New Year, New Dirt

By CJ Covarrubias

Last month I added a new bike to the quiver. A Redline CX bike that was bound to change the standard road riding routine I’ve been on here in Santa Barbara. The amount of fire roads through the mountains in this area seem endless so I was super stoked when I got an email from pro rider Cody O’Reilly who was putting together a New Year’s Challenge. “The idea is to hit the main dirt roads in the area and make a full century out of it with paved roads as well.” I was amped as this was exactly the kind of ride I was hoping to do to ring in the New Year!  However, it started to become apparent that I was the only one accepting the challenge when no one else responded to the email saying that they’d join in on the fun.

New Year’s Day arrived and I set out from my home in 32-degree weather wearing just about every piece of cold weather cycling gear that I owned, this is SoCal after all. Leg warmers, over socks, long sleeve jersey, neck gator, snowboard beanie, two pair of long fingered gloves and a long sleeve jacket. For us weather wimps in Santa Barbara these are temps we don’t see very often and usually offer a perfect excuse to not ride your bike.  But I was committed and was definitely going to give it a go. Although I will admit I was a bit nervous and intimidated. The air had a sting to it, but I felt ready. I arrived at the meeting place a little early, and was the only one there. Cody rolled up a couple minutes after 8am, put his over socks on, rearranged his gear a bit and we were off. 

In the early miles we were joined briefly by a group of friends on their way out for a road ride, more than one of which commented to me, “so it’s just you two, huh?” That fact did make me a bit nervous, although most who declined just didn’t have the right bike for the ride. After a short while we arrived at the base of the dirt climb of Romero Canyon, in the foothills of Montecito that would link up to the top ridge of our local mountains and East Camino Cielo Rd. It was a rocky and loose terrain fire road that eventually turned into single track that offered yet another amazing perspective of the beautiful area we live in. 

Once up on top of the ridge it was back onto 7 miles of pavement before our dirt descent of Angostura Pass where we encountered multiple sections of snow and ice covered road. As we descended we encountered even colder temps, and much of the fire road was in the shade at this point, so we cut fresh tracks through numerous sections of fire road covered in 2-4 inches of snow. Once in the sun at the bottom we both realized the photo opportunities that were missed, but neither of us wanted to stop as our hands were completely numb and fumbling around with a camera phone seemed like a pointless endeavor.

After we passed the Gibraltar Dam and made it onto the paved Paradise Rd., we arrived at our first water refill and snack break. We were both finally comfortable but not exactly warm as we reached our halfway mark. The next 20 miles were paved as we made our way out Hwy 154, then 246 taking us into Santa Ynez and our final refueling stop. After taking on some calories and a mandatory Mexican Coke, we were on our way to the dirt climb of Refugio Rd back up to the top of the ridge and en route back to our starting point. The climb is steep dirt and pretty rocky and rutted in sections, only about 3 miles long with an average gradient of 9% and definitely a few spots where the gradient is in the mid to upper teens. After 70+ miles and 5+ hours on the bike it really had some sting. I had a feeling that the summit of this climb, before the last 4 miles of another climb on Cody’s proposed route, was going to be where I had to amend the plan and head to the coast for the easier way home. By the top of Refugio I didn’t have 4 more miles of climbing left in my legs and it was going to take all I had left to descend to the coast and get myself home.

On the way back we chatted a bit and reflected on what was truly an amazing day.  Weather and route were challenging and we were thankful for no major mechanical issues or accidents. I was also treated to many stories along the way of Cody recounting such topics as training rides with Floyd Landis, his first European cobblestone races as a teenager and other amazing experiences that very few elite cyclists get to be a part of, truly a treat. In the last few miles on the freeway home I had to resort to “wheel sucker” mode and hid behind Cody for the stretch. I was done, but it was a great day and perfect way to start 2015.

Strava ride data

Southeast view from mid Romero.jpg