For the second time in as many days I feel a little panic creeping into my throat. I’m stuck climbing a seemingly endless set of steep grades near the San Marcos Pass. The road is an old two-lane asphalt that’s snaking higher and higher. It’s getting near 4 pm and sunset will occur around 5:30. Only one or two cars have come my way. As much as I prefer cycling solo, I now am feeling very alone. Would be a terrible place to have any kind of breakdown. I’m questioning my route-planning skills. Am I lost? No, but I can’t go back, I can only go forward.
December 5, 2020 I completed the second leg of my San Luis Obispo to Goleta CA two-day bike tour. I cruised through Buellton and Solvang, and then got on the San Marcos Pass Highway 154 towards Santa Barbara. Up to this point I’d benefitted from old two-lane backroads and very little traffic. Now I found myself on a high speed roadway.
The route I planned using RideWithGPS took me off the 154 at Stagecoach road, which was a tree-lined two-lane asphalt. I saw very few cars, which I welcomed. But later, as I struggled to reach the summit of Old San Marcos Pass, I wondered about the wisdom of choosing this route, with the possibility of no one coming by that could help me.
As the road crept higher and higher, with what seemed like no end in sight, I finally wore down and had to hop off my bike and start pushing it up the grade. For the next few hours, this was my routine: walk the bike a couple hundred yards, then ride it.
I had chosen this route because it avoided traveling the 154 for the duration, and that it might offer more scenery. And it did. This route had beautiful scenery, not spectacular, but breath-taking in its own way. I even discovered a memorial to the Cold Spring Canyon Arch Bridge, honoring the men and women that built the structure that opened in 1964. The bridge is currently the highest in California and one of the highest in the U.S.
Another reason I chose this route is that it would take me past the famous Cold Spring Tavern, where I had my first date with my future wife.
I figured I was carrying 40 pounds of equipment on my hybrid, which already weighed in at at least 30 pounds. With my 195 pounds, I was pushing an enormous load up a very long and winding grade.
But my mindset was: this is adventure cycling. You never know what you’re going to encounter, and those encounters may push you beyond your limits. This ride certainly did. Yet I did make the summit after cruising by the Cold Spring Tavern, 2,250 feet in elevation. I was tired and a bit shaken from the ordeal, but I had made it to the top and there was nothing but downhill awaiting me.
I had to hop on the the 154 briefly before getting off on North San Marcos Road. There I was treated to a stunning sunset view of Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean. I asked a stranger to take a picture of me against this backdrop, and he instantly obliged.
As the sun began to sink lower over the ocean, I snaked down San Marcos Road and made it into Goleta and my hotel as darkness set in. Never give up. Just keep pedaling.