2015 Menso’s SLO Ride to Hell

Being the second installment of Murphy Mack’s Gravel Gauntlet Series.
< the first

In a word: awesome!
In 114,000 words (the photo tour)

And, for those of us who still like that quaint thing called reading, carry on:

It was overcast when I left San Luis, but cleared as I went over the Grade, becoming rosy peachy morning glow sky over the vineyards east of Santa Margarita. The light for a tourism bureau’s wet dream.


The start/finish were in the same place this time, yay! Specific location was the event barn at Ancient Peaks Winery, on West Pozo Road. In the pre-ride e-mail, Murphy told us to make sure to get the WEST in there when we looked up directions, otherwise we’d end up in an entirely different place.

I was on the early side but not the first one there. We’d been sternly warned that missing the 7:30 rider meeting might result in death, but that was probably just to get everyone there for the 8:00 roll-out. It was sunny but a little chilly, and I decided to wear a vest. Recognized quite a few of the usual suspects, and hey! a bunch of rando bikes. Woot! Boyz on the Hoods in da house!

A few last minutes words of wisdom from Murphy, and then from Menso. (Yeah, what are the odds there would be a guy named Menso on this ride?) It’s all his fault. Actually Murphy said the parts of the route we really liked were the ones he (Murphy) came up with, anything we didn’t like was by Menso.

That's Menso in the front wearing the Clif kit.

Lining up for the start – that’s Menso in the front wearing the Clif kit.

Apparently the original plan had been a loop through the vineyard before hitting pavement, but they hadn’t been able to get some gates unlocked, so Murphy just lead us out to the street. The combination of the truck and mass of cyclists rose a slight dust, which was actually pretty cool looking, but in the crowd I didn’t dare try to get a picture. It wasn’t terribly unpleasant, but I was fine there wasn’t the loop through the vineyard with more of it, and dust was never a problem the rest of the day. Halfway to the street and a car with bikes on top was headed in to the barn. Oops, maybe they missed the West in their directions.

The fast people were away once we hit the road, but there was still enough of a group for a decent paceline. Followed MikeS on his twinsie Viaje. It was great seeing more women at this installment, and there was a woman in a Vanderkitten kit and another in a red jacket in the pack here. After a bit the road tipped up and the group spread out.


We got to the turn onto dirt and I had to stop and take my vest off. The first dirt was some sweet singletrack. It was a climb, but hero dirt conditions. I was lucky to not be jammed up by people in front of me, but with the steepness of the climb my lungs were not wanting to stay in my chest (they were actually a bit cranky with me the rest of the day, but (not to spoil anything) we did all make it to the finish), then I was getting distracted by the views and some lapses in coordination so I didn’t clean it all.

The fog that had been lurking over the ridges to the west crept in as we gained altitude. A woman with a blonde ponytail passed me near the end of the singletrack, she’d been up the mountain before and said it was too bad we’d miss the views today. Oh well, have to go up another time. No distant vistas, but there were great clusters of shooting stars along the sides of the trail.

Sweeping Vistas

insert sweeping vista here

The trail dumped on to a fire road, there were a few people stopped with something that didn’t seem to be just a bike issue, but they looked to have it taken care of so we rode on. (Heard later it was a broken hand.)

The fire road snaked its way upwards. We were yo-yoing with a fellow on a mountain bike, as we came around another corner and saw more climbing ahead he said, “I keep thinking I’ll be at the top!” Heh. Yeah, and one of these times you’ll be right!

Oh, this must be Hi(gh) Mountain. Patrick looked at his magic widget, which concurred. I thought you were joking. C’mon you know me, I never joke. Widget said 2700 feet. Yeah, that is pretty high for coastal California.

