The Longest Day

Technically, the longest day of the year is tomorrow, the solstice, the official beginning of summer. But today was our longest day, and we needed every bit of the daylight we had to get to Lompoc before the sun set.

We were up by 7, and made enough noise packing to rouse our friend and roommate, Tom. We three found what we could for breakfast in the hotel lobby—cold cereal, basically. It was a little after 8 when we said goodbye to Tom in the parking lot. It’s never easy to leave a friend you don’t see often enough, but it was harder still given that it was a chilly, foggy, gray day in San Simeon, and we had a hundred miles to pedal.

First stop was within a few miles, near Cambria, for more water and Gatorade. By then the fog had somehow completely burned off; the sun was out; we were sweaty; and it was clear it would be yet another spectacular weather day. We made one quick and utterly essential pit stop in Cayucos: there’s no way a couple of anxious, hungry bike tourists can just ride by the Brown Butter Cookie Company.

We bought four substantial and fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies, one for later, one for immediate and rapid consumption on the sunny curb outside the busy little store in this adorable and unpretentious coastal town. All told, we covered the 42 miles to San Luis Obispo with gratifying and heartening swiftness, thanks to an all-too-rare-these-days tailwind. By noon we were pulling into a Five Guys—David’s first experience of that chain, which in Ashley’s opinion is inferior in every way to In-and-Out but still pretty tasty as fast food goes. A couple of burgers and a side (a mountain) of fries, also consumed rapidly, this time on a table in the shade from which we could keep an eye on our bikes. We ate fast, but we lingered, resting up a bit before another long haul.

We pause to admire the amazing chemical engine that is the human body, turning burgers, fries, milkshakes, and cokes into miles and miles and muscle tissue.

After lunch we navigated our way through downtown San Luis Obispo, where we spent Thanksgiving a few years back. On a different day, we would’ve found some local cafe and dawdled, but we knew we had to keep a’moving.

From SLO it was a baker’s dozen miles to Pismo Beach, another little California beach town to which we’d like to return some fine day. We stopped for another water/Gatorade refill, but otherwise continued on, fighting a headwind once we’d made the turn inland away from the coast, watching the clock, wondering if we could still get all the way to Lompoc before running out of daylight.

Vegetables, to the horizon

Miles and miles of plastic sheeting

After well-manicured but still refreshingly blue-collar Pismo Beach, we passed pretty briskly through the more humble towns of Grover Beach, Oceano, and eventually after some twists and turns and annoying little climbs arrived in Guadalupe. Guadalupe was endless fruit and vegetable farms, the shoulder increasingly dotted with strawberries—mostly squashed—and their fruity aroma prominent. The road was busy with produce trucks, farm machinery, and busloads of fieldworkers. We passed newly plowed and planted fields, fields ready for harvest and fields recently harvested. There were piles of irrigation pipe and a flash-freezing plant. We smelled fertilizer.

When we stopped at a Chevron for yet more water and a little rest, we told the friendliest employee there that it seemed like much of the country’s food was grown here. “It’s the soil,” he said. We chatted for a moment, and we suggested that we might be going to Lompoc. “There’s nothing between here and there,” we observed, a hopeful interrogative in our voices. We’d known all day that it would either be 70 miles or a hundred. “No,” he smiled, “except the Hill.” He wasn’t the first of the day to sound that caution, to raise our level of concern about the end-of-ride climb we’d seen in the elevation profile for this phase of our ride.

We lurked in the Chevron parking lot for fully half an hour, trying to decide: either a 10-mile-each-way ride off route, with a tailwind, to Santa Maria; or 28 more miles into the wind with a “Hill” involved. We both wanted to make it to Lompoc; it was just a matter of daylight. But in that crowded parking lot, we committed: Lompoc or bust. We downed a couple of cokes and rolled on. Fortunately, the wind shifted, almost a miracle, and we covered 15 flat miles running 15-25 mph, a tad butt-sore but making good time.

Strategic pit stops can be a major factor in distance riding.

Not until mile 92 did the road take a sudden uptick, the “Hill” of which we’d heard so much. Like “the Leggett” a week ago, the bark was bigger than the bite. The Harris Grade was another fun road, climbing up into the Purissima Hills from vast flat farmland, winding, well-graded, marked by one kiss-your-butt-curve after another.

The bright side of a late-in-the-day steep climb: it’s cool, man!

We climbed steadily for a few miles, summiting cheerfully with the evening sun dipping perilously out of sight. Below us, beginning to be shrouded in the coastal fog we hadn’t seen since our route took us inland, sprawled the Lompoc Valley.

And then a beautiful downhill, a nice relaxed flat, and the cyclometer read “100” as we passed the “Welcome to Lompoc” sign (pronounced “LOM-poke,” our pubtender told us). Our hotel—booked from the Guadalupe Chevron parking lot—was in the northern part of town, almost as soon as the road leveled off.

Checked in, unpacked, showered, and took a Lyft to Solvang Brewing Co. just under two miles away. Refueled with a hearty dinner (a pizza, and a sausage trio), a couple of $3 pints, and Lyfted back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep. All of a sudden, it feels like Southern California.

Wednesday’s totals: 100.7 miles; 4063’ climbed; 7:41 riding time.

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