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  • Writer's pictureBenji Pollock

Cali Coast

I was originally planning a bike packing route through the mountains of the bay area peninsula, but after learning about a big storm that was supposed to hit for the next 3 days, I decided I’d just go along the coast.

I woke up the morning I was supposed to leave with a terrible feeling in my gut. I felt weirdly uneasy about riding in the storm. I’m not sure what it was about, but one of the biggest things I’ve been working on on this trip is to trust my gut. It’s worked well for me so far. So, after juggling a few ideas and not being able to decide what to do, I thought about staying with Aakash for another day under the condition that this time I sleep on the floor (Aakash opened his bed up to me and wouldn’t let me sleep anywhere else, while he slept on the floor or in his roommates bed who then slept in another roommates room). Then I remembered that my friend Aliza had messaged me a few months ago telling me that her parents lived in Mountain View and that if I was planning on going through they would love to host me. I originally wasn’t going to Mountain View, as I was planning on riding the coast or the bike packing route, but I thanked her and filed it away in the back of my mind. Right after I let Aakash know that I may stay another night, I remembered, so I reached out to Aliza and got her mom’s number. I figured I’d give them a day’s heads up and head over tomorrow, but Marion told me that it would be easier to come over tonight, so I decided I would leave. Immediately the bad feeling was gone. Maybe if I didn’t follow my gut, I thought, I would have gotten into a crash or gotten hurt.

Leaving SF was harder than expected. No matter how often I have to leave friends or family to continue on, it never gets easier. Aakash and I used to spend hours upon hours together in the engineering building at school, distracting each other from work and sleep. He was always in one classroom by the entrance of the building (and I mean always – sometimes he would sleep there) so I knew that no matter what time I was leaving, there was a high probability that I’d be able to hang out with him for a bit. After our third year of school, he unexpectedly left Pitt for a better opportunity in San Francisco, and for a while I would still go back to the classroom to peak my head in before leaving the building. Partly out of habit, and partly because every time I did I was hoping he had showed up again. Being in San Francisco with him for so long got me stuck in the routine and expectation of seeing him all the time, so the thought of leaving was not a happy one. Plus, his roommates were incredible and I had such a good time with them too.

I left Aakash’s apartment in the afternoon, pushing back my departure as far as I could to squeeze out just a little more time with him. I ended up taking public transportation to the edge of the city so that I didn’t have to deal with the traffic and so that I could spend a bit more time with Aakash. The whole bike ride to Mountain View was through metropolitan areas, and the traffic was crazy, but most drivers were nice and respectful. There were so many damn Teslas out.

I got rained on for pretty much the whole ride. I showed up to Marion and Eric’s house a half hour later than I told them to expect me, dripping wet. Tonight was the first time I was able to say that I got held up in rush hour while on my bike. They welcomed me in, fed me a delicious dinner, and then we chatted for a while. I was so thankful for their last minute hosting, as it would have sucked to be in the rain and wind on the coast, or the mud and fog on the ridge-line. I spent the night reading through Aliza’s copy of our high school yearbook, reminiscing and feeling nostalgic.

I woke up a little later than expected, then had breakfast with Marion. After taking my time tidying and packing up, I hit the road. Rain was in the forecast for the whole day. When I left the house at 11am, there was blue sky peaking through the clouds, so I scoffed at the forecast and excitedly got on my way.

Today, I decided that cycling was too lame, so instead I took the struggle bus all the way to Watsonville. Everything seemed to be difficult today. I was slow, my knee was hurting again, the traffic was crazy, and I hit nearly every red light. Once I got onto a trail I looked at my GPS. 54 minutes moving, 1:32 trip time. I didn’t take a single break. The only time I had stopped was at lights and signs.

When I rode by an Apple office in Cupertino, I thought of my friend Elaine who works at Apple. I knew she didn’t work in California, but was blanking on which office she worked in. I gave her a call, telling her I was outside of an Apple office thinking about her and wondering where her office was when she told me she was in Cupertino for meetings. She got in yesterday, and was leaving tomorrow. Timing couldn’t have been more perfect, and my intuition to check where she was yielded the best results. I stopped by the office that her meeting was at to quickly catch up and give her a massive hug and then continued.

