Our tour begins when we meet in the morning in San Jose. After a brief introductory meeting, we transfer to the Wine Country town of Paso Robles.
Upon arrival in Paso Robles, we take a warm-up ride through the rolling orchards and vineyards surrounding Paso Robles. Tonight's stay is at Paso Robles Inn, a historic boutique hotel locating in downtown Paso Robles.
After breakfast in Paso Robles, our first full stage takes us on an even bigger loop through the rolling hills of wine country. With over 32,000 acres of planted vineyards, today's ride is sure to be scenic. Stop in to any that catch your eye, there are tasting rooms sprinkled throughout the route, most specializing in Zinfandel and Rhone varietals. Lodging tonight is back in Paso Robles where you'll have an on your own evening to explore town.
After breakfast at our hotel, our route takes us over the coastal range to the Pacific Coast and the harbor town of Morro Bay. The stage's finish is at the water's edge, where you can watch the fishing boats, sea birds and harbor seals. Today involves a short shuttle at the end of the ride, busy roads have never been our favorite to ride! Our destination for the evening is along the ocean at Avila Beach, where our lodging for the night is Avila Lighthouse Suites. Relax in your room or stroll the beach before dinner together at a location nearby.
After another hearty breakfast and a shuttle through to the best part of the cycling route, we pedal out of Santa Maria Valley and inland once again through the rolling pastures and oak studded hillsides that recline beneath the majestic San Rafael Mountains. Here we are treated to one of the Top Ten bike rides: Foxen Canyon and Ballard Canyon. Remote and scenic, this route rolls past quiet pastures and wineries with unobstructed views of the surrounding mountains. Our first town to visit is the Danish influenced Solvang, known for its quaint Scandinavian architecture and Old World hospitality. The feedzone is at the Solvang Coffee Co, where you can re-caffeinate and re-fuel before we then roll towards our destination for the night: Santa Ynez, an even tinier hideaway. Our lodging for the next two nights is the elegant and luxurious Santa Ynez Inn, a Victorian bed and breakfast.
Stage 5 in Santa Ynez is officially a "rest" day. But since cyclists on a multi-stage tour know that riding on "rest" days is a good idea, there are a few rides to choose from. You may choose to join a casual ride to explore more of the local area. You may wish to revisit Solvang and its myriad shops and tasting rooms. You may decide to test your climbing legs on a local climb. Or you may truly want a rest day to luxuriate at the Santa Ynez Inn's spa.
The final stage of the tour is a morning promenade on another great ride that roughly follows the individual time trial route the pros rode in the Amgen Tour of California. We once again get to experience that little slice of cycling heaven, Ballard Canyon, but this time in the opposite direction. Then it's a fast spin back to Santa Ynez to clean up, before we transfer you back to our meeting location in San Jose.
Got back last Sunday from doing the 8-day "Climbs of Northern California" tour with UDC. I could go on and on about the incredible routes that were carefully selected for this tour, the beautiful locations where we stayed (like Occidental & Boonville), the great accommodations (like the H2 Hotel in Healdsburg), and the fantastic meals (Lauren's in Boonville was so good that we ate there twice). All those things are true.
In my experience though what really makes a trip unique and special are the people involved. This is where UDC really stands out. Our tour guides Mike B. and his sister Kim took what would have inherently been a very nice trip (due to the factors mentioned above) and made it that much better. The daily routes were very challenging, with lots of climbing (as the name implies). It seemed that Mike or Kim were there at top of every long climb, offering words of encouragement, urging us along, and heck sometimes even ringing a cowbell! Their positive attitude throughout the entire trip really made it fun and helped us keep going through some of the tougher sections. One of them would ride along with us while the other would drive the support van (they alternated days riding & driving) so we always felt fully supported on the road. It seemed the van was always there at just the right time, with fresh fruit, water, ice, all kinds of snacks, etc. I ran out of water on the climb up Mt. Tamalpais and Mike was somehow there with the van to hand me a fresh water bottle while I kept riding. For a moment I felt like I was in a pro peloton!
I should also mention that mechanical support was top notch. This is another area where UDC stands above many of the other bike tour companies out there. The Scott carbon fiber bikes were meticulously adjusted to our specs before we arrived, so only a few minor tweaks were needed. I personally didn't need any further modifications to my bike however others in the group needed different wheels and cog sets on occasion, and some brought their own Garmins to use for the tour. These changes were handled with ease by our UDC guides and no challenge seemed to fluster them in the least. Each morning our tires were pumped up to our preferred pressure level and our bikes were given a quick series of checks before we headed out.
There was one snag we encountered in Boonville when my roommate and I showed up at our hotel and found out that our assigned room didn't have two full sized beds but rather a queen and a day bed, which is not the best option after 70 miles and 5500+ ft of climbing. Our UDC guides quickly got this straightened out and the result was that we each had our own room for the two nights at no additional charge.
It's worth mentioning that a lot of the roads used for this tour are pretty technical (lots of twists & turns and some of the roads don't have the best surface). Also many of the roads didn't have much of a shoulder, if any. For that reason, this tour (and I suspect many of the other UDC tours) are geared more toward very experienced riders. This should be pretty obvious from their website but I feel it's worth reiterating.
There are many more positive things I could say about this trip and about our UDC guides. Everything was professional from start to finish and no small detail was overlooked. What differentiates UDC from some of the other, larger companies out there is the personalized experience you will get. The next time I'm starting to plan a bike trip in CA, I will head straight to the UDC web site and don't plan to look any further! Thanks UDC, Mike & Kim for a wonderful, very memorable trip!!
TripAdvisor August 2013