Sure, I've pedaled my way across several states -- even across countries -- but doing it with three other women was a unique adventure that deserves a class of its own. Give credit to the chemistry, the magic of the sisterhood, the planets being in proper alignment, or fate -- but there was something in that week that has never happened on any ride before or since.
The plan was simple: Take off from Los Angeles and make it to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in six days taking the coastal highway. The recipe for this adventure included four female athletic enthusiasts, four bikes, a Volkswagen van and a dash of serendipity. The inspiration was the miles of incredible scenery and the potential in each of our minds for a great adventure with some fun people.
Riding with Serendipity
Early on, it was agreed that this was not an expedition of endurance so much as one of fun and adventure. Three were YMCA professionals and knew the adage of "no pain, no gain" was for fools and out-of-touch coaches. Our attitude was more "no fun, no sense in going."
The Volkswagen was the "cush" factor. Two team members would start out early on bikes with a designated stopping area, and the other two would pack up the Volkswagen and head on down the road, get a camping spot and then jump on their bikes and go backwards on the route to meet with the first two. Days were alternated, and because the route was along the coast with ocean on one side and mountains on the other, the chances of missing one another were slim.
We had an invited guest -- Serendipity. She didn't take up much room, was never a bother and gave us permission to act silly, have fun and giggle when we wanted to. Furthermore, she expected us to enjoy life to the fullest. I'd highly recommend traveling with her any chance you get.
Now most people choose this route going from north to south because of prevailing winds and the number of hills going down are a bit in your favor heading south. But our adventure left from L.A. because two of us lived there and were more familiar with the first few days of the route heading out of town.
Besides, Nancy is a hill-climbing enthusiast. If she saw a hill in the distance, her adrenaline would be pumped in anticipation of this new challenge and great calorie-burning experience. We were all aware of the great gourmet meals that were waiting to be experienced on this stretch of highway. So burning extra calories on those uphill climbs gave us an excuse for trying all the rich desserts along the way.
I personally had my own reason for wanting to head north. Having driven Highway 1 numerous times, I was aware of the frequent skimpy shoulder sections of road, the volume of traffic and numerous spots where a careless driver could send you plunging hundreds of feet until you hit the ocean. If I were going to be nudged, I preferred to be run off into a hillside than dropped off a cliff face.
We started on the beach bike path in Torrance, helmets, sunglasses and water bottles in place. The first 35 miles were protected from traffic, with only occasional in-line skaters with which to contend. A stop at Venice Beach was a must. We planned the start of the trip on a Sunday so as to be sure to get to see the colorful California lifestyle that Venice Beach offers -- with its string bikinis, street performers, sidewalk cafes and bargain shopping.
Yes, our friends from Texas definitely knew they had arrived in California. This stretch of the beach came complete with boa constrictors draped as scarves, roller-skating, turban-wrapped minstrels and well oiled bodies flexing their perfectly tanned bodies in outfits designed to show every ripple -- definitely a sight to make four women take a moment to pause and admire such dedication to a sport.
A few souvenirs purchased -- knowing the van would do the hauling of precious purchases along the way -- we winged our way up past the Santa Monica Pier and along a quieter section of the beach with volleyball games and beach towels making for a backdrop of color and motion to put a smile on anyone's face. Then the bike path ended, and it was out into the traffic to dodge broken glass and Porsches. The good news was that the shoulder was fairly generous, the road was flat and the drivers were accustomed to seeing cyclists.
The first night's stop at Leo Carrillo State Beach came complete with hot showers, crashing surf and quiet neighbors. The crackle of the campfire held a rhythmic beat as conversations took us in, around and through silly, deep and romantic subjects. The van slept four on nice, comfortable mattresses. No sleeping on the ground after a day with 60 miles behind us. We chattered into the night like school girls at a slumber party.
The Chocolate Factor
Day two took the bikers past fields of strawberries being picked. Hard to resist, an entire flat of berries was purchased from a roadside stand and strapped onto the back of the bike. The morning pots were cleaned, the van was packed and team two was on the road scouting for another perfect spot to spend the night. A few hours later, the group was back together.
We worked our way up increasingly steeper hills. Nancy was leading the pack. I was always at the end. We were on a quest: chocolate for a fondue for dipping our rich red treasure strapped to Dee's bike. A stop at a boutique here and a friendly conversation with a shopkeeper there, and at last -- directions to Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.
