Big Rock Trail at Cowles Mountain

The Setting

I can’t jump for the life of me. I stink at it. Huge mental block. While I can handle steeps and drops like a champ, and consider myself a descent technical rider, the trail owned me today. If slow, steep, and technical is your thing, Cowles Mountain is for you.

Nestled in the the northeast corner of Mission Trails Regional Park, the Big Rock Trailhead wastes no time starting its ascent and immediately dares riders to challenge an unending supply of railroad tie step-ups, tall rock crops, and tight turns. The out and back will log you 4.5 miles with a little over 1200 ft. elevation gain. There are plenty of options to make the ride longer and harder. The technical portion is just under 1.5 miles before dumping onto the service road to the peak. This isn’t a break. It’s not technical, but its steep. So very steep.

The Ride

I stopped a lot. A lot. I wasn’t prepared for the physical and mental work I learned is required to ride the trail with any success. It was also an excuse to take in new sights and sounds. Sometimes you have to say “To hell with Strava” and enjoy the experience for what it is. PR’s and segment rankings weren’t the goal on this ride. . .it ended that way anyways; defeated. Let’s be honest, we all (me) are captive to Strava and begin every ride racing against the world.

The descent from Cowles Peak was interesting. Dirt on the service road is one of those bizarre grey-ish/beige colors and nearly impossible to distinguish depth between bumps and various trail changes. I rode the brakes hard and could feel the loose ground below challenging my tires’ grip. It’s not often I smell burning pads from my brakes. I did today. Perhaps swapping out my sun glass lenses to an orange tone would have helped. Next time.

Final Thoughts

The singletrack portion of Cowles is fun and ranks with the trail system in Santee. . .the best in San Diego County. Mountain Bike Bill has covered the these trails at length. It’s fun because it’s hard. It’s fun because it tests skill. The service road climb and finish to the peak are forgettable, but required. After all, it is a violation to leave elevation unclaimed.

There will certainly be more to come and ultimately, celebration of defeating Cowles. No dabs. No walking. No falls.

I’ll keep you posted.

For more on Mission Trails Regional Park, head to San Diego Mountain Bike Association’s website.