LAX to SFO the Wrong Way

Post by Brian Ecker

A few weeks back I talked two good friends, Paul Clement and Dave (Bish) Bishop, into taking a short (days not miles) bike touring trip with me.  Paul and Bish are always up for crazy adventures, ie Furnace Creek, Race Across Oregon, and Tour of California.  Airfares were on sale and we had some connections in the Bay area so it was decided that riding the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH aka Hwy 1) would be an amazing way to spend 4 days of vacation.  Since we had a friend that lived in SFO that could help us get some bikes boxes for the return trip we decided we would ride from south to north.  Anyone that has ever toured the coast or talked to someone that has toured the coast knows that the preferred direction is in fact the other way.  The winds can blow pretty strong and pretty consistent.  The hope for us was that this late winter ride would offer up a window of opportunity where the winds weren’t blowing as hard and if we were really lucky we would see some sun!

We took a late flight down to LAX on Thursday evening and we were lucky to make some last minute arrangements with a friend of Bish’s, Dana.  She picked us up and let us stay at her place right on Venice Beach.  We had sent the bikes down earlier and ended up quickly putting them together that night. Dana’s place has the distinction of being right across the street from the inaugural Gold’s Gym.  I am not sure what it is currently but the building is still painted with the original sign. 

Day 1 – Venice Beach to Santa Barbara ~100 miles

Up early the next morning, we started the day well with a good cup of Sbucks Via and an amazing breakfast burrito courtesy of Dana.  Surprisingly, we were on the road and heading north before 9 am.  The start of the ride offered up a super mellow spin along the bike path through the beaches.  A nice way to warm up the travel weary legs.  We passed several active movie/tv filmings whom I have no idea the “famous” folks were.

Soon we were trucking north up the PCH with a really nice tailwind.  About 20 miles in we suffered our first of many casualties on the day.  I flatted, replaced the tube to only have the new tube fail.  The third tube was a charm and away again we went.  Shortly thereafter, descending down a small roller Bish ran into some major trouble.  He had a poor shift and lost his rear derailleur into his wheel.  Subsequently everything locked up. A crazy skid of well over 75 ft and a snapped der hanger had him stopped for good.  Additionally the rear derailleur was totally mangled and his rear tire had no rubber left.  For over 2 hours we himmed and hawed on possible solutions.

The Skid

 Trial and failed several times with the single speed approach, we ended up pushing Bish to a bike shop whose owner was a total ass and was little to no help.  We (Paul) finally Macygvered up a very temporary solution which allowed Bish to use his mangled derailleur but he still only had a single gear.  Bish called in a parachute and arrange to meet Dana in LA to go shopping for a new der hanger and der.  In the meantime Paul and I headed north. 

By now it was well past lunch time and that amazing breakfast burrito that started us off was long gone.  Within 5 minutes Paul and I were stopped for lunch and watching the clock and daylight quickly slip by.  Food is the diesel so getting plenty of it is so very important.  Completely fueled up we started off on our journey, yet again.  Within moments of restarting our journey Paul broke a spoke and I flatted again.  Well beyond being frustrated we fixed the tire, left the broken spoke as is and just continued north.

Many hours into this trip, we had completed very few miles and now with the sun warming the day our nice tailwind had turned into a brisk headwind. The riding up to Santa Barbara was scenic and we soon became acquainted with the infamous North West winds.  While not anywhere near Furnace Creek force it did slow our progress substantially.  Methodically, Paul and I swapped off pulls and continued our sojourn.  The roads were mostly flat to gently rolling.  Lots of traffic but relatively good shoulders and polite (tolerant) drivers.  We ultimately arrived in Santa Barbara (original planning has us spending the first night quite a ways north) about 6:30 pm.

Day 1 Sunset

Santa Barbara was hopping! International film festival was in full swing.  We iphoned (my new favorite verb) our way through town and to an area of inexpensive hotels.  Our timing was impeccable, for once, as Bish soon arrived via the Dana chute.  An amazing diner at an Indian restaurant down the street, complete with more famous people sightings that we were all completely clueless about, except Dana, had us finishing off our rough day in a bit of style.  Mileage for the day turned out to be ~96.

Day 2 – Santa Barbara to Saint Louis Obispo ~125 miles

Again, the day started with a stellar breakfast and a nice tailwind.  Again, about 20 mi in we began to have issues (fortunately not Bishues this time!).  Rolling down a short descent I was on the front when we crossed over a rough bridge seam. The jarring jettisoned my rear pannier but luckily both riders and all cars avoided it. Whew!  Shortly thereafter, we had the dubious pleasure riding up a 2 mi climb which included a 300m tunnel without any shoulder!  Nothing like riding on a freeway like road, with CA driving speeds, in a dark tunnel, with no shoulder!

After a brief fuel stop in Buelton we made quick time over to Lompoc where we were greeted with more headwind and some “HEAVY” rollers.  A bit road weary we pulled into Orcutt for a good lunch stop.  From there we had to cut across the inland farm flats scurrying into a robust headwind.  We adjusted to short pulls to help keep the speed up.  Not ever soon enough, we made it across the valley through Guadalupe, and up the coast to Pismo Beach. We caught a beautiful sunset and soon found ourselves trying to finish the day in the fading light.  It was after a good 45 min of riding with lights on that we finally pulled into San Louis Obispo. 

