizes the route by presenting it on a map and then, below this, it graphs the climbs.  Those climbs are then rated 1 through 5 (5 being the easiest, 1 being the hardest, and the steepest climbs of all are indicated "HC"... I guess that means "hard climb").

As you can see, my particular ride includes 5 climbs, all of them relatively easy except for one rated a 4, a bit harder than the rest.

Earlier I had contemplated riding out from Lake Hodges by using Highland Valley.  Here's the graph from Lake Hodges to Dos Picos by way of Highland Valley:

It indicates 2 significant climbs, one of which is rated a 3.  Now, to give you some idea of the difficulty of a Map My Ride grade 3 climb, the climb up the final portion of La Honda Rd. to Dixon Lake/Daley Ranch is rated a 3.  With all my gear loading down the bike I was completely unable to ride it.  I had to walk the bike.  Thus, I learned the lesson that grade 3 climbs are to be avoided if possible; walked if not.

Note: you, gentle reader, if you are younger and healthier than me (I'm pushing 60; I have a stent in one heart valve; otherwise my health is great but I'm not especially strong)... you might find a grade 3 climb doable.  But be forewarned: it will be tough!

So thus far I've decided I'll take the Scripps Poway Pkwy route to Dos Picos.  Coming back, it'd be nice to take a swing through Escondido and continue on to Cardiff where I can either camp or stay at a relative's house.  Just for shits and giggles (as they say) I plotted the route from Dos Picos through Highland Valley to Lake Hodges:

Check out the graph below the map.  It's 15.6 miles mostly downhill.  Wheeee!!!   Now that looks like fun!!  Only one climb but an easy one. 

Thus my route shall be: Scripps Poway Pkwy to the 67; 67 to Mossey Grade to Dos Picos; probably supper and beer in Ramona that evening; the next morning follow Highland Valley for a fun ride to Lake Hodges; swing up and through Escondido and follow whatever routes seems interesting to Cardiff.

P.S.  The free version of Map My Ride - a beta version, incidentally, that I think is a vast improvement over it's earlier incarnation - is a wealth of information about potential routes.  The site solicits various degrees of paid membership which, depending on your needs, could be very worthwhile.  Please check it out.  I happen to consider it an invaluable resource for us bicycle campers.

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