“Carbonated-Neutral”: Bike Touring + Friendship + Beer = Fun

There’s a new bike tour in town that emphasizes fun and friendship for riders of all ages and skills.

“Carbonated-neutral” is a play on carbon-neutral, the climate commitment, coined by Jeff Thompson, who along with Jason Lindgren founded Craft Cycling Tours, which begins its inaugural run in 2024. Listen to the Chainwheel Diaries Podcast episode on Apple and Spotify.

Brian Berlin Jeff Thompson Jason Lindgren

I love this: “Carbonated neutral essentially boils down to the amount of beer calories that you consume after a ride are offset by the amount of calories that you expended on that ride,” he explained. “It’s really finding some great roads, enjoying some time riding and then talking about it when you’re done having a few beers.”

The tours are located in Arizona and Washington, where Jason and Jeff are based respectively. Both locations feature routes that the two have ridden thousands of times and are confident that the roads are not only safe but introduce cyclists to some outstanding scenery.

For instance, the Washington tours introduce riders to Bellingham, Washington. “Bellingham is up near the Canadian border and they probably have more craft breweries in that town than just about anywhere around, I think, per capita, and the riding up there is absolutely phenomenal,” claims Jeff.

Adds Jason, “Arizona is really known for big, wide streets, big bike lanes. So even on roads that there is decent amount of traffic you feel completely safe. And then I just looked for routes that you got the scenic beauty of the desert.”

“So like we go down to a lake, and it’s a long, it’s a 14-mile climb,” he continued, “but the views are so good, and anybody can do it.”

The tours also feature some fun nighttime activities. In Washington riders are treated to a Brews Cruise. “One of the things that we do is there’s a group in Bellingham that it’s a whale watching company,” says Jeff, “but Wednesday nights they do a brews cruise so part of our package will be an hour and a half cruise out around Billingham Bay with gorgeous views of Mount Baker.”

The Arizona tours features Cave Creek, Arizona where the spirit of the Old West is alive and kicking.

“Cave Creek is known as is the Cowboy bar part of town. It’s one street. There must be 4, 5, 6 cowboy bars, and the one is probably the oldest one in town. It’s called Harold’s,” Jason explained. “Great food, but very typical cowboy bar, cowboy boots hanging from the ceiling, and the whole bit, country music. So that is kind of the Arizona version of the Bellingham brews cruise.”

He goes on: “But the really fun part of that night is after dinner, next door is a bar called the Buffalo Chip, and they have bull riding. So we’re gonna have dinner. And then, as a group go over there’s more obviously drinks available. But to go in and just see the bull riding.”

You may be thinking mechanical bull riding, like “Urban Cowboy”. No, this is real bull riding outside the Buffalo Chip.

Jeff and Jason first met at a parking lot criterium in Bothell, Washington, in 1992, connected via a mutual friend. They were pitted against USA Cycling members who were on a one-day license.

“[We’re] thinking, Oh, this is gonna be great,” recalled Jason. “We’re sitting at the starting line with these guys, you know, with all the high-end bikes and their legs are the size of tree trunks, and they said, Go and JT and I were off the back within a probably 100 meters at the starting line, looking at each other like what happened?”

Since then, Jeff and Jason have ridden thousands of miles together, including a tour of Spain where the idea of Craft Cycling Tours was born. Jason has also done a bike tour in France where he experienced an evening tradition that Craft Cycling Tours has adopted. At dinner, they went around the table and the riders were asked to say one good thing and one bad thing about the day.

“And we did it every single night, and what we found is after about the second or third night, all of a sudden, everybody is just great friends, and it really got everybody to open up.”

Craft Cycling Tours are fully supported, including SAG support, breakfast and dinner, mid-ride water and snacks, on-ride guides, and lodging.

“We’ll have a van to support everybody. And along the way we’ll have various points whether it’s either you know, parking lot where we can pull over,” explained Jeff.

“And if people wanna, you know, add gear, take off gear because of the weather, or need additional water that’ll be available. We’ve tried to incorporate you know, a coffee shop along the way where people want to stop and just kind of refuel”.

Tours are four days which is ideal if you’re still working full time like me. Rides occur during the week and distances are manageable.

The hotels, said Jason, aren’t 5 stars but still very nice. For instance, Day 1 of the Washington rides is based out of a Springhill Suites. Day 1 of the Arizona rides is based out of a Hampton Inn. I’ve stayed at both of these properties and they are very comfortable accommodations.

