The ride to Cachuma was okay. We rode through the golden hills spotted with dark green oak trees of the Santa Ynez. We saw herds of deer resting in the shadows on those big oak trees, as we huffed and puffed up a few hills. Traffic picked up and we were thankful to get to the lake.
We had been really excited to spend our rest day swimming in the lake, exploring the campground, and getting some laundry done.
The ranger was very short with us. He was the first ranger to ask for our driver’s license, and pointed his finger, calling us “you,” instead of sir, ma’am, miss, or the name that was on the ID cards we had handed him. It was really off putting.
The campsite was really barren looking grassland, with lots of parking lots, clearly meant more for boaters. The laundry room was closed for maintenance, and we weren’t allowed to swim in the lake.
We asked several people about the lake. First we assumed it was because there were so many boats, but usually there would be a section of lake marked off to swim in, if that was the case. Then, one of the people running the kayaks, told us that it was Santa Barbara’s drinking water. In which case, why would they let boats drip motor oil all throughout it? Then, later on, we talked to the UC Davis doctors, and Dan told us that they had had that amoeba scare in that lake: the same one that had been eating people’s brains, and scaring people off from the neti pot. Who knows?
The wind was fierce that afternoon and the whole campground was mostly just dirt and grass, and stubborn birds bent on stealing cheetohs. About a week back, my dad had sent me a three page text warning about rattlesnakes. It worked, and a little nervous, I watched the ground carefully, noting all the holes burrowed as I walked around. I ended up spending most of the afternoon staying in the tent working on music. I missed everybody at home and was looking forward to things like waking up with my dog whining to jump on my bed, and practicing piano in my pajamas, and wandering around 4th street, running into familiar faces.
I rewrote Ghost Riders in the sky:
An old cowpoke went riding out one dark and windy day,
a PCH, he rested as he went along his way,
when all at once a mighty herd of cyclists he saw,
tearing up a mountainside, and up a cloudy draw,
Their calves were still on fire, and their thighs were made of steel,
Their helmets, black and shiny, and their hot breath he could feel,
A bolt of fear cut through him, as they thundered through the sky,
They all start to ring their be-ellls…. As they ride on through they cry,
Yippee-yi-yo….. yippee yi yay….
ghost cyclists in the sky…
There were three really nice things about the campground, though. First, the man who ran the kayaks, let us ride around for free for a little while, since the weather was so windy, and business was slow, and we had ridden so far. It was really nice to get a little wet and use some different muscles. Second, the general store was awesome. It was well stocked, and more affordable than any other general store we had been to.
And third, always the sunset.
Heading out of the Santa Ynez Valley, Sarah had wished that she had taken pictures the day before. The golden hills had made her think of her mom. Her mother had been so taken by them, that when she took a beginning photography class, had walked out into hills like those, and ended up getting a tick. Now the oak trees were getting more clustered together, and Sarah thought that it would have been neat to get a photo of something that her mother had been so inspired by.
We rode over San Marcos Pass, which was a 2,275 ft. climb back to the coast. That was about 300 ft higher than Leggit Hill, which the tour book had said was the tallest (it probably hadn’t taken into account the alternate route). It was a little grueling, but at the right pace, it wasn’t so bad. We got to the top and looked out at Santa Barbara below. It was a stunning view. Once we got through Santa Barbara, we’d ride a little further South, and Toren planned to meet us and camp with us for a night at Carpinteria State Park. It may be kind of cheesy, but it was a comforting thought all the way up the hill to know that he would be at the end of it.
We stopped at the Natural Cafe in Santa Barbara for lunch. It was the first healthy restaurant that had inspired Sarah when she started getting into nutrition and fitness. They had affordable prices, and a great menu, with smoothies, and lots of vegetarian options.
