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 web. 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, but 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, so 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.
I don’t know when I first heard about the Great American Eclipse of 2017. We know the schedules of eclipses for centuries in advance, maybe longer. I may have heard about it back in the 70s in high school (yes, now you have a bracket on my age). But I had never given much thought to making a trip to see a total eclipse. Carly Simon made it sound like a character flaw to see the total eclipse of the sun, after all. That all changed after I read the information about the eclipse that started flooding my social media. There is no comparison between a total eclipse and the partial eclipse that I would experience if I stayed home. I started reading about the crazy effects that occur during a total eclipse and I was hooked. I decided to travel to a viewing spot near Boise, Idaho and experience it in person.
At first I was not going to make a blog about this trip. I had decided to take the trip on 4 wheels, and, well, you know the title of the blog as well as I do. I have a motorcycle that would have been capable of taking me there with no problem. But the route involved crossing the desert for days in August. So I opted for my 4 wheel air-conditioned conveyance instead. I also decided to camp along the way to keep the feel of a two-wheel trip. For quick overnight stays during travel in good weather I prefer camping to cheap hotels. Even in desert heat, overnight lows were forecast to be temperate for the trip. But I decided the trip fit my blog because part of the reason I chose to see the eclipse in Boise was to check out the city. It is a place I am interested in relocating to because it is known for its cycling and outdoor lifestyle. So part of my agenda was to rent a bike when I got there and ride the Boise River Greenbelt bike trail and get to know the area by bike. That sounded like 2 Wheel Lifestyle stuff, eh?
I found a map of the path of totality through the area and I chose Mann Creek Country Store as the place to view the eclipse. It was almost exactly on the center of the path and it was a long way from anything. After a couple of phone calls I found out that they were expanding their small campground just for the eclipse and they would have extra food, live music and other festivities. It was perfect. As long as it didn’t turn into “Eclipsing Man”. And there would be no way to know that anyway.
As the eclipse drew closer I began reading dire predictions of what could happen during the eclipse. Most of the country lived within a 1 day drive of it. If they all decided to go, it would be a logistical nightmare of gridlock, overloaded emergency services and infrastructure. Undeterred, I decided to arrive early, leave late and bring extra supplies. Camping would help me deal with a worst case scenario too.
After months of planning and anticipation (far more than was needed), I finally hit the road. My route took me up highway 395 in California, which I have always found remote and adventurous and I never seem to tire of it, even after spending a few years driving it frequently for business. I stayed the first night in Bishop, CA.
Camping in Bishop, CA
Obligatory food pic. I always seem to be cooking and eating dinner in the dark when I camp.
There are several different definitions or categories of “camping”, something that Google with all of its technical prowess cannot seem to deal with. There is at least: RV camping, car camping and backcountry camping. Bicycle and motorcycle touring fall between backcountry and car camping in terms of the gear you use and where you go, and they are my favorite format for adventure. So a car camping trip like this was a real luxury. I got to use a big 2 person tent for just myself, which I referred to as my “condo”. I brought an expansive 2 burner propane gas stove. A cooler and always present ice was something that I really enjoyed. I spoiled myself by not worrying about bringing extras or duplicates of clothes, food, etc. Such opulence!
As I was driving I noticed other people headed for the eclipse. How could I tell that was their destination? They had signs in their windows! It was so totally nerdy that I got inspired and pulled over at a drug store and made a sign of my own so I could fly by geek flag at full mast.
Owning the tech-dweeb spirit. There was no point in fighting it.
By night 2 I had reached Boise, just a short jaunt from the Mann Creek. I stayed at another RV/tent campground. Tent campsites at RV campgrounds are usually leftovers after allocating all of the good spots to the RVs. This campground was no different, but at least the tiny campsites were waterfront locations.
My home for two different nights, but not in a row
The Main Event
I struck out early the next day to explore Boise a bit before continuing to Mann Creek. Boise is a lovely mix of urban and rural, old and new, big city and small town. I felt like it was a mix of the small farm town I grew up in and the big city I have since moved to. It ticked all the boxes for me.
Old local architecture is well preserved and gives Boise a rugged western feel.
Boise is growing pretty fast from what I read. It seems to be doing it with balance and poise.
I only took time to have a cup of coffee and have a quick look around Boise. I would spend more time there after the eclipse. It was time to head out to my chosen viewing site early just in case the rest of the state decided to show up at the same spot. There was no way to know who would show up where.
The state was somewhat prepared for big crowds. And yes, I parked on the highway to take this picture.
