Calif. Coast '98


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California Coast Tour Report

3 - 12 July 1998

Trip photos are here.

Friday, 3 July 1998
Arrival in San Francisco

We rented a Ford Taurus one way to get us from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Our tandem was able to fit in back with a minimum of disassembly.

We made sure our hotel had an elevator before making the reservation. So upon arrival, we had no problems getting the tandem and the gear up to our room before returning our rental car.

Saturday, 4 July 1998
San Francisco to Menlo Park

Expected distance: 35 miles
Actual distance: 48 miles
Total climb 2330 ft.
Average speed 10.4 mph

The morning was surprisingly clear - we could already see blue skies from our hotel room at about 9:00! But it still was the usual windy and cold for the city - even in July.

We set off on a northwesterly route toward the Golden Gate Bridge. Traffic was very light with the Saturday morning 4th of July holiday, and it was even lighter as we rode through the Presidio on our way to the Golden Gate.

We ended up on a beach bike path that was real close to the bridge, but it would have added a detour to get up to the road leading to the bridge, and we weren't up for adding too many miles today. So we satisfied ourselves with taking pictures of the bridge from there to officially start our tour.

We continued on through the Presidio - an old army base on some prime real estate in the city. The base has a rural feel to it in stark contrast to the rest of the city.

The rest of the route to Judy's house skirted along the foothills on the edge of the suburban sprawl - quite enjoyable riding despite being only minutes from suburbia.

We arrived at Judy's house late afternoon. There we met everyone who would be joining us for the tour: Robin, Alan, Sue, Lee, Ned, and Richard. The only ones not there were Sean, who would meet us at the campsite the next day, and Keith, who was only going to join us for the next day's ride and then return home.

Sunday, 5 July 1998
Menlo Park to Santa Cruz

Expected distance: 55 miles
Actual distance: 81 miles
Total climb 5330 ft.
Average speed 12.2 mph

We all gathered at Judy's house and then rode to a local restaurant for breakfast. After breakfast, we set out on the "standard" route over the hill to the coast.

Judy was in training for her Great Divide ride, and she was only planning on riding with us in the morning, so she carried panniers full of bricks up to the top of Old La Honda Rd.

Since Judy was going to ride home and then drive out to meet us for dinner, she delivered our gear to our day's destination. Nonetheless, the ride up Old La Honda was real tough - even with a low gear of 32 rear/26 front.

While briefly stopping at the Pigeon Point lighthouse, we saw another couple touring on a tandem. It was an interesting rig, with custom-made bags that fit between the frame tubes, and panniers over the rear wheel of their BOB trailer. They also had a squirrel beanie baby as a mascot.

Fortunately, Ned was from Santa Cruz, so he was able to get us through the city with no problems (except for a little trouble finding New Brighton State Beach).

When we finally arrived at the campground at 7:30, we saw Judy's car and a note (written at 7:20) saying that they had gone to search for us. Meanwhile, all of our stuff was locked up in Judy's car, so we couldn't even set up camp while waiting for her to get back. Fortunately, we all connected and everything worked out OK.

During dinner I had received a fair amount of friendly criticism for my planned 55 miles turned 81 miles! Well, it was only 55 miles as the crow flies, but I forgot to account for the fact that the easiest route over the hills was also the most indirect.

After dinner we said our goodbyes to Keith, Judy, and Sue. Sue would rejoin us later in the tour, however.

Monday, 6 July 1998
Santa Cruz to Monterey

Expected distance: 40 miles
Actual distance: 48 miles
Total climb 2690 ft.
Average speed 11.0 mph

After a hard day of riding yesterday, today was a much easier day, with most of the riding through fairly flat farmland with tailwinds most of the way. We stopped in the small coastal town of Moss Landing and found a seafood place for lunch.

 On the bike path from Marina to Monterey, a small ground squirrel ran right in front of us. With the narrow bike path, and the rest of the riders close behind, braking or swerving really wasn't an option. So the squirrel didn't stand a chance against a 430 pound moving tandem!  (The story is on Chain Reaction Bicycles' squirrel page.)

 The planned campsite was a city park in Monterey - we had heard that it filled up fast, so our plan was to set up camp early and then go into town for dinner. That plan changed really fast when we started to climb up the huge hill to Veterans Park - we made it up, but wish we had a lower gear. After setting up camp, we found out from the park ranger that Domino's and Round Table both delivered to Veterans Park, so we ordered a few pizzas for dinner.

