Discovering a Cycling Oasis Where You Least Expect it
It was a righteous descent and easily one of the most physically and mentally taxing that I’d ever ridden. That it followed an arduous effort up and over the steep Cypress Mountain made every moment of pedaling and coasting through the scenic canyon all the more a gift worth savoring.
And just as the serpentine section of road exited the woods and, the trio of riders I was with began the effort to bridge up to a bigger group of faster riders in the hopes of sitting on for an easier ride to the coast.
But not me.
Because at that same moment a furtive glance to the left gave sight of a quaint sag stop for everyone competing in the Eroica California race (RBA October 2018). I mulled the decision to keep pedaling for just a microsecond before hitting the brakes and making a quick U-turn. As it turned out, that ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made on a bike.
As I wheeled into the front courtyard, it was as if I’d rolled through a time machine where a bunch of good ol’ boys were gathered outside a rustic barn and ranch house surrounded by old farm equipment and plenty of trellised gardens. Within minutes of dismounting my bike, I had a tray of freshly made berry oat bars thrust in front of me. Heaven! This was a sag stop unlike any I’d ever witnessed in other events (the only corollary being the rustic sag stops in the actual Eroica race in Tuscany).
TWO-WHEELED FARM BOY
As a certified city boy, I was awestruck by the country setting, and once I started asking questions about both the history of the farm and a funny circus-like bike that was leaning against a bar, I kept being told that I needed to talk to someone named Aaron. As I stood hovering over trays of baked goods trying to show some restraint from reaching for a third oat bar, the call for Aaron went out.
Soon enough, a young guy with a big smile walked around the corner. This was Aaron Linn, son of John and Maureen Linn who founded the family-run fruit farm on which we stood some 40 years previous. No sooner did we shake hands when he immediately began asking me questions about the Lauf True Grit I was riding. It was obvious that he knew something about bikes.
Aaron invited me inside the on-site store for a look-around and a cup of coffee to wash down that third oat bar. As interesting as all the talk about the farm was, my ears really perked up when he began telling me of his own cycling exploits. It turned out that Aaron was a very accomplished racer in his younger days, and just to prove the point, he took me out to the barn to check out an old Pinarello TT bike that was once his regular mount.
By far the most interesting take-away from my brief visit (besides a fourth oat bar) was realizing again the role that cycling continues to play in so many varied facets of modern-day life. That a family-run fruit farm located in a remote, stunningly beautiful canyon is also a mainstay in California’s central coast cycling community is testament to that. And for both locals and tourists alike, we are all the better for it.
LAYING DOWN ROOTS
RBA: When did your family move to the area? What was the story of how the family business got started?
Aaron: Our family moved to Cambria from Denver, Colorado, in 1976. I was two years old when my parents laid down the first agricultural roots on our farm. They purchased two parcels that were part of a larger ranch and a home in Cambria. Within months they realized they weren’t going to get anything done without living on the farm. Since the parcels were raw land, there was no infrastructure and no buildings. They bought a trailer for our family of five and plunked it down in the flat part of what today is our store property. Dad planted boysenberries, raspberries and a relatively unknown berry called the olallieberry, a hybrid berry created in 1949 at Oregon State University.
“I was aware of the talent factor—that is, I knew I was good, but compared to the giants of the sport, I really wasn’t.
Within a year they realized the need for more income than what was made selling raw produce, especially since berry season only yielded during summer months. Mom started canning and preserving the berries, and by 1978 we were selling jams and further operating a farm stand. A local restaurant wanted pies, and within a short time Mom was making pies for them, and their customers began asking where they could get more.
In 1989 we opened a restaurant in Cambria, and nearly 30 years later it has become a celebrated destination and has been featured on the Food Network and in various publications, such as Sunset magazine and Westways.
Today, we also manufacture products for other companies, including Knott’s Berry Farm, and our farm has developed into a farm-to-table operation for the restaurant. Our mail-order business ships products around the country, and our wholesale division delivers to more than 30 supermarkets, including Vons and Costco locally. We also cater and make wedding cakes as well.
RBA: How did you get interested in bikes?
Aaron: Like so many other kids, when I began riding bicycles, I realized that it was the best feeling I could find. My best friend lived five miles away in Cambria, and we would race towards each other and spend the day riding back and forth to each other’s houses. Eventually, my friend’s father took us under his arm and taught us about mountain biking.
In 1985 a bike shop opened in Cambria, which was, of course, Cambria Bicycle Outfitter. All the local boys purchased high-end road bikes from the shop. I worked hard and was taught I could make money at a young age. After buying a mountain bike for $310 in 1985, I rode it into the ground, and when Greg LeMond won his first Tour De France in 1986, I was building my first road bike—a Faggin with Campagnolo Victory parts. A man at the bike shop taught me to lace wheels, install a bottom bracket, and we built the bike together.
Soon, my friends and I endeavored to ride our bikes to the summit of Old Creek Road and riding became a passion. We became members of the San Luis Cycling Club, and a teacher at my middle school, Dave Morrow, took me and a couple of other boys on daily road rides after school. In 1987 when Stephen Roche won all three major classics, I had watched a videotape someone gave me that had every Tour from 1983 through 1986. I was hooked!
