Ride Middle Bar, then head for the bar…oops, they are closed.

I only remember needing to walk my bike up a hill once. It was on the very steep Charleston Road out of Volcano. I was doing the climb for the first (and last) time with Ray R. I was behind him, and an oncoming car on the narrow road made me stop and put a foot down, on what might be the steepest part (17%? 18%?) of the pavement. There was no chance I could start pedaling and clip into my pedals without falling, so I hoofed it. Ray managed to keep riding, but he wasn’t going any faster on his bike than I was off of mine

Considering how many steep sections of road I’ve done in the U.S. and Europe, only one time walking is a pretty amazing record. With so many climbs in all kinds of weather and in varying states of health and exhaustion, you might think I would have given up more than once. Somehow I managed to get up all the steep walls on my bike instead of pushing it. Even once on Mont Ventoux, where I got hit by a blast of Mistral headwind on the 12% pitch at the weather station. My heart rate and power spiked but I made it.

But walking going down is another matter. I remember several times where steep grades and narrow roads and fierce winds have terrified me so much I had to ease to a stop and walk down. There was Deer Creek Road in the Santa Monica Mountains on a day the Santa Anna Winds were up. On a section of road where a howling cross wind threatened to blow me down a steep slope and into the Pacific Ocean I lost my nerve, wobbled to a stop but stayed upright, then walked a couple hundred yards until the road turned putting the gale at my back. The climb back to Agoura Hills via Mulholland Drive was into that same raging Santa Anna, turning an easy ascent into something harder that the Stelvio Pass. On the news that evening I learned that the Santa Anna winds had exceeded 60 mph. No wonder I walked!

In France last year, I was following my guide down a steep, narrow and open stretch of road with no trees or hills for cover, and no guardrail either. There was a mini Mistral crosswind. My guide got down without a problem, but I again got too nervous and tired of being blown side to side and too close to the edge for comfort. So I got off and walked again.

Every episode of walking down had one factor in common: major wind. No one likes the wind, but when it is really blowing and I’m heading down I seem to do worse than most others. Perhaps it is partly because my body shape and upright riding position mean I catch a lot of air and get blown around more. Most of it is probably nerves and an inability to relax and not hold the handlebar in a death grip.

Yesterday Steve and I rode out of Valley Springs. We crossed Pardee Dam and headed up Stoney Creek Road to Jackson. At the school at the top of the climb I suggested we head for Middle Bar Road, negotiate the steep descent and then the steep climb out on Gwyn Mine Road up to Paloma. Then we would finish with the delightful Paloma Road descent and the final 3 miles slightly downhill and downwind back to Valley Springs.

Middle Bar Way Back When: The Road Might Be Worse Now

I know the descent of Middle Bar is treacherous. I have done it many times, slowly but without incident. The road is narrow and very bumpy. Most years the county fills the worst of the potholes, but apparently this has not been done for a long while. There were open potholes, some pretty deep. There were sharp edged rocks embedded and exposed, looking for tires to eat. Even worse, there was this combination of sand, fine gravel, loose stones and dust making everything quite slippery even though the road was completely dry. All this with some sections steeper than 10%, pointing down.

After a few minutes of riding this mess, I stopped, carefully and successfully, and walked about 100 yards on some really bad road. When the worst was past I got on again. I did this a couple of times. The descent is really steep for the first mile, then there are some relatively flat places where I could ride, but the last steep part just before the bridge was awful. I rode through it, but I was really glad to see the bridge and the climb out the other side.

This is the first time I walked down a climb in calm conditions: there wasn’t a breath of wind in that canyon.

Thanks to Strava, I have data. The descent is 2.7 miles and drops 670 feet, but much of it is steeper that 10%. Sometimes a lot steeper. It took me almost 25 minutes. Some of that time was walking and some of it was when I stopped simply to regain some composure and settle my nerves; the Strava Segment Clock keeps ticking even when you aren’t moving. The climb up the other side is 2.18 miles and climbs 700 feet, but the first mile is really steep with a long stretch of 10 to 15%. I needed less that 21 minutes to complete the climb (I did 16:22 once, but that was an all out effort, which yesterday wasn’t). So I spent more time bumping down the hill than I did sweating and puffing up it. That doesn’t happen often.

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