Category Archives: Biking U.S.

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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Day 59: Ojai, California

Elevation gained: 1,977 ft/Miles 59/Total Miles: 2,961/Total Fast Food: 20

Interesting night, this last one. I was deep in sleep when I heard explosive pounding near my room combined with drunken, belligerent shouting. I threw on some pants, found my glasses and opened the door to get a brief glimpse of a man exiting the hotel. The door of the room next to me had been on the receiving end of his fist and the hallway was littered with fragments of the pressboard door.

I’ve got to start spending more on my accommodations.

It was a cool, beautiful morning. The verdant mountains of “Canyon Country” were draped with bloated, low hanging cumulous clouds. Mottled blue sky and sunshine attempted to make their way through with infrequent success.

Because I am off the ACA maps, I’m relying on my state road map and directions from others to find my way. I’ve tried the new Google bike map feature, but found it to be of little value (or reliability) given it is still in beta and requires more user input. I stopped at a Starbucks and the barista gave me directions to a new connector road that took me past the Six Flags amusement park over Interstate 5 and in the direction of Santa Paula.

Except for the heavily trafficked four lane highway, the ride was pleasing and became even more so as the day continued. On either side, orange tree orchards lined the road for miles – a Napa Valley of navel oranges. The last seasonal bouquet of orange blossom remained like an elderly, heavily perfumed, woman exiting an elevator. Along with the scenery, it made for an intoxicating few miles as I rode through Piru, Fillmore and into Santa Paula.

I locked my bike against a street lamp and took a break in Santa Paula to stretch my legs. From the perspective of my brief visit, this is a good example of a small, diverse, but healthy community. Santa Paula’s downtown section has beautiful murals and outdoor art, clean parks, a mixture of interesting shops and celebrates its history. The small, but excellent, Santa Paula Oil Museum is an example. It contains exhibits covering the  production, refining and transportation of oil, as well as equipment from the first discovery of oil in California in 1867 only five miles from town. Although I’m not sure of the connection, the museum also had a special exhibit on wolves containing beautifully realistic examples of the Mexican, Arctic, Rocky Mountain, Great Plains and Red Wolf – all native to North America.

The town also has a statute to memorialize the 1928 failure of the St. Francis Dam that killed more than 450 people. I remember reading about this years ago in Marc Reisner’s book Cadillac Desert (which should be required reading for every California citizen). It’s one thing to read about an event almost a century distant. But, to realize that the resulting flood drove twelve billion gallons of water from Santa Clarita over much of the route I have covered in my hours of riding today was horrific to imagine.

As I headed back to retrieve my bike, I was attracted by a display in the window of a store called “Exotic City Empire” and stepped inside. Despite its name, the store has a broad mix of many things reflecting the Hispanic style and culture, including old LPs, hats, jewelry and shirts. What interested me; however, were the custom “low rider” type bikes made by the owner, Hector. He started building these only four years ago and now has a local club with over seventy others who have similar bikes. The creativity and quality of his work was wonderful.

Leaving Santa Paula, I turned onto Hwy 150 and headed toward Ojai. It was here that I started to sense that I am finally “home” in Northern California. One of the things that you notice when you are moving at a cyclist’s pace is the change between different life zones. From the window of a car, it is a seamless blur, but from the saddle these transitions are like chapters in a book. A few days ago, I was in the lower Sonoran zone with Saguaro everywhere. This changed into the Mojave zone represented by the Joshua Tree. And, now, along this windy, bucolic two-lane road, I’m increasingly seeing Sunflowers, Miner’s lettuce, Valley Oak, Toyon and Salvia “Gracias”. I rode toward the summit enjoying these old friends, reminders of home, and the warm sun on my back.

Fifteen miles later, I had a spectacular descent into the Ojai Valley. Like a forgotten reflex, I found myself in a full tuck racing down the road, cutting the corners and enjoying the banked turns before realizing that I was on a fully loaded touring bike and not my road bike.

Many touring cyclists have spoken highly about their experiences with Warmshowers for finding places to stay. I didn’t sign up for it because I wasn’t aware of it until later in my ride. But, I’ve been blessed with my own personal version of Warmshowers in the form of several friends along the route. Tonight it will be courtesy of a great couple I have known for years that have a vacation home here. (Thank you, K&J.)

I’m looking forward to a boring night’s sleep.

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Day 58: Santa Clarita, California

Elevation gained: 2,290 ft/Miles 74/Total Miles: 2,902/Total Fast Food: 20

I would like to go on record and say that I most emphatically disagree with the sentiment expressed above.

I pulled out of the hotel this morning, but the magnetic force of the Winchell’s Donuts across the street sucked me in. (And, yes, for those of you counting, I did it add it as fast food above.) While enjoying my belly buster and a cup of Joe, I looked at the map and decided to follow Route 66 through Antelope Valley toward Palmdale.  Of course, since it isn’t marked as Route 66, but a series of different roads, I had to stop periodically to ask for directions and ensure that I was on the right path.

One of those stops was at an AM-PM Mini-Mart a few miles beyond Victorville. I picked up a Gatorade and brought it to the counter and asked whether I was on the right road.  The clerk was uncertain, but a customer chimed in with what he thought was the correct directions. He was in his mid-20s, wearing a slouch hat, gold earrings, black Ray-Ban shirt and chewing on a toothpick – looked a bit like a younger version of Snoop Dogg.

“Ya goin’ there on your bike?” he asked.

