Monthly Archives: May 2010

Day 64: San Luis Obispo, California

Elevation gained: 583 ft/Miles 18/Total Miles: 3,164/Total Fast Food: 20f

A day of relaxation. Given the proximity to the ocean, the dew was dense last night. As a result, my sleeping bag was soaked and it took an hour for me to dry it out once the sun rose. But, I didn’t mind. I had a good book and was in no rush as today’s destination, San Luis Obispo, was only a bit less than 20 miles away. The only interruption in my peaceful morning was a gaggle of geese eating insects near the table in my campsite. I grabbed my camera for a photograph and when I was within five feet of them, a large white goose blew the clarion and suddenly I had six geese chasing me until I jumped up on the table. First dogs, now geese. What’s next?

Outside of Pismo, a cyclist gave me directions to San Luis Obispo. Most of the route was a bike path or bike lane. As I pedaled, I saw dozens of other riders enjoying the beautiful sunny day. Given the excellent roads and the spectacular scenery it’s no surprise that biking is popular here.

I haven’t been to San Luis Obispo or “SLO(w)” as it is affectionately called for almost 30 years. But, not much has changed. It’s still very much a college town with a culture reflective of the acronym. As I entered the town on Higera Street, there was no “Welcome to San Luis Obispo, Heart of the Galaxy, Most Important City on Earth, etc.” type of sign that you see with other communities. Instead, it merely said “City Limits” as if the residents felt that understatement better conveyed who they are. After I completed the chores of washing my clothes and cleaning my bike, I explored the downtown area, which was largely as I remember it – intimate, unhurried and friendly.

The thing that tells you all you need to know about this city is “ Bubble Gum Alley”, possibly the largest collection of DNA outside of the FBI. For decades, people have been turning the corner down this alley off Higera and Marsh, removing their gum and placing it on the brick walls. I remember it from a visit when I was in college and it is still here. The city used to periodically clean it up, but for years now has instead taken a more relaxed attitude.

And, that is what SLO is all about.


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Day 63: Pismo Beach, California

Elevation gained: 3,648 ft/Miles 73/Total Miles: 3,146/Total Fast Food: 20

At about 9pm last night, I reluctantly left my bit of shelter in front of the store and found a depression in the lawn near the playground at Jamala Beach County Park where I could lay my sleeping bag. Although it offered some slight protection, for the first part of the night I felt as if I was a cocoon in a wind tunnel. Then, suddenly at about 3am, the wind stopped so abruptly that I awoke. The night was a wonder with a full moon reflecting off of the unexpectedly calm ocean and with stars everywhere. I drifted back to sleep and didn’t awaken until daybreak.

After a quick snack (a banana and trail mix), I rode the 14 miles to Hwy 1 and then into Lompoc. In Lompoc, I stopped at the first diner I saw, ordered breakfast and enjoyed multiple cups of coffee and a good book in attempt to rid myself of the stiffness and fatigue of the last night.

Once I felt together, I rode off through the vegetable fields of the Central Coast. Pres. George H.W. Bush and most children would have hated it – miles and miles of broccoli (as well as lettuce and cauliflower). As I headed north, I rode past the Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex (former residence of H.R. Haldeman and Ivan Boesky). Across from the prison, I saw a hand painted mural on a bus stop that said: “Stay in school. Knowledge is power.”

A few miles later, I skirted Vandenberg Air Force Base looking for a spur road off Hwy 1. While in Santa Barbara, I was having dinner at the bar of the “Tee Off Club” when three women sat down next to me. They were celebrating an evening out without husbands and children. We chatted for an hour as we ate (amazing what people will confide in a stranger) and one of the women asked me about my route and suggested that I take the Lompoc – Casmalia Road to Guadalupe. The road was washed out near Vandenberg, but I found another way to connect with it a few miles later. What a fortuitous suggestion as it was another stunning bit of road and scenery for cycling. I rode through Casmalia, Shuman and into Santa Maria. Then I reversed course and rode to Guadalupe. The strawberry fields there were almost ready for harvest and you could smell the sweet fruit essence everywhere. I had to restrain myself from pulling over and picking a handful.

In the late afternoon, I reached Pismo Beach. For those who are not familiar with it, this California state park permits you to drive vehicles onto the beach and camp anywhere. With some trepidation about being run over in the middle of the night by a 4×4 , I found another part of the park that had some secluded campsites. After unpacking, I took my dinner up to a bluff overlooking the beach and sat sheltered in the dune grass watching the vehicular chaos below and enjoying a wonderful sunset.


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Day 62: Jalama Beach, California

Elevation gained: 3,516 ft/Miles 65/Total Miles: 3,073/Total Fast Food: 20

It’s almost 7pm as I write this. I’m huddled in a corner in front of the Jalama Market and Beach Café awaiting darkness so that I can crawl into my sleeping bag. I’m shivering so forcefully that it is difficult to keep my fingers on the keyboard. The wind is stronger than anything on the trip thus far. Since arriving late this afternoon, I have witnessed a parade of umbrellas, large trash bins, tents and coolers blowing through the campground like tumbleweeds. The only beneficiary of these conditions has been the kite surfers. I counted more than a dozen of them launching themselves over the waves in this insane wind.

But, to start at the beginning, I checked out of my hotel early this morning, found a market and replenished my food supplies so that I can camp over the next week. For me this means pouches of tuna, apples and bananas, tortillas, cheese, an avocado and my “guilty pleasure” a box of Frosted Blueberry Pop-Tarts. From there, I rode the Obern Coast Bike Trail through Goleta, past UCSB (Go Gauchos!) and onto the Hwy 101/PCH. It was setting up to be a classic California beach day with a light, but warm sea breeze and blue monochromatic skies. For a moment, I gave thought to spending another day in Santa Barbara. Later, I wished I had.