Different from bike tours that have riders travel from location to location, hoteling in overnight towns or camping in designated campgrounds, Craft Cycling Tours feature a base camp (hotel) and daily excursions out and back. Riders will appreciate this format as it simplifies logistics and provides a familiar setting to return to after a day of riding.

If you’re considering joining a bike tour, and you’re looking for one that offers great routes, scenic locations, modest challenges, plenty of social activities, nice accommodations, beer and friendship, check out Craft Cycling Tours. The 2024 ride schedule is posted, and registration is open.

Episode 2: Chainwheel Diaries

My guest in Episode 2 is Larry Loewy, a Long Island Native and regular bike traveler. I met Larry on an Adventure Cycling bike tour in Death Valley in 2021. Larry graciously agreed to appear on today’s podcast episode. Listeners will be entertained by Larry’s stories and inspired by his adventures. Available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Meeting Russ & Laura

I’m a fan of The Path Less Pedaled featuring Russ Roca and Laura Crawford. So when I received an alert on Patreon that they would be in LA and to come on by, I couldn’t resist.

The author with Laura Crawford and Russ Roca of the Path Less Pedaled

Russ and Laura are an inspirational dynamic duo that shed their worldly possessions in 2009 to travel the world by bike. They logged over 15,000 miles traveling the US and New Zealand and shared their stories online.

I discovered PLP perusing YouTube for bike traveling videos. I learned that there’s more to the couple than bike travel. They offer a philosophy on cycling that emphasizes fun and de-emphasizes competition. I found this to be highly relatable. In fact, as I posted earlier this year, I can relate to each of the “5 Things I LOVE that SERIOUS Cyclists Hate“.

You can follow PathLessPedaled on Instagram and YouTube.

Things I Learned from My First Overnight Bikepacking Trip

Recently I joined the Southern California Bicycle Camping Meetup group for an overnight bikepacking trip. We followed a route that started in inland Oceanside and headed west towards the ocean, navigating south on old Highway 101 to Encinitas and the San Eligio State Beach campground.

To prepare for the trip I re-installed my pannier racks for my Axiom pannier bags. (Note: when I bought my Surly LHT used in 2021, it came with the racks and packs). I installed both front and rear pannier racks, thinking I would use both sets of bags, even though the trip was only an overnight. Here’s my bag configuration:

  • Rear pannier bag right side contained my sleeping bag and sleeping pad. These two items took up all the space in the bag. My sleeping bag is not so ultralight and doesn’t compress that small – same for my sleeping pad.
  • Rear left. Clothing and toiletries.
  • Right front. Jet boil, coffee press, coffee.
  • Left front. GoPro kit in its case, and tech organizer with all my cables and a power block battery for charging everything (most of the weight).
  • Rear rack. I strapped my tent (about six pounds) on the top of the rear rack use Voile straps.

Total weight, bike plus equipment, about 50 lbs. Heavy, yeah. But my Surly LHT handled the weight well, and I feel like I did a decent job of balancing the weight.

Ready to ride. I wore a Camelback for hydration and a backup water bottle for camp.

As the members gathered for the ride I made a point to observe what kind of bikes and equipment they had. There were a couple of Surly LHT riders plus me, one Brompton, one Co-Motion and one recumbent. Most were carrying about the same amount of gear as I, so I felt a little better about that. Once we made camp I made quite a few other observations.

I have purchased most of my gear from Amazon. Since I have a Prime membership, it’s just easy to do. But the majority of the other riders were REI customers – tents and gear. Made a note to extend my shopping to REI. Tent sizes ranged from one person to four-person. Mine is spec’d for two people, but I’m 6-2, 200 and there’s room for me and my gear that I want to keep dry. Two people would be cozy to say the least.

Bisinna 2-person tent I bought on Amazon for $70

Dining consisted of eating out at different restaurants. Saturday we stopped for lunch in Oceanside at a Mexican restaurant. Saturday night we walked from the campsite across the street and ate at a fish cafe. Sunday morning we had breakfast in Encinitas. Which was fine with me – meant not having to think about menus and carrying food.

Sunday morning everyone awoke and laid out their coffee artillery. Everyone had their own coffee makers, Jet Boils and either fresh ground or instant coffees. Quite a sight. My setup is a Stanley coffee press where you heat the water and combine the coffee in the same container.

