I have just finished preparing an illustrated account of my adventure riding from Vancouver to Mexico. It’s a fascinating story (well, I think so!), and I will be taking it to a couple of local groups in the near future.
If you are a member of one such group, or know of similar groups, that like to invite speakers to their meetings, I am happy to entertain locations around West Cambridgeshire, East Northamptonshire and North Bedfordshire.
The story will be of interest to both cyclists and non-cyclists alike. It is principally the story of a journey, with only passing references to riding a bike.
Contact me via a ‘Comment’ on this blog…… (look for the ‘Leave a comment’ icon at the bottom of each post.)
My addiction to coffee on this trip has become a reality. I only realised it when I had to cross a ‘coffee desert’ this morning and do 25 miles before my first dose of caffeine. Maybe I should carry a syringe and begin the day with an intravenous…. When I got to my first stop, all my devices went on recharge because the last campground had had no plug-ins. I now have a USB multiple device charger, which means they can all be charged simultaneously on the one plug-in. Oh yes, I’ve thought long and hard about dynamo hubs and mini-solar rechargers…..but just think of those extra grams of dead weight…. life’s too short…
I was passed by several pelotons of cyclists….or should I say, I let them pass me… One was in a race with motorcycle escorts, the second was a big group of charity riders all sporting the same shirts, and they too had a couple of support vehicles.
The third was a local club, including a tandem, and when I caught up with them as they regrouped by the roadside, we had 10 minutes of the usual cycling banter, when one of them asked: “So, tell us about your journey. You’re travelling light but I can see you have a tent”.
The scenario for replaying an old joke on a new audience was being laid and was too tempting. “Oh, from Vancouver to Mexico” I replied. “Whoa, that’s a long way” he said.”Is it?” I said “I wish someone had told me before I started.” Thinking I had had the last word on that one, he added spontaneously: “Well, I could have, but you never asked”. Boom, boom..I said to myself, as he raised his hand in a high five.
The campground tonight is the Veteran’s Memorial Park, at the top of a 400ft climb in Monterey, and at 10pm precisely, the last post was played, to be heard across the whole town and, as ever, it was a plaintiff and moving piece of music.
I picked up a much needed coffee at a Mexican Taquería, and I’m now finding myself surrounded more by Hispanics than whites, who come to these parts to work the strawberry harvest….amongst many other back-breaking jobs…
I asked to taste the strawberries, and because I asked them using what they regard as quaint old world Spanish (ie. as spoken in Spain), they smiled and proffered me one of their boxes.
I was waylaid mid-ride by Pigeon Point, a famous lighthouse in these parts, built to reduce the number of shipwrecks (after one of which the lighthouse is named), and the landing area is associated with contraband and shoot-outs. It is now an International Hostel, whose commitment to those age-old values is now, sadly, being overwhelmed by the brutality of global politics
…talking of which, I met some cyclists a couple of days north who live in Santa Cruz, and he said: “Watch your bike, it’s the bike-thieving capital of the world”. I made light of his advice by saying: “No problem, my bike is English, and it’ll only go on the left”. And he replied: “We could all do with going on the left in this nation of ours”……..hmm, interesting response.
Oh well, let’s get back to some of the uncontentious things in life, like Halloween
I mean who would argue with the glorification of scary images, suggestions of ghoulish violence, and even death in all its macabre glory?
Pass me the candy please…..
Talking of things ghoulish, is this the shadow of my former self….?
It was Saturday, and there was a constant stream of cyclists coming over the Golden Gate Bridge,
seeking open countryside, and a release from city life. I appeared to be one of the few going in the opposite direction, and because of the constant traffic, pedestrians were restricted to the east crossing, and cyclists to the west.
The Golden Gate Bridge is the iconic symbol of San Francisco …called Golden Gate, not because of its colour (which is red, like my kit), but because of the name given to the bay, which pre-dates the goldrush of 1849. When the settlement was established by the Spanish, it was originally called Yerba Buena, but changed to San Francisco when it passed to the Americans.
It’s fame doesn’t rest on it being the biggest and best suspension bridge in the world, but it certainly was the first of its size, and built during the period of austerity after the Wall Street crash in 1929. For its period, it was a hugely ambitious example of engineering.
It was a special experience being able to cycle across it, gazing out to Alcatraz on one side, and out over the open sea on the other. If you’ve never done it, put it on your bucket list, and don your cycling kit.
Rather than go into the heart of the city, I steered a course around the western fringes, passing landmarks like the Legion of Honour, Lands End Lookout, and Cliff House, and as I gazed across the beach, a large crowd of people had gathered
….now this can only happen in San Francisco….for a contest of Corgi dogs…..you’ve got to be kidding, I hear you say.
