Route History—Part 1
The roads we ride, at first blush, are simply a medium made of pavement (or dirt, gravel), guard rails, signposts, and signals. On another intangible, personal level, roads can be the keepers of memories, reminders of the adventures that we've had on two wheels. We’ve all had them. Maybe it was that day when you and a couple of friends made a seriously wrong turn north of Geyserville, barely surviving a ride to Stewarts Point via Skaggs Springs Road for your first century. Or, maybe it was on Fairfax-Bolinas Road where, under towering redwoods veiled in a chilly mist, you fixed your first puncture unaided.
Whether recorded or not, the collection of past memories can describe a road, becoming its story, its history. This iis true for some of the roads we’ll ride on the 2020 California Dream Ride. Long before Europeans arrived on the West Coast of North America, indigenous peoples, such as the Chumash of the Santa Barbara area, the Tongva in the Los Angeles area, and the Luiseno around Oceanside, used extensive networks of footpaths for trading abalone shells, salt and other natural resources. Then, beginning in the late 1700s, Spanish military and missionaries trudged along many of these same paths as they built a string of pueblos, civic towns such as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Angeles (i.e., Los Angeles); presidios, military installations such as Presidio Real de Santa Barbara; and religious outposts such as Mission San Buenaventura and Mission Santa Barbara. This collection of connections between Spanish outposts scattered between San Diego and Sonoma was the El Camino Real (the King’s Highway). This mission building period lasted barely 50 years, ending with Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821.
2018 Dream Riders at Mission San Juan Capistrano
Under Mexico’s rule and then following statehood after 1850, the El Camino faded toward obscurity as the missions were secularized and the surrounding lands handed over to private landowners. The same foot and horse paths that once connected Spanish California gave way to local wagon roads connecting ranchos, haciendas and developing towns, over which agricultural products and people moved between farms, ports and markets. Even the famous Butterfield Overland Stage coaches rolled along some of these same dirt highways, delivering mail and passengers to and from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other points south and east.
First Mission Bell on El Camino Real (Los Angeles)
The El Camino Real may well have vanished altogether, like dust in the wind, had it not been for the Good Roads Movement, and the efforts of the California Federation of Women’s Clubs. These advocates, with support from chambers of commerce and the Auto Club, formed the El Camino Real Association in 1904. By 1914, it had succeeded in developing an auto tourist route, connecting innumerable country roads and wagon paths, mimicking the original El Camino Real. Wayfinding was provided by over 400 mission bells hung from metal poles shaped to resemble a shepherd’s staff and spaced about every two miles from San Diego to San Francisco. The State Highways Act of 1910 authorized the construction of a paved road following this nuevo El Camino Real. Construction was completed and by 1925 this road was designated Highway 101.
Our esteemed director, Dave Snyder, on the grounds of Mission San Buenaventura.
So, where does the 2020 California Dream Ride intersect with these historic roads?
From the very first miles on Day 1, we ride past Missions Santa Barbara and San Buenaventura in Ventura, so we are right on the original El Camino Real. The Chumash explored the Channel Islands from their villages located along this part of the coast, so we will be riding in their footprints, too. Then, on Day 3 in Downtown Los Angeles, our first rest stop will be at El Pueblo de Los Angeles, the site of the original pueblo of Los Angeles. It was most definitely a waypoint on the Spanish Camino. The first bell installed by the El Camino Real Association in 1906 is across the street in front of Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church. Yaanga, the Tongva people’s largest known village, was nearby. The Butterfield Overland Stage office was a few blocks away on Spring Street. Finally, on Day 5, we rendezvous with the El Camino Real again at our first rest stop at Mission San Juan Capistrano and ride in its tracks all the way to Oceanside.
Happy Dream Riders in Santa Barbara (2016)
As the California Dream Ride rolls south in October, we will be traveling over more than a few snippets of California’s history, and we will have an essential question to answer: how many mission bells will we pass by the time we arrive in Oceanside?
Jon “The Navigator” Riddle, Director of Wayfinding, lives and rides all over Los Angeles County; the 2020 Dream Ride will again travel right through his backyard. He works closely with Ride Director Debbie Brubaker to develop the Dream Ride’s route, directions, and maps and will be on the road as a support rider, too.
Dream Ride Experiences
Due to current circumstances, the first two Dream Ride Experiences for March and April have been postponed until further notice. While the ride in Santa Barbara Experience on May 16th is still on the calendar, we’ll make the decision to postpone this and any following rides as necessary.
We know there’s a long road ahead of us, and we hope that our Dream Ride events can provide something to look forward to as the dust settles. In the meantime, go ride your bike and get some fresh air (safely, of course)—you’ll feel like yourself again! Stay tuned to our blog and social media channels for important updates.
California Bicycle Coalition