Preparing for this ride involved several several months of training and research into what I needed to do. Early on, I did a variety of exercising as I had time for. Eventually, this cumulated in running the "Bay to Breakers" race in San Francisco on May 18th — a 12K from one side of SF to the other. I ran the race in good fashion completing my goal of finishing the race in under an hour with a time of 58:32. I also bought a new bike, a Specialized Tricross Sport, that I planned to use for touring since its more suited for this sort of riding than my Cannondale Six13. Along with this bike, I bought new equipment for it including tubes, an extra tire, spokes, a new gauged frame pump, and a variety of other gear to properly prepare for the trip. I transfered a bike rack from my old commuter making it a basic touring bike and the panniers I'd bought a few years ago were well suited to carry enough food and gear for the sort of trip I was planning.
Along with buying gear, I had to make some serious plans to actually make it to LA in one piece. Most of this involved using various features of Google maps including their terrain maps and their "Avoid highways" options to construct stages that seemed plausible. I also researched websites others had on rides along my intended route. Overall, I felt like the ride could be done in 3 days putting me at around 166 miles each day. While 100+ mile rides are no small task, I felt like I could maintain a good pace and just keep peedling and I'd make it. Plus this was a really flat ride with a nice Southern wind blowing down the West coast.
On the 2nd of June, I moved into high gear for training. I'd now committed to start the ride on June 21st, so I knew I had to scout the ride and build some confidence on my new bike. Starting out early in the morning, I BARTed down to Fremont and took off toward Santa Cruz where my research group was holding a retreat. From 6am until 11am, I biked 63 miles over the Santa Cruz mountains arriving slightly after the start of the retreat (for some reason, I hadn't considered that Graham Hill Road would be a 2nd hill along the trip and it took a heavy toll on me). The next day at the retreat, I did a 27 mile scouting mission South toward Monterey to see how the roads were in that area. Unfortunately, I got a little confused and ended up taking a wrong road, but I still made it back in time for my talk that afternoon. After the retreat concluded the next day, I biked 75 miles back to Hayward taking the Skyline to Palo Alto route that crossed the Dumbarton bridge. Along the way, I met up with few cyclist Jobst Brandt and we had a nice conversation about biking in the area before he made me look like a child as he bombed down the grades of Page Mill Road.
The next weekend, I extended my riding knowledge of South Bay by completing an 87 mile round-trip ride to Palo Alto to a BBQ near the Stanford campus. This ride was fairly flat, but went through some of the more unpleasant parts of East Bay including Fruitvale. On the way back, I decided I didn't want to go through Oakland again at Sunset so I set a course for the Oakland hills. After getting a little lost in Hayward, I managed to get to Redwood Ave, only to find that Skyline was closed for construction. I ended up darting through unfamiliar parts of Piedmont, before I managed to find my way home just before Sunset. The next day, I did a 35 mile reversed 3-Bears loop to build my climbing muscles. Finally, I did a 42 mile Redwood ride that wrapped around Lake Chabot and brought me into Oakland and Berkely on International and then Telegraph, then I rested for a day.
The final portion of my training was 4 days of biking building up to a century. The first 2 days involved a 28 and 30 mile bike ride in the East Bay. Following this I biked 50 miles in Morgan Territories with another hard hill climb on the far side of Diablo. The next day, I headed out to Marin County to conquer Point Reyes, a hard ride North of San Francisco that had eluded me several times over the years. I started out a little let and made a hearty climb over the shoulder of Mt. Tam. From there I sprinted down to Stinson Beach and along Bolinas Lagoon. From here, the wind became miserable. Still, I was determined to make it to Point Reyes. Mile after mile, the wind was relentless as I pushed North toward Inverness. Finally, I turned into the park and began climbing over the hills toward the penisula, but now there was no shelter from the wind at all and much to my surprise, Point Reyes is nothing but hill after hill after hill By the time I'd reached the Southern tip of the point, I was exhausted but relieved that, at long last, I'd finally done the Point Reyes ride. Of course, in Point Reyes, the wind is never with you. Heading North, the wind was gusting in a full head wind against me. At nearly half speed, I crawled North over the hills I'd already climbed once that day. It seemed as if it'd never end. When I finally broke free of the winds of Point Reyes, I was really tired. Fortunately, Sir Francis Drake Blvd into San Rafael is a very forgiving ride that let me relax and just drift home.
I had originally planned to taper the week before I took off toward LA, but the Point Reyes ride had broken me. The next day, I felt a distinct pain in my left shoulder. This recurring injury is a stress injury that pops every so often when I bike too much. Essentially, in supporting my upper body, the muscles of my shoulder had become exhausted and now were spasming. To correct this, I had to relax my back, restart my regiment of back exercises, and adjust my bike. Unfortunately, I hadn't properly configured my bike — the seat was too high and too far back — contributing to my injury. The injury also made me realize that camping was out of the question. If I was going to have an chance to make it to LA in 3 days, I would have to have a proper bed to sleep on or my back would give out. As such, I relaxed for the final week before I headed to LA. I finished making my plans, booking 2 hotels, printing maps and directions, and caliculating what sort of climbs I was going to encounter along my trip using the elevation tool provided by MapMyRides.com as you can see below:
Below are the routes I planned to take to LA:
The trip from Berkeley to Monterey started out well on the morning of June 21st. After packing up all my gear and food for the day, I started rolling at 5:30 a.m. heading South toward San Jose, but trouble struck earlier. Almost immediately when I crossed into Oakland, I heard the periodic "clink, clink" sound of metal on metal, so I stop assuming that I've broken a spoke. However, looking at the tire, I see a metal button protruding from the rubber, so now I'm thinking it's just a tack. I reach over to pull it out and the more I pull, the long the spike becomes. As it turned out, it was a 1 inch nail that somehow lodged itself in the tire. That was the end of the first tube.
