Blog: Pacific Coast of California – Part II

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fourth july cup cakeThe Bay Area – Santa Barbara – 671Km (Total 4506km cycled)

Highlights : 4 July picnic, yacf pootle, more cake, finishing our Pacific Coast adventure, Sea Elephants, another great warmshowers host, Tour de France.

Day 179-180 – July 5-6 : Moving friends

We left the Bay Area after a fantastic fourth of July celebrated with a wonderful picnic in the park with a hundred other revellers, featuring a self-driving BBQ, good company and an array of delicious cakes, pastries and pies which would have the denizens of yacf.co.uk in a frenzy. Thank you to our friend Dave and his gang for a great day out in true American style.

We had an easy ride to Sunnyvale, south of San Francisco, where our friends from the UK, aka the Things, had just moved. The first part was on busy roads but after riding over the windy something bridge we found ourselves cycling alongside the bay on excellent dedicated cycle lanes.

After a Tour de France catch-up and lots of chatting over a delicious chilli made by Emma and cookies courtesy of pre-packaged cookie dough (these things are so easy to make!), we got to bed and ready for an early start. The Things’ stuff would arrive early in a container with all their gubbins and, most importantly, their bicycles. They’d been separated from the stable for about a month and so were chomping at the bit to be able to turn some pedals again on a mini tour-come-yacf-pootle. Before we knew that their stuff would arrive in time there was even talk of them renting bikes and sleeping in the west wing (vestibule) of our tent. That would’ve been fun. (How many yacfers can you fit in a Hilleberg? I see a forum competition coming on…)

Day 181- July 7: Yacf pootle State-side

Heading out of Sunnyvale meant that we had to climb up and over the Skyline to get to the coast towards Santa Cruz. I was glad that Emma offered to take Eyeore (our Extrawheel trailer) because that hill was the steepest we’ve done so far on our tour of the Americas! Em got on very well with the trailer and seemed totally comfortable with it. There’s now talk of adding one to the Things’ stable. I had to get off and push the bike up the hill a few times while stubborn Peli and Joth rode all the way. The Leggett Hill and Big Sur climbs, which we did further down the coast, were nothing compared to this.

We rolled into Felton and stocked up on food before I offered the option of road or track to the panel. A fabled Woolly track, discovered on the GPS? How could they resist?! I think if they’d known what was to come they might have reconsidered their rejection of the busy road route!

While packing our panniers before tackling this final section, Em spotted a broken spoke on my rear wheel and, upon fixing it I spotted a second spoke broken. That makes a grand total of eight broken spokes on the non-drive side, with one repeat – seven originals broken and one replacement broken. It’s getting a bit annoying to say the least but at least it is on the non-drive side so easy to mend at the side of the road. What’s even odder is that these two spokes broke when I was riding without the trailer, Em had pulled it for around 30 miles, and we were on good tarmac.

The GPS-recommended track started at a steam train museum and zigzagged its way steeply up Bear Hill through the forest on a pretty singletrack trail. Plenty of obstacles were thrown in to make things interesting: deep sand, ruts, tree roots. Em did extremely well on her skinny-tyred light tourer, and pulling Eyeore to boot! After some navigation and tapping on the GPS we found the road again and sped along the last two miles to the campsite, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. I didn’t know that the Redwood trees came this far down into California, though they had nothing on the Redwoods on the Avenue of the Giants.

ziploc cheeseWhile getting food ready I had a surprise. Digging in our food panniers, I came across a ziploc bag containing a cheesy treat, a lovely Brie that a Canadian couple gave to us at a campsite before San Francisco a week and a half ago. Needless to say, it had taken on a new lease of life. What a good advertisement for the ziploc bags over here, since we detected not the slightest niff from the bag’s green, mushy contents. Yum!

Day 182 – July 8 : Mega doughnuts

We had only planned a short day’s ride for today which would give us time to see Santa Cruz and catch up with our friends. In Santa Cruz we got to see the pier and the rollercoaster made famous by the movie Lost Boys. Oh, and we had time to play with the biggest doughnuts I have ever seen, Texas Doughnuts.

surfing acrobatsAs we rolled out of town we followed the coast and spotted what made California famous – surfing beach boys. One couple, amazingly, were doing ice dance-style acrobatics while surfing. As the towns turned to farmland with some yummy smelling strawberries that just went as far as the eye could see, we found the campsite.

