Reflections on My Cycling Adventures So Far, Part IV

San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles and back, March 11-14, 2021. I had been meaning to find a reason to visit Paso Robles and one of my closest friends. I got on RWGPS and designed a roundtrip route from SLO to Paso. I would drive to SLO, stay at a hotel where I could leave my car, pedal to Paso, spend the night with my friends, and ride back to SLO the next day.

I utilized a RWGPS feature where I could see if anyone had already developed a similar route, and sure enough, found one that I repurposed as my own. The original route had good notes, but I overlooked one key part of the route.

My route would head northwest from San Luis Obispo towards Morro Bay and then inland heading East on Old Creek Road from Cayucos. The original route, the one I copied, exited Old Creek Road at Santa Rita Creek Road, and I missed this bit and it cost me dearly. I’m still riding my 2005 Diamondback Edgewood, weighing in at 30 pounds before baggage and rider. I suddenly flashed back to the climbs and switchbacks I dealt with on Old Stagecoach Road. Once again, I had to mix riding and hike-a-bike in order to reach the top.

Once I summitted, I began a nice downhill ride and connected with Highway 46 heading East into Paso Robles. I made it to my friend’s house where I was greeted with a cold beer, well-deserved.

March weather had been fairly kind to me Saturday as I headed West on Highway 46 back to Highway 1. I had added a Garmin Edge 130 to my tech and installed an additional application from the Garmin app store called Windfield by Scott Beam. This is a terrific app and lets the rider see windspeed and direction. Wind, as everyone who rides a bike knows, is the bane of cyclists.

As I’m climbing Highway 46 out of Paso, I’m glancing at my Garmin, and the Windfield app is showing 19 MPH winds from the West. I’m getting a break from these high winds on the climb to the Highway 46 summit, but once I start heading downhill, I’m riding straight into the teeth of the almost 20 MPH headwind. A headwind so strong I’m still having to pedal on what is one of the longest, fastest downhills in the area.

Highway 46 Summit heading West towards Highway 1

I reach Highway 1 and turn south and suddenly the wind is at my back — a tailwind! Nirvana! I cruise into Cayucos and make the obligatory stop at Brown Butter Cookie Company and buy a bag of originals. I had downloaded a reverse route on my Garmin, but I had pivoted to Highway 46 after experiencing Old Creek Road the day before. I used turn-by-turn on my iPhone, stayed on Highway 1 until the turnoff into San Luis Obispo and cruised to my hotel. I made a mental note to revise my SLO to Paso out-and-back route for another future ride.

Finally, this turns out to be my last ride on the trusty and dependable Diamondback Edgewood. Time to upgrade.

Reflections on My Cycling Adventures So Far, Part I

Partially torn tibialis anterior tendon. Yes, I’ve torn the one on the inside of my right ankle, from riding my bike frequently on long distances. Surgery to repair the tendon is scheduled for Jan 5, 2023, so no cycling for me until March 2023, which has given me time to reflect. With the end of 2022 in sight, I’ve decided to chronicle my cycling adventures so far.

I’m not sure what first inspired me to travel by bike. Like many, the COVID lockdown forced me to find a way to get some exercise. In 2005, I had purchased a Diamondback Edgewood hybrid commuter bike. At the time I was just looking for basic cycling transportation. The Edgewood had plenty of gears, riser handlebars, suspension fork, dropper seat post and index shifting. It was easy to ride and handled hills and climbs fairly easily.

Prior to COVID, I had done a little bit of long-distance riding. In 2006 cyclists were allowed to bike the LA Marathon route, which I did, and a few years later did the same at the Pasadena Marathon.

2020, the first full year of COVID lockdown, I got serious about riding, starting with 10-mile rides and building up to 20-plus mile rides. Nothing fancy, just rides around the Palos Verdes Peninsula where I live. I could pedal down my driveway and in a minute be cycling along the Pacific Ocean.

Once I got more serious about cycling, I began to peruse the Internet to learn more about it. Which ultimately led me to websites dedicated to travel by bike, like the Adventure Cycling Association, which I consider the Rand McNally of bike mapping. I was amazed at the number of bike tours offered by the ACA. The thought of traveling by bike had never crossed my mind. Bike touring was a real thing!

Googling “bike touring” took me to YouTube channels on bike travel, where I discovered Ryan Van Duzer, riding his bike from Honduras to his home in Boulder CO, pulling his worldly belongings in a trailer behind his used Trek. So now bike touring has become bike packing, since he carried camping gear as well. But my takeaway was his message: you don’t need a fancy bike, just ride the one you’re with. “Get out there!” In other words, my Edgewood would have to do for any bike travel I might undertake. So be it.

