If you were to tell me when I started this MeetUp group almost 2 years ago that I was going to have 17 people on one of my bike tours, I would have had a hard time believing you. Heck, I’m still having a hard time believing that it happened!
But that was what happened on our October 2016 bike tour from Ventura to Santa Paula through Ojai and back. This event was very well attended with 1/2 of our group being first-time bike tourists (or the first time in a long time). I loved seeing my “usual” riders, but I was more excited to meet the people who were trying this for the first time, ever!
The plan was to meet at the Ventura Amtrak station, which allowed people who were leaving their cars overnight a place to park and simultaneously meet the folks who were traveling by train. One by one, riders trickled to our meeting spot.
By 11AM, we had everyone there in various stages of being ready. Most came with 2 panniers while others were fully loaded with 4 bags. It didn’t matter how much or what they brought because this was a perfect opportunity to shake down their bike and equipment with minimal risk.
My co-leader, Allyn, was instrumental in planning our route and leading the ride while I was at the back as the group’s sweep. Before we swung our legs over our bikes, Allyn and I introduced ourselves and went over some ride rules as well as the route.
We eventually gave the green light, and we were off!
Our entourage of 17 touring bikes snaked along the Ventura bike path pass the Ventura Pier before we spilled into the local neighborhood. Our first stop was The Robert J. Lagomarsino Visitor Center at Channel Islands National Park. We filled up our water bottles and took our second bathroom break for the day there.
Our group then double backed where we came in from and found a hidden bike path (at least hidden to me) which parallels Harbor Blvd. I have ridden this road several times in the past 5 years and never even noticed the bike path, so I was very surprised when we were on it as we made our way northeast. We rode through acres of agriculture where people were busy harvesting the various produce.
The path finally ended on Market Street where we rode through an industrial area of Ventura before we found Telephone Road. This was a heavily traveled area of Ventura where strip malls lined the roads and cars were coming at us from every direction. Luckily, we had our designated bike path to travel on to help us cope with the madness.
I was relieved when we pulled into one of these strip malls to have lunch. Our group scattered to various restaurants for the next hour while a few of us took turns to watch all of our unlocked bikes leaning on bushes and poles.
Turn By Turn
After lunch, we filed out of the parking lot and carefully onto Portola Road. From Portola Road, we turned right on Thille Street and then a left onto Bennett Avenue where we found another gem of a dedicated bike path.
The bike path parallels Highway 126 with a wall divider between us and cars. We enjoyed our time as we rode through parks and tunnels undisturbed by motorized traffic until we made it back onto Henderson Road.
From here, we found Saticoy Ave and looped up the bridge across the highway. Before we crossed Telegraph Road, our group rode single-file as the road was significantly narrowed by construction to our right and passing cars on our left – probably one of the most uncomfortable riding conditions for the day as cars weaved in and out between our parade of bikes.
After Telegraph Road, the road opened up and we were in a quiet residential neighborhood with roads laced with speed bumps. Unfortunately, there was a slight incline, so some of our riders had to take a quick breath before continuing onto Foothill Road.
We stayed on Foothill for quite some time before Allyn showed us a shortcut through an avocado orchard. I can’t say we were allowed to ride through there, but they sure didn’t make it hard for us to ride our bikes around the gate.
The road ended and we turned left on Ranch Road and rode through Limoneira Company property. It felt a lot like riding through a campus as we saw familiar recreational space used for a wedding reception.
It was as if we were transported to another lifetime before us as the buildings and landscape appeared unchanged by time.
We found our way onto Cummings Road and made a left turn onto Santa Paula Street. The road featured a slight incline as we rode into the outskirts of Santa Paula. We eventually found Cameron Street which led us straight to Vons where we all picked up our dinner and breakfast provisions.
The Climb Into Camp
Our group separated as we went through Main Street Santa Paula. My little group at the end of the pack followed the turn-by-turn route street that Allyn passed out in the morning and found our left turn on 10th Street which led us onto Highway 150.
Allyn had stopped on the side of the road to wait for us as we slowly slogged uphill towards Steckel Park. Luckily, the sun was already behind the western ridge so we weren’t affected by the heat. We slowly rode the last few miles in silence, stopping every so often to catch our breaths.
Everybody celebrated silently when we reached the entrance to the park. Allyn guided us to our home for the night as we passed by the park’s aviary. The early birds (pun intended) were in various stages of setting up their tents and unpacking their bikes.
No Hanging Here
I carefully assessed the trees at our campsite for my hammock and settled on a spot that was closest to the road. I later regretted setting up there as the campground host came by our site and reprimanded me for hanging a hammock there. He said because of liability issues, we are not allowed to hang hammocks, or anything for that matter, on trees.
Honestly, I think that this was only enforced because my hammock wasn’t carefully hidden away with the rest of the tents. In fact, one of our participants brought his own hammock for lounging and the host didn’t say anything about that. Perhaps, I could have waited until it got darker for me to set up. I truly believed that I would have gotten away with it.
I was relegated to sharing the tarp floor with Sang Hyun for the night.
To add insult to injuries, the shower was closed at 7PM without any warnings. Sang Hyun and I missed our opportunity and pleaded with the camp host. He wouldn’t budge in reopening the showers and told us to come back the next morning at 7.
We weren’t going to let a grumpy camp host stop us from enjoying our time there, so we rejoined our group in lively conversations and got to know the few that stayed up until 10PM.
Morning Couldn’t Come Soon
I had a restless night as the campground was one of the noisiest I’ve ever stayed in. People were up laughing and yelling until 2 in the morning. Then the coyotes started up with their yelping and howling.
As 6AM came around, I got up and started my day. Surprisingly, I wasn’t the only early riser as several other participants were already up a few minutes before me. We gathered at the communal bench to prepare breakfast. I prepared my usual coffee and a bowl of oatmeal.
This gave me enough energy to climb the 5 miles out to the summit at the appropriately named Summit Cafe. We passed by old oil fields and the Thomas Aquinas College as we slowly spun our way up to the top.
Everyone had their 2nd breakfast at the cafe. I told Allyn that he could take the first group, who arrived there earlier than the second group and myself, to go ahead into Ojai. The second group stayed for another 30 minutes to finish our meals before we followed.
We passed by a familiar campground at Dennison Park [link to previous blog post] before we hit the Dennison Grade. I thoroughly enjoyed this downhill as I peeled ahead of my pack and had the road all to myself. I was not passed by a single car all the way down.
Here’s the downhill video so you can see what I am talking about.
We all regrouped at a market in Ojai before we split up once again. Allyn led the first group back to the Ventura Amtrak station as some of the folks wanted to make it there with plenty of time to decide on whether they would take the train or ride home. Apparently, they made it just in time for one of our participants to decide on a ride home to Los Angeles.
I continued with my group using my favorite dedicated bike path, the Ojai Valley Trail. We rode the familiar trail down to Ventura and made it in 30 minutes before the train arrived. Amtrak had run out of bike spaces, so I accepted a ride back home. I ended up picking up Sang Hyun, Dani, and Elf Cup at LA’s Union station once I got back home.
What grew from the need of having more people join me on my trips to a 17-person strong overnight bike tour is something I am very proud of.
One of my goals is to provide the inspiration and help someone who is curious about bike touring to realize their dream. What better way than to bring them along and give them a chance to try it out in person.
At the end of one of these tours, I either meet an acquaintance or find another potential bike touring companions.
Naturally, I want more companions.
Here is the video from our ride.