We chatted with a Canadian cycletourist who had cycled all the way down the west coast and was on his way back north. Instead of climbing the hill, he took the Monterey public bus (with the bike racks on the front) to the campground! Not fair, that's cheating! (Too bad the bike racks couldn't hold tandems, though.)

 Robin had to leave the tour at this point so we said goodbye to him after dinner.

Tuesday, 7 July 1998
Monterey to Big Sur

Expected distance: 40 miles
Actual distance: 44 miles
Total climb 2380 ft.
Average speed 11.0 mph

All of us except Alan (who would wait in Monterey a day for Sue to rejoin the tour) broke camp and rode into town for breakfast. At the restaurant we bumped into the couple on the tandem - they had spent the night in Monterey also, but they decided to get a hotel instead of climbing the huge hill to the campground.

After breakfast, the first order of the day was to get lower gearing for the coastal hills to the south. We found a local bike shop in the area. The two devices that would allow us to replace our 26 tooth chainring with a 20 or 22 both wouldn't work on our tandem, so we had to settle for a 24 tooth chainring instead. While we were there, Richard decided that lower gearing was in order for himself also.

Lee had to depart from the tour, so the rest of us continued on to Big Sur. The ride from Monterey to Carmel took us through beautiful 17 Mile Drive.

Once we hit the outskirts of Carmel, we stocked up on a couple of days worth of food, since there would be very few places to get food during the next couple of days of riding.

South of Carmel, Highway 1 becomes a narrow road etched into the coastal cliffs. Many parts of the highway were severely damaged during the winter's El Nino storms, but the road was reopened by the end of May.

Although the whole road was open, there were about ten places where there was only one lane, with access controlled by a timed traffic light. We were very careful to make sure we all made it through the lights before traffic started coming in the opposite direction.

We camped at Molera State Park, just north of Big Sur. During the ten minute hike out to the campsite area, Richard's trailer flipped over, breaking the piece of rubber attaching it to the bike.

Ned and Sean made a beer run to Big Sur and took the broken rubber piece with them to see what they could do. Luckily, the mechanic at the gas station just happened to be staying late that day, so they were able to fabricate a replacement piece (plus some spares) out of an old rubber hose.

Wednesday, 8 July 1998
Big Sur to Kirk Creek

Expected distance: 32 miles
Actual distance: 34 miles
Total climb 3800 ft.
Average speed 9.8 mph

Before setting off for the day, we checked out some of the trails of Molera State Park. We rode a few miles to Big Sur to have an overpriced breakfast.

Coming out of Big Sur was one of the three major climbs of the tour. This one was almost 1000 feet of climbing in less than 2 miles. We were really glad we invested in the 24 tooth chainring!

The rest of the way to Kirk Creek was full of short but occasionally steep switchbacks. Often times we would pass the single bikes by getting enough momentum on the downhills to take us over the top of the next hill. The single bikes would regain ground when we didn't have enough momentum to carry us over the top of the hills.

This stretch of Highway 1 has some of the most breathtaking scenery on the coast. The downsides for cyclists are riding on a narrow road with little or no shoulder, and the typical auto/RV/bus tourist traffic. Luckily, we were riding this section in the middle of the week, so there wasn't too much traffic. Also, the traffic lights at the one lane sections of road gave us frequent breaks where there was no traffic.

We spent the night at Kirk Creek Campground. The regular campsites were small, so we opted for the hiker/biker area, which was further away from the highway and had a nice view of the ocean. The only downside was that there were no showers - instead, we took sponge baths, and we used Ned's water bag sitting on the edge of the picnic table to wash our hair salon-style.

Alan and Sue rejoined the tour here, after riding 77 difficult miles straight from Monterey. Sara, who was driving home after attending the LAB rally in Oregon, also spent the night with us.

Thursday, 9 July 1998
Kirk Creek to San Simeon

Expected distance: 40 miles
Actual distance: 44 miles
Total climb 2810 ft.
Average speed 12.2 mph

We got an early start this morning, since Tera and I were planning on doing a two hour tour of Hearst Castle near our destination in San Simeon.