“Hopefully, depending on the headwinds,” I replied.

“You the man, homeboy,” he said in smooth voice.

“Not really, I’m just a middle-aged guy trying to lose some weight.”

“Ya goin’ ta lose a lot of weight if you ridin’ all the way there!” he exclaimed.

“Actually, I’m riding across the country. I started in Florida a couple of months ago.”

“Whaaaat? “Whaaat”?, he exclaimed.

At that, all of the sudden everyone in the store started speaking at once, offering me directions. I couldn’t keep track of all the different routes recommended or understand the differences, so I thanked everyone and took my drink out to my bike.  As I did, the same guy followed me out and stood next to me, as I was getting ready to go.

“Why?” he asked with his hands outstretched.

“Why what”? I replied

“Why ya doin’ this?” he said.

“Because I have some time off and I thought it would be a great chance to see the country and meet people.”

At that, he looked at me for a few long moments, shook his head slowly and walked to his car without another word.

From there, I skirted the edge of the still snow capped San Bernardino mountains to the south and new housing tracts to the north on a shoulderless road with truck traffic everywhere. Near Llano, the road was newly surfaced with room for cyclists but, of course, that is when the wind hit. The forecast had been for strong winds, but I had no idea how forceful they would be.

The difficulty with headwind isn’t just inefficiency, although that is a big issue.  When I rode directly into the wind today, my speed dropped 40% or more. The bigger issue is psychological.  The relentless sound of the wind drowns out everything, including the iPod.  After a couple of hours, it starts to wear you down mentally; so, I tried to take a break whenever I could. Near Littlerock, I stopped at a tourist place called “Charlie Brown’s Farm” and ate a buffalo burger (they also offered venison, turkey and ostrich) and tried to give my nerves time to regroup. I was tempted by the deep fried Oreos, but decided against it given that I still had 40 miles of riding left.

After lunch, I spoke to a bread deliveryman and asked him about the road to Santa Clarita. (I’ve found that they, along with FedEx and UPS drivers, are great sources of route information.) He advised me to take the Sierra Highway/Soledad Canyon Road, which was great advice as it turns out that Hwy14 doesn’t permit cyclists.

One advantage of the route was that Soledad Canyon is deep enough that the headwind subsided. The other was that the scenery was fascinating. The road curves along the edge of the Angeles National Forest. On the other side, you see beautiful gated homes and ranches as well as places filled with decades of junk that look like they belong to Jethro, Ellie May and their progeny.  There are also multiple private campgrounds with everything, including baseball fields, swimming pools, paddle boats, horseshoes, volleyball courts and BBQ pits. However, I didn’t see a single person anywhere. It made me feel as if I were in one of those late 1950’s science fiction movies where the protagonist is the last person on earth. At one point, I descended past the Shambala Preserve. Set against the creek that runs through this area, it appears to be a large private zoo, with many acres of cages and artificial animal habitats. Again, it was completely empty. (I later found out it is run by actress Tippi Hedren for abused wild animals, but no word as to why it is vacant.)

As the road pulled out of the canyon and crossed under Hwy 14 toward Santa Clarita, the full force of the wind slammed me. My face was pelted by sand and dust and trash was frequently blown into my spokes. I wasn’t riding anymore; it was more like wobbling. I was just trying to stay upright. Over the next 15 miles, the wind continued to strengthen. On the news tonight, it was reported that it hit 25-35mph and will be worse tomorrow.

Wonderful.

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Day 57: Victorville, California

Elevation gained: 1,683 ft/Miles 70/Total Miles: 2,828/Total Fast Food: 19

I decided to get going early this morning to beat the heat. The forecast was for the high 80s with a slight wind from the west. As I rode out of Yucca Valley, I was surprised by the 30 minute, 8% climb right out of town; however, in hindsight the word “Valley” in the name should have given me a clue.  Once I topped out, it was nothing but miles of desert with Joshua Trees and little else. In a few places, I passed through small communities with homes, junkyards and feed stores scattered along the horizon.

The route consisted of steep rolling hills; at times some would include short climbs of 16% out of the arroyos. There was no shoulder on the roadway, but traffic was light and the trucks polite, frequently moving to the other lane to give me room. Many of these were carrying freshly cut bails of hay. I grew to enjoy the sweet, moist scent that would trail these trucks for long distances.

When I reached Victorville, I turned south on 7th Street, which is part of old, Route 66 and checked into the only hotel I could find. After a quick shower, I went in search of dinner. The hotel clerk pointed me to a rib joint, but it was closed. There was a Mexican place nearby, but after my experience yesterday, my stomach wasn’t up to it. After walking a mile or more, I found an Italian restaurant in a strip mall that advertised pasta, salad, lasagna and pizza by the slice.

I walked in and asked for a salad. The cook (and only employee) responded: “No salad.” I then asked about the lasagna. He responded: “No lasagna”.  So, I decided to go with a couple of pieces of pizza. His response? “Only sell medium pizza”. To which I asked: “Can I get it with tomatoes, olives and peppers?” He replied: “Only pepperoni”. I looked at him with incredulity and then my stomach got the best of me and I found myself saying: “I’d like a medium pepperoni pizza, please”.  “Good choice” he exclaimed. And, at that moment, I realized that John Belushi  (“No Coke, Pepsi”) had been reincarnated as a Middle Eastern cook working in an Italian restaurant in Victorville, California.

Although the ride today wasn’t the most interesting of the trip, it wasn’t without its moments of whimsy.

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