Around the same time, I discovered Shift Bicycle, which at the time consisted of a mobile bike repair van operated by its owner, Jason Morin. Riding my bike around Malaga Cover, I spotted the Shift Bicycle van, looked up the contact info on the Internet, and made an appointment for a tune-up on my Edgewood, done right at my house. Jason advised me that my rear cassette was pretty worn, and the small cog was pretty much non-functional. I managed to hunt down a new wheelset and Jason installed a new cassette along with new brake and derailleur cables.

Then I began shopping for accessories on Amazon, purchasing a new rechargeable headlight and taillight combo, pannier racks front and rear, pannier bags, and a seat bag. New saddle? Check. New helmet? Check. I added fenders and new tires. Watching Ryan Van Duzer’s videos inspired me to buy an action camera. I found a cheap GoPro knock-off on eBay. Now I was ready to go someplace on my bike.

But where? I decided my first bike travel trip would start in Santa Barbara and wind its way down the Pacific Coast, eventually right to my front door in Palos Verdes Estates. My trip would coincide with Adventure Cycling’s Bike Travel Weekend. Let the adventure begin!

The Three Most Influential People in Bike Travel

L to R: Ryan Van Duzer, Alee Denham, Russ Roca

Ryan Van Duzer, Alee Denham and Russ Roca have a lot in common: they are absolute bicycle nerds – and that’s a good thing. They also share a love of bike travel – bike touring and bikepacking – and they all make a living riding a bike. They make superb videos of their travels and informational videos on bikes and accessories. They are total gear junkies. They shun racing bikes, spandex outfits and clip-in pedals. In short, they’re a lot like me. Individually and as a group, they have inspired me to explore the world on a bike, and they will inspire you as well.

Ryan Van Duzer is the most inspirational bike traveler in the world. Period. I first discovered Ryan perusing videos about RAGBRAI, the annual bike ride event in Iowa. I was planning to participate in my first RAGBRAI and learned there were a lot of helpful videos on YouTube, and there were. There was also a video from Ryan Van Duzer, where he rode his bike from Boulder CO and across Nebraska to get to the starting town of RAGBRAI in Iowa and stealth camped along the way!

Fun facts about Ryan:

  • He once rode a bicycle from Honduras to his home in Boulder CO, hauling a trailer with all his gear
  • He doesn’t own a car – he rides his bike everywhere – to the grocery store, the airport, the gym
  • He once rode a 3-speed bike across the country and finished the last 50 miles with only one pedal
  • He loves beans, especially when they’re in a burrito
  • When he rides through a tunnel he sings “Ole, ole, ole, ole!”
  • His mantra: “No whammies, no flatties, no crashies!”
  • His mission statement: “Get out there!”

The “Get out there!” mission statement seeks to inspire everyone to ride a bike. Ride one for fun, ride one to work, ride one across town, across the state, across the country. You don’t need a fancy bike – almost any bike will do (remember, he rode a 3-speed across the country) – just get out there. Fully energized from this message, I decided to “Get out there” and start doing a little adventure cycling and create my own videos.

If you’ve seen any of Ryan’s videos, you know what a great storyteller he is. Basically, “I’m going on a bike ride and I’m going to show you everything I’m seeing.” His drone shots are incredible. He puts a lot of thought, effort and time into framing his shots. He speaks directly to you, sharing his thoughts and emotions.

Van Duzer’s videos often don’t pull any punches. Anyone who’s done any bike travel knows there are good days and bad. Ryan shows them both. Riding in rain, sleet or wind? Check. Booting a tire after a nail puncture? Check. Hike-a-bike up steep hills, straining at every foot? Check. Busting a carbon belt drive? Check. Navigating his bike down a narrow stairway in his condo? Check. Pushing his bike-in-a-box through an airport? Check. There are really no behind-the-scenes in his video, because he’s telling the whole story – not just the glamor shots (plenty of those, he has a good eye).

Van Duzer generally rides solo on some pretty intimidating routes. He’s done most of the Great Divide, the Baja Divide, the Colorado Trail and more by himself. Frequently his is joined by Canadian John Freeman, who bikes the world with his dog Mira, who has her own Instagram page.

Ryan is also an athlete, competing in marathons and just recently in the Leadville 100. Ran 100 miles and videoed the whole thing – the pain and the gain.

Van Duzer doesn’t hawk any merchandise, although I expect he will eventually. He promotes Priority Bicycles and helped design the off-road beast called the Priority 600X Adventure (I want one!) and rides the heck out of it. He favors certain bikepacking equipment brands – tents, panniers, frame bags. Some of the manufacturers are local Boulder companies. He’ll talk tires, rims, brakes, handlebars, racks, pedals with the best of them.

