Day 30: Lompoc, CA to Carpinteria State Beach - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

September 25, 2014

Day 30: Lompoc, CA to Carpinteria State Beach

Our day begins at a Circle K gas stations just inside the city limits, where we buy stuff that will have to pass for both breakfast and lunch today. Inside we find a brand of sweet potato crackers that are all-natural, gluten-free, vegan, low in sodium, and free of cholesterol, trans fat, and anything artificial. These of course are on closeout for fifty cents each, because none of the thousands of people who come through the place every day want that sort of thing. Then we stand out front, eating a sausage egg and cheese biscuit, a hard-boiled egg, and our cheap but delicious crackers. That's where we analyze what borderline creative movies are available for rent from the Redbox kiosk and try to reconcile the fact that Lays now sells cappucino-flavored potato chips while heavyset men and women pass by with just-bought donuts and cigarettes and cups of soda best measured in gallons. It's a harsh reminder of how much we've given up to pursue this traveling lifestyle.

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Fueled by carbs and regret we head south toward the ocean. In an instant Lompoc disappears and we enter a canyon bound by smooth hills of brown and green, with the narrow lines of dirt truck tracks winding up and over and in between them, and old barns that are no longer used perched near their bases. We stay on the highway that winds through the hills, which means we experience the morning alongside speeding, tailgating, honking, and shoulders littered with more garbage than we've seen anywhere else in California. As much as we would like to ignore those things and focus on the beauty that surrounds us up above, they're our constant and impossible-to-ignore companions all morning. It's so distracting that until Kristen yells at me from behind I don't notice the shapeless gray hulk of a dead wild boar that sits covered in flies no more than twenty feet off the edge of the shoulder.

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The landscape turns thicker, more lush, and more deeply green the farther we go. As we near the crest of our longest climb of the day — which compared to what we tackled in Oregon and Northern California feels like nothing at all — the breeze turns cooler and the air starts to smell of salt with a hint of low tide and this kind of freshness that it just doesn't have anywhere else. That's how we know the Pacific is close.

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The next few miles bring a spectacular descent that takes us soaring down into a deep canyon and then shoots us out onto Highway 101, which drops sharply again. With strong and sustained winds blasting down from the north we bend left and right through narrow gaps long ago blasted out by dynamite and brace ourselves for the sudden gusts that threaten to shove us and everything we own into the guardrail or out into the path of one of the semi trucks that cough and chatter with the sounds of engine braking. When at last we bottom out, we see the sparkling blue-green of the ocean looking up at us from beyond a rusted train trestle.

We eat lunch at the beach on a tired wooden picnic bench in the shade of a closed-up lifeguard tower. Feeling the sun and the heat, listening to the surf and the wind, looking out at the oil rigs in the sea with the Channel Islands rising out of the water through the line of haze at the horizon, and shielding my eyes from the glare of the sand, I decide that this is the exact moment we have crossed from Central to Southern California. Kristen tries to disagree, but when the Porsche with the vanity license plate that reads WNTMORE1 blows past us a few miles up the road while tailgating the SUV in front of him I know I've made the right call.

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This part of the California coast remains stunning. We ride a hundred feet above the white and green froth of waves crashing into beaches of golden sand, which are themselves backed by steep cliffs of tan and brown that are falling into the water one pebble or rock or chunk of dirt at a time. The coastline doesn't run straight, but rather heads toward the southeast in a series of arcs that first shoot out due south toward the ocean before ending at a point and taking a hard left turn back toward us. When we look out we spot thin lines of white from the waves along all of these bays and coves for as far as our eyes can see. Then there's the breeze, which blows from behind and pushes from off the water to deliver perhaps the most sublime combination of warm and cool I've ever experienced. It's hard to imagine a more perfect climate anywhere in America than where we stand today.

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But as soon as we start to lose ourselves in the magic of the natural world, an eighteen-wheeler hauling a load of scrap metal screams past and startles us back into reality, which has been and will continue to be traffic that never stops, not even for a minute. We can't have a conversation, only chunks of words that we have to yell out during one of the like eight second gaps in traffic. Worse yet, it's all so chaotic and constant that we don't have the time and space to think about anything but the crush of dangerous things all around us, which takes away one of the greatest joys of long distance bicycle travel.

We had planned to take a shorter day and camp near the shore at Refugio State Beach, but by the time we get there we've become so tired of the howl that we decide to keep going, because if we keep going we'll reach Los Angeles one day earlier, and as unfortunate as it is to say, we look forward to wrapping up this part of our ride and preparing for what lies ahead in New Zealand and Australia. Even though there's a long list of things that I love about California, riding through it on a bicycle anywhere south of the Sierras has almost fallen off that list.

We stop for burritos in Goleta, which is home to the University of California-Santa Barbara. There we sit outside among an extreme number of twenty-year-olds with dark tans dressed in tank tops, bright-colored shorts and flip flops. The dress code is the same for both the boys and the girls. The soundtrack includes a lot of like and totally and bro and stuttered laughing, which is about what you'd expect given all the fraternity and sorority houses we ride by and the fact that UCSB is widely known as the University of Casual Sex and Beer. Most everyone travels by cruiser bike or fixie or skateboard and looks more relaxed and free of worry than you and I ever will be. If you want a good time and a college degree, in that order, I don't think you could choose a better place.

Shirtless dudes on cruiser bikes riding beneath palm trees and past a series of bars with dollar beers. This is Goleta.
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We continue on through the UCSB campus and then pick up a network of trails that take us along the beach, through tidelands, past small farms, and then into the outskirts of Santa Barbara. We'd almost forgotten what it's like to ride without the madness of a clogged highway all around us.

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Santa Barbara gives us no trouble, even at rush hour. They have bicycle lanes that run all over town, which means that other than a few crowded intersections it's an easy ride. Along the waterfront we pedal next to beaches where shirtless dudes play volleyball and then long fields of grass where five-year-old kids play something that looks like soccer. In the bay that's a backdrop for all of it, sailboats rise and fall on the waves kicked up by the evening breeze. Every part of the weather — the temperature, the humidity, the wind — could not be more perfect.

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A long series of frontage roads take us the last ten miles from Santa Barbara to Carpinteria. It's a race against darkness that ends in a draw, which means that by the time we set up the tent it's done more by feel than sight.

With the sound of waves crashing into the beach behind us, and the air heavy with the smell and the wetness of the ocean, we lay inside the tent and agree that even though we're burnt out on parts of California, in almost every other way we are soaring. We're in great spirits, we're at last in strong riding shape, and we seem to have left behind the phase of this trip where we lived in a perpetual states of sore and tired. Today we traveled seventy miles but arrived in camp tired, not used up, which even two weeks ago would have been unimaginable. We've learned how to cook with very little, how to ride with one another, and how to live together in the closest of spaces. We are happy and we are in love. And each of us believes that our best days are still to come.

Today's ride: 70 miles (113 km)
Total: 1,364 miles (2,195 km)

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