Saturday, January 6, 2018

SF to LA: Kicking off 2018 by knocking out goal #1 (day 1)

Riding through Malibu on Hwy 1, five miles from the finish of the longest two day epic bike ride of my life, just as I was reflecting on how incredible it was to have covered 473 miles, much of which was on hwy or freeway with no flats, I felt that dreaded squish in the back wheel of my bike. No joke, RIGHT as I was thinking how impressive my tires were to wistand all that abuse, RIGHT THEN I got the only flat tire of the ride. It's all about timing, right?

And I guess that's the theme of this ride and blog, because although it may seem like a success in the sense that we made it from SF to LA in 2 days, the timing could not have been worse, turning it from an attempt at the fastest coastal route ride to simply a point to point achievement. 

This whole thing started with Dave Koesel's stupid** peak to peak challenge, the 200 mile solo ride I did a few months. After accomplishing that ride with little preparation, and feeling really good at the end, I couldn't help thinking 'what next?' And the obvious leap my mind took was, ride your bike home from Christmas break! Of course! If you can ride 200 miles with 15,86 ft ascent, why not try 460.8 with 24,440ft ascent? That is the next logical option, right?

So I concocted a plan to ride south along the coastal route faster than any woman has ever done it before, but then the first wrench was thrown in my spokes, Brendan didn't support the idea. He said it was too dangerous, that he cared about me too much to let me ride through the night on a hwy, and that it was a bad idea. As much as I disagreed, he IS the brains of the family, so I had to respect his wishes. Plus he was my most logical choice of follow vehicle driver, so I kinda needed him on board.
The next cure ball came with the weather. After a full week of cold but sunny days in Bodega Bay, the forecast started showing a rain storm moving in for Weds-Friday of week 2 of winter break. I wanted to complete the ride on week days, over winter break because it's off season for tourists, and week day traffic is probably lower than weekend traffic on Hwy 1. Even over 2 days the ride would still require many hours pedaling in the dark, so we wanted as little traffic as possible, but being limited to week days meant head winds, rain and epic fog. 

Roadblock number 3 was a literal one, the landslide in Big Sur. When I get an idea, like doing Dave Koesel's twin peaks challenge, or riding from SF to LA, I have a REALLY hard time waiting to get it done. My impatience nagged and nagged, and I was convinced that the best time to do this was RIGHT NOW, ASAP! I think this also stems from a fear that if I put it off it will never happen, but regardless, I just couldn't handle waiting for the landslide to be cleared. Plus the little research I did made it seem like the rd could be closed for years. Intel from a friend who did the ride the week before was that when the guard leaves at dusk you can hike across the landslide, so that's what I planned to do. When we mapped it out it looked like I would get to the slide area at dusk, so it seemed like a good idea, at the time. 

Bad timing aspect #4 was self imposed. In the final week of 2017 I went a little bonkers and decided to ride 500 miles. I just really wanted to do some classic NorCal rides, you know my favorite loops like King Ridge, and coincidentally the miles added up to 500 in a week, a first for me. But as good as it felt to check that off the bucket list and to see all my favorite places/eat my favorite pastries, it was WAY too much riding for the week before this SF to LA thing, and my legs were already shot before I even started. 

So Thursday morning at 4am my alarm goes off, I jump out of bed in the van, throw on a kit and  next thing I know I'm rolling down the coast in SF. It was damp and dark, but surprisingly warm, so soon after the start I shed my rain jacket. Also soon after the start I started to not feel so great. My legs hurt, and my heart wasn't in it. My bike started shifting funny so I waved Brendan down (he wanted to follow me in the van while it was dark out) and had him look at the bike. Then I pushed the negative thoughts aside and tried to focus on the big picture. 

In some tunnel near SF in the dark early morning hours. I like tunnels. 
The miles didn't exactly tick by quickly, especially for the first 2 hours in the dark, but eventually the sun came up and I was riding through the beautiful towns of Half Moon Bay and Pescadero. The going was slow since the wind was coming from the south (which it NEVER DOES EXCEPT THIS ONE DAMN DAY), but I just kept telling myself the wind would probably shift, and to be grateful it wasn't raining, plus the stormy skies made for some great scenery. 
It was a struggle to get to my first stopping point to meet up with Brendan, to pound an espresso and grab a breakfast sandwich in Aptos. The wind pushed back for the entirety of the first 80 miles, and I could only tell myself lies about feeling good for so long. It would be dishonest to say I didn't feel like quitting many many times in the first 5 hours. Seeing Brendan, the caffeine and the solid food did me good though, and once I was rolling again my spirits were much higher. 