He also promotes local businesses. Recently he published a video of his trip to a market called Nude Foods where food is unpackaged, and shoppers use returnable glass jars to load up on the goods. Of course, he rode his bike outfitted with rear pannier bags, got his groceries, loaded them into the bags and pedaled his way back home.

Van Duzer has managed to create an enviable life based on a very simple lifestyle. In his own way, he’s made the world a better place. You cannot help but feel better after watching one of his videos. You can follow Ryan on Patreon, YouTube and Instagram.

Alee Denham is the world’s most prolific bike traveler. He has ridden across at least 5 continents and pedaled hundreds of thousands of miles. He is, in my opinion, the ultimate bikepacking expert on both bicycles and gear. Alee publishes an annual guide to the best bikepacking bikes, maybe the most thorough and objective of its kind. He’s Australian, so his analyses are more international in scope, so many of the bike brands he evaluates may be unknown to U.S. riders. He also does bikepacking reviews on YouTube and watching these inspired me to find and acquire a Surly Long Haul Trucker for my bike travel adventures.

In addition to the Bikepacker’s Buying Guide, Alee also publishes The Touring Buyer’s Guide and the How-to Travel By Bike. Order here.

Alee quit his job after socking away savings for over a year and selling unneeded possessions. He then combined his two greatest passions – cycling and traveling – and began to navigate the world by bike. He appears to earn a modest living from his content.

I would characterize Alee as more of an explorer than traveler. He goes wherever 7 or 8 hours of pedaling will take him. While I am super, super obsessive about turn-by-turn, Alee appears to focus more on the ride than the route, although he does use his smartphone for navigation.

What is most endearing about Alee is the mountain of knowledge he’s built up and his willingness to share with others so they too can have the same experience. You can follow Alee on Patreon, Instagram, YouTube and his website.

The Path Less Pedaled. Russ Roca and Laura Crawford, like Alee Denham, sold all their possessions to travel by bike and chronicle their adventures. Together they’ve logged about 15,000 miles in two countries and the mileage and list of countries is growing.

I discovered the Path Less Pedaled when I was researching cycling routes from San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles. One article featured a description of the route I eventually built in RideWithGPS and used, and the article credited PLP.

I identify with Russ and Laura because they dress and ride like me – no spandex – just regular outdoor clothing. Russ often wears Crocs or sneakers, maybe even sandals sometimes. PLP has come up with solid branding for their community of followers. First, there’s Party Pace, which champions riding for fun at a pace that suits you, and the Un-Serious Cyclist, which I definitely am.

In fact, you should watch Russ’ “un-serious” YouTube on five things he loves that serious cyclists hate. I identified with all five.

Russ and Laura are solid merchandisers, offering a variety of products such as stickers, patches, bandanas and hats. As you can see, I’m a consumer of their goods.

A selection of my personal Path Less Pedaled Merchandise

Projects of the Path Less Pedaled includes the Bicycle Tourism Advisor, which was started after seeing the positive impact bicycle touring has on small-town America. The BTA is intended to help guide communities and public agencies on how best to take advantage of bicycle touring. You can follow Russ and Laura on Patreon, YouTube, Instagram and on The Path Less Pedaled.

Summary. I’ve given my readers just a snapshot of the people I believe are the top influencers in bike travel. They have inspired me individually but also as a group. At the heart of all their messages is simple: your bike can take you around the block or around the world. Start your cycling adventure today, and we’re here to help you do it.

Meet Homer

I definitely observe what bikes cyclists are riding. And wearing. But when it comes to bikes, I’m always on the lookout for a ride like mine, made of quality, durable steel. There are bike manufacturers that build exclusively in steel, companies like Surly, the brand I ride. Another steel frame brand is Rivendell Bicycle Works in Walnut Creek, CA, founded by Grant Peterson (more about him later).

So, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw a Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen bike at a rest stop during the Lighthouse Century a few weeks ago. Rivendell bikes are known for their beautifully lugged steel frames. Take a look:

Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen
Example of the art that goes into a Rivendell nameplate

As I’m admiring the A. Homer Hilsen the owner comes and takes it out of the bike rack, so I immediately struck up a conversation with him and learned we had something in common: the love of a high-quality, durable and inexpensive (comparatively) but beautifully crafted steel bike that’s meant to last a lifetime.

I first learned of Rivendell bikes during an Adventure Cycling Tour in Death Valley, earlier this year. Of the dozen or so riders, three of us were riding Surly’s, with one Rivendell. Not long after that I watched Russ Roca of Path Less Pedaled interview Grant Peterson, Rivendell’s founder. The title of the YouTube video is “The Future of Rivendell Bikes?” Notice the question mark. You can view it here.