I stood on the very spot where the first uninterrupted east-west highway finished, the Lincoln highway, well over 3000 miles long
…..and then I headed out along a traffic congested Highway 1 along the coast, past several surfing beaches …..(get those Beach Boy vinyls on the turntable)…
to finish for the night at Half Moon Bay, where my tent is pitched just 50 metres from the crashing waves…..a sound I find wonderfully soothing, especially in the small hours.
I woke up this morning to a cold clammy fog, and the tent was soaked with dew, so the first thing to do was hang everything to dry
while I headed over the street for breakfast at the local bakery….
a chocolate ‘devil’ she told me….that’ll get ya goin’….
The rest of the day was characterized by two things: a major change in the temperature in a two hour period, and a noticeable change in flora and fauna. For nearly 1000 miles until now, I have been wearing cold weather gear, now suddenly I am seeing bougainvillea…
dead skunks on the road….
and thunderously loud birdsong that I could hear 500 metres away…..
And secondly, the 1.5 hour slow climb over Mt Tamalpais, reaching 2500 feet, and the hair-raising descent without the benefit of any safety barriers…..it was a bit scary, especially when impatient drivers were intent on overtaking on a very twisty road.
But going through my head like a beating mantra were the following thoughts: ‘Ascend with hope, descend with caution, and live to climb another day’.
As I descended rapidly towards the Golden Gate Bridge, I decided to leave crossing it till tomorrow, so I could do it full justice. The light was fading fast, and I had nowhere to stay….and campgrounds were noticeable by their absence. So I checked into the first roadside motel I passed, and discovered that $166 for a room is a good deal in these parts…..or the equivalent of 33 nights in $5 hiker/biker sites…..hey ho……
The last two days have been a WiFi desert. Even though the coast of North California is remote and untamed, I am constantly surprised how difficult it is to find a WiFi connection….after all, this is the wild west of the silicon valley.
I find my connection in a happy hour bar in Tomales, just 50 miles north of San Fransisco, where I have discreetly pitched my tent in their little park, right next to its bathrooms. I did this at the suggestion of a local lady called Fran….so if (in the unlikely event) I am challenged, I just mention her name. The town is small, about 200 inhabitants, and has all the hallmarks of a town you might see in a cowboy movie. I’ll be waiting for the shoot-out when all the rednecks have had a gutfull of beer. In the meantime, I will enjoy my happy hour platter and a Bud.
The day’s ride included huge climbs over cattle moorland, up to 600 feet, and several cattle grids. I got to Bodega Bay and my cable lock fell from its mooring on my saddlebag….and the damn thing caused me a backtrack of nearly 8 miles to retrieve it. That’s the second time it has happened…..grrr.
So, with a fair wind and a bit more downhill than uphill, I will continue following the coast tomorrow….
until I cross the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco…..of course, wearing flowers in my hair….
I kid you not….with a population of only 195, they could hardly drum up a substitute team for either United or City…but I actually finished my day in Manchester California, stayed at a KOA site, and for the all-inclusive price of $10, I had use of a heated pool and the most perfect hot tub of my life…..it got to those parts that I demur from describing in detail. When you are biking through these parts, you qualify for specially discounted rates, which are often as low as $5….and they are called hiker/biker sites. It’s an acknowledgement of the importance placed on environmental modes of transport, and a huge financial incentive for people to simply get on their bikes….and go. I think they are great places….
Animation of route:https://www.relive.cc/view/u3192464494
Today was filled with climbing and descending to cross river estuaries, and each one presented astonishing scenes of this rugged coastline. The sun makes the waters of the Pacific sparkle. The surface is a bright sheen that twinkles like the stars, and look at it long enough and your eyes will struggle with the brightness….I’ve never seen this before with any other sea or ocean.
Our mobile community of bikers is now down to two, me and Kurt, whom I met again on the route some 7 days ago. So we have the whole of the hiker/biker site to ourselves….for now anyway.
The Leggett Hill is the most feared climb on the entire Pacific Coast route, but why remains a mystery to me. Let me explain.
Although the total elevation is just under 2000ft, today’s route actually begins at about 850ft, meaning there is a further 1000ft to climb. Unlike many ascents in these parts, especially on highways, the near entirety of the climb does not appear as a straight road disappearing into the distance, making it fearsome in the extreme. No, Leggett Hill is on a narrow alpine type road that weaves its way up and around the mountain, with bends and curves, each one promising a conclusion, but seldom delivering, but at least tendering hope to the beleaguered climber. That’s the kind of climbing I like, always ascending with a spirit of hope.
