Latest Update (as at 30/1/11):

Location: London. Back.

Total Distance Cycled: 10,325km
Days Biking: 140
Longest Day: 174km (2/12/10)
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Sunday, 21 November 2010

Sideways

I think we have mentioned before that for the Pacific Coastal route we had special maps. Maps published by the Adventure Cylcing Association. They told us exactly which road to take, how many miles things were and what services we would pass on the way. More or less we followed their suggested route.

And then shortly after a place called Lompoc we ignored them. We turned left, we went off piste, we went sideways.

We had heard from our friends Garth and Dee of an alternative route to Santa Barbara through the Santa Ynez Valley. This valley was famous for its vineyards. It was the wine country that had featured in the film 'Sideways'. We were promised beautiful rolling hills, row upon row of grapes and one nasty climb out of the valley and back to the coast.

We had been coast hugging for a while and so we felt ripe for a change. Especially when we realised that the route the maps were suggesting was on a reasonably busy section of Highway 101, which would in places become a freeway, and was inland anyway.


There had also been promises of fabulous taste sensations. Not just the possibility of great wine but the chance to eat some serious food. Featured in the film was a restaurant called the Hitching Post II where you could sample the hosts own Pinot Noir and tuck into a serious steak.

And we were in need of a taste sensation. After staying in the Dwelles' gorgeous beach house in Cayucos and hanging out there for the morning, we had had another half day to a place called Pismo Beach where we had tried an experiment.

We had eaten our emergency food.

This food had been a VERY long way with us. Purchased in London before we left it had sat in panniers for nearly nine thousand kilometres and sat in suitcases for tens of thousands more. It was moon food. Special dried food, to which you only had to add boiling water, that was designed to be used as an extreme measure. We had never needed it, it weighed a ton and we had bought a lighter version in the US to take on our last stretch through Argentina. So it was time for it to go.

I did suggest that we perhaps just threw it away. I had never much liked the look of it. It orginated from Germany and was covered in alarming labels in about nine hundred languages telling you how to reconstitute it. There was a picture on the front of wholesome looking, but definitely hardcore, individuals enjoying this silver foiled grub by starlight next to a roaring fire. However, the food was called TravelLunch which suggested that they were only half way through some worthy special calorie induced day. Something about it all just didn't look right. Whichever way you viewed it there was nothing that made 'Chilli Con Carne Mit Rindfleisch, Kidney-Bohnen', 'Huhn in Curryrahm Mit Reis' or 'Vanille Pudding Mit Himbeerren' seem in any way appetising.

Yet it just isn't in our natures to be wasteful. We realised that we had to eat it. So we contravened every basis upon which it was meant to be used and bought a bottle of wine, put the stove on to boil on the doorstep of our motel room, settled into some comfy chairs and set about it.

And my oh my was it revolting. It was 'out of this world' horrible. Sitting at the bottom of its foil grave, this was food at the very lowest end of the spectrum. We couldn't look at it sitting there and so poured it into bowls to eat where the still powdery bits floated about like so many ice bergs traversing seas of murk and slime.

We bravely made it through most of a version of Chilli Con Carne and some yellow gloop that was meant to be Chicken Korma and then we set about the raspberry pudding. At this moment my stomach revolted and wired my mouth shut. I simply could not shovel it in. It was off-white and lumpy with small red knarly splodges and looked for all the world like wall paper paste or (sorry) cat vomit.

We decided to desist in our attempts to consume the food and instead feasted liberally on the wine to drown our sorrows. It was a very amusing evening.

I am sure that if we hadn't been in a nice warm motel room and we had been really really hungry that the TravelLunch would have tasted like ambrosia and we didn't want to seem ungrateful but we were certainly ready the next night to eat something rather more special and tasty.

And so, after a nice morning where we bumped into fellow Brits Roger and Glen (whom we had seen periodically throughout the whole route) along with the recumbant Aussie cyclist Gary and all ridden along for a bit we took our left turn and headed East.

It was, as billed, rolling and viney. It was such a treat to see this part of California. Most of the way down the coast we had been aware of the copious agricultural activity just inland. Those times where our road had strayed from crashing surf we had seen endless fields of strawberries, red peppers, cabbages, brussel sprouts, artichokes and the rest, all hypnotically arranged in industrial sized straight lines and filling the air with verdant aromas. But here it was mostly vines. Vines and gloriously wooded hills rich with California Oaks, some as much as seven hundred years old. It was a windy wonderland bathed in late afternoon autumn sun which accentuated the golden leaves and softened all the edges of the world.

And there was obviously going to be excellent food. The first major place we came to was Buellton, home of the 'World Famous' Anderson's pea soup. We, being innocents, had never heard of this soup but we were excited at the prospect of it. So much so that we chose to stay in the Anderson's Pea Soup Motel, complete with pea green doors and a 10% voucher off the soup! The main attraction in Buellton, however, was the Hitching Post II. We booked a table and mosied up the road and rubbed our hands in glee at what we saw. There we dined finely on soup and salad and 'World Famous' steaks and a gigantic and gooey chocolate brownie and washed it all down with Pinot Noir. Ah...Pinot Noir. A true discovery on this trip. A wonderful, wonderful wine. With every sip the emergency food became a dim and silly memory.

We explored the bar of the restaurant and saw where the film had been shot. We had a great chat with the waitress all about how it had been to become so on the map as a result. With LA within striking distance we were getting our first feel of Hollywood glamour, getting closer to the stars. We walked home to a sky full of them, replete and happy and ready for a great sleep in our pea soup room.

The next day dawned all about Denmark. The sizeable chunk of this valley region was settled by Danes and their influence is writ large. Nowhere more obviously than in the town of Solvang, a short ride into our journey. We had been fuelled by an enormous array of delicious Danish pastries at breakfast in Buellton, but the sight of windmills and red and white flags and hotels like the 'King Olav' and the' Hamlet' tempted us to stop and have coffee and soak up the Scandi vibe.

Our coffee came in delicate white china artfully shaped with the emphasis on style for which that northern region is so famed and was seriously delicious. It was served by a cutely clad waitress dressed up on the nines in traditional kit who, when we asked her which part of Denmark she was from, promptly replied Guadalajara!

Ah Mexico. It was calling us, edging closer and closer.

And so as the day progressed it was good bye Denmark hola, all things Espanol. We passed more vines and more windmills but slowly a more Hispanic influence was creeping in. Most towns now were San-this or Santa-that, missions started appearing and then a very un-Danish hill swept into view. We crawled up the San Marcos pass through temperatures of a hundred degrees, slowly conquering a hill which ranked as our largest climb in the whole North American section. Thank heavens for the steak because we would never have made it on the emergency food.

We finally reached the crest at 4pm and then we were treated to a swirling seven mile descent back to the sea. The views ahead of us were extraordinary, the endless Pacific stretching away and the final section of coast laid out before us.

We cruised into Santa Barbara and knew that the last phase of our US journey had begun. Down the wide palm lined boulevards, littered with boutique stores and hipsters sipping hibiscus tea with shades at a jaunty angle, our eyes feasted on white washed buildings and red tiled roofs. We caught voices chatting away in Spanish and signs that were in two languages.

We had slipped Sideways, visited Denmark and now we were ready for the last push.

Arriba! Arriba! To Mexico.

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