Day 1: San Luis Obispo to Santa Maria (47 miles) March 8, 2021
Today was supposed to be an easy first day. And with only 47 miles, we figured why rush it? We rolled out of bed early and took our time packing our stuff. We said a thankful goodbye to Oliver and went off to grab some coffee. But not without near wipe outs the entire 2 mile ride to McDonalds. We seriously have to get used to riding nearly 100 pound bikes again. After properly caffeinating, we set out to be reunited with the pacific coast.
The ride out of SLO was gorgeous. Full of mountain views that took me right back to Hawaii. But after one small hill the mountains disappeared and gave way to the sparkling Pacific Ocean, just as gorgeous as we left it in 2018.
After a few miles we had lunch at a gorgeous lookout in Pismo Beach, breaking out our spiffy new chairs to avoid sitting in the dirt.
Soon we departed the coast and went inland, where we experienced rolling hills and tailwinds/headwinds. The hills definitely zapped our energy and we took a bunch of mini breaks. Soon we found ourselves in Guadalupe where we finally found flat land and tailwinds all the way to Santa Maria! It was easy riding and a great way to end a tough first day.
We again are staying with a warm showers host. Jeff is super awesome and offered us a room in his house. Which we were very thankful for considering we rolled up after dark since we had to go grocery shopping to pick up some essentials at a surprisingly cheap grocery store (for California). When we showed up to Jeff’s, we definitely didn’t want to set up our tents in pitch black, so we took advantage of his gracious offer.
Day 2: Santa Maria to Gaviota State Park (43 miles) March 9, 2021
When Sheena suggested finishing the PCH route as a way to warm up for the STBR, I thought heck yea that’s a great idea! The flat coast will be a great way to get our riding legs all warmed up and ready to go! Oh how we were mistaken. Today took a look at that plan and laughed at us in the face.
Jeff was kind enough to make us bacon and cinnamon rolls before our 8:15am departure. He and his 2 kids were absolutely wonderful hosts. We got some early rolling hills out of the way before meeting the super horrible hill to Lompoc. This thing was horrendous. Hairpin turns with barely any shoulder up steep grades in the bright sun took a lot out of us. But we completed it and enjoyed (or really clenched in horror) the downhill into Lompoc. The older I get the more I dread speeding down hills. I constantly think of everything that could go wrong, ultimately leading to me getting launched off the bike landing right on my face. Yikes. Let’s think about brighter things.
We cruised into Lompoc and enjoyed a nice lunch. I narrowly avoided a terrifying experience involving a bungee cord getting stuck on a spoke and wrapping itself tightly around the rear derailer. If I hadn’t noticed it when I did, I’m pretty sure it would’ve ripped apart the derailer, rendering Ol’ Bessie *udderly* (ha!) useless. But nightmare avoided with the use of a knife. Which actually made me pretty sad. I loved that bungee cord. It rode with me every mile of every tour. But all good things must come to an end, even if that end was premature. And that included a relaxing time in Lompoc.
We knew that we were in for a doozy for the second half of the ride. The elevation profile showed a lot of uphill back to the coast. So we gritted our teeth and got through it.
Again our effort up the hills was rewarded with a harrowing descent into Gaviota. It’s really difficult to enjoy the views when you’re focusing on avoiding potholes at 35 MPH totally exposed while keeping an eye on zooming traffic. But Sheena caught the scenery on a GoPro so once the trauma from the descent wears off, maybe we’ll go back and reminisce. But at least ‘Lil Bessie got a front row seat, and she seemed very moo-ved by the ride, loving every second of it. She’s proving to be quite the adrenaline junkie.
The weather tomorrow doesn’t look the greatest. With rain and low temps forecasted, we discussed this morning going to Santa Barbara and getting a hotel to stay out dry. However, due to the difficulty of the day and the limited day light, we decided to call it quits in Gaviota State Park, just north of Santa Barbara. I have been pretty nervous that state parks wouldn’t be open for camping because of COVID. And that’s completely true – but with the exception of hikers and bikers. So when two very tired, very hungry bikers showed up, the host was gracious enough to open up the bathroom and shower for us. That puts my mind at ease for the rest of California.