The ascent was 4 miles long, but the descent (including a couple of plateaus) was a staggering 14 miles, and after a further taxing climb, eventually delivered me to the coast, where I asked a gentleman if there was a food store nearby. He didn’t know, but insisted on giving me a few energy bars and a bottle of iced water. I told him he was my good Samaritan….he thanked me for the compliment.
The remainder of the ride hugged the coast, eventually delivering me to the campground. But before signing off, let me introduce you to Rick, a real estate agent from Florida, who is doing the same route as me, but will stop by to visit his daughter for a few days in San Francisco.
But I perceive now that our consistent little mobile community is breaking up bit by bit, with people filtering off for a variety of reasons…..but they will be replaced soon by new faces.
I was pulled over by a traffic cop today, as I descended a narrow stretch of road with only a 12 inch shoulder and a vertical drop to the side.
“You need to ride the shoulder”, he said. “You were holding up a line of 35 cars, and one of them was nearly rear-ended”. I asked him a series of questions about my personal safety and my rights as a vehicle on the road, but decided not to question how he knew about the 35 cars and the near collision behind him….maybe traffic cops benefit from an omniscience denied to the rest of us. He was obviously unsettled for a moment by my questions, but being a cop and a man of the law, he wasn’t about to admit to any weakness in his argument: ‘You still gotta ride the shoulder”. So I thanked him and cycled off.
Describing this little scene to two of my American cycling companions, they reassured me I was absolutely in the right, and the young guy was out of order. Probably shooting for some monthly target, they suggested. Forget it, it happens all the time.
Other excitement during the day’s ride included this arresting glimpse of early sun rays through the redwoods
and this huge specimen which was characteristic of hundreds in the forest
And adding to the portrait gallery, Erin and Nate, both Americans, met on this ride, and have taken ‘a shine’ to each other….a bespoke partnership, you might say…
After a wet night, the new day dawned bright and warm. It was good to feel warmth back in the bones. But sadly, access to a heated pool and jacuzzi at the campground didn’t quite fit the schedule, so headed down the road in search of coffee, which I found in Archimedes’s birthplace…
Just down the road there was yet another warning I might get swept away by a tidal flood…
but my nerves were calmed when I saw a Democrat registration stall at Fortuna’s apple harvest festival, to know there are some normal decent people in the hereabouts…
And I was about to be engulfed by a 40km long Avenue of the Giants, a stunning immersion into the giant redwoods, towering over 300ft above me, some of them over 1500 years old
…….but not only that, tonight’s campground is tucked away amongst the same majestic redwoods, with trees towering above our minute tents….which also means we are in for another cold night. Let’s see, who’s building a fire tonight?
After 100km in the saddle and three major climbs, it was a relief to get to Elk Prairie campground, named because of the roaming elk in the surrounds. The day had been sunny and cold, and as dusk settled in, it was obvious we were in for a cold night….the result, I was told, of being in the heart of temperate rainforest.
Some of our road buddies had brought food to cook in the fire pit, so it was a welcome relief to gather around it to chat away the hours, and then to make a dash to sleeping bags to trap some of the body warmth. It was so cold in the night that I wore layers of clothing inside my light down bag, but I could still feel the chill.
In the morning, we all descended on the first cafe 6 miles down the road, stoked up with breakfast and lashings of hot coffee, before heading on to our various destinations. But let me introduce you to a few new road buddies outside the café…..
Jarney and Ali are both from Canada, and had landed themselves with their first house-sitting commitment for a lady with two cats in San Francisco. And guess what? They decided to ride the 1200 miles from Canada to get there….what greater motivation could there be?
Ocean (his chosen spirit name) has an annual commitment to attend a writers’ weekend in Esalen in Big Sur every October, so he generally rides the 800 miles to get there. Again, what better reason do you need? Check out his website: https://vintagebicycleodyssey.com/2018/10/05/a-chill-wind-blows/
Another guy, Nate, from Minnesota, began his journey in Akaska, and wants to end up scuba diving in Belize. Erin, a nurse from Texas is in between contracts so thought she would fit in the Pacific Coast route in the meantime….and so it goes on. A motley bunch linked by a common passion….riding bikes with a spirit of adventure.
On my own personal journey I will be passing the 1000km mark tomorrow.
I climbed out of the sack a hour before dawn, decamped, and was heading out as the first yawning faces appeared. The temperature always plummets as the sun is coming up, and the first hour of riding is always very cold. The first 40km to Crescent City were level, so fast going, but I knew there was a major sting in the tail coming up.
