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Dry socks have got to be some of the finest things a man can hope for. If your socks never get wet, it's hard to enjoy the subtle relief of keeping your feet warm and dry. A comfortable life is pretty easy to come by these days, so I think a lot of people forgot how great dry socks are. If this trip has taught me anything, it might just be that getting my socks wet every now and again to remember what I love is great. Showers, beds, kitchens, refrigerators, blankets, coffee makers, clean laundry, close friends, and family are all things I feel closer to now than ever before. Absence makes the heart grow fonder? If you're reading this, there is a pretty good chance I've thought of you for a while on the bike. Plenty of time to think when all you have to do is petal! Here in California drought country, the day starts every day with dry socks, and a part of me misses the rain soaked socks of the Pacific Northwest. So wiggle your toes and revel in the dryness of your socks, the little things you enjoy, and the people you love.
Dr. Jim took off first, and Lily stayed back to bathe in the creek. As Nick and I ride out with Caleb to our crossroads, he tells us that when he makes the movie about his travels, this will be where the audience cries. His cat Marylin is snuggled up comfortably in his basket, and I had to hold my own tears at bay. We say our final goodbyes and turn south to ride under the powerful UV rays of the sun. Nick doesn't seem to need sunscreen no matter how much sun we get during our rides. My leading theory is that he can photosynthesize and converts the sun to petal-power. Still a working theory. I'm running low on sunscreen, a liquid more necessary than water on the bike for gingers such as myself. With Big Sur behind us, the elevation profile is starting to resemble what I imagine riding through Kansas would be like. Before we know it, we are rolling into Cayucos and I have a powerful lust for coffee and somewhere to write my (previous) blog post. Hidden Kitchen coffee house is exactly what I'm looking for, so Nick and I kick it back, drink up the bean juice, and burn a couple hours of sunlight. After a couple of hours, waiters begin busying themselves by packing up chairs and tables around us, so we get the message and roll on. We spent so long there that Lily beats us to Morro Bay campground (though she was setting up camp on the other side of the park, so we didn't know till she texted a picture of her camp). Morro Bay's waterline is dominated by an imposing power plant with three gargantuan smokestacks. The power plant isn't operational and is set to be demolished by 2028, so if anyone is looking for a supervillain lair...Morro Bay has some great real estate. Hunger hits us and we whip up the rest of our overpriced spaghetti from Gorda (this time broken into thirds, which fit much better in the jetboil). The prices at Albertsons are much better, so we ball out and grill us some garlic bread and an artichoke. I've been eating so many oranges that I decided to start a section of my personal journal dedicated to reviewing the different orange crossbreeds for future reference. Let me know if you want to talk citrus sometime. Our fantastic night of camping wouldn't be complete without some wet socks, so Nick finds three broken spokes on his back wheel. That's a problem for tomorrow.
It's tomorrow, and the spokes are still broken. Simple enough to fix, we just need to head to a bike shop in Morro Bay. Aaaaaand the closest bike shop is in San Luis Obispo, 13 miles away. Lily and I offer to carry as much of Nick's gear as we can feasibly hold without breaking spokes of our own and Nick catches a bus to town. This marks the second time we've "cheated" going down the coast (the first being Sam's truck assistance in Humboldt). Lily and I are lazily rolling our way toward San Luis Obispo when she spots an animal shelter at the next exit, the Woods Humane Society. Maybe it is Caleb's cat working away at us, but something convinces us to stop. The cats there eagerly jump down from their perches when they see us and ask to be pet with heart-melting eyes. These are like no cats I've seen before and seem more like puppies with how excited they were for attention. It made me miss my cat Monet back home, but she could learn a thing or two from these "cats''. While the cats are a meet/greet free-for-all, the dogs are taken out like prison inmates. We met Kodak and Shnookums, two energetic big dogs. After saying hello, Kodak jumped on the picnic table that had been cooking in the California sun and sprawled out to soak in the warmth. Can't say I blame him, and he was perfect for petting height. Schnookums is a long-term resident of the shelter, having been with them for almost a year. She is WILD, so I guess most families are overwhelmed by her. Barely got a chance to pet her since she only wanted to play fetch. Shelters are super fun to visit, but hard to leave. Eventually we say our goodbyes and meet up with Jarvis in San Luis Obispo for a late lunch and some drinks. I eat way too much and barely make it to Pismo Beach where we set up camp and hang out with Lily's friend Brandon. Brandon comes in clutch with two bundles of firewood, a huge firestarter, a pack of beer, snacks, and a bottle of wine (J. Wilkes) from his work. We drink and learn about each other's lives while the fire holds off the cool California night for a bit longer.
Cinnamon rolls are a big deal in Pismo Beach so we eat too many and fall into a sugar coma on the beach. I find some sunscreen in the Morro Bay food locker and apply a generous amount before I sizzle up like a drop of water in a skillet of olive oil. That said, I'm not convinced that the spray can isn't just cooking oil with a sunscreen sticker. I burn up all the same (sorry Evan in 30 years). Working off the sugar coma turns into ukulele, which turns into frisbee, which turns into getting a motel in town. Yeah, not the cheapest option, but we'd been in our tent since San Francisco. This also enables us to explore Pismo Beach at night. We eat some Mexican food by the pier and later play some arcade games in town. The prizes at the arcade have to have been the worst deals, possibly ever, for an arcade. We spend around ten bucks and get our fill of fun from the games, but when it comes to prize time, we can only afford a tiny sticky polymer worm toy that probably cost a couple pennies to produce. That said, I love it right up until the time I lose it the next day. Maybe Lily still has it?
