Tessa Pierce bio photo

Tessa Pierce

PhD Candidate at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD

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First, a quick THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU to my sponsors and support team (aka, all of you!). I’m close to reaching the minimum amount for Bike and Build, though I still need a few hundred dollars to reach it. You have inspired me to step up my personal fundraising goal to $5000- I’ll be putting on some fundraising events and working hard to get to this goal. I know we can pull together to raise money for this amazing cause!

Annie and I decided to step up our cycling as well. As training for our summer of cycling, we decided to attempt a tour of our own. During our Spring Break, we biked from here (Monterey) to Huntington Beach, CA (just south of Los Angeles)! What better way to train for a multi-day trip than to just go on one…right??? We ordered the Pacific Coast bike route maps from Adventure Cycling and got planning. But here’s the thing: we’d never been more than 50 miles, and we’d never ridden two long rides in a row. But we were somehow still confident we could do it. We worked out mileages that seemed doable, found places to stay, and worked in a million backup plans, including every amtrak station that could take us to Southern California if something went awry. We had a quick lesson in basic bike maintenance from Steve, who has been our go-to biking guru, bought necessary gear (incredibly fluorescent jackets, knee and arm warmers, spare tubes, chain lube, energy bars etc), and somehow stuffed everything into our two camelbaks. Judging from how much time it took to put together our 5 day trip, I can’t imagine the planning that’s going into the Bike and Build trip. I guess I’ll just have to thank our four trip leaders for taking care of all that!

Day 1: Monterey to Gorda (Big Sur): ~69 miles

And we’re off! After staying up to finish a final paper, we took off on Saturday morning, a little late and a little tired, but still incredibly excited. We were up against our hardest and longest ride yet and weren’t quite sure what to expect. It was cold and drizzly, but the coastline was absolutely gorgeous. There was a huge hill right before the town of Big Sur that just kept going and going…I think I later learned that it’s about 6 miles long! We finished exhausted and sore, so I really slept well that night (Como marmota, as my mom would say!).

We learned some important lessons on our first day. - eat often, stop often, stretch, and make sure to get plenty of sleep before you embark on a ride like that one!

Day 2: Gorda to San Luis Obispo: ~68 miles

After sleeping about 11 1/2 hours (and still feeling a bit tired!), we headed out for the next day. We still had a couple hours of climbing left in Big Sur until we hit Ragged Point and the coast began to flatten out. We stopped in San Simeon for some delicious (huge) sandwiches and to get out of the wind. Annie tweaked her knee the first day and we were a little worried we wouldn’t make it the rest of this day- we almost stopped in Cambria to let her rest. But we pushed on, stopped in Cayucos for tea and postcards, and generally took our time. In the end, we were able to keep going and made it to San Luis Obispo (though those last 10 miles were incredibly difficult thanks to a strong crosswind).

Day 3: San Luis Obispo to Lompoc: ~ 57 miles

The next morning, we left the hostel and headed down towards Lompoc, where we’d be staying with the Greenleys (who hosted us for the Solvang half century). It was a beautiful ride (as usual), and we strayed off the coast into farmland for a long stretch along the 1 and went through a number of dusty fields and small towns. We raced against a herd of cows going up a steep hill and won! Needless to say, that was kind of a slow hour in terms of entertainment. I’m sure Annie got tired of my singing and trying to make up cycling lyrics to whatever song was in my head at the time!

It finally got warm enough to take off our leg and arm warmers and enjoy the sunshine (and get strange tan lines). We passed a number of strawberry vendors with sweet-smelling berries, but were afraid to stop because we didn’t have any way to carry berries with us. Eventually we stopped anyway, just before Orcutt, and this nice couple let us have a few of their strawberries- mmmm, my mouth is watering just thinking about them! We stopped for lunch at Jack’s in Orcutt and ordered sandwiches. They were HUUUGE (see photo in the gallery below). We finished one of the two we ordered and squashed the other one in our camelbaks somehow, though we never did end up finishing it. After appropriate digestion time, we headed up Harris Grade for the last leg of the day, and made it up without as much trouble as we’d anticipated (I guess we’d been building it up in our minds). Then it was an awesome downhill and short ride to the reach the Greenleys before 4pm. They treated us to wonderful mexican food at Angela’s and were very helpful in getting us ready for our next day of riding- we’ll miss them when they move to Texas next month, but I hope they find a great place to live (and good cycling nearby!).

Day 4: Lompoc to Oxnard: ~ 106 miles

Lompoc to Oxnard was our longest day, but we were expecting mostly flat, flat, flat. Well, as it turns out, it was mostly up for the first 20 miles and then rolling hills the rest of the day. All of this would have been fine, except that I got a flat tire on the way out of Lompoc! It was the first one we’d actually changed on a road bike, and took us a long time to make sure it was on correctly, not pinched, and worst of all, to actually get the last 6 inches of tire properly back on the frame! We were trying to do it without using tire levers and it required an unanticipated amount of hand strength and effort. Finally, it was all set and we got on the road again, but right then Annie got a flat! It was such a slow leak, we thought it might just be low, but after pumping up and riding another few minutes, it was definitely flat. We were getting worried about time (only having made it ~15 miles or so), so when some cyclists asked if we needed help, we were happy to accept! They saved us about 45 minutes, which were very helpful at the end of the day when we were trying to reach Oxnard.

The rest of the day was gorgeous- we rode on the 101 for a while and eventually met back up with the coast. There was only one stretch on the 101 where I was scared out of my mind, because there were huge trucks and cars passing very quickly. Luckily, there was a nice bike lane (which we didn’t ride in, because it was right next to the traffic) and a wide shoulder (that we actually rode on). After our slow start, we had to race the last 15-20 miles (as much as we could) to try and beat the sunset. It was an absolutely gorgeous sunset (though that is never a good sign when you’re not at your destination), and it got dark just as we reached Oxnard. Unfortunately, this was one of the rare times we were not on the 1 and so had another 5-6 miles to get to our hotel, which had been strategically booked along the 1 freeway. Alas! I tried to get a shot of Annie hugging the best western sign, but it came out blurry and we were too tired and hungry to keep trying. I think the blurry one is more representative of how happy we were that we’d made it.

Day 5: Oxnard to Huntington Beach: ~95 miles

After perhaps my most amazing night of sleep ever, we grabbed some free continental breakfast and were on the road again. We backtracked to where we’d left our route and rode along some rural streets, farmland, and then a naval base before joining back up with the 1. There were several times this day that we could have taken the 1, but our maps suggested a different (much more circuitous) way. We went with the maps because we weren’t sure if you couldn’t cycle on the 1 for those parts, but it would have been so much faster for us to skip all the coastal and city detours! It’s something I think I’ll look into if I ever do this sort of trip again. Most of the morning, was spend on or near the 1, watching a cop patrol up and down ticketing tourists and keeping pace for a while with a pod of dolphins that were headed our direction. The afternoon was spent dodging people along crowded beach bike paths, getting lost due to under-detailed maps, and navigating traffic in LA and Long Beach. It was our flattest and yet most frustrating ride, as we spent most of the day averaging less than 8-10 miles per hour due to pedestrians and ever-red stoplights. I think I’ve decided that city riding is not for me!

Annie’s grandparents had a wonderful dinner waiting for us and listened to all of our excited stories about the trip and we couldn’t help showing off our strange cycling tan-lines. The next day, I had coffee with a friend in Huntington Beach and she dropped me off at the Amtrak station so I could take the train home to San Diego to see my family. It was a wonderful trip, and a great way to figure out what I need to do and buy before Bike and Build. I can’t wait to get out there again!