After a much-needed rest day, I wake up the following morning and get packing my things. There are two campsites on the way to Ventura: Carpinteria State Beach and Emma Wood State Beach. I’ve heard great things about both.
Depending on how much time I spend checking out Santa Barbara on the way will determine which campground I get to. I start my day early and arrive in Santa Barbara right before noon. I check out the famous Public Market, which is a fancy food hall full of great eateries. There is a massive line in front of the Mexican restaurant, Corazon Cocina, so I decide to join. The food must be good and I’m in no rush.
I order two tacos that may very well be the best tacos I have ever had in my life. Mexican food in southern California is too good! After filling up and checking off this tourist must-do, I make my way to three different coffee roasters to check out the coffee scene in the city before heading to another food spot for a vegan breakfast burrito and a snickerdoodle for dessert.
It’s still early afternoon, not even 3:30 PM, but I decide to continue on. I arrive in the town of Carpinteria in good time, so I opt to push for Emma Wood about an hour and twenty minutes away. I’ll get there a bit before sunset if all goes well.
I somehow manage to miss the entrance for the separated bike lane on the highway and am forced to ride on the shoulder for a while. Luckily, traffic is almost at a stop, so I whiz on by without anyone harassing me or shouting at me to get off the road.
The views are becoming more and more industrial and less beachy, with the highway right next to the rocky beachside. Emma Wood appears out of nowhere and it looks about as sad as any RV park can look that sits on the water with a busy highway no more than 50 meters away. Not really a beach… just some rocks leading down to the ocean. I pull in and ask where the hiker/biker site is. The park ranger tells me that it’s in the next section in the day-use park area, but that nobody is there. He goes on to tell me that they don’t have any current park hosts or anyone staying there. I double-check that it is in fact open, to which he confirms and continues to state that I can camp there with no problem.
I cycle on the path he recommends, which involves hiking my bike over train tracks and up a steep cliff. I almost dropped my bike. This ranger clearly has no idea about this other section of the park.
I get into an abandoned park, engulfed by the highway on one side and train tracks on the other. There are no cars and no people. I am clearly visible from the highway and there isn’t anywhere solid to lock my bike. I instantly feel uneasy and my gut screams at me to get out of here. I weigh my options in a panic.
I’m a 10-minute ride outside of Ventura, where I planned to be hosted by another Warm Showers family starting the following night. Maybe Dennis can host me a day early. If I leave now, I could get there before sunset. I leave a voicemail and a few texts… no response. I could cycle back to Carpinteria, but I would get in after sunset and that’s if I didn’t get a flat tire or anything. Not ideal, but at least I know I’m heading in the direction of safety. I call an RV park in the city, and they want $95 for me to set up my tent. No thanks.
I try convincing myself this feeling is all in my head, that there isn’t anything to worry about. I start setting up my tent and taking off my bags from the bike. Then a different park ranger rolls up.
“Are you planning on camping here?”
“Yeah, should I not? It feels sketchy.”
“If I were you, I wouldn’t stay here for the night.”
Apparently, this park is known as “Hobo Jungle” and lots of homeless people live here. There have been many incidents of assault and theft. Great job, state of California! You should definitely keep a park like this open without any staff working and tell people they can camp there. What a great idea!
Now, with my bad feelings verified, I decide to cycle back to Carpinteria. It will be dark, but I have a bike light and a headlamp. Not ideal, but that’s life.
About 2 minutes after cycling back north, adrenaline pumping and legs pedaling hard, I get a call from Dennis.
“Do you want me to pick you up? I have a truck.”
An offer I couldn’t refuse.
Dennis picks me up from the park and I feel a bit embarrassed. Arriving at his and his wife Jayne’s house, I quickly realize they are two insanely hospitable, friendly, and all-around interesting people.
They’ve both spent extensive time volunteering all around the world in places like Kenya and Ethiopia. They’ve both traveled all throughout Africa and have countless stories to share. I ended up talking with Dennis until 11 PM the night I arrived. I like going to bed before 9 PM if that tells you how great his stories are.
