I ride bikes. I am a bike racer. I am a bike advocate. I do not consider myself to be a touring bicyclist. Is that even what you call people who go on bike tours? Nevertheless I agreed to ride a bike 600 miles down the coast of California from San Francisco to San Diego. I honestly had no idea what I was getting into, and I didn't want to overthink it or I knew I'd find a reason to bail.
The trip took a total of eight days: seven days of riding with one rest day somewhere in the middle. Prior to this journey, the longest trek I'd ever attempted was riding 300 miles with nine other women from New York City to Washington DC during the polar vortex. Our hearts were in the right place, but I must admit it wasn't the wisest idea we'd ever had. I figured after that, this would be a piece of cake. I was infinitely more fit from all of my race training and while California can get chilly, it's definitely no polar vortex.
Day 1: We loaded down the car and piled inside: me, my husband Will, our friends Ann, Wasif, and Jake driving the support vehicle. piled inside. I was both excited and exhausted. It was nice to feel ready – to look in the face of several centuries in a row and know that I could do it. This was new to me, and I liked it. The first day set the tone for the rest of the trip: super chill mornings, and higher paced afternoons. No one seemed to mind rolling out of bed and taking it easy for a few hours. Our daily purpose was to get from point A to point B, and we had all day to do it. Day one was gorgeous, and familiar. Will and I had driven most of the 92-mile route in our comings and goings since living in California, and it was lovely to see it from the saddle of our bikes. At the end of the day I learned that campgrounds are often located at the top of very steep hills. We were not pleased, but we slowly made our way to the top, set up camp, and scarfed down hamburgers and hot dogs.
Day 2: California was experiencing a very large forest fire near Big Sur. All state parks in the vicinity were closed indefinitely, so we were faced with two choices. We could do the full 140 miles from Manresa to San Simeon in one day, or we could ride 35 miles to Monterey on one day and 100 miles to San Simeon the next. We chose the latter. I am so glad we did.
At around mile 24 I was derping along when suddenly my bike literally went "snap, crackle, pop!" My rear derailleur suddenly exploded, snapped the derailleur hanger and lodged itself between my drivetrain and my rear wheel. I came to an immediate stop, unclipped, and sat down next to my bicycle. Will thought I'd gotten hurt. I was physically fine, but so daunted by the headache this was going to cause that I had to take a seat and gather myself to prevent an imminent panic attack.
We didn't have a chain breaker, which would have allowed me to temporarily convert my bike into a singlespeed. I accepted defeat, and called our friend Jake to come pick us up in the support vehicle. I hated not finishing the last few miles of the day, but it was a Friday afternoon, bike shops were about to close, and time was of the essence. I would need to work a miracle to get my bike repaired before the next morning.
After a lot of e-mails and phone calls, I found a new derailleur hanger two hours north, and a friend of a friend agreed to do the repairs the next morning.
Pro tip: be nice to people, make friends: you'll need help at some point, and no one wants to help a jerk.
After a very stressful ordeal I was finally on the road again.
Day 3: Our two companions got a head start for our very long day ahead. Will and I were playing the most beautiful game of catch-up I could ever dream of. Big Sur was fantastic. It was filled with such beautiful views that I didn't even mind the climbing. And there was a TON of climbing. The route went along the coast for a bit before entering the woods, where we could smell the smoke from the nearby Sobranes fire. I felt like I'd entered the set of Twin Peaks. (Specifically that one transition shot where they keep recycling the exterior view of the diner with the logger truck driving by.) It was fantastic – families, and firefighters, and cute little establishments all along the road. I loved it. But despite everything being incredibly adorable, it was also a super long stretch. We were doing our best to catch up to our friends, when my friends from Machines For Freedom drove straight past us, headed north from our destination of San Simeon. I can't tell you how awesome it was seeing a badass group of gals hanging out of a massive travel rig, bopping their way up the highway. SO GOOD.
