Riding the royal road

Day 38, Oceano to Refugio State Beach, 75 miles

I’ve been dreading this ride. It’s too long, too boring, uninspiring. The destination is beautiful, but the way there, my least favorite ride of the tour. The first third, follow Route 1 through agricultural land to Orcott. Then join Highway 101, now a freeway, all the way to the Santa Barbara coastline. The Camino Real, the Royal Road.

I’m up early, packing up and getting on the road as soon as I can. The ride will take all day, and an early start will still require riding into dusk at the end of the day. Today, a saving grace: podcasts. The long straight road with ample shoulders allows me to feel confident wearing earbuds. I listen to the politics of the day, impeachment hearings soon to begin. Then stories Radio Lab, Snap Judgement, Fresh Air, and the Desert Oracle.

All the while, pedaling, breathing, straining on the long climbs. Sore in the saddle again. How to keep my focus, meet myself in the moment. Then the next, then the next. I could choose the peninsula route, follow Highway 1 through Vandenberg Air Force Base and Lompoc. But the freeway is faster, it seems. So straight and shoulders so wide, feels safer. Easier. I roll through Beulton, stop for a can of that split pea soup. Then one more climb, the narrow pass that leads to the coast.

A blazing descent through the mountains, then I’m climbing past Gaviota and at last see the coast again. Another hour to my refuge. Sun is setting, lights on distant oil platforms twinkling like Christmas trees. The colors of the sky are intense, deepened by the fires. I arrive at the campground after nightfall, waves crashing against the beach, just past the hiker biker site. Palm trees replace the redwoods of the north coast, giving this camp an exotic, tropical feel.

I collapse into my bed, legs still humming from the ride. Sleep comes easy, even as the full moon shines into my tent.

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