Monday, September 24, 2012

Ride the West - Day 23, Marina del Rey California to Costa Mesa California

Our dinner last night was a final banquet, a sharing one more time of a meal between friends. It was a low-key, but special time, followed by a song from Tracey and a slide show from the staff.

Today we had an easy ride to the end. Michael Louis, a rider from our 2010 across the country trip joined us for the day. I rode with him, Baltimore Mark and Joe for the 50 mile day. In fact, we had quite a large number of us ABB riders forming a long line while riding the bike paths today. Most of the day was spent riding moderately slowly along the 25 miles or so of bike path following the beach. It was not to be a day of work, but a day of easy riding. Michael would endear us with his jokes and stories, leading us along the route which he knows so well.

Michael Louis

We passed through some very nice areas of greater Los Angeles and some quite industrial areas too. The variations in the homes were vast. Some of the roads were quite busy and others were void of any other traffic.

Along one of the bike paths

We finally arrived at the last SAG and then on to the last hotel. It was to be an anti-climatic ending to a phenomenal trip. We arrived at the hotel to take a shower, clean and pack our bikes, say some goodbyes and head out for dinner with the remaining riders.

Our last SAG

What can be said after another adventure? There is something very special about doing a long distance bicycle trip that I wish more people could realize for themselves. The camaraderie within this diverse group of people is enormous. We are a group of isolated souls who really only have a few things in common: the love of cycling, the enjoyment of hard work and the satisfaction of the accomplishment of the day's ride. We come from every walk of life, from far corners of several countries, but yield an instant bond with one another. A simple look with an unspoken word, while climbing or descending beside your fellow cyclist speaks volumes. We know what we each are thinking. We help each other in challenges and share in the rewards. We are not just cyclists, we are cycling adventurers.

Today marks the last day of my latest adventure. The ride started in what seems like an eternity ago, in a far-away place called Astoria Oregon. We rode 21 days in gorgeous weather and had 2 days off, finally arriving in Costa Mesa California. The number of miles ridden was 1,433 and the feet climbed was 74,472. We saw incredible scenery, beautiful coastlines, gigantic trees, long hills, ripe vineyards, endless crops, smooth bike paths, enormous bridges, fast highways, lonely roads, slow rivers, crashing ocean waves, wild animals, large spiders, small towns and large cities. Every day was so unique, yet so enjoyable. We looked forward to each day's ride as we knew there would be unusual and interesting sights to be found. Unlike cycling across the country, this was an adventure to be taken in small sips, like drinking a fine wine, and drink it in we did.

I wish to thank my wife Aila, for her support in my adventures. My next cycling adventure will be with her, in Europe. I also wish to thank my fellow stooges (Joe and Mark) who I have shared many a mile with (about 6,000). We have depended on each other, far more than most people will ever know. At times, each of our lives are in the other's hands. You guys are the best. I wish to thank the staff of ABB for putting on an incredible and safe trip. It's amazing how you are able to get us through, safely to the end.

Let see what the next adventure brings.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ride the West - Day 22, Oxnard California to Marina del Rey California

The end of the ride is within sight. We started the day, in beautiful weather, with only 53 miles to cycle and the thoughts of the ride coming to its close fresh in our minds. The day's ride would take us along the coast once again. We started out from the uninteresting city of Oxnard. This would not be a place I would ever consider living in.

Tracey, Mike, Karen and Jeff - team Roark

Along the route, we rode by a Naval station, which had old missiles on display. The obligatory pictures where our backs were lined up with the trajectory of the missile were made. Gary and I were to ride the whole day together, and this was one of the several stops that we decided to make.

Part of the old missile display

We rode much of the day along the busy Pacific Coast Highway, which was quite the adventure. Cars were fairly careful as they passed us by. We additionally had to navigate past a string of parked cars, hoping that they would not be opening their doors into us. Other cyclists also made it into the mix, ensuring that we had to watch out for pretty much anything.

