Thursday, December 4, 2014

What Lay Ahead

If I didn't owe my faithful fan base the exciting conclusion to my three-part series on biking from San Luis Obispo (SLO) to Santa Barbara I'd probably be ranting about how everybody in SoCal loses their minds when wet stuff starts falling from the sky -- even joggers on the Strand bike path!  So, at least you'll be spared that . . .

So, where was I?  Oh yeah!  That's right, stuck in a coffee shop in Buellton waiting for the sun to get high enough so as not to render me invisible to cars overtaking me from behind.  It took a good 45 minutes before I felt comfortable, which was fine because I was getting an early start and only had 40 miles to go to Santa Barbara (after 80 the previous day), leaving plenty of time for me to catch the late afternoon Surfliner back to San Diego.   Once I cleared Buellton's "rush" hour, it was back to the rolling hills past scenic vineyards, much of which was lined by a canopy of trees overhanging Rte 246 most of the way to Solvang.  Pretty.

Already filled to the gills with coffee and just starting to digest my free lobby waffle, I decided to just plow through Solvang (which looked just as kitschy as I remembered it) and leave more time for one of my favorite towns on the planet - Santa Barbara.  The 246 got a little steeper after Solvang, but the pavement was pristine and the nice, wide shoulder was still there.  My first sign of impending doom, though, was a temporary sign directing trucks to use 154 to get to Santa Barbara -- yes, the same 154 that I needed to take over the San Marcos Pass.  "Gulp!"

No way to backtrack this far into the trip, and the shoulder was good, so I pressed on.  Before too long I intersected the turn-off to the 154:

The interchange looked brand new and opened up to a four lane highway with a good shoulder, so I still wasn't too worried.  However, the cars and trucks passing me were really moving -- 70 or more.

About two miles in, though, the shoulder pretty much disappeared as the road narrowed to two lanes, but the trucks and cars, with their fast running start were maintaining 70 as the road funneled.  Not fun.

Not possible to "take the lane" with a steady succession of vehicles overtaking me so quickly, and with a steady stream coming in the opposite direction as well, so all I could do was cling to the white line and my less-than-one-foot shoulder (where there was one).  Adding to the challenge was a succession of long rises with curves at the top, so there was no way for me to build any significant momentum, especially since I was consciously trying to not sway or rock as I climbed.

I got through two of the rises, after which there were slight respites in the form of ride-able shoulders on the short flats, but then there was this third climb:

Please notice the "Caution Truck Traffic" sign -- no kidding!  This was about half way up, where, thankfully, there was a rocky pull-off that I turned into right after two opposing trucks passed each other, and me, simultaneously, each going at least 65 mph.  The truck on my side came within inches, with no room to cross into the opposing lane.  As you look up, past the turnout, you can see the type of "shoulder" I was trying to navigate for a good 7 miles.  Here's a closer look:

This was getting way too hairy.  I only had a few inches of asphalt to work with and no margin of error with the steady stream of trucks flying by in both directions.

I looked back for a gap in the traffic and then sprinted hard for the top of the hill.  "Phew!"  Made it!

My reward for surviving this third, narrow, crucible, was a gorgeous overlook of Lake Cuyamaca:

Frankly, this is one of my favorite pictures that I've ever taken of my bike. Worth risking my life for?  Umm, no -- but cool nonetheless . . .

About a half mile further was the turnoff into Lake Cuyamaca State Park.  I decided to pull in, hit the General Store and re-group.  I used Google Maps to look at the satellite images of the rest of the trek up to the pass, and it didn't look like the road got any better.  The nice lady at the store backed up my visual observation, saying she thought it was crazy for anybody to bike this side of the pass.  That did it.  I was only 14 miles from Santa Barbara, and had biked 20 miles north of it along the coast on other visits, so had already crossed  the line, so-to-speak, when it comes to covering the whole Cali coast.  I was looking forward to the challenge of the 7 mile climb up San Marcos Pass and thrilling descent to follow, but with all the re-directed trucks, it just wasn't worth taking the risk.  Plus, I could always climb Old San Marcos Pass Road on the ocean side and get a better experience without the crazy traffic.

So, deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, I swallowed my pride and called Uber.  Not easy using the app to locate a vehicle big enough to accommodate me and my bike, but after a couple of dozen attempts, I managed to get, Mike, and his Toyota Sequoia.  He showed up in about half an hour and, a cyclist himself (who does Tour de France Fantasy with his club!), he reinforced my decision.  He said he and his club never went over the pass -- they'd climb the old road and cruise back down to Santa Barbara, but said the 154 to Solvang was avoided by even expert cyclists.  Nice to learn now.

Mike had me in downtown Santa Barbara in about 20 minutes where he dropped me at one of my favorite restaurants on the planet - The Palace - which may have the best Cajun cuisine west of Louisiana.  Their blackened filet-mignon with crawfish-laden pontchartrain sauce is heaven on earth -- especially for a somewhat defeated Bikeist.

With a little more time to kill before my train, it was off to Figueroa Mountain Brewing's Santa Barbara Tasting Room - practically across the street from the station.  More solace . . . 

Then it was the long eight hour journey back to San Diego wherein I had plenty of time to stew about the bum steer the Pacific Coast Biking "bible" had given me --

The authors had actually strongly recommended leaving the coast to bike through wine country to Santa Barbara, so I was a little bit peeved about following their advice so blindly.  With time to kill, and a convenient wi-fi connection on the train, I decided to try to contact the authors to register my complaint.  Within a few minutes, I had found a website for Tom Kirkendall's photo studio in Washington, which had an e-mail address.  So, I, politely e-mailed my story of the day's fiasco to Tom.

To my great surprise, he e-mailed me back within minutes!  Cool.  He apologized, saying that, if he did a new edition of the book, he intended to take out that recommendation.  Apparently, back in the day, he used to bike over the pass from Santa Barbara to get pastries and bike back - no problem.  Today, though, the traffic has gotten too constant for cars and bikes to share the route.

I shared the blog with Tom, and he actually, seriously, suggested that I consider taking on the writing of the next edition.  No kidding!  He even said he'd put in a good word with the publishers!  Not sure if I could swing it with the whole day job thing of making the planet safe for freedom-loving bikeists (and even non-bikeists) everywhere, but I have had so many friends encourage me to take up travel writing, that I might just give it a shot.  I plan on spending parts of the next two summers completing the route through Washington and Oregon anyway, so it might just be possible.

See Mr. Google!  I told you this blog would make me rich -- even if you don't want to share any of the massive profits my blog is surely bringing you.  I practically prop up the entire Google enterprise, and what do I get for it?  Well, I guess I do get the adoration of my loyal fan base, which, is, of course -- priceless.  I could still use a few extra bucks, though -- the $50 a pop from The Reader is nice, but it isn't exactly going to put my little bikeists through college.

Anyway, it looks like the Bikeist may actually be poised for the big-time.  May need to jazz up the title a bit, though.  How about, instead of "Bicycling the Pacific Coast," we call it "The Bikeist Devours the Pacific Coast (Except for 7 Harrowing Miles of the 154)."  Catchy, right?  Can't wait to pitch it to my new publisher!  Thanks, Tom!

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