The crowds and heavy traffic did not really materialize. In my travels the small village of Weiser had some small traffic jams. It was fun driving through the small town with RVs parked and tents pitched all over the place. I arrived at Mann Creek shortly afterward, and they were ready for the eclipse. They had live music, plentiful beer and barbecue, beach volleyball and a generally festive atmosphere all good to go.
Mann Creek had food trucks, kiosks and a lot to see.
I took a break from cooking my own meals at campsites.
I set up camp in a field that had just been cut to create a makeshift camp area. The grass had the texture of sticks and many people were complaining about small bugs covering their lower legs as they walked across the field. The site did have a couple outhouses that had external sinks with soap, water and paper towels, but that was it. I felt well prepared and ready for the eclipse the next day. I had even thought to bring a small folding chair, which was very important at a site like this.
No picnic tables, fire rings, electricity or water at this “campsite”. But I was happy with the location nonetheless.
Another look at the extravagance I was basking in at my campsite.
The next day was the big one. I had read many times that taking pictures of the eclipse was best left to NASA and the professionals. The total eclipse would only last 2 minutes 20 seconds or so. It would be better to spend that short time experiencing the event rather than focusing on your camera then looking at it through a lens. Many of my campground neighbors were taking the professional photography approach with big telescopes and nice cameras made for taking these kind of pictures. I could not help it, I had to take a couple of pictures, but I decided to limit it to just that. I used my phone with a sheet of “opaque” Mylar to attenuate the sunlight. It is the same stuff I use on the top edge of my motorcycle helmet face shield, so it seemed like it would work for this application. It did, but one one picture I took before the eclipse began was enough for me.
I had to try. It does look kind of cool though.
One effect I had hoped to see during the eclipse was the shadow of the moon racing toward me just before the total eclipse started. The shadow was moving at 1600 mph or so, so you needed to get a view of a large area in order to hope to see it. Those who have seen it describe it as and awesome and even frightening effect to behold. In order to see it I needed to find a high vantage point where I could get a good view. Fortunately one was nearby.
The view of the “campground” from the hill were I watched the eclipse.
I was not the only one hoping to see the shadow of the moon approaching. I made a few new friends at the top of the hill, and it turns out we were all there hoping to see the shadow of the moon too.
Rachael, Randy and Greg came from the UK and Northern California to watch the eclipse.
As we waited for the eclipse, a party raged on at the cafe below sending live music our way as a soundtrack to the event.
The was the view we had in the direction that the shadow of the moon would be coming from.
In the last few minutes leading up to the total eclipse, things got really weird. The light from the sun was dimming noticeably. It was very strange to have the sun overhead on a clear day but for the day to get dark anyway. It was like the light of the sun was more like a silvery or gray moonlight effect. For my group on the hill looking for the shadow, it was a bit of a commitment. You had to be looking at the ground to see the shadow, which means we would miss the onset of the eclipse and the first diamond ring effect. But those would happen again in reverse order at the end of the eclipse, and the receding shadow of the moon is not an effect to watch for anyway.
The eclipse finally started, cheered on by the crowd at the cafe below. But none of us were able to see the shadow of the moon effect. The dimming of the sun suddenly turned into night in the middle of the day: no advancing curtain of darkness. I think we needed a view of a larger area if we wanted to see the shadow. So it was time to look up at the eclipse itself. Even after all the hype and preparation and pictures, I was still unprepared for what I saw when I looked up.
Another example of how I had to try to take a pic. Compared to the real thing, it did not capture it at all.
It is hard to describe what the eclipse looked like, but I will say that I have never seen a picture of an eclipse that captured what I saw that day. The sun was replaced by an impossibly dark disk, and the corona stretched out with arms of light about the intensity of a full moon that covered a huge part of the sky. The sky went dark and a sunset effect took place 360 degrees around the horizon. The temps dropped immediately by what seemed like 10 degrees or more: a warm August day suddenly turned into cold unnatural sunset. I thought I had become jaded about all of the amazing things that would happen during the eclipse after reading about them so much. But even after all of that, it still blew me away. I took one last pic: a video actually.
The eclipse ended with an astounding diamond ring and the re-emergence of the sun, greeted by another round of cheering from the cafe. All of the strange dim light from the sun that took place before the eclipse happened but in reverse, steadily returning to a normal day as if nothing unusual had happened. I waited a long time before I broke camp hoping to avoid traffic, but not too long, the partial eclipse was still ongoing. I encountered more traffic leaving that I did getting there, but I expected that. People trickled in all morning, but tended to leave at the same time. A little creative use of Google Maps did save me some time. The eclipse was over. It was time for what I was calling my post eclipsolyptic bike ride in Boise.
