Bike Shirt (bīk SHərt) noun: A shirt suitable for cycling, styled like a casual shirt with a collar, made with technical fabrics and features helpful to cyclists. Why bother with a nerdy definition? It distinguishes …
I awoke Wednesday morning on day 5 of my 8 day bike tour of coastal central California, greeted by the sound of the waves crashing on the cliffs below my tent at Kirk Creek campground. The morning weather was very damp fog, classic Big Sur, so my gear was pretty wet but manageable.
I was on a schedule that day. I would ride up to the closure on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) at Gorda, closed due to the Mud Creek slide, and meet a shuttle that would take me around the closure and drop me off on the other side. It would take me about an hour to ride to Gorda. The shuttle ride would take 3 hours, then I had 45 miles of riding to finish the day. It would be fast with a big descent followed by flat roads and a good tailwind. I needed to stop in the biggest town of the day, Cambria, for supplies. My schedule would be tight but I refused to stress about it and just take it as it happened. I packed up and said good-bye to the few fellow campers that were awake that early and I was on my way.
The road from Kirk Creek to Gorda had very few cars on it, and the skies were clearing up a little.
As I neared Gorda the clouds broke up and let some glorious sunshine through.
My shuttle passed me a couple of miles before Gorda. The driver, Mandy recognized me from my description and pulled over. We introduced ourselves and I had her drive ahead as I rode the rest of the way. I was not going to miss the chance to ride PCH as an abandoned road.
Mandy of Central Coast Outdoors was my shuttle pilot.
Mandy was a friendly and knowledgeable host. I tried to help as much as I could but she insisted on lifting my bike onto the roof of her car, and she remarked on how light my bike was for a touring bike. She had shuttled many touring bikes as a tour guide, but she said mine was among the lightest. She probably says that to all the bikers. We agreed that we liked the lighter style better.
Yes these are dollars per gallon prices for gas, and premium is $7.399 per gallon.
Whenever I stop in Gorda I take a picture of gas prices at the pump for fun. I usually post it to Facebook and freak people out. It may be the highest price gas in the country, but I have no problem with this. Getting gas there would be expensive. And you don’t need to fill up. A few gallons will get you to more affordable gas. And simple supply and demand is a great thing. The gas station there could lower prices and people might buy more, but they may just not want to hassle with getting more gas. It is up to the vendor how they want to manage supply, and prices are a natural, bureaucracy free and easy way to control it.
No one else signed up for the shuttle so it was just Mandy and me for the ride. I learned that Mandy was in the process of stepping down from a leadership role of an environmental organization. I never got around to asking her which organization, I was too interested in hearing her talk about the various birds, deer and fish in the area and the efforts of the organization to restore and protect wildlife.
We got delayed by the traffic at the “Lightning in a Bottle” music festival. Had I known that The Glitch Mob and Emancipator were there I might have considered checking it out. Mandy eventually cut around the traffic that had backed up onto the main road. But with the delay, the longish ride ahead of me, and the need to get supplies, I made the decision to have her drop me off in the lovely coastal town of Cambria rather than drive back up the coast to the other side of the slide. It cut out about 20 miles of riding, and my body was telling me that it needed an easy ride that day. The next day would be my longest day with the most climbing and didn’t want to push it. I missed part of PCH with low traffic, but I did not regret the decision to take it easy that day.
I opted to get dropped off in Cambria and continue my journey from there.
While in Cambria I needed to find another fuel canister for my stove and I wanted to stock up for dinner. I got recommendations from Mandy about where to get what I needed.
Cambria is a pretty little village and the most civilization I had encountered in a couple of days.
The food was easy. I got the biggest deli sandwich ever at Sandy’s Deli and stashed it away for later. The fuel was another matter. I needed an isobutane canister, which have many advantages, but ease of finding replacements is not one of them. You pretty much have to go to a dedicated camping store. Though you might find one at a hardware store that has a few camping supplies, like the Cambria True Value store. It was a large canister but I could hardly be choosy in my situation.
I came upon the tiny village of Harmony just a few miles down the road. I took Mandy’s advice and stopped there. I have passed it many times, laughing at the posted population of 18 and never thinking about stopping. It is worth it for the stunning glass shop alone. On a weekend you could also check out the dairy and ice cream truck, a pottery shop and a “visitors center” with free coffee.
This is almost all of Harmony, CA. There is a winery too.
The glass blowing shop featured everything from small trinkets to museum quality artwork.
The stork in a nest was the centerpiece of the main room. It and its nest were all glass, of course.
The shop was overflowing with beautiful glasswork.
The workshop was in the back.
Even the entry was full of whimsical bits of hand blown glass work.
Sadly the ice cream truck was closed. I was really in the mood for some right about then too.
I continued south. The scenery was rolling grassy hills and ocean views. Morro Rock was visible most of the time, and I featured it in many of my pictures.
You might be able to barely make out Morro Rock on the left.
The grasslands intermingled with coastal wetlands in many places.
I decided to err on the side of too many pics of Morro Rock.
The coast goes through a transition in this area. It still has the rocky features like Big Sur to the north, but scaled down.
Like Harmony, I had driven by Cayucos many times and not stopped. Staying with my plan, I pedaled slowly through the lovely little town. It had a pier, a beach and a quaint downtown area. I stopped at the local liquor store. It can be hard to find the right size bottle of Jack Daniels when you are riding, but Paul’s Liquor Store, while simply named, had what I needed.
Ocean Avenue in Cayucos is hard to describe without saying “cute” more than once because it is so cute.
The beach is offers a great wrap around view of the bay. It had a natural look with driftwood, kelp and lots of footprints.
I moved on from Cayucos but had one last look back.
The homes along the beach created a gorgeous scene.
I arrived at my destination for the day with Morro Rock still serving sentry duty in the bay.
Morro Strand was an interesting campground. It did not have Hike or Bike sites, so I reserved a tent site for full price. The spot I selected was as close to the ocean as I could get, with just a low bluff between me and the bay. It gave me some awesome scenery but it was not without issues. My campsite was 100% sand. So it was hard to pitch my tent and keep my gear clean. And many people thought this was a nice view, including the neighborhood that was only a few hundred yards away, perched above the campground. They looked over the campground as part of their ocean view. And many of the homes were all windows on the side facing the us. I just pretended they weren’t there. The campground had no showers, but they did have an enclosed bathroom with flush toilets and sinks. Omitting showers seemed odd. The campground seemed to be designed for RVs with tent sites being an afterthought.
A campsite on the beach.
After setting up camp I rode around the area for yet more supplies and sightseeing. The summer days were long, and I found myself going down with the sun. I feel asleep early and slept well once again, ready for the next day of my tour.
An enormous deli sandwich and some locally procured wine were a great way to end the day.
My bicycle tour of the coast of California continued into its 4th day on a Tuesday. That put me right in the heart of a work week, beyond the feeling of a mere three-day weekend, and firmly into a vacation adventure frame of mind. My ride that day would take me from Pfeiffer Big Sur campground to Kirk Creek campground, which is a bit of a spoiler since I started the day not sure where I would end it.
I made breakfast in the vestibule of my tent, once again using its protection as a great way to get an early start without stepping out into the cold. The neighboring redwoods seemed to think their needles were a good accompaniment to any recipe and I had to go to extra lengths to keep from having them as an ingredient in my omelette.
Powdered Ova Easy eggs, pre cooked chicken sausage, coffee and redwood needles. What more could you want for breakfast?
After breakfast I went to the lodge and enjoyed a fancier cup of coffee, using the meager internet/cell service and charging my electronics. Michael and Yvonne, the staff at the lodge, were wonderful. We talked about Big Sur history, cycling stories, plans for the area, coffee-making tips, etc. Michael knew a lot about the history of the area and how it had changed over time. He took me on a tour of some of the pictures in the lobby, using them to explain how the bridge and road had changed over the years, how there used to be rooms in the lodge and other great local trivia.
Michael gave me an impromptu tour of the historic photos in the lodge .
Yvonne was very friendly and enjoyed talking about my travels and life at the lodge.
