Merciful reader. It’s now April and what I’m about to tell you happened roughly 6 months ago. What does this tell us? I’m lazy, perhaps. Writing this blog isn’t my main priority, maybe. I’ve been busy doing other things, I guess. The truth can be found somewhere amongst all these statements, but let it not stop me writing something once and for all about the final days of our tour. This section in particular we were discouraged from riding, especially after Santa Barbara/LA (depending on who you asked – or whichever middle-aged man pushed his opinion onto you). However, our experience was not so bad – in fact it was incredible – as is often the case with these things.
It begins with us departing San Francisco, which was fine but as you can imagine required a good amount of navigation and riding through traffic. It was slow going and not so pleasant, including a number of hilly residential climbs before we dropped back down onto the coast of California once again. After a week or so off the bikes, where we enjoyed the Bay Area and a great trip to Yosemite, we were excited to get back on the coast. We stopped for lunch and a surf at Pacifica beach, before climbing up and round on the ‘Devil’s Slide’ trail – a welcome traffic-free break from the busy 1 (road) which winds around the rocky coast. We passed the world famous big wave surf spot Mavericks before arriving at our campsite in Half Moon Bay.
After a couple of nights there catching up on some work we headed on down to Santa Cruz – another world famous surf town and where the wetsuit was first conceived. While at Half Moon Bay we happened to bump into someone who looked familiar. You know when you recognise someone but you’re not sure where from and definitely couldn’t name them? Well, that was me and after saying hello to the fellow camper (Robin) it turned out that we’d studied Spanish together at Exeter for a whole year. Small world, eh? (We ended up riding with Robin most of the way to Big Sur). The ride down to Santa Cruz was great and we enjoyed a hefty lunch before being flagged down in the most alarming manner by none other than ‘Sarah from Canada’ (as it seemed she was known by everyone else on the route). We stopped and turned around to see what was up, thinking that Sarah might be in desperate need (potentially of medical attention) judging by her running a good 50 meters out from a shop and almost out onto the road to stop us. Thankfully, she just felt the urgent need to get us to come and try the delicious strawberry meringue cake at this little roadside cafe/farm shop. Delicious it was, though unfortunately it ended in me losing half a molar and needing fairly urgent dental care with a newly sharpened tooth in my mouth. (With hindsight, I reckon your teeth suffer more than most body parts during long distance bike tours. The constant need to eat and drink, refuel if you will, takes its toll on the teeth and that day part of that molar had had just about enough trail mix for a lifetime of chewing and finally threw in the towel).
Arriving in Santa Cruz we enjoyed watching the multitude of surfers fight for waves on the point before stopping by for food on our way to stay with another awesome Warmshowers host, Mars. At the grocery store we overheard a woman comment on our bikes to her inebriated-looking and a little over-make-upped friend: ‘oh my gawd, what are they, like, carryin’, their life?’ Short answer: yes.
After a delicious communal dinner with Mars followed by a delightful serenade from her rad daughter (our favourite of her songs was titled ‘Horse with no legs’), we slept solidly. In the morning I stopped by at a dentist recommended by Mars’ mum to get this tooth fixed. Expecting to pay good money for this kind of work in probably the most expensive country for healthcare on the planet, I was humbled to accept the molar-polish free-of-charge. The dentist just asked that I pay forward the goodwill gesture to ‘the good people of Mexico’.
From Santa Cruz we had a few more navigational challenges to avoid the busy highway on the way down to Monterey. I had another surf on the way and we were greeted into the historical, charming town with a huge hill to climb to get to the campsite. There we once again bumped into Robin, ‘Sarah from Canada’ and a few fellow bike tourers we’d crossed paths with along the way, sharing stories over dinner with a few craft ales for good measure.
The next morning we headed out with Robin and parked ourselves in Carmel-by-the-Sea for a few hours. We’d cottoned on to the free wifi at libraries by this point and so planted ourselves at a library in town. We had been warned about this place but you had to really see to believe just how posh, preppy, swanky, wanky (etc.) this place really us. Clint Eastwood is a former town mayor and apparently you need a permit to wear high-heels, in case you sue over injuries maintained on the cobbled streets (which presumably has happened, insanely). Alyce couldn’t even find a bakery selling bread – just over-priced patisserie-style cakes and desserts for the apparently exclusively minted town residents and tourists. Us smelly bike tourers raised a few eyebrows, to say the least – but at least we got some washing and work done. Robin even made a few bucks busking on the street.
From Carmel we rode on to the incredible Big Sur coast. We finally found ourselves surrounded by fog (for which the Northern/Central California coast is famous) and flying around sharp corners on the edge of big cliffs with a slightly disconcerting amount of traffic. Big Sur had recently had a huge forest fire which meant the main campgrounds were closed, but we found a spot and bumped into our Midlands Amigos Craig and Dee once again.
The following few days are a bit of a blur now and it would be difficult to put the Big Sur coast into words anyway. This was definitely one of our favourite sections of the trip and the ocean views were stunning. Kirk Creek campground and surfing at Sand Dollar beach were particular highlights. There was one issue, however: the total lack of any decent grocery store, which meant you either bought high-priced, low-quality veg or survived on whatever leftovers you had in your panniers.