After replacing the tube, I started rolling again at 6 a.m. As predicted, the traffic through Oakland, Hayward and Fremont and I kept good pace until I hit Saratoga Rd. where the traffic lights turned against me. By this point, it was approaching 9 and the heat started to come on strong. I met up with a local cyclist who was new to cycling. We headed toward Hwy. 9 together but I stopped at the base of the climb while he continued up the hill. I ate and rested until 10:30 and then resumed my climb. Quickly the grade increased and the heat became unbearable. By the 2 mile point, I started having doubts whether or not I could make it up. I began to suffer from a touch of heat stroke and I was quickly consuming my water. The heat became so intense that I had to take off the helmet. At 3 miles I saw my pal heading back down the hill, but I had to keep going
At 4 miles, the temperature started dropping a bit and the hill was providing a bit of shade from the intense sun. The hill levels off a bit and I started feeling like I could make it. Each tenth of a mile, each road marker that brought me a little closer, helped keep me going to the next. The temperature continued to fall as I approached the crest and the scenery of the South Bay hills began revealing itself to me. Finally, I caught a glimpse of the stop sign marking the intersection of Hwy 9 with Skyline and also marking the top of the climb. Reenervated, I made a right turn into a short descent to the Fire Station at hilltop. Success and a fresh supply of water were there waiting for me. After refilling my water bottles, I headed to the overlook back on Hwy 9 where I had a snack sometime after 11 am.
From here was a splendid downhill. From the crest, I descended quickly through the forests of the Santa Cruz mountains. Stopping only to take a few pictures (above), I maintained speeds above 20 MPH most of the way down. However as I neared the town of Boulder Creek, the heat rose dramatically. With each breathe my mouth became drier and drier and once again, I felt like I was in an oven. However, since I was just dropping downhill, the heat was bearable. Then somewhere near Ben Lomond (the township named after the famous lake in Scotland) or Felton, I saw Jobst Brandt, a fellow biker I'd recently met going up the 9 on a return trip from Santa Cruz. I wanted to stop and chat with him, but by the time I recognized him, it was too late. I continued on and instead of turning up the tortorous Graham Hill, I stayed on the 9 heading into Henry Cowell State Park. Here too, there was a hill but nothing as demoralizing as Graham Hill had been weeks earlier. Even better, the heat started returning to a sane level, but up ahead were ominous storm clouds Finally, I dropped down into Santa Cruz and caught sight of Hwy 1 and the roadway I'd be shadowing all the way to Monterey.
At the intersection of River St. and Soquel, I stopped at a gas station to pick up a few cold drinks and an ice cream and then I headed a few blocks down the way to a sandwich place called "The Buttery Corner Caffee" where I had an egg-salad sandwich. After refueling and a bit of rest, I checked my maps and started preping for the final stage of the ride. As I was loading up my bike, a few drops of water fell on me. By the time I was rolling, the storm I'd seen from the forest had reached Santa Cruz but where I was, there was only a light rain that barely got me wet. Ahead of me, the rain made the road noticeable wetter and raised the humidity levels, but it hadn't rained enough. Ahead, I saw great bolts of lightening striking the hills to the North East. My immediate fear of being struck by the lightening was soon assuaged by the fact that I couldn't even hear the thunder, so it was certainly quite some distance away. Along the way, I saw smoke rising from one of hills where the lightening had hit and I heard sirens in the distance, but I easily passed the fire and soon the storm faded and the sun broke free of the clouds. I breathed a sign of relief that I'd avoided the brunt of the storm, but litlle did I know how much of an impact that storm would have on my trip
It was now mid-afternoon and I was approaching new roads for the first time. Never before had I navigated these streets and from this point on, I'd have to rely entirely on the directions I'd built on Google as well as a bit of help from strangers and friends. Quickly though, I disobeyed Google. Rather than sticking to the planned route, I went on an alternative route I'd heard of before. While I doubted myself, I happily found San Andreas Road and for the first time I was headed toward a beach, albeit for an instant. At La Selva Beach, I caught a quick glimpse of Monterey Bay and then continued along the road, but now I was feeling lost. I felt like I'd been on this road too long and Hwy 1 was nowhere in sight. At this point and many others along the trip, I wished I had detailed maps of the areas I was biking in. However, persistence paid off. Soon, I crested a small hill and the air became filled with the sweet aroma of fresh strawberries. With every breath came renewed joy of just being out in this wonderful carefree countryside and soon I was reinvigorated by a glimpse of the sea. Now, I knew I had to be going the right direction and it didn't matter if I was a little bit off; I had the wonderful sensation of fresh strawberries to keep me content. It's the sort of thing you simply cannot appreciate from the enclosure of a car. (Pictures of the fields are below.)
Finally, I found Hwy 1, and for the first time, I was allowed to use it, although not for long. At Moss Landing, there is this awful plant with these huge smoke stacks that sort of ruins the rustic look of the countryside, but it was turning into a really nice day so I guess I can't complaine too much. I met up with another rider touring from Vancouver down to his home in Orange County. He was doing it the hard core way, too, by camping all along the way. One Day, I hope to be able to do tours like that. Since I was a little uncertain about the rest of the route into Monterey, I stuck with him and we chatted a bit on the road. Unfortunately, for the first time on the trip, we were headed into a massive head wind coming off the Ocean, but it was alright since we knew the wind would be at our backs the rest of the way down the coast (This is why biking SF to LA is so much more appealing than going the other way). Nearing Monterey, I saw a column of smoke rising from the mountains to the South. I wandered if the fire would interfere with our trip, but we decided that it was too far East to be of any worry. Of course, we had no way of knowing how many fires there were.