We got to Carpinteria next, and it felt like Summer. The whole campground was beyond full. They started dividing up the group campsites. The UC Davis crew had gotten there earlier, and had to wait in line to try to get a site by lottery. We had a third of the group campsite called “Plover.” The campground wasn’t very big, but every inch of it was swarming with tents, RVs, kids on bikes, laundry lines, umbrellas and barbecues.
We got to the site that Dan had reserved and it was empty. As soon as we rolled in, Toren arrived, too. He had brought talapia, pasta salad, lemonade, trail mix, cliff bars, and all kinds of stuff to feed us and restock us for the last two days of our journey. So thoughtful!
We decided to wait to set up our tents until Dan and the rest joined us, and went to the beach. The simple pleasure of sitting in the sun is so rewarding. I think I can understand why women in earlier generations would sit out and bake their skin into leather. Sarah and I inched into the water, and Toren ran up and dove right in.
While we were sunbathing, we noticed Dan playing fisbee with Rebecca and Juan. We walked back to the campsite, and Juan’s parents had driven all the way from Lancaster to celebrate and barbecue for everyone. His mother had made a whole tray of flan, and she glowed when she talked about her son. Both of his parents were so proud, and excited to let us join in on the fun.
There was so much food. Everything Toren had brought, along with the chicken, salmon burgers and everything that Juan’s parents brought made for such feast!
Chad texted us and told us that Colin had quit and was going to be picked up the next day. He was going to try to find a way to meet us the next night at Leo Carrillo so we could all ride into Long Beach together.
The sky went from blue to rose to purple, and we started a fire. I got out the guitar, and Dan and I took turns playing Iron and Wine songs. Toren was pretty quiet. It wasn’t the same coming to meet us in a car than it would have been to ride in with us. He shared his night vision goggles and made everyone laugh. I gave him a good back scratch and he said he was happy he had come.
The next morning Toren offered to lighten our loads and to take anything in his car that we didn’t need for the last night and meet us back in Long Beach. We loaded him up with our rain gear, dirty laundry, cooking gear and my guitar. I figured not having it for one night would be okay. That way Dustin wouldn’t have to carry it the last two days of our trip. Riding with less weight was great. We were all super thankful.
As we rode South we started noticing signs for the AIDS Lifecycle ride. Lots of yellow and orange arrows and tips, guided us on a safe route through Ventura. The sky was overcast again. PCH had a really wide shoulder and a bike lane, so the ride along this section felt very safe.
We passed resting spots for the AIDS ride, as well as their campground in Ventura. My boss, Kim, was doing the AIDS ride, and it felt really special to know that we were both on our epic journeys, and about to ride down the same road in the same day. The next day the AIDS ride would end in Santa Monica, and we would end in Long Beach. What a neat coincidence!
In Ventura, we stopped at an In-N-Out (we ate out a lot more our last few days), and ran into some members of Team Long Beach from the AIDS ride who had gotten injured and rode ahead. One of them even knew Kim!
The three of us sat at our table and talked about the trip. Dustin said, “You know… I’m really glad we met those kids from UC Davis. It’s been really fun to have them around. Things might have gotten a little boring if it had just been the three of us for the last week.”
The sun came out, and we rode through an industrial area, and then some farmland, and saw some Orleib panniers in the distance. We rode a little closer and noticed it was Adam and Jane, the couple from Brooklyn on the tandem! We caught up and rang our bells. It was a really happy reunion. “Where’ve you been?!” “We missed you!” “How was the ride?” “What happened” There was so much to talk about! They had planned to ride to Malibu, but instead opted to ride with us and camp with us at Leo Carrillo on our last night.
When we got to Leo Carrillo, the campsite was full, again! We couldn’t book a campsite for everybody, and went with hiker-biker, even though the tour book warned about theft and transients from Carpinteria South. Welcome back to Southern California. We told the ranger that we were expecting some more cyclists, and she told us that there were only four hiker biker sites, and that technically, she wouldn’t be able to allow it, but since we were going to get along would let it slide. We had been under the impression that state parks weren’t allowed to turn hiker-bikers away, and were very surprised.
