Believe it or not, the world’s toughest hill climb is biking distance from Davis. Yes, I know some of you biking know-it-alls will say Italy’s Passo di Mortirolo is the toughest, but my money is on Mixx Canyon just 20 miles southwest of Davis.
In 4.8 miles, Mixx goes from the valley to the top of a Coast Range mountain. Since the first two miles are reasonably flat, the vast majority of the 2,200-foot climb is crammed into a tad over 2 miles.
Feeling ready for the challenge? Here’s how. Ride out to Pleasants Valley Road. One mile south of Cantelow Road is Mixx Canyon. The street sign might be missing, but it is the first road south of Cantelow. Can’t miss it.
The first mile is pleasant rolling hills, every tenth-mile is ticked off by markers on the side of the road. At mile 1, you’ll encounter the first hill. “Oh, Matt,” I hear you say, “this is your famous Mixx? You are a weenie.”
At mile 2, you’ve calculated that you are 40 percent of the way there, the tenth-mile markers are clicking by quickly, and you are feeling good. You say to yourself that you’re a stronger cyclist than you thought.
The grade steepens enough so you need to shift into the smallest front chain ring. But even this is good news because you live in Davis and have never, ever had to shift into the small chain ring; the novelty is invigorating.
Suddenly, you turn a corner and the road steepens. Think orchard ladder. Out of your 27 gears, you can’t ram it into the first one fast enough. A turkey vulture hunches in the road, and in the back of your mind, you wonder about omens and symbolism. You uneasily laugh it off and are at mile 2.5.
Mile 3 comes and there is a sharp turn that is reminiscent of a corkscrew. You curse three people at this point. One, the sadistic engineer who designed this road. Two, the bike salesman who didn’t sell you a lower gear. Three, me who dangled Mixx Canyon in such a fashion that you had no choice but to try it.
The good news is this is as steep as it gets. The bad news is you have a bit over a mile of this grade. You contemplate the relativity of space and time because those tenth-mile markers are no longer clicking by. Wasn’t the last one you passed mile 3.6? Why is this next one 3.6? Arrgghh!!!
I’m guessing the grade here is minimally 20 percent. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that it is steep and long. At mile 4, you’ve had it. Your knees are cursing you. You need to turn back. You must turn back because every 20 rotations equals one additional ibuprofen you’ll need if you ever make it home. But you can’t turn back because you are stubborn and prideful, and bragging rights trumps a visit to the physical therapist.
Finally, the end is in sight. You don’t sprint because something might explode: heart, lungs, knees, all of the above. And you arrive at the end of the road. You did it. You may have begun brash, but now you are one of us: humbled.
The great thing about mountains is the downhill reward. But not Mixx. There is no reward. The downhill is steep, tortuous and narrow. You have to ride the brakes practically the whole way down.
One last Mixx present: Occasionally the wheels get so hot from the brakes that innertubes fail. Bring two extra.
Mixx Canyon. Davis’ own extreme bike ride. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.