Saturday, April 26, 2014

Tour de Los Padres 2014 - Final Day

Camuesa Connector Trail

Day 4 - Monday


I got up around 7 and it was clear, no sign of the thick fog that felt like a constant drizzle. The ground was dry, too, and the only evidence that I hadn't dreamed about a thick fog was that my tarp had collected a pool of water where I had let it sag. 

I quickly packed up and got rolling as a long day was expected and I was not sure how my involuntary single-speed setup would work for the more varied terrain today. In addition, I strangely injured myself going to bed: I parked the bike leaning against something and as I picked it up to roll to my sleeping place, there was a pop and sharp pain in my left leg as if something snapped. Disconcertingly, the tendon on the outside of my left knee was gone and I couldn't find it. I remember that happening before in a judo fight some 25 years ago (against a heavy weight who had 40 pounds on me), but at least there was a more obvious reason then. In any event, leg was a bit stiff in the morning, kind of like a torn muscle, but not terribly so and I could ride fine. Walking was a different story, although manageable, just even slower than I already am with walking. Maybe limping on both sides kind of straightens things out? By now (three weeks later), it feels like a pulled hamstring and the tendon on the outside of the knee is palpable again (where did it come from? It had disappeared for 2 weeks). 

The first stretch of the day was called the Camuesa Connector trail, I took a picture at the end of it to remind me of it. It was an enjoyable trail to ride, just a few occasional pushes needed. It may get excised from future editions of the route, though; some good parts will have to go to avoid some awful parts in the current route. 



The terrain was definitely getting more varied than yesterday, so a light climbing gear was hopelessly slow: I spun out at 10-12 km/h. With a derailleur system, if one cable breaks, there is still a good range of gearing. With the Rohloff hub, one torn cable disables shifting completely.  However, by removing the external gear box, it is possible to select another gear with a size 8 wrench (of course, nobody would carry such a specialized tool on a ride). Using my grimy leatherman pliers surely will have voided any warranty, but it worked...





Mornings (and late afternoons) are the best parts of the day and I enjoyed being out there alone in the mountains. But then I saw two dots - the Vegetable Express comes steaming across the flat with Claude leading....



And then (more slowly) rolling around the bend:



And with that, they were gone and I did not see them again on this trip.

The Camuesa Connector trail connects Camuesa Road (dirt road) with Gibraltar Road (initially pavement). There is a day use area and parking on Gibraltar Road, some water ponds along the Santa Ynez River (or maybe that was the river) and I suspect this is popular on summer weekends. Yet today it was empty. The Gibraltar Road pavement ends soon, turns into a dirt road, and by not making a right turn continues to the Gibraltar Trail. The Gibraltar Trail around the reservoir was very nice and I stopped for an early lunch break because it was so pretty. 

Early part of Gibraltar trail

But a bit after the reservoir, the fun stops and the biggest problem part of the current route begins (the only other problem spot was the descent from Cerro Noroeste/Mt. Abel on day 1). Lots of hike-a-bike, lots of lifting bikes over obstacles, rocks, and bushwhacking through poison oak forests. Avoid this area, I will detour that in the future. Most likely, Erin will revise the route in the future to avoid what is a very short distance on the map, but which took many hours. Here is what comes about 20 mins later: 


Later part of Gibraltar trail
Claude took this particular picture;  I took a similar picture, but since I was by myself, my picture of the trail doesn't really show the problem. It is very steep and sandy, not rideable. Even worse is that walking a bike damages an already very fragile existing trail. It is impossible not to have the bike slide off repeatedly and exacerbate the erosion problem. So while entirely manageable to get through this section without too much effort, cyclists just should stay away from such trails. There are simple alternatives. One is staying on Gibraltar dirt road (rather than continuing on the single track around the reservoir), another is to skip the Camuesa Connector trail and ride on Camuesa dirt road. 

