Single Serve Humble Pie: Trash Biking the Coastal Route

Half Moon Bay, CA

I’m bending over a railing along Hwy 1, reaching a trash-grabber toward a Budweiser can that looks more like a petrified muffler. My quads are deeply sore from only a day of pedaling my bike. It’s laden with new and trendy bike-packing bags, and a bike-trailer is hitched to the rear axle. As it always seems, the idea for this trip was simple: Ride our bikes down the California coast, picking up trash along the way, as a way to launch our single-use sunscreen company on Kickstarter. 

So far, we have spent a lot of time riding in silence. Both Mark and I sneak glances at our phones, expecting to see a sudden spike in sales on the recently launched Kickstarter campaign. Pulling a bike-trailer full of trash and a mobile office, I think we’re also wishing for a sudden spike in quads strength too. Turns out launching a business isn’t good training for a week of cycling. I make a few hard pedal strokes to crest a hill approaching Santa Cruz. I have high hopes of our trip landing us a big story, flooding thousands of backers to our campaign. We got this, no problem. 

Santa Cruz, CA

We have decided that the trailer has to go. 30 miles with the trailer, which we nicknamed The Anchor, feels like 60. We crudely box it up at a FedEx store and ship it home. Two days later, I will ship home another box full of camping gear, portable battery banks, my hard drives, and most of my remaining ego.

Turns out there are still 24 hours in a day, even when you plan a trip that includes: working a day job, launching a start-up, riding 100 miles a day, picking up trailer-full’s of trash and eating enough snickers bars to fuel that list of to-do’s.

We lay our sleeping bags in the dirt, too tired to appreciate the stunning ocean view from our campsite. Maybe we should just ride back north and go home.

Malibu, CA

The miles and days have clicked by and Northern California has slowly changed into Southern California. Our Kickstarter is still slowly progressing, but our dreams of becoming outdoor sunscreen moguls have quickly died along with any hope of becoming Tour-level cyclists. Overall, our moods and muscles have improved compared to our “trailer days,” which almost seem like a different trip entirely.

 We stop for more gas station snacks and make another joke about what people would think knowing we use whatever sunscreen we find along the way. In theory, our Kickstarter will pre-sell enough product to allow us to make a first run of our own sunscreen. In predictable entrepreneur accent, we have created a product we needed, but never found in the marketplace. A small, portable packet of high quality sunscreen to take with us on long training runs, days spent at the rock crag or during a long traveling trip. The endurance gel of sunscreen.

We fill another couple bags of trash and clip into our pedals for another few hours of riding.

Los Angeles, CA

We have rallied our spirits and feel pretty good about the trip, the campaign, and even the condition of our quads. After all, we always knew it was possible that our product might work better in brick and mortar retail, and not online. Other business minded friends say things like, “yea, welcome to the world of a small start up.” Or “You’re going to be in survival mode for a while, but that’s normal.” Reality is rude when you have a habit of thinking you’re the exception.

Laguna Beach, CA

Telsas silently zip past us along our left, while we squint into parked cars along the right hand side, scanning for opening doors. This is by far the most dangerous stretch of the route. I hope Elon’s Tesla technology accounts for dillusional Millenials on bicycles.

San Clemente, CA

I pedal past a kid shooting hoops in his drive way wearing a t-shirt printed with artwork from hip-hop group Migos’ Culture album. I think about some of my friends and neighbors back home in Oakland and know that a trip like this is not only contrived but also a luxury. I’m lucky that I can check out of my regular programming to go “suffer” on my bike. Most people don’t need to contrive character building scenarios.

I’ve always struggled with the privilege it requires to pursue outdoor, endurance and mountain sports on a serious level. I know people trying to scrape coins together for a sandwich or a beer, and I just spent a weeks paycheck on bike-bags so I can sleep in motels along the California coast. I don’t know if this is a problem, a conflict, or just how life is, but it’s something I think about a lot these days.

Mark is fit on the bike, which surprises me. He keeps saying it’s because he has “Dad-legs.” A phrase born from passing through Santa Barbara, where every half-hour or so, a senior citizen would blast past us with insane speed and power. Our legs, through brutally fatigued are getting used the daily beatings we deal them.

The miles are getting shorter.

Imperial Beach, CA

We roll our bikes over the sand and drop them along a fence and walk the last hundred yards. I smile, finding this slightly ironic at the end of a bike trip. The ocean comes into view. The water is a much lighter blue than the Northern California ocean I am used to. This is the end of our trip. Imperial Beach, CA. To our left we can see the border fence traversing a hillside. A fence for people is hard concept for me to really understand. To our right, not too many miles away is the kid wearing the Migos shirt. He’s probably on his way to water polo practice.

We take a couple photos, and wheel our bikes back to the paved road. The end is anticlimactic. Just an end.

Riding to the rental car, I am left with redefined perspective on success and failure. Good and bad. Even what it means to be living and breathing. These trips are good at doing that. Putting things in perspective, I mean. That’s probably why I keep planning them. Whether contrived or not, it’s good to get beat down every now and again.

Mark and I will probably never ride bikes on a competitive level. We’ll probably never get instagram famous. Probably won’t have our names on the side of any buildings. We’ll probably have to keep our day jobs for a lot longer than we thought. And all of that is ok. Very ok.

Words and photos by Quin Stevenson. Quin is a founder of Splats Sunscreen and lives in Oakland, CA.