Since I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on October 18, I have been able to experience an amazing mix of Californian cities and towns, great hospitality, a stunning and diverse coast line, and some of the best weather on this entire trip. After an almost two week break in the Bay Area, visiting my second cousin and meeting friends, I resumed my bike ride leaving downtown San Francisco on November 2.
I crossed the coastal mountains and continued my journey along the Pacific just south of Santa Cruz. When I arrived at New Brighton State Beach, I met Julia and Thorsten, a German biker couple, and Gonzalo, a Mexican cyclist. We had dinner together and chatted until long after sunset. It was fun to be surrounded by cyclists again, especially after riding alone all day and the early sunset. The recent shift to daylight savings time (why the heck do we still do that?) makes the night pretty much start at 5pm and end at 6:30am. That is a long time you don’t want to spend in your tent only.
On the next morning Julia, Thorsten and I teamed up and headed to Monterrey, a nice little town which once used to be the capital of Alta California back in the days when California was still part of Mexico. It was an easy ride through vast vegetable and fruit plantations, and some nice beaches. We called it a day at a biker campsite at the Veterans’ Memorial State Park, which accommodated more than a dozen people that night.
One of the highlights of this trip came up the following day: Riding along Big Sur, the longest and most scenic stretch of undeveloped coastline in the continental U.S. The region of Big Sur is not specifically defined but is generally considered to include a 120 km segment of the California Highway 1 from just south of Monterrey down to San Simeon. The interior region is uninhabited, while the rugged coast remains relatively isolated and sparsely populated with only about 1,000 year-round residents. The original Spanish name for Big Sur was “el país grande del sur” meaning, “the big country of the south.” Later on, it was anglicized to Big Sur.
For one and a half days, I followed an absolutely gorgeous road with lots of tiring ups and downs, yet it was well worth the effort. The views of the ocean from a few hundred meters above sea level were amazing. On an extremely winding road along a rugged coast like this one, your mind constantly processes changing impressions because you never know what’s behind the next corner. What makes it even more fascinating are the light conditions frequently changed by clouds or mist that are pushed up from the ocean. Having experienced the beauty of this coastline myself, I can say that I completely agree when the New York Times described Big Sur as “one of the most stunning meetings of land and sea in the world.”
When you approach San Simeon, the coastal landscape gradually flattens into a stretch of relaxing beaches. One great encounter along that road was a huge colony of elephant seals. Some of them were wallowing in ponds making funny noises and others were just taking a nap under the hot sun (see pictures). At that point, even though I still had another 400 km to go before reaching LA, it was becoming apparent to me that I was about to enter Southern California.
I passed through interesting little towns which couldn’t be any more different from each other. Cayucos, for example, has everything you want in a mellow beach town. While the vibe appears relaxed, you find serious waves and a hip selection of restaurants and cafes. And then somewhere else you come across equally fascinating places such as Los Alamos, a small town with an Old West Heritage in an arid valley surrounded by ranches, farms and vineyards. Towns such as Los Alamos often have a hard time competing with funky beach locations, which is easily noticeable when you see an unusually high number of houses being advertised for sale. I always enjoy taking a coffee or snack break in both types of those towns to get a taste of the places’ character though.
After my lunch in Los Alamos, a hot and long ride along Highway 101 across the Santa Ynez Mountains followed. I eventually hit the coast again and continued to Santa Barbara on the next day. This region’s climate is often described as Mediterranean, and the city has been promoted as the “American Riviera” or “Riviera of the West”, which after having visited it myself makes total sense. In the downtown area, Mediterranean-style white stucco buildings with red-tile roofs reflect the city’s Spanish colonial heritage. Of course, it doesn’t lack upscale boutiques and restaurants offering local wines and seasonal fare. I was happy that today’s leg was a mere 60 km. I had plenty of time to chill in a cosy downtown cafe observing people passing by. They range from millionaires carrying their pedicured poodles to UPS delivery men sharing their hip hop beats with the pedestrians, which is certainly a scene that makes you grin. 🙂
In the afternoon of November 8, I arrived at Carpinteria State Park, the last campground before hitting LA. Some familiar faces showed up again: Ludo from France, and Emmett and Brent from Washington, whom I had met a few times before. It was US election night, and you can imagine that we had lots of discussions and kept on impatiently checking various live tickers. The wildest scenarios were discussed, and my American friends’ disappointment was obvious in the end. I left in the early morning and the first person I came across was a homeless man. He asked me: “Is it true that Trump won?” — I confirmed and he shouted the loudest F-word I ever heard. Expectedly, the result of the election was the main topic in the whole of America. In fact, the homeless man was not the only person on that day who expressed his view on the election. An elderly lady at a gas station wore a huge smile and even asked me whether I voted. 🙂 She was obviously very happy with the results. Well, that’s democracy no matter what objections you have against America’s unique election system, its never ending campaign trail or the poor turnout of voters. Now it’s Mister Trump’s turn, and we will see how it goes.
