The coast ride is a 375-mile, “unorganized organized ride” from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. It was started by a group of friends in San Francisco about 10 years ago, which, as my friend Jordan put it, has grown exponentially in recent years (largely because of social media brag-vertising). I was introduced to the ride last year by two friends. Clearly, a year was enough time to forget the pain and decide I should do it again.
I kid. This year was exponentially better for me in many ways. Though I left the decision to go until rather last minute, I had snuck in a few four and five-hour rides over the past few months “just in case.” My comfort and enjoyment of the ride this year was likely a combination of two factors: preparation and pacing.
The Coles Notes: I rode my bike 375 miles, climbed 19,300 feet, and ate a lot of sandwiches and Bonk Breakers. And it was fun.
Below is the longer, illustrated version. My 2015 Coast Ride Journal, if you will—so that I remember the details, and for those of you eyeing it for next year. Many thanks to Stephen Bannister for allowing me to use some of his photos. Shooting iPhone pics while trying to hang on to a pace line can be challenging.
Friday » Katya and I jammed our bikes and bags into a one-way rental car and drove up to San Francisco. I stayed with a few other friends at Jordan’s, whose house is just meters from the ride’s starting point at the Sports Basement in the Presidio. (I can’t thank her and her husband Rich enough for their two years of generosity in this area!) After a wonderful dinner of salad, grilled steak and chicken, I slept like a rock on their airbed. Court and I were suited up and ready to roll by 6:45 Saturday morning.
Saturday » Jené, Courtney, Mimi and I had two objectives for Day One: get out early and start easy. We had decided to SAG (ie: send our bags) with the Rehab United crew, a smaller group from San Diego, rather than with the bigger “official” group. Court and I dropped our bags off at La Luna Inn (a good option for accommodation near the start), met up with Jené and Mimi, and set out at a mellow pace. We even stopped for a parting shot of the Golden Gate Bridge (above).
The first few miles through San Francisco are a mix of flat, coastal meandering and hilly residential areas. Our first snack stop was the Peet’s coffee in Half Moon Bay at mile 30, where we shared coffees and snacks. The route then continues along the Cabrillo Highway (Hwy. 1), hugging the coast almost the entire way to the lunch stop at mile 70. We got passed along this section by some of the bigger, faster groups while winding our way through the beautiful coastal state parks and beaches of San Gregorio, Pomponio, Pescadero, Año Nuevo, and Scott Creek, before dismounting in Davenport.
One of the highlights of the first day was having lunch with my friends Lea and Dave. They moved to Boulder Creek a few years ago, but were spending the day in Santa Cruz, just minutes from Davenport. I sipped their beers jealously while I scarfed my water and BLT, and tried to relax and enjoy their company (while making sure I didn’t get left in the dust of 220 other cyclists outside and have to ride the remaining 60 miles alone).
I rode solo from Davenport, soaking in the sunshine and digesting my lunch, only to be caught by the RU crew as I entered Santa Cruz. Those six or seven miles were the only ones I rode alone the entire weekend. After zig-zagging along the Santa Cruz boardwalk, we cut inland slightly, to traipse through the rural farmland of Watsonville for a few miles. Here, I rode hard with a few other guys to catch back up to my friends’ group. I enjoyed the relief of the paceline through the flat, windy stretch into Moss Landing. We then joined the narrow bike path that winds through the towns of Marina, Seaside, and our destination, Monterey. (There were so many “cyclist warning calls”—”Pole!” “Rider up!” “Stopping!”—that it became a joke. For the remainder of the ride we’d call: “Ocean!” “Whales!” “Winery!”)
- Route: View on Strava
- Eat: Breakfast—granola and fruit at Blanco’s; lunch—Whale City Bakery (good pastries and baked goods, but after two years of crappy service/lost orders here I’d suggest trying one of the other roadside options, or the Davenport Roadhouse a bit further down the road); dinner—Alvarado St. Brewery in Monterey.
- Stay: I crashed with Christine and Mario (who we roped into SAGging at the last minute!) at the Cannery Row Inn. There are lots of other options in the area, but this is close to the historic Cannery Row area and is about a 15 minute walk to downtown. I might recommend getting a place closer to more of the restaurants next year.