Back at the campsite, my bike touring neighbor Shane had changed his plan. Originally he was going to go for a hike that day. But instead he decided to do a local ride. He was traveling with a bike trailer and wanted to leave it behind for a day. His route would take him in the same direction as I was going, then riding up the challenging Nacimiento-Fergusson Road which was near at the campground I ended up staying at that night. It was sort of implicit that we would not ride together, clearly his pace was going to be faster than mine. For non cyclists this might seem a bit strange, but cyclists speeds can vary by a wide margin and you don’t presume to ask another rider to crawl along at your pace.
Shane, my neighbor at the campground, was good to go that morning too, but would end up back at the campground at the end of the day.
We took pictures of each other before we started riding.
I departed first so I knew we would see each other out on the road. The ride out of the valley was a long steady steep grade. I was looking for the new bridge that was completed just a few months earlier after the collapse of an existing span. Its failure contributed to a situation where all roads into Big Sur became impassable and the town became isolated, creating an emergency. There are many bridges on the road, all with dates marked on them. There would only be one from the year before so I easily identified the new one. Construction was complete and the area was clear of equipment and returned to normal, all amazingly quickly.
This must be the new bridge that was built when the old one collapsed last year.
It was not long until Shane rode up effortlessly from behind. He was nice about it and slowed his pace to match mine for a while and we talked. Unfortunately, due to the long climb, I could not do a lot of talking. I think Shane could have delivered a State Of The Nation speech. Eventually we said good-bye and hoped that our paths would cross again later that day, which they did ever so briefly as we passed each other going in opposite directions.
Traffic continued to taper as I went south, more as I passed each tourist destination. By the time I passed Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park traffic was getting downright sparse. The ride that day was pure, uninterrupted, classic foggy Big Sur coastal cliffs.
Many sections of the road were next to sheer drop offs to the ocean below.
The only place for a cyclist to ride on a few sections was in the lane with cars. Fortunately traffic was low and visibility was good.
The rugged, steep cliffs afforded dramatic views mile after mile.
Big Sur revealing itself through the fog.
I could not help but park my bike here for a pic.
The road is visible on the upper left, and offered little margin for error in many places.
The occasional pocket beach.
I was not decided on where to stay that night: Plaskett Creek or Kirk Creek campground. Plaskett Creek had running water and showers that Kirk Creek lacked. But Kirk Creek is the only campground on the ocean side of Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in the Big Sur area, offering a more intimate relationship with the coastline as you camp. And you could buy water by the gallon there, enough to drink, cook, clean and bathe.
I stopped at the little restaurant in Lucia and I was pleased to see they had expanded their small market. They way I reduced my load was to buy just enough food late in the day for that night and the next morning. Being unaware of this well situated market, I stocked up at the Big Sur Deli near the beginning of the ride and carried my supplies with me all day. The market in the remote area is good news for cyclists and hikers. They had food, ice and other vital necessities. Like a good wine selection.
I ended up deciding to camp where I always do: Kirk Creek. In the words of real estate agents everywhere: location, location, location.
Camping on the cliffs over the Pacific Ocean was an experience I did not want to pass up.
While I set up camp I met Tom and Michael. Tom was not a cyclist, but he was using the hike or bike area legally to get a first-come-first-served campsite the next day. He was a sustainability engineer. I was very curious about what that meant, and he answered my questions. I learned a lot about his perspective and good stewardship of the environment even for big engineering projects.
Tom was meeting a group of other sustainability engineers who camped together at Kirk Creek every year. One of their college professors had started the annual event years ago. He had since passed away but the tradition carried on in his memory. The professor used to easily catch fish from the ocean on the shore below the campground during the trip to feed everyone, something that is not realistic anymore. The location and the changes in it in just a couple of decades served as inspiration to Tom’s and his fellow engineers.
Michael was a gifted musician traveling by bike with his guitar. He had arrived by descending the steep and twisty Nacimiento-Fergusson road and would continue to the north. He and Tom played guitar duets, we sang, I provided wine and whiskey and we watched for whales breaching in the ocean. You know, your every day chance meeting of strangers.
Michael and Tom, in concert at Kirk Creek.
The performance was worth more than one picture.
I got free internet from a guy who was traveling in his huge solar electric Mercedes Sprinter with a Hughes Gen 5 Internet dish set up on a tripod outside. He had pitched a sign that said “Internet Cafe”. I asked him how much and he said it was a free, and he gave me his WiFi password. The van was a beauty and we talked about how it worked. He told me that had done an electric conversion on an old Chevy van and when Mercedes saw it they hired him to help them develop a solar electric Sprinter. The big beast was part of his compensation.
I went to prepare dinner that night but the flame on my camp stove fizzed out. I worked around it by changing my menu. I presumed, mistakenly, that the butane canister for my stove was empty, even though I had only used it a few times. More details on that in the next blog. I asked a few other campers if they had an extra butane canister. No one did, but every one I asked offered to lend me their stoves, which was wonderful. I planned to stop in Cambria the next day and buy a new fuel canister. In the mean time I threw out the canister I had, which I later realized was a mistake.
I climbed into my tent early as usual, falling asleep to the sound of the ocean crashing against the cliffs below. I slept well in the fog of the coast, surrounded by fellow adventurers.
Bike Shirt (bīk SHərt) noun: A shirt suitable for cycling, styled like a casual shirt with a collar, made with technical fabrics and features helpful to cyclists.
Why bother with a nerdy definition? It distinguishes bike shirts from bike jerseys, tech tees and wing suits. Many companies that make them call them jerseys but I think they need their own name. It also distinguishes them from fashion wear that is usually all cotton and not cut for cycling. I started wearing bike shirts for commuting and touring, but now I find that I like them for almost all of my riding. I am doing a survey of shirts I bought with my money (that is why you see all men’s shirts here. Of course there are women’s shirts, too). No one asked me to review them. Because, well frankly, no one cares what I think. But that has never stopped me before, so here goes.
The Zoic District is a good example of a bike shirt. It looks like a casual button down, but au contraire! It is very much a piece of riding gear.
Bike shirts make it easier to get off your bike, socially speaking. You can go to a party, sit down at a restaurant, get groceries or walk into the office and not get the same old questions and funny looks from non-cyclists. Even if you want to change clothes eventually, you can take your time and stay in your riding clothes for a while longer. Ironically their slight dressiness can give a more relaxed look while you are riding. It is like making a statement that you always ride your bike, even when you need to look a little nicer, no big deal
Bike shirts: they are not just for hipsters anymore. You can mix and match with technical and not so technical clothes and gear.
Bike shirts are defined by fit and fabrics in addition to the collar. They should give you room to move around, esp across the shoulders when your arms are forward in a riding position. They should be shorter than a tuck in shirt. And while I prefer 100% synthetic fabrics for their ability to handle sweat, some cotton blends are acceptable. Synthetics seem to be getting more cotton like and comfortable every year. And most of the fabrics used have a UPF sun protection rating, which is the equivalent of SPF but for clothes instead of sunblock.
There are many other features you might find on a bike shirt. The shirts I like all have snaps that are styled like buttons. It is easier to snap and unsnap and as you ride for air flow adjustments. And if you crash or hit something, snaps come undone instead of tearing off. Extra pockets, usually with zippers and often hidden to maintain the casual look, are handy. A mesh yoke across the shoulders can allow the shirt to move around by sliding across the mesh instead of your skin. Pleats can provide freedom of movement. Reflective material, media cable ports, mesh panels and vents are all options you might find on a bike shirt as well.
Hiking shirts often fit the bill, and sometimes a fashion brand will surprise and make a shirt that works. I will review a bunch here. I have worn all of these shirts on multiple rides.
And while it is obvious, let me say it here in black and white: you must wear casual style shorts or pants as an outer layer with a cycling shirt. A cycling shirt and Lycra only shorts combo is just, no. I wear shorts OVER technical riding shorts, that is OK, But no “Lycra lower” look, please.
The Zoic District is shown above. The lightweight 50/50 nylon polyester fabric performs well and looks great. It has a mesh yoke with a vent flap in back for great air flow, making this a good warm weather option. The vent is positioned higher than hiking shirts to stay above your hydration pack. It is tacked into 4 sections so that if one gets pulled shut the others can stay open, and you don’t get all the flapping that comes with one big untacked vent. It features two hidden zip pockets on each side at the bottom. And all the “buttons” are snaps. All in all a nice alternative to regular cycling tops.
The mesh yoke serves multiple purposes.
