Dave’s First Bicycle Touring Trip
“Only those who will risk going too far
can possibly find out how far one can go”
- Start Point: A hotel in Santa Barbara
- End Point: Pismo Beach
- Approximate Total Miles: 120
Check out the rest of the trip here!
In August of 2015 I took my first vacation as an adult, I took my first solo trip, and I saw my maternal grandfather for the last time. After years of racing triathlon I stumbled upon a documentary that would change my life forever; Mark Beaumont’s “The Man Who Cycled The World.” The film is about a man who completes a circumnavigation of the earth on a bicycle, completely unsupported. 18,000 miles in 180 days. This incredible feat, and the adventures that went along with it, completely flipped my concept of what is possible upside down. From that day forward, I was hooked; I was going on a bicycle tour.
Those of you that know me well probably know that I am a big planner. I love to learn everything I can about a subject and then plan out my path. Bicycle touring was no different. I spent months creating a route on ride with gps, picked out the perfect bike, and meticulously whittled down my gear list to reduce weight. My plan was to visit my aunt Carol and Uncle David, with a pit stop to see my childhood friend Matt, and then bicycle from their place in LA to my grandfather’s house in San Francisco. A few iterations of the plan later, I ended up starting in Santa Barbara and finishing in Milbrae. You can see my route here if you’re interested.
In 2015 I was in some of the best shape of my life. I had made “Team USA” twice for age group triathlon and gotten to race against people from around the world. I had completed an Ironman. I had ridden across skyline drive, a 105 mile mountain ride in the Appalachians. Because of this, I decided that 400 miles in 5 days sounded like it would be no big deal. Lets just say I learned a lot during this first trip. But enough about the planning, here is day 1 of my very first bicycle touring trip; LA to San Francisco!
6:00 am. BEEP BEEP BEEP. Holy Crap, am I actually doing this? I was incredibly nervous as I said goodbye to my aunt and uncle and loaded up my bike. It was just light enough out to feel safe on the road. I set off towards the UC Santa Barbara campus to make use of their wonderful bicycle paths. It was a chilly and misty morning, a stark contrast to to 90+ degree days that are all too common in the Maryland summer that I’m accustomed to. Just a few miles in I found a bagel/coffee shop and had breakfast. Soon after this, I ran into my first hiccup of the trip. Navigating in a strange place with printed cue sheets that aren’t accurate enough is difficult. I also learned what may be my favorite thing about bicycle touring; the kindness of strangers. Living on the east coast, well, people aren’t all that friendly. If you’re lost in rush hour in DC, you will get yelled at to get out of the way on the escalator. Sitting on the side of the road looking at a map on my phone, another cyclist, Charles, rode up beside me. Charles was commuting to work on his bike, and thought I looked lost. He personally led me to the road I was looking for, 15 minutes in the wrong direction, to make absolutely sure I made it safely. Dozens of things like this have happened to me on trips and it has completely restored my faith in humanity. The kindness of others knows no limit.
Once Charles had led me to the Pacific Coast Highway, and told me all about his goats, I was ready to get moving. Most of the rest of the trip just followed a single road. Except for cities and campsites, the risk of getting lost again was very minimal. The next 30 miles were pretty uneventful, and the sun started to shine. My first bike tour was off to a rip-roaring start. The first climb of the trip, before the town of Gaviota, was a doozy. I remember it being very long and very hot. When I got to town I stopped at a bike shop to pick up a water bottle. The shop owner had the same name as my father, Steve Miller, and was super nice. They gave me their phone number and told me to call them if I ran into any trouble. I nabbed lunch at a “fish fry” joint where I was able to find fried vegetables and french fries. I hadn’t counted on almost every other restaurant in the town to be closed on Mondays. Another lesson of bike touring, be ready to change your dinner plans. At this point in my life I was sticking to a vegan diet, and had planned out where to eat along the way…or so I had thought.
The rest of the day was long, but mostly uneventful save for the wind. The wind blows steadily south on the California coast. I learned why most people ride from North to South. Near the end of my day I met some real characters. A man named James who was on his first bike tour riding the opposite route. He was going to San Diego and had to make it in time to see his brother play in a concert. The real jewel of the trip was the guy riding with him for the day. Hilly-Billy Bob (self-proclaimed). He had sold some land in West Virginia and was riding around the world. He had a trailer with a gorgeous German shepherd named Happy, who happily hung out and let Bob tow him around. Hilly Billy Bob had done 100,000 miles of touring, 10,000 that year, and 30,000 with his best bud riding shotgun. Oh the people you meet! I got to the campground and realized I had forgotten my tent pegs. Sigh. I rode to the nearest camp store, bought some, and road back. 120 miles in just over 10 hours on my very first bicycle touring day. My campsite at the beach was gorgeous, and I slept like an absolute log.