After yet another overpriced breakfast, this time in a place called Gorda, we started on our last major climb of the tour. Sara drove ahead and made a couple of stops to take pictures of us before returning home.

After coming down the other side of the last major hill, the terrain leveled out into much smaller rolling hills, with a nice tailwind. This was definitely tandem-friendly terrain. Rugged cliffsides gave way to round brown grassy hills. We had left the foggy part of the coast and saw what seemed to be our first sunshine in days.

We made it to Hearst Castle with plenty of time to spare for our scheduled 3:00 PM tour. Before the two hour tour, we took advantage of the sunlight and set up a laundry line between our tandem and Ned's recumbent. I don't know what drew more attention - the bikes or the laundry hanging from them!

Just after sunset the wind started picking up, so we retreated to our tents that night earlier than usual.

Friday, 10 July 1998
San Simeon to San Luis Obispo

Expected distance: 53 miles (to Pismo Beach)
Actual distance: 44 miles
Total climb 1420 ft.
Average speed 12.8 mph

Richard guided us to an excellent place in Cambria for breakfast - he seemed to know all of the great restaurants on the route! While eating breakfast, we took advantage of the laundromat next door to wash the garments that we didn't want to display to the public on yesterday's laundry line.

After Morro Bay, the route left the now busy Highway 1 and turned inland towards San Luis Obispo. Tasty ocean waves gave way to farming territory. It got rather warm, being sheltered from the ocean breeze by the coastal hills.

We arrived in the college town of San Luis Obispo - with a population of about 50,000, it was one of the larger towns on the route. Motorists seemed to be more aware of bicycles here than anywhere else on our journey. We had a late lunch at the San Luis Obispo Brewing Company before parting ways - the rest of the group would ride for two more days to Santa Barbara, but we had to get home earlier.

Saturday, 11 July 1998
Return to Los Angeles

We caught the 6:40 AM Amtrak train leaving San Luis Obispo. Taking a tandem on this particular train was no problem - we checked our gear in at the counter, and we handed the unloaded tandem to the baggage car attendant before boarding the train. No bike boxes or silly things like that.

When we arrived in Anaheim, the baggage car attendant handed the unloaded tandem back down to us. Really easy.

Addendum - Route to Continue to Santa Barbara

For the stretch between Santa Maria and Santa Barbara, the "official" Pacific Coast Bike Route goes through some farming towns, then Lompoc, and then 20 or so freeway miles of Highway 101.  An alternate inland route is to take Foxen Canyon Rd. from Santa Maria, and then Ballard Canyon Rd. to Solvang.  To get from Solvang to Santa Barbara, the Bicycling the Pacific Coast book uses Highway 154 most of the way, but Sam Jones on the tandem e-mail list has a better idea (he was typing this from memory, so he warns that you should check your maps first):

Brian, I agree with you on Foxen Canyon Rd. and then the VERY nice Ballard Canyon Rd. into Solvang. But, IMHO it would be criminal to take the very busy 154 up to the pass when one of the all time great bike roads would get you there in a MUCH nicer way. See the following clip out of our ride report from this spring.

You turn left or E off of 154 just south of Lake Cachuma onto Old Stagecoach Road, which takes you to Paradise and then up the mountain to the pass behind Santa Barbara. It is one of my very favorite roads. Switchbacks, no traffic, great views as you cross under the big highway bridge where the traffic is. Half way up is the incredibly neat Cold Springs Tavern which has been there since the stage coaches used the old road. It has great chili and has bands in the afternoons and dancing, etc. It's sort of a gathering place for the bikers, etc. More flowers in bloom!

After lunch, climb the rest of the way to the 2200 foot pass and take Kenivan Road the first 1/4 of the way down the other side - even neater than Old Stagecoach Road. It follows a stream and winds its way though the trees and flowers and cactus. It looks like many of the little homes along the road are inhabited with aging hippies with VW busses, etc. Then a 2 mile fast downhill stretch on busy 154 to the top of Old San Marcos Pass Road which takes you the last 60 percent of the way down some super switchbacks into Santa Barbara. You can see the whole city and the beach and pier, etc. There are 2 turns that have curve arrow signs that show a 270 degree curve and have either a 5 or 10 MPH speed!


Page Last Edited (though probably not for content): 14 September 2010