In the interview, Grant Peterson comes across as a guy who cares about his product and the people he employs. A small niche bike manufacturer, Rivendell doesn’t make a lot of money, so its future is dependent upon a steady but growing customer base. For more insight, read the history of Rivendell here. Just the mere fact that Rivendell named one of its bikes A. Homer Hilsen tells you a lot about the company and the people.

Grant Peterson is also the author of “Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding a Bike”. I downloaded the Kindle version, read it and it has become one of the most influential books in my library. Just Ride is a love letter to the joy of riding a bike, before cyclists became obsessed with racing, weight, speed, distance and spandex outfits.

My Death Valley Bike Tour

Me and Surly at Sea Level – Death Valley 2022

The Adventure Cycling Association is the premier bike touring organization in North America. I wanted to participate in one of their organized tours for some time. I had registered for a long weekend, self-contained ride around Lake Tahoe in September 2021. Due to fire and smoke, this ride was canceled, and I was given a refund and a credit to be used on another tour. I scouted the catalog of rides available and chose Death Valley, for a couple of reasons. First, I could drive to the start town, avoiding airfare and bike shipping expenses, and second, I’d never been to Death Valley. According to ACA, Death Valley is one of their most popular rides. I can understand why.

My opinion, there’s no place like Death Valley. I have never seen an environment or landscape like it. There were sand dunes, salt flats, valleys, canyons and mountains. At night the stars were so brilliant they dazzled the beholder. Death Valley is the largest national park in the U.S. It contains a wide variety of species, including the Death Valley pupfish, which have survived and thrived in this harsh environment. (See Wikipedia for more about Death Valley)

The Death Valley tour is a van-supported version, meaning ACA tour guides haul your stuff from place to place, along with all the other equipment needed to support and feed about 15 people. Riders are allowed two bags (I had two duffels, one for clothes and one for camping gear). Anything else I might need I carried with me on my bike.

Since the route was all paved road, my Surly Long Haul Trucker was just fine, even with my 28mm tire widths. I added two MooseTreks water bottle holders on the handlebars, and a water bottle cage on the down tube, so I had three 24 oz. water bottles to stay hydrated. I affixed a ROCKBROS top bar bag to hold a mini-pump, selfie-stick and Handlebar Jacks. Finally I added a ROCKBROS 8L saddle bag that attached to my seat post. And I am good.

The reason to participate in an Adventure Cycling tour is to be part of a group and be led by experienced leaders. I’ve only experienced an Adventure Cycling tour, so I can’t compare to others. I will say, however, the tour was well-organized, and the pre-tour communications were detailed and helpful. But I think the biggest appeal was joining a group of strangers who shared a passion for cycling and touring. One can learn a lot from hanging out and riding with other cyclists.

The Death Valley bike tour route is a loop that runs from Pahrump Nevada north to Beatty, then west into Death Valley, eventually winding south and east and back to Pahrump. The tour leaders sent the RideWithGPS files out ahead of time, and I downloaded the route to my Garmin Edge 130.

Death Valley Bike Tour Route

The tour lasts 8 days, of which 2 are layover days. The ACA counts the arrival day as the first layover day.

Day One, Saturday Feb 26, 2022. Pahrump Nevada. Pahrump is 62 miles north of Las Vegas, so about a 4.5-hour drive for me, which is no big deal. A few other riders also drove to Pahrump, from Northern California and as far away as Washington state and Ohio. The rest of the participants flew to Las Vegas and hoteled Friday night and then loaded their bikes on top of the Adventures Cycling van Saturday morning and headed to Pahrump with the tour leaders. We all gathered at a hotel that had been reserved for us by the tour leaders.

One of the unique things about Van Supported tours is that the riders share cooking responsibilities for dinner and then breakfast the following morning. The tour leaders provided dinner the first night, after which we went grocery shopping at a Walmart in Pahrump. You’re paired with another rider and given a menu with ingredients. My cooking partner and I were responsible for dinner on the third night, the entre being red beans and rice. Back at the hotel, we loaded all the food into the van, utilizing coolers for the food that required refrigeration, and everything else was stored on shelves.

Day Two, Sunday Feb 27, 2022. Pahrump to Beatty Nevada. 75 miles. Everyone took advantage of the free breakfast buffet at the hotel and then hopped on our bikes and headed north to Beatty. A few of the riders had paired up and rode together, but there was no official start. Everyone just took off. Since I’m a solitary rider most of the time, I didn’t mind that I found myself riding alone. I was dressed warmly, wearing long cycling pants and a fleece top. I think it was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit when I started off.

The route utilized back roads out of Pahrump, eventually connecting with U.S. Highway 95. The van had parked near the intersection to 95, where I refueled, filled my water bottles, and rested up a bit before the long ride to Beatty. I will mention that the ride to Beatty on 95 was my least favorite part of the tour. The one highlight was the Area 51 Alien Center, where all the riders stopped and took photos and grabbed some lunch.