The park is only a stone throws away from the beach, so close we can hear the waves crashing between the constant flow of traffic of the 101, the wind, and the train. But we’re so tired I’m sure that won’t bother us at all.
Day 3: Gaviota State Park to Santa Barbara (36.3 miles) March 10, 2021
Well, it did rain. The gentle pitter patter on the tent lulled me right back to sleep. Then it woke me right back up again when a sudden gust of wind had the tent lying against my face. The sudden change in weather, along with a lone flashing light somewhere in the distance, had me flashing back to the nightmare of a night in Benedict, KS (https://emiliebikesandhikes.com/2018/03/25/day-28-june-30th-3016-benedict-cassody-ks/ ). Except this time we didn’t have a tool shed to run into. But like all bad things, this didn’t last long. A quick check of minutecast showed that this was the end of the storms and off to dreamland I went. Until abruptly awoken by hail. But it was time to get moving, so after waiting out the storm for a few minutes, we got up and broke down camp.
The 20 miles out of the state park to Goleta were actually a lot of fun. Compared to yesterday and Monday, it was flat and enjoyable with coastal views the whole way. We even rode next to the Amtrak tracks, the very ones we rode in 2018 that got us to San Diego super late, no shock there. My knee started to act up, but it’ll get it together soon enough I’m sure. To the east in the mountains was a storm brewing. Not wanting to get stuck in it, we pedaled quickly to the first coffee place we could find – 711.
After an extended break, we headed off on a bike path through UCSB’s campus with amazing views of the water. Sheena even got to shred the gnar with a mountain bike – totally tubular dude!
Eventually we got into Santa Barbara and decided that we had to figure out what to do for the night. Our original plan was to have a short ride today to recover from the last few days battling hills on out of shape legs. We were going to treat ourselves to a hotel, but given it’s a big city in SoCal, we wanted to save a few bucks. So we sent out some feelers on Warm Showers and as we waited for responses, set up our wet tents in a local park to dry, receiving lots of dirty looks from passersby.
Luckily for us, we got someone willing to host us! Karl lives in a cute duplex apartment with spacious living room with a pull out couch. An electrical engineer, Karl recommended an awesome taco joint just down the street. At only $2/taco, we indulged. And they were darn delicious. After coming back, Karl served us dinner #2, which was just as delicious. We have been super lucky with the hospitality of our warm shower hosts, particularly during a pandemic.
Tomorrow looks relatively “flat” (I say that with cautious optimism), so we’re going to try to put in some extra miles tomorrow if things go as planned!
Day 4: Santa Barbara to Leo Carrillo State Park (62.3 miles) March 11, 2021
What a day! It started with Karl making us breakfast and coffee before a departure for what we knew was going to be a long day. Because yesterday was short and the terrain for the upcoming miles was *actually* flat, we decided to take advantage of rested legs and an east ride by adding on a few miles.
The ride out of Santa Barbara was truly breathtaking. We rode next to the shining jewel of the pacific for miles, dodging early morning runners and bikers.
We then rode through the quaint little cute towns of Summerland and Carpinteria before hopping onto the most beautiful bike path in America. Seriously. We were riding for miles right next to the pacific with unobstructed views. It was pure bliss.
As we got off the path, we saw a fellow tourer going north with a road cyclist who took a look at us and yelled “WARM SHOWERS!” We didn’t understand him at first, but he soon pulled a U-ey and caught up with us. Turns out he was Jack, a warm showers host who I messaged yesterday thinking we might make it to Ventura. He rode with us for the miles to Ventura and offered very pleasant conversation. He showed us around town and helped us to avoid getting lost in Ventura.
We had another 30 miles to Leo Carrillo State Park, a pretty daunting number for two tired pups, but we were up for the challenge. We stopped in Port Hueneme for groceries and then again 10 miles after that to break up the ride. It worked out really well and gave my knee a break. Which is really acting up and causing significant pain. I’ll figure it out though.
