[Read my Privilege Statement]
In the second week of January, my partner Nate and I did our first lightweight tour! It was one of the best experiences of my life.
To set the stage, I’m a biking noob, so although I’m super excited and proud of this accomplishment, I recognize that for some people it’s not much. Nonetheless, I’m going to tell you a bit about the trip, our (mostly my) experiences, what we learned, and what we would do differently!
About the trip
We biked south along the California coast over 7 days totaling 267 miles (~ 38 per day), 27 hours, and 12,600 feet of elevation. We began in Monterey and stopped overnight at cute bed and breakfasts in Big Sur, Gorda, Cambria, San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria, Solvang, and Santa Barbara. We packed lightly and relied on cafes and restaurants for food.
We usually took the scenic route over the fastest. During the first half we stuck to Highway 1. For the second half, we tried to avoid major freeways but did end up having a long stretch on the 101.
If you want to know more about — or potentially recreate — this trip, you can find the route, experience, and accommodation details for each day here.
Prior cycling experience / training
I have been biking for pleasure and getting around town for about 8 years. Before this trip, I had biked max 25 miles in a single day, at a leisurely pace. I had never done a multi-day ride.
We decided on this trip kind of last minute and holiday travel took us to the East Coast, so we didn’t have a lot of opportunity to train. I did four 20-mile rides around the Bay Area, making sure to get in some climbing action. After each ride I felt like I could do another 20 miles, so that’s how I judged my readiness.
The practice rides weren’t so much for building endurance as much as they helped me play around with my gears and learn how to make it up steep hills without stopping. My perfect combination was a super low gear and a mantra: “climb, push, climb, push.”
Testing physical limits
Nate kindly let me set the pace (that’s why most of the pictures are of me from behind), so I didn’t have to worry about trying to catch up with him. I know it must’ve tested his patience, but it made the experience so much less stressful for me.
I never doubted Nate physically— he is super athletic and seems to do these types of things effortlessly. But if I’m honest, I did doubt myself because it feels like my body has been deteriorating over the past few years.
I’ve had pain in my legs and back since my volleyball days, and my knees started hurting from the practice rides. I really wanted to accomplish this, so I sucked it up and hoped for the best. By day 6, each time I pedaled I had this internal dialogue: am I pushing myself now at the expense of my future mobility? My knees got really bad by the end — I was limping all over Santa Barbara — and they still hurt now, 10 days after completing the trip.
However, the experience with pain underscored something I know well about myself: I am super mentally tough! I challenge myself, I am disciplined, and I don’t give up.
Opening up possibilities
Holy moly, I am so happy we did this. I’m grateful that Nate had the idea and talked me into it.
I truly feel like if I can do this, many people can. And I don’t mean it just from a physical perspective. I didn’t grow up doing many outdoorsy things, so this type of vacation felt unlikely because… I felt like an outsider. Cycling didn’t feel like my culture, and seemed sort of exclusive. I acknowledge that you need to have certain physical abilities and financial means to do this kind of a trip, but I hope the people who do will consider giving it a try!
Second, I feel like a bunch of possibilities and opportunities have opened up for me. Maybe I’ll do a longer ride down the entire coast some day. Maybe I’ll bike pack. Maybe I’ll hike the John Muir trail. I’m feeling more confident, ambitious, and imaginative.
What I wish I would’ve known or done differently
Keep in mind: I’m a noob.
Gears: In the city I never had to mess with my gears much, I would just play around and see what felt right. On this ride I realized I didn’t know anything about my front gears. I accidentally messed with them, and suddenly climbing was more difficult. I couldn’t figure it out until a couple of days later.
Seat height: During my practice rides, I should have played around a bit with seat height to see how it impacted my knees. In the next few weeks, I’m going to ask someone with a lot of experience to help me find the right height.
Clips: Nate and I both did fine without clips, but before my next tour I’m going to get some. Anything that makes pedaling easier is a plus in my book.
Waterproof shoes: To keep our load light, both Nate and I only brought one pair of shoes — the ones we biked in. Our shoes and socks were drenched from the rain, but we had to wear them around town once we arrived. I would recommend bringing an extra pair of light shoes or biking in water proof shoes.
Bonking: Although I just learned this term, I’ve experienced bonking since I was a kid. Bonking basically means hitting a wall, and for me it feels like a sudden and overwhelming combination of cold sweats, dizziness, weakness, hunger, and emotion. I bonked hard on Day 6 and broke down, but after some food I instantly felt better. Technically, it means that you haven’t eaten enough carbohydrates and have exhausted your body’s glycogen stores. The moral of this story is eat a big breakfast, bring snacks, and eat before you feel hungry!
Climb and coast
If I could sum up this experience in three words, it would be “climb and coast”. Literally, we spent most of our time where the mountains meet the sea. We conquered steep hills and were rewarded by thrilling descents. While biking, I reflected on the similarities with other aspects of my life: I work really hard, and then I enjoy the ride. There’s a natural oscillation between climbing and coasting, and they reinforce each other; each gives the other worth. Because I am refreshed by the coast, I really enjoy and will work hard for the climb.
The trip ended up being the perfect balance of exercise, examining nature up close, optimal relaxation, and lots of quality time with the person I love. When you’re riding, you’re not just seeing the sights in slower motion, you’re hearing them, too. The crashing waves were a lovely soundtrack. When climbing up to Ragged Point I heard a frog croaking, and I imagined he was cheering me on. In Foxen Canyon we heard an eagle scream and looked up to realize that it was trying to scare off a hawk. Lots of cows stared and mooed at us, and we shouted pleasantries back at them.
The path also took us through spaces and little towns in which we otherwise wouldn’t have stopped. It was fun seeing how homes, people, lifestyles, wildlife, and plants changed according to the terrain and climate.
Nate and I got into the routine of taking our off-bike time slow. When we arrived we would shower and journal before exploring the town. (Side note: this helped me finally get in the habit of journaling every night! I’m still going strong.) After dinner we would write post cards and plan our route for the next day. Before falling asleep, we shared our favorite moments from the day, and imagined what the next day would bring.
Again, if you want to know more about — or potentially recreate — this trip, you can find the details in this post. Or, feel free to reach out :)