Along the Pacific Coast Highway

For about 15 miles we endured the dense mixture of moving and parked cars, until Gary and I stopped somewhere near where his sister lives. While Gary made a call to try to connect with her, in the walking overpass near us, I spied 2 youngsters holding up some type of sign. I waved at them and they waved back. Once Gary got off the phone, unsuccessfully making his call, he noticed the youngsters as well and exclaimed “Those are my nieces!”. They knew he was riding by that day and had prepared the “Hi Uncle Gary” sign they were holding up. After a quick meeting with us, we then continued on our ride to the bike path that took us along Venice Beach.

You can see Gary's nieces in the overpass

Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier have been in numerous television shows and movies. It contains a bike path that is used by more than just cyclists. Everyone is either walking, running, skating, boarding or riding along it. It has a dusting of sand over it as it is adjacent to a beautiful, wide beach that follows the ocean. Expensive properties are built with views of the entire area.

The bike path along Venice Beach

Gary and I stopped for a quick lunch. By that time, several other riders caught us and joined in as well. As we had plenty of time to spend, we sat, talked and watched the people go by. There was quite the variety to choose from, including a man who rode a bike with a large parrot sitting on his handlebars, to a woman that tried to ride a 3 wheel bike with her helmet on backwards. I called over to her and once I mentioned the problem, she figured out that she needed to turn it around.

The Santa Monica Pier

We finished the ride along Venice Beach and past the Santa Monica Pier and made it to the hotel with plenty of time. Tonight we had our banquet and said our speeches, as tomorrow we just have the last 50 miles to ride. Everyone will go their separate routes once they get to the hotel, where the ride ends. Some of us, like Baltimore Mark, Joe and me, will spend one more night as we have to get our bikes ready to return. It's too late to get a flight until the next day.

Along Venice Beach

Let's see what tomorrow brings.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Ride the West - Day 21, Solvang California to Oxnard California

Another great cycling day was accomplished today. We started out from Solvang, a Danish style town in Central California. Last night for dinner, we had a smörgåsbord, which I liked. Some of the other riders were not too thrilled, but you can't please everyone all of the time.

Leaving Solvang

Today we started out with a long climb starting after a few warm-up miles. This was to be one of the last real climbs of the trip, as we only have 2 days left and I think we will be mostly riding along the coast. Joe and I rode the day together and near the start of the climb, we saw our first tarantula crossing the road. We had to stop and get a photo. They are quite fast and can jump, so we didn't dare get too close.

Tarantula sighting

We continued up the long climb and I went on a bit ahead. I missed the turn that takes us off the main road to the closed road that we were supposed to take. Joe yelled at me and also called my cellphone, but I never heard either. The limits of friendship can be defined by whether one is willing to chase the lost soul up a long hill of climbing. Joe drew the line there. There would be no chasing me down. I have to admit, I wouldn't have chased Joe up the climb either if the situation was reversed. I noticed that I missed the turn after about 1/3 mile and rode back down to the correct turnout.

Still climbing

After a few more miles of climbing on the closed road, Joe and I reached the top. The descent was supposed to be steep and very technical, with lots of turns along the way. It turns out that the descent was broken into 3 parts, that got us into the outskirts of Santa Barbara. The 1st part was steep and only about a mile. We had to be braking hard the whole way down this part, as the road was poor. Once we made the turn to the 2nd part, we were on a busy road, but able to cruise along at 40 mph until we hit the 3rd and final part.

Standing at the edge of the cliff overlooking the roads to Santa Barbara

The 3rd part of the descent was incredible. The twists and turns were extreme, with some 270 degree turns. There were road signs that said 5 mph maximum and they meant it.

One of the many steep turns on the descent

These turns were on sharp slopes that would have been over 30% down. The views along the route were outstanding. All in all, it was a memorable descent.

View from the descent

Joe and I then rode through the streets to get us onto the bike path that helps to get us partway into Santa Barbara. It's a pretty city with lots to do and has a beach. The water temperature here, is the starting point where it is acceptable. This is where the warm water that flows up from the south and the cold water that flows down from the north meet. Anything south of here is swim-worthy.