Turns out they were pretty excited to see us too. They turned around and handed us snacks out of the window. We were all smiling and excited when suddenly Will caught a flat. It was really funny to be smiling about a flat, but I was just so delighted to see friends so far away from anything I knew. We pulled over to fix the puncture, and much to our delight they pulled over too, just in case we needed assistance. Remember that pro tip about being nice to people? It usually works out in your favor. And while Will fixed his flat, our riding companions caught up to us. Apparently they stopped for baked goods and we flew right past them! Who knew catching a flat could be a good thing?
We made sure to visit the elephant seals before we made it to camp. They were hideous. It was a great day!
Day 4: We set out from San Simeon with 116 miles on deck. We were pretty burnt out from the day before, so we took it pretty easy. Then my cleat lost a screw. If you've ever done a multi-day ride with Ayesha, there's a good chance she lost a screw in her right cleat. There's also a good chance she left her spare screws somewhere that didn't make sense. Due to multiple experiences with this, I am now an expert at managing with one functioning bike cleat.
Pro tip: keep an eye on your cleats, and try and unclip on both sides evenly. I favor my right foot; it always backfires eventually. Also, carry extra screws.
As we made our way through San Luis Obispo (affectionately known as SLO), we scouted bike shops and noticed Foothill Cyclery was conveniently located near SLO Donut Co, the best of both worlds! We had the mechanics show our bikes some much needed attention, and decided we deserved a donut break.
Pro tip: if you're ever in SLO, do yourself a favor and stop for donuts.
After bopping along for hours, we realized we still had about 45 miles to go and only two hours of sunlight remaining. Our social ride quickly became a suffer fest. Three of us continued on, but around mile 90, Wasif ran out of gas and told us to go on without him. Being the mother hen that I am, there was no chance I was leaving a cyclist stranded alone when darkness was going to hit in an hour. Nope. My husband and I tucked him in between us. The plan was that the two of us would take turns pulling to keep the pace high, and he would draft behind whoever was in front. The person in the back would rest as well and also ensure that he didn't try and quit without saying anything. (I'm such a clever girl.) It worked!
We ran out of sunlight as we were approaching camp. There was practically no shoulder, and I couldn't see anything but the blinky light in front of me. TERRIFYING. We made our way to the campsite. The support car was stuck in traffic so I insisted that everyone lay on their backs and put their legs up while we waited. What a day.
Day 5: We woke up at beautiful Lake Cachuma. I was pumped because I am a super fan of the television show "Psych", and I just knew they'd filmed something there. I googled, and sure enough, they did. I also learned that while the show is set in Santa Barbara, it was mostly filmed in Vancouver. I hadn't felt so betrayed since I discovered Friends wasn't filmed in NYC. Ah well. We spent the day taking a much needed break and did some small town exploration, visited the laundromat, ate some ice cream, and got some very welcome rest!
Day 6: We were thrilled to know that the worst of it was over! We'd climbed every mountain, forded every stream, and followed every rainbow. Or so it felt like it. 78 miles seemed like a breeze. We cruised down the Pacific Coast Highway, enjoying the sights and each other, and ended our day on the beach at Point Mugu. It was absolutely wonderful.
Day 7: Almost there. I really enjoyed biking through Santa Monica, Malibu, and Laguna beach. I don't know much about So Cal, but day 7 seemed like a tour of Hollywood 90's TV show sets. I enjoy the beach, but I get bored with it quickly. Give me a bustling NYC any day, and I'll take it.
Day 8: This was the day that would never end. We were all riding bikes meant for aggressive group riding, NOT bike touring. When I say everything hurt, I mean, EVERYTHING hurt. The final stretch into San Diego reminded me a lot of New Jersey. There were lots of corporate-looking buildings and suburban bike trails. Then came the hill. Holy cow, it wasn't steep, but it felt like it went on forever. We passed a man who'd pulled over to the side of the road. He had a trailer attached to his bike and appeared to be recording himself with a handycam. He looked very distressed. I imagine that recording started "if you're seeing this, I probably didn't make it". Poor fella.
We made it over the top and gave ourselves a snack break. I'd been saving a bag of sour worms for a time where I'd need a pick-me-up. The time had come. The rest of the day sort of dragged on. I think we'd all reached our limit and were ready for the sweet relief of dinner, drinks, and a real bed.