Sunday, October 31, 2010

California – Always Surprising: San Francisco to Santa Barbara (18th - 27th Oct '10)

We finally dragged ourselves out of our new favourite city and headed south along the coast, passing over the infamous 'Devil's Slide' – a section of road that climbed up over a hill and then along the edge of cliffs that dropped straight into the water. Combine this with lots of traffic and no shoulder, and it made for some less than enjoyable riding. However, once past this area it was fairly pleasant, with lots of coastal views and large numbers of pumpkins scattered around (left-overs from the pumpkin festival I assume). Our first night back on the road we camped with two lovely Canadian girls who we had met back in the Marin Headlands and an American guy who was super-speedy. We also met Myrtle the Turtle; aka Sylvia on her recumbent bike, who we had heard lots about as we so we were happy to finally meet her!
The next few days we passed through a couple of classic Californian towns, Santa Cruz, and Monterey, riding along the coast and watching the sea-otters, dolphins and surfers playing in the water. We made our way into Monterey assisted by Larry, a cyclist out for his daily ride who turned around and accompanied us back to town, giving us the guided tour on the way. We stayed in the local park alongside a bunch of transients, one of who had some serious social interaction issues, a voice like sandpaper and a mouth from the gutter. We met up with Aiden again, an Irish guy we had camped with on a number of occasions and who is two and a half years into his world cycling journey. We also met Lorely and Russel,l two poms (oops.. English people) who are doing the Pan-Am. We spent the next few days camping and laughing with these guys (the fun poms and irish that is, not the crazy hobo).
Out of Carmel we started heading into the Big Sur area, a rocky section of the coast where the road hugs cliffs and offers stunning views across the ocean. Our first day in this area we had a nice ride looking out across the golden paddocks to the ocean and then camping in the redwoods. On our second day in Big Sur it started to rain, so we rode most of the day in the rain, and couldn't see a thing except for the raindrops collecting on our eyelashes. We called it an early day and camped with the rest of the cycling gang. With all 8 of us in the one campsite it was kind of squishy but we rigged up our tarps ( a group Macgyvering effort) and created a little tent city to keep us dry. You suddenly get a lot closer to people when you can hear all their night-time noises through the thin tent walls!
Luckily our last day in the Big Sur area we had great weather, so could distract ourselves from the climbing by looking at the great views. As we came speeding down off Big Sur into the dry ranchland of San Simeon Jules yelled out “zebra on the left”.. Jules is a bit of a shaite stirrer and I seem to spend inordinate amounts of time in my day working out whether what she has told me is likely to be true or not. This was one of those times I instantly ruled as “Jules pulling my leg”. However, I took a quick glance to the left and grazing amongst the herds of fairly normal looking cows were two zebras. A little further down the road we actually saw a whole herd of zebras hanging out on the hillside. One of those moments that you think to yourself “have I spent too long on my bicycle today?”.
We worked out that the zebra might have something to do with the gigantic storybook building high up in the hills to the east. This was the Hearst Castle, built by the newspaper magnate and a study in opulence. We didn't get invited up to the castle unfortunately but poked around the visitor's centre and looked at photographs of the lavish rooms. We spent more time hanging out at a nearby beach checking out the elephant seals with their bulbous faces, who were lounging on the sand, often with a casual flipper up in the air.
After Big Sur we had another day of terrible weather where we spent a good part of the day hanging out in a cafe in Cambria. We finally had to drag ourselves a way... really there are only so many cups of coffee and day-old baked goods you can eat in one morning. We headed out into the pouring rain and, as expected, the day was horrible riding. We could hardly see where we were going, and we didn't get very far, just to Morro Bay around 40kms down the road. Luckily the rain cleared up enough for us to set up our tent, crawl in and then listen to the rain on the tarp for the rest of the night.
In the midst of our rainstorm-glumness in the Cambrian cafe we had searched out a Warm Showers host for the next day, and we were very grateful to be invited to stay by Bill and Kandy in Orcutt. This gave us a great little break from camping and we managed to dry all our wet things. Bill was an awesome cook and sent us off with full stomachs on a fantastic little back route that avoided the main highways. We had an awesome day riding the quiet country roads through the Santa Ynez valley, past vineyards, alongside the arid and colourful mountains and then down to a scenic and quiet campsite on Lake Cachuma.
Bill had warned us that our alternative route involved crossing a mountain pass, so we were fairly prepared for our 4 mile climb the next morning, but we were not prepared for how beautiful it was, which took our minds off the hour of 'granny-gear' pedalling. As we popped out over the mountains we saw the ocean and Santa Barbara at the bottom of a fantastic 6 mile downhill, “our best downhill so far” Jules declared.. and she proceeded to tell me it had all the right combination of elements; road in good condition, a good gradient, not too much traffic, appropriate curvature... etcetc... she has obviously put a lot of thought into the physics of downhills over the last few months.
After freewheeling into Santa Barbara and eating ice-cream on the pier, we rode along the boardwalk lined with palm trees and felt like we had crossed into a different country – this was the Southern California of my imagination. I kept expecting to see David Hasslehoff in those delightful red shorts running along the beach beside me.

1 comment:

  1. So flattered to be referenced in your blog! I hope we get to see you again before we finish the trip!