Bohlman On Orbit

August 10, 2008

Last Friday was Mark Logic’s summer BBQ and in the tradition of things getting better every year, this year it was held in Saratoga Springs. Given that there is some fantastic riding in this area, Evan, John and I decided that we should do some cycling before the BBQ started. We did a quick 9 mile loop up Hwy 9, down Redwood Gulch and then back to Saratoga Springs via Mt Eden and Pierce Rd. It was a great ride to start off the day with.

However, after Evan and I got some food in us and were totally annihilated in foosball we started thinking that we should go for another ride. I’d heard from my friend Bill of this fantastically difficult climb in the area called Bohlman On Orbit. Bill was quite insistent that this was one of the hardest climbs in the area so I suggested to Evan that we give it a go, he was game.

The climb starts right off of 6th Street in downtown Saratoga at an elevation of about 600 feet. After a small bit of residential area the road narrows and the grade increases to about 10%. Ten minutes into the climb the grade had not let up, Evan and I started wondering if it was going to flatten out at all and give us a little break. We jinxed ourselves.

20% Grade on a section of Bohlman

20% grade on a section of Bohlman

Turns out Bill was right, this climb is relentless. The road is filled with switchbacks and they aren’t just for looks, this road seriously needs them. If you don’t find the average grade of 10% challenging enough don’t get depressed, harder sections are ahead.

One of the toughest parts of this climb is the mental exhaustion. Things get challenging when you’re working fairly hard on a climb and the road is steeper than normal yet you look up ahead and don’t quite believe your eyes. You think to yourself, how can this be? A quick check of the cycling computer tells you that you’re on a 12% grade and yet it appears to be flat in contrast to what you will soon be facing. To top things off you can see a corner up ahead and this is the point where the optimistic viewpoint of thinking, “it may flatten out after the bend” is lost.

Pessimism proves to be right as you find out that the climb leading up to the turn is a 20% grade, the turn itself is 22% and then it settles right back down to an all too familiar 20% grade.

After about 1000 feet of this painful climbing there is a Y in the road. Bohlman continues to the right and On Orbit goes off to the left. Knowing that On Orbit is the steeper of the two, Evan and I naturally had to take it.

Riding up On Orbit Evan made the observation that the road is very correctly named because we thought for sure that we had climbed enough to actually be orbiting the Earth. Evan was clearly feeling a bit stronger than I was because all I could think of was how insane this climb is. Shortly after this Evan and I both agreed that to really be into cycling there has to be a part of you that deep down loves pain. So I think we’re in agreement on how difficult this road is.

Life On Orbit isn’t all bad however, the views are quite spectacular and it gives you a great feeling of accomplishment. There’s also one section that is about 1/10th of a mile long where the grade is a very welcome 6% (as a comparison, interstate 70 that passes through the Colorado Rockies is roughly a 6% grade). But make no mistake, On Orbit is brutal and an absolute ass kicker. The average grade is about 14% with sections going up to 22% and is just over a half mile long.

Once you reach the top of On Orbit there is a slight downhill section before it meets up with Bohlman again. The speed of this 100 foot descent feels quite nice and cools you down a bit before the last 500 feet to the top. The climb calms down a bit after it meets up with Bohlman. There is a couple sections with a 16% grade but overall if you’ve made it this far, making it to the top shouldn’t be a problem.

The last half mile or so runs along the ridge line at the top. It’s a perfect time to relax a little bit and look around at what you’ve accomplished. Bohlman is a dead end at the top, however, there is a fire road that continues on and connects up with Montevina Road after about a mile. Taking this will eventually get you close to the intersection of Black Rd and Hwy 17. I think the next time I do this climb I’m going to continue on this path and turn the ride into a loop (Bohlman, Montevina, Black, Skyline, Hwy 9).

So overall I loved the climb. It has all the right ingredients, challenging, beautiful views, low traffic and can be accomplished. You won’t find me doing it every week, but once a month would be fine with me.