These two reignite a desire to travel that had been slowly dimming for a bit. A desire for authentic travel to unknown places and unknown cultures. Something about traveling throughout the United States just doesn’t do it for me like when I go to a completely new and different place. I want my perspectives challenged, to experience unpredictable moments. I don’t find that happens a lot in this country, being born and raised here.
We talk a lot about volunteering and how to get involved in helping globally in meaningful ways. They also happen to volunteer and rescue hurt animals in Ventura on a regular basis. There is a crisis of pelicans getting sick and dying, unable to get warm for some reason, so Dennis and Jayne are on-call for rescue missions. They save over five birds in the two days that I am there.
I end up taking a bike path to the city of Ojai for a day trip. This place is known for spiritual retreats, meditation, and wineries. Jayne meets me up there in the afternoon with her friend Della at a winery. She set up a tasting for all of us! Della is also super charismatic and ends up connecting me with kitesurfers further south and even a friend who has an olive farm and produces olive oil, something I’ve always wanted to learn about.
After getting a slight buzz on, I take the bike path back for a not-so-casual 70 km “rest day”. I go to bed relatively early after more great conversation with Jayne and Dennis in order to wake up early to go for a stand-up paddle session with Dennis!
I make a coffee in the morning for Jayne and myself. She is liking the specialty coffee I brought from Santa Cruz, which makes me excited! Usually, most people have their coffee routine and don’t want it changed, so it’s nice to share something that I am passionate about and see the other person love it.
After coffee, I head out with Dennis and two paddle boards. We explore the harbor for almost two hours as Dennis shares some more of his life stories with me. I really don’t want to leave. I feel like I could easily listen to them all day and continue to be inspired by their stories and life experiences. Their passion for living an adventurous life is contagious.
Sure enough, the time to depart comes and I head to Leo Carrillo State Beach for one last campground before reaching Los Angeles, where my little sister lives!
It’s a relatively easy day with some good views of the ocean on the way. I get into the campground after just a couple of hours’ worth of riding… plenty of time to enjoy the beach. Then, out of nowhere, my body feels like it is hit by a bus. Instant sore muscles everywhere, massive headache, crazy tiredness. I go to take a shower to hopefully fix whatever just happened. Maybe the sun got to me more than I realized. Of course, the first three showers I try don’t have hot water.
I make dinner and go to bed. I feel awful.
I wake up every hour of the night, cycling between sweating and shivering. I have a massive fever but only one dose of ibuprofen and one of acetaminophen. I end up taking both throughout the night as the pain is unbearable. Nothing like being sick in a tent!
In the morning, my head hurts so bad it’s almost impossible to even think about packing up my stuff. I’m out of medicine and flag some random guy down to ask if he has anything. Luckily, he does and doesn’t hesitate for a second to let me grab some Tylenol and Advil.
What is going on with my body? I’ve never gotten sick in such a rapid “one moment I’m fine, the next I’m awful” kind of way. I manage to pack up my things slowly and get out of the campground by 8:30 AM. I have 50 km to Santa Monica, then another 25 km to my sister’s house. I won’t be able to make it that extra 25 km. I shouldn’t even be biking this 50 km.
I power through the pain after a long stop at a grocery store for more medicine, kombucha, bread (to eat something bland that won’t upset my stomach), and immunity shots. I snag some Clif Bars too, just in case.
I make it to Santa Monica and my head starts to hurt a lot more. I call an Uber XL to pick me and my bike up and go to my sister’s. She makes a crazy good herbal tea infused with adaptogens, mushrooms, and loads of other healing herbs and foods. I ask her to pick up a COVID test, just to rule it out.
I am pretty sure it isn’t COVID. I don’t have a sore throat or trouble breathing. I taste everything just fine. Plus, I’ve been camping since Santa Cruz (except for Ventura), and have been in little contact with other people.
I take the test the following morning and the red line for “positive” immediately appears. Damn it. At least I know what I have.
Is this the end of my trip? To be honest, I wasn’t craving the industrial stretch with little camping options between LA and San Diego. I’ve been unsure about cycling through Mexico in this heat. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise.
Time to rethink some things.