(click the headline links to see daily route details and more photos on Strava)
TDSU17 started with a flight from Indy through Denver and San Francisco to San Luis Obispo, California. I’d been in southern California many times, but never SLO. I can’t say enough about my SRAM teammates in SLO. Pancho Herrara, one of our Engineering Tech’s there, assembled my bike after I shipped it out, fixed a couple of small issues and made sure it was ready to ride, picked me up at the airport in the evening, publicized the ride with the office and local bike organizations, and arranged for a group ride to start TDSU17. Thanks Pancho and crew!!
Coincidentally, I started the ride on National Bike to Work Day (always the 3rd Friday in May). Pancho promoted it as the nation’s longest bike commute: California to Indianapolis! The anticipation was building as I got up in the morning- the moment had arrived! Before I left Indy, I posted this message to Facebook, which summarized how I felt. The SRAM crew picked me up for a 20 minute car ride to Avila Beach- my last time in a car for weeks. The anticipation continued to build as we arrived at the beach a little before 7am. Here are pictures that my coworkers took as I walked out on the beach, and performed the cross-country ride ritual of dipping my rear wheel in the Pacific Ocean:
We had a leisurely ride on SLO’s bike paths into downtown, to a Bike to Work day event. I got a chance to chat with a few people, one of whom told me that he had a buddy holed up in Colorado near where I would pass through, waiting out a winter storm that made riding impossible. Fortunately, I had about 10 days before I’d get there, and timed my trip perfectly. I had an impromptu TV interview at Bike to Work day event- but only a single line was included.
Another few miles of riding took us to the SLO office, where I changed clothes, and worked for a few hours catching with both familiar colleagues and meeting new people, and seeing their awesome facility. Finally, about 11am, Pancho- looking out for me- pushed me out the office and sent me on my way. TDSU17 was truly underway! I was a bit casual- but still had over 100 miles to ride that day.
The first day was full of beautiful scenery as headed south on CA 1 & US101. Of the entire ride, this section ended up being one of my favorites. I passed through agricultural fields growing lettuce, cauliflower, and other crops on many lower traffic roads. But I also shared the road with trucks that had just picked up those crops.
As I rode on the shoulder of US101, I could see someone in the distance on a bike with packs. I caught up quickly, and called hello as I passed. Then I realized that the cyclist didn’t appear to speak English. There was barely a grunt of recognition as I eventually passed 3 of what appeared to be Korean bike tourists. Further along on 101, I came across one of my pre-ride nightmares- snakes on the highway. Flip ahead to Day 8 for my rattlesnake encounter! But on this day, most of the snakes were clearly dead, though a couple weren’t flat and I didn’t slow down to see if any were moving. I knew I’d have to dodge potholes and road debris, but dodging snake carcasses wasn’t something I anticipated.
As I rode into Santa Barbara, the roads were busy, but there were plenty of bike lanes. Jim S, who had emailed me before the ride about joining up, rode along for a few miles. He hadn’t made hotel plans yet, and my hotel was full, so he continued on after I stopped. I had planned on a Warmshowers stop for this first night, but a few days before the ride, that fell through. Fortunately, I found a comfortable HI Express, and was even able to use points to stay. Although I wanted to limit how much I spent on accommodations, having a relaxed first night as I got into the groove of riding all day, every day was a blessing in disguise. I found a small Italian restaurant for dinner less than a block away, and enjoyed the many encouraging Facebook posts I had received.
Day 2 started a little before 6am, leaving some ride brochures at the hotel, spreading the message of my ride and The Power of Bicycles. I took a few minutes to get some pictures at Stearns Wharf before I headed down the coast. This was a common theme of the ride- always quick stops for pictures, but never enough time, with about 120 miles to go for the day.
This was a day of contrasts, from the Pacific Ocean into the outskirts of the Mojave Desert. I rode along the coast for about 30 miles before turning inland and east. Bikeways along the coast and on the highways were a pleasant surprise. Here’s a video of one. Day 2 had some anticipation with meeting up with my old boss from my Remy days, Rick Huibregtse. I passed his surfing spot and he caught up I headed for my first big climb of about 2000ft over 15 miles, up to 3400ft of elevation. I got a bit off course riding with my first and only impromptu ride partner. Chris pulled me (cycling term for leading and my drafting behind him to save energy) about 10 miles into Santa Clarita.
By the time Rick pulled up behind me on his motorcycle- the first time I’d seen him in 6 or 7 years- I had missed my last opportunity for water, which I desperately needed 90 miles and 7 hours into the day, as temperatures neared triple digits and with 30-40 miles still to go. Rick turned around and played water courier- I was so grateful! It was a neat moment of the ride as we chatted for a half hour or so under a shady tree:
I encountered a dust devil- unfortunately too quickly for a picture (search Google Images to see one)- which was a first. The climb into Lancaster, California up Bouquet Canyon Road (love some of the names I saw!) wasn’t bad at 3-6% with periods of shade and was a good warm-up for the days in the Rockies ahead.