Soon we were on the main bike path into Monterey that clings to the side of the 1. While it had a few mild hills, it was nice to see the sand dunes of Monterey's beaches and we knew the days ride was coming to an end. Now there were many cyclists on the road and there was a strong sense of comradadery and accomplishment. At Del Monte St. I separated from my friend and headed toward my hotel on Munras Ave. called the Cypress Gardens Inn. There I showered and headed to a local Whole Foods for some more food. I ate out at some family pizza place that served tiny pizzas that didn't do much for my hunger so I snacked for a bit in the hotel while preping for the next day's ride.
After a good night of sleep, I woke up at 4 am the next day to get an early start on the next day. The plan was to push hard all the way to Lompoc, nearly 200 miles away. Everything had to go perfectly for my plan to work — no wrong turns, no long breaks. Fortunately, the intended route was simple — get on Hwy 1 and keep going. Getting on the 1 was a bit tricky, though. From where my hotel was, the entrance to the 1 was restricted for bicycles and the proper entrance was on the other side of a hill. I could have followed my directions and gone around the hill, however, I had a rough map with few street names that showed a possible route over the hill. I decided that the distance saved would be worth it so I started ascending the hill. In the fog and darkness, I was guessing at which streets were which, but I got lucky and I found the route through over to Hwy 68, a nice downhill, and finally the onramp onto Hwy 1. I reached the bottom of the hill at 5 am.
I quickly flew through Carmel, Carmel River State Beach, and Point Lobos. Carmel Highlands had a small climb but nothing too difficult, then I was entering Big Sur. For the first time on the trip, the road was hugging the coast and the views that morning were extraordinary. As the fog withdrew from the coast, the rocky beaches were revealed in a ghostly light. With a light wind at my back, consistent speeds around 18 MPH, and beautiful scenery, it looked like it was going to be another perfect day. Soon, I was headed up the first big climb of the day at around 500 ft. It took a bit of time, but the scenery was beautiful and I knew there was just 1 big hill left to go for the day. Coming down the hill, the wind picked up behind me allowing to push my speeds up to the 20-30 MPH range as I raced toward Andrew Molera Park and the final big climb of the day.
Andrew Molera State Park and Pfeiffer State Park are two of the larger parks in the Big Sur area and have most of the public camping sites available along my route. Had I planned my trip earlier, I wanted to camp in these parks on the first night, but by the time I looked, no sites were available. But now, after a two hour journey, I'd made it to these same parks. Here the road curves away from the sea and moves inland toward my final significant ascent of that day—a climb up to around 1000 ft. Here, the hills are not covered by low grasses and brush. Instead, Andrew Molera park is covered by a lush forest providing a welcome relief from the morning sun. I was in a great mood as I was on schedule and preparing to make my sprint down the coast to Lompoc. Riding through the valley, a held back, though, waiting for the climb. Gradually, the grade began to increase as the valley began to drop below me. But unfortunately the climb was more than I bargained for — after several miles of it, I began to get fatigued and frustrated. The rage built until I began yelling out at the hill to end. Of course, that didn't help, but soon the grade began to flatten out. But when I finally crested the hill, I saw a devastating sign ROAD CLOSED.
At the top of hill, at a location called Point Ranch, was a police cruiser sitting behind a baracade of orange cones. I pulled to the side to catch my breath from the hill climb that was now behind me and I was praying that the road closure was a temporary delay — perhaps a tractor trailer had jackknifed and blocked the road or perhaps they were finishing overnight road repairs. Then I overheard the policemen talking to a motorist and the cause of the closure was made clear a forest fire was threatening the road. I spoke with the officers myself to assess the situation, but at that point in the morning, there wasn't much information about the fire or how extensive the damage was. I hoped the road would reopen later in the day since all my planning depended on heading South on Hwy 1. So I sat on the side of the road reading my book and waiting for more news. As the sun kept rising, motorists and cyclists started regularly arriving at the road block only to be turned around by the police. Some where tourists heading to Southern California and they were re-routed around on the 101 — begrudgingly, they turned around. However, the locals were more determined to get around the block to their homes. Many protested, but only a few were allowed for special reasons. As I sat there, my muscles relaxed and gradually I began to fall asleep on the concrete.
I was awoken by a volunteer fireman who was making sure I was alright. It was now around 9:30 a.m. now and I started reading my book again. Over the next hour, the outlook on the road became dismal. As firefighters began to come back from the blaze taking a break, they brought news that the fire was completely over the road and an avalanche had also covered the roadway. It was now clear that Hwy 1 would not be reopened today and would remain closed for some indefinite period in the future. I had to consider my options:
While this map was a bit coarse, it held a gray sliver of hope a sequence of small roads named only by numbers that went from Carmel to San Luis Obispo around the East side of Big Sur. From the map, it looked like I'd need to go on the G16 to the G15, G14 and finally take Hwy 46 back over to Hwy 1 near Cayucos. There was another more direct route using the G18 to get back on course, but it was quite remote, the map indicated that it went over a Mountain range, and it was unclear if all the roads were complete. I opted to take the longer route staying closer to the 101. In the map above, you can see my new plan: I'd take the green path that day to King City then I'd head back to Hwy 1 the next day taking the red path. Before I headed off, though, I needed to make sure I wasn't headed toward another dead end. I asked a fireman about whether the fire was threatening the G16, aka Carmel Valley Road. He told me that it wasn't today, but he wouldn't make any promises about tomorrow and that I should try to get there today to be safe. Given that the road I was nearly 30 miles to the North, I assumed that he was just trying to make me take precautions as I rode. I never considered that he might have been talking about a different fire
At around 10:30 a.m., I left my perch on Post Ranch and descended rapidly back toward Andrew Molera Park eager to make a quick journey back up the coast, but everything North of Molera was hard. The wind that had been with me going down the coast was now in my face and it was fierce, in some places even howling. After Molera, I met another group of riders from Santa Cruz who were planning to head to Monterrey to regear and replan their strategy at a local bike shop. They were trying to San Simeon by the evening, but that was going to be difficult now, if not impossible. Together, we and various other bikers began to make our way back up toward Monterrey. The wind kept picking up and by the time we'd reached the 500+ climb, I was getting frustrated. The climb seemed much longer going North and now the wind was rushing through the narrow passes and pinning us to a near standstill. Every corner revealed new hurdles ahead. By the time, I'd made my way half way to Carmel, I was getting angry at the wind. It's hard to understand how one can be angry at the inanimate forces of nature, but there's a real need to vent your frustration at something, and the wind was currently the most obvious target. To save energy and settle down, I decided to take some pictures of the gorgeous Big Sur scenery that'd I'd rushed past in the morning. These coastal cliffs are stunning as can be seen in the pictures below:
Between noon and 1, I arrived back in civilization coming into Carmel. Since my map was coarse, I decided to give my friend, Rusty Sears, a call to get more precise directions from Google maps. After talking with Rusty a while and looking at my map, I had the following directions:
Now I was finally making headway again. I took Carmel Valley Rd. toward the lovely city of Carmel Valley Village, but going over the dry yellow-brown hills I noticed the temperature definitely picking up. Once I came out into the valley, there were some nice vistas of this surprisingly green city. Below are a few pictures of it.