The famed Area 51 Alien Center

The rest of the ride was mostly uphill, and the riders were buffeted by high winds and huge semis as they blew past on a busy highway. Eventually I made my way into Beatty and located the hotel that had been reserved for us that night. The Day Two crew made dinner for a hungry group of cyclists. I was grateful not to have cooking and cleaning duties that night, as I was spent from the long, busy climb into Beatty. So I hit the sack early and slept soundly.

On this particular tour, sleeping arrangements were in hotels for the first two nights. The rest of the tour we would be camping. The night of Day Two I was grateful for a hotel and a king-sized bed.

Also on Day Two, one of the riders bailed on the tour, telling one of the tour guides it wasn’t what he had expected. So, he Uber’d back to Pahrump where he had left his truck. Day Two was probably not what anyone expected, but that’s adventure cycling. Some days are good, some not. Every uphill has a downhill, just keep pedaling.

Day Three, Beatty to Mesquite Spring, 64 miles. Heading west out of Beatty I encountered a 7% grade before crossing into California from Nevada. At the top of the climb Death Valley was laid out in front of me, and it was a thrilling site, and downhill all the way. Another rider and I stopped at the entrance to Death Valley National Park to use the restroom. While we read about Death Valley on a giant display, a volunteer Park Ranger came up to us and we chatted with her for a while. Turns out the National Park Service has a robust volunteer program. We said goodbye to the nice volunteer lady and headed downhill to the basin of the valley.

The tour package we received pre-ride had warned us not to get fooled by the downhill ride into the valley, as we still had to negotiate a long climb to the campsite. Experiencing the long downhill, I forgot all about that. The route made a right turn near the basin, where the van had parked, so I stopped to replenish my water and chat with the tour leader. I had packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which I devoured under a canopy. It was starting to heat up. Next stop, Mesquite Spring campground.

The route was fairly flat as I departed the rest stop, so I hardly noticed that the elevation began to rise gradually. I had worn shorts and my fleece top, and I now removed the fleece and stuffed it in my saddle bag. I was feeling the heat and dryness as the road continued to rise. I glanced at the image on my Garmin, which showed a significant climb, and the little icon that represented me was still at the base. The Garmin Edge 130 is a small device, and to render hills it must squeeze the image, so any rise looks like Everest. Still, the image was doing a job on me mentally.

I kept pedaling. The grade was maybe 2-5% but the climb seemed endless, plus there was a decent 5 MPH headwind. I kept looking down at my Garmin, only to see that I had made little progress. I shifted down to my lowest chainring in front, and about midway on my rear cassette. I was able to maintain a decent cadence on the climb. Yet no summit in site, and the icon on my Garmin had barely moved.

The climb to the Mesquite Spring campground was a little over 20 miles. I finally crested the summit and made the left turn to proceed to the campground. It was late in the day and I had cooking duties this night, and I still had to pitch my tent and sort my gear. I was pretty toasted.

Since I was late and dinners were scheduled for 6:00 pm, some of the riders that did not have cooking duty pitched in, which was really cool of them. My cooking partner starting doing meal prep, and others helped while I set up my tent. I had purchased a sixer of Lagunitas IPA back in Pahrump, which was chilling in one of the coolers, so I grabbed one, popped the cap and took a long swig of the ice-cold beer. Then I got cooking.

Dinner turned out well. We had two versions of our red beans and rice entree – vegan with no sausage and regular with. My cooking partner and I had done a surprisingly good job of gathering the right amount of ingredients. There was virtually no food left over.

That evening we held a group meeting to discuss the next day’s ride. The tour leaders had a satellite device for scouting weather forecasts and for emergencies. The forecast told us we would face some morning winds. We also learned that the campground had no lights, and so later in the evening everyone turned off their headlamps and we were treated to a spectacular celestial view of the stars. We hung around for a bit, chatting amongst ourselves, and then everyone began to turn in.

If the night of Day Two had been restful, the night of Day Three was not. First, I would point out that I’m 70 years old, and have a bladder the same age. I was up frequently during the night to use the “restroom”. Second, my sleeping pad had sprung a leak, so during the night I had to re-inflate it several times. So, I didn’t sleep well or enough, and was not energized in the morning, with breakfast duties upcoming.

But there was coffee. Starbucks made in French presses. We were furnished four presses and plenty of Starbuck’s Pike Roast. Unfortunately, on this morning, brisk winds buffeted the flames on the gas grill, making it hard to get water to a boil. But we persisted, and everyone was able to enjoy a cup or two of strong coffee and a continental breakfast.

