Thursday, June 7, 2012

Figueroa Mountain Loop Road ride, Santa Ynez, CA

Last Sunday I finally was able to sneak in a Figueroa Mountain ride. I try to do this one a few times a year, but it must be done when it's cool (relatively speaking) but not COLD. I tried this ride 2 years ago in September when the forecast was for low 90's, and when I turned around about 5 miles up the 10 mile climb it was 116F. The COOLEST it got on the descent (and 14 mile ride back into Los Olivos where I was parked) was 111. I was out of water by the bottom of the hill (felt like I was descending into a fire) and finally I stopped at a house on the road to beg for water (he probably saved my was THAT hot). I've also been up it in March when it was so cold at the top and coming down that I was afraid I would crash due to my arms shaking.

But I digress. Fig is a GREAT ride, and it's listed in the website of US climbs as an HC climb. I'm quite weak as compared to years past, so this ride was purely about survival and getting some hard miles in my legs, trying to catch up some for being on travel so much this year. The forecast was pretty good (NOT in the low 90's) so I decided this was the time to give it a go (even though I did 60 pretty-hard miles on Saturday).

 Heading towards the mountain. That's it, dead center in the pic off in the distance. I'm rolling along at about 600' above sea level here, and the summit is right at 4500'. I'm doing the loop counter-clockwise.

 Getting closer...this picture is taken from Happy Canyon Rd which takes me right up the back side. It's 14 miles from Los Olivos to the base of the climb, which off under the clouds to the right. The peak is dead center in the pic, and the road comes across from the back side just to the left of the highest spot in the pic (a tiny little peak).

 And the climb begins, only 10 more miles to the summit. The climb averages between 6 and 12% grade, and gets your attention right quick as it starts out above 10% for most of the first mile. As the altitude started climbing, so did the temps. Here at the base it was only about 72F right around 9:30am.

There's a 1 mile dirt section about 2 miles up. Average grade is between 6 and 8%, so I'd rather climb than descend it (there's lots of sharp rocks and some pretty poor road in general). Trying to come down this section slow is not very fun. Does it appear that it gets rather HOT on this side of the Mt?

 About mile 5, half way up the climb. LOTS of debris in the road. It's paved but relegated to near jeep-trail status at times. The grade is holding at about 10% here. Also the temp is hovering around 93F, which is still quite do-able. This is just past where I turned around on that ill-fated STUPID-HOT day 2 years ago. I'm quite stubborn apparently (I kept thinking it would get cooler as I climbed, until I finally figured out that it wasn't). It was in the news 2 days later that a college kid had died of heat-stroke climbing up from the other direction (they didn't find him until Monday). I guess I made the right choice to turn around when I did!

 Now I'm past Cachuma Saddle (an intersection at mile 6) where I turn onto Figueroa Mt Rd and head for the summit. This shot is looking North at the jeep-road to Mckinley Peak. This is a great Mt bike ride, with a long and strenuous climb (ie, I LOVE IT!) It's about a 2 hour climb from the saddle, and about 20 minutes to descend. At the very top of the picture you can see the trail slanting across thru the trees onto the ridge. It gets hard from there.

 Having now crossed over to the south side of the Figueroa Mountain, you can see the what all intrepid riders do: switchbacks galore, laughing at you hysterically (you've been climbing around an hour at this point). Keep on grinding, only about 3 miles to go!

Looking back down at those switchbacks. What a GREAT climb this is! Many pro teams do a winter training camp based in Solvang, and the Figueroa Mt loop is a mainstay of their training for the big European climbs. Back in the Postal/Discovery days Lance and company were here most every January.

 Getting close now...though it's always nice to know for sure! Thank you whoever you are!

 That's Figueroa Peak the arrow is pointing towards. The road goes around the peak on the right, passing roughly 50 or so vertical feet below the actual summit.

 And here we are! Just ahead left of the dirt is the summit of the road. Altitude here is right around 4500'.

 Down just a mile or so from the summit you break out of the trees to this view. The road sweeps around to the right, and other than the raging cross-winds is a BLAST to descend!