This kids is where your strawberries come from!
Outside of Aptos I rode through fields of strawberries in tight little canyons on narrow roads with great protection from the wind. But as soon as the landscape opened up closer to Monterrey the wind resumed it's assault on my progress, constantly pushing back as I pushed forward. I used the navigation setting on my Garmin to know where to go, which is great because the turn by turn directions let me take side streets to avoid the loud, busy, dangerous sections of hwy 1 into Monterrey. The back roads through the agricultural land had NO protection from the wind though, and at one point I was going so slowly it felt futile to continue. Again, I wanted to quit. I wanted Brendan to drive the van in front of me to block the wind, I wanted to hitch hike. It sucked. 
Bike path into Monterrey, so so pretty and the bluest sky I would see all day.
But eventually, slowly, I made to to Monterrey, and Carmel, and finally to the really iconic beautiful stretch of coast between Nor and Socals. 

Brendan was supposed to meet up with me somewhere on Hwy 1 about 80 miles south of Aptos, so I could refill waters, and grab an external battery for my Garmin and phone. He must have over-napped though because I rode for hours and hours without seeing the van. Every turn I came around I expected to see it in a pull out, but nope, never a giant white Sprinter. I ran out of water and shot him a text. I texted again an hour later. Nothing, no reply or sign of him. I got worried he was in a car accident, or that the van broke down. I got angry and frustrated that I had been out of water so long. I got stressed and anxious that my devices would die. And all the while I pushed into the stupidest headwind that continued to pummel me all the way down the coast. I had to push hard on every descent because the wind wanted to make every foot of progress miserable. The climbs became my only refuge as they sometimes were sheltered from the south blowing beast. 

Similar to the last photo, but the Big Sur coast is just endless stunning beauty.
Eventually I couldn't take the stress anymore, and I pulled over to ask some tourists if they had extra water. I was near tears with desperation and I could feel my power slipping away with the hours of dehydration. Thankfully the first people I asked had water to spare and I was elated to receive a whole bottle. 

 After my almost break down I rode through Big Sur towards the roadblock in Gorda in a trance like state. It was pretty and I was tired and I didn't really care about anything at all. Eventually Brendan texted me saying he was on his way, and when I was almost to the roadblock he drove past and stopped so I could grab more food and water. 

I ate half Brendan's sandwich and about 50 butter cookies while we talked about the roadblock situation. It was only 4pm, WAY too early to try to cross as the guard was said to leave at dusk. I decided to use the alternate route as not to waste an hour and a half waiting for the guard to leave, but Brendan would scope it out and come get me if the coast was clear. 

At this point I was 200 miles into the day, and our phones told us it was 50 miles to Paso Robles if I went up and over Nacimiento Ferguson road. I have NO idea how I tricked my mind into just riding up that damn hill, but somehow I was just doing it, just turning pedals and not questioning what I was doing. The climb was STUNNING, like I'm almost glad I was forced to go around stunning. When I got about 500 ft up the fog cleared to this gorgeous mountain with a narrow road carved into the side, snaking up through the clouds and trees. It just felt good going uphill so for the hour I was climbing all was right with the world. 

I got to the top just as the last light left the sky, and with no Brendan in sight (I thought he would catch me before I got to the top) and was forced to descend the wet, sketchy, steep, twisty backside of Nacimiento alone. At some point on the descent I passed a military something or other gate and stopped, kinda freaked out because it was pitch black and the fog just reflected off my lights so it was hard to see where I was going. I ate the rest of the sandwich while looking at a map, and decided my only real option was to keep riding in hopes of finding a town. Again I worried that Brendan had been in a car accident, or that the van died, but I was almost looking forward to the excuse that I had to rescue him and that's why I didn't finish. 

When I finally figured out that I was in Fort Hunter Liggett, and starting to see signs of civilization Brendan drove up and I was so so happy. I was also so so over it. I wanted to get in the van and drive home, but I stifled my constant thoughts of quitting and told myself I just had to get to the 101. Brendan drove behind me for the next 15 miles (which was mostly a gradual climb, so very very slow) and when we got to Bradley I declared that I was done with bikes and the ride and I wanted to pull the plug. 

What I found odd was that Brendan didn't really give me the option to quit. Brendan Connors, who I fully expected to say, ok, if that's how you feel, just kinda never let me have that option. Instead somehow he got me to agree to riding 15 more miles to Paso Robles while he drove to In-n-out to get us burgers and fries. I spent that 15 miles convinced that I was done, planning how I would ride mtb with Brendan in Santa Barbara the next day, and drink Black Horse coffee instead, of how comfortable that all sounded. 

When I met up with Brendan 15 miles later I gushed about how awful the day was, how windy, the detour, the suffering. I stuffed my face with fries and a cheese burger animal style and a Neapolitan shake. I swapped the wet, cold chamois for warm dry pajamas and crawled into bed with my socks on, and was instantly out like a light. 

This is already epic-ly long. I am going to bed, day 2 will have to wait for tomorrow :)

**tongue in cheek stupid, as in I loved it so much but I was really a ridiculous ride/idea. 


  1. Man, you're super human and a true inspiration... You are very impressive!! Thanks for the write up...