April 14, 2016

Santa Rosa Creek

Given the choice, would you rather bike on a road named Green Valley or California State Highway 46? [Let me guess ...]

Highway 46 West near Cambria, California
But that's a trick question, because they're the same road.

Tree-studded hills carpeted in yellow flowers, view to the south from Highway 46 near Cambria, California
I've admired these very hills from the comfort of a tour bus each September, returning from the Best Buddies Hearst Castle Challenge. I didn't expect that I might ride my bicycle here. Ever.

Today was the queen stage of our little getaway, the route with the most climbing and the longest distance. I decided I was up for it. Then I checked the forecast.

We were headed for the coastal town of Cambria, and the weather service had posted a wind advisory. Strong winds in the afternoon, gusting to 35 mph, from the northwest. That would present crosswinds on the return trip; so far this week, I'd wobbled twice in crosswinds that were far weaker.

Time for Plan B.

Cows in the clouds along a ridge near Cambria, California
My wise roommate had been planning all along to drive to the end point for today's climb. I joined her. When I saw that the return to Paso Robles on Highway 46 would have involved more climbing, I was ever-so-glad that I would not be biking it today.

As we parked, we met a couple of guys setting up a rest stop of sorts. They said they had about 20 riders coming through and asked where we were headed. “Oh, you're coming up the wall,” they said. I asked them about the steep bits on Santa Rosa Creek Road. 20% grade, one explained; a steep section, followed by a steep switchback. [I see some uphill walking in my future.]

Intersection of California Highways 1 and 46, south of Cambria, California
Heading west entailed a bit of climbing to earn a creamy downhill to the coast. We turned right onto Highway 1 ... right into the wind.

Cyclists congregate in front of Linn's restaurant, Cambria, California
It was too early for lunch. But it was not too early for a warm slice of olallieberry pie at Linn's. (Thanks, Ms. C., for the recommendation.)

Curvy, one-lane section of Santa Rosa Creek Road near Cambria, California
Santa Rosa Creek Road was spectacular. See the tree trunk heralding a bend in the road?

View of hills from upper Santa Rosa Creek Road, with yellow flowers, San Luis Obispo County, California
Segments reminded me of some Bay Area favorites: Tunitas Creek (though without the redwoods). Lobitos Creek. Bear Gulch West. After several miles, the steady gentle climb ticked up. And then ...

There were two steep (but short) ramps in succession, each affording a (more or less) flat bit for recovery. Was that it, or would it get worse? Where's that nasty switchback?

The road took a bend to the left, and ... [gulp]. Unclip, unclip now! My left cleat would not release. I'm going to topple over. Rotate the pedals, steady, steady, unclip. [Whew.] Turkeys, unseen, cackled nearby. [Funny, very funny.]

The support van had relocated to (effectively) the top of the climb, and the racers were arriving as I got there. As I prepared to roll on, a bunch of them clipped in to do the same. Should I wait, let them pass? [Nah.]

And, we're off! Downhill, curvy, one lane, through the woods. One guy was ahead of me, and I wasn't losing ground. [Hmm.] Thoughts buzzed through my head. You don't know this road. The guy ahead of you does, follow him. We're really moving. Don't give chase. But he knows the road. Chill out. A couple more guys joined the first one, but the gap between us did not expand. When there was enough of a straight stretch, I checked my mirror. Maybe I should sit up and let the rest of the group come together.

They were nowhere in sight. Nowhere.

I could see the road ahead tilt up. Ah, that must be the “one more climb” a rider had foretold. I didn't want to crawl uphill. Aerodynamics and some mad pedaling paid off: not only did I make it up the hill with little effort, I actually closed the gap to the racer guys! [Thank you, CervĂ©lo, thank you.]

Oak tree in a field of blooming purple lupines along Santa Rosa Creek Road, San Luis Obispo County, California
The road leveled out and a spread of lupines called for a photo. I sat up and slowed. As they passed, one of the women called out “You did a great job descending back there!” I smiled. “That's why I climb.”

View of tree-covered hills with lupines and poppies in the foreground, Santa Rosa Creek Road, San Luis Obispo County, California
Our ride leaders for this trip were clever indeed. With each day's loop out of Paso Robles, we explored a new direction: southwest, southeast, northeast, saving the best for last: 32 miles, 2,795 feet of climbing west, to the coast (and back).

Purple lupine, vetch, and California poppies blooming along Santa Rosa Creek Road, San Luis Obispo County, California

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