National Bike Month: A mid-‘70s ‘my way and the highway’ ride of fond recall

Caution: Bicycles
Caution: Bicycles

The entire month of May in America is National Bike Month. It isn’t just about bikes. It’s about bicycling also.

One great thing about bikes is they are non-air-polluting. What I also find remarkable is that on many of America’s 4 million roadway miles, bicyclist and motorist alike peacefully coexist.

In fact, on some thoroughfares where there is just such a peaceful coexistence motor vehicle speed limits can be as high as 55 miles per hour or more.

Which reminds me of a bike trip I once made from California’s San Fernando Valley (SFV) to San Luis Obispo (SLO). Truth be told, I only made it by bike as far as the intersection of California state routes 101 and 154, near Los Olivos. Here is what happened.

Sometime during the mid-1970s – I can’t recall exactly when – I caught a ride with a friend of a college friend from SLO to the SFV city of Van Nuys. I somehow mustered the courage to bike my way back. I not only did the ride my way, but I went it alone. Leaving Van Nuys, the route I had chosen was Mulholland Drive west to Topanga Canyon Road south which ultimately brought me to California Highway 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway or PCH for short).

Keep in mind that once on PCH in this vicinity, roadway space is shared between bicycle and motor vehicle. This was not, however, true regarding the entire ride. At those locations with signage that specifically reads “Begin Freeway,” bikes are prohibited, in which case, my recollection is that there were frontage roads in such instances where bike riding was allowed.

From the location where Topanga Canyon Road and the highway meet, PCH follows alongside the Pacific Ocean all the way to Gaviota where highway and ocean part ways. That the ride was quite challenging was one thing. However, it was the unparalleled scenery that definitely made the trip worthwhile.

At any rate, by the end of the first day’s ride, I had made it as far as Carpinteria, which, incidentally, is a little east, actually, of Santa Barbara. Major cities I passed through were Oxnard and Ventura. At Oxnard, by the way, PCH and State Route 101 (El Camino Real) pair up.

On Day 2, I biked through Santa Barbara and passed the State Beaches of El Capitan and Refugio and the State Park of Gaviota.

Bicycling on Highway 101 from Gaviota all the way to Buellton, there are many hills to overcome and we’re talking steep ones. It is in this general vicinity that State Route 101 and PCH go their own ways. Nevertheless, I was able to get up, over and down the somewhat mountainous terrain and peddle my way into Buellton, albeit in the dark of night.

On the third and final day, Day 3, I only made it as far as the junction of highways 101 and 154. During the time of the year that I made the ride was rainy season. And sure enough, on the last day, it was raining – steadily.

What I did, but by no means recommend, was to hitchhike. That is how I made it the rest of the way to San Luis Obispo. It wasn’t that I hitchhiked. It was the way I got to SLO – by flatbed tractor, semi-trailer truck. I rode in the cab with the truck operator while my bike was cinched down on top of the trailer.

Meanwhile, I arrived back in San Luis Obispo about midday having traveled two-thirds of the way or thereabouts by bike.

This wouldn’t be the last time I would travel by bike in this area. I once rode in a century (100 mile) event that began and ended in Santa Maria in what was a 100-mile loop. Santa Maria is located approximately 30 miles south of SLO.

With my long-distance bicycling days now behind me, for someone who did not own a motor vehicle during the time, what a way to take all that scenery in. Apart from the one truck ride and the car-shuttle service, travel by bike was – and still is – air-pollution free.

– Alan Kandel