Near Gaviota, I followed Hwy 1 as it splits off and heads in the direction of Lompoc with a few challenging climbs. Ten miles later, I reached the turnoff for Jalama Beach. Because this is a 14-mile road that ends at the beach, it was almost completely free of traffic. About the only evidence of humans are the road itself, which runs through a number of beautiful valleys, telephone lines and a few solitary ranches. Otherwise, it is a gorgeous ride with California poppies and other wildflowers in abundance. It’s the type of road of which cyclists dream.

However, as I approached the beach in the late afternoon, the wind velocity increased alarmingly. I checked into the campground and tried to find a sheltered location, but they were all taken. So, I locked my bike and took a shower. The good news is that the campground has warm showers; the bad news is that the stench indicates that they should receive Superfund Cleanup status. “Soap, rinse and gag” is not the most enjoyable way to get clean.

I tried to walk on the beach – and it is certainly among the most resplendent on the Central Coast – but, the wind blistered me with sand. It was impossible to keep my glasses on my face. I took the opportunity to try one of the famous “Jalama Burgers” as an excuse to sit inside. (It lived up to the hype.) As I ate, I watched a number of campers and RVs pack up and head out. I wish I had that luxury, but I’m not up to another few hours of riding, especially at dusk.

After the store closed, I walked around the campground trying to find somewhere protected, again without success. I ended up pulling all my belongings into a slightly sheltered area in front of the store. I used my last cache of medicinal agave juice to help keep warm. Now a few hours later, I’m just waiting for darkness and having a mental debate over what has been worse the dogs of Landry Parish, Louisiana or the zephyr I’ve been facing for the last 1,000 miles.

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Days 60 and 61: Santa Barbara, California

Elevation gained: 1,522 ft/Miles 47/Total Miles: 3,008/Total Fast Food: 20

I’m currently reading “Crossing to Safety” by Wallace Stegner. The novel begins with this opening:

“Floating upward through a confusion of dreams and memory, curving like a trout through the rings of previous risings, I surface. My eyes open. I am awake.”

That is exactly how I felt arising from my sleep yesterday morning. For a change, I didn’t have to concern myself with scorpions, drunks or the amorous nocturnal wrestling of others. My friend’s home in Ojai was so quiet, so peaceful that it was difficult to awaken. When I did, I found that it was almost 10am. I walked the mile into town and had breakfast and then spent a couple of hours at the library using the WiFi connection to plan my route and answer email. By the time I started riding it was almost 1pm.

As I left Ojai I followed a bike path the entire distance into Ventura. It’s one of the nicest I’ve ridden on with it’s own asphalt separate from the highway. It rolls through some very scenic and remote valleys before approaching Ventura. In one section, it passes along an abandoned refinery covered with graffiti looking like a scene out of the Apocalypse. The forceful winds from the west heightened the effect through the sounds of loose aluminum siding slapping against the refinery tanks and metal chains clanking against oil derricks.

The best part of the day was watching the sandpipers. In part, it is because these are fascinating birds, but more significantly for me, it was because I had finally reached the Pacific Ocean. Near Ventura, I found an opening in a chain link fence and squeezed my bike through and over the Amtrak tracks and undertook the perfunctory, but traditional dunking of my wheels in the Pacific. And, I enjoyed the sandpipers.

From Ventura, I followed a combination of bike paths and the Pacific Coast Highway through Carpinteria and Montecito and into Santa Barbara. “PCH” has a mythological connotation to most Americans. The open road winding between the ocean, waves and sand and the rocks and greenery of mountains; it speaks to convertibles, bikinis and board shorts, youth and possibility. I rode up PCH feeling energized, but the wind was as well. To make matters worse, on several occasions a car would pull alongside me and the driver would want to talk. I would be forced to slow down to almost stopping to hear the driver inevitably say something profound like: “Wow, must be tough riding in this.”

Late in the afternoon, I pedaled up State Street and my odometer hit the 3,000 mile mark. I found a cheap hotel, showered and then enjoyed a celebratory meal of sushi and a bottle of sake.

At the encouragement of W.C.C., I’m going to dawdle a bit over the remaining 300 miles. I started by taking today off to enjoy Santa Barbara and (hopefully) let the winds blow out. Some friends were traveling down the coast and happened to be in the area this morning and took me out to breakfast on the beach. It was great to be able to start my “reentry” with them.

I spent the rest of the day walking, relaxing, reading the paper, things that I haven’t done for a couple months. During this trip, I’ve gotten into the habit of going into bike shops whenever I see them just in case I might need some bit of equipment. Today, I found one that just opened named Cranky’s. Jim, the owner, was still unpacking boxes when I walked in. We started talking and I found out that he had done the Southern Tier ride to San Diego a couple of years ago. His shop is impressive with a diverse line of single speed, fixie and road bikes, including some custom frames that look like they should be on display in MOMA. Cool guy and a cool shop. Wish it was located at home.

I also spent part of the day in three of Santa Barbara’s bookstores. I just couldn’t help myself and ended up with four books that I now need to cart home. Is there a Twelve Step program for this?

Tomorrow, I head for Jamala Beach near Lompoc. From there, I’ll work my way up the coast through Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, San Simeon, Big Sur, Mariana, Santa Cruz….and home.


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