12 January 2016

Sulphur Mountain Road

Ventura County Park

Zooming down the 101 and then zooming down the 33, it is odd to just turn a corner and find myself facing a gate in a dark bit of canyon with very little around me. A calf on the road (on the wrong side of the gate) hints at what is to come. The gate is my starting point for a long climb a mere 2200 feet in about ten miles. This should be a better place to try out my new mountain bike. It is a bit long, but I could certainly handle it walking. It is just walking the downhill that I dread. That slow, slight downhill makes my legs want desperately to get it over with and I can definitely get out of it with the bike.

gate signs
Some of the information at the gate at the start. More is on a kiosk to the side.

Although the overall climb might not be much, the road does seem to be making a serious start at it. A ditch down the side is full of water, which is not odd considering the recent rains. Everything is wet at the moment. Under it, the dirt is dark with tar. Further up, the dark covers a large area where the source, an oil seep, is. Well, those oil derricks along the road were trying to pull something up and there is a sample.

oil and water
The residue from the local oil seep.

As a kid, I spent some time at the Girl Scout Program Center below. All three camps I went to are gone, but this one place remains. I mostly remember the pick-your-own apples that were a holdover from its history as an apple orchard. Today, I cannot spot any apples, but they would be nude now that it is winter. Surely there must be a few left. We did other things there too, but the apples were unique to this place. I go back to climbing and finding ever lower gears as my legs quickly tire. It feels a lot harder to climb on the bike, maybe even harder than running it.

White Ledge
White Ledge presiding over Casitas Springs and the rest of the Ojai area.

Of course, the climb brings views. The local population center stretches out below after one turn. The second turn is marked with a "1 mile" marker set by area long distance runners. The last quarter mile at least was taking it easy and just walking beside the bike instead of trying to ride it. Sore legs already and just nine more to go. The road ahead just stretches out near the top of the ridge line that is Sulphur Mountain and it becomes very clear that it is surrounded by ranch lands.

well cropped hills
The quintessential ranch land view for southern California.

The road levels out and I try the riding again. Somehow only the lowest 4 gears are interesting to me now, even on the downhill. I have barely started. Will I even be able to get as far as I would hike while on this bike?

sparse snow
A little snow remains on the south face of Pine Mountain.

Anacapa Island
Add in some ocean and even an island, and it is the quintessential coastal southern California ranch land view.

wood with inhabitants
When taking a moment on a log, it is often interesting to turn over a bit of it.

I am admiring the little bit of snow remaining on Pine Mountain directly to the north when I notice something in the far distance to the east. Pointy and covered far more deeply in white. What could that far peak be? Meanwhile, the road drifts a little up and a little down, mostly just traveling, and the mile markers pass by.

distant snowy peak
There, a little left of center, is a white spot of something much higher than the local area goes.

northern peaks
Just a little bit of snow on various peaks to the north behind the nearer and lower range.

I keep on walking and riding and not worrying about the other mountain bikes passing me at what seems quite fast for the uphills. They all seem to pass on the uphills. It is just the luck of the draw, though, because I am going quite slow on the downhills too. Every bit of unevenness, especially grooves along the path, make me worry about my stability. I know they would have less effect at a higher speed, but I do not feel it. There is a short, steep downhill with a viewpoint to the side that gives the first glance at the lake.

Sulphur Mountain
The top of Sulphur Mountain is up there somewhere.

Lake Casitas
Lake Casitas does not look quite so much like a mud hole from this angle.

More islands come into view as I climb. Off to the east, the single point of white is joined by more and it is clear they are the San Gabriel Mountains. The last storm through dropped quite a lot on them and the quiet ski resort I hiked through a couple months ago is now having their first ski season in years. They seem closer than I expected.

wide, smooth road
The road just keeps climbing, but it is generally really good road.

Santa Cruz Island
Santa Cruz Island joins Anacapa out on the ocean.

San Gabriel Mountains
And more snowy peaks join the singular pointy peak.

The light begins to fade, but still I push upward. I know it is foolish to ride down in the dark, but it is not a distance I would not walk. If I get uncomfortable, I can always get off the bike and be subjected to that dreaded gentle downhill.

Paying a little attention to the closer mountains to the southeast.

Somewhere past the "9 mile" marker but not quite to the "10 mile" marker, there is a high point near the top and the road starts downward again. I decide it is well past time to turn around. There is still higher areas to my left, but the road does not actually go to the peak. That is behind yet another fence along the side, so it does not feel like I am giving up the top. It is time to enjoy the ease of travel that hauling up the extra weight of the bike should give me going downhill.

Oxnard plain
The Oxnard plain looks to be full of puddles for now.

The fading light gets just a little too little to see the road but the sky is still a little too light to be able to see it with my light. I decide it is time to yield to the hunger I am feeling and stop beside a nice rock. Hopping off the bike, I nearly crumple to the ground. There is no energy left in them. While sitting, it was too easy to ignore the need to restore some fuel to the body. That was probably very foolish, even more so than deciding it is okay to ride down in the dark. Even the toffee and coconut covered peanuts do not seem quite as invigorating as they usually do as I go through a fair bit more than I would usually in a single snack break. Eventually, I feel ready to go after the rest of the downhill. A little over eight more miles.

The light has faded enough that I can see the details of the road ahead by my light. Two bright eyes ahead make me stop. They are higher and wider than I would expect for the animals I usually see. They seem mildly curious and let me approach close enough to see the shape behind them. A large fox. They bound off in the brush, but I see them again and again popping back up to the road before finally bounding off for good.

I pass by the various mud holes managing good routes. A big one here and long one there. There is another set of eyes ahead, but this one seems more familiar. I stop dead and can see the black and white stripes scamper a couple feet down the road before the skunk is comfortable again. A few feet closer, and it decides to get off the road after all. I walk the bike slowly by the area it ducked into giving the eyes in the bush a wide circle, then it is back to zooming down the hill. Hopefully it stayed off the road because shortly after, there is a cyclist coming up the hill at a rather fast pace.

There seem to be fewer uphills than there were downhills on the way up. Perception is an odd thing. I do not feel like riding the uphills, so walk them just by light of the thin crescent moon. The road by headlight seems clear enough to avoid any real obstacles while not so visible that I try to dump myself off the bike for something that is not dangerous. Well, mostly. With less than three miles to go, there are the strangest eyes of the night. Wider set than the fox and not very bright. As I get closer, it seems to bob in a strange way and I can see odd things hanging off to the side. It seems like some kind of odd mask hung in a bent and bouncing branch. Then the shapes around the eyes resolve into a cow. I should have known after dodging a couple fresh patties. Now I have seen the full compliment of area wildlife.

©2016 Valerie Norton
Posted 15 Jan 2016

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