Rick was also good counsel in his advice to watching for snakes whenever I stopped…. Day 2 concluded with my 1st Warmshowers stay. I met Steve Pritchett, an unassuming doctor and we had a great conversation, a tasty dinner and beer and he offered for me to do laundry, which was perfect and saved so much time.
Day 3 began early to beat the desert heat. Dr. Steve got up before 4am to make coffee and feed me some cereal before I headed out. I can’t say enough about Warmshowers and the experiences. It’s definitely a “pay it forward” model- people opening their homes to fellow bike adventurers, with nothing but conversation in return. I was on the bike and rolling before 5am, and enjoyed the cool desert morning- below 50F according to my Garmin but probably not quite that cool. There were virtually no cars as I got down into the aero bars and rode smooth roads into the desert.
Day 3 saw my first gravel and dirt roads, and I’ll admit I was bit concerned for a while. I couldn’t scout (via Google Maps Streetview) every mile of road for my route, so I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into. But I could see towns in the distance and with plenty of water, pushed ahead until I hit solid pavement again after maybe a dozen miles of gravel & sand.
I crested Shadow Mtn- another climb up to 3500ft after dropping to about 2000ft in Lancaster. One of the memories from this day was a sign for Edwards AFB- the initial landing spot for the Space Shuttles. The day continued through Barstow and onto my first section of Interstate 40 and Route 66 to Ludlow.
This day- like many out west- was limited by available stops. I covered almost 130 miles in 8.5 hours of riding and arrived in Ludlow by 3pm. I could have ridden longer- except that signs on I-40 clearly stated that the next town was 50 miles away! So this was a stop I had planned months in advance. My accommodations for the night were the Ludlow Inn- with a “front desk” at the Chevron station next door.
No wifi meant a delayed ride posting, but for $49 can you complain? And I was now over 500 miles into the ride and perfectly on schedule.
I met up with Jim at the Ludlow Café, which gave us our first chance to chat for long and his desire to ride across country. His story was compelling as a 56 year old cancer survivor. I admire his resolve, and although Jim texted me on Day 4 that he was dropping out for several reasons, he continued to follow my progress and offered encouragement right to the end of TDSU17. I hope he accomplishes his dream some day, as I did.
Day 4 began early, on the bike and rolling at 4am, on what I anticipated would be the hottest day of the ride. Which it was, topping at 103F by day’s end at just 230pm.
After about 10 miles of slightly rolling terrain, I sort of enjoyed a long descent- nearly 20 miles!- into the Mojave Desert, down to only about 600ft above sea level. I only sort of enjoyed it because even a 3 LED, 1200 lumen headlight didn’t let me see far enough ahead to allow speeds over 30mph. Fortunately the asphalt was fresh and smooth, which helped. In daylight, I’m sure I would have sustained mid-30’s mph for a half hour.
After a few sunrise pictures (see video here) in the desert, I began one of the biggest climbs of the ride, about 2500ft over 2.5 hours in the desolate Mojave. I reached the top of the climb as the temperature rose above 80F. As I did many times, took a break under a highway overpass for shade, before I rolled onto my next stretch of I40 which I recorded here.
After 30 miles on I40-
I got some strange looks as I rolled into an interstate rest area- not many bikes!- which was a key stop as I refilled my water bottles and Camelbak. From preride research, I knew that I’d have my longest stretch of the ride between available water, about 75 miles, so getting past that was a key milestone.
But after each obstacle, there was always another as I hit a tough stretch of California state highway. A headwind limited my speed to under 10mph for an hour and half. I knew my route would turn east and away from the worst of the wind, and for what seemed like hours I kept watching for the road to turn. I think I was to the point of practically begging for the turn. Where could it be?! Finally it did, and my speed doubled to the high teens. Despite my “it doesn’t get harder, you just go slower” mantra- which applies to hills and headwinds- going so slow is not much fun. Winds are far worse, with gusts and unpredictability, and are mentally draining on the bike.
Another few miles on I40 brought me into Needles as the temperature went above 100F. I found my stop for the day, a Best Western, and felt very strange laying down to rest at 230pm. But it was a wise move, not burning myself out with many more long days ahead. Covering 115 miles was only 10-15 below my daily average on the hottest day of the ride. Knowing that the next morning would be another early start, I had dinner at Subway at 430pm, and enjoyed some recovery time.
Going into TDSU17, I knew I’d have many unknowns such as weather and traffic, but I felt I had 3 main geographic obstacles: the heat of the Mojave, the climbing in the Rockies, and the potential winds in the Plains. Just 4 days into the ride, I now had 1 of those obstacles behind me!
Next up: into Arizona