The top eventually came, and the resulting downhill. Which we’d also been sternly warned about, to the point I was a little nervous, but it turned out to be super fun. There were a few ruts across the road that had some mayhem potential, but I thought light and happy thoughts. (Seemed to work.)

tree meadow of awesome

tree meadow of awesome

Then there was a water crossing, which we’d gotten a picture of in the pre-ride e-mail. It didn’t seem as big as in the photo. Remember, the camera adds 10 pounds. Even I rode it. There was a big white pick-em-up truck on the opposite bank, but they were nice enough to wait while we went through.

A bit of flat gravel road past a farm then we popped out on pavement. Took a right and passed the Pozo Saloon. Too early for it to be open.

I was just starting to wonder how much further it would be and then we arrived at Check Point #1. Pancakes! What?! No maple syrup??? They were still damn tasty – fresh off the griddle! No one pouring, but I helped myself to a little nip off the bottle to console myself for the lack of syrup.


Rolled past some more farms and then back into National Forest. Climbed on pavement up the side of a canyon. In some ways it reminded me of the area around my Grandma’s place on the east side of Mt. Hamilton. More wildflowers along the sides of the road. Thought I heard a hummingbird but duh it was a dirt bike above us on one of the trails. Got to a saddle in the ridge and another fun descent on dirt.


Towards the bottom saw a rider walking with his bike. Nothing looked obviously awry on the bike, I asked if everything was OK. It turned out to be one of the Marcos (apparently the ride couldn’t handle two), he said, “yeah, fine. I just broke my collar bone.” whawhatWHAT? That’s a pretty loose definition of OK, but um, OK. He said he’d taken some Advil, there’s no cell service so he was just getting himself to somewhere to connect with the SAG. Alrighty then.

There was a nice rollery section, still on dirt, and then the split between the long and short routes. The woman with the blonde ponytail was just ahead of us and surprised me by taking the right for the short route. After the turn a couple of guys with jerseys from some Santa Barbara shop (oh yeah, this would be pretty close for them) caught up to us. Well that was fun! More of that please!

There were a few more whoop de doos, then climbing again, and oh noes, that “dang I smacked that pretty good” thought on one of those whoops was right. My front tire was flat. It was a pretty spot at least, and I had the dulcet tones of target practice to accompany my tube change.


Re-inflated (why did it take me so long to get on the CO2 band wagon?!) in fairly short order we finished the climb up to a ridge. Here we got some expansive views, and enough cell service for Patrick to text the SAG about Marco.


Another descent, all dry, although there was a section with some deep ruts that gave some indication that they might also be famous for their mud in these parts.


Then we were back on pavement for an undulating roll over open plains. There were dustings of orange and yellow in the fields from fiddlenecks and goldfields.


One car passed us, which made me realize how few vehicles we’d seen so far. Of course as soon as I thought that two more came by.

Turned on to more of a back road and ooo! Field full of sheepies!!! Awww. Then a field scattered with small rocks like sprinkles on a cupcake. That’s Random. Oh some spaceship from Mars has been doing tests there. Jeez, why would they do that? Sending something to another planet to look at rocks?! What a waste of resources…

Next excitement was a cow sprint. As a rider ahead of us went by, the cows in a field clustered up, ran toward the fence, and then along it in the same direction of travel. They continued running along as we came by. I wondered why, and what would have happened if they weren’t behind the fence.

After the cows was Check Point #2. Sausage sandwiches and Coke. I could get used to this. Swig of Patrick’s beer. My front tire was a little soft, there was a floor pump so I pumped it up, and thought happy thoughts that this was magic air that would last until the finish. (Yeah, I know, see denial.)


More climbing, on sparkly pavement now, and then back on dirt. Looked (comparatively) flat. Argh, why am I not going faster? Magic widget said there actually is a bit of incline. And what the brochure would probably call “balmy Coastal breeze.” OH! Poppies! Looked like the area had burned at some point not too long ago.

More target practice. Pedal faster, they’re shooting! We came to an intersection, I hadn’t seen any markers, but Patrick seemed to know which way to take. I was not interested in any bonus miles, so asked if we were going the right way. It’s away from the gunfire, that’s always the right way. Yes, but, are we on course? Just after I asked I saw a plate with the straight ahead arrow. Yay.