In Carmel Valley Village, I went for more water and to get some food at a restaurante. I ate a huge delicious burger at the Running Iron Restaurante, and rested a bit before I went back out on the road. From Carmel Valley, the road became desolate and quiet and as I followed the stream, the road went from a flat surface to a minor hill and finally to a long climb. The trees in the region were a nice change from the coastal grasses and provided a nice shade, but as I continued to climb the hill, an ominious cloud appeared in the foreground. There again before me was a new column of smoke rising up in front of me. As I rode toward the cloud, I became increasingly worried that I hadn't seen another person in quite a while. In fact, the last people I'd seen were headed the other direction with their dog, and I began to wonder if they'd been issued an evacuation order that I had yet to hear about. I kept heading up the hill and I continued approaching the cloud until it was actually arching above me and the skies became darker and redish-yellow.
Finally though, the hill began to crest and started banking away from the smoke column. Then, I crested the hilltop and before me I could see the surrounding landscape. To the South of me, smoke was pouring from the hilltops making them look like a line of volcanos. As I stared out over this expanse of smoke columns I could hear the hum of helicopters as they swept up through the valleys to drop water on the fires. I took a few pictures from my overlook as can be seen below.
As I stood there, it began snowing. At first I thought the fine white matter was the blooming of some tree, but I realized that this was ash falling from the fires. As the sky grew darker and the cloud blotted the sun, I began rapidly descending the hill I'd climbed and now toward my final destination for the day; King City. Fortunately, the long climb I'd endured gave me a nice long descent down the hill and away from the fires.
After pedalling a while longer, the terrain flattened out a bit, but there still was little in the way of cities, houses, or cars. As the police officer had told me, the road beyond Carmel Valley was a desolate 40 mile stretch along the edge of Los Padres National Forest. However, I was getting closer. Soon I arrived at Arroyo Seco Rd. and I followed it to Elm Ave. where I crossed a small bridge. There, at the water, migrant workers had gathered with their families to recreate in the river in a strange gathering of people in the middle of this rural scene. I continued on to Central and headed toward Hwy 101. In the fields along the roadside, fire vechicles and firemen had amassed at a staging ground where they coordinated their efforts to combat the fires and probably took rest. Finally, as I approached the 101, I too took a rest at the roadside and gave my friend Marco Barreno a call to confirm my instructions on proceeding into King City and he further expanded my plan for the next day's ride into specific street names and approximate distances. Now I had a full plan for returning to the 1 and I owe Marco many thanks for his assistance as well.
The final stage of the day was a brief push into King City via Hwy 101, which was now just a 4 lane highway. I rode on the shoulder for a short few miles before the 101 became a limited access road again and I was forced to exit into King City. Here, I found a hotel where the owner was quite convinced that I was planning to smoke in his room and repeatedly told me not to. I ate at Taco Bell and told the owner I was planning to check out early in the morning. Then I went to sleep probably around 9 or 10.
I awoke at around 4am and packed my things as I shivered in the cold evening air. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten to charge my cellphone that night and it was nearly out of power but there was nothing I could do now. I checked out of the hotel waking up the owner in the process and he didn't look too happy, but what could I do. The previous day, I'd barely made any progress toward my goal and I planned to make up for it by riding like a madman. As a result, I didn't take many pictures. I got out on the road heading toward downtown King City. Quickly though, my plans met with obstacles. As I reached the end of town, the connecting road out of town was nowhere to be seen. Then I realized, my desired route was partially closed due to some local construction work on the road. However, since I was on a bike, I decided to simply walk through the construction area. There was a few migrant workers also walking through the restricted zone as well on their way to work, I suppose.
After crossing the construction zone, I started on my Southern route. I took a series of small roads (Mesa Verde Rd., Cattlemen Rd., and Bunte Rd.) that shadowed Hwy 101. This took me to the small town of San Lucas, where I took Lockwood-San Lucas Rd. toward the community of Lockwood. This route lead me on my first climb of the day, a slow climb of about 1200 ft. with a fast descent into Lockwood where I stopped at a convenience store as the morning mist began to burn off to get more water and reaffirm my route. (At this point, I'd traveled around 25 miles arriving around 7 am.) My directions called for me to take Interlake Rd. (G14) around the San Antonio Reservoir to Nacimiento Lake Dr. However, the local map made me believe I could save some distance by taking Jolon Rd. (G18) to what I thought was Paso Robles. Further, this new route looked like it would avoid the rolling hills of InterLake Rd. so I opted to revise my route and go on G18.
