Once you start seeing the reflector posts as little faces screaming "Aaaaaaaa!" with their open gray mouths, you can't stop. Especially on something as ridiculously steep as Mix Canyon.
According to John Summerson's The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike) in California, this road contains the steepest paved mile in the state of California, at 15.8% for the mile, with up to 20% bits commonly frequenting the switchbacks. It climbs almost 2200 feet in 4 miles.
So yes, this road is physically challenging. As with most climbs, though, the mental games are half the battle. Several things lead to this hill being mentally tough:
1) It starts out so nicely -- a beautiful road working its way gently up the lower parts of the canyon, with lots of riparian shade and gentle trickling watery sounds from the creek.
2) The steepest stuff is all reserved for the top, where you might already be a bit tired. You pop out of the nice shady drainage, pass a couple of houses, and start angling up the side of the sun-baked, chaparral-covered ridge. You thought the hill was slightly evil before this, but little do you know...
3) It's just bloody steep. So much so that your sense of the upcoming grade is messed up. At one point I came around a corner to see the top of the ridge above me, looked at the road angling across the hillside ahead of me and thought "Oh, it eases up", only to find that the exact opposite was the case. In spades.
Fortunately, someone with a sense of humor has defaced (or re-faced) a few of the reflector posts.
This leads to the giggles, if you aren't already laughing maniacally at the sheer insanity of the grade. It's either that or cuss out the road, which isn't really my style.
Photographs really don't do justice to the grade; it looked much more precipitous in person. The best pictures I could find are here. (worth taking a look even if you don't ride, as the author did a good job conveying the scenery and a sense of both hills)
I really enjoyed this climb -- my legs were feeling fresh and after all the tandem riding with kid on the back earlier in the summer, the steeps feel pretty good. And the top of Mix is so steep as to just be deeply funny. Some might argue that I should just ride normal stuff faster (because I'm not fast by any stretch of the imagingation), but I like to ride sillier instead. It satisfies the urge to explore and makes better stories :)
After riding a bit on the gravel road along the ridge top a bit and carefully descending back down (not for the faint of heart!), there was still time to climb nearby Gates Canyon, which is reputedly almost as crazy. At this point, I wasn't really sure if it was the right thing to do, but there was time. On turning up the road, I was somewhat relieved to see a sign that said "Locked Gate 3 Miles Ahead", thinking that that would give me an out before the really steep stuff at the top.
Ooops. A moment of mental weakness crept in. This opens the door to suffering. There was no locked gate at 3 miles, of course. Also of course I wasn't about to not do the whole climb, but the mere fact that I had held out a tiny bit of hope for an out meant that the razor-sharp edge of determination had blunted. So, when my back tire skidded slightly on the dirt section in the middle, I used it as an excuse to stop for a moment.
Never, ever, ever stop before the top of the hill. It makes it so much easier to succumb to excuses for another stop, and another... "I need to swap my bottles and it's too steep to do without falling over." "Just need to catch my breath." "This is a road???? Looks more like a wall" or just plain "Ow. Ow-ow-ow-hot-hot-hot." In all I stopped 4 more times on the way up. Never for more than about 30 seconds, but enough to disrupt the rhythm and the almost Zen-like mode of climbing grit.
All in all, I suffered more on Gates than Mix, though I think it's the easier hill by a little bit. The fact that it was the second hill, had perhaps a few locally steeper bits, and the near 100 degree temperature at the top may have colored my experience (only 90-ish at the top of Mix, since it was earlier in the morning). Plus that moment of mental weakness that led to the first breather stop.
Looking at the stats in the Summerson book, Mix looks to be only a *little* bit harder than more local crazy-steep roads that I've ridden enough to be familiar with them -- things like Hicks/Mt. Umunhum, Bohlman/On Orbit, and Welch Creek. And it's true -- it really is only a little bit harder. That little bit however, is what crosses the line into "Only do this if you're in the mood to laugh your way up it" territory.
Still upright at the end, with very tired eyes. After all this, I picked up the kiddo from Linda, drove home, showered, ate, and ran off to a three hour dress rehearsal for the Stanford Summer Chorus concert which entailed 2 1/2 hours of standing and a lot of core muscle use for singing. Still moving this morning with only slight tiredness in my back and shoulders and none really in the legs, which is somewhat of a miracle.