Figueroa Mountain rises to nearly 4,500' feet above the north-eastern corner of the Santa Ynez Valley.
I learnt that it had been used by Lance Armstrong and his Discovery Team as a winter pre-season training ride. Starting from Solvang the team would climb over the mountain and then complete a 100 mile loop.
I planned to do just part of the ride ... the 4,500' mountain. Even skipping the 100 mile loop the ride still rates as 'very strenuous' according to Ray Ford's guide.
I started from the small town of Los Olivos.
I had been warned to start early to avoid the hottest part of the day ... even so when I set off the local Rotary Club were up and about closing a side road and setting up stalls for a charity event.
I carefully crossed the busy Highway 154 and pedalled northward on Figueroa Mountain Road along Alamo Pintado Creek.
The road snakes along the valley bottom passing a number of horse ranches.
The first eight kilometres along Figueroa Mountain Road are almost entirely flat and give no indication of what is ahead.
The road turns eastward and passes the private Midland School.
I learnt later that one of the turn-offs along this section leads to Michael Jackson's famous (or is that infamous) Neverland Ranch ... but I failed to spot any giraffes or ferris wheels.
Beyond the School the valley sides gradually close in as you enter Birbent Canyon.
Just as you're wondering how the road can escape from the canyon it doubles back on itself and crosses a narrow bridge over the creek and turns steeply upwards over the canyon's southern flank.
After the initial shock of the sudden climb the gradient reduces slightly ... and I settled into a steady (and very slow) climb.
Several racing cyclists descended in the opposite direction ... but they were so quick that I didn't have time to get my camera out and capture them.
"Join Us for the Santa Ynez Valley Cycling Series. Figueroa Mountain Hill Climb - 9.5 miles, individual time trial. 3,900' of climbing average gradient of 9%. Do you have what it takes?"
Er ... no.
The road passes many outcrops of serpentine ... which is a shiny pale green rock containing copper, chrome and mercury.
A century ago this area was actively mined ... the local maps show the sites of a number of these now long abandoned mines.
Figueroa Mountain is famous for its displays of spring-time flowers. These are at their best through March and April.
I was riding at the beginning of June ... so they were well past their best.
Los Padres National Forest covers some two million acres of Central California from Monterey in the north to Los Angles in the south.
Signs indicated that I would have to pay a fee ... but I never discovered who I should pay the fee to. Perhaps the Discovery Team have a season ticket?
As you climb higher up the mountain ever more expansive views open up to the south over the Santa Ynez Valley.
On the far side of the valley are the Santa Ynez Mountains which overlook Santa Barbara and the Pacific.
After climbing steadily for about eight kilometres to about 2,800' the road turns and climbs more steeply around a large zig-zag.
'The lure of the hills is partly about the need for physical challenge, partly also about the panoramic views they reward that effort with. But it is also a soul thing. About lifting your spirit up from the common, quotidian life of the plain and searching for something transcendent. Mountains, as the Romantics knew, are sublime'.
Matt Seaton after Casper David Friedrich, Guardian 16 August 2006
A kilometer further on you reach Figueroa Ranger Station at 3,200'.
After the Ranger Station the road dips briefly into Sawmill Basin.
Here a turn-off to the south leads to Tunnel Ranch and one to the north is called Catway Road.
Catway Road ... which is a relatively smooth dirt track ... contours around the mountainside for some fifteen kilometres towards Zaka and Wildhorse Peaks and viewpoints overlooking Zaka Lake. Perhaps next time I'll try exploring them.
After a brief respite in Sawmill Basin the road begins to climb again.
Soon after there is a turn off which leads to the actual summit of Figueroa Mountain. The Mountain reaches 4,528' and has a lookout post on top.
Figueroa Mountain Road itself skirts to the south of the summit and next passes Figueroa Campsite at about 3,500'.
It was now about five more kilometres to the road's summit. Pine trees were becoming more numerous and fewer deciduous trees were lining the slopes.
There was yet more evidence of previous small scale mining activities ... with a number of spoil heaps visible from the side of the road.
Further on Davy Brown's Trail leaves northward to descend into Fir Canyon, east of Figueroa Mountain's summit.
Figueroa Mountain Road then crosses a minor saddle and starts the final ascent to the top of Ranger Peak.