We got to camp right before sunset, just in time to cook and set up camp with enough remaining daylight. We are both excited to sleep in our tents. We seem to sleep better in them than anywhere else! But another chilly night. I did not expect SoCal to be so cold!
Day 5: Leo Carrillo State Park to Torrance (48 miles) March 12, 2021
After a very frigid night in our tents, we arose and got out of camp earlier than usual. For the first 15 miles to Malibu, I don’t remember much except riding past extremely expensive houses with extremely expensive cars parked in the driveways. The amount of wealth in this area is astounding. We stopped for a much needed (and deserved) coffee and went on our way to LA.
And for the next 15 miles, we found ourselves on the most wonderful bike path in the world to Santa Monica. Very heavily used, it’s divided into pedestrian and bike lanes, making for a safe and anxiety free ride. We had lunch admiring the infamous pier from a distance, which was swamped with people.
After wiping the sand from our feet, we continued on the bike path through Venice Beach. If Malibu’s wealth was astounding, poverty that lined the whole path through Venice Beach was overwhelming. Homeless encampments were strewn throughout the whole way with tents lining the path. Really sad to see the difference between two communities so close to each other.
Finally we were on the final stretch of the day’s ride! Still on the bike path, we went through Manhattan and Hermosa Beach. We got rained on a little, but nothing too drenching. Sheena’s favorite part of the entire ride was the gorgeous water and power plant.
Because we struck out on warm showers and there are no state parks in LA, we decided tonight was the night to get a hotel. Once we decided on one, we dragged our bikes into the room and Sheena’s ever observant eyes spotted something odd. The pillows on the bed were disheveled and there was a lump under the covers. My initial (and really only) assumption was that it was a severed human head. I always applaud my very logical brain. Sheena, however, guessed it was a very large rodent. Together we slowly pulled back the covers, not quite sure what would be staring back at us. What we found indeed had two eyes and caused us both to scream the shrillest noise we could muster. It was a cat. Phew. Okay, so we were both wrong at least. But still, seeing the poor little kitty gave us both a fright, which in turn gave the cat a scare and under the bed he fled. We promptly changed rooms and the cat’s owner was found.
After that whole debacle, we met up with Soheila from our 2016 TransAm tour. We got tacos/burritos that were gone in 5 seconds flat and got to catch up with her. It was wonderful hearing what she’s been up to and reconnect with someone who we shared such a powerful bond with 5 years ago. I’m still kicking myself for not taking a photo with her.
Day 6 Torrance to San Clemente State Park (63 miles) March 13, 2021
Today has been a day. And I mean that in the most sincere way possible. I’m not even being dramatic. It was borderline nightmarish. I’ll get to that later.
After a kitty free night, we woke up refreshed and set out from the hotel early. After 15 miles through LA and on a very awesome bike path, we stopped for our morning coffee (whoa did we get lost trying to find that Starbucks). We debated the different kinds of cyclists there are and how each one is different with their own eccentricities, from road bikers to mountain bikers to tour bikers, there are good and bad traits for them all. Sheena had the audacity to insult me by calling me a road cyclist.
We then set out for our planned lunch stop of Newport Beach. Again, we rode on an awesome bike path that was perfect for people watching. On our way, a woman stopped us and told us how proud she was of us and how “those rude men cyclists could take a lesson from you on what it actually means to be tough!” We couldn’t agree more.
We stopped for lunch and were delighted that we only had 20 miles left to our destination of Doheny State Park. Plus the half way point was the infamous Laguna Beach. How exciting! Oh how wrong we were. We had NO idea what was in store for us.
The ride through Newport Beach was horrendous with traffic and no bike lane. Because technically and lawfully we could take the entire right lane, we did just that once cars got a little too brazen and a hair too close. As Sheena put it, “you lost your lane privileges!” After a few stressful miles and a few horrible uphills, we ended up in Laguna Beach.
Laguna was way worse than Newport. The traffic was more aggressive and we had to contend with hills as well. Because the shoulder was taken up by parked cars, we had to again take the entire lane to ensure that cars wouldn’t try to go around us a little too closely. Sheena had very strong feelings about the show “Laguna Beach” that shaped our generation after our little visit. Needless to say, neither of us were impressed and we will not be returning.