The next morning we eat our remaining cinnamon rolls, careful not to overdo it, and make it 1.6 miles south before our next stop. At first glance, it looks like fall time in Ohio when you can watch orange leaves drop from the trees. Upon closer inspection, the leaves are monarch's fluttering from one branch to the next. Here in California, the leaves fall from one tree to the next. A fantastic amount of horny butterflies swarm just a few eucalyptus trees, making for trees that look more alive than ever before. While watching the butterflies, I meet an older man named George who had to give up cycling after a nasty crash which left him unable to walk for some time. He advises us to not cheap out on lights, and get the best money can buy. We opt for Mexican food another mile or so down the road and feast on gargantuan portions. 2.6 miles in and it's taken us the better part of three hours. No problem, we have plenty of daylight left and full stomachs. Too full of stomachs... I can hardly climb the minuscule hills compared to those in Big Sur without feeling my burrito looking for a way out. Fortunately, I manage to hold my lunch and make it to Lompoc. It's getting dark by the time we roll into River Park and "NO CAMPING" signs are posted by the paystand. The standoffish camp host curtly mentions to us that covid shut down the H/B sites, and only RV camping is allowed. The nearest campsite is out of range with the light we've got left, so we reluctantly buy a cheap stay at the Red Roof Inn back in town. Word on the grape vine is that the sites remained closed due to the homeless problem in Lompoc, and covid is just the excuse they are sticking with. To top it all off, bed bugs may have given us a visit at the motel, though fortunately they haven't been seen since.
Without the hills to make every ride a workout, I am starting to get antsy. Nick is receptive to the idea of trying our longest ride yet, so we plan to shoot for Santa Barbara, a 58 miles ride. We start our morning with some fantastic local coffee from South Side Coffee Co. (something good to come out of Lompoc) and GU energy stroopwafels. A man named Mike (who looked vaguely like Bill Murray) tells us about his life in Alaska where he spends the summer months. He spoke enthusiastically about the idea of us bike touring around Alaska, and the idea of eternal daylight grew on me. I've heard it can be mentally exhausting to go without night, but it would be a magical place to see for a few weeks by bike. With caffeine in our blood and stroopwafel in our stomachs, we churn out a strong and determined ride. We stop for a while at Gaviota beach for Clif bars, music, and sunburns. Caleb warned us about a very cool but very dangerous bike path out of Santa Barbara, and Nick and I had more or less forgotten the message until we stumbled across a bike path half consumed by the ocean. I respect the park for still letting people ride the path, as the alternative was the highway. I don't realize we are riding through the UC Santa Barbara campus until the average age dips and attractiveness spikes of everyone around. Another telltale sign of the college campus is the sheer number of bikes we begin seeing. If you melted down every bike we saw riding through the college, you'd have enough metal and rubber to turn the tide in a resource scarce war. You'd also probably be arrested. We petal on to Santa Barbara and get a cheap room in town to see State Street and the Mission from. State street offers us one the best meals of the west coast so far. Olio Pizzeria gives Jarvis a margarita pizza and me a dish called "Gemelli Luganega",which I'll be attempting to recreate upon kitchen access. Afterward we try a bar named "Sandbar", which is obviously a college bar when we walk in. Music loud enough to shake your skull, lights flashing in every corner, and men and women dressed in clothing tight enough to leave little to the imagination. I'm shocked to find my drink handed to me in a glass cup, something that never happened at Miami University. We down a few beers, but let the animals be for now. State Street is worth the walk down if only to see the streetside, covid-era restaurant seating and along with the illuminated architecture which reminded me of walking through Paris.
The following morning, the Santa Barbara Mission is a fun stop before our ride south to Carpinteria. The Mission is designed with the Spanish Quadrangle, which is more or less a garden courtyard in the center of the Mission. Maybe the town just has me thinking about architecture, but designing homes with inner yards and porches lining the perimeter would be great. We spent some time there listening to the church bells and taking in the ambiance before seeing the rest of the mission. We end up lounging at Shoreline Park to play some music, per a Trader Joe's cashier's recommendation. Riding to Carpinteria shortly thereafter, we find ourselves getting to camp once again at sunset. We pitch our tent, meet our camping neighbors (not bike tourists), and take a pizza to Island Brewing Company for some biergarten blog writing. A mastiff is walking around looking for fallen food and scares the shit out of me a few times. Mastiffs are HUGE and I can confidently say that it can kill me if it wants to. Fortunately, like many dogs, he seems super chill and just here to hang out.
One coffee and Acai bowl at the Lucky Lama later and we pick our way through the roads back to the coast. A woman gives us directions to a bike path following the water, which quickly deteriorates into a dirt path hardly fit for a mountain bike. The panniers are holding on for dear life and right before they give up, the path is gone. Bikes are rolling by us on a REAL bike path just a stones throw up the hill, so we slowly motivate our loaded bikes over some train tracks and up the hill. Smooth sailing from there lands us right at our campsite for the night at Sycamore Canyon. The night we spent there is wonderful, warm, and cozied by a long burning fire. The morning thereafter is different in that we are pestered by innumerable flies and park rangers trying to get us to leave. Check out is at 9am and I guess we haven't showered in a while. I'm writing this now at the adjacent Sycamore Cove beach sipping tea and staying out of the sun under a lone tree by the waterfront. I ran out of that cooking oil sunscreen this morning, so thank god for trees. And dry socks!