Day 45: In which I Test my Mettle & Discover the Beauty of California’s Central Coast

Day 45 (2016-10-10): 80 miles from Ocean-Pismo Beach Campground to Gaviota State Park via Santa Maria, Tres Olivos, and Solvang. Mainly country roads off the ACA route on this inland detour. Climbing  almost 3,000 feet.

 

Heads up, this is a long one. It was a day full of highs, lows, and an important mental change.

 

Alright, so here is the deal. I am tired of riding along the highway. It’s not that it bothers me, but who really wants to ride on the side of a highway? Today and tomorrow’s routes, according to ACA maps, would be heavily on Highway 1 and pass through or at least near an air force base to stay in Lompoc, a military town. I looked into another option last night and here is the plan:

  1. I tried to find a host in Santa Maria last night.  No answer this morning but it’s early so I will ride towards the city regardless. It’s only 25-30 miles, which means a host would make a nice short day to charge/rest but it’s not necessary.
  2. If no host is found, continue on towards  Los Olivos and then Solvang via the route I saw from this blog post. Get a warm showers near here (there is only one) at about 60 miles.
  3. From this Warm Showers host, follow route 154 into Santa Barbara over the mountains, coming from the backside and avoiding highway 1.

Sounds like a good plan right? Ha.

I hit the road right at 9 having woken up a bit earlier this morning and gotten a good night’s sleep. The ride to Santa Maria is not unpleasant, with most of it on a road with a pretty small shoulder but only moderate traffic until Highway 101, and then very little traffic for the last few miles. Crossing into Santa Maria I laugh at this long bridge (thankfully with a separate bike path) because there is nothing to cross on the bridge. I presume there was once at least a small creek if not a small river, but right now it’s just a slightly depressed field of sand.

At one point this was some sort of water body

Santa Maria is a place I never intend to return to, unless forced. The urban planning here gives me nightmares with its ridiculously auto-centric focus on long, straight roads and suburban homes with very little height. I mean, just look at this road. Fences on both sides, and not even simple wood or wire fences – can’t see anything through these things. And what you’re looking at is one road, straight, with quarter-mile blocks and big electric transmission wires on both sides.

Urban wasteland?

I find the library and feel extremely concerned about leaving my bike outside. Sure, between my cable lock and u-lock I’m not worried about the bike in broad daylight – but taking everything off (4 large bags, lights, frame pump, two palm-sized handlebar bags, everything bungie’d to the racks…) is a ridiculous proposition for a short layover. And this place gives me the creeps. I know stereotypes and the feelings they cause can be harmful, but the fact of the matter is that cyclists need to be wary of certain types of people which signal an unsafe place to leave your bike or belongings unattended. There are a lot of people, possibly homeless, sitting around smoking, apparently doing drugs, and overall looking quite dirty and ragged. Not exactly a bunch I trust with my bike.

I try to set up outside but none of the outlets work but after 4-5 days with only brief charging opportunities I desperately need to juice up my electronics. Before I even get halfway through the doors with my bike the volunteer desk attended is harassing me about brining the bike inside. I get it, I do, but I need this to be a safe pit-stop. I try explaining the situation and asking where else I can keep my belongings safe while using the library but he doesn’t give.

Thankfully, a nice woman from the bookshop intervenes and allows me to wheel my bike into their back room. Thank goodness for her! I fully charge my phone from 4%, pump a little power into my battery pack, ensure my rear light has enough energy for the day, fill up my water (last chance for 25-30 miles and it’s getting hot!), use the restroom, look up directions and make a cue sheet, and do a little journaling/blogging while I wait for things to charge. This was SO important, especially looking back and knowing how the rest of my day went. THANK YOU SO MUCH!

Outside the library I scarf down some yogurt-covered pretzels and eat peanut butter on bread as I realize I have barely eaten since breakfast and it is now going on 14:00. I leave town, heading for Foxen Canyon Road. Supposedly, this will be a quite, scenic ride. It does not disappoint. The first few miles out of town are okay, with a decent shoulder and mostly just farm traffic. Then I turn off the main road onto Foxen Canyon and suddenly it is quiet, rural, and peaceful. The patches of bright green amid a sea of brown remind me that somehow these farmers continue to find water despite the severe drought. That’s a social/economic/political debate he whole country needs to address…

Irrgation (noun): Bringing water to the desert.

For the most part I’ve seen nothing but farms in the central coast but today it’s wineries. Everything is still dry as heck but these little oases sprout up everywhere with green laws, gated driveways, and fancy architecture to draw in wine tasters and sell what I imagine to be very expensive wines. Very few cars actually pass me going the same direction and only a handful more are heading northbound. I see almost as many small fuzzy friends as I do cars.

One of the spiders I saw out here. Sock for size. The thing’s legs are so long it is at least a few inches across AND its body is an inch or more above the ground.

 

I am slowly climbing for a while until about 20 miles outside of Santa Maria (45 miles so far today) when I hit the first long climb of Foxen Canyon Road. The slow climb has drained me and I move pretty slowly up the twisting road through scrublands, distracted as much as possible by Ophira Eisenberg and Jonathan Coulton of Ask Me Another. Flying down the other side I feel refreshed, that is until I come to the next climb and am forced to stop and pull out my Camelback because my bottles are empty. I really don’t have any food and have been eating shitty snacks all day so, after eating a few more handfuls of snacks, I decide I need to be healthier. So I pull out a piece of bread and eat it. Nothing else, just the bread. I get out a second and munch on it as I continue climbing at a paltry 4-5mph.