Jane and Adam had fallen behind us to stop at a bar, and I texted them to come quick, so they could secure a spot. We also gave word to the UC Davis crew.
We started setting up camp, and Chad rolled in through the path in the trees with his bright orange vest! The rangers had tried to turn him away, but he had to mention us all by our names and insist that we would let him camp with us. Just before he rolled up to the kiosk, they had turned away a 72 year-old cyclist. How could they turn away an old man! Adam and Jane knew the cyclist, because they had met him over the past few days, and Adam and Chad took off on their bikes to try to catch him. It was unsuccessful and we all felt bad for him. Adam said that he had been having a rough day and missed his wife.
Juan’s parents did it again. They had driven all the way back to Lancaster, got more food, and drove out to Leo Carrillo to barbecue again down by the beach in one of the day use areas. We took a trail to go meet them. There was a couple getting married down at the beach next to us. Everyone was barefoot. Everyone from the east coast got to see dolphins for the first time. We feasted again, and had a cheap radio playing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. We all got a group photo before Juan’s Parents left.
When we walked back to the campground, we stopped for a moment to look at the ocean. Sarah pointed out a piece of land in the distance that may have been Palos Verdes. I knew we were close to home, and had been pretty relaxed and just going through the rides the past few days, but at that moment it really hit me. We had ridden almost 1500 miles, and we were almost home. There was familiar land within our eyesight, and the city we lived in the and the people we loved were just over the hill. My whole insides felt like the soft pink evening light that was washing over the landscape. I wished Toren could have been there to see that moment. But everything was as it was, and as it should be. Some moments are only yours and yours alone. If you stop and get the urge to re-direct the scenes in your life, you could miss them altogether.
When we got back to the campsite, Dustin and Chad decided they wanted to start the fire by rubbing two sticks together. I smiled and left them to it, and walked to the bathroom to charge up my phone.
As I walked through the campground, I really watched everyone in the campground. Families settling into their camp chairs to eat their dinner by twilight. A motorcycle biker with a fleet of pink tents. A girl learning how to ride a bike. So many kids on bikes. Teenagers walking around and gossiping. Radios. People driving slowly in their cars trying to find their sites. Watching these people made me feel nostalgic, it made me think of being a kid in a campsite with my own family. We had spent the past 5 weeks on the road, in our close knit group, dealing with fears and our stressors, and laughing at our inside jokes. I had sung songs to myself up and down mountains, and now we were back at home, in Southern California, away from the idealism of the road and just another group of summer campers, and it was absolutely lovely.
When I got back, they had abandoned the sticks and started a fire the normal way. We gathered around the last campfire, and remembered moments of the journey. It was such a happy night. We talked about the little old man that had picked up his broken frame at the airport in Seattle, Tyler and tin can, different people we had met, our dreams of the future and how proud we were of each other. I looked around at all these glowing faces around me, and felt such love within me. I had learned so much from each of them, and we had been so silly together, and had been so vulnerable together.
Sarah and Dustin decided to sleep outside under the stars. I told Chad, I was such a scaredy cat I couldn’t sleep outside after seeing a guy walk by with a snake earlier.
Chad put his sleeping bag in his hammock and said, “You know what, Aly? You’re not a scaredy cat. You’ve made it and there were moments when I wasn’t sure if you were going to finish and you’ve done really well, and I’m really proud of you.”
We decided to get breakfast in Malibu and took off on empty stomachs. There were several rolling hills, and we began to ride with the riders from the AIDS Lifecycle ride. They came in all shapes and sizes. I have a big respect for those riders. Going on a big adventure AND making a difference. “On your left!” They all passed us with ease without any weight on their bikes. Sometimes we would ride next to each other and chat, and the AIDS cyclists would get annoyed and yell at us for not riding in a straight line. At first it was off-putting, but they were right. This was PCH in SoCal… not some empty mountain road. I looked for Kim, but didn’t see her. I knew the chances were slim. There were thousands of cyclists in that ride.