I passed a barrier which can be used to close the road ... the sign clearly wasn't popular with our gun-toting friends.
Near the top the road follows a forested ridge and the road narrows to a single lane ... I'm not sure that a Humvee could get through this final section ... please don't try.
Finally at long last ... well some four hours after starting ... I reached the top.
Or not quite the top ... as well as missing the top of Figueroa Mountain ... the road also just fails to reach the top of Ranger Peak.
Instead the trail runs along the 4,400' contour just below the 4,680' summit.
As the road emerges from the trees dramatic views open up eastward to the San Rafael Mountains.
Particularly prominent is a ridge of banded white rocks called the Hurricane Deck.
Much of the San Rafael Mountains is classified as a Wilderness Area ... and so for example bicycles are excluded.
I stopped at the top for some food and drink and to get my bearings ... yes I was at the top ... and no there was no café.
Never mind ... ahead I had some ten kilometres of descent ... followed by a short uphill section ... and then another five kilometres downhill.
During the day the temperature had gradually risen .. reaching around 75°F by the time I arrived at the top.
As I began to descend down the eastern side of the mountain it was like standing in front of a fan heater ... the temperature rose in a few hundred metres to around 95°F.
The road drops to a small saddle and then weaves its way along the flank of Figueroa Mountain following the line of Lion Canyon.
The road is carved into the side of the mountain ... exposing further seams of serpentine.
On some of the corners there are big drops ... so care is needed whilst descending.
As the road drops further its twists and turns become more exaggerated.
The road gradually turns north-eastward and the bulk of Cachuma Mountain slowly comes into view.
At first it's impossible to discern any way through or past this bulk.
Gradually you can spot golden threads of roads and trails along its flank. At first they don't seem to be connected ... but slowly you can piece together the linkages and see how the route will unfold.
After a couple of impressive 180° bends you can see down onto Cachuma Saddle ... which is were we will branch off to descend down towards Happy Valley.
The Saddle lies at just above 3,100' and was until recently ... when fire destroyed it ... the site of a Ranger Guard Station.
At the Saddle the road splits ... to the north the trail drops towards Sunset Valley ... and southward it descends following Cachuma Creek on Happy Canyon Road.
Here the nature of the trail changes dramatically ... previously it had traversed open ridges and hillsides with expansive views ... now it was overshadowed by the bulk of Cachuma Mountain.
On the side of the mountain there are numerous mine workings .. the most notable being the appropriately named Redrock Mine.
This is on the site of an outcropping of cinnabar ... which is a scarlet crystalline form of mercury sulphide.
The road continues its descent running alongside Cachuma Creek. The creek switches from one side of the road to the other ... over a series of fords. Fortunately there was little water in the creek so I didn't get wet.
After descending for a couple more kilometres I reached Cachuma Camp nestling alongside the Creek below.
Just after the Camp the road climbs away from the creek over a shoulder towards the west.
The road ... which had previously all been tarmaced ... turned to dirt.
Although there was an occasional pothole ... the surface didn't present any problems to my hybrid's tires.
I wonder how the Discovery Team's bikes ... with their narrow section tires ... cope?
As the road crosses the shoulder views open up to the north ... back up to Ranger Peak.
After the brief uphill section the road continues to descend.
On reaching 1,200' the nature of the land changes dramatically as you enter Happy Valley.
The scenery becomes more pastoral and the road is lined with expensive looking ranches ... with tidy barns and paddocks.
Along the valley road I met a number of cyclists ... but no horse riders ... perhaps they were waiting for the cool of the evening.
Baseline Avenue heads due west for about six kilometres all the way to the small village of Ballard.
Due straight that is ... except for a kink where it crosses Highway 154
At this point I'd drunk three large bottles of water and most of the contents of a Camelback and was beginning to feel rather hot.
Fortunately at the junction there was a Church with a water fountain ... where I was able to replenish my supplies and give my head a cool soaking.
Baseline Avenue eventually reached Ballard where I turned right to follow Alamo Pintado the last few kilometres back to Los Olivos.
Back in Los Olivos the temperature was over 101°F ... no wonder I'd felt hot ... definitely time to find a café for some cool drinks ...