These pockets are functional, I usually carry my wallet in one. And they are pretty near invisible. The plaid pattern turned at an angle down the middle of the back adds some style that is kind of a reveal when you take off your hydration pack.
The vent is high and separated into 4 sections by tacks for a great cycling specific feature.
I bought the Club Ride Vibe partly because it was available in a sportier color, but it is still muted enough to wear casually. This shirt is styled to send signals that it is a techy top. Its 97% polyester 3% spandex blend gives it a natural jersey feel. The mesh panels in the underarms aren’t see through, but the contrasting color tells you that this is no ordinary casual shirt. Also noteworthy are two zipped pockets including a low side pocket with a media port and a zipper pull that does not try to hide itself.
The Vibe has a lot of cycling specific features like a slightly longer tail than the front.
Buttons are all actually snaps, and both pockets are zipped.
The back is pretty straightforward, though the logo is reflective.
The low pocket is given away by the zipper pull. A media port in side the pocket lets you route a cable out of the pocket while it is zipped.
The Troy Lee Designs Grind shirt has a different mission than most shirts here, and like all things TLD it goes about it in it own funky way. All of the other shirts here have woven patterns. The plaids you see are created by the color of the threads in the garment. Not so with the Grind. It is a printed pattern on a very technical fabric of 91% polyester and 9% elastane for lots of stretch. My wife did a double take and spotted the print vs woven pattern right away, but I think it is cool and not everyone will have her eagle eye. It is a warmer shirt, so no vents and it has a heavier fabric, but it works in a wide range of temps due to its extra techy fabric. It uses snaps everywhere but hides most of them under a flap, showing off collar and gauntlet faux buttons for a super classy touch. Arm length was spot on for me for riding, and it is longer in back to keep you from getting a case of biker’s crack. It is tech riding gear disguised as a flannel shirt.
MOST people won’t realize this is actually not a cotton flannel shirt (I was staring at my wife just then). The 45 degree tilt of pocket pattern common with sportswear lately.
More angled plaid across the shoulder. A couple of small pleats allow you to move around on the bike.
There is a single small zipped pocket down here. just the right size for a phone. The cuff treatment puts this shirt over the top.
The Bass Trail Flex is part of Bass’ technical “Propel” series of clothing, something a little unexpected from a mostly shoe company. The blend is 60% cotton, 37% polyester and 3% Lycra. The cotton would usually rule it out completely, but it can handle short commutes fine, and amazingly 3% Lycra makes a big difference. This is a heavier fabric which gives it a sturdy feel and the cut gives you just enough room to be comfortable. Otherwise it is pretty basic, no extra pockets, mesh, vents or snaps.
Just the basics and a sturdy feeling fabric with some useful stretch
Next up is the Columbia Westerly Winds short sleeve shirt. Columbia turns over styles very quickly, you may not find this exact shirt. It is 100% polyester, thus the “omni wick” moniker. The breast pockets have dual velcro closures so they would hold on to something while you were riding. Another basic but effective shirt that does work on the bike.
It is a lighter fabric good for warmer weather.
Styling and details are basic.
Should you decide to use the breast pockets, they should keep things secure.
The Eddie Bauer Rainier Long Sleeve is similar to the Columbia in that it may differ a little from what you find when you shop. I wanted a long sleeve to contrast the Troy Lee Grind, and this surely does that with some surprising twists. It is full synthetic at 73% polyester and 27% nylon, featuring a mesh yoke and a big pleat between the shoulders. The breast pocket is flapless, closed with a hidden bit of Velcro on the inside. The tab sleeves are a useful feature, sort of like having arm warmers that you can get rid of without having to figure out where to put them.
Eddie Bauer makes mostly fashion clothes with an outdoorsy image, but they also make some pretty technical clothes like this shirt. It works well, but tends to be a little wrinkly and the cut is slightly long in front.
The mesh is not vented, which makes this a warmer shirt, but it still helps with movement and off the skin comfort.
The tab sleeves are handy. Many days I commute in the morning with the sleeves down and in the afternoon with the sleeves up.
The Orvis Short Sleeve Tech Shirt is 73% nylon 27% polyester. It features a mesh yoke and a couple of pleats across the back. I took this on my recent week-long tour, and the nice thing about this shirt is how well it resists wrinkling. I got it on a blow out price so it also wins the best value award.
The lower hem dips down more than the other shirts here, but was rarely noticeable.
A couple of pleats are nice attention to detail.
The small mesh yoke does help.
Overall these are all worthy shirts for riding. Get a technical fabric cut with room to move and a length that won’t ride up. Add a few nice to have features and you may find that getting off your bike has never been be easier.
Day three of my tour would be a relatively short ride from Monterey to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. I liked that it would be a short ride so it would give me time to take lots of pictures of this very scenic area.
I got a late start due to all of my fraternizing with fellow riders at Veteran’s Park in Monterey. The ride into the park the night before was a nasty climb to the top of a hill. But the ride out of the park and back to Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) still managed to offer more climbing. I had skipped the scenic 17 Mile Drive the day before, but I did ride the last few miles of it that morning. It was not a classic coastal section, but it was as scenic as I remember it.
The two banana breakfast I had at the campground was not going to sustain me for long. I stopped early in the day at the last plaza to offer any services until I would arrive in Big Sur later in the day. I stop there on every trip I take in that direction no matter my mode of travel, be it by car, motorcycle or bicycle. The road around it was under construction and it made ingress and egress by bike a little interesting. I found a cute place for breakfast where the host seated me near an outlet so I could charge all of my accessories while I ate. The solar panel I brought was not helping much in the heavy cloud cover along the coast.
Café Stravaganza served up a wonderful and welcome hot breakfast, which was a nice upgrade from two bananas, to say the least.
The useless solar panels made me realize that I had had a change in my attitude about weather. My mood used to depend on it. If I did not get sunny, calm, temperate weather, I was disappointed. But on this trip I ran into a lot of cloudy damp weather, albeit no rain. And it did not put a damper on my spirits (pun intended). It was a very liberating change.
The local Post Office was close by and I stopped to ship back extra items that I did not need, including my CPAP machine and an extra water bottle mount. You can read about the dramas associated with each of those items in earlier blogs. After a quick stop at a market I continued south. Leaving that plaza is always a bit dramatic for me. I consider it an outpost, a last bastion of civilization, the beginning of the rugged section of Big Sur, even though you are still in Carmel for a short while and there are good places to get supplies along the coast.
This beach was the last one I would see. After this point I steadily climbed high above the ocean and the coastline became very rocky.
Peering through the trees, I could see that this cove is circled by beautiful homes set among the rocky cliffs.
PCH south of Carmel had less room on the road for bikes than I remember from my last trip. There are signs labeling the road as a bike route. And California has a relatively new law requiring motorists to give cyclists a minimum of 3 feet as they pass. But I think most people are unaware of the law. And it only helps so much on PCH. The law does not allow drivers to cross the double yellow line to give cyclists that space, but instead instructs drivers to slow down. On much of the coast there is no room to give cyclists that much space in the lane, there is nearly always a double yellow line, and almost no one slows down. So it was pretty much business as usual dicing it up with cars.
Traffic was light, but I had hoped that the closure on PCH farther to the south would reduce traffic more than it did. The number of cars did taper off as I went, and I was thankful for it. By traveling before Memorial Day, the number of large recreational vehicles (RVs) was also very low. RVs on that road can be pretty exciting as a cyclist.
The vistas grew as I continued along the Big Sur coast.
Fishing boats like the one on the left made their way along the rugged coastal shore.
Inlets like this were from streams and canyons that formed in the coastal hills and spilled out into the ocean.
A look at the coast ahead.
The iconic Bixby Creek Bridge. If there is one landmark that represents the Big Sur coast, this would be it. There are others tied for second place, all very close.
My bike needed a rest after all of the rolling hills of PCH.
I have traveled this coast many times by car, motorcycle and bicycle. It has been captured countless times in photographs and every conceivable artistic media. As I traveled along the road I got the surreal feeling of moving through a living painting or sculpture, becoming part of a piece of art myself. I imagined the hills rendered in brush strokes, the road portrayed in stippling, or the ocean as a large glass sculpture. I pictured myself from the third person, portrayed in the same media as my surroundings, the structure of bridges becoming rough welded brass, captured in perfectly lit black and white photography, or made abstract in water-color. I have never seen cyclists traveling this road rendered artistically: they are always portrayed with simple photographs. But there must be an art catalog of Big Sur cyclists somewhere.