Malibu was a few miles further than we had expected, and we were famished by the time we found a place to eat. I had the best breakfast burrito I had ever eaten at a place called Lily’s cafe.
When we got to Santa Monica, we took the beach bike path, and the Lifecyclists turned inland to get to their finish line. This was a whole new kind of defensive cycling. On the beach path there were people stumbling around on beach cruisers, skaters, kids falling off their bikes, pedestrians… so many people! The beach was crowded with swimmers and volleyball players. It was kind of stressful, but after Venice we turned back onto the road. The areas we road through were getting more and more familiar and it felt weird to be so close to home.
We rode through Redondo Beach, and over the hill to Palos Verdes. Everything had come full circle. We passed the spots where I had gotten flat tires when Tyler and I had gone on our training ride. We passed the spot where I had stopped with Sarah when we had gone on our other training ride. No more training. Now it was the end. Even though we had been over so many hills, being so close to home made me really tired. My legs struggled over the hills, and I fell far behind. I started playing my same old mind games, and stopped for a little while to collect my senses. Shortly after, everyone was waiting for me. The final stretch.
We made our way out of Palos Verdes, and I got caught at a red light behind the others. then a police man rode his motorcycle into the middle of the street, and started directing traffic. It was a funeral procession. Whoever it was had a lot of people who cared about him or her. The procession kept coming, and then the policeman smiled at me and waved at the cars as he rode away. Beginnings and endings and life keeps going.
We got onto Anaheim, for our last ghetto stretch into Long Beach. We rode through Terminal Island, and past the strip club on Alameda, and over the LA River, and it’s homeless camps. We rode by my old street in downtown Long Beach. That was it. We were home, it was Saturday and everything in Long Beach was business as usual.
I had sent out a text message to some friends that we would roll into Viento y Agua, but I didn’t think anybody was actually going to meet us and it made more sense to stop at Sarah’s house first. Toren and Bob were waiting on the front porch for us. Bob had been trying to find out where we were going to be all day! Sarah and Dustin had picked up a 12-pack, and started cracking some open on the front porch. Just another day at Sarah’s house. It was a beautiful day to be sitting in the sunshine with friends, but something about being home made me sad. Maybe I was in my post-cycling haze, but it seemed so anti-climactic to end the such a feat with a beer on the porch.
My parents texted me that they were waiting at Viento y Agua, and Toren offered to drive as many as would fit in his car over there. Viento always feels like home. My parents came out and greeted me with hugs and well wishes. We took a group photo, and told them our stories. Everyone was so happy to see us.
The next few days it took some time to adjust to being at home. I came home and was really overwhelmed with my stuff, after living so minimally for over a month. I want to get rid of half of it.
Then I had trouble sleeping, I had nightmares every night for a few days, and woke up hungry in the middle of the night and with sore legs. I wanted to see and reconnect with everyone, but I also just wanted to be alone and clean my house. The second or third day, I bought a new planner, and made a big list of things I want to accomplish. There was still lots to do.
It’s easy to feel kind of empty after making a big accomplishment. It’s easy to dismiss it and get ready to move onto what’s next. I’m a process person I love working up to something, but once it’s over, I don’t quite know what to do with myself. We’ve done something here. We rode 1447 miles, and felt every inch of Pacific Coast and I played a tour.
Writing this blog has helped. While we’re riding, we’re going, we’re blowing through every landscape, challenge and experience. Taking the time to stop and write about it has made me remember and take note, and feel out the lessons I’ve learned, instead of just letting them flow like water under the bridge.
This was an experience that has carved out a new path for the blood in my veins. I can’t say that I’m a new person, but I have grown into a stronger person. I feel so thankful to have shared the journey with Sarah, Dustin, Toren, Chad and Tyler and friends that we stayed with or met along the way, and to have had the support from the people back home to make it possible.