Out and About in Boise
I rented a bike from a shop just north of downtown Boise that had good access to the Boise River Greenbelt and rode south on the greenbelt as far as Eckert road and back. It was a great place to ride.
There was more to do along the river than bike.
There were beautiful homes, golf courses, parks and office buildings along the river too.
I could spend all day in a yard like that. Well, probably not actually. After looking at the bike trail I would be on my bike eventually.
The trail has many dedicated bridges that cross the river and its branches
This is like an artificial white water feature. It is calm in this pic, but it can release a lot of water too, making a challenging current to paddle into.
The trail is not all along groomed, landscaped grounds. There are wild areas like this too.
I stopped for lunch at Lucky 13 restaurant which I highly recommend. The spicy pizza was good enough that I had them wrap up the leftovers and I took it back with me, even though I did not have a good pocket to carry it in.
This part of Idaho does have a wine district, so I sampled a local vintage. I am afraid I may have been too cheap, though. New rule of thumb: when sampling local anything, don’t be stingy.
The Trip Home
The time had come to say good-bye to Idaho and head home. I really enjoyed my stay. I took a different route back, taking me through Las Vegas, where I sought out some Route 66 as an alternative route between Vegas and Los Angeles.
Huge river gorges like this were pretty amazing to see on the way back.
My last night camping at a tent site in an RV campground.
I finally checked into a hotel in my travels. Weekdays in Vegas can be a pretty good deal. And you just don’t get any Elvis statues at your normal campground.
This is the only time I have traveled Route 66 to get back from Vegas, and what do I stumble on except the iconic Roy’s Motel. It is not in business, but it is maintained as a landmark nonetheless.
The Great American eclipse had not disappointed. Total eclipses happen on the Earth somewhere about every 18 months on average, but this total eclipse ended a long dry spell decades long for the continental US. Now that I have had a taste, I want more. The eclipse in 2024 will be a destination for me for sure. While the eclipse did not result in the disastrous crowds it was predicted to do, I predict the 2024 will, now that so many people like myself know what they are all about. I will review the path of totality for that eclipse and pick another viewing location with good cycling in the area.
This is another throwback blog of a ride I took a while ago. The route was simple: to ride the entire length of “The Strand”, continue along Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) to Point Mugu State Park and camp at a Sycamore Canyon, then retrace my route back the next day.
“The Strand” is the name of the paved beach bike trail along the Pacific coast west of Los Angeles. It has been given the official name of Marvin Braude Bike Trail, but I have never heard it called that. Although if you want to look it up on Wikipedia, use the formal name. The southern end is in Torrance and the northern end is in Pacific Palisades. In many sections there are two paved trails: one for bikes and one for pedestrians. The Strand takes you past many famous places you have probably seen in movies and TV many times. It takes you under planes taking off from LAX International airport, it gets routed onto surface streets in a few sections, cuts inland around Marina Del Ray Harbor, and is in general a great touristy ride. You should not be in a hurry along The Strand. In addition to all the sights to take in there are lots of beach cruisers, children on bikes, pets on leashes, rollerbladers, etc. that can wander all over the trail. It is best to slow down for traffic and enjoy the scenery for most of the 22 miles.
I chose to ride on July 2-3 for a couple of reasons. It was easy to get time off of work around the 4th of July holiday. And I had hoped that there would be a good level of beach activity at that time, i.e. not too much, but not abandoned either.
I drove to Palos Verdes to an area where it looked like it would be safe and legal to park overnight. It turns out it was: I did not get any tickets, towing, theft, vandalism, etc. I wanted to ride The Strand from end to end, and it began with a relatively steep drop from surface streets to the trail and a cute place called Perry’s Cafe and Beach Rentals.
Perry’s Cafe was my welcome to The Strand
Perry’s set the tone for the entire Strand. There are hundreds of great places to stop and eat. You could spend days to cover The Strand if you wanted to. I planned to have lunch at one of the places that was right on the sand where I could stay in my bike clothes and sit outside.
El Segundo Beach Cafe is where I chose to stop for lunch
Even though I got a later start than I wanted, it was still too early for most beach goers and the trail was not heavily traveled. It made for smoother sailing but fewer people watching and sightseeing opportunities. There was almost no one at muscle beach, for example. The timing of Day 2 would be better for beach hubbub.