My decision did indeed give me a fairly flat 15 mile ride with one small hill climb halfway. Invigorated by the prospect of arriving at Paso Robles, the last city before I crossed back to Hwy 1, I maintained strong speeds of nearly 20 miles per hour across most of this stretch. However, as I reapproached Hwy 101, I realized I wasn't yet in Paso Robles. Instead of bypassing Nacimiento Lake Dr. (G19) I'd miscalculated and ended up farther to the North than I'd have been had I stuck to the original plan. Instead of the 20 mile route on Interlake Dr., my route was actually 24 miles. However, the route I'd taken was arguably flatter so I may have benefited from avoiding a sequence of rolling hills. Frustrated by my mistake, I took Nacimiento Lake Dr. and started heading to Paso Robles.
The first part of Nacimiento Lake Dr. was a scenic flat valley below the dam on the San Antonio River that created San Antonio Lake. Below the dam the road veered South and I began climbing up the side of the valley. I assumed I'd be climbing for at least 30 minutes and indeed, the climb of around 600 ft. took me roughly half an hour. Further, at the top of the hill, I found the connection to Interlake Rd. where I would have been had I not miscalculated. From here, there was a brief descent down to the dam on the Nacimiento River pictured below.
After crossing the dam, I began ascending again on the other side, and I foolishly assumed that this would be a brief climb leading to a descent into Paso Robles. However, as my Mom had mentioned the day before, Paso Robles was wine country and very hilly! Mile after mile, the hills toyed with me. I'd be in a valley surrounded by hilltops thinking to myself "only one more ridge, only one more summit" but each summit just dropped me into a new valley. Discouraged, hot, and tired I audibly cursed at the road and the hills. This was the scourge of mile after mile of rolling hills — 9 miles of them! Finally though, the hill gave way to the flat valley where the city of Paso Robles is situated.
I arrived in Paso Robles some time before mid-day and I stopped at a convenience store to restock on water and buy a road map of the local area. Currently, my directions called for me to take Hwy 46 across the mountain range that separated me from the coast. However, I was tired and I was afraid that Hwy 46 (while only 1000 ft. of vertical climb) might be more rolling hills for 13 miles. I hoped to find a better route on my map, which is pictured below:
Looking closely at the map, you can see that Hwy 46 crosses many rivers between Paso Robles and Hwy 1. This lead me to believe (correctly) that this route would be a series of small hills from one river valley to the next. I wanted to avoid this torture if at all possible, and on the map I spied the answer to my problem — Hwy 41 from Atascadero. If you look closely at the map, Hwy 41 first follows 1 river that flows back toward Atascadero. Hence, I thought this section must be uphill. However, after a short distance, it hugs the side of a second river that flows all the way to the ocean. Assuming the map was correct, my new route would have a single short climb followed by a long descent to the sea. However, I didn't have precise directions to get to Atascadero, so unable to reach Marco or Rusty, I called my dad who gave me the directions. I also owe much thanks to my dad for helping me map this trip out.
The directions were relatively simple: I traveled to the Southern end of Paso Robles until I met with Hwy 46. Briefly, I took Hwy 46 until I turned South on Las Tablas Rd. which I took into Templeton. There, I ran into more road construction which forced me to divert to Old Country Rd. which I took to Templeton Rd. From here, Templeton leads to Hwy 41, but this road was also closed due to road construction... I couldn't believe my remarkably bad luck! The road signs said I had to divert around on El Pomar Dr. to Lupine Ln. This detour extended this leg from a 5 mile jog into an 9 mile one. Moreover, the midday sun was now cooking me as I was redirected into the treeless countryside. I could feel the temperature climb as I left the santuary of the small river on which Paso Robles, Templeton, and Atascadero are built along. These annoyances were really making me frustrated.
At the end of Lupine Ln., I turned onto Templeton Rd. but once again there were signs that said the road was closed due to construction. Beside myself with rage, I decided to forge ahead inspite of the closures and hope that the construction crews would allow me to pass on the side of the road. After around 1 mile, I neared the actual construction site and signs ominously warned of the danger of exposed gas lines. Nonetheless I went forward until I found a construction worker. After speaking with him, he said he thought it'd be okay if I walked through the site. But midway through it, other workers insisted that I had to turn around. I pleaded my case that I had to make it through to Hwy 41 which they then informed me was in the other direction. It seemed that in my frustration, I'd become disoriented and had headed back toward the first construction site that I'd already bypassed. Embarrased, I walked back out of the construction zone and continued on Templeton Rd. to Hwy 41 which took me into Atascadero.
I arrived at Atascadero some time after midday and I stopped at another convenience store to restock on water, food, and to get a break from the scorching sun before I continued on Hwy 41. (Now looking at maps, it probably would have been much shorter if I'd taken Hwy 101 over Cuesta pass into San Luis Obispo, but my maps did not specify if that was a legal bike route.) After refueling, I crossed my fingers hoping that I was right about Hwy 41, then I started toward the ocean.
Leaving Atascadero, Hwy 41 sloped gently up hill until I arrived at the first river. Gradually, the hill's grade increased as I followed the river until it disappeared. Then, after about a mile and a half, I came around a corner and saw what appeared to be the crest of the hill. Elated but catious, I continued the last part of the climb until I reached its summit and began my planned descent. The road cooperated wonderfully. For nearly 10 miles, I followed the second river as it gradually fell into the ocean. With every couple of miles, the temperature would noticably drop and soon, I could smell the ocean air. At last, I'd made it back to Hwy 1 and I stopped to have lunch and replan at a Taco Bell in Morro Bay. While I ate, I charged my cellphone, which was running out juice.