After the Laguna fiasco, we were so excited that we only had 8 “mostly flat” miles to our camp for the night. We booked it to Dana Point and did some grocery shopping before the 1 mile ride to camp. When we entered Doheny State Park, something felt off. I couldn’t pinpoint what, but proceeded anyway. Then we got to the campground. It was closed. Not because of COVID closed that means “well closed to normal people but hikers/bikers are welcome”, but it was under construction closed. We were not getting in. And if we tried? Well hello fines and misdemeanors. Already 4:30pm with limited daylight, we were in a little bit of shock and slightly panicked. What do we do?! Well the only thing we could do was ride another 7 miles South to San Clemente State Park. After one minute of feeling bad for myself, we hopped on the bikes and off we went.
We had another awesome bike path which was fully protected from the road. Seriously, we have been spoiled by these bike paths. SoCal is a bikers paradise. Eventually the path split and we checked to see which way would be the best to get to the park. One option was the road, the other was another bike path. Given our luck with bike paths, we decided on that. Easy decision.
The packed down sand should have been our first clue that we made the wrong decision. But at the time we thought it was “cool” and “wow we haven’t been on a bike path like this before!” Oh how naive. Soon the packed sand became loose and there were many times we had to walk to bikes to avoid fishtailing and total loss of control of our steeds. Eventually the bike path disappeared altogether and there was no way for us to get to where we needed to go. At this point the sun was setting and we were running out of luck.
Mentally and physically fatigued with the hanger monster growing more hungry by the minute, my brain went into shutdown mode. I was ready to just pitch a tent on the beach and face the fines. But luckily we found the path again and pushed our bikes over the loose sand. Eventually we came across the state park back entrance. Oh thank the lord.
We had to again push our bikes up a 200’ hill of an obscene grade but hey. We made it. Now to find the hiker/biker site, set up camp, eat, and crash.
Aha, that’s where the true nightmare begins. We searched endlessly for the site. For at least 45 minutes we circled around, asking random people if they knew where it was or how to get to it. We were met with some blank stares, some “it’s the south end of the park”, and some “nah I don’t know but your adventure is super rad!” None pointed us in the right direction. We decided to ride the long distance to the ranger station to ask for a map. Literally as soon as we got there, a woman came running to us telling us we can stay with her. We couldn’t believe it. The timing was impeccable.
Let me explain. As we were pushing our bikes up the massive hill into the park, we spoke briefly with two women who were super encouraging and impressed with our trip. They were extremely positive and the short conversation really brightened our mood. So just imagine our pleasure when June and Denise soon after offered us to stay on their RV plot! Because of them we avoided trying to find the hiker/biker spot in the dark and avoided having to pay the fees. They are the definition of trail angels and truly were a godsend right at a moment where I felt like just giving up. This trip has not lacked from the generosity of strangers.
I cannot wait to sleep and dream like this day never happened. Ha!
Day 7: San Clemente State Park to Encinitas (40 miles) 14 March 2021
Well today was still a day. Not at the same level as yesterday, but whoa it was not pleasant. It started out simply amazing, though. Just after discussing how our daily routine of finding coffee 15 miles into the ride would have to wait until 20 miles in due to lack of services, June came out to offer us the best coffee we’ve had so far. While sipping the coffee, we had a great conversation with June and Denise. Sheena and I decided that once we retire, we will follow in their footsteps and travel around in an RV. Much easier than bikes.
After saying goodbye, we headed on our way to our assumed destination – Elijo State Park. It drizzled slightly as we rode on a nice bike path through Onofre State park up to Pendleton Marine Base. According to our maps, we could show ID to cross through the base. However, a hiccup at the gate had us considering taking I-5 the 8 miles to Oceanside. While spending 20 minutes getting ready for the terror we were about to encounter near tears, a miscommunication with the gate attendant was cleared and we were granted access to cross through the base. We were elated. Once again, timing was everything and we got to enjoy a peaceful ride through the base, avoiding the traffic and citations we were sure to encounter on I-5.
