10.08.11 – The Secret Seven

By now it shouldn’t be a surprise that I decided to continue on to Los Angeles. Imagine surrounded by people, two of which just finished their cross country tour and the other who is continuing her own “something amazing” down to San Diego. Now imagine also that for the past week, people have been telling you only amazing things about Big Sur and southern California. I gave little consideration to continuing on until the first morning in San Francisco. Kevin and Johnny have been living in here for less than a month. They had no furniture so we slept in an empty room with our air pads and sleeping bags. The only difference between this and camping was that the tent was bigger with a kitchen and bathroom. There were no creature comforts, only the items we brought to this place on our bicycles, which surrounded us along the walls of the room while we slept in the center. Each bike looked alive, like a racked up horse waiting to be ridden at a moment’s notice.

I don’t know where it came from but I looked at my bike and realized I just wasn’t ready to be done. I called my family and told them the good news and got the response I expected…encouragement. What’s seven more days if it means reaching my real goal, they said. They were very right. Before leaving on Friday, I booked a flight out of LAX. Submitting payment for the flight made it real. Most importantly it meant more adventure into the unknown, which is what drove me this far and clearly wasn’t letting up just yet.

Kevin, Stephanie and I cheated at first and took a bus to Santa Cruz to give us a fighting chance at getting there on time. Truth be told we could’ve biked it but we were lazy and the bus was cheap. That being said, it was one of the scariest rides ever. My eyes were helplessly glued to my expensive machine strapped precariously to what Greyhound considers a secure bike rack on the bus’ front grill. I thought some of the bumps we hit were going to buck it right under the bus. We pulled into Santa Cruz, unloaded our bikes and loaded up our bags.

It all happened so fast; getting back on the road. I had no time to plan ahead. We reached Santa Cruz and I immediately called Santa Cruz Bicycles, a high-end mountain bike manufacturer, to arrange a quick tour. Tom was in his late twenties and sported a wide mustache that fit his black rimmed glasses, cycling cap, and rolled up, Huckleberry Finn-style jeans. The operation at SCB consists of a few buildings and warehouse rooms where a handful of people work on everything from wheel building to sticker application and bike assembly/boxing. The vibe of the workplace atmosphere was amazingly in line with what I expected a successful and relaxed company to have. To top things off, Tom bagged some homemade pasta and a “lost” loaf of the most delicious apple bread from the bakery next door. This industry is amazing in so many ways. Steph, Kevin and I rendezvoused at the ocean pier to find a large group of sea lions resting along the pillars and braces of the pier below us. They are beautiful creatures; chubby but beautiful. Looking out over the water in both directions I felt differently about Santa Cruz than the cities north of here. There seemed to be less commotion and a more relaxed atmosphere all over. It was good to be back on the road.

Our first morning we broke camp by sunrise and were well on our way into the famous Big Sur coastal region, that is until we saw a coffee shop and decided to relax until mid-morning. Finally back on the road, we passed through Monterey and Carmel. We traveled the famous 17-mile drive and passed by Pebble Beach golf course. The manicured money in this area is outrageous and I just wish these people would get on Couchsurfing! Stephanie decided to stay in Carmel for a few more hours and perhaps meet up with us later but I knew she wouldn’t. First of all, it was getting dark soon and she didn’t have a taillight anymore (it finally unclipped like I said it would). Second, I knew she wanted to ride alone. It became evident that she had planned to travel past San Francisco alone and when Kevin and I spontaneously decided to head the same way, I think she wasn’t sure what to do, which I completely understood. The lure of a solo ride is a very powerful thing. I couldn’t help but be concerned when we reached the first campground after dark. The highway south of Carmel got thin, very thin. With no shoulder and only her reflective patches to hopefully catch headlights, I tossed out the idea that we should bike back to find her. He reminded me that Stephanie is a “big girl” and she brought all of her “big girl” common sense with her when she traveled. After filling our bellies, we fell asleep with ease knowing we should probably get a better start the next morning.

That early start we wanted? It didn’t happen. But you know what, it turned out for the better. This was the heart of Big Sur and the day was filled with several very tough climbs. In between the difficult sections we stopped to watch sea otters float just off the coast, take a naps, and eat a really big and unbelievably delicious pickle. It was a miracle pickle. Kevin and I ran into Stephanie, who somehow passed us without us noticing. It was a bit of relief for me to see her even though I knew she’d be okay. Apparently, she had ended up sleeping under a bridge in the northern section of Big Sur, never making it to the campground where we stayed.

