Sometimes you do climbs because applying all this upward force is a fun and fulfilling exertion.
Other times, you do it because the descent is so much fun.
Part 2 of our Ojai journey took us to Sisar Canyon which would culminate in riding one of my favorite downhills in Highway 33.
If this route sounds implies my Ojai entries are following the annual Gravel Mob route, then you’ve done your homework.
Coming back to Sulphur Mountain for vengeance is one thing, but bringing a crew of friends meant we had to get more riding in than a 25 mile loop.
Enter me stalking Neil Shirley again and finding this ride which is problematic for mortals like me because his numbers make these rides look easier than they actually are.
None of my crew had done this climb before, but enough of my credible “People who I’m following” on Strava had, so there wasn’t too big of a fear factor.
The main climb is 8 miles averaging 7.2%, which is similar in profile to the often complained about Mount Wilson Toll Road, but thankfully a little more palatable.
Just finishing our break at the Stagecoach Station, the start of the road is easy to find just adjacent to the parking lot.
Starting from Stagecoach Station
The start is paved and takes you through a ranch-styled residential section which is encumbered with about 300 speed bumps which even impede bikes.
There’s a well cared for wooden entry to initiate your transition into dirt which sets a deceptively welcome tone.
Mind if we pass?
After looking at the profile, the climb wasn’t as steep as I thought it was going to be.
It was definitely rockier than I hoped, but the balance still kept us riding at a pretty good tempo.
I was also surprised to have so much tree coverage and even stream crossings which left me with a lot of hope that I’d be using the word “pleasant” an infinite amount of times in my ride description.
Water = Wheee!!!!
And at that point I likely jinxed the ride.
It didn’t smack me all at once, like when you hit the concrete on Eldred, but more annoyingly, like there was a sense of hope that would slowly get squashed.
Climbing consistently at 9% doesn’t bother me much, but when you factor in length and sun exposure, the straining feel of monotony set in.
Say goodbye to the shade sooner than you’d like.
Strangely as you climb, your sense of location is not improved.
There’s no suggestion of where you’re headed, you feel like you could be anywhere in the Los Padres Mountains and even identifying Ojai has limited opportunities.
Welcome to Paintrainville!
A few times you cross single track paths that may be bikable, but my head was down enough that I didn’t decipher the details.
Sholom wad climbing on 32 slicks, which was 5mm narrower than any of our tires and an experience he would files under lessons learned.
After 5.5 miles of steady climbing, there were a few short segments where the pitch softened up a bit, but not enough to provide long-lasting benefits.
Around that point, we transitioned onto the north side of this ridge where the bulk of the mountains lay.
Topping out on the main part of the climb.
The climb then opened up to a large open space where the road stretched out like a giant crescent that takes even longer to complete than what your eyes tell you.
It’s downhill to start and at the midpoint where it shifts back to an ascent, I noticed an intersecting double track.
My friend Hamish mentioned before the ride if we were planning to take the Jeep Trail back to Rose Valley.
That was our destination, but I didn’t do enough research to know if this was the way.
Finishing this turn seemed endless, but soon after, we were done with the heavy climbing of the ride.
We crossed a fire road that would take us into Rose Valley, but I remembered it had drops in the 20% range.
I figured we should continue on to the trail marked in the Gravel Mob route, semi confident I would find it.
On one of the downhills, Sasha took a turn too wide and lightly collided with the embankment.
I didn’t have much space to pass, so I did the same thing, but I took a bit of a breather while Sasha continued on.
Then I realized I was the only one who knew about the turn off, so I rushed to catch the group before they missed it.
Unfortunately, speed doesn’t solve all problems as this happened:
My camera’s shutter ended up jamming and now I weighed an extra five pounds of mainly dirt and twigs.
Somewhere between me finally getting back on and the guys coming back, we somehow missed the trailhead.
I wanted to go back and look for it since Highway 33 is one of the most fun descents I’ve ever done, but David had some cell reception and convinced us that the trail ahead was a better choice.
This was a prime example to show off my frustration going down single track.
It was slow, I dismounted at times and even bit it twice.
I stayed back with Sholom knowing his slicks might give him some trouble.
Going nowhere slow.
Unfortunately, I lost contact with him even though it wasn’t more than a couple of minutes that I last saw him.
I stopped and yelled if he was nearby and got no response (nor from the other two in front either).
After waiting a few minutes, I abandoned my bike and started walking back towards him.
It was quite a bit of a hike, but after ten minutes, we finally crossed paths as he fell victim to a torn tire.
The rest of the descent was painfully slow as overall, it took us over an hour and a half to descend six miles making our way back onto pavement.
At least I got video of this:
…another man down.
No bridges were harmed in this video.
Frustrated by this finish, we just pacelined on Highway 33 back to our starting point which didn’t make up for missing out on descending the funner portion north of Ojai.
For the rest of you, riding the Gravel Mob should provide you with enough guidance that you won’t make the same mistake we did.
You also won’t have the same amount of regret after putting in all that hardwork for little return.