The hiker biker in the Sunset State Beach Park was, predictably, rather sandy so pitching our tents was tricky. Peli worked wonders again on the Trangia cooking up a pasta storm for the four of us. Our Ortlieb washing bowl was put to good use as a salad dish, and Joth even fried some bacon rashers as a treat for the carnivores of the party.

yacf pootleIt was at this campsite that we spotted Amber, a fellow tourer who’d also started in Oregon and was riding south to meet her boyfriend. She was a good laugh and we’d meet her a few times more over the next couple of days as we all headed south.

Day 183 – July 9 : Pub lunch

Monday morning saw an early start to get into Monterey in time for the Things to catch a bus back to their new house and work. After a bit of a false start (along one of my famous GPS-inspired trails which quickly fizzled out in locked gates and general overgrown-ness) the route took us through more sweet-smelling strawberry fields and along beautiful coastline cycle tracks. It was great fun to ride with the Things again, and – in true yacf pootling fashion – we amused ourselves with much silliness and giggling. (Mighty Mighty Cardiff! Don’t ask.)

london pub montereyIn Monterey we looked for a good spot for a quick lunch. What a better setting could there be than the London Pub next to the Marina where we all enjoyed burgers and chips and a couple of pints.

The moment came too soon to bid farewell to the Things and cycle off into the sunset by ourselves. Thank you Joth and Em for three days of highly enjoyable pootling in great company. I don’t think we’ve laughed so much all tour! It was just like home. A little click here will take you to their blogpost about the ride.

Having seen the Things off onto their bus we tuned in our highly-sensitive ice cream detector and had a nice sit down by the harbour. We were glad of the extra calories as what appeared to be an easy finish into the Veterans Memorial Campground turned into something of a mission. Before leaving town we had to stock up on fuel for our Trangia (denatured alcohol is the best we’ve found, in the paint department of hardware stores). Once stocked up, we headed for the campground, just 800 metres away (or so we thought).

The military, however, put a spanner in the spokes. Our intended route took us across the military base directly into the campground, just spitting distance away. But, we weren’t allowed through without military ID, meaning a 3 mile journey around the park and military base to get to the right entrance, up and down some very steep, traffic-filled roads which really did for our legs.

At the campsite we spotted Amber again along with other cycle tourers who we would later spot on our route south. As darkness started to fall, a young lad with a very lightweight rig arrived and collapsed into his diminutive tent – he too had done the detour and had not planned the extra hard miles, he wasn’t happy.

Day 184 – July 10 : Stunning coastal views

In the morning we set off with Lars, a German with Danish background, and into the fog which is famous on the California coast.

cycling on highway 1After trying a drive-thru ATM to get some cash for our shopping, we settled into a good rhythm with Lars keeping us company. As the day wore on the weather went from foggy to a hot sun which was reminiscent of southern Patagonia. On a high coastal point we were hit by a very strong wind into our faces, Lars and I joked that we just needed the ripio surface and we’d be right there.

On the Pacific Coast the weather can change quite fast. In between the total cloud cover and clear skies we could see the stunning coastline with beautiful views. The Adventure Cycling Association map had warned us that the road south of Monterey would have heavy traffic, winding roads and little or no shoulders. What ACA didn’t tell us was that the scenery on this section of the coast is so beautiful that you have to remind yourself to keep an eye on the road. It’s simply impossible to take your eyes off the sea and jutting cliffs.

We ended up with a wonderful tailwind and a long downhill and we made good time and distance, arriving at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (with excellent hiker-biker area) where we spotted the others from last night’s campground.

Day 185 – July 11 : Fresh bread

happy peli on the pacific coastOthers managed to get up and early and climbed Big Sur before it got warm. You don’t need to be far away from the coast before the temperature goes up fast. But, we climbed in the heat and had a stop at the bakery a few miles up the hill where we got some yummy sourdough bread and delicious raspberry scones. The Americans do seem to have got scones down to a fine art.