I got tired and sore pretty quickly. Not riding for a while will do that to you, I guess. I was slower than expected, and my ETA kept getting later and later. With 35 miles left I was hurting, and I hadn’t even hit the big climbs over the mountains yet. I texted my Warmshowers host, Laura, telling her that I was going slower than expected and would be getting in way past dark. “Don’t worry about me though! I have bright lights and motivational music to get me there!” I messaged her. I stopped for an extended lunch and then continued along a path that turned into a steep dirt trail and then a mud trail around a reservoir. The mud was so sticky I had to walk my bike because I couldn’t get traction anymore after it stuck to my tire.

I then started the major 2000ft climb. The road was beautiful, winding up the side of a mountain through redwood forests. In the middle of the climb, rain started, and then fog rolled in. I imagine having claustrophobia would not be fun out here. Between the giant redwoods surrounding me, and the fog closing down on me, I felt trapped. I went to turn on my lights, and realized that my front light, which has been on my bike for 3 months, had fallen off on the day I needed it most. Luckily, I had a headlight for when it got really dark.

I eventually turned onto another road and started downhill, thinking I was finished climbing, when I had to turn again to more windy steep climbing. The rain got really bad, the road quality was shit, and it was getting darker. I couldn’t wear my sunglasses to protect my eyes from the rain because they were too dark to have safe visibility, so I pushed through a horizontal rain hitting me straight in the eyeballs.

The sky was getting darker, and I kept on climbing. Eventually, a fog rolled in that was so heavy I could barely see right in front of me. I had no front light, and my headlight only illuminated a huge cloud of white in front of me, making my visibility even worse. The road was in terrible condition - narrow, no lane lines, no reflectors, and full of bumps, potholes, mud, wet leaves, and fallen sticks, all of which I only saw (and felt) as I rode over them. After winding up a road, I crested a hill. Hoping I was done climbing, I checked my altitude. I had finally summited. The way down, I hoped, would be easier.

It wasn’t. The fog got denser, the road got bumpier, and I got more scared. I knew I was descending into a canyon, and I knew there was drop off to the right of me, and I knew the road was incredibly windy. But I couldn’t see any of it. I could see about a foot in front of my front wheel, so I descended even more slowly than I climbed up the mountain.

A few times, I didn’t see a curve coming. There were no lane lines or road reflectors telling me which direction the road went, and if I hadn’t been riding at a snail’s pace, clutching my brakes the whole way down, I would’ve ridden right off the side of the mountain.

I then hit a patch of dirt that I didn’t see, and without knowing it was there and being able to brace for impact, I almost slid off the road. I stopped to collect myself and shout a few cuss words when I started to hear a crackling sound. The fog was so thick that all sounds were muffled, so I couldn’t locate the source of the sound. I quickly processed that it was a tree coming down, but not being able to tell where it was falling, I pushed my luck and stayed put. “How stupid would it be to ride into the falling tree?” I thought. I then heard a big boom behind me, so I rode forward as far as I could. SMASH! The tree hit the ground 10 feet behind me a second after.

I was getting really uncomfortable, so I started riding even more carefully. Cars kept passing me, and not a single person stopped to ask if the cyclist riding in the dark and dense fog on the side of a mountain in the rain was okay. I was overall okay, and didn’t expect anyone to stop, but up north, every second car would have stopped to check up on me. I guess that’s the difference between living in the middle of nowhere and living in California. Up north, if you don’t help that person in need, who will?

After the sketchiest ride yet, I got closer to the canyon floor and the road turned into well maintained, lane lined road, and I knew I would be safe. Once I hit a town, there were flat roads with bike lanes and lit buildings around me. I was hungry and wanted a snack, but I wanted a warm shower more than I wanted food, so I rode as quickly as I could to my host.

When I got in, Laura and her son Robin were there to greet me at the door. They lived on a small apple farm in a really cute town, and had a yurt in the backyard for me to stay in. I took a nice hot shower, hung my clothes up next to the fire to dry, ate dinner with them, talked to Laura about her cross country touring experience and living in the area while Robin listened to Harry Potter on tape, then played some games with Robin before his bedtime. Laura offered for me to stay an extra day to rest and wait out the remainder of the storm, but I told her I wanted to keep cycling. My friend Julia’s birthday was 9 days away in LA, and I wanted to make it in time to celebrate. I then went to take refuge in the yurt, where I fell asleep to the sounds of heavy rain on the roof and crazy wind gusts on the walls, grateful to have a roof over my head tonight.

I woke up to the sun shining through the yurt window. As I was heading over to the house to hang out with Robin before he went to school, I noticed I had a flat. I decided it was a sign that I should stay, so I went to the house to tell Laura that I’d like to take her up on her offer to take a day off to avoid the storm and let my knee recover. I ate breakfast, then returned to the yurt to write all day.

