Sunday, May 20, 2018

Santa Rosa Cycling Club El Camino Real Bicycle Tour 2018

Some of my Tour Mates at San Miguel Mission near Paso Robles. (l to r) Karen, Darrin, Paul M, Richard, Nathan). Photo by Paul Chuck
I just finished the Camino Real Tour, (CRT), led by Bill Oetinger. This cycling tour travels some of the best cycling routes in the area between Santa Barbara, and Paso Robles. There is no need for me to describe the routes here. Bill O. has already done this, in a more than adequate manner, in his 52 page El Camino Real Tour Guide. The guide includes a general overview, historical information about the area, daily ride descriptions, detailed maps, cue sheets, and elevation profiles. While the guide may be considered "long winded" by some, there is indeed a wealth of information available, and Bill's writing style, and passion for this topic, makes it a worthwhile investment of your time.

While on the tour, I made daily Facebook posts, tapping out a summary after each day on my iPhone, sometimes in a bit of a hurry before dinner, or after setting up camp in a tired state. These ramblings are far from literary masterpieces, but I've chosen to cobble them together, with only minor edits, into a full Tour Report. Enjoy the journey with me.

CRT Day 1 - Camino Cielo Loop

On the morning of our first day of the CRT, we left the camp together. The ride was under 70 miles, but climbed nearly 10,000'. Roads included Camino Cielo, Painted Cave, and Gibralter. In the photo, the group of 40+ cyclists leave the Sage Hill Campground, our home for two nights. All but one rider crossed the slippery stream safely while exiting the Campground on Paradise Road. Oopsy.

We camped at Sage Hill campground on the first night, and had to negotiate a shallow stream crossing right out of camp.

Rolling out of camp, we climb Stage Coach Road, which crosses under a high bridge on Hwy 154.  Weather was foggy and gloomy for most of the day.
Painted Cave road was a beautiful descent, but caution was indicated on the wet surface.

Paul Chuck rides the West Camino Cielo bonus miles, a worthwhile addition to the standard route on Stage 1.

We came upon this blues band playing at the Popular Cold Stream Tavern, a hot spot in the middle of nowhere on Stagecoach Road.

CRT Day 2 - Figueroa Mountain

Today's Stage 2 on the CRT brought us up the climb of Mt. Figueroa near Solvang, CA. Locals refer to this beast of a climb, as, simply, "Fig." The entire climb is nearly 4,000', and features many long, steep sections, including one mile of gravel. But that's not the best of it. It's stunningly beautiful on this tiny, bumpy road, with incredible views.

Paul Chuck on the lower slopes of Figueroa Mountain.
Paul Chuck and I were challenged by two Tour mates on this climb, an odd couple as it were. Michael Barnes, at 6'2" and 170 lbs., is a surprisingly good climber for his size. And Karen Steele, a "masters aged" woman, who weighs not much more than half of what Michael weighs, and who is a superb climber, also chased us down from behind, standing and spinning, launching her tiny body up into the heavens. This didn't take anything away from the great experience.
Michael Barnes, Karen Steele, and Paul Chuck on the upper slopes of "Fig."

Paul Chuck negotiates a hairpin turn on the descent of Figueroa Mountain.
After a wonderful break for ice cream in the cute town of Los Olivos, Our stage finished in Buellton, where we showered at our hotel, and watched the Tour of California climb Gibraltar, which our crew tackled yesterday.
The town of Los Olivos was a great place to stop for ice cream. As our tour mates trickled into town, they also stopped. My new KTM Revelator bike was such a joy to ride on this trip!

CRT Day 3 - The Canyons

Today's Stage 3 of the CRT explored the canyons near Buellton, CA. Foxen Canyon, Tepesquet Rd., Cat Canyon, and Drum Canyon. The ride was 80 miles and about 5500'.

I rode slow at the beginning of the day with Bill Oetinger, our tour organizer, and we ended up being Lanterne Rouge early on. We rambled on about some intimate topics, love won and lost, with a bit of humor thrown in for good measure.

Once the climbing began, I left Bill and began a big effort to chase down the lead group. I was lucky to find them in the good hands of Inez, relaxing at the wonderful rest stop she'd set up on Foxen Canyon.
Paul Chuck pulls the group along Foxen Canyon. Paul C, Richard, Jim, Darrin.
After the rest stop, we formed a strong group that would stay together all day. This group included Paul Chuck, Richard Anderson, Darrin Jenkins, Jim Davies, and Karen Steele. Paul C. did many strong pulls while the rest of us hung on for dear life. Weather was perfect on this sunny day.

Karen Steele demonstrates her high cadence, out of saddle climbing style on Cat Canyon. She is poetry in motion while standing and it's a pleasure to watch. Karen makes this climb look effortless, though she would claim otherwise.
Paul Chuck on Cat Canyon. Paul C was clearly the strongest climber in our group, and was frequently far off the front on the longer climbs.

