Listening to the sound of waves crashing against the jagged cliffs below, I slowly climbed up the first of the Twin Sisters, or Twin B#*ches as they are so affectionately known by the ride veterans. As cars buzzed past along this gorgeous stretch of the Big Sur coastline, the words of Ernest Hemingway filled my head:
“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle."
Ever since moving to California, I have always wanted to discover what lies along the length of the coast. Although a lover of road trips, I am not one to drive simply for the sake of viewing scenery from the car. So when the opportunity arose to explore the famed California Highway 1 by bike as part of the California Coast Classic, I leapt at the chance.
As fellow first year rider Dan replied after I asked him why he chose to participate: “Sure, you could easily drive along Highway 1, but in order to truly experience the coast – see it, smell it, taste it, hear the ocean crashing against the shore – you need to do it on a bike.”
Run annually around the end of September, the Arthritis Foundation California Coast Classic is the only sanctioned event allowed to ride entirely along the coast from San Francisco to LA. Intimate (maximum 300 riders are allowed) and fully supported, all you have to do is pedal, stopping frequently to enjoy the unbeatable scenery, the occasional coffee and pastry, locally sourced food, and wildlife along the way.
With interesting and challenging routes set out each day, the California Coast Classic takes you through all of the iconic landscapes and cities along the Pacific Coast – up and down the hills of San Francisco, past the beaches of Santa Cruz and Monterey, along the dramatic coastline of 17 Mile Drive and Big Sur, over the rolling hills of San Luis Obispo wine country, through the kitschy Danish colony of Solvang, down the palm tree lined boulevards of Santa Barbara, and finally into the quintessential LA experience of Malibu and Santa Monica. Just beware of those Santa Ana winds
Over the course of the 8 day, 525 mile ride, you are strongly encouraged to pull over once in awhile and take time to enjoy everything the California coast has to offer. You have all day to make it to camp and the ride is not a race. As any veteran rider will tell you, and there are many in this big, happy, bike loving family, there is absolutely no point in powering through the miles only to sit around camp all afternoon.
Each morning when dropping off our gear at the baggage truck, we received the Daily Ride Guide (DRG) covering the route directions, length, rest stop locations, and elevation profile for the day. Always included was a list of suggestions on where you should be sure to stop, whether it be to enjoy a cold beer and river foot soak at the River Inn in Big Sur or to taste some of the famous clam chowder at the Fish House in Moss Landing.
When in doubt, always follow 11 year ride veteran Jerry. With Santana or Herbie Mann booming from his handlebar speakers, Jerry knows all the scenic side roads (including how to catch a sneak peek at the 18th hole at Pebble Beach) and special food stops along the entire route. It was no surprise when I pulled up to Old West Cinnamon Rolls in Pismo Beach to find Jerry outside, along with the rest of Jerry’s Kids, enjoying his cream cheese frosted cinnamon roll and large cup of coffee.
Eddie Merckx once said, “cycling is 95% mental and 5% physical”. After riding 525 miles down the California coast, I now understand. Sitting around the campfire one night, veteran rider Ross asked what surprised me most about the ride. I replied that is was my ability to ride for 8 days in a row, anywhere from 60-90 miles a day, without collapsing from exhaustion and all the while thoroughly enjoying myself.
Perhaps it was the unwavering support of the most incredible group of volunteers who managed to keep up the enthusiasm and cowbell ringing gusto for over a week, or the endless distraction of the ever changing but always breathtaking scenery. Most likely it was because I was reminded every time I passed by a rider with a blue bike tag that I was cycling alongside people living with arthritis.
People with both knees replaced just a year ago out there pedaling up that same steep hill. People who have children suffering from or have even lost a child to juvenile arthritis. A guy riding a unicycle for goodness sakes. My backside may have been sore and my legs tired but that was nothing compared to what some of the other riders go through on a daily basis.
By the time I pedaled up that last steep hill to Palisades High School in Santa Monica, I already knew I would be back next year. I was now part of the family.