After a few more miles we stopped for lunch in Carlsbad. With only 10 miles left to our camp, we took our time and enjoyed people watching.
We then found ourselves rolling into Elijo State Park with plenty of daylight left to enjoy an actual peaceful evening (thanks daylight savings!). We were excited to just relax after a very stressful previous day. But wait, not so fast! The ranger informed us that campgrounds were for reservations only, and reservations had to made 2 days ahead. Oh, and the hiker/biker site wasn’t open because of COVID. When it was pointed out that the website didn’t have that listed as closed, the ranger basically told us tough luck – there’s a campground 25 miles south.
Upset that once again our plans were flipped over something so silly (the campground was full – how was preventing bikers from camping there going to stop covid?!), we sat down and came up with a game plan. The only camp grounds close to us were actually RV parks who told us to stay at Elijo when we called asking to stay there. The only real solution was to get a hotel. And the cheapest one was 3 miles from where we just came. So we bit the bullet.
Now this is where we ran out of luck with regards to timing. As soon as Sheena hit book for a non-refundable room, two loaded cyclists came rolling through. Not rejected by the ranger, we knew they made a reservation and had a campground. They came over to say hi and when we told them our situation, they offered for us to stay with them. Had this happened two minutes before, we would have a free place to stay, not spend money on a hotel, and not had to backtrack to said hotel. But sometimes life just isn’t fair. On the bright side, we have a hot shower, the 3 miles back were easy, and we won’t be waking up in a wet tent from the predicted rain. So there is always a silver lining.
We are definitely ready to have an off day in San Diego to boost our spirits and put the last 2 days behind us. I’m just praying tomorrow is more forgiving and goes more smoothly.
Day 8: Encinitas to San Diego (20 miles) March 15, 2021
Well, we did it! The Pacific Coast Trail is officially done. And it was just as anticlimactic as finishing the TransAm, in so much as getting to the end point was stressful and we were ready to just be done and move on. Technically we didn’t make it to the end of the ACA maps in Imperial Beach, but we made it to San Diego which is good enough for us.
We slept in a little, enjoying the comfortable and warm hotel bed. A quick check of the weather showed that it shouldn’t start raining until the afternoon, which is perfect cause with only 30 miles, we figured we’d get there before the rain started. So we set out at 9am for the last ride along the coast.
And then the rain started. It was nice and light with only a twinge of cold that was very manageable. Then it got harder right as we were headed up the Torrey Pines hill where the rain actually felt good. Headed down the hill, however, not so great. The rain picked up with hail at times and the temperature dropped. The rain was so permeable that it rendered my rain jacket utterly useless. It actually was making things worse. Even ‘Lil Bessie suffered immense loss. Her Santa hat got lost in the wind and I was actually pretty bummed about it. The next 3 miles were torture. I could barely pedal and lost all sensation in my hands and feet. And you know it’s cold when even Sheena is shivering.
After a few more miles of torture we found a McDonalds and sought shelter, hiding in the corner to avoid being kicked out. After half an hour we decided to head out, leaving literal puddles behind. But as soon as we set foot outside, we instantly became just as cold as before. We decided to go to a restaurant across the street that actually had open bathrooms and got changed into warm clothes. As we again tried waiting out the rain, Sheena got a text from Frankie – a friend of a friend whose house we were staying at that night. He offered to pick us up and without any hesitation, we said yes. Riding another 10 miles through the rain and wind sounded horrific. And wouldn’t you know – while loading the bikes into the truck, ‘Lil Bessie’s Santa hat appeared out of nowhere! What a lucky, happy little cow.
We’re at Frankie’s now enjoying a warm dry house. Sheena is making dinner and tomorrow we’re going to plan out a few days to a week of the Southern Tier. Because we will be in the desert where services and amenities are few and far between, we have to make sure we aren’t stuck in a pickle that could turn dangerous. We’re also in a really awesome part of San Diego with lots of good restaurants and bars. So tomorrow after planning, we are going on a little food-venture of local spots for some good tacos, sushi, and seafood. Because when we have an off day, we might as well enjoy it!