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Time Traveling on Two Wheels

A photographer with Bay Area roots retraces his life story—by biking from L.A. to the Oregon coast.

SLIDESHOW

Photographer Noah Webb on the road to Oakland.

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In Santa Barbara, Webb snapped local artist Feather and his action-figure-bedecked van.

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A roadside farm somewhere between Los Olivos and San Luis Obispo.

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Webb taking a breather in the Swiss Belle room at the Madonna Inn.

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A waitress at the Madonna Inn.

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On the side of the road north of Fresno.

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Raw oysters with garlic at the Arcata Bay Oyster Festival, which Webb discovered thanks to a tip from an Instagrammer who had been following his trip.

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Webb’s route.

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Shortly after turning 43 last May, photographer Noah Webb embarked on a bike trip through his past. Beginning at his home in L.A., he pedaled 1,152 miles north to his birthplace of Gold Beach, Oregon, stopping along the way in cities and towns where he’d spent years of his life or celebrated milestones. Part physical challenge and part photography project, the journey gave Webb the chance to travel back in time at a pace—about 75 miles per day—that encouraged connection with his surroundings: “It’s slow enough that you can actually explore the life around you, not zoom past with a windshield between you.”

Webb traveled light. His entire rig (including the carbon racing bike he fitted out for the trip) weighed less than 20 pounds. A lightweight tent fit into a bag affixed to his frame, and the rest went in one saddlebag and one handlebar bag: a compact sleeping bag, a sweatshirt-slash-pillow, shorts, leggings, some bike tubes, a collapsible tripod, and a lightweight camera.

In San Luis Obispo, Webb stopped over at the famously over-the-top Madonna Inn (with themed rooms like “Fabulous Fifties” and “Rock Bottom”), where he had spent his 30th birthday. The next day he reached the Central Valley and went through Lemoore, pedaling to his old elementary school, which looked the same but felt different. “I knew what I was looking at, but it didn’t have any kind of emotion there,” Webb recalls. “In the end I felt I really couldn’t go back to these places, because that time and place is gone.” On his way through town, he saw that the old White Top Drive-In was still in business and stopped for a soft-serve cone. “That tasted good,” he says. “Out of the whole experience, maybe that’s the one element that didn’t change.”

Two days later Webb passed through Manteca, where his parents, both retired ministers, live now. Then it was on to Antioch, where he graduated high school, followed by a ferry from Jack London Square to San Francisco, where he lived in the Lower Haight as a student at San Francisco State in the 1990s. After a trip over the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin (Webb’s home in 9th and 10th grades) and Nick’s Cove (where he recently got married), he hit the open road of the state’s northern reaches, largely new territory for him. A high point: camping at Westport-Union Landing State Beach, north of Mendocino on Highway 1. “I was one of only three people in the whole campsite,” Webb says. “I fell asleep to the sounds of the ocean and a slight rain.”

On day 16, Webb reached his final destination: the Pacific Reef Resort in Gold Beach, where his husband had flown up to meet him—with his bike case. “I broke down the bike and flew back home,” Webb says. “Which was way easier.”


DO THE TRIP

Route: Highways 1 and 227 from L.A. to San Luis Obispo; Highway 41 to Fresno; frontage roads along Highway 99 to Manteca; residential streets to Oakland; a ferry to San Francisco; Highways 1 and 101 north to Oregon.
Distance traveled: 1,152 miles
Necessities: A lightweight tent and sleeping bag, a sweatshirt to double as a pillow, extra layers, and spare bike tubes.
Accommodations: A farm near Los Olivos booked via Hipcamp, the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, friends and family, beach campgrounds like Westport-Union Landing State Beach. 

 

Originally published in the June issue of San Francisco

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