The yurt was the perfect creative haven - tons of natural light, a big open space to think openly, no distractions from wifi, and a wood burning stove for heat. I was extremely productive. Once I finished writing, I was talking to a friend on the phone when I saw something out of the corner of my eye through the door window. I looked at the door and saw nothing, so I kept talking. I then saw movement out of another window so I went to the door to see what it was. Robin was outside, patiently waiting for me to finish my phone call so he could get me to play. He had also brought me some treats. When we got to the house, Laura said “you must be a really special guy to get Robin to split his candy.” Apparently he got starburst and rice krispie treats from swim practice and made sure to bring it home so he could share it with me. This kid was so selfless and kind.

I played some board games and legos with Robin, and then we had dinner together. After talking to Daniel for a while, I went to play some Spanish Bingo with Laura and Robin for Robin’s homework. He’s in a dual immersion program, so 90% of his classes are in Spanish. He’s seven and nearly fluent in Spanish. The family lives in Watsonville, a small agricultural town with a large hispanic population, so his parents thought it was important for him to be immersed in another culture. While we were playing, Robin gave me a few quarters. “You should have these, there are four,” he said. He told me I should spend the money on food, before turning to Laura to ask, “how much money is this?” When she told him it was one dollar, he asked “is that enough?” and then gave me a few more dimes. After, he turned around to Laura holding a nickel and asked her how much it was. “5 cents,” she responded. “So if this was in dollars it would be five dollars?” Unsure of how to answer, Laura said “no, it’s in cents.” “So I can go buy a toy with this?” he asked eagerly. Laura looked at him sweetly and explained that it takes 20 nickels to make a dollar. Robin looked shocked. He had no idea what each coin was worth, but absolutely knew that he wanted me to have a stack of them. I was so honored by the gesture, because he had clearly been saving coins in his jar for a long time. After playing chess with Robin and Daniel, I went to bed.

I woke up at 8 to go say goodbye to everyone, but Daniel was heading out for work, Laura was gone doing errands, and Robin was already at the bus stop. I ran over to say goodbye to him, and he was shocked to see me. I think he was surprised that I knew where he was and that I would come all the way to say goodbye to him, and I could tell that he was processing the situation the whole time, but I gave him a hug and a fist bump goodbye, then ran back to the house to eat quickly.

I went back to the yurt to fix my flat, pack, and clean. Meanwhile, the elementary school next door was energized. Kids were outside playing all morning, and I could hear constant screams of joy and laughter, with fun, peppy music in the background. “This is exactly how kids should be raised,” I thought – cultural immersion, appreciation for the land they live on, appreciation for books, multilingual household, lots of time outside, happy music to listen to, and a constant influx of different guests to meet and learn from. Robin was a special kid, and I don’t think it happened by chance.

I then hit the road for Monterey. I felt great on the ride. After kicking myself for taking a wrong turn and going out of the way, I cruised from town to town, then onto a bike trail. I had recognized it from my cross country trip from Jacksonville to Monterey in 2015. We had taken the same trail in to hit the pacific at San Carlos Beach in Monterey. A crazy strong headwind slowed me down and got sand in my mouth and shoes.

People in the area were so friendly. I chatted with a guy while I ate lunch off to the side of the path, and then when I started riding, a cyclist from the oncoming bike lane shouted “you’re almost there!” Not knowing exactly where I was going, I shouted “thank you!” back to him and then laughed to myself. “Only more than 10,000 miles to go!” I thought. Another cyclist wished me happy travels as he passed me on my left. A pedestrian smiled and waved as I approached, and then shouted “have fun!” as I passed.

When I got to San Carlos Beach, where I finished my Bike and Build trip, I was incredibly nostalgic, so I sat down and watched the tides hit the stairs. The storm had caused a high tide warning, and there was no beach to walk on like I remembered, so I walked down the stairs to dip my hand in the water.

When I felt ready to continue, I headed to Kevin’s house, my Warmshower for the night. While walking up his sidewalk, my shoes made audible taps against the ground. He greeted me excitedly at the door, saying, “I could hear the clink of SPD cleats from a mile away!” We talked about music for a while. His wife is the booking manager of some of my favorite bands - Sylvan Esso, Cold War Kids, Dr. Dog, Vulfpeck. I laughed when he told me that, because I had listened to a lot of them on the ride in. After showering, we chatted for a while about photography and bikes. He has a beautiful bike collection, and a bunch of film cameras. He shoots exclusively film, and has an in house darkroom that he uses often and showed me how to use. We waited for another couple that he was hosting to get in. Harley and Juli were riding in from Santa Cruz, and got in right after dark. Harley was from Queensland in Australia, and Juli was from Southern California. We all ate dinner together (Kevin made delicious matzo ball soup that reminded me of home), and then talked for the night until going to sleep.

