Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mt Figueroa – an epic ride

The first ride, and by ride I mean climb, on our recent San Diego road trip was Mt Figueroa.  This route started in the quaint town of Solvang so that was the destination on our first night of driving.  A very long 6 hours after we started, we arrived in Solvang in a pouring rain.  In fact, it had rained for most of the drive down.

After the heavy rain of the night before, we were pleasantly surprised to wake up to brilliant sunshine.  After a quick breakfast, we got ourselves and the bikes ready to head out.  Although there was a very strong wind, we were still grateful to be riding in the sun for a change.

IMG_0140 The lead out to Mt Figueroa was gorgeous.  We quickly left the town behind as we rolled along the same roads used in the Tour of California time trials in years past.  There were open pastures with spring flowers, vineyards showing new growth, and numerous horse ranches.  However, Mt Figueroa was always visible in the distance, covered in snow, just beckoning our arrival.

We turned on to Happy Canyon Road and knew the easy part was over.  In our experience, any road with the name “Happy” isn’t.  Still, we rolled along for a few more miles and then started the climb.  Just as we get started Tim flatted.  So Brian kept going as I waited for Tim.  As soon as we restart, Tim pulls away (he’s a stronger climber) and I find myself climbing alone.

I managed to find a good rhythm, even though the grade was constantly changing.  After a few miles, I passed some firefighters clearing brush from the side of the road and was reminded that no matter how hard I was working on the climb, I was out there for the fun of it.

Then I came around a corner to see Brian and Tim stopped.  Then I notice the pavement ends and the road turns into a soupy mixture of mud with firm patches of ground here and there.  Brian tried to make it but his tires became caked with mud.  After I arrive, Tim hesitates long enough to say “Get a picture!” and off he goes.  As we watch him climb out of site we wait just a few minutes before we realize he’s not coming back.

IMG_0142 Now it’s our turn.  I hit the dirt section in a low gear and try my best to find a firm line.  I was not always successful so the tires and frame is collecting enough mud that I can feel the weight difference.  At one point, I spun out and had to unclip and put my foot down.  Great!  Now my cleat is covered in mud.  So I walked to a firmer section, clean out my cleat and started climbing again.  This happened twice before I made it through this 2-mile section of “road”.

With the mud behind us, we started a short descent that included two stream crossings, one that was fairly deep and running fast.  Next thing you know we are climbing once more.  At this point we are only half way through the climb and the second half is harder.  We dealt with miles of sustained grades in excess of 10%.  To add insult to injury, we were frequently riding into a strong headwind. 

Finally, after 12 miles and 4500 feet of climbing we reach the summit.  Now we get to fly down the descent.  At least that’s what we thought.  As we start the descent, we follow a curve from the sun into the shade and onto a road covered in snow and ice.  So, we gently make our way through about a mile of very dicey road before we are back in the sun and on dry pavement once more.  However, the very gusty crosswinds still made the descent tricky so we all took our time and made it down safely.

IMAG0034 With the climbing done, we made our way back to town aided with a 1% downgrade and an awesome tailwind.  This really allowed us to spin out our legs to get ready for the next day’s climb.  Finally, we reach the hotel and begin drinking our “recovery” drink before heading to lunch.

This climb definitely redefines epic for me.  Long climbs, mud, stream crossings, snow, ice, and gusty crosswinds all made it quite an adventure.  However, it is an adventure I would highly recommend to everyone.


1 Comment(s):

amy said...

You always have the best ride reports!