Sunday » I started my day with Christine and the rest of the RU crew, given that we were all staying at the same hotel. Again, I rolled out easy, staying with the group through the city to then re-join Hwy. 1 in Carmel. Memories of running the Big Sur Marathon with Mark flooded back to me, as we started everyone’s favorite day of the ride. South of Carmel, at mile 10 or so, the road pulls to the edge of the world and you become a little emperor on two wheels. Things grow simple: The whoosh of wheels in the wind. Bixby Bridge at mile 20. Your own heart beating. That blue. And it’s all yours.
I rode most of the day with Christine (above, right), or drafting behind Stephen “6 feet 5 inches” Bannister. The second day has almost 8,000 feet of climbing, but the beauty make up for every grinding pedal stroke. I wish Christine still lived in San Diego, as I think we’d make great riding partners.
A popular stop is in Big Sur at mile 30, where some duck into the general store for “Big Sur Bars” and drinks, and others continue on to the famed Big Sur Bakery. This year, my group stopped at the store so I put my visions of cinnamon buns on the back-burner (plus, the lines there are always long). A few miles later, I caught Court and Jené, and got to hear their tales of mushroom-gruyere croissants and other sweet nothings. Next year! After Big Sur comes a significant climb, and then the route wanders back to the coast, flirting with the Los Padres National Forest on one side and the wild ocean on the other.
We stopped at the SAG van around mile 50 or 60 for snacks, sunscreen, and chamois cream, and then kept moving onward and (mostly) upward. The only part of the whole weekend where I got a wee bit grumpy was the last 10 miles into aptly-named Ragged Point, at mile 80, where the group stops for lunch. Christine and I had made some decent efforts to catch a faster group ahead of us, but couldn’t, which probably drained us unnecessarily. (This is a tough thing to balance on the coast ride: put some work in to catch a group so you don’t have to work as hard, or do your own thing but maybe have to fight a bit harder.)
Taking Christine’s wise advice, I left Ragged Point with a big, strong group. This is key, because after a few miles of steep descents (where I feared I would lose them!), the remainder of the day is flat or rolling, and can be very windy through San Simeon. I did my best to hold on to the pace line for dear life, though I was being pushed, even near the back, just out of my comfort zone. I held on until Cambria, where the group broke up, and Jene and I spun easy to our final resting point in Morro Bay (with a brief stop at the Brown Butter Cookie Co. in Cayucos. Twist my rubber arm).
- Route: View on Strava
- Eat: Breakfast—hotel continental breakfast in Monterey; lunch—Fritos, a Twix bar, and Coke (and a few bites of Jené’s ham and cheese sandwich at Ragged Point; dinner—a big-ass roast beef sandwich, salad, and a local IPA at Hofbrau in Morro Bay with Christine, Mario, and Sonja. I walked over to Pizza Port on Main to see friends afterwards, also a popular dinner choice.
- Stay: With Court and Jené at the Blue Sail Inn. This hotel is close to the water and a short walk to lots of restaurants. (The big group stays up on Main Street at the Days Inn.)
Monday » My roomie and fellow coffee addict Jené joined me at 5:50 a.m. to walk to the Rock Espresso Bar, just around the corner from our hotel. The three of us then packed, suited up, and grabbed breakfast at the RU van. The group’s plan to tackle an alternate route through wine country appealed to me greatly, after being traumatized by the last 50 miles last year.
From Morro Bay, you jut inland slightly, starting your day in the forgiving, flat farmland surrounding San Luis Obispo. The route then goes back out to the coast, and through Pismo Beach, before cutting through more farmland en route to Guadalupe—somewhat of a migrant-worker ghost town—at mile 40. Here is where the alternate route splits from the main coast ride route, which continues on the 1 through the soul-sucking Vandenberg Air Force Base and the town of Lompoc.
Our group turned eastward on the 166 toward Santa Maria, a 10-mile stretch of dirt-strewn, dusty, windy roads plagued by loud trucks (probably delivering my kale to Whole Foods). But every inch was later redeemed. If I do this ride next year, I will absolutely do this alternate route again. Even if it means I have to ride it alone. After a snack stop in Santa Maria, the road turns into Foxen Canyon Road, also known as the Foxen Canyon Wine Route. Say no more. As my new friend Henry put it, the roads were “like butter.” I had to hold myself back from wanting to kick it up a gear to cruise over the smooth, rolling roads, and through the impossibly green hills.
Lunch on the third day wasn’t until mile 84, in the adorable town of Los Olivos. My stomach was growling as I stood in line at Panino, thinking of the other riders chowing down their subs at Subway in Lompoc. I felt a wave of pity as I bit into my roasted chicken basil sundried tomato focaccia sandwich. From this point we only had 36 miles left into Santa Barbara, and I was actually feeling peppy. Claire from RU did round the table shoulder/neck massages (bless her!), we snapped some pics, and were on our way.
We left Los Olivos on the 154, to skirt Santa Ynez, Solvang, and Cachuma Lake, before a long climb over the Santa Ynez Mountains—a snaking ridge that borders the city of Santa Barbara to the north. I should’ve remembered from my July Gibraltar adventure that if we were coming into Santa Barbara from the north, we were going to be in for some gnarly climbing and descending. A screaming descent spit us out onto State Street and suddenly, we were done with our 375-mile, 19,300-foot, three-day journey down the coast.
- Route: View on Strava
- Eat: Breakfast—bagel and pb at the SAG van in Morro Bay; lunch—Sandwich, chips, and Coke at Panino in Los Olivos; dinner—salad bar from Lazy Acres in Santa Barbara and beer on the train.
- Stay: Showered at my friend Dane’s (thank you thank you thank you!) and then boarded the 7 p.m. train for home.
Thoughts on packing » Before leaving, I checked the blog for last year’s lessons, which is one of my favorite things about blogging. This kept me from packing 20 unnecessary bars, though it didn’t stop me from packing too many clothes. Oops.
- Cycling clothes: As in the photo at the top of this post, I packed three kits + socks into Ziploc bags. You pack the dirty kit back into the bag at the end of the day to ensure a fresh-smelling backpack. In addition to the kits themselves, I brought two pairs of arm-warmers (wore only one), a pair of knee warmers (that I never wore, the weather this year was unusually warm), a cycling hat and earband (never wore) and a pair of heavy gloves and lighter long-fingered gloves (never wore the heavy gloves). I used shoe covers every day but the final day, when I removed them half-way. The givens? Bike, helmet, Garmin, sunglasses. Some people I know wore a heart-rate monitor, I did not.
- Casual clothes: For non-ride attire (not counting PJ’s), I brought three pairs of pants: 2XU black compression tights, my soft lululemon tights, and jeans. I never wore the jeans. For tops, I brought a cami, a casual 3/4 length T-shirt, a long-sleeve athletic T, a plaid flannel button-up, a casual sweater, and a black zip-up hoodie. I never wore the sweater. In addition to my cycling shoes, one pair of casual Converses served me just fine. I brought two pairs of compression socks and only wore one pair. I brought four pairs of casual socks and wore one pair. I do recommend a light, cozy, and packable jacket for the evenings. Plus a hat or two. Takeaway? You need less than you think you do. NO ONE CARES.
- Food: Depending who you choose to SAG with, be careful not to bring too much food with you. There’s lots available along the way, and your SAG van will likely be well stocked. (Or you can do the high-roller version with SAG Monkey, who’ll make you gourmet snacks along the way.) I’d usually pack a bar and a banana in the morning to carry me through to lunch, as well as hydration mix in the bottles. I’d snack and refill water at the SAG stops, and then pop some chews and another mini bar or two to carry me through the rest of the day. Every person is different, however. In my backpack, I stashed some snacks from the bulk bin at Sprouts: granola, pb-filled pretzels, pumpkin seeds, and chocolate-covered almonds. Riding for hours can make a person munchy, even even after dinner.
- Others: Many SAGs will have chamois cream samples, but it’s wise to bring a small pot of your favorite if you have one, just in case (here’s mine). Leave your fancy primping stuff at home: I think I wore eyeliner once. Don’t forget the basics: toothbrush, comb, nail-clipper, maybe a small tube of Aquaphor for sore spots and topical muscle ointment (I used some on my piriformisaka—ass—and the warming sensation while I fell asleep was lovely.) You can even get away with not bringing shampoo, conditioner, and soap, as most hotels provide them. Also, I kicked myself for not bringing chain lube and a rag in a Ziploc bag. Thankfully, Christine had some.
Stats at a glance:
27,300 ft of climbing
22 hours in the saddle
2 Harmony Bars
3 Bonk Breakers
1 packet of Powerbar chews
3 big-ass sandwiches
1 fro yo
3 bags of chips
1 Twix bar
6 mini brown butter cookies from Brown Butter Cookie Company
0 saddle sores
1 7-hour drive
1 5-hour train ride
and probably lots I’m forgetting!