The cows of Big Sur never cease to fascinate me. Of all the places for a cattle ranch, this has to be one of the most unlikely.
The hill that stands apart from the coast is Point Sur, home of a state park this is only open by guided tour, featuring a lighthouse and part of what used to be a naval station, though there is a small naval facility still there.
This is what I call the gateway to Big Sur from the north. PCH veers inland behind the first row of coastal mountains into the valley where Big Sur is nestled.
The Big Sur River follows along PCH for a long way. If you are driving or heading north you might miss it. Its clear waters are filtered by the rocks and soil and the trees crowding its banks make a cool breezy canopy on even the hottest of days.
Big Sur River Inn and the shops around it are the first services available after leaving Carmel. They have a general store where I stocked up on wine and other necessities.
The sign welcoming me to the campground where I would spend the night.
BIg Sur River winds its way through the campground, having recovered from years of drought followed by a year of flooding.
Not every picture taken in the Big Sur area a work of beauty! I made short work of the carnitas wrap from the inn. I usually take pictures of my meals before I start eating them. But this time my appetite got the best of me, so you get to enjoy this lovely image of half eaten wrap. It tells a story nonetheless.
The only other person in the Hike or Bike area was Shane. I had expected to meet fewer cyclists as I got closer to the PCH closure. Shane was going south and turning back. That was an option for him because he lived not far to the north so it was an out and back ride. When I think about living in an area that I find so special I have mixed feelings about it. Would easy access to great experiences turn the exotic into the mundane? Or would my life be elevated by often having this kind of experience? I expect the former, but given the chance I would take the risk that it would be the latter.
I could have spotted Shane as a serious, strong rider even without the yellow shorts. But those clinched it.
Shane was quiet but we talked more as we got settled in. He was a very fit rider traveling with a two-wheel utility trailer and wanted to get bags for his bike instead. He had a lot of equipment questions and I was happy to talk tech about our bikes and gear. My old titanium Airborne Carpe Diem bike and bikepacking style bags garner a lot of attention. I think they also give me some cred so people listen to my advice and usually ask more as I tell them more.
Shane was staying at the park for a couple of days which seemed like a good idea. Of all the places I might spend extra time on the ride, Big Sur would be on the top of my list, but tied with a few others. I was already beginning to plan a return trip to the coast now that I felt confident in my gear and ability to accommodate my sleep apnea.
Big Sur was thankfully a dry environment. The dampness of Monterey had much of my gear soaking wet. My tent dried out fast, I set up a clothes line and took care of other housekeeping. My sleep kit and I were getting along well. I fell asleep early and slept hard and long, which I ended up doing pretty much every night of my ride. And that was good, because the next day’s ride to Kirk Creek Campground started with a relentless climb out of the valley. But more on that in the next blog.
Day two of my trip began with my resolve that I would not put my head down and hammer out a fast ride, but instead take my time and stop to explore things that I saw along the way. My first chance to exercise that was only a few miles in as I passed Seacliff State Beach. It featured a pier with a sunken ship and the end. It is a concrete ship that its owners sunk at the end of the pier intentionally.
Stopping to have a look at the strange sunken ship and ride the bike trail at Seacliff State Beach.
The visitor center never opened while I was there, but it looked interesting and had a nice bike rack.
The trail followed the beach and had lots of picnic tables protected by awnings. I could not resist the chance to spend some time at one.
As I left the park I was joined by riders from an organized ride. I asked people what the name of the event was, but I could not understand what they were saying. It was the seven something ride maybe? I stayed with the ride for a long time. I was riding slower than everyone else and that gave me the chance to meet many of them. A few recognized my bikepacking bags and touring set up and gave me a thumbs us or asked where I was going. Our paths finally diverged and I still had a lot of riding left.
I loved the contrast of the rural farmland with the exotic coast line with dunes and surf in the distance. My version of farmland comes from my days growing up in the Midwest with flatlands and crops as far as the eye could see in all directions. Seeing farmland on the coast with an ocean breeze blowing and set among a hilly landscape was a mix of worlds that did not seem to fit together, yet there they were. Seeing those worlds juxtaposed never stopped amazing me.
I originally had plans to make it to Cannery Row for lunch, but my stomach had very different ideas and I needed to eat way before that. And the endless farmland offered little in the way of places to eat.
It is hard to make out in a picture, but the coastal dunes contrasted sharply with the farmland.
I gave in and stopped at the first fruit stand / gas station I saw. They had a small supply of a lot of things, as markets in the middle of nowhere often do, including enough for lunch. I refused to stand in the parking lot of a gas station and eat lunch, however. The nice woman at the counter told me there was a place with some picnic tables a few miles down the road.
I don’t know which place she was talking about because a few miles down the road was the lovely city of Moss Landing, and it offered many scenic spots to enjoy lunch. Highway 1 returned to the coast in this area with an ecosystem called a slough. Like some sort of coastal swamp, it is a delightful meeting of sand dunes, ocean surf, inland waterways, unique foliage, and marine mammals. It has its very own distinct exotic beauty among the many places I saw on my ride. I found a place near a marina to pull over and eat lunch.
The ocean meanders inland at Moss Landing, protected by coastal dunes, making a very scenic locale for marinas.
It was not the gourmet lunch I had planned, but I made changes to allow me to appreciate the places I came upon unexpectedly.
From Moss Landing the bike route turned inland again and the coastal winds picked up. Sometimes a little in my favor, sometimes a bit of a headwind, they were nearly always from the side. And when the route turned directly into them my pace slowed down quite a bit, but thankfully that did not happen much. The route into Monterey turned into a dedicated bike path starting way outside of town, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, which was impressive and wonderful to ride.
The bike route appeared unexpectedly in the middle of farm country and appeared to go nowhere and not be used by anyone.
A closer look at the wind-swept areas of sand revealed that the trail had many users, even recently.
The route into Monterey continued on a bike path and offered delightful views of the shifting coastal dunes and delicate ecosystem. That is Monterey Bay in the distance.
The bike trail crests the dunes north of Monterey, affording big views of the coast and the bay.
The colors of the plants, the sand, the ocean and the sky are a characteristic of this area. And the coastal winds were literally in my face as I took it all in.
The path turned from a remote coastal route into heavily traveled urban trail pretty suddenly. And what a great route it was. It took me past all the main sights you might want to see in Monterey along the coast including Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and, of course Light and Motion bicycle lighting company. I received no promotional fees for this blog. But I would not object to it if I did.
I have been to this aquarium many times. It alone is worth the visit to Monterey.
I decided not to cook and I had a hankering for a big deli sandwich. After searching for delis I decided on International Deli in Monterey. When I got there I discovered it was an Iraqi deli, not the sandwich kind of deli I had in mind, but it had good reviews and looked wonderful so I rolled with it. I ordered the chicken shawarma because it looked great. I could not help but laugh to myself about feeling like Ironman. I hate it when people make movie references I don’t know, so search for Avengers shawarma if you need to. Once again I had crammed too much in the day so I decided to trim the 17 mile drive from my schedule. I packed my shawarma away and made the big climb to Veteran’s Park so I could enjoy it at my campsite. If you do the ride, make sure you fit the 17 mile drive into your schedule. I have seen it before so I was OK.
When I got to the campground I saw lots of biker tents but no bikers. Some tents did have bikes next to them. It looked creepily abandoned. “Are they all homeless?” I mused to myself, but I knew better. I set up camp and enjoyed the chicken shawarma. I had asked for some extra veggies and they had obliged. Even though it had gotten tossed around a lot on the way to the campground, it was still wonderful.
I had about as much energy as the Avengers did when they ate their shawarma.
I settled in and it got dark early in the heavy overcast weather. The only lights I traveled with were a headlamp and the light on my phone. The headlamp had an unexpected effect. If you look into the woods as you are walking in the dark, the eyes of any critters looking at you shine back at you eerily. But, being critters, they don’t realize this and think they are being super stealthy and you can’t see them. While walking to the showers after dark I had a creature of unknown species following me with its gaze for a while. It made me uncomfortable and I even tried to shoo it away. After amusing myself with a series of strange noises, it turns out the good old raspberry noise finally vexed whatever was stalking me and it scampered away.