That evening, our neighbors were thrilled to share in our evening treat. One couple kept saying that they never think of having these kind of treats at home, far-a-less on a camping trip. How did we do it? It was Serendipity. She made us do it, and there was no telling what other great adventures lie ahead.
Surf, Sun and Celebrity
Next day, Santa Barbara was on our list to explore. While biking, we noticed a beach sign for wind-surfing lessons. Seemed like a great excuse for a stop, so it was into wet suits and out for a tumble in the surf. It was a new skill for all, so the climbing up and falling off was photo-worthy of each of us. When the arms got sore, there was time for sunning on the beach, and then back on the boards again. By the end of the day, it seemed like a better idea to pack up the bikes then go for the pain factor.
No cooking over an open fire that night. This was our chance to sample some of Santa Barbara's incredible cuisine. The meal was great, the atmosphere incredible and the company unbelievable. Two tables away, Carol spotted John Travolta. This was too much for our Texas friends. After much debate, it was decided that Nancy was the designated autograph-getter.
After a trip to the restroom to be sure she was looking her best, she gave her sweetest southern drawl and came away with the treasured piece of paper. The rest of us were allowed to touch the paper, the pen and her hand, which he shook. She claimed she wasn't going to wash it, but the next day, when her chain slipped off and she had to put it back on, the oil stains were too much, and the hand got washed.
Sightseeing, Cali Style
The miles and the days clicked off filled with choruses of "you can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant -- that's one" to get us up the hills, which were turning into mountains. Sometimes, it would take as many as 87 choruses to get us up one side before we whished down the other.
The stops along the way included the pink Madonna Inn for lunch, picnics overlooking the ocean, a photo shoot at a sea lion rookery and an afternoon in Big Sur.
The art museum held us captive for hours. Laying our backs on the floor, listening to soothing music, admiring works of art, and feeling so in touch with ourselves. Our senses were alive, we were with friends who didn't mind if you felt like lying on a museum rug to get the full experience of the moment and the world just seemed so in balance.
We also were enchanted by our visit to Nepenthes, a rustic restaurant set high on a cliff overlooking the ocean. There are always fresh flowers gracing the forground as one sips a California-sounding chilled drink or fine wine on the outdoor porch and gazes off into the sunset over the pounding Pacific. A truly magical place.
On the lower levels, they have a very artsy shop with exotic fragrances, incredible books and weird stuff to put on shelves or give to loved ones.
The Hearst Castle tour excited our imaginations. The bike ride through Pebble Beach -- with a stop at the pro shop for gifts for significant golfers in our lives -- brought a few raised eyebrows. Then on to a Carmel bakery for alligator bread with marzipan eyes. The ride wouldn't have been complete without a stop at the Monterey Aquarium after pedaling past the Victorian homes facing the bay.
On up through Santa Cruz and the Redwoods, San Francisco was but a brief distance ahead. Into the city and the trip across the bridge was to be shared by the team. With photo shoots completed, we started our last stretch of our adventure across the bridge. Wind whipping, water splashing below and the high pitched hum of tires rolling over the metal. We had made it, L.A. to San Francisco in six days with tons of smiles covering all of those miles. Life just doesn't get much better than that.
Smiles, Serendipity and a Magic Number
So what made this trip so different? Letting Serendipity come along was a big plus. In previous rides in co-ed groups, at least for me, there was this thing about getting the miles behind us. The need was to rise early, pedal like crazy and seldom stop to smell the flowers. Our foursome not only stopped to smell the roses, we'd buy some to decorate our dinner table.
In the co-ed group, no one would consider taking a sag wagon for fear of being ostracized by the group -- no matter what torrential downpour, tornadic gusts or impending doom prevailed. For the foursome, if it were a great day for wind surfing or museum going, the bikes were loaded, and not a second thought was given to how many of the miles were left unpedaled.
Now, I'm sure that Serendipity likes to travel with males just as much as she liked traveling with the four of us, but in my personal rides, I just haven't experienced it, and I couldn't make it happen.
So was it safe? Yes, because we didn't take unnecessary risks or do anything foolish. No riding at night, always in twos, packing up the bikes if the weather or road was too rough. Did it take Zena strength? Not at all. Although we were all physically fit, we were not competitive athletes. We knew how to listen to our bodies, drink plenty of fluids and rest to enjoy the scenery.
Can it be done with more or fewer people? Sure, but four was magical in some ways. The tag-team effect allowed for some great quality time of talking and sharing one-to-one. The van slept four comfortably. The group could share duties without anyone being overly burdened with responsibilities. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat -- especially if I knew that Serendipity was tagging along.