Once back in civilisation we camped at Morro Bay for a couple of nights, where I could surf and we could get some work done. We continued on with a stop near Pismo Beach and then onwards on what was the longest day of our entire trip (74 miles in 6.5 hours) through Lompoc and across the peninsula to Refugio State Park. We passed through the small town of Guadalupe, which gave us a glimpse of things to come as it serves as a home to a community of Mexican and latin@ agricultural workers. We passed miles of farmland where these people work their arses off to feed America, seemingly much to the outrage of a portion of the electorate (“how dare these people risk their lives travelling thousands of miles to our country to work on their hands and knees to feed me and my family?”). The ride was long and included 2 big climbs – 1 short and steep and the other long and not-so-much. We finished the day back on the coast and witnessed an almighty thunderstorm that evening.
After Refugio we had a short ride down to Santa Barbara, riding through the UC college campus, bike and longboard riding tanned and hip students in abundance. We stayed with Warmshowers super-host Mike Kwan, who has a seemingly endless supply of bike tourers coming through and staying with him. This was the start of a number of WS stays, often with people who get many requests throughout the year. The territory naturally becomes more urban, meaning less camping opportunities and therefore more need for places to stay, so Mike is one of many hosts along the stretch from Santa Barbara to the border who cater for many needy bike tourers such as ourselves.
LA was a 2 day ride from Santa Barbara and this stretch (all the way to the border) was not reviewed kindly by the folks we’d met who had cycled it along the way. Though of course there was more traffic as we closed in on one of the biggest urban centres on earth, there were many enjoyable parts and some great sections of separated bike path to make for fun riding. The coast below the Santa Monica Mountains was a treat as was the bike path between SB and Ventura.
The only unpleasant part of the ride into LA came just after cycling through Malibu (where, would you believe it, it was raining. And not any old rain but the light, drizzly, gets-you-soaking-wet English-type rain that we know too well) and on the way into Santa Monica. Once we got to Santa Monica beach, though, we could follow the beach path all the way around the almighty Los Angeles concrete sprawl, passing Venice Beach and the airport before arriving in Manhattan Beach, where we stayed with yet more generous WS hosts, Linda and Steve, for 2 nights.
From Manhattan Beach we had to ride inland a bit to navigate around the port of LA. Next up was a stay in Long Beach with Warmshowers Royalty Ken Francis. Ken lives with his partner Kenny in a beautiful spot where they host dozens (if not 100+) touring cyclists every year. Ken is passionate about WS and as one of the main administrators actually was the first person to offer us a stay when we first signed up and he saw we were doing this trip. We had a lovely and super comfortable evening in Long Beach, eating delicious Lebanese food and relaxing with a cup of tea in the hot tub afterwards.
Our next stop was San Clemente, where we stayed with the lovely James and Chris in their beautiful home close to the coast. The ride there from Long Beach included more bike paths, passing through Newport and Laguna Beach (exactly how you’d imagine), and a chance encounter with some set figures from the original Star Wars trilogy which were being packed up after a suitably extravagant Halloween party. We got photos with some storm troopers, spotted some ewoks hanging out in the trees, and I even touched the face of the (apparently) original Jabba the Hut. Dinner with James and Chris was incredible and we even got to drive their golf buggy (less CO2) down to the liquor store to get some beers in. The best of vibes were had by all and James rode out with us in the morning, where we spotted yet another famous surf spot, Trestles, before arriving at the big scary military base where we had to show our passports to get in. At this point I’d sold my surfboard and wetsuit (in preparation for our arrival in Mexico) back in Venice Beach so surfing unfortunately was not an option.
They let us into the military base which thankfully allowed us to avoid cycling on the huge interstate highway and rode on down to Carlsbad for another WS stay with Steve and his lovely family for a delicious enchilada dinner. We stopped off at a bike shop on the way into town and I managed to get one of the guys who worked there to buy my bargain BOB trailer. Finally I was back to cycling with just panniers (no trailer, surfboard or wetsuit in tow) and it felt great.
San Diego was the next stop and we had a great ride into the city, following the coast around La Jolla and cycling on yet another cycle path alongside Mission Beach. Arriving in San Diego felt a lot like the end of the ride. With just a handful of miles left to the Mexican border, we allowed the celebrations to begin stateside with a delicious brunch at the best vegan metal cafe (Kindred – check it out) I’ve ever encountered. We had a great final day in the USA, visiting the museums at Balboa Park getting our taste buds ready with some delicious veggie tacos. We stayed with yet more awesome WS hosts Chris and Alisa who put us up in their house and invited us to eat with their family upon arrival.
Finally, after four months on the bikes we had just 20 miles or so to go to finish up our ride in Tijuana, Mexico. It wasn’t all plain sailing, however, and the universe colluded to ensure we had one more REI (nationwide outdoor gear outlet) to visit thanks to Alyce’s helmet having been mysteriously melted while perched on her bike on our rest days in San Diego. We found the last store before the border up a big hill just outside of the city, and got ourselves into Mexico by lunchtime. We exchanged some dollars and got through the turnstiles (this would have been tricky with my trailer/surfboard combo) and arrived in the infamous border town that we’d been warned of. As with much of Mexico, though, the reality turned out to be much more pleasant than people and news outlets would have you believe. We checked into a nice, good value hotel, found good veggie food and avoided completely the strip of bars serving tequila on tap.
That was the end of the coastal route from Vancouver to Tijuana, and after getting some custom-made bike boxes we got ourselves and stuff to the airport only with some confusion about what a ‘taxi grande’ should look like. We figured it out though, and flew south to Guadalajara to begin our stay in Mexico and another (much shorter) tour from Guadalajara to San Miguel de Allende, which will be the subject of the next blog.