Along Cabrillo Blvd, in Santa Barbara

After riding along Cabrillo Blvd, which runs along the ocean through Santa Barbara, Joe and I caught up to Toronto Mark (who left Solvang 45 minutes early), “The Duchess” (who rode in the truck until the climb was almost over) and Karen Bauer (who works for ABB). Karen joined Joe and me and we headed off at a quick pace. We came across the Santa Barbara Polo Club, which was hosting a polo match, so we stopped and talked with the locals who were eager to explain the game.

Watching a polo match

After leaving the polo game, Karen, Joe and I rode to the 2nd SAG and refueled. By this time we were in Carpinteria. Joe and I headed out and found that part of the ride was along the bike lane of the busy highway 101 itself. It was noisy as the cars and trucks sped along beside us.

Bike lane along the busy Highway 101 South

It wasn't long before Joe and I were back on the much more quiet Route 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway. Along this route, many camper trailers like to line up and park there for days or even weeks at a time. It is unofficially known as Redneck Riviera. You could smell the burgers cooking as you rode by.

Redneck Riviera

One item on my wish list for this ride was to eat at In-N-Out Burger at least once. It's been a 1300 mile search, but we finally found one when we were entering Santa Barbara. However, it was too early to eat, so Joe and I skipped it. I was hoping that we would find another one sometime, as they are kind of rare. As we entered the main strip in Ventura, Joe yelled out and sure enough, we saw it in front of us. I had the Double-double with cheese and a chocolate shake. The wish was satisfied as was my now full stomach.

Finally -- yumm

After this well received lunch, we rode the last 12 miles to the hotel in Oxnard.

Let's see what tomorrow brings.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Ride the West - Day 20, Santa Maria California to Solvang California

Today we finally had the opportunity to start riding with only 1 layer of clothing, however I didn't trust it and so I also wore my jacket on top. By the 7th mile I was quick to remove it, as it was starting to make me boil. I guess, starting tomorrow, I will be willing to dress lighter than the usual amount, for the last 2 weeks.

Today was to be a short cycling day, as far as mileage is concerned, however we certainly took our time riding the 42 miles into Solvang. Baltimore Mark, Joe and I targeted 3 wineries that we wanted to sample some wine at, that were mostly along the way. As we made our way out of Santa Maria, we passed more crop fields growing various vegetables, including green and red peppers.

Green and red peppers

Along the route, some others saw large tarantulas crossing the street. Joe and I were at the front of the riders, and we never came across any, much to my dismay. However, Toronto Mark and Baltimore Mark came across a really fast one crossing the road. They stopped for a picture and lay down near it in this street, to get a good look. They didn't realize that these large tarantulas are really fast and can also jump quite far. Phyllis came along and warned them, probably just in time. Once at the SAG stop, they shared their exciting tale with the rest of the group, just as we saw a wild boar go running across the street into the adjacent field. This boar must have been about 300 pounds, and was quite fast.

Baltimore Mark getting a bit close to the Tarantula (photo credit Toronto Mark)

After the SAG, we continued with the climbing that had started some miles earlier. The top came after a few more miles, with a nice downhill run. Along the downhill, I came across the Fess Parker Winery and stopped for a visit. Baltimore Mark and Joe came up a bit later and stopped too. We went inside with one goal in mind for the day: to see if we can talk our way into getting a free sample, instead of paying the tasting fee these wineries normally charge. We weren't interested in trying several wines as we had to ride many more miles. Our schmoozing seemed to work on Jack, the Fess Parker Winery server, and he let us choose a wine to be sampled. By this time, Toronto Mark and “The Duchess” came in and participated in our clever schmoozing strategy.

At Fess Parker Winery - Jack on the right serving us a sample

After our free sample, we headed off to the next winery on our list, the Curtis Winery. When the 3 of us arrived, we saw Toronto Mark and “The Duchess” already heading out. It was way too fast for them to have tried any wines. The sign outside said closed, but Joe did some investigation and found that it really was open. It was only the sign that was wrong. We went inside and tried our schmoozing strategy once again, as we were starting to feel like we were becoming good at this. Nancy, the Curtis Winery server, fell victim to our clever talk, and also poured us a free sample too.