Stanley Adventure All-in-One Boil & Brew French Press

Observations from the trip:

  • First thing I learned is about the California State Park campsite reservation system, which is notoriously challenging. For most State parks, one has to phone the reservation line at 8 am on the day six month in advance you want to camp. But some of the State park campsites also offer “hike/bike” sites that don’t need to be reserved. First come, first served. Roll up, pay your $15 and pitch your tent. San Eligio has hike/bike, and we had a nice campsite with plenty of room, a picnic table, fire pit, and potable water.
    I also learned that some of the California State Park campsites have eliminated hike/bike sites. Leo Carillo, for instance has closed hike/bike with no indication whether it will ever open the site for hikers and bikers. The experienced bikepackers I was with understood the system and how to make sure the campsite you want still has hike/bike option.
  • Could I have carried less? Maybe. Thing is, I’m always afraid of leaving something behind and then cursing myself as I discover I needed it. So I brought everything – like my full GoPro case with camera and all accessories. I’ve done rides where I minimized my GoPro kit and would up leaving stuff that I needed to mount the GoPro on my bike. Also makes me wonder what my configuration would resemble if I was riding across the U.S. Funny thing, a rider on a road bike pulled up alongside me on Sunday as we headed back to Oceanside, asking how far we’d come. When I told him we were wrapping up an overnight in Encinitas, he said the way we were all loaded made him think we were pedaling to Alaska.
  • I could have balanced my load a little better. The rear carried most of the weight. I might have moved my tent to the front rack and strapped it on sideways. Or put the sleeping bag on the front and rearranged the other bags. Overall, though, I thought the load was manageable.
  • I wore a Camelback and would not do that again. I was freeing up handlebar space by eliminating my water bottle holders. Should have stuck with what I knew.
  • I would consider a full frame bag that adds storage in the middle of the frame. I might be able to eliminate the front racks and packs. Will investigate further.
  • Notice that many overnight configurations I’ve seen on Bikepacking.com have no pannier racks and bags. A rear under seat pack that’s large enough can carry an ultralight tent and maybe an ultralight sleeping bag. A front handlebar bag could manage one or both. I do have a seat post rear bag, and I tried to fit my tent in it, but it was a tad too small.
  • Despite the nifty display of REI camping gear, I’m pretty pleased with the shopping I did putting my equipment together. My little $70 tent has been across Iowa and Death Valley and is holding up well. My sleeping bag that doesn’t roll up easily nor compress too well, is super comfortable in 40 degree weather. I’ll stick with what I have.
  • Joining a group of experienced bikepackers is a great way to ease into self-contained bike travel. There were little things I noticed that will aid me in future trips, like tent pegs that can be pounded into hard ground. It’s also enlightening and inspirational to hear experienced bike travelers talk about some of their trips. I stumbled upon this group by googling “bikepacking Southern California”. Worked like a charm. Give it a try.

Happy Fathers Day! Episode 1 Chainwheel Diaries Podcast is Live!

It’s taken a few months and many hours but the first episode of Chainwheel Diaries Podcast is now live. My first guest is Colleen Ponzini, a bike traveler I met on a Death Valley tour in 2022. Colleen is a seasoned bike traveler, and recently rode with a small group from San Diego CA to Phoenix AZ along the Adventure Cycling Association’s Southern Tier route. She followed that with a fully-supported bike tour in Vietnam.

We explore how Colleen first got interested in bike travel and her first bike adventures. I think you’ll learn a lot from her experience and knowledge. Enjoy!

RAGBRAI LI Registration is Now Open. I’ll Pass.
RAGBRAI L is probably my last. I had a few good moments …
Bikepacking May Not Be for Everyone
The author of this article , Patrick Bulger, paints a much different …

Reflections on My Cycling Adventures So Far, Part V

Bike Travel Weekend, June 4-6, 2021. I decided to make another attempt at San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles and back. I revisited the original route and modified mine so that I followed the exit off Old Creek Road onto Santa Rita Creek Road, avoiding the big climbs and switchbacks on Old Creek Road.

March 2021 I found a 2010 Surly Long-Haul Trucker for sale about an hour away from me. I hurriedly contacted the owner and made arrangements to see the bike. I had done hours of research on touring bikes, and the brand Surly kept popping up. I wanted to buy a new LHT, but due to the pandemic lockdown and depleted supply chains, I couldn’t find one in my size, in stock. So I pivoted to looking for a used Trucker, and luckily spotted the one I eventually bought on Craigs List.

