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The Coast Ride has special place in the hearts of Californian cyclists. It’s the symbolic start to the riding season and the perfect cornerstone on which to build a great year.

In normal times it rolls every year, rain or shine. But like so many things, it just wasn’t possible during a pandemic. But for one particularly loyal devotee, the show had to go on, somehow, somewhere. There would be no adventure down the coast from the Bay Area to Santa Barbara and beyond, no long days rolling as part of a fast-paced peloton along California’s coastline. But there could still be adventure.

So when we heard that our friend Anthony Little was setting out to do his own thing (the “Fake Coast Ride” as he called it) that involved some seriously long days at a time when a lot of riders are still hibernating, we had to hit him up and ask: “Why?”

How did the idea come about?

Two things. Last year I was on crutches during the Coast Ride, and while I was able to spin a bike around a little, I was only able to do bits and pieces of each day. I’d been off the bike for three months at that stage, so it was rough. And then in general, the Coast Ride is just this annual event that you look forward to. There’s usually not a whole lot to look forward to that time of year, so over the holidays it’s a great reason to get out on your bike, because you don’t wanna get your ass served. 

We wanted to keep the tradition, and keep that solid block of riding, because it’s just a beautiful way to spend some time on your bike, especially in January, when a lot of people aren’t even riding. 

You didn’t end up doing the traditional route. Did that matter?

The ride we ended up doing was changed a lot because of Covid. We had planned on taking the original coastal route, and stopping at all the usual towns – Monterey, Morro Bay, Santa Barbara – but there were so many hotel closures, we got a bit spooked. We wanted to be responsible at the same time, so we rented a house up in Healdsburg, so we got to ride from here [in Marin], up there for a couple days, and then back, so it was a four-day little adventure. 

The ride lengths were different, different elevation, there wasn’t a lot of coast involved, but still, it had the same spirit, we committed to those long, great days on the bike, and not thinking about much else. 

Tell us a bit about your relationship with the Coast Ride.

I love it. I’ve been doing it eight or nine years, and the in the early days there was no sag wagon or support, so you had to bring a bag or ship stuff to each hotel. I think the second year I did it was the first year they rented a U-Haul for bags. 

I remember being scared to death. I didn’t take road training that seriously back then, so for the first one I was training specifically for that Coast Ride. I think I went out and did a century just to make sure I could still ride 100 miles. But it was amazing, the first day was really cold but the second was beautiful, it opened up, the sun came out, and we jumped into the water in Morro Bay, it was that warm. 

I like to look back on that because it’s nice to have that perspective, and see it as most people coming into it would. It’s a major commitment, and a big mental challenge. But at same time, there’s that feeling of elation to look forward to, to know how fucking awesome it is to finish those days and just eat whatever you want, sleep soundly, and get up to do it all again. And once you’ve done it, you’re stoked, your legs will be like noodles but you can build off that fitness, which is pretty cool. 

What kind of challenges have you come up against?  

I’ve done years when it’s rained extremely hard every day. And I got Giardia once! I crashed out one year, luckily my bike took most of the impact and I was ok, and that was the first year that inGamba was there so I was able to take advantage of the mechanic following along. He drove me to the finish and then fixed my bike, so I was able to ride the next day, which was cool. 

How has it changed over the years?

It’s gotten a lot bigger the last few years, and there are so many people out there now. Because of the numbers involved, everything is broken up a bit, it’s not like there’s this huge group of hundreds of riders rolling along, you’re in a group of 5 or 10 and it’s impossible to get everyone at the same hotel there just aren’t enough rooms. 

So I think it’s great that inGamba doing its own thing. Better hotels, amazing food, and the team is always accommodating to the Nth degree. That’s what I’d say to anyone who’s apprehensive about it: You’ll be well taken care of. 

How has your cycling life changed in the last 12 months?

I’ve been working from home pretty much full time for 15 years. I have an office, but I try to go as rarely as I can. So I’m lucky in that Covid hasn’t changed too much for me. I don’t go out drinking, and I ride a lot by myself. Maybe I’m the least exciting person you could ask that question! 

It hasn’t changed much about my day-to-day cycling, but it has given me a new kind of hope, with all these people I see out on the trails, not just cycling, but just enjoying the outdoors. I hope they stick with it, and I hope that they become stewards for the environment if they weren’t already. There’s more to life than just paying to be entertained. The earth has a lot to offer, which I know sounds geeky, but the outdoors means everything to me and the more people who enjoy that, the better. 

I hope this starts more people thinking about how we treat the outdoors, and about how access is regulated in terms of keeping people on trails and making them aware how sensitive the habitat is. A lot of it is just, ‘Don’t be an asshole’ common sense stuff, but you’d be surprised how often you still see problems out there. 

So was your DIY Coast Ride a success? What were the highlights and lowlights?

I wanted to get the miles in and experience something beautiful. So in that, I succeeded. I actually did my own coast ride in November too, I went all the way to San Diego by myself. It was great, I just listened to books and some podcasts and sometimes I just enjoyed the quiet. It was awesome. 

Originally I was bummed we couldn’t do the proper route, but I ended up being really pumped about experiencing something new. I’d ridden maybe 70% of the roads on my Fake Coast Ride at some point, but never together like that and it was really cool to experience that area. And the weather was unreal, it couldn’t have been better, I didn’t wear a long sleeve jersey the whole trip. 

The riding was phenomenal, so I wouldn’t say there were any lowlights, but there were definitely some poignant moments. That area has been hit really hard by wildfires over the last five years, and there’s a tremendous amount of damage and you can see people who must have spent the last five months trying to recover from all that they lost in the fires last summer. It was really sad to see that, and to see up close the damage to the forests, it was astonishing. It’s one thing to see it on the news, but another thing entirely to do a 100-mile loop and not be out of the burn zone the entire time. 

Any more big plans for 2021?

I’d love to get back to some kind of normality and community. I ride a lot by myself, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss things like the Grasshopper races and cool events like that. And I want to travel so bad! We’re supposed to go to Sicily with inGamba later in the year and I’m really looking forward to that. Other than that, I bought a Sprinter van and I am planning to devote a large chunk of time driving around the country riding sweet roads, sweet trails, sweet gravel, whatever I can find. 

This April, inGamba will be running its own version of the Coast Ride, away from the crowds and winter weather of the traditional event. Check it out!

Colin O'Brien

Colin is an author and journalist from Ireland. He first met inGamba's founder João Correia back in 2013. João handed him a bidon full of Chianti Classico and took him to a three-course lunch. They've been friends ever since.