I’ve been traveling to Los Olivos near Santa Barbara, CA, for over ten years now; every time I visit, I discover something new and amazing. There are so many reasons why the place is special, but being a cyclist, I’m always searching for cycling heaven. The area around Los Olivos has many roads, great climbs, and most of the time, amazing weather which is why many cycling camps choose this playground as the optimal place to ride, eat, and relax as they prepare for a new season.
I’ve been living in Austin for the past 18 months, and while this time of year is almost perfect for riding, California is still an escape to breakup the routine, test the legs on some mountains, and drink a few good wines. My wife and I have come here four times in the past two years, and each time, she has agreed to let me put on some mileage, mostly because she knows my idea of vacation is a bit different than most. This trip was no exception, being the most aggressive I’ve had in many, many years as I covered 550 miles in 8 days and a little over 30,000 feet of climbing. I finished off the training week by riding the Solvang Century, which I’ll post about in more detail later (I highly recommend coming out to try that event just once).
The trip started out like most of my previous “shock and awe” cycling trips: with sore legs, some long days, and an attempt to ride myself into better shape. I over adjusted my saddle while setting up my bike, which did a number on my back, so it took me a few days to settle in; by Wednesday, I was feeling ready for a longer ride. Monday, I had ridden with Paul Ramos, a cycling friend and local rider who, as luck would have it, is also is a partner in a local vineyard and knows all the best places to eat in the valley. Knowing that I wanted to get in a longer day, he recommended that we go North to Tepusquet Canyon via Foxen Canyon out of Los Olivos; I could have never imagined what we were headed towards as we headed out early in the morning after breakfast. I’ve ridden Foxen Canyon out of Los Olivos literally dozens of times, during the Century on Saturday, we’d be covering it once again via Santa Maria. However, like so many times in the past, I’ve never turned East on Tepusquet road about 25 miles out of Santa Ynez. Immediately after you turn right, just after passing Riverbench Vineyards, you get a glimpse of just how amazing the road is going to be by crossing a sand white bridge that Paul refers to as the prize of the county. Once you cross it, the road starts a gradual climb, passing Kenneth Volk Vineyards and nearing Cambria so the fields are covered in grapevines pushed all the way up to mountains. The valley breaks a bit wide open and there are a few rollers to warm your legs up as you undulate over the first four to five miles before really starting the climb. While we had a strong headwind once we got closer to the bottom of the 5-mile climb, the mountains on either side began protecting us and the wind began to die down as we started to climb. I’ve actually seen few roads like this one in that the road is perfectly curated on either side and asphalt is near perfect along the 16-mile stretch between Foxen Canyon and Highway 166 where you turn around. The climb itself isn’t that difficult with an average grade of just 3.8%, but the road is as smooth as butter. Paul commented that he thought perhaps a local politician lived on the road and was able to get it regularly maintained, but no one really knows why this hidden gem is maintained the way it is. As we crested the top and descended the other side, the four miles down are stunning and reminded me a lot of Italy in mid-summer. There are only a few homes and ranches along this road; in 32 miles from end to end on a Wednesday, I think we only saw three cars, which is just another reason I would hope any cyclist would put this route on their bucket list. As we climbed back up the road before descending back to Foxen Canyon, we got hung up by a herd of goats on the road; they were obviously not concerned about traffic or any human interaction, so we startled them as they ran back down the dirt road leading up to their fenced area. Once we climbed back to the top after a quick drink, we were in for a treat down this flawless road where brakes really aren’t necessary and a tailwind aided us in traveling 10 miles in less than 20 minutes. The photos I took don’t really show the true beauty of the valley as it opens up into wine country, but I hope you’ll get the idea.
As we turned back onto Foxen, we were both a bit tired, so while we pushed hard on the pedals, we set an even pace to ensure our 90-mile ride was finished with some gas in the tank. As we rode, I could only think that maybe I had been in a dream along Tepusquet Road, because I truly cannot remember many roads as serene or picturesque in over 30 years of cycling. We returned to Solvang to sit and recover at Paul’s wine tasting room in downtown () by toasting to a great day in true cycling heaven. I can only say that if there is a politician living on Tepusquet Road, that I hope other politicians living in other cycling meccas will start taking care of your roads the same ways so that we can all enjoy them.