September 23, 2021

Knowing a Place

By Dillon Osleger

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Looking out the window of my home, I often pause and appreciate the place that I spend much of my time. Nestled on a mesa where the Pacific Ocean meets the Central Coast of California, I can feel the cool air of fog rolling in from the south and the oppressive heat pushing down the mountain range to the North. Santa Barbara exists only as a result of millions of years of geologic and climatic processes, a complex history of settlement and industry, and a vision of conservation by a handful of individuals ahead of their time.

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The Santa Ynez mountains rise 4000 vertical feet above the coastline, the result of several faults lifting 40 million years of ancient seafloor up above the city. Many go about their lives never wondering why roads meander their way up this mountain front, let alone what lies behind the mountains themselves. I find it a necessary part of living somewhere, to understand it as a place - its composition, its history, its future.

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I have errands to run and work to get done, the same as anyone else, but regardless I am out the door on my gravel bike, pedaling past catholic missions and homes modeled after Spanish architectural styles. White adobe walls, polished wooden supports, and deep red tile roofs contrast against the green chaparral brush that coat the mountains beyond town. The road has been climbing since I turned North, gradually steepening in gradient as I make my way past parks composed of rocks from ancient landslides tucked between oak trees at the base of the mountains. As I begin the climb up Gibralter road, a small plaque covered in lichen decades ago recognizes the work of the Civilian Conservation Corp crews who paved this road in the 1930s as part of a re-invigoration of the nations economy. The plaque makes no mention of the tunnel under these mountains that shares the same end points as this road, yet was built a hundred years prior in an iron fisted attempt to bring potable water from inland rivers to this coastal town.

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An hour of pedaling later, I cruise atop the ridge of this range, the Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands to my right and the San Rafael Mountains out to my left. Pastel orange rocks by the road side reveal fossils of clams and sea creatures if paid attention to, while old dirt roads lead to given up home steads, hot springs, and abandoned mines. A small field notebook labeled "Santa Barbara" rests in my back pocket, filled with scribbled notes, sketched maps, and floral pressings. This notebook may not be organized by chapters or geographic region, but reading through it provides me with a larger scale understanding of the place I call home. Its multi faceted composition and its complex history are laid bare upon the landscape. Having filled a page with observations, I turn down southerly single track, back to civilization - welcomed by the sights of development and oil rigs. The future of any place can be as difficult to digest as its past may be, but silver linings are always there to give one hope. Before turning home, I stop by a friends shop to pick up some local cheese and wine. I may have spent 4 hours on the bike in an attempt to glean a better understanding of place, but a short conversation and flavors derived from local landscapes, cultures, and individuals may be a pathway to the same knowledge in a nuanced form all its own.

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When grabbing a kit for a ride that spans from ocean to desert, includes road and trail, and may require a stop where looking presentable is advised, I reach for the Rapha Pro Team Jacket. Made with Polartec Alpha insulation, it is light and breathable, yet warm and fast drying, fitting the conditions and my needs as they change.

Photography by Johnie Gall


About Dillon Osleger

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Dillon Osleger is a scientist, multi-sport athlete, and environmental advocate driving stories, activism, and work at the confluence of society's relationship with natural environments. With an M.S in climate and soil science accompanied by years of experience in conservation and trail construction, Dillon works with nonprofits and government agencies on public land projects across North America. As a professional athlete for both his skiing and mountain biking, Dillon bridges the divide between the outdoor action sports community and environmental literacy.


About Johnie Gall

Johnie gall headshot

Johnie Gall is an award-winning writer, photographer and director based in Ojai, California. She is interested in science, groundswells and stories that get her out there.

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