Last month, I travelled to California to attend two weddings—one for Nicole and Tom, and another for Jason and Jamie. Both couples are friends who live in Southern California.
The first wedding, though a worthwhile affair, involved driving from Los Angeles for about 230 miles each way to the Central Coast–town of Paso Robles. As someone who doesn’t care for driving much anymore, it was difficult to pilot a car for two four-hour one-way drives.
For the second wedding, I changed my approach. I would do no driving. Instead, I took Amtrak from Burbank to Santa Barbara on the day of the wedding with my California-road bike in tow. After spending the night on a friend’s couch, I would return to the LA area by bicycle. The morning following the wedding, I sucked down some coffee, a calorie-rich breakfast, and a couple of Ibuprofen tablets before riding eighty miles to Santa Clarita. From there, I planned to catch a direct Metrolink train back to the Antelope Valley.
This would match the longest ride I had done on the west coast. It’s not NYC-to-Montauk, but it’s still a long ride, especially after partying at a friend’s wedding.
From the Sea to the Desert
The first thing about traveling from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita is that the entire trip is actually along an easterly heading. Most everyone who drives a car thinks that Ventura is south of Santa Barbara because one takes US-101 South to get there. But between Point Conception and Point Mugu, the Pacific Ocean is mostly south—not west—of the California coastline, thus the trip is just as much east-west, as it is north-south.
The second thing about this trip is that there are two possible routes to take to Santa Clarita.
- Via Ojai. This route is about 90 miles and is very hilly with about a mile of vertical gain. It includes a long eleven-mile, thousand-foot ascent before descending, almost as long and as steep, into the Santa Clara River valley just east of Santa Paula. When I mentioned this route to a friend, he referenced Greg LeMond, which turned me off to this option because of the requisite effort. Had I not been at a wedding the night before and carrying about 15 pounds of stuff in a backpack, I would have taken this route.
Instead, I went…
Via Ventura. This route is about 80 miles and is very flat. The route more or less follows “southbound” US-101 and then continues along eastbound CA-126. Taking this route gives a rider a taste of several Southern California terrains, including the sea, the desert, and the ‘burbs.
This route starts along the section of US-101 named “Pacific Coast Highway” and, because it is along the seashore, also appears to be one of the most popular bike routes in the region.
This stretch of the route ends in downtown Ventura, where you will come upon a quaint main street, appropriately called “Main Street.”
After downtown Ventura, I stopped by a little burger spot to get some lunch. I hear you can get things “animal style,” which isn’t as gross as it might sound.
As I waited for my food at In ‘n’ Out, I found two other cyclists who were more or less riding the same route—in reverse, from Chatsworth to Santa Barbara. They had some mishaps in that they were fighting a headwind the entire way—which was my tailwind gently pushing me east—and even had to escort a friend whose tire blew out back to a train station. I pitied them at first, but then I reminded them that the story of cycling is a lot better when someone asks, “how are you two holding up on this ride?” and respond with, “Great, but there were three of us when we started.”
After Ventura, the route traverses through some quintessential Southern California terrain: citrus groves, oil fields, and the banks of the desiccated Santa Clara River.
The terrain completes its transition to desert as the elevation increases and approaches Castaic Junction, where CA-126 connects with I-5, north of Valencia.
As I approached the last ten miles of the route, I came upon two stretches of CA-126, just west of Castaic Junction, that had no shoulder for me to ride.
I bypassed the first stretch by jumping over the barricade and riding on hard pack. But the second stretch was just a ravine: I had to “take the lane” on a road where cars regularly speed at 60-70 MPH. It reminded me of riding on Tyburn Road in Morrisville, Pennsylvania during my inaugural Cheesesteak Century where I had to sprint and merge onto a highway with big trucks barreling towards me.
East of Castaic Junction, the route heads south and is essentially suburban as you ride through California’s eighteenth largest city. For seven miles you’ll ride past industrial parks, shopping centers, and overly planned subdivisions to ultimately arrive at the Metrolink station at Santa Clarita.
This might not be the most arduous ride, and judging from the Strava heat maps, it’s not the most unexplored route to take. But if you’re looking for a direct way, low-traffic route to get between Santa Barbara and Santa Clarita, this will do just fine.