This LHT came outfitted with racks and packs – rear and front racks, along with front and rear panniers and a handlebar bag. I took the LHT to Shift Bicycle, where Jason Morin added a new stem and handlebars, new handlebar tape, new cables, new chain, new flat pedals (came with clips – not my style) and new Maxxis Refuse tires. This LHT came with its original Brooks B17 saddle, color black, that had obviously been broken in thoroughly. Ready to ride!

I loaded my LHT onto my bike rack and drove to San Luis Obispo. This time I had decided to add camping to the event. I found a campsite near the SLO Regional Airport. Not truly bikepacking, because I drove to the campsite, unloaded my gear and set up my tent. Then in the morning I loaded everything back into my car and drove to long term parking near the airport. I loaded up my bike with front and rear panniers and set off for Paso Robles.

The revised route put me on Turri Road off of Los Osos Valley Road for a much quieter, more scenic ride towards Morro Bay. I stopped to shoot some video of the scenery when I heard someone call out behind me: “All good?” Another rider had seen me stop and following cycling protocol, asked to make sure I was okay. We introduced ourselves to each other. His name was Paul. He was riding a steel bike like my LHT, and he had bright yellow Ortlieb panners on his rear racks. Paul new this route very well, riding it frequently, so we decided to ride together to Morro Bay, where he would turnaround and head back home to Los Osos.

Turns out Paul is a Warmshowers host and made a point that I should book with him if I ever ride his way in the future. I promised him I would. It is simply wonderful to run into someone who loves bike travel as much as you.

Turri Road connected with South Bay Boulevard into Morro Bay and then connected with Highway 1. After a short distance on Highway 1 I exited as I had before onto Old Creek Road. This time, though, I took Santa Rita Creek Road just past the Whale Rock Reservoir.

Santa Rita Creek Road is a gem! It follows Santa Rita Creek, is tree-shaded and virtually car-free, but it is also mostly unpaved. I had planned for this so no surprises this time. My Maxxis Refuse tires, while not totally appropriate for unpaved roads, handled this section well and had no issues with the hard-packed dirt, road ruts and loose gravel. A deer ran across the road in front of me. Truly felt like an off-road adventure. Summitting Santa Rita Creek Road was also much easier than Old Creek Road, to my obvious relief.

The downhill side of Santa Rita Creek Road was more challenging than the uphill because I had to regulate my speed and brake often to avoid potholes and large rocks. I made my way back onto the paved section, where Santa Rita Creek Road merged with Cayucos Templeton Road and eventually became Bethel Road, which connected with Highway 46 into Paso Robles. As I came down from the higher elevation, I ran into heat in the high 80’s with virtually no humidity. So I was struggling a bit as I headed to my friends’ house for cold beer, good food and good times.

Saturday, I retraced my steps and once again climbed up Santa Rita Creek Road to the Summit and pedaling to the top this day was easier than the day before. There were more cyclists out and about as well. I struck up casual conversations with some of the riders, who seeing my panniers asked me where I’d been.

Once back on Old Creek Road I headed down into Cayucos and stopped at Brown Butter Cookie Company for a bag of originals. I retraced my route back to SLO following Highway 1 for a few miles, then South Bay Road, Turri Road and Los Osos Valley Road back to the airport. I loaded up my bike and drove to my hotel, spent the night and then drove back to LA on Sunday.

This is a ride I would do again. I think there are additional variations to the route that would allow me to really do some bikepacking and discover new areas. For example, I could head east from Paso on Union Road, then South on Geneseo and take in some wineries. Continuing southwesterly, Geneseo connects to Creston Road, on into Creston CA which has numerous wineries to sample. From Creston I could hop on the 41 Highway and back to Morro Bay. I’m sure there are additional possibilities and I look forward to exploring them.

Reminiscing: my first RAGBRAI

Thoughts on my first RAGBRAI

RAGBRAI 49 is now in the books, and as I begin to think about joining RAGBRAI 50, I’m reminiscing about riding in RAGBRAI 48. July 2021, I checked a box on my bucket list by participating in the Register’s Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). It was my first RAGBRAI, so I did as much research as possible, I made some mistakes and I did a lot of things right. Here are the things I did right, and some that I did wrong. Plus, first-timer observations.

