Santa Barbara (Goleta, specifically) is where I grew up and where my parents still live, so I have spent a fair amount of time in the area. While San Marcos Pass Road (State Route 154) is now the preferred automobile route (due to a gentler grade and lack of tight curves), there still exists the old stagecoach route from the 1800s. This stagecoach route is steep, twisty and incredibly scenic (and, paved..quite nicely too!). There is quite a bit of history with the pass – you can read more about its history here and here. This route is known officially as North San Marcos Road and unofficially as Old San Marcos Pass Road. Old San Marcos, on its own, is a sweet, steep, tough and scenic climb absolutely worthy of climbing by any serious cyclist. But, at 3 miles long it is a bit short. You are in luck though. Old San Marcos leads right into Painted Cave Road, adding 2.4 miles of even steeper climbing to an already steep climbing route. 8.3% average grade for almost 5.5 miles. This is definitely one of the steepest sustained climbs around.
The climb up Old San Marcos starts about a half mile after turning inland from Cathedral Oaks Road as you cross the bridge – from here on up you get very few breaks. The starting bridge:
This will test you – not only is it incredibly steep but the lead-up section is also steep enough that your heart rate will already be high when you start this. This section is fun for masochists. For a high quality panorama of this switchback, click below for the panorama I assembled:
The above will give you a nice 1600 pixel wide view.
Shortly after this switchback you will encounter one more trying switchback. This one might be slightly easier than the previous one (we are talking relativity here – it is still really hard), but it still commands your attention. Once you complete it the views, as usual for this road, are spectacular:
Finally, a true Bay Area climb. Ok, actually, I have done some of the great, shorter climbs around Pescadero (Tunitas Creek for example), but this was the first of the big Bay Area climbs for me (the other two being Mt. Diablo and Mt. Hamilton..hoping to do those soon!).
Here is a slideshow of the ride for those who are too lazy to read the rest of the ride description (I don’t blame you..I often look for the cliff notes myself):
After doing some research, I settled on going with the Bolinas Fairfax Rd approach – general consensus seemed to be that it was the coolest way up with minimal traffic, changing scenery and a couple of tough sections. This route had me starting out in the rather nice town of Fairfax. From Center Boulevard I turned left on Bolinas Road and couldn’t wait to start climbing. About a half mile later my wish was answered with some nice climbing through a residential area in which I wouldn’t mind having a house..
This is one of those roads that requires some serious planning to actually get to for most people. Located right near Fort Hunter Liggett and halfway between Cambria and Monterey, this is 300 miles from Long Beach. Even from San Francisco it is almost 200 miles away. If you happen to live in San Luis Obispo (80 miles away) or Monterey (60 miles), you could actually swing this for a day trip. The rest of us? Find an excuse to drive through the area. In my case, the Woodside Century in northern California served as that excuse. On a side note, I would highly recommend that century – beautiful, beautiful countryside with some great climbs thrown in (7k or so of climbing).
Anyway, heading up with my mom on the Friday before the century from Santa Barbara, we headed up 101 and then turned off on CA-1. I hadn’t actually seen this stretch of 1 except once as a small kid, so the drive itself was great. Slightly more scenic than 101. We arrived at the intersection with Nacimiento-Fergusson just as the fog was starting to lift from that stretch.
(Note that you can click on any picture for a higher resolution version)
I should note here that some (most) photos shown for the ascent were actually taken on the descent. So, don’t be surprised if the timestamps on some photos seem really spread out. I’m not actually that slow.
The very first stretch is a pleasant ride with a shallow grade:
The second and final part of my Costa Rican cycling adventure! This little ride was just mom and me in the morning of our last day in Playa Flamingo. For this ride, we decided to take it easy and explore the coast south of Playa Flamingo. As we head out, the area is obviously scenic and expensive:
I actually gave up on this climb. I’ll blame it on the fact that I had shorts on and was scared of deadly snakes popping out of the vegetation. I enjoyed the part that I did though. Even with the heat. And humidity. And steep grades. And rutted surface. And invasive vegetation. It was still fun.
And once I got back down I even got to see some spider monkeys. Looking up, I saw a couple of monkeys: