a turn of the wheel

Last week I set off on my first Coast Ride with the words “hopefully I’ll have the legs.” Three days and 375 miles later, it turns out my legs were the last thing I should’ve been concerned about.

Not that I have any reason to complain. Aside from some numb-fingered mornings, the weather was perfect. I had no flats. The company was enlivening. And what food lover could ask for a better weekend than one where replacing burned calories is physically impossible? I think the only complaint my legs are entitled to is jealousy—at all the attention my stomach got.

Sunrise roll out. (Photo: Courtney Clifford)

At the end of my one-way, two-wheeled trip back from San Francisco that was sunshine and conversation and backroad pit-stops, I can say that it was worth it. Worth the mile 110 bonk on day one, and the respective discomforts of days two (saddle) and three (gastrointestinal). Worth the now-achy knees, and post-Ironman style fatigue. It was rejuvenating and adventurous and I would do it again in a wind-swept, salt-drenched heartbeat.*

Coast ride

So much beauty.

the coast ride

Big Sur fog. (Photo: Courtney Clifford)

There are many reasons to do a multi-day ride such as this. If you aren’t as lucky as I am to have friends who’ve been through the ringer many times before, here are my own takeaways. If you get to the end and are still thinking “that sounds awesome,” then put it on your calendar for next January. And start stocking up on chamois cream, because…

There is no such thing as too much chamois cream. At the risk of this entire post disappearing into the too much information file, I will never, ever ride more than 40 miles without this stuff again. While I’ve had “issues” before, I’ve had nothing like I had this past weekend. Test and settle on a brand of chamois cream that works for you. And then buy it like it’s been discontinued. (Thank goodness for the samples of this product en route.)

Coast ride

Garmin stats on the shortest day; Court, me, and a rogue gummy bear.

Legs up the wall in our hotel room. (Photo: Courtney Clifford)

There is such a thing as too much food. Though it probably depends a lot on your unique physiology, beware of falling into the more is always better trap. I got swept up in everyone else’s nutrition anxieties (do I have enough bars? hydration mix? late-night snacks?), which turned out to be a waste of energy. While you absolutely must be prepared and can’t rely on hitting the SAG wagon stops, it’s not as desolate out there as some people suggested; I removed my bento box and a third bottle after the first day. It’s a fine balance. Know thyself. (And just because the nice guys at SAG Monkey let you to dip into their spread doesn’t mean you should—especially an hour after a raspberry scone.)

Plan, and then be flexible. I thought I was Coast Riding it with eight friends. I went up with three. I thought I’d ride 90 percent of the ride with certain people. That number was more like 60; the rest I rode either alone or with new friends. Taking care of all the logistics ahead of time eased my mind and made it easier to go with the flow once the weekend was at hand, but remaining flexible was the source of the real joy.

Coast ride

Croissants and vistas.

Set your intention. I forgot what my yoga instructors have taught me and didn’t decide ahead of time what I wanted to get out of the experience. Because of this, I found myself flip-flopping between wanting to try to hang onto the peloton (yeah, right) and stopping to take pictures or eat cinnamon blooms and mushroom-gruyere croissants. My lack of bike fitness decided for me, but I’d still recommend deciding on an approach ahead of time.Obviously flexibility is key here, too, but a general plan will help prevent unnecessary disappointment. (If it’s your first time, or you don’t have a lot of miles in your legs, I’d suggest the more relaxed option.)

Ask yourself a few questions ahead of time. How self-sufficient are you? (If not, I’d suggest the cadillac version of this ride, with the aforementioned SAG Monkey.) How comfortable are you riding alone in new places? What do you want to get out of the experience?

Our crew leaving Morro Bay on the final day.

You’ll never look at 100+ miles the same way again. One of the clearest standouts from the trip was how different 125 miles looked and felt on day as the days passed. By day two, and even more so by day three, seeing 60 or 70 miles on my Garmin hit me with a certain degree of shock. Really? It feels like only 30. This is a unique gift of big mileage, and a fascinating mental progression to me. I don’t know all the reasons, but I’d love to hear a Radio Lab on the topic. A trip like this will make a 112 mile Ironman bike seem doable—maybe not easy, but much more approachable.

The coast ride

I get by with a little help…

Coast ride

Good company.

Sometimes it’s good to zone out. There were long stretches of silence: no conversation, no music (I didn’t turn my iPod on once), and no thoughts of anything but riding my bike. I only checked email and texts once I was sprawled out in bed for the night. A trip like this tunes you into your body, as if pressing reset. And we all need this: to entertain only the rhythm of the pedal stroke and the whoosh of traffic and the crash of the sea. To keep focused only on momentum, rocks on the shoulder, a whale’s shape. Keeping light feet and a high cadence. Back flat, neck neutral, eyes forward. An endeavor like this keeps you zoned out, and honed in on just the simplest things. Which, at the end of the day, turn out to be the essentials.

The last stretch of coast before Santa Barbara (Photo: Michael Coughlin)

I leave you with some lyrics from one of my favorite songs, by Winnipeg singer-songwriter James Keelaghan, and the inspiration for this post’s title. Since we rode on MLK day (Monday), the first part is even more appropriate.

Martin Luther wrote a paper and nailed it to the door
Rosa Parks took her seat, she couldn’t take it anymore
Galileo set the sun at the center of the stage
the things we never challenge are the things that never change

but wait for a turn of the wheel 
wait for a turn of the wheel 

Salads and wine on the train ride home.

*If you like details, here are links to my routes: Day oneday two, and day three. Some were a few miles off due to not starting my Garmin again, but you get the picture. There are also some more superb photos by a professional photographer on the ride, as well as my whole Flickr collection.

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