Day Four, Mesquite Spring to Stovepipe Wells, 38 miles. We finished breakfast and packed up our gear and loaded it into the van for transport to the next location. The route this day had a side trip to the Ubehebe Crater, which would add another 16 miles to the route. I was so tired from a restless night and knowing there would be a headwind going to the crater, I decided to join some of the other riders who opted out of the side trip. That left a mild 38-mile jaunt, now a breezy downhill compared to yesterday’s constant uphill. We rolled into Stovepipe Wells midday. We were also down another cyclist, who SAG’d out bothered by an old injury. But he stayed with the group, and his wife, and I was glad he did, because he was really likable and fun to be around.

Compared to the very spartan and remote Mesquite Spring campground, Stovepipe Wells offered stores, restaurants, showers and a swimming pool. I kicked myself for not bringing a bathing suit. I could’ve jumped into the pool wearing my chamois liners but thought that was gross. I settled for a shower.

At the store I bought a half pint of vodka, the only brand they had, but that didn’t really matter. I enjoy a cocktail after a bike ride, or any time for that matter. It was nice to have a mixed drink before dinner. Another rider had brought a fifth of Crown Royal. All riders had arrived in camp, and we gathered under the popup and lounged in chairs provided by ACA. It was warm but not Death Valley hot.

The campsite was decent but also featured a very rocky surface. I had to sweep the ground free of rocks and pebbles before pitching my tent, mindful of the fact that my sleeping pad was still leaky. Again, I had to keep re-inflating my sleeping pad during the night, limiting hours of decent sleep.

Day Five, Stovepipe Wells to Furnace Creek, 50 miles. Another fairly easy ride to Furnace Creek, which has become a tourist destination in the last several years. There’s a resort, shopping, a golf course, camping and a swimming pool. I used the showers and then rode my bike to the shops where I found an outdoor store and a was able to purchase new sleeping pad.

The route also had another side trip, where we could, if we wanted, ride past Furnace Creek and then uphill to the Artist’s Pallette, a colorful rock formation. Again, a few of us opted out of the extra mileage and settled in nicely at the campground.

Day Six, layover day in Furnace Creek. This was to be a relaxing day for recovery or sightseeing. Some of us were going with one of the tour leaders in the van to check out the Artist’s Pallette. Some were going hiking. Some were headed to the swimming pool. The van trip hit a bump when we awoke to learn that one of our group had tested positive for COVID.

Nothing like a positive COVID test to put a damper on a bike tour. None of the rest of us were symptomatic, and barring development of any symptoms, we would all test when we returned home. But the head tour leader had to take the rider in the van to Las Vegas where she could get a PCR test. There went our ride to the Artist’s Pallette. I spent the rest of the day hydrating and napping on my new and comfortable sleeping pad.

That evening we had another group meeting to discuss Day Seven’s route. The satellite forecast called for head winds, so I decided that I would try and get an early start.

Day Seven, Furnace Creek to Shoshone, 74 miles. It’s one thing to hear about forecasted headwinds, quite another to ride into the teeth of one. I managed to get out of camp by daybreak. It seemed a little breezy, so I mentally crossed my fingers. Then I got out on the main road and was nearly blown off my bike.

Headwinds are the scourge of cyclists. So are hills, but eventually you crest a summit and ride downhill. The route to Shoshone was directly in the line of the headwind, and if you stopped pedaling, you stopped period. My Garmin was telling me the wind speed was 15 MPH, but I felt it was blowing a lot harder than that. I figure it was more like 20-30 MPH. There was no place to hide. Nothing to break the wind.

Our first rest stop would be at Badwater Basin, about 20 miles from Furnace Creek. Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. By the time I reached this rest stop, I was toast. So were other riders. At Badwater Basin, about half the group SAG’d out.

The next rest stop was another 20 miles, and four of the group made it to this location before SAG’ing. Only two riders completed the entire ride from Furnace Creek to Shoshone. I have nothing but admiration and respect for them. For me, it was not going to happen.

A word about SAG’ing. SAG stands for Support and Gear. If you’re on a van-supported tour, there is that option to SAG out and hitch a ride to the next destination if you can’t continue for whatever reason. Obviously, if you’re on a self-contained tour, and carrying all your stuff, there is no SAG and you will have to cowboy-up and finish the ride. Yet I have read many firsthand accounts written by riders who were riding self-contained, either across the country, on the Great Divide MTB Route, or to South America. In many cases, these riders encountered conditions that forced them to alter their riding plans for the day. It happens. Was I wistful that I hadn’t completed the entire route? A little.

