This is supposed to be a recommendation – for a bike ride, a climb, a stiff challenge you could check off your bucket list.
On Sunday, I ventured out to Mix Canyon Road, hidden away in the rolling Vaca Mountains between Winters and Vacaville, to tell you about the hardest climb in the Sacramento region.
Isolated in Solano County on a road hardly anyone uses, I came away from the experience humbled, if not humiliated. I climbed and climbed and grunted and strained. It was a chilly, damp, foggy morning, and by the time I reached the top, I knew what I would tell you.
Don’t do it. Don’t even think about riding your bike up this monster. I love cycling, but I hated this. Go somewhere else – like nearby Cantelow Road or “Cardiac Hill” – and thank me later.
I like to think of myself as a good climber. I enjoy the challenge and see it as the most important part of riding. My body fat is in the single digits and my power-to-weight ratio, a key benchmark for cycling, is pretty solid. Or so I thought.
The first stretch was relatively benign on what is actually a sparsely populated residential road. But after a mile, things began to get real. Too real. I looked down at my Garmin bike computer and the hill measured a steady 14 percent grade. I consider anything over 10 percent to be difficult but doable. Then I hit 16 percent, 18 percent and 20. And it never let up.
Above 20 percent, I found it difficult to get any rhythm. I was turning the pedals, but barely. When I pulled on the handlebars for stability, my front wheel threatened to come off the ground. It would go this way for close to 5 miles and I would spend close to an hour going up at a speed so slow I nearly tipped over.
Finally, I made it to the top. I was determined to take in the view, expansive and beautiful as it is, and finish the ride for this story.
Then I headed down. That was even worse. If I let my hands off the brakes for even a second, I would go so fast I would lose control of my bike and crash. You could easily reach 60 mph, but the road is built for 15 mph. I stopped three times on the way down to let the rims of my wheels cool from all the braking. Overheated rims have been known to blow the tires off.
I disliked nearly every moment going up and hated every second going down. If this is something you must do, if you’re that twisted, then have at it. But you’ve been warned.
To get there: Starting in Winters, take Putah Creek Road going west out of town, then turn left on Pleasants Valley Road. In 5 miles or so, start watching for a street on the right. There aren’t many. Turn right and take a deep breath.