I fell asleep hard before 9 pm. I heard some bikers arrive later and once again my eye mask and earplugs were very helpful. I was hoping to meet them in the morning.
I awoke well rested and realized I was sleeping well with my CPAP substitute breathing aids. This was a great development. I was concerned that I would not be able to sleep well with them and I might even have to cut my ride short. But that morning I committed to completing the ride as planned.
It was damp and cold: so damp it looked like it may have rained in the night, but if it did the noise of the rain on the tent was not enough to wake me. It always amazes how warm a tent will keep you given that it is only a couple of thin sheets of nylon. And my tent was a lightweight model with very thin nylon and it still kept me very cozy. I stayed in the protection of my vestibule to make myself a cup of coffee while the morning fog cleared up.
There is nothing like enjoying a hot coffee sheltered by your vestibule. Bananas make a great culinary pairing too, BTW
All of us cyclists eventually came out of our tents to say hello. Alex was riding around the PCH closure via a route that included King City. I couldn’t talk him into splitting the shuttle around the mud slide with me. I later encountered him on Facebook. He continued to ride long after my one week trip had ended and he was posting real-time updates.
Michael was an eBike enthusiast and semi vagabond in my own words. He was touring on a utility bike that was his own custom eBike creation. I had experimented with making eBikes a long time ago. I was surprised how literate I still was. Mike and I talked a long time about the state of eBikes. When I told him that I was sleeping consistently without my CPAP machine, he gave me idea to ship the CPAP back home. I would have probably figured it out myself, but he probably saved me a couple of days of hauling it around.
Thaddeus, a total vagabond by his own admission, also joined us but declined to have his pic taken. I was not sure if Thaddeus was a nickname or not, but his off the grid lifestyle was fascinating. Tim the park ranger checked in trying to figure out who did not pay their $6 camp fee.
Alex was opting to take the inland route around the PCH closure.
Michael was touring on an eBike, something I have thought about doing, and I have built a similar cargo eBike, so we had a lot to talk about.
I had to tear myself away from the great conversation if I hoped to have a relaxed ride to Big Sur. I talked as I packed and wished everyone well as the conversations continued. Damp fog had given way to low clouds and it looked like a great day for a ride.
Day one of my tour turned out have many of the problems I was afraid it might have. But a defining trait of an adventurer is how you deal with the problems that will inevitably happen. If you react by wishing you had luxury accommodations, panicking or giving up, you are probably not an adventurer. But if you keep your wits about you, fix the problems with whatever duct tape and baling wire you have available, and proceed as best you can with a good attitude, then you show the traits of a true adventurous spirit. At least according to my not so humble opinion.
So where and when did the journey actually begin? It could have been when I stopped riding my touring bike as a commuter and started packing. It could have been before that, when I decided to do the ride. But for the sake of telling the story, let’s say it started in Long Beach, CA. My wife dropped me off at Long Beach Airport, a tiny international airport in the Los Angeles metro area. I had already shipped my bike: it was waiting for me in a box at a FedEx location close to my flight destination in San Jose, hopefully not damaged or lost in spite of what the tracking information told me. I was carrying a piece of bike luggage, a plastic bag of supplies, and I was wearing my travel/riding clothes and bike shoes. I did not want to deal with luggage, and my bike shoes with cleats were the only footwear I was bringing.
So when does a trip actually begin? This looks like good time and place to call it.
One item in my carry on luggage was a CPAP machine. Without it I don’t get deep sleep and eventually end up feeling like I have not been sleeping at all. I had hoped to use a substitute called Provent, which are fancy bandages to cover your nostrils. Carrying them instead of a big CPAP machine would have been a big win. But I tried the Provents again and they did not work for me like they used to. I was disappointed to have to carry the bulky machine and battery, but I had done it before on a bike tour. And I brought the Provents anyway.
But the problems that swirled around the CPAP machine had just started. After boarding the plane and getting comfortable, I mentally went over my checklist of what I had packed for the umpteenth time. I realized that I had forgotten one of the cables needed to run the CPAP machine. It was a small disaster. The pile of hardware I had packed to run the CPAP was useless without that cable. I began to break down the situation. There was no way to buy the cable I needed. Maybe I could make a replacement cable myself. I looked for electronics supply stores along my route. There were lots of permanently closed Radio Shack locations to choose from. I found a Fry’s Electronics, but there was no guarantee they would have the parts I needed to fabricate a replacement cable even after shopping them on-line.
I tried to relax and take things one step at a time so I would not get myself into such a terrible mood that I would not think clearly or enjoy whatever the trip turned into. The next point on the trip where I could do anything about this would be at the electronics store. I had done all I could for now. I managed to stop obsessing on the problem and enjoy the flight.
On the ground I call in a Lyft ride that turned out to be free after I applied the discount the airline gave me on it. My driver deposited me at the FedEx location which actually did have my undamaged bike in its possession. The small victory was good for my attitude.
The packing job I did on my bike worked and my bike arrived no worse for wear.
I used the packing area as a bike assembly area. While there, a fellow rider introduced himself. He told me he was planning to bicycle tour across Cambodia, Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand. He noticed my CPAP and told me he had a friend who rode and needed to use one. Seeing me travel with a CPAP meant that he would not accept his friend’s excuse about not traveling with him because of his CPAP. I did not go into detail about the issue I was having with my machine for both our sakes. It took me a while but I was ready to go.
Good to go. Almost. Note the water bottle problem. If you miss it, it is understandable. I did.
Another small issue cropped up as I pushed the bike across the store. I had decided at the last minute to fit a water bottle cage and bottle on the bottom of my down tube. The problem is that there is only room for the smallest of water bottles that spot. The bottle I brought rubbed my front tire. After some consideration I decided to just throw the water bottle out. It was frustrating but I was already dealing with enough issues and the idea of trying to pack a water bottle in my luggage mostly just to keep from throwing it out was just too much to wrestle with at the moment.
But the problems just kept coming. I stood over my bike to get started and turned on the GPS to load my route for the day. I scrolled through the list of routes I had carefully crafted for each day. They were all there, except for my route for that day. I had made some small last minute changes to it, I must have deleted it in my GPS without loading its replacement. And the day’s route was a tangle of interconnecting urban roads and paths, not a simple “ride down Highway 1”. But I had a backup plan: I used my phone as my GPS. The phone used a lot of battery power when in navigation mode so I might have to charge it mid day, but I could deal with that.
The electronics store was only a few blocks away. It took a while to find and select the odd parts. I decided to wait until I was in the campground with everything unpacked to make the cable.
The pieces I hoped would get my CPAP working.
The weather was beautiful: sunny and cool. I was excited by the first part of the ride because it was on a network of dedicated urban bike paths: Guadalupe River Trail and Los Gatos Creek Trail.
I had to ride a couple miles back to the airport to get on the Guadalupe trail. Mineta San Jose International Airport would be a great destination if you checked your bike in as luggage.
Navigating by phone was a bit of a pain. I did not have a good way to mount it where I could see it. I would look at it to get the next few turns, ride that far then look at it again. I made a few wrong turns that way but nothing terrible. And while I was on the main bike paths I just followed the signed route.
While riding the bike paths, especially through San Jose, I was completely amazed at the pedestrian traffic. There was a lot of it, but the crazy part was phone usage. Being as rational as possible about it, I estimate that out of hundreds of pedestrians I saw in the congested sections of San Jose, 95% of them were walking with their eyes down, locked on their phones, and that includes individuals, groups, people with dogs on leashes, etc. They were completely unaware of my presence on a trail where bikes were legal, I had to swerve all over the place to avoid them, often off of the trail and on the grass. It was a gorgeous sunny day and I suspect most were probably annoyed by the sun causing glare on their screens. We need to identify a thing called “distracted walking” on multi use trails. It is dangerous and rude. If forces other trail users to deal with whatever random things a distracted walker is doing. It is hard to deal with because the they don’t know what they are doing themselves. I was happy to get out of the crowded section of San Jose.
My route took me along a dirt section of Las Gatos Creek Trail. I later realized I could have been avoided much of it by riding the long way around a reservoir, but even my narrow 28c tires were OK there.
