Bike Tour Pacific Coast Highway California: Pedal til you Puke

Summer 2014

After another season chasing birds along the Lower Colorado River, my best friend, Keith, and I set wheels to road for a journey down the stunning Pacific Coast Highway in California. We were lightly loaded with rear saddlebags, hulk-esque legs, Butt Butter (the best anti-chafing cream ever), and two road bicycles lovingly named LEGO & LENI after two desert birds, the Lesser Goldfinch and the Lesser Nighthawk.

Excerpts from the trail journal:

Day 1:  Eureka, CA to Burlington Campground.

And we’re off, migrating the noisy, smoggy 101 S Highway out of town.  Eventually, the massive redwoods greet our desert eyes, and we cycle in awe through the Avenue of the Giants.

Day 2: to Standish-Hickey State Park.

The redwoods dwindled and we were spat back onto the highway, which lacked shoulders most of the day.  My strategy involved focusing on riding the white line and not falling as RVs and 18-wheelers raced by.

Day 3: to MaccRicher State Park.

The infamous Legget Hill (4 miles at 7% grade) only made me puke once.  Success.  We rode through the last of the redwoods and descnded towards to ocean, after some brief breaks to search for banana slugs.  Our journey with the ocean cozily sidekicked on the right began. After a hilarious fall while remaining clipped in, blood was cleaned, and our burning legs pulled us into Fort Bragg. North Shore brewery’s beer and pizza made all right in the world.

Day 4: to Van Damme State Park.

A short, sweet, misty ride through Mendicino, a quaint beachside town. Scored us Indian food, wine, and coconut cheese for camp dinner.

Day 5: to Manchester KOA.

Serenaded by a Winter Wren in the morning while enjoying cinnamon roll oatmeal. The headwinds continued to brutally push us into almost standstills. A brief stop in Elk for the best damn sandwich ever while perched over the rocky coastline. The bike and I become one through the lonely countryside. I was briefly humiliated as the steepest hill of the coast spit me off LENI and made me walk

A lovely evening at the KOA putting their laundry machine and hot tub to good use. Most of my laundering consisted of showering with my dirty clothes and then hanging them on my rear rack to dry as I biked.

Day 6: to Bodega Dunes State Park.

My favorite day, maybe ever.  About twenty miles in, the sun broke free, and route 1 turned into an out of body experience. Exhilarating roller coaster hills twirled themselves around the sparkling Pacific Ocean.  Screams of utter bliss left my gasping lips. At a point, it looked as if the next turn would fling me off the golden cliffs into the rocky ocean, past unfazed grazing cattle. Jaw dropping beauty stretched from pastoral pastures to crumbling cliff edges to spiraling tidal pools decorating the union of rock and ocean. My smiles could only be erased occasionally by the drool and snot inducing ascents.

Day 7: to Samuel Taylor State Park.

Despite the day of rugged roads inland beneath the scorching sun, sometimes the ways of the road provide golden nuggets. While stopped in a one-street wonder called Tomales, we connected with a stranger named Mark, who had his own television show about he and his brothers knife making business. He sent us off with parting gifts, and we merrily road into Point Reyes. Go to the Cowgirl Creamery and be prepared to accidentally eat an entire wedge of cheese. Weighed down by inordinate amounts of dairy, we pedaled into our raccoon ridden campsite for the night.

Day 8: to San Francisco.

My least favorite day, maybe ever. After starting the day with a mouthtastic macaroon, the day headed downhill, but not in a fun, bike way.  A delirious, insanely windy, tourist-filled ride over the Golden Gate Bridge. Five and a half miles to our friend’s place in the Mission and two shit your pants city riding hours later, we arrived. The night turned around with martinis at Blondie’s, a hip-hop bar with boombox covered walls, and of course, ITS ITS (the best ice cream sandwich).

Day 9: to Half Moon Bay

Caffeinated properly by Philz “so good” mint topped coffee, we navigated through the buzzy, hilly city back to the coast. I had read somewhere that the Planet of the Apes trail was a long “secret” bypass around busy route 1.  Ahem, it is if you are on a mountain bike, not a loaded road bike. Almost halfway in and fighting a few hours of daylight left, our road bikes whinnied and refused to go on. We turned back and white-knuckled ourselves through rush hour traffic on shoulder less roads. The last ten miles were a relaxing cruise through Mavericks into Half Moon Bay.