The campsite this night was an RV Park in Shoshone, and we happily discovered that the tent sites were covered with soft grass. The park had nice facilities, laundry if you needed it, and great showers. After setting up camp, cleaning up and enjoying a beer or cocktail with the group, we all headed over to the Crowbar Cafe and Saloon where our tour leaders sponsored dinner.

Despite only managing 20 miles this day, I was still tired from the week and ended up finally having a solid nights’ sleep on the final night of the tour. Thank you new sleeping pad.

Day Eight, Shoshone to Pahrump, 28 miles. It had been a stellar week, but I personally was glad there was but one ride left in the tour. Two of our group skipped the final ride and SAG’d back to Pahrump. The route out of Shoshone was blessed with a tailwind, a decent climb right out of the gate, and then mostly downhill or flat ride to Pahrump. It was much cooler this day, and while I had worn a long-sleeved shirt over a t-shirt, I wished for my fleece which was packed in my gear. I had also chosen to wear shorts, as usual, but kind of wished I’d worn my long pants. The sky remained overcast, keeping the temperature cool all the way to Pahrump.

Back at the first day’s hotel, we said our goodbye’s and wished each other safe travels. Those of us who had driven packed our bikes into our cars, along with our gear, and prepared for the drive home. The rest loaded their bikes back on the van rooftop and headed back to Las Vegas. I grabbed a Starbuck’s for the ride home and headed south on 95 toward Las Vegas and then hopped on the 15 heading southwest to LA.

Observations. I came away with a deep appreciation and respect for the Adventure Cycling Association and its tour operations. Planning and supporting over 75 rides in North America is a staggering achievement. And consider that ACA has mapped routes all over North America that thousands of cyclists have used to navigate their rides. The ACA is like the Rand McNally of cycling.

  • Would I do this tour again? Many of us felt like it was a one-off, a great experience but not one you’d do again and again. Some of us felt like the tour was a lot harder than we had anticipated. Still, I think about this tour often, as I’m a little sad that I didn’t take advantage of the side tours and didn’t finish the next to last ride. Death Valley is like no place on earth, and I am so glad I’ve been there and experienced its wonder.
  • Would I do another Adventure Cycling tour? Absolutely.
  • I met and rode with a great group of people that I would never come across under any other circumstances. I remain in touch with a few and hope to meet up with them again in the future. Great people sharing a love of cycling and touring.
  • ACA provided a Google site for all the tour registrants so that the tour leaders and riders could introduce themselves and get to know each other. A few had done several tours, some had done one or two, some like me were officially touring for the first time.
  • We had strong riders, and we had weaker riders, like me. I ride at a slow pace compared to others. I ride a steel frame bike that weighs about 25 pounds unloaded, plus my 200 pounds on the saddle.
  • Four of us were riding steel frame bikes, and three of us were riding Surly Truckers. The LHT and Disc Truckers are great touring bikes, with plenty of gear range, good geometry and a solid road feel. One in the steel frame group was riding a Rivendell, a brand with which I was not familiar. So, I learned something new, and later did research on Rivendell, and discovered its founder, Grant Peterson. He has written a fantastic book on cycling, titled “Just Ride: a Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike“. I read it, and his philosophy dovetails nicely with mine.
  • The four of us on steel bikes also had Brooks leather saddles. I’ve ridden on a Brooks saddle for the last couple of years. One was brand new and breaking it in was painful. When I bought my Surly LHT on Craigs List, it came with a Brooks saddle that was fairly broken in. All that said, the four of us were all complaining about discomfort with the Brooks. I noticed that both of our tour leaders’ bikes had Terry seats. When I returned home, I investigated the company and ended up buying a Terry Liberator Y Elite after consultation with a customer support rep. BTW, she was excellent and the saddle, after riding on it since March, and after a few minor tweaks on height, fore and aft, and pitch, has proven to be much more comfortable than the Brooks. I shared this info with the other riders.
  • Working as an ACA tour leader is hard work. Ours not only shuttled our gear from place to place, but also pitched in on the cooking, led group meetings and kept us informed of what to expect, gave us nightly forecasts, rode with us occasionally, and provided support along the way. One leader had to escort the COVID victim to Las Vegas, certainly not how he had planned the day. ACA tour leaders really make a difference.
  • All but a few of us wore traditional cycling outfits. I’m a t-shirt and cargo shorts guy. I don’t believe spandex provides any kind of advantage on a bike tour. It’s not a race, it’s a ride.
  • Most of the riders were retirees, and a few of us were still working full time. I can’t go on a bike tour on a whim. I have to plan ahead, make sure I have enough PTO saved up in my account, get my boss’ permission, submit the request for time off, and then go. I can do maybe one week-long tour per year, the rest of the time doing weekend and early morning rides in my area.
  • The van-supported bike tour is a nice compromise between self-contained and fully supported trips.
  • To finish up this blog post, here’s a little viddy I made to memorialize the occasion. Cheers!