I headed to Santa Clarita, a suburban town in the north of LA county, where I was going to stay at my friend Darlene’s aunt’s house for a few days. On my ride there, I passed hundreds of huge RVs lined up at the coast and a small town named Dulah where I watched the surfers jumping on waves for a while. In Ventura, I headed inland slowly getting roasted on Highway 126 as the thermometer reached 36 deg C. All of my sweat evaporated immediately, so I was slowly getting dehydrated without me noticing it until my throat started to itch. That’s how dry it was. Luckily, I found plenty of gas stations along the way to refill my bottles. I had a great time taking some time off. Aunt Fay and her husband Richard took great care of me. It was nice to have a roof over my head. Camping often leaves you very exposed to weather which includes early sunsets even though I love my inflatable mattress and sleeping bag. So an occasional change makes makes it enjoyable all the more.
On November 21, I left Santa Clarita and went back to the coast passing through Malibu Beach and cruising over to Santa Monica. I had absolutely no intention to cross Los Angeles. The metropolitan area which has a population of more than 18 million is the second biggest in the U.S. after New York and definitely not a playground for a cyclist. In and around LA places to camp are rare, so in order to avoid a 170 km ride I stopped in Santa Monica, where I booked a bed in a hostel which even had a dedicated bicycle room. Knowing my bike is safe allowed me to stroll around in the nearby pedestrian shopping area at night. Santa Monica is indeed a posh place, and I happened to find a great Asian fusion restaurant where I got my spicy food fix for a while.
After a solid breakfast in the morning, I started a 115 km ride of which 80% was along all the famous beaches that I previously only knew from TV series, friends’ stories or advertising: Venice Beach, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Long Beach, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, and Laguna Beach. Each of them has its own character. Some are just plain wide stretches of sand, some are full of people exercising, playing beach volleyball or strolling around and others are very posh lined with villas and million dollar views. Unfortunately, you can’t ignore the fact that large sections are also home to the many homeless people who rather hang out in California than, let’s say, in cold Montana. Eventually, I arrived at Dana Point, where by chance I met Ludo again, who shared one of his beers with me. 🙂
On the following day, the weather remained perfect. It was only an easy 70 km ride to San Elijo State Park, the last campground before San Diego. Supermarkets and shops were packed with people running their last minute Thanksgiving errands. Besides Christmas, Thanksgiving is the second most important family gathering in the U.S. I hung out again with Ludo and Jackson, a British biker, who joined us the night before as well. Our ways parted in the morning since we all had different destinations within San Diego County.
My friend Doug, whom I had met In Alaska, invited me to stay at his place for Thanksgiving, so on November 24, I was on my way to Ramona, a little town about 30 km away from the coast. It was a long climb up the hill, but I did enjoy the arid scenery following some really nice bike trails. At night, I joined Doug, his brother and sister in law for a traditional turkey dinner. Thanks a lot again. 🙂
I left Ramona two days later, arrived in downtown San Diego, and checked into a hostel where I met Janosch, a fellow German, with whom I will cross the border to Mexico. I am excited to start the next chapter of this trip: Visiting Mexico for the first time in my life and riding down the Baja California.
My time in Canada had spoilt me because there was hardly any traffic and in some places I felt as if I was the only person around. I had some mixed feelings when I first crossed the U.S. border and quickly faced an increase in traffic but all those warnings people had given me didn’t materialize: I never felt unsafe on any of the roads, neither on freeways or on hectic city roads nor on any narrow coastal routes. The U.S. Pacific Coast, especially Highway 1 in California as well as the interior sections of Washington and Oregon are fantastic regions for bicycle touring which I can strongly recommend to anybody who intends to go on a bike tour in North America.
I had an amazing time in the U.S. which was not only about all the beautiful places I biked through but also about many amazing people I met on the way: Other bikers, strangers on the road, and of course my American friends whose hospitality always made it difficult to move on. Thank you America, and see you again one day 🙂
For those who are keen, I have collected a few random facts:
- Time on the road: 23 weeks
- Distance traveled: 8,480 km
- Vertical climbs: approx. 78,000 m
- Coldest Day: September 23 – Chemult, OR – 0 degC when I left in the morning.
- Hottest Day: November 9 – Fillmore, CA – 36 deg C at noon.
- Total number of flat tires: 8…. Five since I left Vancouver with my new Schwalbe Marathon Mondials – Honestly, I expected a better performance in terms of puncture resistance, but I was just a bit unlucky when I compare my situation with other bikers who have ridden the exact same tires for more than 4000 km without any flats at all.
- Gear: I left some cold weather gear in LA since I will not face any cold weather until I get to Peru which won’t happen before August 2017. I will definitely enjoy the slightly reduced weight but I will also have to carry more water in parts of Mexico instead.