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Part 4 - Camino Cielo
We head south on Camino Cielo, ‘Sky Road’, across the top of a narrow ridge. Here the pavement is smooth, black and crisp, the very definition of pristine. We’ve gone from crusty grind to cool, fluid, rolling plummet. On our right, thousands of feet below, is a thin strip of town sandwiched between our mountain and an endless blue expanse white-capping west into the horizon. On our left, folds of hot-brown and sage-green mountains, rumpled and creased, continue into the heat for hundreds of miles.
At eight-miles the pavement ends at the bottom of a steep hill, just past a large gravel parking lot, home to another toadstool and the start of several enticing single-tracks. Here we turn around and leave Camino Cielo to continue south and east, inland, on a gravel fire road.
It’s 1:30pm and Africa hot. Purely on principle, turning around feels wrong. Aesthetically displeasing. I slow roll and tack back up the steep section with Aaron while Hahn fixes a flat. Ira and Ben pass us. Aaron fades as I make an honest effort at chasing. The return is longer and harder but still stunning. 30 minutes later I soft pedal past the ‘Road Closed’ sign, the top of Gibraltar, and continue along Camino Cielo in the direction of La Cumbre. It’s the highest peak in our neighborhood, at 3,995ft.
Ben and Ira are waiting in a shaded switchback. I’m suffering spells again and happy to stop. Minutes pass and there’s no sign of the others, until first Aaron, then Hahn and Cole, finish the last bit of downhill this side of La Cumbre. The road here is as busted and broken as before, worse maybe. Only the views and cool breeze make the climb over La Cumbre and the next six miles possible. On the way over, we ride into sections of green trees and dark soil. Shade and life. On the far side we pass by a shooting range littered with spent but colorful shells and backwoods flotsam and jetsam; TVs, dolls, cars and appliances. All of it shot to shit.
Eventually, the road points down for good when the already dodgy surface becomes ridiculous and obscene. Riddled with holes, cracks, and drop-offs and covered in sand, gravel and rocks. Every corner is a gamble. On cue, Aaron accelerates smoothly and confidently past the group. He floats over the worst looking sections and rails the rest, it’s like watching a magic-act. Hahn is not far behind him.
We leave the ridge on Painted Cave Road, our last descent into town. It begins easy and level, casually passing grasslands, an abandoned tennis court, some houses and a ranch. Then it drops abruptly, following a number of barely navigable switchbacks into a dark, wooded valley tucked into the top of a further ridge. The surface stays damaged and challenging until the far side of the valley. The next five miles is a series of breathtaking straight-aways, turns, angles and views. Aaron continues to lead what is now a group freefall to the Pacific.
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"Aaron and I climb around the corner of the last uphill section on the ridge and find the rest of the squad waiting for the descent. It’s the shittiest road imaginable. There’s Paris-Roubaix, and there’s the backside of La Cumbre." - Hahn
"The road was a pile of rubble without a level or un-broken square-foot of surface anywhere in sight. But two days of pulling-up the back, feeling depleted and cooked, was killing me. I saw this opportunity to finally crush-it and I had complete faith in my bike so I went for it." - Aaron
"Perfectly smooth roads are wonderful, but I sometimes thrive on how chewed up concrete feels at 40 miles per hour." - Cole
"I've ridden a fixy cross bike eighteen plus miles an hour down some of the most challenging single-track on the West Coast. But Camino Cielo had me in the hoods, forearms pumped, fist full of brakes the whole way down at eight. Maybe eight and half when the visibility was good."
"When we come to Painted Cave road, Aaron poses atop his bike, covering up the last three letters of ‘Painted’ with the back of his hand so it reads ‘Pain’. A homage to his destruction yesterday on Cloudburst." – Hahn