Nancy at Curtis Winery serving us a free sample

The 3 stooges were on a roll, so we were then off to out next victim – um winery, Firestone. The Firestone Winery was about a mile off the route, so we were hopeful this ride wouldn't be in vain. We did the climb up to the main building and went inside, feeling that we could be successful once again. I'm sad to say, that schmoozing does not work at Firestone and we left empty handed and kind of bummed out, saying “I guess we won't be buying any Firestone wine anymore”. Well, 2 out of 3 isn't so bad.

Firestone Winery, the cheapskates

As the sadness of the last rejection hit us, we cycled in towards Solvang, a town in California that has Danish roots and is another of the many tourist traps awaiting any visitors to California. Although it is very quaint and a pretty place, I've been to Copenhagen a couple of times and this looks nothing like it.

Quaint stores in Solvang

Baltimore Mark, Joe and I headed out for lunch after quickly changing into street clothes. We walked along a couple of the main streets and saw a few of the stores.

Typical building along Mission Drive (the main street) in Solvang

Let's see what tomorrow brings.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ride the West - Day 19, Paso Robles California to Santa Maria California

Last night we had the famous, or should I say “infamous” teeshirt swap. All of the teeshirts were quite nice and we had lots of laughs with the game that was used to determine which shirt one ends up with. Jokes were abundant as the swap went along. Baltimore Mark had the audacity, courage, stupidity, guts, balls (you pick the word you like best) to actually steal (valid in the rules) the “One bike ride away from divorce” shirt that Barb Munk was coveting. Barb is responsible for much of the tour and one would not be wise to be on her wrong side. Then of course, there is Mark. He went ahead and executed the move to get this shirt, only to lose it to Toronto Mark later, but in the process, making Barb a bit perturbed. I figure it's only a matter of time before Mark's luggage doesn't make it to the next hotel. Live on the edge Mark, we applaud you, but wouldn't want to be in your shoes right about now.

Barb and the teeshirt (photo credit Mike Munk)

This was the first day in about 2 weeks, where it wasn't foggy leaving the hotel. I only needed 2 layers to start off as well, much to my pleasure. Mike Munk says that the weather right up to the end of the ride will be, and I quote “perfect cycling weather”. If that is true, then the whole 3 weeks of weather for this adventure will have been incredibly great.

Typical countryside

After leaving Paso Robles, I took my time and cycled with Tim, Gary, Russ and Mose. We didn't try to ride fast, but just had a pleasant time, at least until the 1st climb of the day. At that I point, I rode on ahead and did the multi-mile climb fairly quickly.

View from the road

At the top, we were blessed with a long downhill that I maxed out at 40 mph. The descent was longer than the climb as we were able to cash out some of the “banked” altitude that we did the previous day. Along the descent, the landscape was only so-so, but I did come across a large avocado farm on the way into Morro Bay.

Avocado trees

Morro Bay seems to be a touristy place, with this huge rock located in the basin of the bay. I recall from years ago, when my wife Aila, the kids and I were traveling here, that I was in a store standing next to Barbra Streisand. When I left the store, I saw her husband, James Brolin standing by the car. When Barbra came out, some fans asked to get her autograph, but James and Barbra were rude and chased them away.

Morro Bay rock

Other than the rock in Morro Bay, there didn't seem to be too much else to it, other than the tourist crap that inevitably springs up. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's what I saw.

Oh the indignity!!! Having to rest "The Mistress" against a dumpster

When leaving Morro Bay, I ventured out alone and rode quite quickly, although I wasn't 100% sure I was on the right road. I was in the middle of farmland and horse ranches. After several miles, I saw the ABB white van and Mike Munk taking pictures. This reassured me that I was going in the correct direction. After the next turn, I had a slight tailwind and was able to shoot down the road at about 28 mph, for several miles. It was exhilarating.

Diner made from 2 railway cars

I arrived at the 2nd SAG, after catching up with Baltimore Mark. He and I rode in together the 15 or so miles left before the SAG. He seems to be feeling better, which is always good. I left the SAG with Gary and we soft pedaled allowing time for Mark to catch up. However, the optional steep climb for the day arrived before Mark did, so I ventured off-route to take advantage of it. Mark eventually caught up to Gary, but I was long gone after doing this steep climb.