Our group on Drum Canyon, Karen, Paul C, Richard, Darrin.

Karen looks happy to have a chance to sit down. While our group of thoroughbreds was swift on the road, we always took some time to enjoy the rest stops set up by our generous volunteers.

CRT Stage 4 - Jalama Beach

Stage 4 of the CRT, took us to Jalama Beach near Buellton, CA. Sunny skies, pleasant temperatures, and plenty of wind, describe today's weather. It was a good day to ride in a group!

I rode at the front during the first miles, and did my best to hold back the pace in order to keep the group of 30 or so, together for as long as possible.

The group rolls out of Buellton in a large bunch, which would stay together for the first flat miles.
After the first long hill, my efforts became futile, as slower riders were blown off the back and the group was shattered. With that said, some riders thanked me for at least having a go at it, making for a nice group rollout.
Crossing a valley on the beautiful Jalama Road.
The road out to the beautiful, and surprisingly quiet enclave of Jalama, was quite pleasant. Once we crested the last hill, we were treated to a nice view of the tiny community, while an Amtrak train chugged by. Visitors can camp at the beautiful beach, and quaint cabins are available for rent.
Our group as we crested the last hill before taking in the view of the ocean and Jalama Beach.
(l to r), Jim, Karen, Nathan, Richard, Paul C, Darrin.

The small community at Jalama Beach.

Jalama is famous for burgers sold at the tiny store with very low ceiling. 
Jalama Beach store offers famous burgers and a place to sit and enjoy.

Tasty half burger at Jalama Beach Store. Photo: Paul Chuck

Climbing out of Jalama Beach with Paul Chuck. Photo: Inez Barragan
Paul Chuck and I split a burger before heading back to Buellton, with a rippin' tailwind most of the way. The makeup of our small group of a half dozen or so riders changed over the course of the day, but I always had good company. We ended up with about 70 miles and 4500'. Once back in Buellton, we stopped for ice cream at the store near our hotel.
Upon our return to Buellton, it was warm enough to enjoy ice cream at a store near our hotel. Paul Chuck in foreground, Jim Davies and Firouzeh Attwood in background.

CRT Stage 5 - Nojoqui Falls

Today, Stage 5, is a transfer day on the CRT. We'll be packing our bags and heading from the comfort of our hotel in Buellton, North, to a campground at Santa Margarita Lake, East of San Luis Obispo.

But that didn't mean there was no riding today. Bill O. put together a nice route through Solvang, to Nojoqui Falls, followed by a stroll in the countryside along Ballard Canyon, giving us a bit over 30 miles and a bit under 2,000'.

Lovely Alisal Rd. en route to Nojoqui Falls

It was a nice break for my tired legs, and I never turned a pedal in anger. Just a nice, easy spin.

When we got to Nojoqui Falls, ahead of the group, we elected to ride the short, dirt hiking trail up to the falls, or the trickle, as it were. I rode the entire trail up to the Falls other than some stairs, but scouted a rideable route around the stairs and I was able to clean the descent on the return. Nice to have a little dirt challenge on the ride!
We elected to ride the final trail to the falls.

The final stretch of trail is apparently off limits when the falls are flowing. There was no danger on this day.

Paul Chuck is dwarfed by Nojoqui Falls
I'm not a big fan of Solvang, but Paul Chuck and I couldn't resist stopping at Mortensen's Bakery, for a Bear Claw doused with about 5 tablespoons of white granulated sugar. I shook the thing off to release some of the excess white stuff, but was met with only modest success.

Paul Chuck and Paul McKenzie at Mortensen's Bakery in Solvang.
After that, we meandered North back toward Los Olivos, then caught Ballard Canyon for an easy spin back to Buellton. I was reminded of my previous visit through here on the Solvang Double, racing the home stretch on the tandem, in a successful bid to salvage a sub 10 hour ride, after suffering 3 flats earlier in the day. Our pace on this day was far more relaxed. Hopefully, this easy day will give the legs some much needed recovery!

Nice, easy spin on Ballard Canyon.
Now it's time to pack up and get on the road!

CRT Stage 6

The Stage 6 report for the CRT begins with a description of last evening's camp. 
Unloading the truck at camp.
We arrived and unloaded the truck, and while most riders set up camp and relaxed with a beer or glass of wine, our designated cook crew, comprised of tour participants, created a wonderful Mexican feast, along with a very welcome tossed green salad. 

Paul Chuck demonstrates what you do at camp when it's NOT your day to cook.
As we were camped at Santa Margarita Lake, our cooks decided that it would be fitting to serve Margarita drinks with dinner. Suffice to say, the drinks were well received!
Lydia, Marianne, Jon in the kitchen on Mexican night.