The only problem with Pacific Highway 1 in high season is the high volume of traffic. At times it was a bit too busy to properly enjoy the riding and views, but generally we had plenty of space when cars passed us.

We made it to Plaskett Creek Campground (note: no showers or electricity, only water and toilets) rather later than the others, they were already pitched and eating dinner. It turned out that our late start had been in our favour, as we got to enjoy long sunny views of the coastline which had been shrouded in fog when our fellow early-rising tourers had passed. “We saw nothing all day!” they exclaimed. We just looked smug and encouraged them to stay in bed longer in future.

Day 186 – July 12 : Sea Elephants

Sea Elefants CaliforniaAgain we were late to get ready but we were in no hurry and didn’t have a long day planned. We overtook Lars at a roadside garage/shop where we later learnt that there was next to nothing and it was very overpriced. We had been warned that the stretch south of Big Sur was short on supplies, so had stocked up well in advance. As you probably know by now, we’re not ones for settling for plain couscous for dinner!

Lars picked us up and hooked onto our leisurely pace as we enjoyed the tailwind and flattish roads south. As the road got closer to the sea we spotted – or rather heard – what we all thought were sealions. But, the source of the racket turned out to be Sea Elephants! These creatures are beautifully ugly. And the sound they make is something like the gurgling of a blocked toilet (and the smell, too). I didn’t know that these majestic creatures came this far down in warmer waters. It was great fun to see these gallumphing great things shuffling their way out the water and then battling for their rightful place on the sundeck. I mean, beach.

Stopping in one little tourist traps to get some snacks and drinks for our evening meal we met up with Jason who had a rest day in Big Sur and had done what took us two days in one day!

sunset at Hearst San Simeon State ParkWe arrived at Hearst San Simeon State Park and enjoyed a good old natter and jokes with Jason and Lars, but struggled with the showers which were either cold or swallowed our quarters. But, let’s face it, we’ve known greater hardships.

Day 187 – July 13 : The resourcefulness of cycle tourers

We had planned a short day compared to the others’ longer ones, so we bid Lars and Jason farewell. We pootled into Cayucos and spotted the ever so yummy brown butter cookie factory (apparently now famous after an appearance in the New York Times) and after sneakily nipping in and out for a few tasters we settled for a little treat: three beautifully-wrapped brown butter cookies.

morro bayWhile doing shopping we, ever resourceful, found free wifi at McDonald’s and quickly tackled our to-do list. Honestly, cycle touring involves more admin than you’d imagine. We ordered our next set of maps from the ACA, the Great Divide route, and downloaded the Great Divide guidebook onto Peli’s Kindle. We rolled into Morro Bay State Park’s huge hiker/biker area a bit later than hoped, but hey, it was supposed to be an easy day. Upon arrival we spotted the tent and gear of our young touring friend, Amber, who arrived a few minutes later with the famous boyfriend in tow. He’d finally joined her on her ride south. To their gentle blushes, we told him he was famous with all the bike tourers on the Pacific Coast, as Amber hadn’t stopped talking about him. :)

Day 188 – July 14 : Treating ourselves

The ride to San Luis Obispo went along some great countryside up and over rolling hills. Since it was away from the coast, though not far, the landscape was more like the pampas in South America and not nice and green as the lush coastal roads. Throw in a few guanaco, and we could have been on Tierra del Fuego.

San Luis Obispo hillsIn pretty San Luis Obispo we enjoyed a wonderful lunch at the Natural Cafe, a not-to-be-missed cafe specialising in vegetarian treats. As a dessert we had a peanut butter ice cream milk shake. Scrummy.

We hunted around in Oceano to find a campground that was not fully booked and had a hiker/biker camp. This was harder than we’d expected. The State Park had a sign proclaiming ‘No Hiker/Biker here!’ and others didn’t do this either. We finally found a spot at the Coastal Dunes RV Park which at $13 per tent was the most expensive we have had, but the silver lining was that the BBQ in our pitch was still hot enough for me to cook my sausages.