Cresting the hill I cheer and soon notice the beauty I had been missing in the canyon. In the spring time the road’s attraction is the blooming flowers and (hopefully) green growth but after a long, dry summer the real beauty is in the outstanding views over the land. By this time it is going on 5pm and as the days get shorter I start to see the land in a new light as the sun sets. Photo’s do not even come close to doing this justice. From my spot atop the hill I could see for miles in every direction. I see the sun, the shadow, and all the space between where the light is absorbed by scrub-land and vineyard and reflected off the sand. The downhill comes, and I know I am on my way into the small town of Los Olivos. I forget speed and stand up, feeling the wind wick away the sweat and the sun bathe me in golden light. I will always keep a snapshot of these moments in my mind (sketches to come)

Los Olivos is a tiny town in wine country and it is filled with Tasting Rooms. I ignore these, which are mostly closed anyway, and immediately head to church. Yes, you read that right – church. St. Mark’s is a bastion for the weary traveler, with free bathrooms, water, a courtyard and lawn to rest, and even wifi. The sign reads “These doors are open for people of all faiths or none” so I gleefully rest and get much-needed water. At this point I still haven’t heard from a Warm Showers host and I heard riding route 154 is akin to accepting death, so I don’t know where I will stay tonight or how I will get there.

I try the local market for info, and ask a few folks about where I can pitch a tent nearby. I am hoping to get an offer of “oh you poor thing, you’re so tired and dirty. Come stay with us!” Instead I leave with a banana, a 22 of Firestone IPA, and still no idea where I am going to stay. It’s abut this time that I say to myself, “It’s okay. Stop worrying. You have water. That alone is your concern, so now just let it go. Just let it go.” I feel myself calming down, accepting that my plans have fallen apart but all is not lost. I feel rejuvenated and, once I let go of my concerns, a weight is lifted from my shoulders. All I can do is make a plan and hope for the best, but when it goes awry I must just carry on. And so I do.

I return to the church and give the Warm Showers host one more call and this time get an answer. He’s in the wine business and has been working doubles to finish the harvest. He apologizes but cannot host. Okay, not surprised. So now what? He is helpful with information but I am not taking his advice to backtrack a few miles and then ride 20 miles on Highway 101. I went this way specifically to avoid the highway. Instead, I hop on the wifi and look for an alternate route. Google routes me through a few country roads to 101 way further south, just a couple miles north of where I would have come out had I followed the ACA route. Okay, I can do this.

I return to my bike, say farewell to the church oasis, and continue south. I neither push nor lag, but ride at an steady pace. What’s the rush? I still have 20 miles to go and about an hour of light. I won’t make it to Gaviota State Park by then but I have lights. So I ride. Past orchards, vineyards, and through the weird touristy town of Solvang that is supposedly a Danish town, but I think it’s mostly kitchy. I’d love to stop and examine it further but it’s juts not in the cards today.

Past Solvang I descend into the coolness of a valley and get 360 degrees of breathtaking sky. Golden rays streak through puffy clouds on a backdrop of pinks, reds, and yellows. The road briefly becomes a quite country road before turning into a one-lane road through the most trees I’ve seen in days. By this point sunset is in full swing and the noise of the world silenced by dusk, the stillness, and the soft glow of sunset coming over the hills. This quiet, this odd shelter of trees amid vast openness is odd but immensely comforting after such a long, dusty day of worry. I bid farewell to the sun until I turn a sharp corner after a quick climb and it’s final rays blow up the sky. Now back into the valley and darkness with its chill.

My front bike light dims to a pitiful glow before dousing completely, and I pull out my headlamp and flashlight extension for my little speaker (thanks Lindsey, this thing rocks!). I wedge the flashlight between the junk on my front rack so I can see the road and strap the headlamp on so I can see my handwritten directions. Through the night I pass a few people sitting in trucks along the road, presumably waiting for the sky to unleash a furry of stars. I pass a plenty of quite places and a small county park knowing I could stealth camp under the cover of darkness. Still, I press on. I am still uncomfortable with the idea of stealth camping anywhere but at this point I am not even worried, just determined to finish the day my way.

I come to a T in the road, my directions indicating to make a left to continue south. I see 101 in the distance and know I need to head south but the way is marked. “No Outlet.” From Google Maps I know this will drop connect me to 101 but perhaps Google is outdated. What the fuck, I’ve been out for 10 hours already, found solace i a church, and came to terms with my inability to control all the pieces. SI have faith. I make that left. Thinking about the church makes me consider what would happen if I had met the priest. Would he ask if I was a believer? The answer comes easy.

 

“Father, I do not know about a God. My faith is in people. In the goodness of them. Like your faith in God, sometimes I have doubts. Sometimes I find faith hard. But we are a people, a shared humanity. What are we without faith in ourselves. And my faith is in the Earth. She gives us everything, far more than we deserve. And she keeps giving. That’s faith.

I round a bend and ignore the “Do Not Enter” sign as I ride down an off-ramp for northbound 101. I ride the wide turnout for a minute before crossing to the southbound side at a whole in the median. I fly downhill, slowed only by the distance of my light and the threat of unseen debris on the shoulder. Down to where 101 connects with 1 and on to Gaviota State Park. Of course, beginning October first the campground is day use only during the week. it’s Monday. I apologize to the to the innocent plants as I trample through succulents to bypass the gate. A loop around the park exposes Anders, my fellow cyclist, who has talked to the camp host and had a shower and bathroom unlocked. One more loop around the campground puts me at a slid 80 miles. Longest day yet.

I set up my tent, enjoy a very hot shower, and drink that incredibly rewarding beer. Dinner is peanut butter on bread inside the tent. I just don’t care enough to cook, even though I should. It’s time to rest. What a day!

 

For those who are curious, here is my route. I would totally recommend this as an alternate, especially if you can find a Warm Showers host, stealth camp, or stay in an AirBnB/hotel.

 //rwgps-embeds.com/routes/17136841/embed

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