Will Rogers Beach marked the northern terminus of the trail where I got dumped unceremoniously onto Pacific Coast Highway or PCH. It was time for a complete shift in my riding attitude. There is a bike lane and room for bikes along this stretch of PCH, but there is a lot of parallel parking along the road, driveways and drivers who did not want to give me the space I needed to ride. I stuck it out, and the farther north I went along the road, the thinner traffic got. Making it through and past Malibu was a turning point, but it came at quite a price. The hills of Malibu were steep and plentiful, and my touring gear weight made them even tougher, of course.
Taking a break at Legacy Park in Malibu
I stopped at the last place available on the route to buy food so I could get something to make for dinner at the campsite later. It was a small high-end grocery where I was able to get a nice steak and a Starbucks was located in the same plaza. That is where I discovered I was not as prepared for the trip as I thought I was, financially anyway. I had lost my main credit card a few days earlier, so I brought along my gas credit card as a backup and some cash. It turned out the gas card was not a credit card at all and I could only use it at the one brand of gas station. I had no ATM access either so I made do with the cash I had, which was barely enough if I skipped a couple of luxuries I was planning on. I did have my phone and Starbucks app, however.
Stopping for a Starbucks at the last opportunity for civilization on day 1
Two Ends of the Spectrum
While at my final stop before camping, I encountered a slice of Malibu in a nutshell.
It is cool of you don’t think about the details too much
The pic may not capture it, but in person the Mercedes had a Barbie toy paint job. It was being driven by a teenage girl and the SUV was obviously hers. She may have been a child star with the means to pay for something like that herself. Or it may have been a gift from her parents. But either way, having that much stuff at that age is usually a recipe for disaster. Call me jealous if you like, but child stars and rich kids rarely grow up happy, balanced people. I hoped she was among those that appreciated what she had. I appreciated my less flashy vehicle and continued north.
Ethan and Bella (Ethan is the human), my hike or bike campsite buds
I rolled into Sycamore campground and set up camp in the “Hike or Bike” area. Many California State Parks designate a few small campsites as Hike or Bike sites. They are cheap and can only be used for one night for hikers or bikers passing through. The only other camper in the sites was Ethan, who was hiking the coast. We spent a long time talking. I would not be surprised to see a documentary about him on TV someday. He had great stories to tell and was living a minimalist lifestyle that allowed him to explore the world. He had recently been interviewed by a group that was making a film about something else, but they took a detour from their activities to talk to Ethan.
I won’t say that I thought about eating too much on this trip, but I did think about it a lot and I decided to go fancy. I was happy with the results. Sorry if you are a vegetarian.
I was really roughing it on this trip
Bringing It Home
The return trip wasn’t unremarkable, but it was the trip from the day before in reverse. Even though I was on the ocean side of PCH, I wanted to focus on getting back so I did not stop to take any pictures. It is amazing to me how different a ride looks when you go back the way you came. More so on a bike than when driving a car. Perhaps because you see so much more on a bike, seeing it from a different angle makes a bigger difference and makes everything new again.
The time had come to once again follow a stage of the Tour of California on my motorcycle. I have done this once before: Stage 6 of the 2010 Tour, following the tour from Palmdale to Big Bear CA. I will put up a retro blog about that soon.
When I say “follow”, I don’t mean that I would be riding along just behind the race, and I am certainly not a motorcycle support rider. I mean that I go for a ride parallel to the route and meet up with it during my ride. This time the stage started in Mountain High ski area in Wrightwood CA and wound its way over the San Gabriel mountains into Pasadena. The route would allow me to ride the serpentine Angeles Crest Highway between the start and finish, giving me getting a chance to wring out my new moto steed: a 2016 BMW S1000XR.
I got an early start taking the not so direct Ortega Highway to get to the start line, which means I was leaning the XR over as the sun was coming up. There is so much that has been written about the BMW S1000 series motorcycles that it is hard to add more to it. My own experience is that the performance levels of a bike like this, while far beyond my own skills, are still great fun. Modern electronics protect riders like me who are not experienced with this much power. Why bother with a 600cc sportbike anymore?
Sunrise on Ortega Highway
My route took me up the I-15 freeway using a route I had created using my favorite “ridwithgps” website and uploaded onto the BMW Navigator V GPS. I wasn’t planing to get a GPS for the bike, but BMWs Navigators are so integrated into the bike it would be a shame not to get one. BMW introduced the Navigator VI not long ago, so Nav Vs can be had for a good deal. I struggled a bit with the Navigator on my loop route, but I of expected a small learning curve. I later sorted out all of my issues by Googling and emailing Garmin, who were very helpful, BTW. I am all set for my next long ride.