My failure to follow my GPS directions eventually led to a disastrous error. While riding a frontage road along highway 17, I decided the directions said to enter Highway 17 south at Bear Creek road. This was an error of epic proportions. Highway 17 is a freeway that has no shoulder on much of it, is extremely narrow, has high-speed traffic and has a concrete wall divider between the oncoming lanes. I entered on a section where I would be climbing and moving slow. I have ridden freeways before, even not so legal sections, but nothing like this. After riding for about a mile and a half with cars honking at me like crazy I pulled into a turn out and looked at my GPS. In a word I was screwed. I could not cross the road and go back the way I came due to the concrete wall and sheer amount of traffic. I could not go back the way I came because I would be riding head on into oncoming traffic with no shoulder. There was no way out of the turn out I was in: no roads or trails led away from it. And the route I wanted was back the way I came. Going forward would take me a long way off my route, even if I did want to brave it, which I did not.
As I was looking around the edges of the turn out for dirt paths and not finding one, I saw a highway patrol drive by. I slowly realized that they would be my only way out. I waited a while for another one to show up, but no luck. I finally gave in and called for rescue. I described my predicament to 911 and In relatively short order I met Office Booker (that is her real name, I am honestly not making that up) who showed up in a large SUV that had room for my bike in it just as I had requested. After telling her how happy I was to see her and thanking her profusely I told her that I just wanted off of that road, anywhere would do. I also told her I really just wanted back on the other side of the road to pick up where I left off. We left the turn out and I expected her to just get off the next exit and wish me luck. But she made a pretty difficult U-turn on the road where the concrete wall had a gap and returned me to right where I said I wanted. I got no ticket for riding a bicycle on the freeway (they may have actually been legal there, the sign only said no pedestrians), no lectures about bicycle safety, none of that. She even posed for a picture. I pulled my bike out, unable to thank her enough, and continued on the correct route. Mostly anyway.
Officer Booker saved me from the horrors of route 17 and my own bad navigating. Kudos to her! Notice our coordinated shoulder pockets.
My route continued on Old Santa Cruz Highway, Summit Road and Soquel Santa Cruz Road which included a nice climb through coastal redwoods and a descent to the coast and my urban coastal campground destination, New Brighton State Beach. The few small wrong turns I made paled in comparison to my Highway 17 debacle. Due to my shenanigans I had to cut the ride short. I had planned a loop around Santa Cruz. Maybe next time.
New Brighton is a campground with an ocean view, like most of the places I would be staying.
I hoped to fix my issues as I relaxed at my campsite.
Once at the campground I unpacked as little as I needed to allow me to work on the CPAP cable with as much daylight as possible. But it wasn’t to be. The cheesy battery-powered soldering iron I bought could not generate enough heat to melt butter let alone solder. So as a test I touched the battery wires to the plug I got to fit the CPAP to see if it would power it up anyway. But no luck. The plug I bought fit the CPAP but it was still not the right connector, which was not surprising given the nature of medical equipment. I gave up on the idea of fixing the CPAP and decided to try the Provents one more night. If they didn’t work, I would ride back to Salinas, cut the trip short and catch a train home from there. I did not want ride for days with effectively no sleep, that would be too dangerous.
When I finally looked up from my CPAP project, Johan from Belgium greeted me and offered me some of his strawberries which I happily accepted. I later offered Johan some sliced cucumber. I think I got the better end of the trade but it was all I had to offer. Johan had flown into Los Angeles and was on his way to San Francisco, then on to Yosemite, the eastern Sierras and many other great California destinations before returning to L.A. to fly home. I tried to talk him into adding Death Valley to his route, it would have been a good time of year, but the idea seemed to make him pretty uncomfortable, and he didn’t want to give up anything else on his already full schedule.
Johan from Belgium was riding a big loop around California
John was also at the Hike or Bike site. I did not see him until the next morning, but I should have gotten up to see him in the middle of the night. That night I tried sleeping with the Provents. I woke up with one not attached anymore. Rather than give up and go back to “sleep” without it, I forced myself to get up and replace the one that fell off. That improved things a lot for me. I slept so well that I barely woke up when the campsite was overrun by bright vehicle headlights and guys walking around talking and using what sounded like police radios.
The next morning, feeling well rested, I met John. He had a bloody gauze wrap on his knee. He had an accident with a car the night before that was his own fault. The police had come by the campground in the middle of the night to return his bike to him. John worked at Specialized bike company in nearby Morgan Hill so naturally we talked his accident, riding and bikes for a long time.
New Brighton, like many urban campgrounds, has strict limits on Hike or Bike sites. You can only stay one night and you have to leave by 9:00 am. This helps control the homeless problem. I support such measures, it allows the park to keep offering Hike or Bike sites. A homeless shelter is very different from a campground.
Due to all of my carousing with the locals I pushed a little past the 9:00 departure time. And sure enough I got a visit from the very friendly camp host who was watching our schedules. But as I said, I support such efforts. And thankfully I had the route for day 2 in my GPS as expected and a good night’s sleep behind me. Maybe this trip would work out OK after all.
In May 2017 the Mud Creek Slide came crashing down on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in California, turning an 80 mile section of highway with no exits into a 10 mile and 50 mile dead-end. As bad as that sounds, the situation was much worse. Additional slides and a bridge failure isolated the tiny and beautiful village of Big Sur. Months later, after a flurry of construction and repair, all the damage on PCH except Mud Creek was repaired.
But in the midst of disaster was also opportunity. I realized that the closure would dramatically reduce vehicle traffic along the coast, making a potentially good situation for a cyclists riding the area. But there was the matter of circumventing literally a million tons of earth burying the road 40 feet deep. Add the construction equipment and workers busy rebuilding the road and it posed a formidable obstacle for a lone rider on a bicycle. I kept track of the situation on the media, blogs and Facebook groups. There were reports of cyclists crossing the slide at night, defying the closure and the law. While I wanted to ride the route, a midnight poach in the dark by myself was not for me. I found a local tour company called Central Coast Outdoors that shuttled cyclists around the closure. The price seemed steep: over $300 for the ride, but it could be split up to 3 ways if other riders joined you, and it was way cheaper than Uber for the same thing. I thought about it for a few days and decided the opportunity to ride the coast with low traffic was worth it, and I began preparations.
I booked a flight on JetBlue to San Jose and planned to ship my bike to a nearby FedEx Office using bikeflights.com. I busted out may favorite bike ride planning site, ridewithgps.com, and began planning my routes for each day. I reserved a room for one night at the Radisson in Santa Maria with plans and gear to camp every other night of a 9 day 8 night journey. I reserved a site at the only campground that needed it. All of my other camping would be at California State Park Hike or Bike sites which were all first come / first served / no reservation sites. And finally I reserved an Amtrak ride home that allowed people to bring their bikes on the train. BTW, I am not sponsored by anyone, but I do like to share resources I find useful for other riders or anyone else interested.
JetBlue is a great little airline and Long Beach Airport is a great little airport.
I bike toured PCH on a similar trip many years ago. While the trip was great, I realized afterward that I had spent too much time riding for my preferences, and not enough time relaxing, sightseeing and getting to know fellow travelers. So as I planned each day’s ride for this trip, I reduced the mileage I would ride each day compared to my first trip.
I made sure to stop and take in the sights
I got to know the people I met along the way.
I decided that food pics were an important part of the trip.
Stopping to take pics took a lot of time, but it was worth it.
To be honest, I over prepared for the trip. I spent too many hours poring over routes and fine tuning them, reading updates on the web, and anticipating the details of the trip. By over preparing, I mean that I was a little burned out before I even started riding. I was beginning to doubt whether I would enjoy the ride at all. Plus there were the normal pre ride jitters and worries. Would I get a cold just before or during the ride? What if my frame cracked? Would I forget something critical? Was I in good enough condition for such a ride?
Is it possible to take too many pictures of the Big Sur coast?
I did get a few fellow travelers to snap a pic of me as well.
Of course I went ahead with the ride, starting on the Saturday the week before Memorial Day 2018 and riding through to the following Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Day 1 presented me with more than its fair share of problems. But I overcame them all, found myself well able to handle the rigors of daily riding, and went on to have a great trip.
You could make a tour of the art along the coast if you wanted to.
No, you cannot take too many pictures of the meeting of land and sea along this coast.
San Luis Obispo is one of dozens of great villages that dot the ride.
Rolling hills that are part of the growing wine country in this region.
Cyclists seem to be beer drinkers mostly. But I prefer grape based libations most of the time.
