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There’s a lot to see from aboard two wheels

Jonathan Volzke
Jonathan Volzke

By Jonathan Volzke

One of our former City Council members every now and again writes a column about his travels about town with a horse named Ol’ Nellie. He makes a few good points, although sometimes the horse makes better.

I’ve been touring the town the last few months by bicycle. I get up in the morning, bundle up and make a lap around that takes me from my home off Camino Capistrano up to the top of Don Juan Avenue on Mission Hill to see the sun coming up over the town. I then cut under the freeway on El Horno, go north on Rancho Viejo Road and ride up the hill past Saddleback College on Avery. From there, I hit the trail that goes behind San Juan Village and under the freeway to the Northwest Open Space, where I catch the trail behind Saddleback Valley Christian School, up Oso to Camino Cap and back home.

It’s a great ride, allowing me to see the best of what our town has to offer. The world looks different when we’re out of our cars and on foot or bicycle.

The trails, particularly behind Saddleback Valley Christian, make me feel like I’m out of the city. There are beautiful open hillsides and it’s fun to ride through the water where the creek bisects the trail.

I pass folks who are walking or jogging and there’s always a friendly “hello.” I often see equestrian trainer Ellen Gates walking a horse along Oso, which is just so San Juan. Speaking of our town’s legacy, I see swallows every morning, too, along the creek just west of where it crosses under the freeway.

But I also see the worst of our town from my bicycle seat. Folks leave a lot of trash everywhere, whether it’s tossed out of their car or carelessly dropped. I was riding with a neighbor, Ron Nord, one morning when we came across a man collecting trash in the open space as he walked his dogs. He was outfitted with a bag and a mechanical grabber he used to pick up wrappers and cups and bottles and whatnot. He said he does it every morning. We didn’t get his name, but we thanked him.

I always say a little prayer when I pass the white cross and flowers on Rancho Viejo Road. I feel guilty because I don’t recall who it memorializes. I repeat that prayer when I ride near Camino Capistrano and Junipero Serra, where a little girl lost her life as her father allegedly drove drunk on Swallows Day.

They’re good reminders, though, for me to keep my head up while I’m riding. I try to stay on the trails as much as possible, but there are spots where I can’t—or where it’s safer to ride on the street. I see motorists on cell phones, putting on makeup, eating breakfast, all while passing within feet of me in their 3,000-pound-plus vehicles.

There’s a move afoot throughout the county to encourage folks to use bicycles instead of cars whenever possible. County leaders recognize the first step is to ensure cyclists feel safe—whether it’s on a well-designed, interconnected system of trails or on streets where drivers are educated to share the road.

City leaders are also working toward that and have assembled a group of volunteers into an ad-hoc bicycle committee that meets once a month. I’m honored to be part of that group, which is led by Councilmen Larry Kramer and John Taylor. There’s a “Capistrano Bicycle Club” Facebook page now, too. If you want to take part or have some ideas, follow that page on Facebook or email the councilmen at or

And take a moment to explore our city and our trails on foot or bicycle—just be careful out there, whether you’re riding or driving.

San Juan Capistrano resident Jonathan Volzke is an award-winning journalist for the Orange County Register and founder and former editor of The Capistrano Dispatch. He is now a senior account manager for Communications LAB in Lake Forest.

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comments (1)

  • Mr Volzke
    I enjoyed your article. San Juan is a unique place to live. We travel many of the same paths you do. In just minutes you can go from city living to wide open country. It was a great place to raise my children and now the grandchildren. I feel it’s time for me to give back to the community and we enjoy every mile.
    The Old Man and his Dogs

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