I woke up the latest, and then helped Kevin make breakfast. He made biscuits, dirty eggs, and sausage. We all ate breakfast together and then took our time getting ready. It rained a bit in the morning, so we hung out for a while and talked, and then Juli, Harley and I hit the road together just in time for strong winds and more rain. We decided to ride 17 mile drive through Pebble Beach. The houses were all huge and beautiful. Kevin had told us that because there is so much money in California, a lot of communities are having a hard time hiring public service workers, such as policemen and fire fighters. For most of these workers, the average wage is not nearly enough to afford a house in the areas they are supposed to protect, so they live outside and commute in, but the local governments want them to be an actual part of the community. Some local governments have decided to pay them a more competitive wage for that area, but they don’t have the budget for it and then go bankrupt.

Cars have to pay to drive 17 mile drive, but bikes don’t have to pay, so the bike path skirts around the pay station. I was amazed that rich people moved in, privatized the entire area, and then decided to charge people to come and see their expensive houses. What a slap in the face.

While we were riding, we saw a runner in the bike lane. He looked back and noticed us, so he ran to the side of the road. As I was passing him, I looked back to make sure I was clear and he looked incredibly familiar so I did a double take. I processed who it was. I pulled over to the side of the road in front of him and he looked like he was just going to run around me, so I shouted “Walker!” He gave me a funny look and I could tell he didn’t recognize me, so I reminded him who I was. “Oh wow!” he responded. “I’m surprised you recognized me. I would have never recognized you with the beard.”

Walker was a senior at my high school when I was a freshman. We were on the rowing team together, and everyone looked up to him. He was the best rower on the team, and had an uncanny ability to push himself to his limit. I was always amazed by his strength in practice, and always tried to push myself further physically because of him. He went on to row at Brown University and then joined the Marines, and then I lost track of where he was. It turns out, he was now at the military base in Monterey, and just so happened to time his long run perfectly with my ride out of town. We caught up briefly, but it was raining and windy so we both returned to doing our thing. What a weird happenstance.

We continued our ride, pushing through heavy rain, long climbs, and strong winds. Our longest climb on 17 mile drive ended in a beautiful, long downhill. None of us realized how much we had climbed until we rode the downhill. At the bottom of the hill, I stopped at the intersection to wait for Juli and Harley before turning off to a grocery store, and an older woman rolled down her window and shouted “move you nut!” I responded politely “bikes have a right to this road too. This is an official bike route and there are signs to share the road everywhere.” “It’s dangerous and there are rocks everywhere,” she shouted angrily, as if she wasn’t sure why she was angry but deep down was genuinely concerned about my safety. “Thank you for your concern, that’s why I was riding really carefully,” I assured her. “Well you held up traffic for 3 miles! I had my flashers on the whole time!” she shouted back. The downhill was about a mile, and I was probably cruising at 35 mph in the shoulder. “Ma’am, I was in the bike lane. You could have passed, but thank you for being patient.” She went on and on at me until a car came in between us and blocked her view of me. She started talking angrily about it with her husband in the driver’s seat. I started laughing and looked back towards the intersection when an older man crossing the road said, “well I like your low carbon footprint! Keep up the good work!” I laughed and told him I appreciated him.

After shopping and making lunch on the sidewalk of the shopping center, we hopped onto highway 1, where a tail wind helped us over big climbs. We stopped a few times to enjoy the views, and then stopped at Bixby Bridge to take some photos as the sun was setting. I leaned my bike up against a rock, and a few tourists went up and took pictures with it in front of the bridge. I thought it was funny, so I took a picture of them too.

We were still about 14 miles away from the closest open campsite, 8 miles away from a closed one that we could have probably stopped at in an emergency, and 3 miles away from a turn off that we hopefully could find a stealth camping area, so we left and got back to riding. As we were riding up a big climb, I looked back and stopped riding. Juli and Harley were about to ride around me to continue the climb when I told them to stop. They gave me confused looks but listened, and they were not disappointed. Behind us, arching from the ocean over the cliff, was a bright, beautiful rainbow.