This time, I got in touch with Marco and asked him to look up what hotel options I had. We discussed the route and I jotted down notes, but the only change in my original course is that now I was planning to divert from Lompoc to Solvang by taking the 101. Feeling good about having finally reached Hwy 1, I decided to call a Holiday Inn Express in Solvang. It was nearly 3 pm, but I really wanted to get as far South as I could and there wasn't much civilization between Santa Maria and Solvang and I wanted to get as close to Santa Barbara as I could that day. However, glancing at the map, I knew I was really going to have to be fast to make it to Solvang before the sun set at 8:30pm, especially since I was so tired already. But, having returned to the seaside, I was feeling reinvigorated and perhaps overconfident — there were still nearly 80 miles of roadway ahead of me. To give myself a buffer, I told the operator that I may be arriving to the hotel late and that they could expect me as late as midnight
I got back on my bike and started driving down Hwy 1 toward San Luis Obispo. Unfortunately, although Hwy 1 mostly follows the coast, Morro Bay was where the road left the coast to go back inland, However, the terrain here was flatter and the wind was at my back. On the highway, I pressed myself hard keeping my speed around 18 MPH and I made it there in about an hour. In the city, I diverted off Hwy 1, which now merged with the 101, onto Broad St. that became Hwy 227/Edna Rd. After another 5 miles, I turned SSW onto Price Canyon Rd. which lead me to Pismo Beach. In Pismo Beach, I ran into the group of bikers I'd seen when I'd been forced to divert in Big Sur. Due to their schedule, they had regrouped in Monterey and then shuttled down to their camp in San Simon and now they were camped at Pismo Beach. They offered me a break there and some food, but I was really in a hurry at this point so I decided to push onward.
Somewhere between Morro Bay and Guadalupe, a sharp pain shot through my left shoulder blade. It's a recurring injury I've had that started with a ski accident and has remanifest itself as a repetitive stress injury. Essentially, because of damaged tissue in my left arm, the left shoulder wears out first and the muscles go into a state of fibrousis. The result is that the muscle feels like a needle is suddenly inserted and then electrified causing a sharp intense pain to shoot through the muscle. This pain injury had flared up during training ride to Point Reyes and now it had returned. Normal people would see this pain as a canary for extreme fatigue and would stop to rest, but I kept going. From experinence I knew this pain would recur during any exertion unless I took a week to relax and recover so I decided I'd have to press on ignoring the pain if I wanted to reach LA. I recouped and rode on nursing my arm and occassionally stretching my back and shoulders as a rode.
From Pismo Beach to Grover Beach, I made my way along the ocean front and was delighted by the people playing on the beach; it was quite a change from the relatively isolation I'd experienced that morning. However, once again, Hwy 1 left the coast and I wouldn't be returning to the ocean until the next day. But the road remained fairly flat (with the exception of a little knoll) and I still had favorable winds so I was making good time. I was now heading toward the small towns of Guadalupe and Orcutt which lay on the outskirts of Santa Maria. It was getting late though, and I started sprinting while trying to stay streamlined. I kept expecting to reach Gualalupe, but mile after mile kept accumulating and with each passing mile, the sun headed further toward the horizon. Finally, as I topped a small hill, I saw an overpass below and raced into the city of Guadalupe and around 7:15 PM. However, if my directions were correct I had another 10 miles to Orcutt and around 5 miles to reach the 101 where I'd connect down to Solvang. The sky was turning orange as the sun got lower and I was running out of time.
As I continued South, I saw fewer and fewer people on the deserted agrarian plain around the city of Santa Maria. I saw fewer and fewer roads and I began to worry that I'd missed my turn. If so, I'd end up going all the way to Lompoc which would add even more distance onto my trip to Solvang. However, just when I was about to panic, I saw the road I needed and made a left toward Santa Maria. On the outskirts of Santa Maria, I stopped at a gas station to refuel for my final push. Then, with the sky getting dark I made my way over to the exchange with Hwy 101. With my dying phone, I called my parents to let them know I'd be on the road late that night then I paused to assess the situation. I'd been on Hwy 101 earlier in the trip near King City where it was simply a 2-lane highway, but here it was a 4-lane divided highway. Nonetheless, while the sign at the on-ramp explicitly prohibited pedestrians, bicycles were not excluded — this apparently was one of the places where heavy traffic and bicycles were allowed to co-exist. I remained apprehensive though because it was getting dark and I was afraid to be out there in the dark night when cars would have little time to see me. But now I had few options. I put on my phosphorescent coat and mounted my riding lights and started down the on-ramp.
I pushed myself hard on the 101 in a mild terror. With every passing truck, I couldn't help but think about how vulnerable I was and how bad it'd be if I were even clipped at these speeds. It was getting darker and darker. I turned my headlamp backward so approaching vehicles could see me better, but I was still worried and I also didn't want to get pulled over for reckless driving. As I approached Los Alamos, I decided I had to stay on the highway because I didn't know any other way to reach Solvang. Then at the exit, a sign read, "Bicycles must Exit." I had no choice but to pull off at Los Alamos. I was still determined to reach Solvang, though, so I called Marco and asked him if he could help me find a new route. Since he was away from his computer at a party, he told me he'd use the map on his phone but he needed to call me back. In the meantime, I headed into Los Alamos to ask for directions at a gas station.
At the gas station, I picked up coffee and a few snacks as well as a map of the area. Speaking to the owner and Marco, they told me about a route to Solvang on a small road road over a small mountain range. It was pitch black night by this point and I had no business going any further that day since I was exhausted and my muscles were fatigued, but I didn't want to pay for the hotel in Solvang and another in Los Alamos and by this point I was completely fixated on my goal. I had lost my ability to rationally assess the situation. After eating a candy bar, I headed out into the darkness.