Final tire-dip in Clinton Iowa

Things I did right:

  1. Booked with a charter. Had I not been monitoring a Facebook RAGBRAI Newbies group feed I would not have heard about the Out-of-Staters Charter (About Us (oosbicycleclub.com), run by Tim and Lynne Haeffner and staffed by family. OOS moved my stuff from overnight town to overnight town and even set up my tent. So when I arrived at the end of a long daily ride, my tent was ready and my luggage was right there. And many of the friends I made were when I socialized in the beer garden (drinking beer, of course, I’d earned it).
  2. Involved some of my close friends. A couple of my college buddies wanted to witness what RAGBRAI was all about, so they offered to drive me up from Kansas City to the start town, Le Mars, IA. This enabled me to tire dip in the Missouri River in Sioux City, and at the end, in the Mississippi River. Le Mars was inland, so not everyone was able to take advantage of this as I did. Plus we got to spend the afternoon in Le Mars checking out the Expo, and drinking lots of cold beer to ward off the 90+ degree heat. The next day they saw me off for Day 1, giving me the confidence to finish the first-day 84-mile route.
  3. Bike Flights (bikeflights.com). I bought a Bike Flights box and shipped my bike to a KC bike shop (Bike Shop — Electric Bikes — Kansas City Overland Park, KS — ERIK’S (eriksbikeshop.com) where it was assembled. Bike Flights offered step-by-step packing videos on YouTube and then arranged to have my bike picked up from my house. I stashed my bike and the Bike Flights box in the back of my friend’s SUV for the trip to Le Mars.
  4. I was a solo rider, so I tried to take in as much of the RAGBRAI experience as possible. I stopped in every pass-through town to replenish my water bottles and get some grub. Whenever possible I chatted up the locals and thanked them for their support. But mostly I tried to enjoy small-town America and the wonderful people that live for this event.
  5. I took my time. 60–70–80 miles in 90+ degree heat takes a toll. The first day my face felt super hot, and I thought for a minute that I was getting badly sunburned. Turns out it was just that hot, and riding a bike in that kind of heat can do that. But there were plenty of rest stops along the way, plenty of pickle juice pop-ups manned by the locals, and always a welcoming local with a grassy front lawn and plenty of shade. Also, I went easy on beers during the ride, fearing dehydration, but never passed up on a few craft coldies at the end of the ride.
  6. I talked with other riders while pedaling, especially if I saw someone struggling. Gave them encouragement and asked where they were from. Many riders pedal at the Party Pace (The Path Less Pedaled), like me, and it offers the opportunity to chat someone up and make a human connection. I especially enjoyed trash-talking with riders wearing Iowa State jerseys. I’m a diehard K-State fan, and ISU is a top rival.
  7. Hydration. I was well-prepared. I have twin water bottle holders mounted on my handlebars and a water bottle cage on my down tube. I kept all three replenished and refilled at every pass-through town. And I avoided buying bottled water so as not to create plastic waste. (More about this later in Observations).
  8. Power Blocks. The OOS charter provided a charging station, but I also brought power blocks as backup. I found a site Backroads Battery (Backroads Battery — Batteries, Bike, Battery Charger), and took advantage of their “rent-to-own” program for RAGBRAI. I picked up the power block in Le Mars at the expo. I charged my devices at night and then swapped for a fresh block on the ride the next day. Backroads Battery was always located in the same place as Mr. Pork Chop, so it was easy to find.
  9. Dude Wipes (DUDE Wipes — DUDE Products). Biodegradable wipes for your bottom. Want to be clean down there before pulling on your chamois? Yeah.
  10. Gave a loud shoutout to the law enforcement officers who managed the route traffic and made intersections safe for cyclists. Not one of them struck me as feeling like this job was a drudgery. They gave us thumbs up, returned our thank-You, and a few even blared classic rock tunes from their squad cars to motivate the riders. Without the support of law enforcement, you can’t have this kind of event.
  11. Stealth laundry. I didn’t pack cycling and off-cycling outfits for every single day, so I washed my cycling clothes in the shower. It was always hot enough to drape my wet clothes over my tent and they dried almost instantly.

