Escaping South to Soak Up Some Sun

Cambria climb
Starting up The Wall outside of Cambria.

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With another set of storms rolling in to the already soaked and flooded Bay Area last week, we decided it was time to take matters into our own hands and go seek out some warm sunshine. The original plan was Hawaii, which quickly morphed into Florida, and finally landed on Southern California. Spring break is not exactly the best time to try to book flights and lodging at the last minute.

We had a rough idea of some road riding we wanted to do further south, but I really hoped to make the trip a multi-sport adventure. We spend more than enough time on our road bikes at home so it was time to branch out a little.

To help figure out what other outdoor activities we could do while driving down the California coast, I turned to Bivy. If you aren’t familiar with Bivy, it’s an adventure database of sorts where you can search for 16 different types of activities — hiking, mountain biking, road biking, trail running, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, camping, kayaking, canoeing, rafting, sea kayaking, rock climbing, mountaineering, bouldering, canyoneering, backcountry skiing, aid climbing — all across the country. Every activity is marked from the start of the trip through to the finish so you get more than just directions to the trailhead. You can navigate within the corresponding app or track yourself on a new activity then upload it to share with other members of the Bivy community.

We anchored the trip around two places with road cycling climbs on our to do list — the Cambria Challenge, which we found in Bivy, and another Southern California classic, Figueroa Mountain near Santa Barbara. When first researching what else we could do near San Luis Obispo, I noticed there was some great mountain biking potential, so we arranged to rent bikes from a local bike shop. Then, upon researching other activities further south near Santa Barbara, the Channel Islands popped out at me. I had completely forgotten there was a national park right off the coast of California and considered this the perfect opportunity to pay it a visit. Stay tuned for reports on both the mountain biking and visit to Channel Islands National Park over the next couple of weeks.

cambria challenge
Cambria Challenge in Bivy.

Above you will see the Cambria Challenge cycling route — innocuous enough at 45 miles and roughly 4,000 feet of climbing until you consider the majority of the climbing is all done over a couple mile span, affectionately known as “The Wall.” We started the ride a bit further down the coast in Morro Bay so that we could cover traffic-heavy Highway 1 in the morning. It’s a quick 20 miles from Morro Bay to Cambria, with beautiful views out across the ocean — the shoulder is wide so you don’t have to be too concerned about cars.

Coffee stop at Lily's.

Every good ride includes a coffee stop and this one is no exception. In the town of Cambria, you will find more than a few to choose from — we stopped at Lily’s for a quick bite but I am thinking we missed out on Linn’s and their famous pie. Cambria is the last spot for food and water on the ride so be sure to fill your jersey pockets and water bottles.

Saying hello to the cows.

Once you ride out of Cambria, it’s a slow, rolling climb up through vast vineyards and green, cow-speckled pastures. The road is rough in spots but the traffic is almost non-existent on this stretch and you quickly get duped into thinking this is going to be a lovely ride through the California countryside.

The Wall
Looking down on The Wall.

Then, after about 10 miles, Santa Rosa Creek Road steepens until it reaches out-of-the-saddle-mashing-pedals double digit grades that go up and up and up. I fully admit to hike-a-biking a couple sections in order to catch my breath and let my legs regain some power before hopping on again. As we started up The Wall, another cyclist rode down — he looked at us and laughed, yelling out, “Enjoy!” as he passed. Enjoy, indeed.

Whale Rock Reservoir in the afternoon sun.

But, don’t lose heart, as once you reach the top, the views back down the canyon are stunning and as you cross over Highway 46, it’s basically all downhill back to Morro Bay, zooming past a now full Whale Rock Reservoir with views down to the ocean sparkling in the afternoon sun.

Top tip: Download the route to the Bivy app for navigation offline. There is no cell service for a large section of this ride.

The Gear

Rolling past vineyards.

With blue skies and temps in the 60s and 70s, I was able to ride in short sleeves and shorts paired with some screaming pink arm sleeves to ensure I was seen in traffic. A nice change from being covered head to toe in multiple layers all winter.

Pearl Izumi Elite Pursuit Short Sleeve Jersey: This jersey is made from In-R-Cool fabric that wicks away moisture and helps keep you cool when you really start to work hard. It offers UPF 50+ sun protection and has the standard three back pockets for storing all your essentials.

Pearl Izumi Women’s Elite Pursuit Bib: A well-constructed chamois, bib-styling for full coverage, and leg grippers make for all day riding comfort. And the best part? The drop tail so you don’t have to fully undress when going to the bathroom. These bibs also use In-R-Cool fabric to wick away moisture and help keep you cool on sweaty days.

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