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California Sea and Desert Trip: Day Six

Santa Barbara to Los Angeles: 137 Miles Ridden

The final push home means that I'll get to see my wife, my dogs and cats and my house this evening. I could just ride straight down US 101, and be home in 90 minutes or so. But where's the fun in that?

I have breakfast at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Pepper Tree Inn's adjacent restaurant, the Treehouse Restaurant and Lounge. The restaurant also provides room service and poolside service for the hotel, but I decide to mingle with the regular folk instead. Fueled up for the ride home, I decide to detour into downtown Santa Barbara before I leave town.

Santa Barbara is home to about 90,000 people. Because of its mild, Mediterranean climate and geography, the city has the nickname "the American Riviera." It's really an apt nickname for the gorgeous town. The hillsides are dotted with stucco homes, each with a great view of the Pacific Ocean below. Downtown, perfectly preserved Mission-style buildings and mature trees house businesses, art galleries, designer stores and restaurants. Alleys off of the main streets hide arcades with coffee shops, galleries and fountains. Walking around downtown Santa Barbara is incredibly relaxing and full of interest in every direction. The city has a major art museum and several major educational institutions, including the University of California Santa Barbara, Antioch University and Westmont College. Like many California towns, it also has a historic mission, the Old Mission of Santa Barbara, which was founded in 1786 by Friar Fermin de Lasuen. The Mission is open for tours daily, for $5 per person with senior and student discounts available.

After walking around downtown for a little while, I climb back in the saddle for another leg of riding. As I'm mounting up, a grizzled old guy approaches me with a deep frown on his face. He's staring at my Road Glide.

"Can I help you?" I ask the old guy.

"That your bike?"


"I used to be a biker. Only time I ever rode one of those full-dressers was in Chicago one time. I was looking at this bike in the parking lot, a big full-dresser, and this guy comes out of the bar. He's wearing full leathers, and he turns around, and I see the patch. Nomads. I thought he was going to kill me."


"He looks at me, and he says, 'Do you want to ride this bike?' Well, I never rode one of those full-dressers before, and I told him that. He says, 'My old lady rides this one.' Well, that was that. I hopped on, and I rode it up and down the street. I was scared as Hell. I never rode any bike that big or that fast before. I'll never forget that day."

He breaks into a big grin. Then he sticks his hand out to me, and I grab it.

"You ride safe. Nice bike. I'm just going to stand here so I can hear it start up."

I start the engine, gun it a little for the old guy, and pull away from the curb.

Once a biker, always a biker.

I depart Santa Barbara and continue down US 101 through Montecito, the richest town in the United States. Oprah lives there, and so does film producer Ivan Reitman. And they're not even the rich ones. I roll through Carpinteria until I reach the turnoff for CA-150, and I turn toward Ojai.

Ojai is a really interesting place. It is about halfway between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, but it really is another world. It's one of the artsiest towns in Southern California, a real haven for painters, sculptors, writers and musicians. Best known for its pottery and tiles, Ojai is also a major center for glasswork.

I stop at the Ojai Valley Museum for a primer on the region's history and art. I discover that Ojai was founded in 1874 as "Nordhoff," to honor Charles Nordhoff, a travel writer. His 1873 book "California: For Health, Pleasure and Residence" was a major influence on many people, inspiring Easterners to relocate to Southern California. Nordhoff is also honored with a major avenue in the San Fernando Valley -- though few residents realize the origin of the street's name. The town of Nordhoff burned down in 1917, and was rebuilt as Ojai with the input of Edward Libbey, owner of the Libbey Glass Company.

Downtown Ojai is a charming Spanish-style street, with arcades, a pergola and a bell tower that are worth the visit for the architecture alone, not to mention the galleries and shops along its length. I buy one small bronze sculpture in a gallery called "The Human Touch," which features folk art from around the country. Very cool, and very affordable. If I were on four wheels instead of two, I might have bought something bigger. Sometimes motorcycling can save you money.

I resume my ride toward home on CA-150. The road is nearly empty today, and the fun curves and twists make for some good riding. When I reach Santa Paula, it's time to pick up CA-126. A few decades ago, this used to be a very dangerous stretch of road, with one lane in each direction and farm vehicles entering and exiting the road at irregular intervals. Now, it's a broad modern road with at least two lanes in each direction, and proper shoulders and runoffs should a farmer need to move his tractor from one field to the next. Even though I'm within shouting distance of Los Angeles, the second-largest city in the US, I'm still riding through fields and groves. It's yet another reminder of how big California is, and how diverse.

CA-126 terminates at Interstate 5 in Santa Clarita, and it's a short hop home for me from there. I pass by yet another tourist attraction on my way through the Santa Clarita Valley: Six Flags Magic Mountain. Thrill seekers love this place. I have some history there -- I worked in the park for a couple of summers while I was in college. I'm happy to drive past Magic Mountain today. It brings back a few memories of friends from long ago.

Finally, I ride into the San Fernando Valley. A few exits up the Hollywood Freeway and I'm home and in my garage again. My dogs and cats are happy to see me. Well, my dogs are overjoyed, and my cats are indifferent, but I'll just average that. My wife Robin will be home from work soon, and I hope she'll be overjoyed to see me, too.

This was one of the most diverse trips I've ever taken, from the desert below sea level to the mountains to the beaches and everywhere in between. I've been in big cities and small villages, on farmland and on elegant shopping streets. I never left the state, even though I rode for over 1,200 miles. I just skimmed the surface of the southern part of this enormous state. I could ride to the same destinations over again, barely touch the same routes, and still have a memorable week of riding. I stayed at some fantastic Best Western hotels, ate some great food, and met a bunch of interesting people wherever I went. California might be the best motorcycling destination in the country -- at least it felt that way this week.

I can't wait to explore more of California. Where should I go next?

Total Miles: 1,273

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