Day 6: Grover Beach to Goleta

The seediness of our surroundings made it easy to get out of the room early on Day 6. Not so easy was finding a place open for breakfast in Grover Beach in October. The main drag was completely abandoned! We eventually found a very strange mom-and-pop diner tucked away on a side street, had a filling all-American breakfast, and got back on the road. The day ahead of us promised to be the most challenging since Santa Cruz, so an early start was warranted.

In Pismo Beach, Highways 101 and 1 split off again, so the bike route returns to Highway 1. Highway 1 starts off meandering through Grover Beach and Oceano and the sand dunes southward, and doesn’t really make up its mind what direction it wants to go until it nears Guadalupe.

Warning: Map not to scale

Guadalupe is just over the Santa Barbara County border, which sort of makes it the beginning of Southern California. The first thing you run into upon hitting town is a wall mural of the Guadalupean’s View of the World–you probably can’t read the text in the image at the right, but the two cities noted in white are San Francisco and Guadalupe. Maybe the Guadalupeans would just prefer to be three times closer to San Francisco than Los Angeles–I know I would.

(Side note: a friend of mine asked “I’m in LA, what should I do for the next five hours?” My response: “Drive north.”)

Actually my theory about this mural is that they started painting at the bottom and didn’t realize until they got to Guadalupe that they weren’t going to have enough room. It even looks like they considered making the building taller to accommodate the whole of the state.

In Guadalupe we picked up our second inedible energy bar, this one a MET-Rx “chocolate chip cookie dough,” which should have been “chalklate chip.” If two touring cyclists can’t finish off a snack, you know there’s something wrong with it.

After Guadalupe, Highway 1 straightens out and gets serious about heading south. It also gets surprisingly barren; since Morro Bay our route had been comparatively highly developed, but in Santa Barbara County it’s about 50 klicks between Guadalupe and the next sign of civilization (such as it is), Lompoc. Highway 1 itself enters Vandenburg Air Force Base, and the bike route follows Highway 135 to Harris Grade Road, which it takes into Lompoc.

Harris Grade Road

Now, tourists usually don’t like roads with words like “Grade” in the name, but this one really wasn’t too bad, and fairly scenic. I let John go off the front, and got a few pictures of the road while I toodled up. Then we reached the peak, and could see Lompoc laid out beneath us. It’s really not a very attractive city, but it was something of an impressive sight after five days in the boonies. We rolled down the hill and into the busy commercial streets of Lompoc and found a surprisingly hip cafe/bookstore, where we picked up some sandwiches for lunch and sat at the outside tables to consume it. There, we were accosted and drawn into conversation with two extremely large women who wanted to share our table so they could smoke. One of the realities of bike touring, for better or worse, is that people want to talk to you. I was discussing the phenomenon with a touring friend of mine, and his take on the situation was that, as a bike tourist, you’re doing something people perceive as extraordinary, so they want to touch it. The context was that he would knock on someone’s door and tell them he’d pay them $20 if they’d let him pitch his tent in their yard, and that he never had someone turn him down, and never had anyone take the $20.

That’s way too much interaction for me. Particularly when it’s with two extremely large women who are smoking at the same table while I’m trying to eat and ask questions like “are those 10-speeds?” Even John, who normally wants to chat up everyone, wanted to get out of that conversation badly enough that we decided to push on to Santa Barbara instead of staying in Lompoc. We were only 60km out of Grover Beach, but we were entering another sizable undeveloped area–it would be at least another 60km before we’d see another motel. Still, it was fairly early in the day, it was pleasant, and we were feeling fairly strong, so we pushed off and waved goodbye to our recent companions.

After Lompoc, Highway 1 again heads into undeveloped territory, and about 10 klicks out of town starts up the biggest climb on this section of the coast; it peaked at over 300 meters, the highest point on the ride. As was usual for the big climbs, I let John set whatever the hell pace he wanted to, while I grannied up. As you can see in the picture at the right, he was camped out by the time I made it up.

John, working hard on the climb

This picture was taken at about the metric century mark, and looking at the map was somewhat depressing as we still had easily 40 km left before we were scheduled to hit any civilization. Still, there was nothing for it but to move on, so move on we did. The descent was wide-open, long and fun; we stopped at a rest stop about two-thirds of the way down, after Highway 1 rejoined 101, had a conversation with a portly truck driver who claimed to be an avid bicyclist, then completed the descent, ending up back on the coast near Gaviota Beach State Park.

When we were faced with actually having to pedal again, we found that we were both pretty tired. However, the road at this point is nearly flat and heads almost due east, which means we picked up the best tailwinds of the entire trip. This was clearly big-ring territory, fatigue or no. The thing about big-ring cycling is it’s all about momentum–you start by picking up enough speed, with a short downhill or by powering over a short climb, you get on the big ring, and you just keep it turning. You put in a little extra effort to keep from losing momentum if you get a wind gust or a short climb, but when you’re really in a big ring groove you don’t have to work that hard.

My experience, when I’m tired, is that the longer I’m out on the road, the worse I’ll start to feel. So if I’m feeling tired, but I’m within striking distance of home, I’ll start to crank it up. The extra speed often sparks a little extra adrenaline, and instead of struggling out there for an extra hour I can make it in in 30 minutes and then collapse. So, the first time we got a little rise on one of my pulls, I pushed a little bit going over it, thunked onto the big 53-toother, and gradually built up speed with surprisingly little effort. We didn’t quite match the speed of our ride into San Simeon, but we got up to 41, 42kph and sustained it for quite a while. John tried to take a pull or two but just didn’t have enough left, plus he had a puny 46-tooth “big ring.” We cranked it around 40kph for about 20 klicks, and by that time we were starting to see signs of civilization. John asked, “where the hell did that come from?” but I’ve always been a finisher. When we ran cross-country together in high school we’d run together for most of the race and then I’d out-kick him.

We noticed at this point a discrepancy in our cycle computer calibration; John was showing about 3% more distance than I was. This turned out to matter, because by John’s computer we were approaching the century mark, and he was talking about wanting to get our distance over 100 miles for the day. I pointed out that he’d have to be nuts to ride right past a motel at this point, and while he is nuts, he basically agreed that we could shelve the idea–among other things, it was starting to get dark. It took quite a while of riding through developed areas outside of Goleta before we found a motel, and they only had one room available, but that was enough. We had clocked 94 or 97 miles for the day, depending on whose computer you looked at, along with two of the biggest climbs of the trip, and we were pretty out of it. The only food place visible from the motel entrance was McDonald’s, which wouldn’t have been our first choice in other circumstances, but proximity was the primary criterion that evening.

I had a Quarter Pounder meal (YES, supersize it you nimrod) and an apple pie, and John had two Big Mac meals (well, only one order of fries). With our fuel tanks topped off, not to mention our innards greased, we returned to the room and collapsed.

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