Teaching my Parents to Tour
A holiday mini-tour of the California central coast
My husband and I are avid bicycle tourists. We fell in love with touring in 2002 on a guided tour in Tuscany. We had already been riding recreationally on the weekends and doing some bicycle commuting, but that was our first foray into bicycle travel. As we went from hill town to hill town, we looked at the prices on the back of hotel room doors and the great Michelin maps of Europe and decided we could plan a similar trip for much less money if we were willing to carry our own load. So, in 2003 we bought touring bikes and panniers.
We decided to try self-supported credit card touring close to home as our first adventure. We roughly traveled the Pacific Coast route from our home in the Bay Area, California to my aunt and uncle’s home in Santa Barbara over one week, returning by train. We packed WAY too much stuff (4 panniers and a handle bar bag each), but that was part of the learning process. When we arrived at my parents’ home in Arroyo Grande for a rest day, we mailed about 16 pounds of stuff back home. It was a good thing, since we headed around Lake Cachuma and up over the old Stagecoach Road and Camino Cielo to eventually reach Santa Barbara. It was good being a little lighter for that part of the journey.
We subsequently did a tour in the Dolomites, Alps and Lake Country of Italy in 2004 followed by a tour from Bordeaux, France to Barcelona, Spain in 2005 and a tour in the Eastern Sierras in 2006. Each time we learn more things, have a grand adventure, and return refreshed and ready for the rhythms of everyday life to recommence. However, bicycle racing, job changes and injury have kept us away from touring for the last two years, and we are hungry for another adventure.
Recently, my parents became semi-retired and purchased two recumbent trikes with the idea of finding a recreational activity that was appealing to both of them. They expressed some curiosity and interest in our travel by bike and stated that they wanted us to plan a tour with them for my mother’s 60th birthday in late 2009. We are currently planning to take them on the Adventure Cycling “Washington Parks” small loop next fall.
Knowing there is a significant knowledge and fitness gap between recreational riding and touring, we decided to plan a little trial run before dragging them many miles from home to ride for 7-10 days. We had about a week off over the holidays this year, so we decided to plan a two day mini tour from their home – just to introduce them to the idea and feeling of touring.
As the time approached, I also felt that familiar mix of anxiety and excitement about heading out on another tour. There is always that small bit of apprehension – knowing how vulnerable we are on the road. However, I always tell myself that it must be overcome, that I will miss out on something truly special if I give in to the fear. And, this time, I really needed to fall in love with my bike again. Two long racing seasons had left cycling feeling a lot more like work and a lot less like adventure. While racing is fun and challenging, it is the adventure of travel that I love more than just about anything else about riding a bike. I love the tentative exploring of a new road and discovery of all the secret beauty along the way that you only see if you pass through slowly enough to notice. That is the great thing about traveling by bike – you can cover enough distance to reach a “destination” each day, yet you are moving slowly enough to enjoy the “journey” along the way.
We decided to make their first tour as easy and enjoyable as possible. For them, that meant keeping the terrain to a minimum, wide shoulders as much as possible, daily distance of less than 50 miles, a nice hotel room and hot meal in between the days, and a hassle free way to get home. We also decided that since we had a whole week available, we’d time the ride to good weather. We would not head out if rain were in the forecast. Being in central California afforded us that luxury. I know a lot of people who are able to just decide to tour, load up a bike, and head out on a fully loaded tour with no experience, minimal fitness and minimal planning. However, I believe a lot more people would discover and enjoy this form of travel if it is made more accessible at first and if they have mentors to show them the basics. That was the type of experience we wanted to provide for my parents. We decided to revisit a bit of our trip from 2003 and head down the Pacific coast route to Santa Barbara. However, with my parents’ needs in mind, we made some deviations from the route we’d previously taken.
The weather on Christmas Day was miserable with a lot of rain and wind. We just enjoyed Christmas dinner with friends and waited for the weather to pass. The next day, my parents were exhausted from the festivities of the prior day and it was still quite cold and windy. But, warmer temperatures and lighter winds were predicted for the following two days – the 27th and 28th of December – a Saturday and Sunday. We also figured truck traffic on the major highways would be lighter on the weekend days, so we decided to head out then. On the 26th, my Dad drove his Toyota Tacoma truck with crew cab down to Santa Barbara, which would serve as our transportation home. Fortunately, his sister had been down there visiting my aunt and uncle, so he was able to ride home with her. While he was doing that, my husband and I headed out on a tune-up ride to make sure all was well with our touring bikes that he’d just adjusted and lubed. We had a nice jaunt through the Edna valley and some lunch and headed home to pack.
We assisted my parents in packing – helping them decide which clothes were needed and also which supplies. We ensured they both had 2 spare tubes as well as 1 spare tire for the trip, as their tire size is a bit more eccentric. We also assisted them in minimizing their clothing selection for the weekend. In the end, my mom’s clothing selection was a bit too minimized as she only had one pair of pants, which became greasy the first day.
The following was our packing list:
1. Wallet (ID cards, medical cards, credit cards and some cash)
3. cell phones and charger
5. Digital camera
6. 4 spare tubes and tire irons and patch kit
7. Multi tool with chain tool, hex wrenches and mini-pedal wrench
8. 2 pair cycling shorts (each)
9. 1 cycling jersey (each)
10. 1 wool base layer (each)
11. leg warmers (each)
12. 2 pair wool socks (each)
13. chemical toe warmers (It had been below freezing every night and morning for a couple weeks.)
14. cycling shoes
15. long-fingered cycling gloves
16. stocking cap
17. rain jacket
18. PJs and underwear
19. Lightweight street shoes
22. Wool sweater (could be used with street clothes and as an extra layer on the bike)
23. Ziploc bag with approximately 2000 calories of portable snacks
All of the above items fit in 2 small panniers each – not even full. With all the winter clothing, we had about the same volume that we would have for a two-week tour in the summer, but fewer clothing items. In the summer, we would have two complete cycling kits, and two to three changes of street clothes. The summer clothes can be lightweight wools and technical fabrics that pack in a very small space.
Saturday morning, we arose around 7:00 am and eased ourselves into the tour. We switched from PJs to cycling clothes, put the PJs in the panniers, the panniers on the bikes and filled water bottles. All this was interspersed with breakfast and coffee. It was a beautiful, sunny morning. And, by 9:00 am, the temperatures had eased over 40 degrees. We were ready to roll!
As we headed out in the garage, we noticed something strange about my parents’ packing. A trunk bag had been situated on my mom’s trike, loaded with 6 diet colas for my Dad. In the end, he and my mom had a negotiation and she carried some of the cans, and he carried the others. Apparently, the trunk bag was selected for ease of access. We gave them a little head start via a friend’s pickup truck to Guadalupe, and we rolled out straight from their house.
We were using the Adventure Cycling Pacific coast route with a few modifications. Heading out of Arroyo Grande, we took the Los Berros Road option instead of heading directly up Highway 1 on to what is know as “the Mesa”. We’d taken Highway 1 on our previous tour. Los Berros Road was a nice, quiet option and also removed a bit of climbing, which was nice as we got warmed up. We rolled along the Mesa and eventually into the big descent to Guadalupe. We were joined by a large group of club cyclists as we descended and headed through the fields to the small town of Guadalupe.
In Guadalupe, we took a short break, removed jackets, and continued pedaling south. We passed the storefronts that were covered with colorful tile murals in October 2003. Today, they are more Spartan, thanks to the Paso Robles earthquake of December 22, 2003.
To be continued....