But first, I met Mark on the shoulder of the highway, riding his trike for three miles to shop at Walmart…and I congratulated him for not doing it the American way….ie. climbing into his car. He was pleased about the compliment…
But the biggest climb of the first two weeks bore down on me imminently as I left Crescent City, a 5 mile climb into a redwood forest, up to 1100 ft from sea level, my first real experience of being completely surrounded by these venerable trees.
I reckon this one is the equivalent in age of a cocky teenager….about 1000 years old. The sequoias of the species can live for 3000 years, and as I meander down the Californian coast, I’m going to be feasted for several days.
Oh, before I forget, as I approached the Californian state border, I was met by two surprises. The first was a ‘weed’ shop on the state line (yep, it’s legal in California),
and a state border control, checking vehicles out for agricultural products that may bring disease into the state. I was waved through, even though I was eager to tell him I had a banana and pear in my pockets…😊
Anyway I laboured my way over two major climbs, but at ‘vista’ points there were stunning views of the coast. I have to say, Oregon pleased to overflowing in the last two days, and California has put its best foot forward on this, the first day.
If you are a cyclist, beware of any stretch of road called a ‘scenic corridor’. It can only mean one thing….hills! Big hills, usually.
Now that this little mobile community of some 10 cyclists is solidifying, we pass each other on the road, we meet fortuitously in the same cafés, and we head for the same campgrounds. Nico and Katy (Americans in their 20s) storm ahead to music from a ghetto-blaster on his handlebars, which undoubtedly helped Nico conquer the 4000 mile TRANSAM recently. Sarah, from the Wirral, keeps a measured pace up the climbs, on her way to the Mexican border….she runs an online business helping to motivate women to get out of their comfort zones and change some of their life habits: http://www.toughgirlchallenges.com
Tattooed Ray has a fully loaded Bob trailer in tow, but out-paces everyone. He is amazingly strong on the hills.
Ah, those hills….the second half of the ride had massive climbs up to the said scenic corridors. Very long and gradual, they required a lot of grit and determination, one climb topping 1000ft, but people were abuzz at the end for having conquered them. And, of course, the great reward was the views…..the Pacific coast in all its glory.
And tomorrow……it’s goodbye Oregon and hello California…
The ride out of Sunset Bay was very aptly named Seven Devils Road….lumpy in the extreme. Apparently it had seven hills….and all of them ‘significant’. But it was the only route back to US101, so no avoiding it. A Canadian couple I’d already met were standing by the roadside, but definitely not out of choice. His tyre had blown, but when I looked at his bike closely, it was no surprise. His hybrid bike was intended as a city bike and was shod with city tyres. He admitted he’d just grabbed his bike out of the garage for this mega-journey without giving any thought to preparing it. Out of the shed and onto the road….now he was paying the price.
Anyway he got a lift in a pick-up to a bike shop, leaving his girlfriend to make her own way. (Tell me, what’s happened to chivalry these days?) When I got to the same bike shop, I stopped by and another couple had called in for some fettling. So while I was there I asked the manager to check the tightness of my headset, the result of me re-assembling my bike after a flight and not getting the adjustment quite right.
At Port Offord, just 10km short of my destination, I stocked up with food, used the local library’s WiFi, and heading off on the last leg of the day I was startled by this first view of the sea….and this after 1000km on the road.
….and what a sight it was. Will this be the beginning of 1000 miles (1600km) of seaviews?
And as a postscript: I asked a young lady how far to the next town, and she said: “You’ll find that most towns along this coast are about 26 miles apart because that was a day’s journey on horseback”. Interesting….
I laboured the last very hilly 20km to get to a campground called Sunset Bay, convinced by its name it was going to be paradise on earth, but that last hour of riding was interrupted by my first rains of the trip. I limped into the campground and I heard “Hey, come and join the party!”.
I looked up and there was a group of 30-somethings, all cyclists doing the coastal route, and by 6pm, they were already well oiled from several drinks. The table was littered with bottles of wine, fizz and whiskey.
I pitched my tent, grabbed my food, and joined them until my befuddled brain ( from jetlag, I hasten to add) told me enough was enough. I crashed out at 8.30 and found myself awake at 4am and ready to go….but of course I didn’t, not until 9am anyway.
This morning I discovered what all the fuss was about in naming it Sunset Bay…..a sheltered bay with a little-used beach. Now that I am on the coastal trail through Oregon, I’m meeting up with other cyclists all heading south, and we are spontaneously forming our own travelling community, meeting up at campgrounds and watering holes.