We continued, and Harley noticed an opening in a fenced area, so he stopped to check it out. There were perfect, tent sized clearings throughout the brush off the side of the road, so we called it a night and stealthily set up shop. We cooked dinner, had good conversation, and then went off to our tents to sleep.

We woke up at about 7, broke down camp, and then ate breakfast together. We started the day with a big cold climb that crested as the road curved into the sun, and then had an amazing downhill. We shed a few layers and I put on some sunscreen. Juli asked me if I burned easily, to which Harley responded before I could even answer, “Of course! He’s a Ranga!” Aussies call ginger’s rangas, which is short for “Orangatan.” We all laughed.

We then smashed 10 miles with a tailwind. We stopped at a little restaurant to fill up with water and eat some snacks, and then continued. After we hit Big Sur, we climbed for ages through beautiful redwoods. Every time I saw a new curve in the road I thought it was the end of the climb. Every time I turned, the climb continued. At one point, I heard someone sneeze from lower down the mountain off the side of the road, so I shouted “bless you!” She couldn’t see me, and didn’t know who blessed her, so she confusingly responded “thank you.” Finally, we stopped at the parking lot of a general store to celebrate having finished the climb and take a break, when a guy came to tell us that “you’re almost there! Only about one mile left of the uphill!” This hill was a gift that kept on giving.

The long climb led to a long, windy, beautiful downhill. At a sharp turn, a wind gust got between me and the rocks to my left, and almost blew me off the cliff to my right.

The whole ride I could smell, hear and see the Pacific. The mountains fell into the ocean. Giant, jagged, knife like rocks jutted out of the sea, loudly slicing waves before they smashed into the sheer cliff in front of them. Birds glided on gusts created by the steep slopes. Cars wizzed by me as they passed.

We took a lunch break at McWay Falls. The wind was picking up, so we decided to go into the parking lot and set up a tarp to sit on while making food. A lady drove up to us, rolled town her window, and said “I like your style,” so I jokingly invited her to join us for lunch. She ended up coming by after to ask about what we were doing, and introduced herself as Terre. She asked what we were eating, so I showed her my peanut butter wrap and offered her a bite. She respectfully declined. I didn’t take it personally. When she found out about what I was doing, she went back to her car to bring me a snack package, and then left me her card.

We were packing up our food when a few more people in motorcycle gear came up to ask what we were doing. When I told them about my trip, they were amazed and went back to their friends to share. They said, in Hebrew, “Did you guys hear what he is doing?” So I turned around laughing and, in Hebrew, asked “where are you guys from?” They freaked out about how small the world is and that I knew Hebrew, we spoke for a little longer in Hebrew, and then Orit gave me her contact info, inviting me to stay with them in San Jose whenever I wanted. “That’s an honest offer,” she assured me. “You know Israelis, we say what we mean and we mean what we say.” I thanked her, and then we quickly hiked to McWay Falls before heading back. Juli and Harley wanted to camp out here, but I needed to go further today. When they felt the wind, and heard that the campsite there was closed, they decided to continue with me, so I decided to compromise and not go as far as I originally wanted. Now tomorrow will be 71 miles, and a ton of climbing, but I’ll get to spend one more night with these wonderful people.

We were heading for a national forest where we could wild camp for free. When I got to the turn off, I noticed the road to the forest had a crazy climb. I turned back and didn’t see the others, and realized that there was a developed campground, Kirk Creek Campground, that I passed that they had turned into. They had hiker biker camping for $5, so I ended my streak of never having paid to set up my tent and camped with them. We set up our tents right by the water, enjoyed the view, watched the sunset, and cooked dinner together. We would get to go to sleep to the sound of roaring waves. What could be better than that?

As I was peeing before getting into my tent, I was looking out at the hills to the right of my tent down to the ocean when three pairs of eyes flashed back at me in the light of my headlight. “What the fuck,” I said aloud. Juli and Harley heard me, and asked what had happened. When I told them, Harley suggested that they were raccoons. I scared them off and went to double check that the campsite was clean so they wouldn’t bother us. As I was walking back to my tent, I saw the eyes again in a field to the left of my tent, and could tell that they were raccoons, so I ran after them to chase them away. I went into my tent to read, and a few minutes later heard noises. I had a feeling it was the raccoons, so I shouted at them trying to scare them away. Then I heard the sound of plastic by where my bike was, so I got out and found a raccoon on my bike going through my bags. I had forgotten one empty granola bar wrapper, and the raccoon found it. I chased him away, moved my bike to the picnic table, and made sure everything was clean.