Again, the strategy was to pull into someplace warm, pull out the Iphone and find a place to stay for the night.  SLO is a big town with MANY MANY hotels.  Apparently not so many that they can’t all fill up.  After calling over 20 places, all of which were full, we started to get a bit nervous. Bish and Paul called the wives so they could begin working the angles from their end as well.  At one point we had a room on “hold” for 10 minutes.   It was a ways out of town and a bit ritzy so we were a bit hesitant.  We took a risk and rode a mile or so down the street to check out a few other places.  14 minutes later we called to book our room that was being held to only find out it was too late.  We spent almost 2 hrs in the lobby of a small hotel where every 5-10 minutes someone would drive up begging for a place.  The propetier was trying to help everyone including us.  He sent one couple all the way to San Jose as that was the closet room to be had.  We called the local Youth Hostel, homeless shelter, a dozen folks from all without any luck.  We started contemplating how we would approach the propetier in letting us sleep in his garage.  (Remember, we packed NO camping gear) 

Enter parachute #2.  Paul’s wife Connie had done her leg work and gotten into contact with the president of the local SLO cycling club, Stu.  Apparently Stu and his wife are avid cyclist and toured and tremendous amount of miles.  They graciously agreed to our 12th hour plea to host us.  (We later decided that they were more excited than us, if that is even possible!)  Another crazy part of this story is that we had not even eaten yet nor did some of us have clean riding clothes for the next day.  We were discussing our options when the propetier interrupted and said we should get dinner down the street at the Splash Café and while we were eating he would do our laundry for us!  Generous beyond belief!  End of story is that in one moment we were homeless, hungry and had no clean clothes while less than 1 hour later we were full, happy, and sitting in Stu’s hot tub!

Day 3 SLO to Monterrey 146 miles

With many miles awaiting us we had an early roll out, ~7:30am. 

Stu, Janie and dogs

Elephant Seals

 We were immediately greeted by a very stiff headwind.  As we rolled out of town, fighting the wind, we all read the sign “Monterrey 144 mi”.  None of us made mention of it but continued on, quietly setting to work on what could might be an incredibly long day.  The wind stayed strong but we were lucky enough to move a bit further up the coast where the coastal range is quite close to the water.  It’s here that the wind shifted and we soon found ourselves soft-pedaling yet going twice as fast. The tailwind continued for about an hour as we motored through Morrow Bay and Cayucous.  We made a quick stop in for food and drink and then were soon back out on the road. By now the temps had warmed and our tailwind transitioned back to a steady hard headwind.  We continued on passing by resting areas for huge elephant seals.  Along this section of coast the terrain is relatively flat; the road follows the coast closely. In fact in one section the high surf was splashing up and over the road. The landscape is made up of the coastal range directly due east and scattered with short green grassland.

About mi 55 we began approaching some hilly terrain and soon found ourselves in deep thick fog.  Back on with the vest and leg warmers.  The big climbs began at Ragged Point.  A monster but beautiful climb of 4 miles or so.  It winds up through the hillside and continues on even though it appears the end is just around the corner. I tried to tempo the climb with the hopes a steady pace would keep us all together but after a bit Bish lost contact with us. Eventually Paul and I reached the summit and descended down the other side. As Paul and I waited for Bish we got to watch huge rollers come into the shore. An impressive display of power.    After a long wait and no Bish I began to backtrack our course and ran into Bish whom had hitched a ride with a motorist.  More mechanical issues for Bish which meant that at mi 70 his day of riding was over.  He was able to hitch a ride all the way into Monterrey.

Paul and I rode a short distance and stopped in Gorda for a mediocre diesel fill. The remainder of the day we hugged the coast line, up and over numerous climbs, in and out of the fog and to our luck a diminishing wind. 

 We made it up and over the bump in the road called Big Sur, 110 miles in our legs and another 35 or so to go.  We connected with Bish, via phone, who informed us that he had secured a hotel room.  We filled our bottles and were quickly on our way.  One of the approaching climbs is named Hurricane Point and now it is abundantly clear why.  As we descended down from Big Sur and went further along the coast the winds began to pick up.  Soon we were forced to have the 2 handed death grip on the bars with hopes that the headwind wouldn’t grind us to a stop.  What should have been a final 2 hours turned into 3+.  As we came up to several big climbs we were actually a bit relieved as it often meant we had a bit of shelter from the wind.  We rode across the infamous Bixie Bridge and on into Carmel.  At this point is was really dark, we were running our lights and traffic was crazy heavy.  Most folks gave us space but the occasional few weren’t so kind as you can all imagine how it gets.  Either way, folks were in a hurry and we weren’t helping.

Another amazing sunset

From the top of the climb out of Carmel to downtown Monterey is only a mile or two but bikes are routed off the highway at this point and we had to zig zag our way up and down numerous steep climbs and descents to finally roll into the Monterey waterfront almost 30 minutes later.  Bish flagged us down and we were soon yard sailing all of our stuff inside the hotel room with 2 large pizzas on the way.  Nothing like a hot shower, cheap pizza and a place to get horizontal!

The last day’s mileage was going to top out at well over 125 and with Bish not able to ride we came to consensus that Paul and I could go for an early morning spin and then jump in the rental car with Bish to catch a ride up the coast.  There would not have been enough time for us to ride into SF, pack our bikes, and then get to SFO in time for our flight.  We had not only incurred significant delays that hindered our progress but we also had simply miscalculated the total distance. I think we were all a bit disappointed to not achieve the goal but then again a lot can be said for making smart choices.  We had ridden over 370 mi in 3 days over some beautiful terrain.  Even with the Bishues I think we all agreed the trip was worth it.


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Filed under Brian Ecker, Travelogues

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