Bill and Rich, whipping up Margarita drinks for all!

After a good night's sleep, today's ride took us from camp via a circuitous route, to Paso Robles, and included smooth, quiet roads in the countryside. It was a wonderful route, but that wasn't the highlight of the day.

Paul and Karen on the early miles leaving camp on Pozo Road. The fog will burn off shortly.

On Linda Flurher's recommendation, we added in the climb up to the FAA station on Black Mountain, not on the tour itinerary. This amazing climb tacked on an additional 14 miles and 2500'.
Richard struggles up a 20% grade on Black Mountain. There were many short, steep pitches.

Paul C on gorgeous Black Mountain Road.

Black Mountain Road, a beautiful ribbon of pavement on the ridge top.

The road is dramatic, with steep pitches of 20%, and it's not a pure climb! The road up the mountain has several downhill sections as it meanders along the ridgetop with no road cuts. Pavement is sketch, there is a lot of sand and gravel, the road constantly changes pitch and direction, and the traveler is treated to fantastic views in all directions at different times during the climb. I cannot recommend this climb more highly! But... in the words of Paul Chuck, "It's a real Ball Buster." You've been warned. Your reward comes with a price tag.
Paul M and Darrin near the top of Black Mountain at the FAA station

The rest of the day was much easier, and quite enjoyable. Hwy 229, Willow Creek, and Peachy Canyon were all very nice cycling roads. We did a short stretch on Cripple Creek, and I found myself singing the tune of the same name, by The Band, about that wonderful woman, Bessie, whilst pace lining with Paul C and Darrin. 

Up on Cripple Creek, she sends me,
If I spring a leak, she mends me,
I don't have to speak, she defends me,
A drunkard's dream, if I ever did see one...

We were chasing down Jim Davies, who'd aborted Black Mountain and was trying to hold off the hounds. He did, for a very long time, but we brought him back just before the final rest stop. Good, clean fun.

With our extra credit, we ended up with about 90 miles and 7500'. Another great day on this Bill O. Cycling Tour.

CRT Stage 7 - Paso Robles Loops

Stage 7 was the final day of the CRT. Starting from our Hotel in Paso Robles, we first headed East and North to explore some beautiful rolling canyons, Hog Canyon, Ranchita Canyon, and Cross Canyon. This is very nice country with quiet roads and a mix of vineyards and cattle ranches.
Our group on Hog Canyon early in the day before the fog cleared.

Hog Canyon becomes more beautiful as we head further East. And the fog clears, revealing a perfect day for riding.

Barn on Hog Canyon.

Darrin, Richard, on Ranchita Canyon
Karen on Ranchita Canyon.

Upon completing this Loop, we stopped briefly in the town of San Miguel for a group photo. Speaking of groups, we had a good one today, and on this last day of the tour, for whatever reason, the group stuck together for the entire 70 mile ride.

There were the usual suspects in this group, folks that have been riding together on and off all week, and all very competent riders. The group was comprised of myself, Paul Chuck, Richard Anderson, Karen Steele, Darrin Jenkins, and Nathan Moore. Jim Davies was not with us today, but he, and Nathan, made regular guest appearances in our group throughout the week.

The Usual Suspects at San Miguel Mission

We had more rest stops than we actually needed, but the white vans were always a welcome sight. Rich is our host at this particular stop on Ranchita Canyon.

We had two lovely rest stops on this ride and I just can't say enough good things about our rest stop hosts. Inez, John, Bill, and Rich took care of the group out on the road. Every time I saw one of our white vans appear on the horizon, I knew I'd be enjoying an ice cold drink, a few treats, and a warm welcome from our rest stop host.

After San Miguel, we traveled another, more hilly loop on the West side of the freeway. Roads included San Marcos, Chimney Rock, Cypress Mtn., Klau Mine, and Adelaide. All of these roads were awesome, and having great company made it that much better.

The group on Cypress Mountain Road.

Karen on Chimney Rock Road.
After we made it over the final climb, with Darrin making an exceptionally strong pull cresting the climb, we had a long, and fast, descent on Adelaide Road, back into Paso Robles. Paul Chuck took the lead and pedaled hard all the way down the gradual descent. I hunkered down as low as I could, second wheel, in the drops with elbows bent at 90 degrees, trying to match Paul C's perfect racing position, to catch the draft while the rest of the group hung on behind.
I did the final easy pull into town, on Nacimiento Lake Road, and took the city limits sprint. The fact is, it was completely uncontested, but that's OK. I could have been last in the sprint and it would have taken nothing away from this great week of riding on the CRT!
Big thanks to Bill O. and everyone else who contributed. Great crew!