More wicked-fun descending. I love it when you can see the road sweeping out in front of you and can just let go of the brakes and scream! And screaming is also what you do when you get hit by HIGH crosswind gusts at speed.

 Hard to see it thru the trees, but this is one of the many tight switchbacks going to the left. The pavement up here is still good, but it gets TERRIBLE for the last mile or so. But descending the other direction (on Happy Canyon, the way I climbed up) is MUCH worse.

Off the mountain, heading back towards Los Olivos on Figueroa Mt Rd takes you past the gates to Neverland (Michael Jackson's place). This is the front gates. There is a guardshack to the right and there's always somebody there. The family still owns the property, and you never know who might be there at any given moment.

From this point the road gently descends at about a 1 or 2% grade for the next 5 miles back into town. Oh, and did I mention that there's almost ALWAYS a tail-wind here? The road is running almost due-south, and with the exception of an incoming storm, our winds always come from the north. We've done pace-lines down this stretch holding speeds in the mid-twenties, which is pretty fast for a bunch of old-folk recreational riders. And it's an AWESOME way to end an epic road ride. 

Last year I got a bit stupid and did a double-Fig loop one day, giving me 80 miles and almost 10,000' of climbing. Won't be doing that again anytime soon I can tell you. Once is plenty for one day I've decided. On this day I only saw ONE other bike on the entire mountain, which is quite unusual. It was a GREAT day!

Get out there and find an epic ride of your own! And keep the rubber-side down! And HAPPY FRIDAY to you!

Note: I added a link to the 2012 Tour Divide race (it's under my 'Link List' on the right below the blogs I like). This link takes you to the tracking page of all the racers in this years race, which started on Friday. It's a self-supported Mt bike race that follows the continental divide from Banff Alberta to Antelope Wells New Mexico. That's over 2000 miles of bears, rain, mud and whatever else Mother Nature throws at you.


  1. Hey Matt - I've noticed 2 things lately - to read your posts I now have to push the scroll bar back & forth (a pain) & every time you put up a new post, ALL ones before disappear from the screen & go to the Archives. (Both of these started when your fixed the problem of the writing on the right side of the screen from overlapping the post).

    Any way you can fix these? Thanks!

    Don't have time right now to read your whole post but LOVE the pics as always!

  2. Hey Susie...I had widened the post a while ago (it looks FINE on my 22" monitor!)...and I had also cut down to only displaying the current post (to get the other ones you had to click "Older Post" which shows up down below the comment box, or off to the right under "Blog Archive" you could access the older I made the screen narrower and put it back to 2 posts shown...let me know if this works for you, or if it's still too wide.

    Hope the rest of you are actually getting Summer...we sure aren't HERE! (at least now where we live...if I ride inland 5 to 10 miles it gets nice)...out on base (which is right on the coast) we've been MAYBE in the low 60's, and HOWLING winds every single day! (one of my engineers 'sprung' the door to my work-van...he wasn't paying attention to which direction he was parking, and when he opened the door it ripped it right out of his hand and really messed up the front's been in the body shop all week getting repaired).

    On my ride today the last 15 miles was hell on earth...come out of the canyon and SMACK DAB into a head/crosswind the entire way home...typically w/ our 'normal' winds I can do that leg in about 52 - 55 it was almost an hour twenty to CRAWL my way home. I was defeated and shattered. I HATE THE WIND! And it's pure see, our windy period is mid March to mid April. I was gone in England then, and quite happy to miss that portion of the year. Well, good ol' Mother Nature is having the last laugh...we had almost no high winds this spring, and she seems to have saved them for me knowing how much I like them. NOT!

    OK..on with the weekend.

  3. We are getting summer--in fact, I would say that your post was making me miss ol' southern California (all over again) EXCEPT we have been having San Diego like weather for the past month. It has rained only one day (thank heavens that was a nearly 24 hour soaking) in the past month. Very pleasant for being outside but my water bill for the garden is going to be ridiculous (still, nothing like I used to pay for water in San Diego)

    Looking forward to watching the Tour de Suisse and the last stage of Dauphine tonight on NBCSports. Hoping Cadel can stay on the podium at Dauphine--Wiggo and Sky have been scary strong this week (although I am glad to see Rogers get a step too, he has had such bad luck in his career -- remember the dog incident?)