Tour de Big Bear 2022

August 5 I participated in the Annual Tour de Big Bear (Big Bear Lake) and I must say it was the best organized ride I’ve joined. Sure, 50 miles is a lot for me at that altitude, but I finished in less than 5 hours and enjoyed some gorgeous scenery as well.

TDBB is not just a bike ride, it’s an event, and the organizers did a great job of supporting and promoting it as such. From the well-represented vendor expo to the announcers at the start/finish, to the aid stations and live music, the organizers created an atmosphere of fun and entertainment. My wife and I made a weekend trip of the event and took in some of the atmosphere Big Bear has to offer.

I chose the 50-mile route, not wanting to over-challenge myself. I’ve done longer rides but I was being respectful of the altitude and climbs.

All routes began and finished at the Bear Mountain ski resort, and the starts were staggered according to which route you were riding. So all the 50-milers started together at 9:00 am.

The 50-mile route, pictured above, headed northeast from Bear Mountain, then west along the North Shore of Big Bear Lake, through Fawnskin to Snow Valley, the first aid station. Then retraced the route east back through Fawnskin and further west to loop around (the dry) Baldwin Lake and back to the finish line. What was really cool is the announcer called out my name as I crossed the finish line. Everyone who registered for TDBB had a bib with a number and a chip. The finish line structure had sensors so you were recognized as you crossed.

Crossing the TDBB finish line and hearing my name called

Bike Travel Weekend 2021

Friday June 4, 2021 I’ll ride from San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles, about 50 miles, and then Saturday reverse the route back to SLO. I’ve done this ride before but last time made the mistake of routing over a major climb. Then I learned about Santa Rita road which isn’t as challenging, but does have a section unpaved. I inspected the unpaved part on Google Maps satellite and it doesn’t look to gnarly. No rain in the forecast (we’re having another drought season) so no mud to worry about. This ride is part of #biketravelweekend, sponsored by the Adventure Cycling Association.

My Cycling (almost mis-) Adventure

For the second time in as many days I feel a little panic creeping into my throat. I’m stuck climbing a seemingly endless set of steep grades near the San Marcos Pass. The road is an old two-lane asphalt that’s snaking higher and higher. It’s getting near 4 pm and sunset will occur around 5:30. Only one or two cars have come my way. As much as I prefer cycling solo, I now am feeling very alone. Would be a terrible place to have any kind of breakdown. I’m questioning my route-planning skills. Am I lost? No, but I can’t go back, I can only go forward.

December 5, 2020 I completed the second leg of my San Luis Obispo to Goleta CA two-day bike tour. I cruised through Buellton and Solvang, and then got on the San Marcos Pass Highway 154 towards Santa Barbara. Up to this point I’d benefitted from old two-lane backroads and very little traffic. Now I found myself on a high speed roadway.

The route I planned using RideWithGPS took me off the 154 at Stagecoach road, which was a tree-lined two-lane asphalt. I saw very few cars, which I welcomed. But later, as I struggled to reach the summit of Old San Marcos Pass, I wondered about the wisdom of choosing this route, with the possibility of no one coming by that could help me.

As the road crept higher and higher, with what seemed like no end in sight, I finally wore down and had to hop off my bike and start pushing it up the grade. For the next few hours, this was my routine: walk the bike a couple hundred yards, then ride it.

I had chosen this route because it avoided traveling the 154 for the duration, and that it might offer more scenery. And it did. This route had beautiful scenery, not spectacular, but breath-taking in its own way. I even discovered a memorial to the Cold Spring Canyon Arch Bridge, honoring the men and women that built the structure that opened in 1964. The bridge is currently the highest in California and one of the highest in the U.S.

Another reason I chose this route is that it would take me past the famous Cold Spring Tavern, where I had my first date with my future wife.

I figured I was carrying 40 pounds of equipment on my hybrid, which already weighed in at at least 30 pounds. With my 195 pounds, I was pushing an enormous load up a very long and winding grade.

But my mindset was: this is adventure cycling. You never know what you’re going to encounter, and those encounters may push you beyond your limits. This ride certainly did. Yet I did make the summit after cruising by the Cold Spring Tavern, 2,250 feet in elevation. I was tired and a bit shaken from the ordeal, but I had made it to the top and there was nothing but downhill awaiting me.

I had to hop on the the 154 briefly before getting off on North San Marcos Road. There I was treated to a stunning sunset view of Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean. I asked a stranger to take a picture of me against this backdrop, and he instantly obliged.

As the sun began to sink lower over the ocean, I snaked down San Marcos Road and made it into Goleta and my hotel as darkness set in. Never give up. Just keep pedaling.