Stagecoach 400 - Day 3 - Along the Pacific Coast Highway before inland through the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge
66.42 Miles; Encinitas, CA to Rancho San Diego, CA
After two big days, I sleep in a bit more before disembarking and biking to one of Janna's and mine's favorite breakfast places along the Pacific Coast Highway --> Pannikin Coffee and Tea. After a warm breakfast there, I continued south along the Stagecoach 400 which is pretty much the paved PCH route for much of the day. I stop along the ocean many times to take in the literally perfect conditions with sun-kiss and wavefront before arriving at Torrey Pines State Reserve. I've biked up and through Torrey Pines many times before - notably during our 2015 PCH bike tour. This morning, I sit and enjoy the beach and ocean at the bottom of the climb before pushing up and up the steep grade to summit on sea cliffs and endemic Torrey Pine fields overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean.
I stop at the Torrey Pines visitor center for water and then ride south through the park before exiting back onto the paved bike shoulder of highway. The Stagecoach 400 jumps off the pavement further south and onto dirt singletrack weaving through the eucalyptus grounds of the University of California San Diego. From here, I jump on a bike multiuse paved path that parallels the busy highway to take me south to La Jolla, Mission Beach, and near Point Loma. I ride through neighborhoods before unexpectedly slamming my brakes to a halt at Mitch's (Janna and mine's favorite seafood place in San Diego). I grab some fish and chips plus clam chowder before urging myself on with the late afternoon's arrival. I circumvent Coronado Bay through the literal rush hour heart of downtown San Diego past naval ships and ferries before exiting on the south side of the city to make my way down to Chula Vista.
Here, the route keeps to paved shoulders and swings inland-east before joining some paved multiuse paths that begin to weave through the green riparian corridor of Sweetwater County Park. I ride on dirt singletrack and wide unpaved path through the heart of Chula Vista before arriving at the cusp of sunset at Sweetwater Reservoir on the outskirts of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. Here, the route jumps on a spiderweaving network of dirt crisscrossing semi and fully technical singletrack that that wind up and around the western flanks of San Miguel Mountain. The sun quickly sets over the now-distant ocean so I turn on my lights and keep pedaling the singletrack into the darkness arrived. I probably bike another 1-2 hours after dark listening to coyotes yipp and riding alongside the Sweetwater River. I exit the refuge onto paved Campo Road just outside of Rancho San Diego where I turn east off-route to a previously reserved night at Vineyard Hacienda. This place turns out to be spectacular and gorgeous, although I get completely lost in the dark as semis drive by me on the nighttime shoulder of the road. Once there, I settle in and enjoy a nice long shower and peaceful night.