For the 2015 season, RUSA approved a new region for California that would cover the central coast region centered around San Luis Obispo, with Vickie Backman as RBA. A new 600k route would be offered for the new region’s inaugural season. As mentioned in a previous post about the 2016 edition, this route was to become one of my all time favorite brevet routes. In the company of two of my regular riding partners, this would prove to be a most memorable experience.
The route is point-to-point. Beginning in San Jose, Ca, it meanders southeast out of town. Passing through Gilroy and into Hollister, where the long trek south on Highway 25 to San Miguel begins. Out of Paso Robles and into Cayucos, then southeast again to Santa Maria. Foxen Canyon through wine country into Buellton. A quick jog over to Solvang, then Highway 101 to the coast and south to the finish in Oxnard. Plenty of scenery, nice roads, and a decent amount of climbing. The overnight control was located in Pismo Beach, versus the 2016 edition, when the overnight was moved to Santa Maria. 2015 was a PBP year, so many riders that were planning to travel to France where riding the bikes they planned to use, and would ride straight through, as I did in 2016.
While planning for the event, I decided to include a few hours of sleep, so I booked a room at the overnight control. I planned to ride at a decent pace in hopes of a good finishing time, but still wanted a bit of luxury. Looking over the list of registered riders, I see two familiar names, and take comfort knowing that I would be able to join up with regular riding partners if our plans happened to coincide. Spoiler alert: they did!
It’s now April 18, 2015. I sit in my hotel room in San Jose, reviewing the route map as I try to pack down a breakfast of microwaved instant oatmeal (apple-cinnamon of course) and a lousy cup of that “free coffee maker in your room” hotel coffee. I wish I’d packed my own coffee. Lesson learned, hopefully. I The television is on at a very low volume. I’m hoping some background noise might be relaxing, but I’d also like to catch the local weather report. I review the contents of my drop bag, then a final inventory of what I’ll need for the first day, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything when I packed up the bike the night before. Tires topped off, I’m dressed and out the door. I have to ride a few miles down the road to the hotel where the start is located. It’s a warm morning, but I know it won’t last.
Riders are rolling in, and soon everyone is checked in and ready to go. I see a few familiar faces, the find my mates Kerin Huber and Tim Sullivan. After a quick briefing and last minute details, RBA Vickie starts the clock and we’re off. The pace is quick out of town heading south on Almaden Expressway. Once out of town, we make our way into the hills to climb up to Uvas Reservoir. It becomes colder the further we go. After a quick control stop at the reservoir, we fly into Gilroy and settle into a good pace. It’s cold and foggy, but not heavy. More of a hazy dampness in the air. Overcast and gloomy.
52 miles in, we arrive at the control stop in Hollister. We all agree the Safeway looks like a good option. There’s a Starbucks counter in the store, so I procure a cup of hot coffee to take the morning chill off. It’s only marginally better than the hotel coffee, but it will due. We take a few minutes to eat and prepare for the long trek ahead. Leaving Hollister, the sun finally burns off the clouds as we begin our journey south on Highway 25.
It’s warmed up quick. At the control in Hollister I took off my vest and leg warmers, but now we stop again 5 miles away in Tres Pinos to pull of arm warmers and change our glasses. It’s here that we say good bye to civilization. The next 95 miles will be open ranch land, with only one stop sign and a few houses. Peaceful, with little or no traffic. Plenty of cows and assorted wildlife. We are with a good sized group of people now, and we drift amongst each other, chatting and enjoying the day. As we pass over a short bridge, I yell to Karen “This is the spot!” and explain that it was here where I stopped early in the morning for a quick nap during the Cayucos Coastal 600 a few years prior. It’s quite warm now, and the stronger climbers drift off the front as we begin a series of rolling climbs up to Pinnacles and Bitterwater. This is not my first venture along this highway, but it is the first time I’ve ridden this part during daylight. The contrast is invigorating; sure, I cannot see every star in the sky, but now I take in all the details of the landscape. Wild grasses cover the rolling hills with radiant golds and browns, while the trees along the road are green and full, offering a very comforting atmosphere.
After passing th eturn off to Pinnacles National Monument, we descend into a wide and meandering valley, soon reaching the junction with Highway 198. The workers have a nice spread set up in the shade on the road side. First order of business is to eat. I make two sandwiches and grab a can of Coke. While eating, I refill my bottles and check over my bike. It’s hot now, so I take off my undershirt. Rested and refueled, we say farewell to some of our companions and head out, but first a quick “comfort stop” next to a massive bunch of cactus. While it may have provided a small amount of privacy, I later noticed a patch on my leg that must have brushed against the thorns. I guess it didn’t appreciate our irrigation efforts!
