My First Real Climb in Road Cycling

Years ago, I avoided hills. Here in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties there are flat routes and hilly routes. On or near the Pacific Ocean, it is effortless riding. You can do a relatively level century ride by going from Malibu to Santa Barbara and back. But just behind the flat beaches and the Oxnard Plain are the Santa Monica Mountains, the Topa Topa Mountains and the Santa Ynez Mountains. As I watched cyclist ride down roads that I knew led to the hills, I just shook my head and said that was not for me.

After years of struggling up small hills, mostly rollers and Cat 5 climbs I felt that I was ready to tackle Casitas Pass a Category 4 climb that tops out at 1350 feet. I studied Google Maps looking at routes and elevations, and I found that going from east to west, coming from Ojai to Carpinteria, the climb was shorter than coming from the ocean side to the top. Coming from Ojai gave me a 700-foot head start. Little did I know that it's steeper on that side.
So on a hot day, I rode off from Ventura to Foster Park and up Santa Ana Road to Lake Casitas and onto the pass going along Hwy. 150.  Santa Ana Road from Foster Park to Lake Casitas is mostly uphill, including a half-mile 6% climb. As I ground my way up the hill, I passed a field of mules. One of them began to bray, which sounded like laughter. I imagined him laughing at me. Turning onto Hwy. 150, I went up and over a big roller that left me at the Lake Casitas Ranger and Fire Station. I pulled into the station for a break and a mustering of nerve. From this stretch of the road, you can see a good portion of the lake, the boat docks. Now after four years of drought, the same view is depressing. The lake is at 50% of capacity, the boat docks have moved out from the previous shore, and some of the arms of the lakes are dry and growing bushes.
I usually mark the station as the beginning of the Casitas Climb. Since I struggled to this point, I knew that going back was going to be hard. I was committed to going over the pass. The first climb after the station is a large roller, up and down over a mile or so. Going down the descent, I hated the fact that I was giving up elevation, elevation that I would have to regain as I go up the next climb.
At the 7 mile marker, the big climb begins. From here it is 2.5 miles to the top of East Casitas Pass. At first the climb is mild, but the sun was out, and the heat was on, so I kept it slow. Around the second bend, you can see the top of the climb, a light patch of rock next to a small building. I call this corner “Oh crap” corner because that was my initial reaction to seeing how far that I had to go. After another half mile, I pulled over to stop and catch my breath. Then I found out how hard it was to restart after stopping on a 8% grade. I had to wait no cars coming up and then cut across the lane to get started. Since the road is fairly twisty, the curves prevented me from seeing too far, so I had to listen for cars instead.
After another half mile, I had to stop again. The heat was bearing down on me. While I was watching my heart rate fall below 170 bpm, another much younger cyclist was coming up the climb. It didn't look like he was having that much fun either. After passing me, he stopped a hundred yards ahead of me. His struggle made me feel better since if that young guy had to stop then I was not so bad. Somehow, I gathered myself together to get it going again. This time, I stayed with it to the top.  I was saying to myself, “I made it” over and over again as I approached the top. The feeling of achievement was enough to make me forget about the heat and pain in my legs. I pulled over to take a picture of the lake from the top.
Then, it was fun downhill into the Casitas Valley. I halfway thought that I that the climbing was over. But after 5 minutes of descending, the road tilted up again. This rise is the beginning of the West Casitas climb. Casitas Pass has a double top. Many cyclists on the Ojai Valley Century, which passes through this route, think that they are done and do not realize that there is another climb. However, this climb is about a mile and a half and not as steep. So it is more of a surprise, or disappointment, depending on your fitness than anything.  I slowly made my way up to the second top, past the chicken farm that also sold pigeon manure. I stopped at that top, but the view of the Montecito coast is through a narrow notch and was hazy, which would wash out in an iPhone photo. I took the fast descent to Carpinteria, flying down the mountain to the ocean.
I felt like I had accomplished a breakthrough. I was no longer stuck riding only in the flatlands. My self-confidence grew. I was able to take on other climbs in the area. Now I am not a billy goat, prancing up hills. I endure them, but I don’t avoid them. I used that opening to improve on hills. The only way to get better on the hills is to ride them.  Last October, I completed the Santa Barbara Century. That ride had 9,000 feet of climbing and 5 Cat 5s, 1 Cat 4, 1 Cat 4 and 1 Hors Cat (Gibraltar Road) and lots of other hills.