The optional climb, 15% grade

On the final 20 mile leg into the hotel, I once again had a nice tailwind and was able to cruise along at up to 31 mph for many miles. I passed by Howard and Shirley and zoomed on ahead. Shirley later asked me just how fast I was going when I passed by.

Before the hotel, I caught up with Joe, Toronto Mark, “The Duchess” and Leticia about a mile from the end. “The Duchess” had a blowout and had her husband, Toronto Mark fix it. They seemed to have it under control, right as I was approaching. We rode in together to the hotel.

Let's see what tomorrow brings.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ride the West - Day 18, King City California to Paso Robles California

This was destined to be a strange day. We have several riders who are taking the SAG instead of pedaling and now we have added Baltimore Mark to those ranks. He's feeling ill and having a tough time with his coughing and feeling poorly. Needless to say, he didn't ride any today, but instead was relegated to sit in the van, with a surgical mask handed to him to cover his face. Joe and I are continuing with that thought and making him wear it tonight too.

Joe, AKA Typhoid Joe, patient zero of the plague

The day started out foggy and cool once again. I was borderline as to whether I should have my usual 3 layers, or drop down to 2. I elected the 3 layer approach, as you can always take off if you have too much, but you can't put on if you have too little. Once we got over the 1st climb, the sun came out and Joe and I zoomed our way to the 1st SAG. At that point, it was sunny and warm and I was finally down to 1 layer of cycling clothes. Hallelujah!

Gary Weinstein and the countryside behind

I rode with Gary from the 1st SAG and we had a discussion on a variety of topics, from hedge funds to colonoscopies. I guess we have a diverse repertoire of interests, so it seems. Gary did give me an interesting idea for a Christmas present for my wife, Aila. Gary and I made it to the Bee Rock Store, a stopping point in the middle of nowhere. The area we are in, is very rural and mostly made up of horse farms. There is not very much agriculture at this point, but this store was there, in the middle of nothing.

The Bee Rock Store

After the stop at the store I rode alone and headed up the next long climb of the day, which was just after the stop. Once at the top, there was a great view of the valley behind me, and a great view of Lake Nacimiento in front of me. There was still to be much more climbing in the day.

Lake Nacimiento

After crossing the dam along the lake, the roads continued on their now familiar path of climbs and descents taking me on the road to Paso Robles. I happened upon an interesting winery called “Chronic Cellars” and Kevin, who worked there, allowed me a few free samples. The wine was good, but not great. They only grow some of their own grapes and purchase the rest from other local farmers.

Kevin pouring me a wine sample

I made my way to the hotel and headed out for a lunch. The 62 miles today had lots of climbing, but was another nice ride.

One of the climbs

Let's see what tomorrow brings.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ride the West - Day 17, Carmel Valley California to King City California

How is this still possible? We are 1,000 miles south of where we started in Astoria Oregon, and we still have cool, foggy mornings, giving way for a warm afternoon. I am still having to wear 3 layers at the beginning, only to wish I only had 1 layer by the end of the ride. I expect that is about to change though, as we are now getting more inland than before. The days should start to be warm from the very start.

Leaving Carmel Valley

Today was a shorter, 55 mile ride, that still had about 3700 feet of climbing. Right out of the gate, we had a 20 mile gradual ascent, with a interim section of about 10% grade for a couple of miles. I rode the climb alone as I wanted to do it quickly. Along the way I saw a coyote by the road's edge, but by the time I yanked out my camera to get a photo, it had taken off. I also saw several turkeys and a family of deer that just stood in front of me in the middle of the road. I guess these are the benefits of being the first cyclist in the pack. The road was a relatively unused country road that had no traffic, so the wildlife was more prevalent.

Typical countryside

After the climbs were mostly done, we had a long downhill descent that had many turns in it. It was fun, but the frequency of these turns made it difficult to sustain any real speed. The scenery was beautiful among the hills and valleys.

