New roads always sound awesome.
The sense of adventure should trump all, but practicality should always have a seat at the table.
When I study new routes on Google Maps or Strava, popularity and epicness play a roll, but also how safe the ride will be.
A good number of my rides have been foiled by heavy traffic, high speeds or both, so when I tried getting one last climb in for winter vacation when I already failed earlier in the day, I wasn’t expecting stellar results.
The Highway 33 climb stood above Ojai and all I remember from some vague Strava R & D was that it was about 14 miles up to a point of some significance.
I had no idea how wide the road was, how fast drivers could go or what there was to see.
Already feeling pretty defeated, so much didn’t have to happen for me to turn back.
The first three miles had a compulsory tone as long rollers exposed to the wind while still facing residential traffic made the start feel longer than it was.
Can you guess where we’re headed?
The one saving grace was the tantalizing view of the converging canyon straight ahead.
You almost ignore the vineyard as your eyes are tuned to the vortex ahead.
The grade for the entry of the mountains was fortunately the steepest portion of the climb as the rest of the climb felt like it held around 5% or below.
Entering and starting the steepest part of the climb.
I expected it to feel colder on this winter ride weaving through trees and straddling the Matilija Creek.
At the five mile mark, I passed through the small upcrop known as Wheeler Springs.
The smallest Post Office in the U.S. at Wheeler Springs.
With a few buildings nearing the road, both occupied and uninhabitable, you could tell the town’s better days were behind them.
All this time, my mind was so enveloped by the ride that I barely had a car to contend with and even then, the road’s design minimized their speed while giving plenty of space for visibility.
Right before I passed the entry sign for the Los Padres National Forest, I rolled through a short and unusual tunnel that curved through the mountainside.
The inscription read “1931” as it curved quickly around the bend.
Short, but sweet.
Just up the way though came another unusual feature which I almost overlooked its details.
Ahead was a couple more tunnels that were short in length and back to back.
In the middle, I was noticing the detail how the structure was carved into the rock almost missing the fact that I was going over the river.
That doesn’t sound too significant until I realized the waterway makes a reverse “S” around the two tunnels.
Can you find the creek in there?
It’s a unique engineering solution that I’m sure most overlook.
Not too far past I came across the Wheeler Gorge campground which didn’t seem to have water, but looks like a nice place to stop.
The roadway started to straighten out and I finally started to get views of some higher elevations before it turned west.
Starting to receive some openness again.
After a mile, I hairpinned back east exposing a more expansive view of the forest.
Even though it looked like I still had a great distance to travel, the slight gain and openness made me comfortable in keeping a calm pace.
As I climbed, I kept wanting to see the ocean, but being shielded from outside influences made the ride calmer.
The ride opened up to your right.
It was such a silent ride, that whenever I heard a sound of a car, it would actually take minutes for the vehicle to actually appear.
Another note which can be overlooked is the engineering.
There are plenty of other highways that keep a much steeper pitch, but 5% is nowhere near grueling, yet perfect for a good effort.
Optical illusion, but the peak is at the cutout on the left.
At the same time, the road was also void of cracks, potholes and dirt from the recent rains.
While the peak of the climb was right in front of me, the highway turns back at the 10.5 mile mark to make its circuitous path up.
Still there was no view of the ocean, but those who were better versed with the mountains above Santa Barbara could probably make out some landmarks.
At the thirteenth mile, I passed the well marked turnoff to the Rose Valley Campground.
Rose Valley Recreational Area Turnoff.
If you have a gravel bike, you can make it up to this point from Ojai up Sisar Canyon, but that would be for another day.
This would have been a good point to turn around, but I knew the peak was right behind that hill somewhere.
It was only a mile ahead and almost every passing driver stopped for a look no matter how short.
Looking back at part of the roadway.
Being able to look back where I had just ridden, the scale was hard to judge like looking at a model train track.
I definitely biked a long way, but it sure didn’t seem as long.
The descent was wonderful, not even feeling super inhibited riding my 38mms at a super good clip.
Celebratory pic at the top.
Highway 33 is definitely a climb where you’ll get a lot a bang for the buck.
Even at my casual pace, it still took me less time than expected to get to the top.
I know I’ll be back again soon no matter how much bad luck seems to be on my side.