Until I was in high school, all I knew of Santa Barbara was that Michael Jackson and Ronald Reagan both lived near there and that it was the setting for a long-running soap opera. But one day, in my junior year of high school, a friend and I drove from the Antelope Valley to Santa Barbara for a day trip out of the high desert. Once we arrived, I was struck by remarkable differences in topography—desert versus beach, 2000-foot elevation versus sea level—but also by the drive. It was a much longer drive than I had done to that point: my parents didn’t really drive very far so most of our car trips were about an hour long and almost all contained within Los Angeles county. Driving over 100 miles, through two different counties, seemed to me then as extraordinary as biking 100 miles across state lines seems to me today.
A good portion of the drive from the desert to the sea is on CA-126, between Santa Clarita and Ventura. That road has undergone a lot changes since the mid-1990s. The thirty-two mile stretch between Santa Clarita and Santa Paula was more or less a one-lane country road, but today, it is a nice two-lane byway with a wide shoulder. Over the years, I noticed cyclists riding on this road, and at the time, it seemed crazy that someone would ride a bike that far, but as you know, I’m that crazy now.
On New Year’s Day, I hitched a ride with my mom to Santa Clarita and then biked fifty-odd miles to Oxnard for a friend’s New Year’s Eve dinner.
It’s been atypically cold here in Southern California and on New Year’s Eve, it was downright chilly and windy. Fortunately, that wind was at my back for almost the entire ride and, to make matters even better, the ride is almost entirely downhill.
My first stop was in Fillmore: a town that I kind of hated driving through because it forced me to slow to a pokey 40 MPH and even stop when I would inevitably come across a red traffic light. But on a bike, Fillmore was an oasis.
There are a bunch of places to stop and eat there, although I am convinced I picked the one that was the most expensive serving the most forgettable food. After eating a BLT, I headed back out on the country roads of eastern Ventura country, surrounded by citrus groves in full bloom. For whatever reason, as I rode through those roads, I kept thinking of two quintessential movies about the roots of modern Southern California: Chinatown and There Will Be Blood.
The next town on the route was Santa Paula, where the CA-126 turns into a freeway. At that point, I did something I had never done before: I rode through the town of Santa Paula, where I found another decommissioned gas station. This one however was not abandoned by adapted into an auto repair shop.
The rest of the ride was along Telegraph Road all the way to Ventura. The road runs parallel to the old railroad that ran through the Santa Clara River Valley, suggesting the strong historical connection between railroads and telegraph lines.
I arrived in Oxnard for a dinner with a few friends, and then to cap off the night, took a train to Santa Barbara for a New Year’s Eve party with some very old friends to, as they say, ring in the new year.
Santa Barbara obviously means a lot more to me today—both good and bad—than it did twenty years ago, when I associated it with two 1980s American icons and a soap opera.
Happy New Year!