With the road literally cut from the side of the mountain, it’s no surprise there was ongoing roadwork to make sure it didn’t simply wash away. The very small shoulder gave amateur RV drivers a run for their money trying to get by us too. The mountains broke off from the coastline, ending our time in the Big Sur region, and left the road to roll over a flat plain to San Simeon. On the way, we stopped to enjoy a large group of Sea Elephants lounging, swimming and playing with each other. The sunset turned the world around us a deep vibrant orange and it was here that I realized waking up later and riding into the night is the absolute best way to see the coast.

Another seriously late morning was spent at the first coffee shop in the first town. We passed through the town of Morro Bay, which to no surprise, had a very beautiful bay! The tremendous haystack rock in the middle of the bay could practically be considered an elevated island. In San Luis Obispo we ran into Sarah, a recently graduated grad student from Oregon who was on the first leg of her year long bike tour. Her ride had a real cause; she was promoting healthy eating in our kid’s schools. A link to her blog can be found on my links page. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous of the travels ahead of her. It’s been really nice to meet other young people touring by bike. It’s a good feeling being in the company of like-minded souls.

The next day was spent riding through manicured fields of produce. I spotted lettuce and grapes but couldn’t much make out any of the other items people were harvesting. It was an odd, uncomfortable feeling as I rode by people hunched over for a completely different reason than I. I know nothing of their situation but it just seemed like a tougher existence than the one I was currently experiencing and it reminded me of my fortune. Maybe they were happy too but it was good to be reminded. Kevin and I averaged 14.5mph, which is pretty fast for 80 pound bikes. After a tough Harris Grade Rd, I realized something about climbing; you either have to be efficient or not give a crap. A stop off in Lompoc allowed us to refuel and restock and we ran into Stephanie again. Instead of going to the coast, she was planning on staying inland and taking another route suggested by the book she carried. The climb back to the coast was not like Harris Grade Rd at all. It was a long, shallow climb that never really registered in my mind as a climb. My eyes deceived my brain and I couldn’t really understand why I was going so slow and why it was so hard to pedal. Eventually I reached the top and fell over, mostly due to mental exhaustion. The descent was an epic straight shot to the water with sections cut right through mountainside leaving towering rock up against the highway. Quick riding allowed us to set up before dark and enjoy a few beers and dinner at Refugio State Beach. The sunset was just like so many others I’ve been so lucky to experience, beautiful. Then that night, it rained.

It finally rained for the first time since Colorado. Yes, for the first time in over a month of traveling, it rained on me. Now do you understand why I like the west? It wasn’t a particularly cold rain, and once you’re soaked through and through, it doesn’t matter, you had to love it or hate it — I couldn’t hate anything these days. That is until Kevin got a flat tire. Make that two. Of all the days to get flats, Kevin chose today. Don’t worry, Kevin, I know it wasn’t your choice but I’m going to blame it on you anyway. The rain stopped at noon and we stopped at a coffee shop in Santa Barbara. Would you believe who was there? The hitchhiking couple I met in Florence, Oregon were back home from the adventure and happened to be in the coffee shop too! So little time had passed since we last spoke but so much happened to all of us, it was like a reunion for people who barely knew each other but connected nonetheless. The rest of the day’s ride was simple and sweet. With the campground closed and another flat on our hands, Kevin offered to get us a hotel room and who am I to argue with a warm bed and shower? I must say this was not how I envisioned spending my last night on the road but I was okay with it. After all, I was still in love with the idea that the more you expect good things to happen, the less it seems they do. Fortunately, the opposite also seems to be true.

The last day was upon us. Nothing was particularly different about today except we did see one new animal, one I had never seen before — dolphins. They appeared along the shoreline out of nowhere and not only did we see them, but we traveled with them too. We rode on our highway and they swam in theirs. I couldn’t have asked for better, more beautiful company during my last few miles.

Then the city limit sign came out of nowhere. The crowning achievement of my ride had finally come. I made it LA, the place I had originally set out to reach, and it was a good feeling. Actually it was better than that; it was that feeling you get when you complete your something amazing.

See you out there somewhere.

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