Where I come from, summer is when you can wear white pants: Memorial Day to Labor Day. That’s when you should have the spring cleaning completed and your grill ready to blaze. I kicked off this summer by cycling from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo with my main man, Andy. My conclusion from the trip is bicycle touring is the best way to see the coast and a nice way to vacation.
We did it in 5 days, only because I am limited to that much vacation. Here’s our itinerary:
Day 1: SFO Airport to Half Moon Bay (19 mi)
On our first day, we learned that it took about 2 hours to put a bike together for touring after reassembling it from our respective bike boxes, required for air travel. To get from the airport to Half Moon Bay (HMB, yo) requires cresting a pretty large hill. We decided to stop in HMB, yo because the next campsite we knew about was 70 miles south and it was already 4pm. We set up camp at the Hike and Bike site at the HMB, yo Campgrounds. It was colder outside than I expected, about 50 °F.
We ate dinner at the Happy Taco, in town. We met a bum in a liquor store picking up local brew for the campfire that night who told us he was also on tour. We had a fire at the campsite’s amphitheatre. And, we departed after a breakfast at the campsite around 10am the next morning.
Day 2: Half Moon Bay to Sunset Beach (67 mi)
We rode for about three hours this day until we arrived in Davenport. Here, we ate at a fun bar & grille. Then we traversed through Santa Cruz to get to Sunset State Beach Campground. This campground was quite secluded. The nearest town is Watsonville which is 7 miles away. The campground came with a neighboring strawberry field, which we took advantage of both for dessert that night as well as in our oatmeal the next morning. Here we met Darral and Gavin, which is Ni-vag and Lar-rad backwards. Lar-rad shared some beer and his campfire with us, while we had interesting conversations and some campfire music from Lar-rad’s guitar.
Day 3: Sunset Beach to Big Sur (59 mi)
The ride through Monterey was slow and windy. It took us 5 hours to roll the first 28 miles, and because of that reason, we decided to skip 17 Mile Drive. It would have been nice to go on that section of road. I’m glad we skipped it though because we made it to Big Sur as the sun was setting. Nonethless we still road atop some great bridges, like Bixby, and had great views. We ate in the Big Sur village and painfully watched someone work on a muffler hanging on a 70s Honda Civic with a cigarette dangling in his mouth. Before departing from our dining spot to the Big Sur “Hike and Bike” campsite, a rough looking older man — who grew a 7-year beard and wore clothes that had been recently washed last month — gave us some advice saying that “It’s ok to walk up the big hill which awaited us first thing in the morning.” Needless to say, the Big Sur village is full of some interesting yocals that seemed to be imported from Willacootchie, Georgia. The hike and bike campsite is beautiful and quite comfortable as we slept atop a bed of pine needles.
Day 4: Big Sur to San Simeon (72 mi)
This was my favorite day of the trip. We rode 23 miles, after breakfast, to eat lunch in Lucia at THE diner. We ate on a deck that overlooks an ocean break which crushed into a cliff. We ate the lunch with a rider we met earlier in the trip. I remember devouring my Mexican burger with fries and about 3 glasses of coke. This was good timing to fuel up, as our biggest climb of the trip, about 1000 feet at roughly an 8% grade, immediately followed.
One interesting conclusion I realized on this trip is that “Scenic Vistas” are designed for optimal car parking, and not necessarily the views. Often times the most scenic view is either 100 feet up or down the road from the car parking. A nice feature of bike touring is that stopping is merely a toe-touch away!
Day 5: San Simeon to San Luis Obispo (44 mi)
We woke up early this day to ensure that we could make the 2pm train from San Luis back to Orange County. We had a big breakfast in Cambria where we took the waitress’ advice, “The bacon is reaaaal good, here!” Then we stopped in Morro Bay at the Top Dog Cafe. Tom Petty’s Wildflowers song came on as I was warming up over a cup of coffee and enjoying a chocolate bear claw. The song helped me reminisce and tie two events from the trip together. I tied together one from the Sunset Beach campfire where Lar-rad made a comment to the extent that you only see rare occurrences of beauty when you don’t plan to — he specifically was talking about whale watching. And the second is that the past two years I’ve headed to Death Valley in the spring, hoping to see an abundant amount of wildflowers, where I have felt let down both times. However, I planned my first bike tour to see the coast and test the bike touring expierence out and I was rewarded with roadside strips and fields of wildflowers all along the way! So I have that going for me, which is nice.
San Francisco to San Luis Obispo (261 mi)
If I did it over again, I would do the trip with 30-50 mile days. For me, it is always easier to entertain myself rather than having to rush myself through things. I would have rode north to get a tourist picture at the Golden Gate bridge. I would have stayed in a hostel, a bed-and-breakfast, a motel, or a hotel along the way when hike and bike campsites weren’t available. But overall due to my time limitations, I feel we did a good job.
I am glad I did three things in preparation.
- We followed iDad Doug’s advice, “Why the hell would you bike from south to north?!” Doug has done this trip five times, the last time in August 2008, and he always goes north to south to “ride the wind.” Often times by the end of the day, I would hardly pedal because the wind was so strong; that sure beat fighting a nasty headwind!
- I bought an Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) touring map. This was very handy for getting through bigger cities on bike paths and side roads, for Hwy 1 is illegal to ride a bike on at certain points, i.e. Santa Cruz, Monterey, etc. Also the map pointed out a great detour to get to San Luis Obisbo.
- Lastly, Andy and I located all the bike and hike campsites, again first suggested to us by Doug. Bike and hike sites are great: they are cheap ($2-$5 per person per night); they do not require reservations so long as you either bike or hike in; and, since they are typically a large patch of grass or forest in this particualr area of the coast, I could not imagine they ever fill up.
You can check out more pictures in my Facebook album.
I’m already excited for my next bike tour in mid-July: circumnavigating and then cutting through Glacier National and Waterton Parks. The theme for that tour is “trans,” as in transborders (USA and Canada), trans-continental divide, and every other “trans-” we can brainstorm before then!