With 1,100 miles behind me I set out for Southern California uncertain how riding solo will change my experience.
The second leg of the trip, San Francisco to Los Angeles, was again mainly on the shoulder of Highway 1. It started out a bit rough. A week off obviously affected me and the adjustment from riding with a partner to riding solo took some effort. Riding style, grocery shopping, making decisions, spending time at camp – everything is different by myself. Luckily, I met a great Warm Showers host in Santa Cruz who felt like an old friend and rode most of the way with a British Couple I met – never riding together but spending most nights at the same camp. They were a real blessing in my adjustment, and one day I decided to finally name my bike. Josie, for Joe & Sophie – my new British friends.
One of the perks of riding solo is that I can make decisions on a whim. On the day to Santa Cruz I took a hilly detour I read about the night before to Pescadero where I ate the most amazing bread and enjoyed a nice afternoon away from the traffic on highway 1. In Big Sur I decided to pursue a waterfall as my number one priority, followed by hot springs (unsuccessful on that one). I tried to hang out in San Luis Obispo and fin a host but was unsuccessful so resorted to a campground in Pismo. And tired of the highway I decided to detour through wine country towards what I thought would be an epic and quiet climb into the back side of Santa Barbara – only to learn it was a deadly road and to ride 80+ miles and arrive at a closed campground after dark. Riding solo has a lot of downsides, but the freedom of completely independent choice is definitely one of the biggest draws.
Exploring central California was one of the most educational things I have done in recent memory. I rode through this country’s fertile crescent and reflected on the origins of our food, and of the workers who grow it. I realized just how important irrigation has been as I rode through what should really be a desert – sand and dunes ran alongside luscious farms sprouting greens, cauliflower, strawberries, and so much more. I discovered dehydration and it’s energy-sapping effect on my riding. I also tested myself with an epic 80 mile day through wine country, mostly unplanned, with no sure host lined up. In hindsight it was nothing special, but the act of doing it helped me relax about the details and just enjoy the experience.
Big Sur turned out to be a lot easier and less remote than I hyped it up to be in my mind, and 30 miles days were really easy and pleasant compared to the trek I imagined. Unfortunately, it also disappointed a little bit. Due to all the fires this summer a lot of the campgrounds on the north end were closed and the pretty much the entire national forest was off-limits for dispersed camping and hiking. Sure, I could have done it illegally, but I think this is one of those things I would enjoy more with a partner. Still, the waterfall at Limekiln is a huge highlight from these first two legs.
And finally, the friendly faces. Man, it was good to see so many friendly faces. I think I needed this now more than ever, to bolster my confidence and reassure myself that I did still want to do this ride alone. It’s funny – 3+ years ago when I reached Seattle I started dreaming of this romantic solo adventure but once it became a reality I was not so sure I wanted it this way. Meeting Tisho in Santa Cruz and spending so much time with Joe & Sophie kicked things off and I met Anders a bit later. Seeing my 4K for Cancer friend Chloe in Santa Barbara was a real treat and even though LA County is my nightmare come true nothing could kill the joy I felt becoming part of the group in Long Beach with Scott and all his friends. A weekend in Joshua Tree was a perfect getaway from solo travel, although it made me miss the joys of being stationary…
Also, I rode on the highway most of the way, which is never pleasant. But you know what? California drivers may drive fast and aggressive but I felt way safer here than in Oregon – no ridiculous logging trucks and [most] drivers gave me enough room to feel comfortable. Did I mention it was hilly, again? No rain, except the first day out of SF.
I leave Long Beach on Day 60 – two months after leaving Seattle. Now, on to the desert!
Miles: ~500 (1,600 total)
- Jumping in the waterfall in Limekiln State Park
- The detour to Pescadero – so many animals and such amazingly good bread
- Meeting Tisho, Joe, Sophie, & Anders. Meeting up with Chloe, Carly, & Scott.
- The ‘push-myself’ and ‘learn to relax’ 80+ mile detour through wine country
- Seeing all the food grown in the fertile crescent and reflecting on that process
- Much time to think and reflect about myself, my characteristics, my wishes, and how those all interact with my life choices & relationships
- Topanga Creek Outpost
- The first day. Shitty weather, lethargic body, and mental/emotional struggles.
- The feeling of loneliness that occasionally creeps in, especially when I see or experience something great and want someone special to share it with.
- Dehydration and a ridiculously steep climb into the campground in Monterrey. My brain was fuzzy until I chugged water and slept it off. Lesson learned.
- Everything about LA County. It goes on forever… and then some.
- Meal (camp): None
- Nothing new here, or at least nothing that stands out weeks later. I’m less motivated to cook just for myself.
- Meal (bought): Artichoke-stuffed garlic & herb bread in Pecadero. Food in Long Beach
- Yeah yeah, I’ve mention this a thousand times. It was really good! Arcangeli Grocery Co., Pescadero.
- In Long Beach Scott took me to The Attic for brunch where I got chicken-fried steak with two poached eggs on a biscuit. So good. Also Seoulmate for that Marination-style burrito. Yum.
- Riding Day: The wine country & Pescadero detours
- Both of these days I forgo the normal route and choose a new one based on reading about another cyclists’ experiences. Removing myself from the noise and traffic of the highway is pure bliss, and on both occasions I find something highly memorable. In Pescadero I eat the most amazing Garlic-herb bread stuffed with artichoke – still warm from the oven. And in Los Olivos I discover a small church with bathrooms, wifi, and a beautiful courtyard where I relax, take a breather, and make a conscious choice to worry less.
- Campground: None
- Campgrounds on this stretch were less present, more expensive, and offered fewer amenities. They were not bad, and I understand the lack of showers/water (drought), but they simply got the job done, no more. I hear Rafael west of Santa Barbara is nice but I didn’t stay there.
- City/Town: Santa Cruz
- Santa Cruz is close enough to SF to be a day trip, has a college to keep things fresh, and from what I hear is somewhat the birthplace of the organic food movement in the U.S. Unlike the cities and towns south of Big Sur it is not a sprawling, car-centric mess and is rather pleasant for riding. I did not explore too much but the redwoods are only a few miles out of town and Santa Cruz is sandwiched between mountains and sea. Not to say it’s perfect – homelessness and crime are on the rise.
- Non-bike activity: Night out with Tisho in Santa Cruz, Limekiln water fall, and hanging with Scott
- Tisho felt like an old friend and we enjoyed beers and tacos at a local brewery while we talked about life and I learned about his recent experience getting a green card after 7-8 years of trying in Bulgaria.
- You would probably never know the Limkiln water fall exists unless someone tells you because it is small and hidden away behind a semi-private campground, but in a land of little water it is a true gem.
- Scott is one of my best friends. Joshua Tree was great and just hanging out and playing games was perfect.
Two weeks of riding plus another week and some in Long Beach bring me to two full months on the road. I catch a ride with Scott to his summer camp spot, skipping the shitshow of LA County and setting myself up for a mountainous, tree-filled day and a half before hitting the desert. Hot, dry, and desolate to come.