Day 10:  to Santa Cruz. Yee ha!

The first day of a true tail wind, like the gentle push of a kind spirit. LENI leaped forth like a horse galloping back to the stable after a long day’s work.  Small, rolling hills pulled us past beachy scenes full of kite surfers. I sang in anticipation of reaching one of my favorite places in the world.

Davenport’s jam shack off the highway stopped us. An honor-based pay system and delicious pie ‘n’ jam. We rested our weary bike bones, ate jam, and grabbed a pie for our friend, Meeper.  Down West Cliff with the hoards of Labor Day weekend crowds, and sweet reunion.

Day 11-Day 13: Santa Cruz.

A proper rest with wonderful friends full of everything good in life.

Day 14: to Monterey.

A dull, headwindy day through strawberry ag fields. A night spent at a veteran’s park full of drunken men mumbling to themselves. We locked the bikes to the tent and slept fitfully.

Day 15: to Big Sur.

Pure eye candy. Deep emerald waters danced among the rocky islands.  Folks cruising in convertibles leap frogged us at every stop. We set up camp, unloaded the bikes, and wheeled ourselves to Maiden Pulik House. Their burgers are to die bike fifty miles for.

Day 16: to Plaskett Campground.

A glorious day waking up beneath the redwoods among juncos, jays, and chickadees. The sun unfurled from the fog, and the ocean’s splendor kept surprising me as I struggled to remain in the tiny shoulder.

Arriving early to camp, we abandoned gear and strolled along a stunning coved beach. We found the mystical jade beach and delighted in all the treasures found. Four gray whales spouted as we departed the fairy tale beach.

Back at camp, Chris, a forever-smiling soul, shared his coffee and stories as we devoured mac ‘n’ cheese. Another bike tourer pulled up and had been biking for days without a pedal, using a painful bolt in place, yikes!

Day 17: to Morro Bay.

A special day. We departed right into the hills and were quickly surrounded by bikers. A charity ride was taking place called the Best Buddy challenge, supporting the mentally disabled. We soared past some with loaded bikes and urged those struggling. And, many racers bolted past us.  Riding with hundreds of others was inspiring. People cheered and cowbells sounded.  Energy buzzed down the route 1 on that sunny Saturday. We took a rest at Hearst Castle listening to the announcer call riders through the finish line.

Thirty more miles of gentle coastal hills and a tailwind. Elephant seals lazily lined the beaches. A few miles later, a herd of zebras grazed in the fields.  We weren’t doing hallucinogenic drugs. Hearst Castle has its own personal safari.

Day 18: to Pismo Beach.

LENI had enough miles that a new chain was needed. San Louis Obispo provided the repairs and pumpkin lattes. We split a strict campground with our forever-smiling friend.

Day 19: to Refugio Beach.

An epic day of eighty miles. A huge farewell breakfast of huckleberry pancakes with Chris. We powered through the golden hills nearing Santa Barbara, and rolled deliriously into the stellar beach camping after the sun had bid the day farewell.

Day 20: to Oxnard.

Through the crumbling beach bike path, we biked into Santa Barbara.  The Farmer’s Market had just started, and I gleefully visited the date stand I once worked. With a bike newly loaded with pecan butter and medjoul dates, we continued on to the first non-camp night of the journey. Soap and shower and beds, oh my!

Day 21: to Leo Carrillo Campground.

Mellow roads and gentle tail winds take us to our last night camping. Keith got his first flat after a jaunt over to the tide pools. It’s been beautiful beyond words: in visual beauty and the sappy part located near that gosh darn heart organ.

Day 22: to Redondo Beach in Los Angeles.

Riding through Malibu was reminiscent of a bad video game. It was trash day so I focused on dodging crookedly placed bins and getting clipped by cars. The video game continued as we were spat onto the multi-use path going through the beach. Venice Beach hosted neon-clad roller-bladers and I questioned if I had fallen into the Cruis’n USA 90s video game.

An anticlimactic finale as we sweatily pulled into the hotel where my sister was staying for the weekend. She loaded us up with celebratory Philly pretzels and beer. Bittersweet victory! At that moment, I already missed the tour; the thrill of travel, the burning leg muscles, the randomness, the quest for food, camping, token showers, air drying sink laundry on the back of my bike, and the simplicity of life while bicycle touring.

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