The campground was in stark contrast to the posh San Luis Obispo, where cafes and wine bars were the norm. Here we saw masses of large 4x4s with big nationalistic flags hanging off the back, loud music, beer bellies, swarms of children, and flabby arms hanging out of skimpy vests. Hello, obese America!

Day 189 – July 15 : GSP error

Chatting to other cycle tourersWe got up and soon struck up conversations with three other cycle tourers. I helped one chap out with a rather serious puncture, before the five of us set out on an alternative route toward Lompoc. Yes, this was another of my famous GPS-inspired scenic detours.

The great GPS routes from ACA and James (our GPS) and Open Street Map have had a few disagreements lately about where a waypoint is. They all are slightly off by a few metres, so waypoints are sometimes marked on the wrong side of the road or down a side street. Thanks to this, we ended up in a new-build suburban area on a dead end road and had to retrace our steps. Luckily, it was just a mile and a bit of a detour. A lesson I learned a long time ago: trust the street signs not the GPS, so if the signs say dead end it is fairly certain that it is.

The three boys were faster than us so they stormed ahead while we plodded on and enjoyed the views.

The road again made its way through the strawberry fields and there was even a raspberry farm which smelled fresh, sweet and yummy. The climb wasn’t too bad but I think we both would have liked it to be around 15c cooler, but hey you can’t have it all. Especially when you have a late start, long lunch and a long day in the saddle.

We then enjoyed a eight miles downhill into Lompoc where we stocked up on food before settling into the pleasant hiker/biker site at the River Park RV Campground just out of town.

Day 190 – July 16 : Strawberry fields for ever

Solvang bakeryWe decided to have a detour off the coastal route and go via the “theme park” that is Solvang, a “Danish” settlement with Danish-style architecture, bakeries, hotels with Danish names and windmills. As we entered the town we spotted a sign announcing that Solvang is twinned with Aalborg, which happens to be where I grew up in Denmark! Solvang is a pretty little place full of tourists looking for a little bit of Denmark. We were treated to the H. C. Andersen Park, Danish pastries and other Scandinavian goodies and we had our obligatory share of sweet stuff and ice cream. Solvang is missing out on one typical thing from Denmark, however, the hotdog stand. A town of this size in Denmark would have at least two, maybe even three stands selling the traditional Danish ‘polser’ sausage hotdogs lining the streets. Solvang also lacked the typical Danish way of offering ice cream, the “gamle davs” (click here to see one) though that said they did have tasty ice cream.

baked goods in SolvangThe book ‘Cycling the Pacific Coast’ recommended the detour via Solvang, but omitted to mention that it was along a rather busy road, Highway 154. We hit the rush hour as we left Solvang and had a constant flow of cars heading our way from Santa Barbara, which didn’t leave much space for cars to overtake on our side of the road. The shoulder was either very narrow or non-existent, so we really hoped that it would calm down outside rush hour the next day. We only had around 20 odd miles left of our Pacific Coast excursion, and check-out at Cachuma Lake campground was a nice leisurely two in the afternoon.

The campground was probably the biggest we’ve stayed at on our tour and there were longer distances to the facilities. Nothing bad, nothing that you couldn’t walk, yet still I spotted people driving – yes, driving – to the shower block. Oh deary me.

Day 191 – July 17 : The end of the Coast for us

fixing broken spoke while cycle touringOur plan to miss the busy period on the road was an abject failure. Highway 154 is probably the busiest stretch of road we have covered in a long while. Our warmshowers.org host and bike shop mechanics we talked to raised their eyebrows when we told them the route we had taken.

Climbing up from Cachuma Lake, on a part that wasn’t too steep or rough at all, I heard a spoke snap, the ninth to break. A little later when I pulled over to check the damage and put my lungs back in I spotted the tenth broken spoke, the first on the drive side. One good thing about my back wheel is that the rim, Regina Sputnik, is strong and it can take it. Even with two spokes gone I can still true it very easily. Adding a spare on the non-drive side is easy and the rim runs true right away.

