If you told me back in November, when I was just thinking about starting up the first Los Angeles based self-supporting bicycle touring MeetUp group, that I was going to have 12 participants on my first tour, I would not have believed you. But there we were. Committed and ready for a quick overnight bike tour on February 21, 2015.
We had adventurers come from all over the place. People from San Diego, Orange County, Valencia, Los Angeles, Ventura and even Chicago (on a winter vacation) arrived at our meeting spot at the Ventura Amtrak station. As my train arrived to the station to let me off, I was anxious and excited to see everyone in their bike touring gear.
I was not disappointed.
Introductions & Drama
There were people riding their Long Haul Truckers, Salsa Fargo, and several mountain bike variations. I arrived with my backup touring bike, the Surly Cross Check (still waiting for cable stops for my Salsa Vaya), which I took with me on last month’s overnight trip at Cogswell Dam. By the time everyone showed up and loaded their bikes, I gave my safety rule of the road speech and led my flock out to the streets of Ventura.
Our first stop was at a shopping center since one of our riders forgot her helmet, so she rode over to a near-by bike shop to pick one up. Upon waiting, we witnessed a shouting match between a RV and BMW SUV driver. The RV was turning into the parking lot while the BMW was trying to leave. We watched the scene explode with profanity and anger, and somehow, we became the target of the BMW driver’s fury. She claimed that us stopping at the side of the lawn had made it difficult for her to maneuver around (absurd). When the dust settled and a security guard came by to talk to her, she still tried to place blame on us, bicyclists standing around. The security guard patiently listened to her as she told him that she was a local resident and things like this was not acceptable. When she finally left, the guard came by and told some of us that we were not doing anything wrong. We thanked him and was on our way when we saw our once helmetless rider fly by. What a way to start the ride.
Luckily, that was the only negative incident throughout the trip. Every encounter with other strangers from that point on was very positive.
Upward & Onward
As I led my group through the Ventura River Trail, everyone kept a close pace of 10 – 11 mph. I realized that I’ve never led a group this big on a bike tour before, so it was hard to really focus on creative things like taking pictures or videos. My main priority was making sure everyone was having a good time and not in any trouble.
While we approached the 7 mile mark, we made our first stop at Foster Park for a quick bathroom and snack break. This gave us more time to socialize and enjoy each other’s company. I was so glad everybody seemed to get along. The group was so cooperative and happy to be there.
When we finally got back on our way, I fell to the back of the group when I forgot to close one of my pannier bags (rookie mistake). I caught up and sparked up conversations with the folks who were cruising along at the back of the pack. I made sure I gave my attention to everyone equally and checked that they were feeling good. Once satisfied, I moved up to the front and took the lead once again.
We pedaled another 6 miles towards Ojai, but before we turned onto the Ojai Valley Trail, we decided to have our lunch break at the shopping center at Vons. There was 1 restaurant there, and they were closed at 2PM. We arrived close to 2:40. Everyone went in to Vons to pick things up for lunch. The original plan was to dine in town for dinner, but seeing that we had a late lunch and we were so close to town, I decided against it as that would waste a lot of time. Instead, we picked up dinner food for those who didn’t come with any (me) while others who brought their own food waited for everyone.
With our bellies full, we all formed a single line and crossed the street into the Ojai Valley Trail. We decided to go visit the awesome The Mob Shop bike store. The last time I was here, I got to do test rides with Salsa. Everyone seemed to enjoy the shop.
3 Miles Up
We continued on Ojai Ave heading east towards our campsite in Dennison Park. I warned everyone right before the road started to ascent. The ride up wasn’t too bad considering how terribly geared my bike was and how out of shape I’ve been. I had not ridden a bike for a month now, ever since the last tour to Cogswell Dam. My legs were burning as I took a couple of breaks up the hill. The views were gorgeous even though gray clouds dominated the sky.
We all eventually made it up to the park. I walked my bike up the 20% grade hill above the park to look for a good campsite. We passed up the site where I stayed the last time (#8) to be at campsite #15, #16, & #17. We actually could have fit everyone in 2 sites, but 2 of our riders wanted their campgrounds to themselves, which was fine by me. I was nervous asking other folks to help chip in the difference in cost. I originally assumed that everyone was going to camp together and when I told them that it costed more, everyone was still happy to pay. I was so relieved. People thought it was a bargain even at that price. I totally agreed.
We all set up our camp and checked out each other’s tent and gear. You can tell that the group consisted of veteran campers as they settled into their routine rather quickly. Even our first timer, who was riding his road bike, had camping experiences.
We all ate our dinner and a few started a campfire. Folks brought supplies to make s’mores and instant cheesecake. It was such a treat! A few headed into bed before 8PM, while I got into my tent closer to 10PM. The night wasn’t great as I was on a slight slope. I ended sliding off my air mattress a few times and was shuffling around to get comfortable.
The skies finally opened up during the night, and we were doused by the rain as we tried to sleep. When morning came, the rain miraculously stopped. I got up a few times to walk around and enjoy the quiet campsite. I saw our 2 riders at their own camp already packed up and rolled off to catch an early train from Ventura. Everyone else started to get up closer to 8AM. By the time we were all ready to go, it was 10AM. Another rider, had to leave us as well, in order to make it home for another commitment.
All Downhill From Here
We all enjoyed the descent back into town and stopped by a deli in the Rainbow Bridge Natural Foods market. Some of us ordered food to enjoy as we watched a variety of people walk by the store, to and from a local Farmers Market.
We all converged back on the Ojai River Trail and slid back onto the Ventura River Trail. About a third of the way, the rain started to become steady. We were forced to pull on some rain gear as we had the proper shower. The weather did not let up until we got closer to Foster Park. Luckily, everyone made it out unscathed. They were damp, but safe.
We actually got a bit of sun when I took the group toward a beach detour on a local bike path. It was a beautiful ending to a fantastic trip as we rolled back into the Ventura Amtrak station parking lot. Everyone said their goodbyes. I was so lucky to have such a cooperative bunch of people. I couldn’t have asked for anything better than what I experienced.
I did have some takeaways from this trip. I need to formalize my introduction speech and safety speech better. I honestly forgot all the formalities and treated this like any of my bike tours. I was reminded that this wasn’t like any bike tour as the responsibility fell on my shoulders to get people to and back safely, so I had to be on my best behavior. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the ride, but I was certainly not focused too much on the scenery as I was more concerned for everyone else. We were lucky that the campsites were open. We were told by the campground host that the site fills up in the warmer season. I’ll be sure to make reservations ahead of time. Speaking of which, asking people ahead of time if they are going to have their own campsite or not should be helpful in the budgeting process.
Other than that, I think this was an awesome first MeetUp experience!