Actually, “great trip” does not begin to capture what the trip became. I had days of riding in idyllic conditions, I met wonderful people who had great stories to tell, and I “rode myself into shape” as the expression goes and felt stronger and stronger as the days passed.
Many of the campgrounds were next to the beach.
The last days of the ride were Memorial Day weekend, with busy campgrounds and many travelers.
Riders like these, traveling the country and the world, were not uncommon.
What started as a trip where I was worried that I might quit early turned into a ride where I was sad to see it end. In the days after the ride I felt like I was living in an afterglow, my mind drifting back to daydreams of the ride, planning the next tour already, and having a hard time focusing on my daily responsibilities.
As far as my blog goes, in the coming days and weeks I will post a blog for each day of the trip, documenting in more detail my route and experiences from each day. I hope they will be helpful to others who ride the route. But I also hope to be able to capture the experience for me forever, so that I can recall the feelings of the ride and daydream about the experience of a lifetime over and over again.
I have been planning and preparing for a week-long tour of PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) here in California, and this overnighter ride is, among other things, a shakedown for the tour. I have spent time shrinking my load to a minimum size and weight. Most tourers err on the side of packing too much if you read their blogs and social media posts. My weight weenie tendencies run deep: I wanted to make sure I did not eliminate too much. In the end I was happy with what I decided to pack. So much so that I think I will dedicate separate posts to gear and packing reviews.
San Clemente, the beginning and end of my ride, offers one of the best stretches of protected coast highway bike trail anywhere, which ends abruptly as you go south. But the ride through town is overall very nice and beach town-ey.
My route took me past the fabled Trestles surf area, which was hosting some big surfing event and warranted a slightly closer look.
Continuing south I passed through San Onofre State Beach and on to a dedicated bike path with views of the ocean on one side and a freeway full of cars on the other side.
After that was Camp Pendleton MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station). If you plan to ride across the base, bring a driver’s license (I don’t know about passports), a helmet, and be sure to register on the base’s website about a week before you come. If you don’t, you may not be allowed on the base, and the only alternate route is on the shoulder of the freeway, though that is not as bad as it sounds.
South of the marine base is the city of Oceanside. While it is definitely faster to ride across Oceanside without riding “the strand” beach trail, I was riding in touring/sightseeing mode. My tendency is to put my head down and hammer. But I did that the last time I rode PCH and discovered afterwards I did not have the kind of experience I was looking for. So this was not only a gear shakedown ride: it was a shakedown of my attitude as well.
My destination was the Hike and Bike campsite at San Elijo State Beach. It is a great option for a last-minute overnighter. It is definitely urban camping though.
There are almost always other riders to share the campsite with, making it a great way to meet people. This trip was no exception. I met Trey, a local rider doing something similar to me, and Anna and Amondine (I nicknamed her Mandy) from Belgium. They were traveling the world via a network of host households that offered travelers short-term employment so they could earn the cash needed to continue long-term but frugal travel.
Trey, intrepid local traveler.
Amondine and Anna, Belgian world travelers.
I spent the evening sharing my extra food, wine and whiskey, learning about how to travel the world and speak French, stargazing and imagining people on other planets looking at us and our star millions of years ago.
San Elijo is a rare urban / beach camping locale but it is not without its cons. Train tracks parallel the beach and a few trains come through at night, sounding their very loud horn for an intersection right across from the campground. But I have learned to deal with it. I bring ear plugs. While I am at it, I bring eye shades for headlights from cars on the road. They have become staples I bring with me on all camping trips. You never know what kind of camp site you will end up with. And getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things for me when bike touring.
I am a bit of a morning person, so I woke up and watched the “dawn patrol” surfers in the area for a while.
Back at the campsite we said our good byes and shared well wishes with each other as we packed and went on our separate ways. Next on my agenda: seeking out my morning elixir.
The ride home was a rewind of the ride there, but with a mild headwind instead of a tailwind. I can pass a lot of things while riding, but a good Mexican meal is not one of them.
My bike, loaded for the ride and parked for lunch. It will not need much more than this for the big tour.
Overall the ride was a success. I am looking forward to a week on the road in May!
I rode the Redlands Strada Rossa ride last year (RSR IV) and really enjoyed it, so naturally I was looking forward to the event this year (RSR V). I registered early and reached out to the event organizer and produced a virtual flyover of the 67 mile route, such as it was planned at the time. It later changed a little. But no one uses the flyover for navigation. And BTW, pay no attention to the “IV” on the bird logo. The flyover is indeed of the “V” ride. It has a soundtrack, BTW, but I think it is muted by default, so use the volume slider and crank it up.
Details of the route that I took are below. I modified the course beforehand since I wanted something between the 33 and 67 mile options. The ride organizers put the course on ridewithgps.com so it was easy to edit the course and download it to my trusty Garmin GPS. It was a ride not a race: cutting the course does not get you disqualified.
The weather forecast leading up to the event had me concerned. I was looking at it several times a day and the predictions kept changing. Redlands was getting rain, so who knew what the trail conditions would be by the day of the ride? The changing forecast usually called for rain on the day of the event. The ride was a “rain or shine” affair. Since the event organizers were willing to press on regardless, so was I. I packed my rain gear and was ready for whatever nature threw at us.
I left early the morning of the ride. That would have worked out great were it not for the unexpected traffic and freeway ramp closure or two. Alas, GPS navigation can only help so much. I encountered rain on the drive as predicted. But the forecast had changed yet again and called for early morning rain then clearing in time for the ride. Spoiler alert: they were right. The weather for the ride was one of those post storm days where the air was clear, the sky had a dramatic mix of moving dark and bright clouds, and conditions were changing enough to give you a feeling of adventure without ever getting rained on.
A unique place called “BikeBBQ” hosted the registration and start line. They are a non-profit community resource for bike repair and education. I encourage you to do a web search for them in Redlands. I hope for their success and the proliferation of places like theirs. It could ignite a big increase in bike use.
BikeBBQ (or Bicycle Barbeque, or whatever) is an unassuming place with great potential, and host for the registration of RSR V.
A quiet start/finish line between mass starts in the very hip Downtown Redlands district.
I arrived at the start line late: in between in the start times for the 33 and 66 mile routes. That seemed OK since my custom course length was between the two. The course wound its way onto a dirt path in short order, then out onto the flood plains north of Redlands, where the clouds occasionally parted to reveal snowy mountains, sunshine, and views of the big rugged landscape of the area.
The size and view of the flood plain was pretty dramatic.
As for the trail conditions, my concerns about unridable muck quickly evaporated. Unlike the clay soil where I live and ride, the dirt in the Redlands area is mostly gravel, sand, decomposed granite and other materials that drain quickly after a rain. Having ridden similar trails in dry conditions a year ago, I would say the trails were just as rideable, just different, the day after a rain. You traded a few small sandy sections for a few small muddy sections.
Approaching SAG stop #1
Shenanigans at the first rest stop
Greenspot Road Bridge is historic, well preserved and as iconic as ever
The bridge used to the main road back in the day when there were far fewer cars. Now it is a dedicated bike trail bridge.
The new bridge is just, so, well, you know, new.
Yes, I put my own pic in my blog once in a while
By the first rest stop I had completed my first course shortcut. I had been riding with a couple of other stragglers like myself. The shortcut allowed us to catch up to the main group of riders who started before us so it felt like being part of a big event again.
The ride up to SAG 1 was a good warm up for the climbing that followed. The course took us up the hills behind the bridge, which ascended with a pretty aggressive grade. The looseness of the mud here and there added to the challenge. Then came the rolling hills with a few short down/up sections. Normally I would take the down as fast as I could handle and carry as much momentum as possible up. But the looseness of the trails meant I could not descend as fast as usual, so I had to work more coming up the other side.
I took a break after this steep down/up section. I watched a lot of riders walk the whole thing. I made it more than halfway up the other side and only saw one rider clean it.
Between my Garmin and the course markers the route was well-marked and easily to follow. For me anyway. There was more than one intersection where I used all the navigation aids available and stayed on the course while I heard and saw other riders leave the course, then find their way back.
Kudos to the ride organizers for laying out and marking a great course:
They used some clever, consistent ways to mark the trail. They used colored arrows to mark the course depending on which route you chose. They used bright, long orange strips that were aligned with the direction of the route; very helpful at multi trail intersections at odd angles. And they used low plastic cones which provided visibility and were not moved around by the elements.