And… the hoped for magic air did not hold. I was flat on the front again. (Shut up.) Tire. Flat tire. Patrick requested that my next flat be somewhere he could Instagram.


Got the flat fixed and started up another climb. We could see a road cut across a summit which seemed rather distant. Are we going up there? It reminded me a little of Indians road, another big grading project that seems to go from nowhere in particular to more of the same. This road must have been designed so they could haul heavy equipment, as it never got too steep. It was actually quite pleasant, great views, and the top came sooner than I expected.

We could see the resulting miles long descent unspool down the valley below us. Patrick opened it up, after two flats for the day I was a little more cautious but still thoroughly enjoyed the downhill. The only interruptions were one truck coming up and one of the rando Boyz also headed back. You’re going the wrong way! – I dropped my car key! (I heard at the finish that someone had found it.)

At the bottom of the hill we were back on pavement, and it seemed sorta familiarish. The course was a figure 8, so there was a bit of it that we did cover going both directions, although I don’t think that particular part we did.

This ride had rainbows too!

This ride had rainbows too!

Again I was just starting to wonder about the next (last) Check Point and there it was. What had been #1, was now #3 and had transitioned from pancakes to grilled cheese! The woman working the grill had rainbow high socks and a t-shirt with a unicorn barfing a rainbow. It was nice getting rainbows without being in a deluge beforehand!

My front wheel had been looking pretty wobbly, I thought I’d smacked it out of round, but the mechanic said it looked like the tire just wasn’t seated quite right. Oh maybe that helped with my second flat. He worked on it while I ate and drank and got it a little better. Just don’t stare at it.

Vanderkitten, Red Jacket and a couple of guys they were riding with were there at the stop. Nice to see the women out there. They were ready to roll before we were, but just as they were leaving Vanderkitten noticed she had a flat.

Second time past the Pozo Saloon it was open and serving bikers.

Second time past the Pozo Saloon it was open and serving bikers.

One of the volunteers said the rest was all pavement, (actually I think he said “tarmac”) which it was to start, but then it turned out there was another section of gravel. Almost blindingly white gravel.

The widget said there’s left turn just ahead. Patrick found that hard to believe. Do you not believe there’s a turn, or not that we have to go left? He didn’t think there was a turn, (you doubt your magic widget?) but there was, in fact a road. Back on pavement. Rolled past some ranchettes.

I was kinda ready to be done with the ride. But then there was some downhill, whee! Then Patrick/widget said 9.3 miles to go. OK, I can do that. Especially if it’s all downhill like the last bit.

Caught up with the person that was the sweep, which seemed odd since neither of us remembered him passing us. Hmn. Then saw a few of the random Boyz. More fun swoopy downhill. A Snoopy silhouette on a little structure in a field (like the Snoopy on his dog house.)

I have no idea why I was expecting a left turn then right into the vineyard, but it turned out to be right then left. A last push through the vineyards and up to the barn. Whew! Yay. It was great to put the bike away, get changed and get food all right there. There were lots of people still around and I actually saw the whole podium announcements!

Great day! Excellent weather, really really beautiful country. Great flow of the course – the placement of the climbs, the mix of the dirt and pavement was awesome. It was a bit of a drive to get there, but I got to visit family in the area so it worked out well. I actually grew up in SLO county, but all of the course was new to me. I’d never been out in that part of the county even in a car, so it was quite a revelation actually. Funny how sometimes you have to go away to find places close to home.

More pictures from Patrick, of course.

And, not only is Menso ridiculously fast, but he’s a geologist, so he can school you on rocks while he’s handing you your ass on the bike. F-ing unreal.

Thanks to Murphy and all the volunteers for once again pegging the stoke-o-meter! As MikeS said, “If the riding (and the grilled cheese sandwiches) in Hell are this good, I hope someone saves me a spot!”


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