But I have to confess some disappointment with the route through Oregon. We have seen next to nothing of the coast, largely because of the huge managed fir tree forests that cover the entire landscape. Natural forests would have been more interesting, but hundreds of miles of firs (all of them an investment for some bank or pension fund) makes for boring cycling.
I’m now only a day or so from northern California, with its promise of the redwoods……roll on!
I walked into a bank to change a few Canadian dollars and in a whispered church-like tone, as if to guard an embarrassing little secret, the lady said: “I’m so sorry, we only offer that service to customers of the bank”. I looked at her disbelievingly in the eye, but I knew I would still walk out clutching my Canadian dollars. Hey ho…..
The campground at Bruceport, overlooking the estuary of the river Wilapa, was unique. I had my own camping bay with picnic table, so I prepared my little garden before settling into some serious relaxing….
As I left the next morning I was dismayed to discover I was going to have to ride for 42km before my first coffee of the day….how bad is that? I arrived, tongue hanging out, and ordered the biggest 25oz coffee I ever had….it felt like drinking a gallon!
Down at the estuary of the famous Columbia River, as I perused the history boards about the Lewis and Clark expedition to open a passage to the west, I hear: “Hi, what time did you leave the campground?”.
It was Kurt, who had picked up a coffee 15 miles up the road, had sipped it while he was riding, and was still clutching the cup…..I make a mental note of this in favour of getting a recumbent.
We ride over the famous 4 mile Astoria bridge, struggle up the monstrous 7% climb to get off it, and check in together with the same Warmshowers host, a guy who has an open house to every passing cyclist.
Since Kurt is heading in the same direction, as far as LA, we will encounter each other along the way….the recumbent is a cool machine….
Every time I get off the bike someone asks: “So where you headin’, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Holy mackerel” said one woman, “that’ll take you at least 4 days. But great trip”. Even though I was standing in the shop ablaze with red lycra, she hadn’t connected my attire with my mode of transport. Like most Americans, who travel everywhere by car, she was thinking of driving time.
Animation of route: https://www.relive.cc/view/u3168898297
Ask anyone directions and how far the next town is, the standard answer will always be in time (ie. driving time). And in miles? Er, oh, that’s a difficult one…..
I’m now in Elma, just 2 days riding from the famous Astoria Bridge that will carry me into Oregon, where the 101 truly meets the coast……and stays with the coast.
I checked into a recommended RV site, and was met with:
“You look as if your heading to Mexico. You’re most welcome. Here’s a couple bags of homemade cookies….and see that nice grassed area over there, that’s where you’ll be”. When I asked how much for one night, he said “Oh, just $10”. You could have knocked me over with a feather.
Then Kurt bowled in after me, a librarian from New Orleans, on a two wheeled German recumbent, doing the leg from Seattle to LA, and he came away with the same prescribed cookies.
All good stuff.
These journeys always throw up some remarkable encounters. Last night I stayed with a couple who lived on 40 acres, all thickly wooded with log cabins. But not just them….several other members of the extended family have houses on this inherited plot, forming a veritable family community.
A very relaxed informal couple, I just slotted into their lives for 12 hours and they left me to find my own space. It was a great overnight, then Dave took me in his truck and dropped me at a convenient pull-off to get me on the right road the next day. I was just one of dozens of passing cyclists they’ve hosted over 10 years.
My connection to mobile data services is so poor that postings may be very sporadic…..and short (you will be pleased to know😊). It’s even a 50/50 chance that these words will appear…
So far I have enjoyed being hosted twice by members of the Warmshowers community, once in Vancouver and this evening in Port Townsend. What a great international group it is. The other night I pitched my tent in a state park campground, and my jaw dropped when they charged me the same as an RV without hook-up….$25. The Ranger seemed genuinely apologetic….
The first few days have been characterised by sweeping vistas of both countryside and coast, dense forests and hills that demand the best from you in the ascent, and a steely commitment at the break-neck speeds on the descent.
I’ve been treated to a donation of breakfast food on the campground, to inquisitive conversations with people in eateries, to whole family histories from people who have ancestors from the British Isles. They hear the accent and unhesitatingly ask where in the UK I live…to which I answer “near Cambridge”. This is guaranteed to elicit knowing nods and the odd “Wow!” or a more conservative “yuh’re not kidding, uh?”. Undeservingly, I quietly bask in the unearned glow…
Highlights have included crossing Deception Pass bridge (look up the history), buying food supplies in quaint little shops in Edison and zipping along leafy forest trails.
Apologies for the lack of even one photo, but my data connection will never handle it….