RBA: When did you start racing?
Aaron: My brother and I became riding partners, and Dave took me to my first race, which was a time trial in Ventura, California. In 1988 I started racing for the club in SLO, and many of its members also raced, providing myself and a few other local juniors passage to races. I went to district road races and qualified for nationals that first year. Dave took me and two other juniors all the way to national championships in Pennsylvania that year where I placed eighth in the TT, seventh in the criterium and was especially proud to finish sixth place in the
“After buying a mountain bike for $310 in 1985, I rode it into the ground, and when Greg LeMond won his first Tour De France in 1986, I was building my first road bike—a Faggin with Campagnolo Victory parts. ”
I still recall riders like Jonas Carney, Bobby Julich and others who were then juniors but competing in the older 16–17 age category. They helped motivate me to continue as I raced in years to come. I raced nationals and local California races through my teens, progressing to a Cat. 2 racer. After I won the district road race in 1989, I was picked up by a young junior development team—Diamondback/GNC—and we had a legendary rider, Rory O’Reilly, as our coach.
Though I never did a higher finish than my first year at nationals, my life was balanced and affected by a need to earn money to race, a need to help in a busy family business and school had always been made a priority. One memory of racing with future stars of the sports came when I was competing in the National Criterium Championships in San Diego, California, in 1990. George Hincapie came past me with a flat tire, while the whole pack was strung into a single-file line with all riders barely holding the wheel in front of them. Though he was a year older than I was, he clearly possessed a natural ability that made me start to question my
RBA: When did that Pinarello TT bike enter your life?
Aaron: I purchased the Pinarello to compete in my final junior national time-trial championship. That year, while racing in a criterium in Ventura, a lesser known ex-triathlete named Lance Armstrong was racing the senior 1-2-Pro race that I was doing for additional fitness training after racing that morning in the junior event. He lapped the group and continued to time-trial (normal for triathletes) towards lapping the group again! Years later, when I was living Germany, I wasn’t very surprised to watch him win the World Championship Road Race in 1993.
I had gone to Germany to visit a friend after I graduated high school, but I met a girl there on vacation and made a big decision to give up racing and pursue a normal existence. I was aware of the talent factor—that is, I knew I was good, but compared to the giants of the sport, I really wasn’t. I have never regretted the decision, and I have never stopped riding bikes.
RBA: You said you are also a NICA (National Interscholastic Cycling Association) coach?
Aaron: Yes, two years ago I started riding with kids interested in mountain bikes. Under a non-profit of the Cambria Bike Kitchen, I have built a youth program in our town and received grants to support the endeavor. We have ridden road bikes, but the kids prefer the adventure of mountain biking, and it’s become our main pursuit. To be honest, I also prefer mountain biking for the safety of being out of traffic.
Last year I also began training for launching a mountain bike team with NICA. NICA is growing faster and has more racers than USAC racing these days. In our county, nobody has picked up the reins, and I intend to give the opportunity to our local kids. With the help of parents and other volunteers, we are leading a promising group of kids, including my own 14-year-old boy. Cambria Bicycle Outfitter has been super helpful to provide us the space rent-free for our community bike kitchen, which serves as a clubhouse, and we are even developing a pump track for the kids. Relying on grants from a local community council with funds earmarked for youth, we have a bright future ahead!
RBA: Last year I heard that Eroica was possibly moving the start from Paso Robles to Cambria. True?
Aaron: Yes, it’s true, and we’re very excited that our family restaurant, Linn’s of Cambria, will host the event’s dinner on April 6th, and we will also be providing food for the event the next day. Our restaurant is becoming a bit of an Eroica Cafe, as it gets filled with vintage bikes and Eroica artwork. I’m elated to have introduced (Eroica promoters) Amedeo Pollito and Wes Hatekeyama to Cambria properly, and I’ve now become the conduit to make things happen on our side of the Santa Lucia Mountains!
RBA: What are your three favorite local rides?
Aaron: My top three favorite rides would have to include our Big Sur Coastline. The hills and views along the route from Carmel to Cambria are epic and challenging enough for any level. My favorite route locally would have to be the future Eroica route south out of Cambria to Cayucos, up Old Creek Road to Santa Rita Road, through Templeton and onto more dirt roads east of Paso Robles, back through Paso to Kiler canyon, Peachy Canyon Road to Adelaida road, Klau Mine Road, Cypress Mountain road to our beloved Santa Rosa Creek Road for a ripping 13 miles of virtual all downhill to Cambria. The route is 120 miles, but shortcuts can make it as little as 65 miles, which next spring will be an option during Eroica California!
In an effort to include mountain biking, I would point to our local trails (many are on private property), like the legal public trail being at Montana de Oro near Los Osos. Local mountain bikers called 3CMB have done a lot to take old trails prone to erosion and create proper mountain bike routes in the coastal state park. Oates Peak is a blast, with various other trails on the same park property.
Editor’s note: The 2019 Eroica California will be held on April 6–7, and in addition to the vintage bike classes, they will again host the Nova Eroica, which is open to modern bikes.