At 2:20am, I woke up to another noise, and then heard Harley and Juli talking. The raccoons were back, and once again on my bike. We chased them off, and then I had a hard time falling asleep, constantly hearing them walking around the campsite. I finally managed to relax and drift back to sleep.

I woke up early to the sound of the ocean, and opened up my tent doors to watch the sunrise and the waves. This, I thought, despite the raccoons, was worth the $5 to camp. After admiring my surroundings for a while, I packed up and made a quick breakfast while enjoying my last morning with Harley and Juli, and then took off early. I had a mountainous 71 miles ahead of me, and wanted to get to my Warmshowers host in Los Osos before dark.

The morning went smoothly, and I stopped in Gorda to fill up with water at a restaurant. There, a waiter warned me that the next 12 miles were all climbing and windy roads. I crushed the first 6 miles and thought, “wow, I’m in pretty damn good shape now, and my knee isn’t even hurting!” About a minute later, my knee started killing again, so I pulled over to stretch and snack. After the mountainous part was over, my knee was still really bothering me so I took some painkillers and pushed through it. I caught a tailwind in the flatter section and started cruising.

As I rode on a bridge over a river, I saw some big sandbags in the water. I initially figured they were there to somehow help with mudslides and floods. Then I saw one move. “It’s just the current,” I thought. Then another one moved. I paused my music and heard one of the ugliest noises I’ve ever heard, so I pulled over to look at what was going on. The whole river and beach were full of elephant seals, fighting, then getting tired and taking a break, then waddling for a few seconds then taking a break, then sinking into the water, then coming back up to take one ugly, loud, deep breath before depressingly sinking back down. They were fascinating creatures, so I watched them for nearly an hour before taking off again.

Once I got to Cambria, I knew most of the roads because of my time in the area over Thanksgiving. I exited the highway into Morro Bay to take a more scenic route for sunset. I rode along the beach on a bike path, and then went up through Morro Bay State Park for a higher view of the ocean. My detour added a bit of time, so I got to my host at 5:30, about 45 minutes after sunset, having to use my headlight as a front light because I had lost my bike front light. In a sort of sadistic, karmic revenge, throughout the day I saw 3 different raccoons dead on the shoulder of the road.

When I got to the house, David was there to greet me. I put my bike away, we talked about his time hosting, and then he took me on a tour of the place. He put me up in a basement apartment. By the time I had showered and put my clothes in the laundry, David’s partner Richard had gotten back from a talk in Salinas with a Rainbow alliance group. They took me out for dinner to a Mexican restaurant, and we chatted all night about our lives and the area. David and Richard met 10 years ago. David was married and had a kid. Richard worked a few different jobs before buying his home in Los Osos and going to school for nursing. They now lived together in Los Osos and cycle toured all over, and host cycle tourists all the time. We went back home, and Richard helped me fix some mechanical issues I was having. We talked for a bit longer, and when I told Richard about losing my light in the Santa Cruz mountains, he said “I’m sure you’re worried about weight, but I have a bulky old light that I don’t use anymore if you want it.” I took him up on the offer, because the prospect of riding two long days back to back without a light scared me.

In the morning, I woke up to an already prepared crepe and fruit breakfast, and sat down to breakfast with David and Richard. After breakfast I packed up and then chatted with David and Richard for a bit longer. David owns a cabin by Yosemite, and used to work in the valley during the climbing hay-day. He had met a bunch of the biggest pioneers of climbing, and participated in the Valley Uprising riots.

After chatting for a while, I hit the road at about 11:30. I only had 45 miles to ride, so I wasn’t in too much of a hurry. The ride took me through valleys and canyons, past farms and ranches. The day was overcast and chilly, and it was raining on and off. I pulled over at a farm to have lunch and then kept going. My shifting was really acting up, so I knew I’d have to get a new chain. I also had a slow leak in both of my tires, so I had a lot of maintenance to do when I got into town. I got to a bike shop right before dark to get a new chain, and then headed straight for my friend Laura’s house.

Laura and I went to Pitt together, and she went to high school for a year with my cousin. We both love her dearly, and when I was riding through Oregon, I got a text from her saying she lived in Santa Maria and that if it made sense I should come stay with her. I decided to go down the coast, so it ended up working out perfectly. We caught up, I showered quickly, and then we went to grab dinner together.

