57.52 Miles; 2,707 Feet of Gain; Mt. Laguna, CA to Oak Grove, CA
It was a truly relaxing night on top of Mount Laguna. The start of the night left me sweating from the heat of the day, but that quickly dissipated in the early hours of the morning to coolness. In fact, there was a chill in the air when we woke up the next morning. We packed up camp from the quiet and empty campground before pushing out down to the Laguna Mountain Lodge and Trading Post. Unfortunately, it was closed and not due to open for another hour or two; we had miles to go so we took a few pictures and continued up a slight incline in the trees. The road curved and suddenly, we were heading down the north/opposite side of Mount Laguna. Pines quickly faded to oaks which fell away in an old burn scar now filled with manzanita. Before us, expansive views down to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park opened up at every curve in the road. We stopped again and again to gaze down at the legendary desert. It seemed such a contrast to be up here in the green manzanita flanks of a mountain with wind jackets on and high cloud cover ahead while distant bleached desert peaks and a venerable roasting oven of Anza-Borrego Mojave desert lay below us.
The threat of June heat didn't evade us. We knew our descent would take us down into it. It was morning still, so we needed to move. Janna and I kept pedaling down the car-free highway until the greenery of altitude was replaced by brown summer grass and faded sage. The high desert grasslands swallowed us up. I sign welcomed us to this high point in Anza-Borrego State Park where another curve in the road brought more manzanita sea flowing with green against earth tones of heat afar. Jumbled rock piles and reminiscent of Joshua Tree stood on distant desert peaks. The day was getting hot, but the movement on the bike kept the convective heat loss in our favor. That, and the marine layer had crept far inland again giving us a "slight" cloud cover this morning.
Sprawling desert grasslands puckered away as a short climb carried us onto a ridge overlooking valleys below. To our west, the marine layer and coastal foliage predominated with pines and greenery. To our east, the rain shadow dried the lee. The downhill gave us big miles that carried us straight into downtown Julian, CA. I had never been here and knew little. We were immediately blown away by the restaurants, outdoor scene, and local vibe. My mom told me later that my Uncle John considered Julian one of his favorite places in the world.
Janna and I had covered so much ground by mid-morning with that downhill that we felt it safe to grab some breakfast and take a break. We ate at the Julian Café and Bakery which is where we learned that Julian is famous for pies. Janna, ever a pie-lover, had her eyes light up. After breakfast, we made our way to a small grocery for some resupplies, and then pushed on to descend down to San Ysabel. An old Spanish Mission sat by the road amidst the grasslands and live oaks. A turn in the road brought us by the famous Julian Pie Company. We stopped to grab several slices of pie which we ate in the parking lot next to our bikes in the shade of some trees.
Satiated with baked goods, we decided to really get some miles covered through the upcoming exposed high desert grasslands. The highway to Warner Springs was incredibly busy with vehicles coming and going. A highway to our rights led down to the desert floor of Anza-Borrego. We kept going straight as the sun cooked us overhead. Every live oak along the road brought needed shade for a few minute's rest. Eventually, the small town of Warner Springs (a famous PCT resupply) reared up on the other side of a massive basin. We crossed paths with a local walking along the road. We stopped to talk to him and he told us we were lucky to have excellent cool weather for this desert crossing. It felt hot, but I knew it was typically MUCH hotter this time of year.
Upon entry to Warner Springs, I was hit by an uncontrollable urge to defecate. It uncoiled in my guts and ripped across my lower abdomen. I thought I was going to shit myself and felt waves of nausea wash over me. This was particularly unpleasant in the high heat of the day. We swung through town but everything was absolutely closed due to COVID still, including the gas station resupply locations. I began to panic trying to think about where I would find a restroom along this stretch of highway flanked by private land and ranches.
I continued pedaling as it was the only thing to do, trying to master the urge to shit in my shorts. We rounded the corner and a historic mission, Chapel of St. Francis (built 1830), came up on our rights up a small dirt road on a hill. I pled with hope in my head that there would be a public restroom there. We parked the bikes behind the Spanish mission. I looked up the hill and saw a set of two stucco restrooms. I ran up, and behold, they were open. I went in and lost everything in my body on that toilet. Apparently, this restroom is left open for visitors and travelers as a goodwill gesture. I truly appreciated it.
Emptied and finally relaxed from the heat, the relief I felt was instantaneous. I washed up and met Janna outside by a spigot to refill our water. The church was unoccupied, but open, so we stepped in to take a look at the active, but historic structure. It felt so cool and relaxing in there, that we stayed in the area for about an hour to enjoy shade and slowly drink water while eating snacks.
Mid-afternoon came. We packed up our bikes and crossed more of the desert. Next to us, a giant private airfield did flights overhead where a pilot trailed a second plane behind it filled with paying guests wanting the thrill of "almost" flying a plane themselves. Desert hills rose around us as the road continued next to a dry wash lined with live oak and filling with cacti. A big mountain cut up to our lefts as we eventually arrived in later afternoon at Oak Grove Campground. The campground was mostly closed due to COVID, and camping was only allowed for those with a reservation beforehand. I had gotten one before leaving, which was a good call because the campground host checking us in tried to initially turn us away before I pulled out a printed receipt with our site. He said too many folks were trying to camp there (there had to be a hundred sites and we maybe say 10 campers). He quickly turned welcoming with our reservation in-hand and walked us around the grounds.
The campground is famous for being nestled in a woodland of shagbarks and canyon live oaks. Early summer evenings arrive late. We ate dinner at our picnic table beneath the live oaks and ribbonwood while the marine layer slowly crept up the valley and began to cover Mt. Palomar, the large mountain across from the campground. The temperatures quickly cooled. We ate tortillas with bean dip, home fries carried out from our breakfast in Julian, and cheesy Fritos for dinner. After, we walked through the campground and then crossed the highway over to a small trail near a hotshot crew site. It was getting cooler than comfortable, and the threat of rain seemed imminent, so we headed back to our site and climbed into the Triplex for the night.