    Talking about scary strong, then there is Peter Sagan! Beat Fabulous Fabian! Although, perhaps Cance isn't quite 100% yet after his fracture...but the kid has been on quite a roll. Who is your favorite to win the tour de suisse?


  4. Can't chat much now but the screen is MUCH MUCH better! Thanks Matt!

    Sad but not surprised about Big George's retirement at end of year. Still wish he'd ride 1 more though.

    And not really surprised that Horner won't be at the Tour. When he failed to get on the podium at ToC & then didn't go to either of the pre-Tour tune-ups, well, I thought we probably wouldn't be viewing &/or reading his Tour video diary this year. I doubt he'll be on RSNT next year, what do ya'll think?

    BTW, I'm not too happy about Garmin right now either. I've read that Ryder is the designated GC guy for the Tour. REALLY?! So, Ryder can do something (the double) that even Contador can't do?!! Ryder should ride in support of CVV! It's CVV's last chance to podium at the Tour & I want everyone working for him, barring injury.

    Almost forgot - you know how we American cycling fans think it's a "big deal" when an "American team" wins a Grand Tour? NOT for the rest of the American sports media. Last year's BMC win in the Tour was not covered as an "American" win at all. And this year, I had to wait TWO DAYS until I could get to the internet on Tuesday to find our if Ryder & Garmin really did win the Giro. ALL day that Sunday & Monday, I repeatedly clicked over to the ESPNs & NBCSP for a mention, a scroll blip, anything & there was NOTHING! I thought maybe Ryder hadn't won it after all! I'm still pissed about it.

    One more thing - just read that Cav is on a special diet to drop some more weight. Good grief, he was already so thin at the Giro, I almost didn't recognize him! Don't you think if he gets too thin, it will lessen his power in the sprints? I'm thinking he cares more this year about the Olympic race, especially since it's in London. If he'd win the Gold THERE on top of winning the World Championship last year & all his Tour wins the past couple years, he'll be 'Sir Cav' before August is over!

  5. I meant I clicked over to ESPN & NBCSP TV channels with my remote!

  6. Exactly how many mirrors did Johan Bruyneel break 3 years ago????

    Evidence #1 - 2010. Final TDF of one Lance Armstrong. Expected to be a mano-a-mano contest with ex-teammate Contador & even though LA had broken his collarbone 6-7 weeks before & was dealing with the knife-timed-accusations of Floyd POS Landis, he'd been training & racing for over a year & much was expected... Stage 8 lives in infamy for all Lance fans. Although if truth be told, LA rode as if his shot at the win was GONE after he did not put massive time into AC & Andy on the cobble stage on day 3 (?, not sure which stage now but it was early on). The ONLY face-saving/good feeling result from this Tour was that Team Radio Shack won the Team classification & they all stood on the podium in Paris.

    Evidence #2 - 2011. Team RS starts the Tour with 3, count 'em, 3 GC leaders. All in excellent pre-Tour form (or thought to be) & surely, at least ONE of them will land on the final podium somewhere & possibly more than one! Oh, things are looking up & the previous year starts to fade in blessed memory.... Somehow the 3 make it thru the early disaster days unscathed while most teams saw their GC leaders lose oodles of time or crash out of race entirely. And then the deluge. NO face-saving/feel-good/​redeeming of any kind this time. Just flat-out disastrous & even life-threatening for Horner. THIS year is surely Johan's Annus Horribilis & it can only get better. Right? Right?!

    Evidence #3 - 2012. While it may be true that "no one ever EXPECTS the Spanish Inquistion", I lay odds that no one expected a year quite like this from one of Johan Bruyneel's teams. Ooof. Beyond the lack of results, the public feuding between management & riders reveal a seemingly irreparably broken group. "Team" is NOT the word to describe this group at this time. Of course, trying to define what is true & what is not true in a cycling team is a combination of Survivor, congressional politics, & Henry the 8th's court intrigue. You're never even certain if "there is there" let alone 'what is what'. Still, seeing your Tour GC leader announcing (little more than 2 weeks from the Grand Departe) he can NOT even start the race due to a previously incurred injury is listed as an example for the word "debacle" in certain online dictionaries & so my friends, I rest my case.

