Solvang, CA to Santa Barbara, CA

46.0 mi / 10.7 mph / 1824 ft. climbing
Home: Santa Barbara AirBNB room

WarmShowers is a wonderful network of generous people, willing to host touring cyclists like us, in or around their homes. But one of my apprehensions preventing us from taking advantage of it more often (beyond that basic “taking advantage” feeling) is the structural imbalance inherent in the network. Generally, bike tourers ride, and are looking for accommodations, where few people live. Conversely, most hosts (who are simply bike tourers not currently traveling), like most people in general, live in cities.

This imbalance means that hosts in big cities, where the rare bike tourers can choose between a huge number of hosts, get very few requests for stays. While those rare rural hosts along popular bike touring routes get slammed.

Rett and I absolutely loved those rare occasions living in Chicago when we were “lucky” enough to get a request; meeting new people, and being able to live vicariously through their adventures, was always an exciting event that burned-in good memories we still feel years later.

But my concern has been for those hosts on the other side of the imbalance, those with a far higher frequency of requests. Ones for whom hosting quickly stops being a rare, exciting event, and starts feeling more like a boring, or even burdensome, full-time job. And we don’t want to add to that burden, especially if it results in the hosts feeling that their only option is to exit the network, removing a warm shower for cyclists who truly need it, and accelerating the structural imbalance into a full-on death spiral.

Christmas red and green, California-style, in Bill and Jan’s gorgeous front yard.

Bill and Jan, our WarmShowers hosts, unfortunately confirmed that my fears were not merely theoretical imaginings (as many of my social fears often are). But they simultaneously assuaged those fears, and inspired us with how they’re working together and communicating as a couple to manage their load to keep it sustainable.

It was less than two months ago that they decided to hang out their shingle in Solvang, opening their doors to bike tourers making a side-trip off the popular Pacific Coast route. And in that brief time, we were already the 11th and 12th tourers they’ve hosted! In contrast, in our two years living in Redmond, we didn’t even get a single request to stay.

It turns out that Jan and Rett come from the same school of hosting, where they learned that when you invite someone into your home, you need to present your very best hospitality to them. And as we all know, making your home look and feel effortlessly beautiful actually requires a whole lot of effort. Whereas Bill and I approach it a bit more from the other side: dirty, smelly cyclists who spend most of their time outside will be more than happy with any level of hospitality, and if the work involved forces the available choices to devolve to only “hosting at less-than Martha Stewart-level” versus “not hosting at all”, the former should win out, since the cyclists (who in California campgrounds get neither soap nor any form of hand-drying in the bathrooms!) won’t even be aware that things are running at less-than Martha Stewart-level.

And so already they have recognized these conflicts and worked together on strategies to mitigate them. They’ve switched from meal-providing to open-kitchen providing; they’ve asked the guests to change the bedding. Which is a win-win, because we always feel like it’s difficult for us as guests to contribute our fair share, so giving us as many specific tasks as possible actually makes it feel like a better and more-comfortable stay to us.

Once Rett and I return to the other side of the coin as hosts, we will definitely look back to Bill and Jan as a wonderful inspiration for how to manage and work through our conflicting approaches. Or heck, we’re already taking what we saw and trying to be more like them in our current life!

And I’m sure they will continue to evolve their approach. Maybe some neighbors will open up to help share the burden and reduce/reverse the risk of the death-spiral. Given the cute intentionality they clearly stepped into this business with (hanging a map for guests to pin their homes onto, and recording their stays both in a guestbook and with photos), we’re really pulling for them to find a way to keep it fun and fresh and fulfilling.

Bill and Jan, our wonderful WarmShowers hosts seeing us off in the morning.

Ok, so I should probably say something about the ride now! Well, I still can’t do that without talking about our hosts. Bill gave great guidance for getting us back to the coast, with him and Jan confirming that going up and over the direct route through the mountains to Santa Barbara on CA 154 would be a bad idea, and instead sending us down Alisal Road, and letting us know that the not-exactly-legal shortcut onto US-101 (that I’d scouted on Google’s aerial view) would be doable.

Alisal Road morning.
Alisal Road morning.

Alisal Road was absolutely gorgeous in the morning sun and fog, and worth the side-trip to Solvang all on its own. It was also so precisely as Bill had described, including the bounding deer running alongside us up the hill, and the turkeys crossing the road, that I’m pretty sure that he must have been controlling things along our journey, Wizard of Oz-style, rather than merely predicting them. Beautifully-executed, Bill!

Turkeys and Rett on Alisal Road.
Glowing light on empty Alisal Road.
Looking down to the valley from the barely-a-road southern branch of Alisal Road near its connection to US-101.

The cut through the Santa Ynez Mountains on US-101 back to the coast was easy and downhill, and surprisingly dramatic. Large mountains suddenly rose high above us through the narrow gap, and it felt like a smaller, drier version of our beloved Snoqualmie Pass in Washington.

Roadside lunch spot between the highway and the Amtrak-carrying railroad tracks, learning about gum-nuts (“You’re a gum-nuts!” “No, you!!1!”)

We had been hoping to do a relatively short ride to enjoy more coastal camping before we hit LA, but some rain and wind in the forecast meant that we unfortunately had to bypass El Capitan and Refugio State Beaches, and instead do a bigger day all the way into Santa Barbara where we could have another roof over our head for two nights. Rett had found a residential house set up as a mini-motel, with four guest rooms, a shared kitchen, but a private bathroom for us. Just big enough to get our unloaded bikes inside, and with a nice white wall that let us use our projector to make a video display in the TV-less room.

Don’t let them fool you, there is more than one way to skin a cat, to do a bike tour, and to live your life! (though you should really only attempt the latter two.)

Day 2

Home: Santa Barbara AirBNB room

Another day of taking advantage of our walls and staying inside all day. The couple of other guests staying there were quiet and nearly-invisible, leaving the tiny kitchen to us. It rained a little, but I was able to make a run to the grocery store, where the strong winds pushed me back home at 20mph.

After dinner, some new guests came who sounded absolutely sick and disgusting through the walls. Constant coughing and expectorating of phlegm, they made the shared-spaces feel like a lot less of a good bargain, and our private-bath “upgrade” feel like a brilliant decision. Luckily we were holed up inside our room and could just stay inside with the door closed, and wait for their hopefully-not-COVID germs to die out overnight.



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One response to “Solvang, CA to Santa Barbara, CA”

  1. Kenneth Gregie Avatar
    Kenneth Gregie

    Bill and Jan’s reco of taking Alisal Road sure looked like a great way to go, as evidenced by the beautiful scenery you captured so well. And I see you have an eye for the “lone tree”, as it has always been a favorite subject of mine too.

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