When we got back, we hung out with all of her roommates. Laura works as a set designer for PCPA, a community theatre in town. All of her roommates, Britt, Allison, and Bella, are actresses and either work or study at PCPA. They are all incredibly funny, so we laughed and joked around together all night.

My goal was to get to LA two days after my arrival in Santa Maria for my friend's birthday. My knee was bothering me again, my bike needed a bunch of work done to it, and the weather forecast was looking grim - grey, rainy, and 30 knot headwinds - so I knew I wasn’t even going to make it to LA in time if I left the next day. I decided to take a day off and enjoy their company a little longer while waiting out the storm, fixing my bike, and resting my knee.

I woke up in the morning to do some work, and then Laura’s roommate Allison took me to Pismo Beach. We grabbed pizza from Domino’s on the way. When I went in to pick up our pizza, the Steelers game was on inside, so I stuck around to watch the rest of the drive. When the Steelers scored a touchdown, I cheered and then got a look from the staff. When I left, Allison asked me what took so long, so I told her about the game. “On a Wednesday?” She asked. I paused, and was also confused. I double checked the day of the week. I looked on Google and realized that it was a replay from Sunday’s game. I probably got looks in Domino’s because I was cheering for a replay that I thought was live, with no idea what date or day of the week it was.

When we got to the beach, it was overcast and chilly, so we ended up leaving because we got too cold, but it was so nice to spend some time on the beach.

We got back home and spent the night with the roommates again. I was supposed to have a day off from exercise, but they all consistently put me on the floor laughing in agony. I knew my core would be sore the next day. Each one of them had such a big and positive personality, such an incredible sense of humor, and such a love for life. It was refreshing to laugh so hard.

I wanted to get on the road at 9, because I had 76 miles to ride to Santa Barbara, but ended up having to fiddle with my bike more so I started riding at 10:30. It was again overcast and rainy, but I rode on highway 101 for most of the day, so between a slight tailwind and the slip stream from cars passing by, I was able to keep pretty good pace. I got off the highway to ride through Los Alamos, home of five time world champion steer wrestler, Luke Branquinho. I didn't actually know that before and that wasn’t why I rode throug. There were just signs everywhere proudly announcing that this small town had some claim to fame.

As I pulled into town, someone rolled down their window to ask me what I was doing. He didn’t believe me, and the look on his face was priceless. This was becoming a common occurrence. I had to ride through the dark for a bit, but now that I had a powerful light from Richard, I wasn’t too worried. My Warmshowers hosts for the night were Lewis, Marianne, and her mother Irene. Marianne had texted me telling me she lived on top of a big hill with a fountain in the front, so I knew I was in for a treat. Their driveway was so steep that I had to walk up, and I showed up at the door dripping sweat. Marianne greeted me at the door and laughed, because that’s how everyone shows up to her door. I showered, and then had a beer with them before a nice dinner.

When Marianne sent me her number, I realized it was a Philadelphia area code, so I asked her where she was from. They had lived in West Chester, just 20 minutes from where I grew up, working for Dupont. Their daughter had also gone to Pitt. What a small world.

When Marianne and Lewis retired, they moved to Santa Barbara to be with family. They picked up cycling recreationally, and one day while riding they saw a guy riding a fully loaded touring bike. They asked him what he was doing, so he told them all about his trip and about how he was heading to his Warmshowers host. They loved the idea, so they signed up 15 months ago and have since hosted over 100 people. Marianne also volunteers at a local bike co-op, so they’re pretty involved cyclists. It was such a treat to stay with them.

We had salmon for dinner (my favorite) and then I sat in the hot tub on the porch with Lewis, looking out at a beautiful view of the mountains, stars, and ocean. We chatted for ages. Lewis was a researcher, then research manager, then the business manager of a Dupont company that sold automotive paint for repairs. McKinsey had been hired for $3 million to make a model to predict the revenues of this business, spent months, and the report they came back with was that the business was too complicated to model. As the business manager, Lewis was able to create a model in about an hour that predicted, to 99.9% accuracy, the revenues of this business. It ended up ultimately making the company billions in a company sale.

He’s an incredibly smart guy, so it was fun to pick his brain and try to understand his thought process. He had a very successful career, and was proud of what he had done for himself, but always kept his roots in mind. Lewis is one of five, and grew up in poverty in San Jose. Without help from the state of California, he told me, he has no idea what would have happened to his family. There were 6 years where 4 nights a week, he stayed and ate at a friends house because he couldn’t stay or eat at home. Now, he regularly welcomes people in need into his life.