Things I didn’t do right, or could’ve done better:

  1. I should have taken more time in each pass-through town. I rushed too much. I got caught up in the mass movement of cyclists. There simply is no hurry, but I somehow felt hurried, and I shouldn’t have. A second RAGBRAI would cure me of this.
  2. I registered for the lottery and then signed up for a charter after the fact. I had them in reverse order. I only needed to sign up for my charter first and then note that on my official registration. So I went into the lottery and didn’t need to. Rookie mistake.
  3. I used Pork Belly Ventures (Pork Belly Ventures LLC — Ragbrai Charter Service 2022 (pkbelly.com) for shipping my bike back to and from LA. I could’ve worked out the same arrangement with OOS. I just didn’t know that at the time. In the end, I had to carry my bags and walk my bike to the Pork Belly Ventures site, from the OOS site, which was several blocks away in hot and humid conditions. Then I had to find my bike box ($150 Bike Flights) and my shipping box for my luggage. Pain in the arse. Lesson learned.
  4. I didn’t shoot enough photos or videos. I had the equipment but again, I felt rushed to get to the overnight town. I missed a lot of photo ops and narratives. Again, way too much hurrying.
  5. I rode straight to my charter’s campsite, avoiding the overnight town. At almost every overnight town there’s a spaghetti feed, usually sponsored by a church, for around $10-$15 bucks. I missed out on those, and the chance to support these organizations. And by skipping the overnight town, I didn’t get to witness firsthand the effort the townspeople had gone to welcome riders. I gave into that feeling that I had to get to the campsite. Won’t happen next time.


RAGBRAI is a one-of-a-kind cycling event, not to be passed up. Whether you do it once or multiple times, there’s nothing like it. I had RAGBRAI on my cycling bucket list for years, so it was a tremendous feeling of accomplishment to finish the whole distance.

That said, RAGBRAI can be an expensive proposition for an out-of-stater. I spent close to $1,000 bucks before I even got to Le Mars. I had to buy a bike shipping box from Bike Flights, and then pay Bike Flights to ship my bike to a shop in Overland Park KS. I paid the bike shop a little over $100 to assemble my bike. Paid Pork Belly to return ship my bike and luggage. Registration fee and charter fee. Airfare and lodging. A lot of this expense can be attributed to my first-year inexperience. Next time, I’ll do better.

I observed every kind of human-powered vehicle imaginable. Steel bikes, carbon fiber bikes, full-suspension mountain bikes, tandems, recumbents, unicycles, and an elliptical setup. I saw Batman and Robin riding bikes and fighting crime. Parents and their kids. Many riders showed the spirit of RAGBRAI by wearing colorful headgear and outlandish outfits. Made me smile and give a shout-out.

Veterans know that RAGBRAI is not a race, but that doesn’t stop some groups from running pace lines. I get it. Because traffic is virtually non-existent on the routes, it presents an opportunity for pelotons to run pacing lines in the left lane. But what’s the point? Getting to the overnight town faster? Why? Plus, whenever a car appeared ahead, those pelotons had to merge right with the rest of the riders. Struck me as unnecessary and fun-killing.

Yes, bike safety and decorum are necessary. However, several times I was startled when a rider came up on my left and then shouted, at a volume close to a Space-X rocket liftoff, “on your left!”. Made me almost swerve right into other riders. Come on people, no need to scream out the fact you’re on my left.

At every pass-through town and at pop-ups along the way there is bottled water for sale. To me, this creates an unfathomable ocean of discarded plastic water bottles that could easily overwhelm our recycling infrastructure.

You don’t need to belong to a group to ride RAGBRAI. I did it solo, and I’m sure many others did as well. I made friends along the way — friends that I’m still in touch with.

Agribusiness is alive and well in Iowa. We’re talking about a galaxy of corn. Planted by GPS, perfect rows and the stalks are of equal height. Farmers feed America and the world. Iowa is leading the way.

I gained a renewed appreciation of small-town America. I was born and raised in Manhattan, Kansas, and riding RAGBRAI helped me reconnect with my roots. Interstate highways, while enabling travelers to cover great distances speedily in their cars, bypassed small communities, bankrupting family businesses and scattering populations. On a bike, you get to experience what it was like before interstate highways. As I rode through these small towns I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the residents. People sitting out front on their lawns applauding our efforts. Kids spraying us with cold water as we passed by. Whole communities working their butts off to support this effort. If you’re thinking of doing RAGBRAI because it’s a long-distance bike ride, forget it. It’s about the solid citizens of Iowa.

Take your time and enjoy the ride.

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.