The road between Los Alamos and Solvang was through a desolate area of California. There were no cars on the road, no lights on it, and few houses along the way. Soon after I left Los Alamos, I began to climb the hill. Stroke by stroke, I climbed up the grades hoping the next turn would be the ridge top, but I could see the mountains shilloutted in the moonlight and I knew my hopes would be dashed. As I climbed onwards, it dawned on me that I couldn't keep using this much energy and that my phone was all but dead.; there was no hope for help now. But finally, I did reach the top of the pass and the road started sloping down. I was elated. Then something slipped and I heard a crash; my front lamp had fallen off and was smashed on the road so now I only had my headlamp. I continued down the hill slowly and carefully to avoid curves in the road. But I was going downhill and in the pitch black cloudless sky, the stars were all around me. The sky formed a hemisphere of brillant radiance. I could see the Milky Way and so many stars that are too dim to overcome the light pollution from the Bay Area.
I enjoyed the stars as I made my way down the hill onto a long plain and I picked up th pace again. Finally, in front of my I saw a line of lights that could only be Hwy 246, the highway that would connect me to Solvang. I pulled up to the T-intersection and looked at my map to make sure I didn't make any mistakes. It was then that I realized just how exhausted I was. As I looked at my map, and where I needed to go, I realized that I couldn't translate the map's roads into directions. It's hard to explain how incredibly difficult this was. I knew I needed to turn left, and I could see where the roads were on the map, but no matter how I tried I couldn't verify that the map and my intuition were correct. I couldn't even do that simple task. I finally decided I would just have to go left and hope for the best. It was now after 10 and my phone kept beeping as it died.
Getting back on the bike, I was really tired and it was hard to get my legs going again. Gradually I crawled from 8 to 10 to 12 MPH as my sore muscles slowly came back to life. I kept pushing through Buellton and onwards towards Solvang as I tried to enjoy the warm summer night and hoped I could make it to the hotel on time. At last, I arrived in Solvang and I began to celibrate. I looked down at my distance and it read 195 miles traveled for the day. Briefly I considered doing a 5 mile loop to make it a 200 mile day, but I decided in my fatigued state this was too risky and I needed to get some rest. I pulled in the hotel, checked in, called my parents, and then ordered Chinese food. It had been an awful day. In the comparative luxury of the Holiday Inn, I decided I couldn't go on. The next day, I could call my aunt and see if she could pick me up in Santa Barbara.
That night, I fell asleep on the couch after passing out while I was eating. At 4am, I woke up and went to my proper bed. I woke up again at 6am and felt a bit better than I had the last night. I decided I would bike for a while until I was too tired to go on. Then I could have my aunt pick me up. I checked out of the hotel and got on my bike, but I was so sore I could barely sit on it. I had to put on an extra pair of bike shorts to make it bearable. Once I got going, my legs were slow to start. Gradually, I started picking up speed as I headed out of Solvang towards the Santa Barbara mountains. While I wasn't making good time, any miles I biked today felt like bonus miles to me. Still there was a drive in me to try to make the final push to LA, but a few things would have to go right for me. First, my orginal plan called for doing a pair of climbs today: San Marcos Pass and a second climb up to Lake Casitas to avoid Hwy 101. I couldn't avoid the climb up the pass, however, I thought 2 climbs would be too much. I was just planning it by ear at that point.
It was another nice sunny California day. I made my way on 246 from Solvang to Santa Ynez and turned onto Hwy 154 toward San Marcos Pass that crossed the Santa Ynez Mountains into Santa Barbara. Early in the trip, the pain in my shoulder returned. I tried massaging my shoulder as I rode but that actually made the muscle spasm and pain ripped through my shoulder again. Regaining control of the bike, I began doing periodic stretching exercises to relax the muscle. I eased back as the road began to climb toward the mountains and the grade began increasing. On the North side of the mountains, I could see the plain stretching below me. This was the same plain where my dad, my brother and I had went wine tasting at Christmas in Los Olivos just North of Solvang. The view along this road was spectacular and as I rested on the climb I took a few pictures (below).
After a minor peak, I started the main ascent. The grade was long and tiring but I took my time. Then as I neared the top, I realized I had to cross a little highway bridge. With what appeared several hundred feet of drop, a small highway shoulder, and a small guard rail protecting me, I would have to cross this bridge to reach Santa Barbara. Oh, and I have a fairly accute fear of heights. To get an idea of what this bridge looks like, I took the following view from Google Street View (if you click on the image you can use you keyboard arrows and your mouse to move around the scene):
It may not look like much from a car's point of view, but believe me, being pinned on the side of that bridge as I crawled uphill with cars and trucks passing me at 30-50 MPH was terrifying. I had to look straight ahead at the roadway and just keep pedaling; if I had looked over the edge I would have panicked. However, once I made it over the bridge, I felt much better and the road started leveling off. Within a mile or so, I had reached the top of San Marcos Pass and I started my descent into Santa Barbara.
The descent into Santa Barbara was fast. Signs warned truckers about the steep grades for several miles ahead which were blessings for me. It was hard to stay tucked with my shoulder bothering me, but I was so happy to be on the South coast that I could effectively ignore it. The sun was fully up by this point but the Mediterranean climate of Santa Barbara was perfect.
At Foothill Rd., I was forced to exit the road as it became a limited access highway. My original plan had been to follow Foothill through Santa Barbara, but I quickly found out that the city had a number of well-marked bike routes. I began following on of these routes preferring downhill roads. Eventually I made my way to State St. where I stopped at a convenience store to buy a map and restock on water and food. Based on this map, I decided to head toward the coast to pick up Hwy 1, which I could follow along the beaches. I was tired and I really wanted to see the beaches. I also hoped that I'd be able to pick up a bike route along the beach that would allow me to avoid the second climb up to Lake Casitas. Indeed, at the beach there was a bike/pedestrian roadway similar to the ones in Los Angeles. I went along this pathway following the beach and Hwy 1.