So, our first stop when we arrived in Santa Barbara was the first bike shop we could find, Bob’s Bicycles. They unfortunately were very busy to do a rebuild right away, but called up a chap called John who works for them but builds wheels on the side. After a quick call we learnt that he would be interested and could turn it around in a two to three days, which suited us perfectly.

John Jones Precision Wheels Santa Barbara four crossFunnily enough, after arriving at our warmshowers.org host, Jill, we got chatting and told her about our day. “I know just the man!” she said when we told her about my back wheel. It turned out to be exactly the same chap who’d been recommended by the bike shop, John Jones. “I’ll give him a call” said Jill, and 20 minutes later we were knocking on the door to his workshop. John Jones of John Jones Precision Wheels listened to my predicament and heard about what we carry and pull and the surfaces we’re riding on. John has worked at Chris King and on the professional mountain biking scene as a team mechanic, and certainly seems to know his stuff. John told us that he would give us a bell when the wheel was finished.

Jill and I had just about got home and finished the lovely food that Peli had knocked up when the phone rang. “Your wheel is ready so when can you come and pick it up?” came John’s voice. Again Jill, our host, went beyond the call of duty in taking me to pick up the wheel right away, reinforcing our love of the warmshowers.org community.

John had built a four-cross pattern and did a little trick he used when he built wheels for the track cycling circuit: tying the spokes together on the non-drive side to make the spokes think that they’re tighter than they are. This should hopefully make the days of broken spokes over, knocking on wood here.

Thank you Jill and John for the help and faster-than-light turnaround!

That reminds me. While fettling my spokes I spotted that my Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tour rear tyre had worn out, you could see the blue anti-puncture band inside the tyre. Not too bad for 8000 miles, including stretches of heavy loading on rough roads and trails. In passing I asked John if he knew a place that would sell 700c touring tyres in Santa Barbara. He pointed me to Erik at Commuter Bikes who had one Schwalbe XR tyre left. The XR are like angel dust and the price is going up for them, but Eric let me have it for the old price.

Why Schwalbe have stopped making these I do not know, they are clearly the tyre of choice for cycle tourers. We got the Plus Tours just because it was impossible to find the XRs and we didn’t know enough about the new replacement tyres Schwalbe had made. We’ll see how this one performs on the Divide.

Day 192-199 – July 18-25: Gone a bit yellow

watching the tour liveIn Santa Barbara we had a busy few days ahead of us, mainly spent biting our nails and shouting at a delayed “live” tour feed. We went into total media darkness: no news, email, twitter or Facebook since we wanted to know nothing before we sat down to watch the Tour de France around two-four hours after it happened. We had to support Wiggo, the first Brit to win Le Tour and he just lives up the road from the place that Peli calls home. Thanks! We have had such fun watching you win our beloved Tour de France, and seeing the fantastic performances of your team mates, in particular the Manx Missile (Cav) and the FroomeDog. And another huge thanks to our present warmshowers host, the lovely Jill, who has welcomed us into her home (she admits that cycle tourers have become kind of her ‘pets’ :) and listened to us wax lyrical about Wiggins and Cavendish. We are so grateful for her kind hospitality and have really enjoyed our time in beautiful Santa Barbara.

If you don’t know or care about the Tour, just know it was for us nail-biting, on-the-edge-of-the-seat fantastic riding from the Sky team, especially during the last few days of the tour. So much for seeing Santa Barbara, though we did find a cyclist’s heaven: an “all you can eat” Indian restaurant on State Street in downtown Santa Barbara. We missed you, Martin, as it reminded us of the times we spent at the Indian buffet in London with you.

As well as the necessary administration of a big cycle tour (fixing our bikes, cleaning panniers, doing bank stuff, emailing friends and resting) we have now booked our train tickets to Santa Fe in New Mexico. There we will start our tour north along the famous Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. On the 25th of June we will take the train to Los Angeles, then jump on another train to Santa Fe, which will take around 18 hours, but will save us a few weeks of cycling. A new chapter of the tour begins!

Click here to see some photos from our ride on the Californian Pacific Coast and here is some photos from San Francisco and the 4th of July.

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