    This just in! Evidence #4 -2012 again. Johan is named a fellow-conspirator in the most recent Armstrong take-down attempt. That whole Mayan 2012 apocalypse thing may have been recently debunked but in the vewy, vewy small print it says - "unless your last name is 'Bruyneel' ". Don't know about the rest of you, but I wouldn't be standing next to Johan these days if the forecast is for hail, lightning, or falling space junk.

  7. Wow...some crazy stuff. I've been away from my pc for the last 2 days, so not keeping in touch on 'things' except briefly in the evening. Horner's out, and this afternoon I hear that Andy's out too. WHAT?? WHAT THE HAY IS GOING ON?? I'd say there's some SERIOUS issues on that team...(and hate to say it, but I NEVER saw the 2 groups as a good just seemed wrong from the start).

    And to switch gears, have you been watching the Tour Divide race? HOLY SCHMOLEY! The 2 leaders are coming up on 1000 miles tonight (6 days into the race). ON MOUNTAIN BIKES! They are either riding together or right near each they are either working together or pushing each other to see who cracks first. Only 10 more days of this pace they will be in Antelope Wells NM at the finish.

    Just before I went to sleep last night I peeked in, they were still riding (@ 10:30pm Montana time). And I peeked in before I went to work (around 6:30am Mt time) and they had been back on the bikes for a while by then. I think they are doing around 16-18 hour days. CAN YOU IMAGINE THAT? Day after day, and I mean LONG day's. Totally self you buy where you can, water the same. Sleep, either carry gear or ride until you get to a town w/ a hotel. Dealing with whatever nature throws at you...rain, cold, snow, bears, mud,'s INSANE! You'd have to be a mental giant to do this. Not to mention having a butt of cast iron.

    I think if I were even able to do a single 160 mile day on my mt bike, I'd push it off a cliff or bury it in a hole. And then go have my seat surgically removed from where it's stuck.

    Oh, one final thing: one of my riding buddies 19 yr old son passed away this morning after an 18 month fight w/ lymphoma. Life is not fair. Cancer SUCKS!

  8. I've not heard of the Tour Divide race. Will look it up.

    Yes, life is not fair. So sorry for your friend.

    And, WOW. just, wow. or maybe, ow.


    1. Rae, I have the link up at the top right of the blog (actually, it's not quite the top...if you go directly to the right of the post title you will see the "Followers" list, then below that is the "Blogs I like" list, and below that is "Links" list...the first link in that list (should be accessed via a single click) is the link to this years Tour Divide race. I've tried to include links there that I like (imagine that!).

  9. the USADA are truly going after Lance. (I read about this afternoon over at Rant's...see his link under "Blogs I like" to the right of the post near the top).

    As usual he and his commenter's have great insight and discussion into this type of for myself, I just can't see ANY good coming from this. NONE at all. Other than a waste of MY tax dollars...(like there isn't enough of that already!) Yep...I'm sure the cycling/sporting world will be OH-so much better off after this is all said and done. NOT.

    OK..back to the Tour Divide. If only we had video! (3 years ago when Jill raced this she would leave brief phone messages most nights and we could hear them...and she'd talk about the day and how things are was awesome insight into how brutal/beautiful this race can be).

  10. more insight to the TD website: if you scroll down below the "Live Tracker" map, you can see the Elevation plot of the entire course...and the little white dots w/ a blue circle around them are the individual riders...and you can hover your mouse over any of them and it will tell you which racer it is.

    And below that is the "Leaderboard"...which lists all the current racers, along with the current record-holders (notice Jill Homer STILL holds the Womens record from her race 3 years ago...though barring disaster, Eszter Horanyi will take that title away this year...her pink spot is never far back from the front of the race...I believe she's in 6th place overall...she is REALLY kicking some serious butt out there!)

    The 2 leaders are into Wyoming now, while the rest of the pack is bearing down quick not that very far behind. WHAT A RACE!

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