Eventually, the path left the beach and made its way inland a bit but remained consistently flat. Talking with other bikers, I learned that if I kept following the coastal bike-way, I'd be able go all the way to Ventura along the coast thereby avoiding the second climb. This bike-way involved taking a series of different roads from Santa Barbara to Carpinteria but the basic route was to take Channel Dr. to Jameson Ln. up Ortega Hill to Via Real and finally Carpinteria Ave. All these roads essentially paralleled the 101. However at Rincon Rd. there were no more roads to use to follow the 101. This was where my original plan had me climbing up to Lake Casitas. What I couldn't see on Google Maps was that the coastal bike-way actually did continue by actually going on the 101!
I hesitated before I re-entered onto the 101. I wanted to make sure it was legal (and safe) to get on the 101 here because the 101 was now a full-fledged 3-lane highway with 65+ MPH traffic. Nonetheless, the signs and my earlier conversation with other bikers convinced me that this route was right. I biked down the on-ramp onto the 101 where I found that there was a special bike lane set aside on the shoulder. I ran fast along the 101 for this 2-3 mile stretch until I was able to exit back onto Hwy 1. Here I saw a camping site on the beach. There was a large group of people there enjoying the day at the beach (see the pictures below).
I continued on Hwy 1 into Ventura and Oxnard. As with most of Hwy 1, this stretch of road is flat and a really pleasant ride. I was so happy to be finally riding along the beach after 3 days of being on the coast very seldom. Also Ventura is a beautiful city where my family vacationed once when I was a kid. I tried to remember where we had stayed but I couldn't recall. Once I got into the proper city, I met with another biker who I followed over to Harbor Blvd. According to him, biking in Ventura was very pleasurable and I have to agree. That community as well as Santa Barbara has done a very good job accommodating cyclists.
I took Harbor down into Oxnard where I picked up 5th St. to go into the downtown area. In downtown Oxnard, I stopped for a late lunch at a Subway and I made my plans for the final push. Since it was only 2 or 3 PM, I felt like I could actually make it all the way to LA again. While I had hope again, I still was considering stopping in Malibu and having my relatives meet me there. The sun was out bright and while it wasn't too hot, I felt dehydrated and sunburned in spite of the suntan lotion I'd been applying regularly throughout the trip.
After lunch, I was slow on the bike again. My legs were swollen and pain returned anytime I stopped, even for stop signs or lights. However, I knew there would be a lot of open highway between here and Los Angeles and once I got going my legs started working again. I took Oxnard Blvd. toward Hwy 1, but I was not allowed to enter the highway there. I had to go to Huenume Rd. and get on Hwy 1 later where bikes were allowed. I stopped briefly at Point Magu to ask about the Hwy entrances and I took a few pictures of the equipment that they had on display there.
Finally, I got back on Hwy 1 at Las Posas Rd. and started the final push toward LA now only 30 miles away. Almost immediately, Hwy 1 goes from the coastal plain of Ventura to a road that is tucked between the coastal mountain range and the ocean. It's quite scenic with the sea on one side and steep hills rising above you on the other. However, there are a few minor climbs along this stretch of the road. The climbs are no higher than 500 ft. but I was exhausted and I took each of them slowly. I tried accounting for each by matching it to the bumps on my elevation profile but this process was really just guessing to keep my morale up so I could believe that I was almost done.
Finally, as I crested a small hill, I began to see a luxurious community in front of me. I was entering Malibu, the final city before LA. The city is quite long hugging against the mountains, but it's a nice city to see and many of the houses are quite beautiful with great views of the water. The last time I'd been in Malibu, many of the hillsides had been damaged by fires there but the area was recovering well by this time. Pictures of the city are below.
Malibu was a bit frustrating as well. I had expected to cruise down into the city and then get on a long flat run into LA. However, the city proved to be long (almost 5 miles) with several hills in it. I climbed on after another coming into a flat spot near Escondido only to find another hill at Malibu Bluff. Here the road again left the ocean and at the top I stopped at another convenience store to get snacks and more water. It was probably around 5pm by this point. I still had energy and determination. At this point, I knew I could finish the trip.
Once I left Malibu, the read finally flattened out. I kept up a good pace as I made my way along the ocean. I went through small communities like Las Flores and Castellammare. Finally, I saw what I'd been waiting so long to see. There in the distance I could see the Santa Monica water front pictured below.
I was elated. At this point, in spite of my legs and shoulder, I was in a sprint. I made it rapidly along the coast and finally entered Santa Monica. There, I got off Hwy 1 and took the bike path on the beach. I had to be careful since this pavement was slicker than an asphalt road and I almost fell on a couple of sand-blown stretches. Still though, I had a lot of new found energy and I felt the need to spar with other bikers. I raced toward the pier and went to take the following pictures as the sun began to lower in the sky.
The final little push I had to make was to my grandmother's house in West Los Angeles. I went up Colorado Ave. slightly uphill, but I only had 2 miles to go. Finally, I saw the streets named after colleges (Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Stanford and lastly Berkeley!). Then I turned onto Centinela and made a left to my grandma's house where my grandma, my aunt, and my cousin as pictured below:
There was no more biking on the rest of the trip. I went to the beach with my relatives and enjoyed a day in Los Angeles. Then my aunt and uncle drove me to Bakersfield where I relaxed for a few days before I took a train back to Richmond and BARTed back to Berkeley. Below are pictures of us at the beach.