In high school, he was a roofer. His plan was to graduate and start roofing full time - he was good at it, he had experience, and it paid pretty well. One day, a state counselor came to his school to talk to some star students about going to college. He initially rejected the idea, because he already had a plan, but the counselor kept pushing, convincing him to at least give a local community college a try. Lewis realized that college was right for him, and went on to study at UCLA and Harvard. To this day, he doesn’t even know the name of that counselor, but says he changed his life in a single 30 minute conversation. So when he thought about moving back to California and realized the taxes would be significantly higher, he decided that he was more than happy to pay those to be back in California – the state had taken care of his family, helped put food on his table, and sent him to school. Taxes, he told me, were just his way of paying back the state for all that it did for him.

This is why doing good and being generous is so important. One small gesture from you could mean the world to someone else, and completely change their lives. Selflessness is a fire that spreads quickly and powerfully. There needs to be more in this world.

Lewis and I completely lost track of time talking in the hot tub. We got really hot, so we got out. He started closing up the hot tub and I asked him if I could help and he told me not to worry about it and to have a good night. It looked like he started latching up the other side of the hot tub, so as I was walking inside I said goodnight and thanked him again for having me, to which he responded very quietly, “it’s a pleasure to have you.” The lightness of his voice surprised me, so I turned back as I watched him collapse, I ran to him and managed to catch his head before it hit the ground. I realized that he wasn’t latching the hot tub, but was incredibly light headed and leaning on the hot tub to try and get his blood pressure back up. I was too stupid to notice earlier. I took care of him while he was on the ground, then ran inside to get him water and a cold towel. After he was feeling better, we came inside and went to bed.

I woke up in the morning to have breakfast before Marianne and Lewis left early for an exercise class, and then hung out with Irene for a bit. When Marianne and Lewis first bought the house, they were still in West Chester, and asked Irene, Marianne’s mom, to stay and watch over the place. Her plan was to move to a retirement home once they moved in, but when they retired, Irene was really enjoying the place so she asked to stay. Marianne and Lewis happily welcomed her, and built an extension to the house to give her more space.

After chatting with Irene, I packed up. Before leaving, she gave me a big bag of cookies for the road. I started riding at 9am, and had to get to Santa Monica, 92 miles away. Within 15 miles, my knee was killing me again, and became sore to the touch, so I changed up the geometry of my bike once again before getting back on the road. While I was stretching, cyclists stopped to check up on me, and people came up to me to ask what I was doing. It was fun to chat with everyone.

I took a lunch break on a pier by the beach. Because I had such a long day, I took out my stove to cook a proper meal. I got a lot of funny looks for doing so. One guy, Ian, rode over on his bike to question what I was doing, and we started talking for a while. He was just getting into bikepacking, and knew the area pretty well, so I got his email to follow up with him for bikepacking route advice.

All day, people pulled over to question what the heck I was doing. I guess my bike packing set up is even more weird to see in cities. Most of the road was along the beautiful coast. Anderson .Paak, one of my favorite artists, is from LA, and names all of his albums after places in the LA area, so as I rode through each of them I listened to the namesake album.

I ended up having to stop for a second lunch to get through the day, so I got into the city at 6:30pm, well past dark. The ride in was quite scary - there was barely any shoulder for much of the last 20 miles, and rush hour made people crazy drivers. I found bike paths for the last few miles, rolled up to Leigh’s house in Santa Monica to leave my stuff for the night, and then took the Metro to USC to celebrate my friend’s birthday. There was no way I was going to ride through the city at night. Surprisingly, even after only 13 hours of sleep in the past two days and a 92 mile day, I was able to go out until 3 in the morning. I wasn’t sore and I wasn’t too tired, and marked it as a solid indicator of my current fitness level.

While in LA I hung out with Leigh and her family, stayed for a dinner party, and went for a mountain bike ride with Leigh and her dad Hanan. I got to meet a bunch of Leigh’s friends, and went for a walk and coffee with her and her friend Kalina. While we were walking I saw someone that looked familiar with a cute dog. I stopped to pet the dog and try to figure out who it was, but couldn’t. When I rejoined Kalina and Leigh, Kalina asked if I knew who it was. When I told her I couldn’t figure it out, she told me it was Mindy Sterling, who I knew from Austin Powers. LA is full of famous people, and she was the first and only famous person I saw. I also grabbed drinks with my friend Lindsay that I worked at REI with, and went to the beach with my friend Kelly who went to Pitt and did the same Bike and Build route as me two years later.

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