The reason I bring this up is that I stumbled on a very nice new extension to Route 66 through the Cajon Pass. It means you can swap a big unfriendly bit of freeway for a scenic, relaxed stretch of road. I will leave you to fill in the details using your favorite map site, but you can ride between Duncan Canyon Road and Cajon/Cleghorn Road off the freeway via a nice alternate route. It ended with a short leg of the 15 freeway and I was off again at the Highway 138 exit, which is always a good place to take a break if you are riding through the area. There is no Starbucks there, but that fits in with the rugged terrain. Make due with some McDonald’s coffee and embrace the setting.
Different strokes: A Kawasaki, a BMW and a Harley, all as police bikes. All looking pretty good, too and resting at the Highway 138 exit.
I like taking Lone Pine Canyon Road into Wrightwood. It is shorter but much more rugged than the main highway. I think a lot of GPS units guide people down that road who would be better off on the main highway, meaning some drivers are timid and slow on the rough narrow road. But the XRs huge supply of torque and long travel made quick work of slower vehicles. Wrightwood was as quaint as ever and the weather was perfect: clear, cool, and pine scented.
Arriving a little on the early side, I was able to look around and watch some of the team buses arrive. When you are watching race coverage on TV all the teams look like they have similar budgets. They all have the best bikes, custom riding gear, etc. But when you look at the team cars and buses, you see that their levels of sponsorship probably vary dramatically.
The teams started to arrive at the start area at Mountain High. Some had a pretty big presence.
Some were downright imposing, featuring luxury cars as support vehicles
Some got by on a little less
And some were even more basic.
The amount of support was amazing, including the sheer number of motorcycles involved. There were as many support bikes as there were police bikes.
I talked to a few of the support riders, meaning the motorcyclists who ride close support of the race, weaving their way among the racers. Most of them are current or former law enforcement riders who get loads of motorcycle skill training and would be well qualified for something like this. As for me, I was happy paralleling the event, riding at speeds that are more fun, and saving my clutch from riding at bicycle speeds. Although the cyclists do maintain a pretty impressive pace, and in some downhill situations they are actually faster than the motorcycles.
Somehow I was not worried about anything happening to my bike while I was parked here.
The announcers color commentary was really good. They are not the same as the TV team. I listened in to them for quite a while as they covered the team sign in process.
The start line, ready to go.
I decided not to watch at the start line, but rather watch from a short distance down the road. It is hard to explain, but that way I would be able to leave immediately after the Tour went by and not have to wait for the road to open again. Law enforcement officials close the roads down well before the ride gets there and even for a while after it has passed through.
And they’re off!
They disappeared up another rode to Pasadena while I took Highway 2
After parting ways with the race temporarily I focused on the endless series of apexes that is Highway 2. It was my first serious session on a super sport bike. My previous bikes were all in the dual sport category and had dirt bike handling traits. You can counter lean bikes like that (i.e. lean the opposite way of the bike in a corner, or keep your body upright as the bike leans in) up to moderate speeds and they will corner well. The XR can be counter leaned, of course, but it demands that you lean into corners (i.e. lean the same way as the bike) nearly all the time. It must be a combination of wheelbase, steering geometry, tires, who knows? Shift my weight side to side in corners was fun and rewarding. It is the beginning of the technique that leads to knee dragging, something I have no particular aspiration to do. Even if I did I would require a track to learn it well.
Eventually I dropped down from the mountain and into Pasadena like the racers would do behind me in an hour or two.
An impressive big screen to watch the Tour on as you waited in in Pasadena
The finish line was a huge festival atmosphere as I had hoped. The road was already lined with spectators waiting for the peloton to arrive. I grabbed some lunch (Doh! No pic!) and checked in at many of the booths.
I was not keeping track of the ride enough to know what was going on. But that was OK, I went home and watched the race coverage of the stage on the DVR. So I was OK with a second row seat at the final run in to the finish line.
The finish line, looking a lot like the start line.
And the end of the Tour of California, 2017, with the jersey winners leaving the podium after the final presentation.
The final leg of the ride from Pasadena to home was the hardest, and I knew it would be. It was hot, the traffic was terrible and much of it was stop and go surface streets getting out of Pasadena. But that is how trips out and back usually are. The trip out is full of energy, discovery and getting away. The last leg is done when you are tired and you are familiar with the route. But it is a small price to pay for such a great experience.