About to descend into the valley

By this time, Joe and I were riding together and we caught up to Toronto Mark and Gary. Toronto Mark's wife, “The Duchess”, is not riding these days due to injuries. That gives us a chance to ride as “The Geldings” once again. Today was one of those days, at least the last half was. Baltimore Mark is not feeling so well, so it was Toronto Mark, Joe and I that rode in together. We made excellent time, which was a great reminder of the old days from 2 years ago.

Cliff faces overlooking the valley

Along the way, we passed through part of the agricultural area of the central valley. The fields were growing grapes (for wine), broccoli, onions, garlic and a few other things we didn't recognize. The garlic and onions were quite fragrant.

Fields of various types of vegetables

Part of the route took us along the hillsides of the valley, giving us a great view as we climbed and descended along the edges of the hills. A train passed by us and headed through a tunnel that was carved from one of the hills. We rode over the tunnel as we climbed once again.

Vegetables growing beside the railway

We arrived in King City, just in time for Toronto Mark to ride over a piece of glass and get a flat. After a quick change, we made our way to the hotel in this small town.

Let's see what tomorrow brings.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Ride the West - Day 16, Santa Cruz California to Carmel Valley California

There seems to be a pattern here. For many days, we start out in cool, foggy weather requiring 3 layers of clothing: under-armor, jersey and jacket. As the day progresses, only one layer is removed. Today was no different. It was cool and foggy leaving Santa Cruz. The sights continue to be as incredible as any other day. It's hard to decide on which day has been the best, as each one of them reveals such spectacular scenery, but today was a good contender for the award.

We left Santa Cruz after a good breakfast at a restaurant called “Jeffery's”. I had the cinnamon raisin French toast. It was good, but too sweet, so I left much of it on the plate. As Joe, Mark, Gary, Tim and I made our way south, we passed by endless strawberry fields, along with artichokes and some type of cabbage. The pickers were out in force collecting those delectable berries and getting them ready for shipping. Did you know that the reason a strawberry is named that, is because when they were originally sold in the old marketplaces of England, each berry was tied to a single piece of straw and hung from the seller's stand, and they became known as “straw-berries”.

Strawberry fields

As we continued our route south, we found our way onto a long bike path that took us not only into the city of Monterey, but through it too. We used it to navigate our way past the shops and restaurants that line the coast along Cannery Row, passing by the old sardine canning factories that John Steinbeck wrote about.

Bike path with the Monterey Bay in the background
Bike path near Cannery Row in Monterey

At the end of Cannery Row, is the Monterey Aquarium, which you might recognize if you saw “Star Trek IV – The Voyage Home”: the one about the whales. The aquarium used in that movie was the Monterey Aquarium.

Cannery Row

Joe, Mark, Tim and I stopped for a panini sandwich and soup near the start of Cannery Row. It was starting to get warm and the skies had cleared. It was turning out to be a beautiful day.

We ate outside the building on the left

As we left Monterey, the 4 of us made our way along the rugged coast that was laced with expensive homes and golf courses. These all had wonderful views of the ocean and coastal shoreline.

The Monterey coastline

After miles of riding along the coast, we made a turn onto the famous 17 Mile Drive, and the expensive homes and golf courses of Monterey turned into outrageously expensive homes and golf courses that overlooked an even more impressive coastline. Famous people live along the way, and even more famous golf courses call this area home, like Spyglass, Spanish Bay and of course Pebble Beach. We followed the 17 Mile Drive for about half of its length, exiting on the road to Carmel.

The 17 Mile Drive coastline

Carmel is an expensive town that is well cared for. The hilly terrain of the downtown streets are lined with pricey shops, boutiques and restaurants. By this time, Tim and I were riding together as Joe and Mark had no interest in stopping at The Pebble Beach Golf Club.

The 18th green at Pebble Beach Golf Club

We got out of Carmel and made short order of the last 12 miles into Carmel Valley. Our hotel for the evening is an old, converted horse stable, where the stable stalls have been modified into individual cabins. It's very quaint.

Our converted stable, hotel room

Let's see what tomorrow brings.