They did not go overboard with trail markers, which means using less plastic, which is greener. A printed route slip and/or a GPS track to follow should be the primary tool used by riders. Trail markers are a supplemental navigation aid and should not be relied on alone. Markers can get blown away, stolen, covered when people ride over them, carried away by the rain. etc.
They provided a GPS track that was a great resource that made course transitions clear and easy to follow. It was accurate enough that you could zoom in and figure out which side of a gate to go around, which of two close parallel routes to take, etc.
In a time of increased environmental awareness, I would hope that some day we can have GPS only rides. Course markers and printed ride slips are waste we can do without. I know that not everyone has, likes, knows how to use, can afford a GPS or whatever. But there are concessions we need to make and changes we need to accept in order the help the environment.
While the race organizers had official SAG stops along the ride, there were also other places where riders would collectively stop and take a break. The Mill Creek Visitor Center was one such spot. There were a lot of riders from out of the area on the ride, so many of us were not familiar with the local trails. We were admiring the course up to that point and trying to figure out what came next.
Spontaneous rider meeting spot, featuring a beautiful red bike in the foreground, don’t you think?
From the visitor center we could see a trail on the ridgeline of a mountain that seemed to be in the direction of the course. It represented many hundreds of feet of climbing. We all had the same reaction. “Oh no, the ride is not going there, is it?” Short answer: yes. Yes it was.
The ridgeline road to Zanja Peak, visible just below the top of the mountain. See it there?
I left the visitor center and headed for the mountain. As sometimes happens, one person’s departure makes everyone else realize that they have been hanging around a long time and it is time to get riding again. I heard the group of riders get started behind me. I thought they would all be passing me on the long climb. But much to my delight, they did not. I held my own in the large pack as we ascended the trail. In some cases my navigation skills helped because not everyone stayed on the course. But whatever the reason, I was happy to stay in the group.
The climb to Zenja afforded some inspiring views
By the time I reached the peak I needed a break so I stopped and I let the group continue on without me. There was even a bench along the side of the trail (sponsored by a local bike shop) so you could enjoy the inspiring views in comfort.
The course had taken us across the wash below
The shadow of a cloud cast on a valley carved by the water flowing off of a mountain over geologic time puts things in perspective.
I am a sucker for panoramic shots. I know they don’t work very well, but I remember the experience that went with them, so lets just say they are for me.
The panorama, shown as a video. Kind of a neat option I say.
The descent down Zenja was a fast fire road blitz. I don’t usually talk gear in my blogs, but my Salsa Cutthroat with a custom build flew down the mountain, confidently taking switchbacks and sweepers. I have gotten comfortable staying low in the drops most of the time on the bike, which goes against the trend of upright riding positions on mountain bikes, but the position offers great control and traction.
The attack on Zenja Peak kind of took it out of me. I was ready to take an easy ride back to the parking lot. But that is not what the 66 mile route called for. It is not even what my shortened 50 mile route called for. So I busted out the Garmin and told it to navigate me back to the start by the shortest route. Happily it was almost all downhill. My rear tire, set up tubeless, had started to lose air very slowly. I decided to live with it rather than install a tube. I took it easy on the descents as the back of the bike disagreed with the front about which way to go. And by the end, even with my creative course routing, I got in a good long ride.
Unfortunately my schedule did not allow me to hang out at the race finish, but there was food and a big get together. I bid adieu to the Strada Rossa and hit the road. I look forward to riding again next year.
I like to call my fat bike a surf bike. It is not a perfect name, but it conveys what I like to do with it, which is ride on beach sand. A properly set up fat bike can ride along the beach all day in the right conditions. What are the right conditions? One factor is the kind of sand. Sand that is too coarse or gravelly is no good: you sink into it no matter what. The finer the sand the better. Another condition is the wetness of the sand. If you cannot walk or run on the sand long, you cannot ride on it long either. People who run along the beach are good examples of what you want for fat bike conditions. They run on the wet sand just beyond the reach of the waves. If you ride along the ocean, the last condition is the tide. You want to ride on a low tide, or at least a falling tide well after high tide. At high tide or during a rising tide the rideable wet strip has waves crashing on it all the time. The timing of these conditions not been good for the last year or so. Good low tide conditions have been occurring at night and/or on week days. But now there are good fat bike beach conditions forecast every two weeks for many months. Consulting the tide report is very important when planning a surf bike ride.
The bikes that surfers ride might better be called surf bikes. Many surfers have beater bikes with surf board racks, and they walk them out onto the sand to go surfing. There is also the recent trend of eBikes with fat tires that you might call a surf bike. Surfers cans save their energy for surfing and they don’t have to push them across the sand. Fat eBikes outnumber human-powered fat bikes around here by a wide margin when you count those that are ridden by non surfers on the bike trails and streets. I would not consider those to be surf bikes, but they would probably get lumped into the category, if it actually existed.
But whatever you call it, I rode the fatty along a route that I have been riding on my gravel bike lately, but threw in some beach sand. At least that was the plan.
I started with the big climb needed to get access to dirt trails where I live. My route took me past the amazing pedestrian/bike bridge that spans a new street. The bridge does not carry vehicle traffic: there are only hiking/biking dirt paths leading away from either end of it. But I have the same reaction every time I see that bridge: it is an unnecessary extravagance. That thing most likely cost millions of dollars to build. I cross the street that is spans less than a half mile from the bridge at a traffic light. If you are going to count that as cycling/pedestrian infrastructure, the money would have been far better off spent to improve bike lanes, make bike paths, etc. If you are going to count that as a welcome sign for San Clemente, you could make a nice one for much less. Think of the iconic welcome to Las Vegas sign. Sure, that is not our style here in San Clemente, but it represents a lot of bang for the buck. OK, flame off.
It had rained a few days before the ride and that was enough to dry out all but the worst clay mud bogs. In fact, I encountered only one muddy patch on the ride. So I made sure I to take lots of pics.
If you get stuck in the mud, at least take pics.
It was the only mud bog of the day
Obligatory fatty glam pic
For this ride I decided to take the fire road option through the San Clemente Singletracks area, which seems an odd choice in an area named after its singletrack riding, but it climbs to an overall higher point affording a pretty good view of the charred valley below.
Panoramic photos never capture the view like you hope they will, but I have to try them once in a while nonetheless
With a great climb comes a great descent. And this one ended at Trestles beach. I continued south past the decommissioned nuke plant at San Onofre and on to San Onofre State Beach. If features some quirky and little known mountain biking, closely paralleling the paved road that runs the length of the park. It also offers up ever-changing views and the occasional technical twist in the trail.
Sunlight dazzles on the surf
But the feature of the day would be the beach section, starting with a drop in to “Old Man’s”. My timing with low tide was good, I was able to ride out in the tide pool areas. My spokes collected seaweed even better than the tires glommed onto mud and sand.
Your bike might be a surf bike if the spokes and crank get full of kelp.
The final leg of the ride proved pretty tough. I was recovering from a cold and 36 miles of fat bike riding was proving more than my body was ready for. My cold was mostly gone, but it was my stomach that was unable to keep up the pace. Let’s just say it would not be prudent to go into more detail.
I have lived in San Clemente for over 20 years now, and its beauty can still take me by surprise, coming up with postcard scenes in unexpected places even for jaded residents.
A classic San Clemente scene
There is not usually a flotilla of sailboats here, but these posed beautifully in the dazzling light of the reflection of the sun off the ocean.
Back on Coast Highway I was focused on getting home. But not too focused to stop and talk to one of the many people you see engaged in a loaded bike tour along the coast. I talked to Arthur (pronounced ar-TOOR) from Lithuania. He had ridden from San Jose to Ensenada. From there his riding buddies continued on to Mexico City and he turned around and headed back north. I told him about my plans to do a PCH ride starting in San Jose also. Arthur chose to strike this triumphant pose when I snapped his pic.
Arthur (pronounce it ar-TOOR) from Lithuania.
I did finally make it back to where the ride began: my front door. Somehow I managed to come up with a very small second wind and complete the climb into my neighborhood. Favorable fat bike ride conditions will return (for a working stiff like me) in another two weeks. I hope on that ride I can get a little more surf riding of the human-powered two-wheel variety.