Now Highway 25 has become to Peach Tree Road. It’s narrower, with no shoulder. There is a light but very warm headwind intent on impeding our progress. Brush from the fields on either side grown right up to the roadside. Black cattle watch us passing by, and on a tree lined stretch, magpies fly to and fro following us. Around mile 127, we reach a junction with Slacks Canyon, and the road continues but becomes Indian Valley. The road surface is now rougher and broken in spots and we hit a short but very steep wall of a climb. Once over the top, it’s mostly all downhill to San Miguel. Unfortunately, the head wind is stronger now, and the road is very rough. To our delight, Highway 101 appears in the distance, and in a few miles we cross over the bridge into San Miguel for a control stop at the deli market.
A pack of riders from San Francisco, part of the faster group, have already sat down with sandwiches. My companions and I take some time to freshen up, eat, and rest. We’re feeling a little worn from the heat, but happy that it’s cooling now. After the usual control stop routine, we get back on the road and make our way through Paso Robles. Kerin has a puncture, so we stop for a quick roadside repair. Leaving Paso, we turn onto Highway 46, aka Green Valley Road. Considering the time of day, it’s not surprising that we are now plowing into a strong headwind as we begin climbing over the coastal hills. Fortunately, about halfway to the coast, we turn off onto Old Creek Road. We’re out of the wind now, of a tree lined road with a few short climbs. But it’s mostly a fast, twisty descent into the south end of Cayucos.
It’s getting dark now as we reach Morrow Bay. We stop for a control and find several riders at a McDonalds, with several more rolling in as we put on clothes and check lights. This seemed to be the popular stop. The next section is more urban and uneventful, but requires more focus to navigate, with a few tricky turns on bike paths and frontage roads. Los Osos Valley Rd and some bike paths through San Luis Obispo. 218 miles in, we arrive at the overnight control. Vickie has a room so we retrieve our drop bags and then indulge in the food she has waiting for us. Mac & cheese, hot soup, coffee, and assorted goodies. The three of us checked into our rooms, and then I asked Tim and Kerin what they had planned for Sunday, and if they wouldn’t mind me tagging along. Kerin said she was expecting the three of us to continue on together, so after some discussion, we settled on a departure time. I went up to my room and began my usual overnight control routine: check over the bike, restock supplies from my drop bag, text a family member to update my status, and then scrub down in a nice hot shower. Then to bed, the best part of any overnight control! It was only a few minutes after I buried myself under the blankets that I was fast asleep A few hours later my alarm went off, but it felt like only a few minutes. Refreshed and motivated, I was dressed, checked out, and downstairs to leave my drop back with the workers and meet up with my companions.
In the wee hours of the morning, we leave Pismo Beach at a good clip. It’s about an hour to Santa Maria, where we sit down for breakfast at Dennys to fuel up for the long cold trek through Foxen Canyon. In my drop bag, I packed one of my favorite wool jerseys, knowing the early morning would be cold, but also cooler on the coast during the day. Passing through Sisquoc, daylight began to creep in as we started on the long climb out. Much to my dismay, the sun light was stolen away as we entered heavy fog. Condensation drips from my helmet when ever I tilt my head to look around. Even in the gloom, however, we were still treated to views of the vineyards peaking out through the fog. Reaching the top, we brake through into full sun. Now it’s mostly downhill from here. After Los Olivos, there’s a short, steep climb, then a fast run into sleepy Buellton, where we had to make a control stop.
Riding into Solvang, we caught several riders we were with Saturday morning. We formed up a nice little group, and took some time to be social and enjoy the ride out of town on Alisal Road to Nojoqui. At the end of the road, we emerge onto Highway 101. From here, it’s a very fast run down to Gaviota, and we ride on the shoulder of the highway all the way to Santa Barbara. The route takes some side roads and bike paths through town, but we also have a control. Kerin suggests Lazy Acres. Here we take a few minutes to rest and eat. Hot soup and a spicy tuna roll is just the thing. As we get ready to leave, a few riders arrive for a break.
The weather is perfect now, and we set out at a decent pace, quick but not hurried, to finish off the last 40 miles. It’s now more bike paths, city streets, and frontage roads all the way to Oxnard. The scenery is typical southern California coast. As we made a left into Oxnard, I hit a pot hole and my glasses slipped off my face. I managed to catch them with my arm, but my mirror popped off and was run over by a car behind us! Oh well, rides over anyhow. Arrive at the finish, several of the fast riders were already relaxing in the hotel hot tub. Pizza was waiting for us, and Kerin and I split a beer. Our official time is 35:26 hours. Not my best, but also not my worst. e were not planning for a fast time, and I think quite a few riders, including us, were more in “tourist” mode, just out to enjoy the ride. With no issues at all, I was very satisfied. Wonderful riding companions, excellent control support, and a very lovely route made for a perfect brevet. This is the ride that made me realize just how much I enjoy the 600 kilometers brevet.
Jenny O (Platty Jo) has a wonderful write-up with plenty of photos at here blog here.