Conditions deteriorated and it became strenuous in addition to being slow: Gibraltar trails ends at the Cold Spring Trail, which runs along Mono Creek. But Cold Spring Trail is not really a trail. In a wet year, it would be a swamp. In a dry year, it is just an overgrown poison oak jungle.  
Seemingly the main vegetation along Cold Spring Trail
It is a lot like Rustic Canyon in the Santa Monica mountains, so just not something for a longer ride, just a brief adventure hike. I took Obin into Rustic Canyon when he was 12 or 13 as an adventure and it is great for that purpose. In high school, he took many friends for hikes in Rustic who were impressed by his outdoor knowledge. But I would never go there for a bike ride myself, it's bushwhacking. 


Long socks for cold weather also come in handy as Poison Oak protection. I threw them out afterwards, but got through this without Poison Oak rashes.
When there was a stretch outside dense vegetation, it either was a fragile, sandy trail that is damaged by dragging bikes along, or some lifting exercise like the following. With my newly hurting leg, that sure didn't feel good. Just couldn't do wide stands to get over obstacles, so spots like, 20 m, could take me 10 minutes. 

At Mono Camp, I rejoined Camuesa road again. Getting back onto that dirt road in the morning (instead of taking the connector trail to Gibraltar road) would have been a better choice. It is just a dirt road, alright, nothing special, but it still is a pretty area and enjoyable. 

Then comes a sudden and hard to find right turn into or across the Santa Ynez river. Not much of a river, in a few months, this could easily be mistaken for a desert (but that's how dried up river bottoms look). But in April, there was enough water to filter and it was good flowing water.  


At Cottam Camp, another pretty and empty camp ground, the route turns into Blue Canyon. I am split about Blue Canyon as I really liked the first part. I took a break at Cottam Camp, then at another creek crossing where I filtered water again and took a bath. This was a very fun part. I took my time to enjoy this stretch because by now it was clear that there was no way that I could finish the full route before dark, but instead would take pavement from Montecito to Santa Barbara.  






However, the second part of Blue Canyon, after the intersection with Romero trail, became aggravating, constant hiking, and rocky. And if you try to ride, chances are you damage your bike. Mechanical number 2, the outer ring got bend and jammed the chain. Removing a ring is a manageable trail side repair, though, but now I became cautious to avoid a more disabling third mechanical. Also, the bolts were too long without an outer ring, so the chainring was very wobbly and clanking. So I hated the upper part of Blue Canyon. 
Maybe it would have been ok fresh in the morning, or without the odd leg injury from last night, or without the chainring damage.  





Lots of snakes on the trail. This one, however, did not want to move despite being prodded. Eventually I rolled the bike over it and afterwards it decided to move.  


Eventually Blue Canyon ends and I am on Camuesa Road again! It was a climb, but, just like a few hours earlier, I liked Camuesa Road. While Gibraltar and Cold Spring trail should be avoided, the net balance for Blue Canyon is probably positive. Just wasn't on that day despite a fine first half. 


As it was getting late in the afternoon, even the climb on the dirt road was pleasant. No cars, no people, despite Santa Barbara being on the other side. About 2/3rds up, I crossed the 9000m total elevation gain threshold, over a distance of 400km. I don't know if the Santa Barbara trails would bring it to over 10 km of climbing, but it should be close.

Somehow I couldn't find the Romero Trail at the top. I saw it a bit away, but the trails that may have connected to it at Romero Saddle were fenced off. I gave up after a few minutes and took down Romero Road, which probably was the best choice anyway. Romero Road is not a road either, but largely single track. However, it has a gentle gradient and is a fun way to descend and enjoy the scenery for the last part of the day. Just a few hike sections due to rock slides.
Romero Road is not exactly a road

A nice flowing single track is fun to ride, always, and this descent at sunset qualifies. It was an enjoyable finish for my tour.
Descending Romero Road
Heather Rose from Santa Barbara, who was the first person trying this route (but she had to give up with knee pain after day 2), agrees with me and says that "Romero 'road' is super fun single track and way more enjoyable then the technical 'real' single track descent." Here I saw the first person since Saturday not connected to TDLP: a trail runner coming up Romero Road. The sun had set just as I hit pavement and I continued on pavement to downtown Santa Barbara. There was no point trying to do technical trails at night and I had to get home for another trip anyway, so those additional 40km or so of Santa Barbara trails have to wait for another time. 


My salt-encrusted T-shirt 






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